Insight on Eichel’s side of neck surgery debate with Sabres

Insight on Eichel's side of neck surgery debate with Sabres
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[UPDATE: Eichel has been traded to Vegas for a package that includes Alex Tuch and Peyton Krebs.]

Through the 2021 NHL Draft and early free-agent stages, the Sabres haven’t been able to get a Jack Eichel trade done. That doesn’t mean that things have been quiet between Eichel and the Sabres.

At first, Sabres GM Kevyn Adams insisted there was “no rush” on an Eichel trade. That talking point didn’t stick thanks to a surprising statement from Jack Eichel’s agents. Their comments made it clear that there’s still a tense debate between Eichel and the Sabres about what type of neck surgery he should undergo. (At least the Sabres and Eichel agree about a neck surgery being needed. So far?)

That no-rush part is in peril for an interesting reason. Eichel’s agents laid out a scenario where, if Eichel can undergo his preferred form of neck surgery, he might enjoy a swift recovery. Here’s the statement from Eichel’s agents, via Lance Lysowski of the Buffalo News:

Ultimately, though, the Sabres technically have the last say thanks to language in the CBA. So, the impasse remains, and the debate lingers. It’s unclear when there might be a resolution regarding a Jack Eichel trade, or an agreement from the Sabres about his neck surgery.

Amid all of this, most of us have been uncomfortable with a certain thought. What, exactly, is the debate between the Sabres and Eichel regarding this neck surgery choice?

[For more on 2021 NHL Free Agency, check PHT’s tracker.]

Now we have some deeper insight … at least from Jack Eichel’s perspective. In an absolutely essential interview with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek, Dr. Chad Prusmack laid out the argument, mainly from Eichel’s perspective (and his).

Dr. Prusmack confidently argues for Eichel’s preference: artificial disc replacement surgery. Meanwhile, the Sabres prefer anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) surgery. (For the sake of ease and brevity, we’ll stick to “disc replacement” and “fusion” or ACDF in this post.)

If you want more insight into this situation, Prusmack provides it to Friedman and Marek. This post gathers some crucial quotes, claims, and details. Then we’ll wonder what it means for those who might want to make an Eichel trade.

Huge flashing disclaimer: Much like what Friedman and Marek note in that interview, these medical issues are above my pay grade. Consider this a big-picture view, mainly of Eichel’s side.

Eichel’s preference: disc replacement vs. Sabres’ preference: fusion

Here are two very basic explanations for how ACDF/fusion and disc replacement surgery are similar, and how they are broadly different.

  • In both cases, a disc is generally removed from the spine. Replacing that disc is what separates the two procedures. With fusion/ACDF, a surgeon places a graft between vertebrae. Over time, the bones fuse together as they heal. NHL players have undergone this type of neck surgery.
  • Then, you have artificial disc replacement, which Dr. Prusmack notes became available around 2000. In this case, it’s a lot like getting an artifical hip or knee. After the disc is removed, the artificial disc is put in its place.

Importantly, Dr. Prusmack insists that both fusion and disc replacement can be considered “phenomenal procedures.” He’s not totally dismissing the merit of the Sabres’ preferred procedure. That said, he strongly prefers disc replacement surgery, Eichel’s would-be choice.

The case for disc replacement

“If anyone says a fusion is better for someone in the long run, they are not telling the truth, or they don’t know the literature,” Dr. Prusmack told Friedman and Marek around the 27-minute mark.

According to Dr. Prusmack, about 25-percent of people who undergo fusion surgery will need to go under the knife again within 10 years. Meanwhile, Dr. Prusmack puts the rate for disc replacement between 4.5 and 5-percent.

Dr. Prusmack views disc replacement as something closer to “one-and-done,” while fusion carries the risk of “one surgery after another.”

Along with long-term implications, there could be short-term advantages. By Dr. Prusmack’s estimates, a player normally gets evaluated three months after fusion. If that goes well, the timetable to play could be anywhere from 6-9 months.

On the other hand, artificial disc replacement could mean getting back to skating by about six weeks, and possibly engaging in contact within about eight.

[Catch up on NHL trades that have already actually happened.]

There are even possible performance advantages. Dr. Prusmack argues that, with an artifical disc replacement, a player can maintain closer to the normal range of neck motion as before they underwent surgery. With fusion, he compared the addition to something as flexible as “bamboo.”

Dr. Prusmack’s goal: to make Jack Eichel “as close of an indentical twin” as what Eichel was before the surgery. Artifical disc replacement, ideally, would allow Eichel to remain at his elite level. With fusion, it’s possible there will be a disruption of his “neuromechanical coupling.”

That mobility argument has backing. Take, for instance, the Orthopedic Institute of Philadelphia noting “increased spine mobility”

Fascinating stuff. Overall, Dr. Prusmack makes a persuasive argument on “31 Thoughts.”

Limited view of Sabres’ side

At the moment, we know that the Sabres currently favor fusion for Jack Eichel’s neck surgery. There isn’t a ton of insight about the Sabres’ objections to disc replacement surgery.

The little we reportedly know is that:

  • There’s concern that an NHL player hasn’t undergone artifical disc replacement neck surgery yet.
  • Perhaps, that it’s a relatively new procedure, having been introduced around 2000. Meanwhile, fusion is far more established.

Is there more? Maybe the Sabres will shed more light on their preference for ACDF/fusion down the line.

For what it’s worth, Dr. Prusmack claims that disc replacement isn’t “experimental.” It merely hasn’t happened in the NHL yet (he’s claimed to have treated hockey players at other levels, along with athletes in different sports).

“It has a really, really good track record, we just don’t have a track record in the NHL,” Dr Prusmack said.

MMA/rugby comparisons

Dr. Prusmack claims that fusion might make sense for NFL players. NHL players may benefit from disc replacement like athletes who play rugby or engage in MMA. (While football contact can be “blunt, head-to-head,” rugby and MMA often create “whip-like” contact to the head. That might be more akin to what hockey players more generally experience.)

With that, there’s a testimonial from MMA fighter Chris Weidman.

Implications for Eichel trade value?

While there could certainly be more facets to this (especially in favor of fusion), it’s at least useful to get an idea of the sides in the Jack Eichel – Sabres neck surgery debate.

But how should would-be Jack Eichel trade suitors feel about all of this?

On the one hand, a swift recovery could be really nice. That’s especially true if a team traded for Jack Eichel under a win-now edict.

That said, it also underscores the risks involved.

What if disc replacement surgery turns post-surgery Jack Eichel into a weak clone, as if he became hockey’s answer to “Multiplicity?” If fusion ends up being the answer, what if he really does struggle to be anywhere near the player he was?

Eichel’s $10 million cap hit already is risky. It lasts for five more seasons, and a no-movement clause kicks in starting in 2022-23. The Sabres understandably want a big return for Eichel, yet that only makes a trade even scarier.

Especially if you’re a team that’s already uneasy about investing so much in a player who’s experienced so little team success. (I’d argue Eichel doesn’t deserve much blame there, but still.)

Ideally, this works out for everyone involved: Eichel, the Sabres, and whoever might trade for him. Getting that far might not be easy, though.


James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Dellandrea scores twice in 3rd, Stars stay alive with 4-2 victory over Golden Knights

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LAS VEGAS — With Dallas’ season on the line, the Stars got two critical goals from a player who was a healthy scratch the first two games of the Western Conference Final.

Ty Dellandrea‘s goals came within a 1:27 span midway through the third period, and the Stars beat the Vegas Golden Knights 4-2 to keep alive their hopes of advancing to the Stanley Cup Final to face the Florida Panthers.

“He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever played with,” said Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 27 saves. “He deserves every opportunity he gets, and there’s no one happier for him than the guys in this room. It shows how special you are when you get taken out. He didn’t make it about him. He needed the opportunity to step up, and that’s what he did.”

The Stars escaped elimination for the second game in a row and head to Dallas for Game 6 down 3-2. Dallas is attempting to become the fifth team in NHL history to win a series after being down 3-0.

And look who’s back for the Stars? Captain Jamie Benn returns after a two-game suspension for his cross-check to the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in Game 3. That was the only game in this series that was decided early, and the Stars hadn’t even had a multigoal lead.

“I know our group, and we weren’t happy about being in the hole we were in, and they decided to do something about it,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “And now we’re rolling.”

The only problem for DeBoer was waiting two days to play Game 6.

“Drop the puck,” he said.

DeBoer said before the game if his team won, the pressure would shift to the Knights. Now it’s up to them to respond after twice being a period away from playing in the Stanley Cup Final and letting both opportunities slip away.

“I don’t think we brought our best the last two games,” Stone said. “We were still in a good spot to win the game. We’ve got to bring a little bit better effort and start playing a little more desperate.”

Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said “it’s a very good question” why his team didn’t play with more desperation, but he also wasn’t thrilled with the Knights’ execution.

“We had 24 giveaways,” Cassidy said. “I’m not sure you’re beating the Arizona Coyotes in January with 24 giveaways. That’s no disrespect to Arizona, but it’s not the right way to play.”

Dellandrea found the right way to play and put together the first multigoal playoff game of his career. Jason Robertson and Luke Glendening also scored, and Thomas Harley had two assists.

Chandler Stephenson and Ivan Barbashev scored for the Knights, and Jonathan Marchessault had two assists to extend his points streak to four games. Adin Hill made 30 saves.

Dellandrea scored from the right circle to put Dallas ahead, the puck deflecting off Vegas defenseman Alex Pietrangelo with 9:25 left for a 3-2 lead. Then, Dellandrea scored from the slot with 7:58 remaining.

Dellandrea said the older players kept him motivated when he was temporarily sidelined.

“There’s no denying it’s hard,” he said. “I’m thankful for a good group of character guys, and you’ve just got to stay ready.”

The teams traded goals in the first two periods.

Jack Eichel battled two Stars players for the puck in Vegas’ offensive zone, and then Barbashev swooped in and made a fantastic move to glide past Oettinger and score with 6:24 left in the first period. The Stars wasted little time in answering when Glendening scored on a deflection less than two minutes later.

Dallas was robbed of what looked like a sure goal when Hill snagged a point-blank shot from Roope Hintz, who then threw his back in disbelief.

Like in the first period, the Knights had a goal in the second quickly answered by one from the Stars. Stephenson scored from the left circle at 16:40 of the period, and Robertson knocked his own rebounds 2:09 later to make it 2-2. Stephenson tied the Knights’ record with his eight playoff goal this year, and Robertson had his fifth of the series.

Sabres sign Minnesota defenseman Ryan Johnston to 2-year rookie contract

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BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres ended a lengthy wait by signing Ryan Johnston to a two-year, entry level contract more than a month after the defenseman completed his senior college season at Minnesota.

Johnston will report immediately to the Sabres’ American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester, whose best-of-seven Eastern Conference final playoff series against Hershey is tied at 1.

From Southern California, Johnston is listed at 6-feet and 170 pounds and was selected 31st in 2019 draft.

His puck-moving skills fit Buffalo’s style of play, Johnston finished his college career with nine goals and 59 points in 143 career games, including four goals and 18 points in 40 games this year. He reached the NCAA’s Frozen Four in each of his final two seasons, with the Gophers losing in the semifinals last year, followed by a 3-2 overtime loss to Quinnipiac in the championship game last month.

He also had a goal and three assists in seven games representing the U.S. team that won gold at the 2021 world junior championships.

Johnston, who turns 22 in July, had the option to wait until August when he would’ve become an unrestricted free agent and eligible to sign with any team. Because Johnston was first-round pick, the Sabres would’ve been compensated with a 2024 second-round selection had he signed elsewhere.

Both sides are banking on the player’s age and college experience to enable Johnston to make the jump to the NHL within the next two seasons. The Sabres will still control Johnston’s rights as a restricted free agent once his entry-level contract expires.

Joe Pavelski scores on OT power play, Stars beat Golden Knights 3-2 to avoid West sweep

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DALLAS — Joe Pavelski admits that he probably appreciates the big playoff goals more the later he gets in his career. But they all still feel just as good, and his latest kept the season alive for the Dallas Stars.

“Just really living in the moment,” Pavelski said. “A tremendous feeling for sure, and glad we could play another game, and go from there and try to extend it.”

The 38-year-old Pavelski scored on a power play at 3:18 of overtime – a one-timer from the middle of the left circle to the far post – and the Stars avoided a sweep in the Western Conference Final with a 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.

Jason Robertson scored twice for his first career multigoal playoff game for Dallas, which played without suspended captain Jamie Benn.

“We’re looking for goals and that’s kind of my responsibility I put on myself,” Robertson said. “I know these playoffs have been tough. … I was able to get the bounces that we needed tonight.”

Jake Oettinger had 37 saves, two nights after the 24-year-old Stars goalie was pulled 7:10 into Game 3 after allowing three goals on five shots.

The Stars had the man advantage in overtime after Brayden McNabb‘s high-sticking penalty on Ty Dellandrea. Fifty seconds into the power play, Pavelski scored on a pass from Miro Heiskanen. They won for the first time in their five OT games this postseason – Vegas won the first two games of this series past regulation.

It was only the second Vegas penalty of the game, both high-sticking calls against McNabb. His penalty on Pavelski late in the first period set up the power play when Robertson scored his first goal with some nifty stickwork.

Pavelski, in his 15th NHL season and still looking for his first Stanley Cup, scored his ninth goal in 12 games this postseason, but his first in five games. He has 73 career postseason goals – the most for U.S.-born players and the most among all active players.

“He’s ageless. … I’ve seen that movie over and over again. Never gets old,” Stars coach Pete DeBoer said. “He lives for those moments and he wants to be in those situations. Always has, and delivers almost every time.”

Benn was suspended two games by the NHL on Wednesday for his cross-check with his stick landing near the neck of Vegas captain Mark Stone in the first two minutes of Game 3 on Tuesday night. Benn also will miss Game 5 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

William Karlsson and Jonathan Marchessault scored for Vegas. Adin Hill had his five-game winning streak snapped. He made 39 saves, including a game-saver with his extended left leg without about two minutes left in regulation on rookie Fredrik Olofsson’s swiping try in his first career playoff game.

“Our effort wasn’t good enough. Closing a series is probably the hardest game in a series, right, so it just wasn’t good enough from our group,” Marchessault said. “It was still a one-goal game in overtime. It was right there for us.”

Karlsson and Marchessault are among six of the original Vegas players still on the team from the inaugural 2017-18 season that ended with the Knights playing for the Stanley Cup, though they lost in five games to the Washington Capitals after winning the first game.

Vegas missed a chance to complete a sweep, a night after the Florida Panthers finished off a sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.

Vegas took a 2-1 lead midway through the second period when Marchessault, after whacking his stick on the back of Ryan Suter in front of the net, scored on a pass between the Stars defenseman’s legs from McNabb, another original Golden Knight.

Robertson’s tying goal late in that period came on a ricochet off the back board just seconds after he had another shot hit the post. That was the fourth goal of this series, and sixth in the playoffs, after this regular season becoming the first Dallas player with a 100-point season.

On his first goal late in the first that tied it 1-1, Robertson deflected Heiskanen’s shot from just inside the blue line up into the air. As Hill was trying to secure the puck into his glove, Robertson knocked it free and then reached around and swiped the puck into the net with his stick parallel to the ice.

With former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson and wrestling great Ric Flair both in the building wearing Stars jerseys Dallas was avoided being swept in the playoffs for the first time since 2001 against St. Louis in the second round. This was the Stars’ 21st playoff series since then.

The Golden Knights scored first again – though not like those three quick goals in Game 3 that led to the earliest exit ever for Oettinger.

Karlsson pushed the puck up and skated to the front of the net after passing to Nicolas Roy, whose pass through traffic went off a Dallas stick before Reilly Smith got it just inside the right circle and took a shot. Karlsson’s deflection past Oettinger only 4:17 into the game was his eighth goal this postseason.

“There were a lot of rush chances,” said Smith, also with Vegas since the beginning. “I don’t think we did a good enough job of making it difficult on them. So we get another opportunity in two days.”

Tkachuk sends Panthers to Stanley Cup Final, after topping Hurricanes 4-3 for sweep

panthers stanley cup final
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SUNRISE, Fla. — Matthew Tkachuk delivered for Florida, again. Sergei Bobrovsky denied Carolina, again.

The wait is over: After 27 years, the Florida Panthers – a hockey punchline no more – are again going to play for the game’s grandest prize.

Tkachuk got his second goal of the game with 4.9 seconds left, lifting the Panthers past the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 and into the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1996 after sweeping the Eastern Conference final.

The Panthers will play either Vegas or Dallas for the Stanley Cup starting sometime next week; Vegas currently leads the Western Conference title series 3-0.

“This was pure joy,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said.

Bobrovsky stopped 36 shots to cap his stellar series – four games, four one-goal wins, three of them basically in sudden death, a .966 save percentage after stopping 174 of the 180 shots he faced. The first two wins were in overtime, and this one may as well have been.

The Panthers scored 10 goals in the series, and Bobrovsky ensured those were all they needed. They were the No. 8 seed, the last team in, the longest of long shots – which is consistent with their history, after not winning a single playoff series in 26 years, a drought that ended last season.

And now, beasts of the East. Tkachuk arrived last summer saying he wanted to bring Florida a Cup. He’s four wins away.

“It’s amazing,” Bobrovsky said. “We showed the resilience … and we’re lucky to have Chucky on our side. He knows how to score big goals.”

NHL Senior Vice President Brian Jennings was the one tasked with presenting the Prince of Wales Trophy. After some photos, Aleksander Barkov – the captain who had two assists, one of them on the game-winner – grabbed it, and skated it away. Some teams touch it. Some don’t. A few of the Panthers did, but Barkov didn’t pass it around.

That’ll wait for the big prize.

“It’s hard to explain right now. Everything just happened so quick,” Barkov said. “It means a lot. It definitely does. … It hasn’t been easy and nobody said it’s going to be easy.”

Added Tkachuk: “We earned that thing, and definitely didn’t do it the easy way. We earned it.”

Ryan Lomberg and Anthony Duclair had the other goals for Florida, which swept a series for the first time in franchise history.

Jordan Staal – his brothers Eric and Marc play for the Panthers – took a tripping penalty with 57 seconds left in regulation, setting up the power-play that Tkachuk finished off after getting into the slot and beating Frederik Andersen to set off a wild celebration.

“Eastern Conference champions,” Florida defenseman Aaron Ekblad said. “It’s really cool. No doubt about it. But you know, at the end of the day, we have our eyes on something different.”

Toy rats – the Panthers’ tradition, a nod to the unwanted locker room guests from Florida’s old arena in 1996 – sailed down from the stands, and the goal needed to survive an official review. But the rats were picked up, the goal was deemed good, and 27 years of waiting was officially over 4.9 seconds later.

Jesper Fast seemed like he might have saved the season for Carolina, getting a tying goal with 3:22 left in regulation. Paul Stastny and Teuvo Teravainen had the first two goals of the night for the Hurricanes, while Brady Skjei and Jordan Martinook each had two assists. Andersen stopped 21 shots.

“Everyone’s going to say, ‘You got swept.’ That’s not what happened,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “I watched the game. I’m there. I’m cutting the games. We’re in the game. We didn’t lose four games. We got beat, but we were right there. This could have went the other way. It could have been four games the other way.”

That wasn’t sour grapes. He was right. A bounce here, a bounce there, a Bobrovsky not here, a Bobrovsky not there, and this series could have gone much differently.

But Bob was his best. Tkachuk was clutch, over and over. And Florida is as close to a Cup as it has ever been; the Panthers were swept by Colorado in the 1996 final.

Towels waved, strobe lights flashed, and the fans wasted no time letting the Panthers know that they were ready to a clincher.

Tkachuk made it 2-0 on the power play midway through the first. Carolina – a 113-point, division-championship-winning team in the regular season – made it 2-1 later in the first on Stastny’s goal, and Teravainen tied it early in the second.

Lomberg’s goal midway through the second gave Florida the lead again. It stayed that way until Fast got the equalizer with 3:22 left, and then Tkachuk finished it off – getting the Panthers to the title round in his first season.

“It’s been unbelievable since July since I got here,” Tkachuk said. “And hopefully we can cap off this amazing year.”


Panthers general manager Bill Zito was announced earlier Wednesday as a finalist for NHL GM of the year. … Tkachuk’s two goals gave him 21 points in the playoffs – extending his Florida single-season postseason record, which was 17 by Dave Lowry in 1996. … Slavin was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game after Bennett’s hit, with what the Hurricanes said was “an upper-body injury.” Slavin wobbled as he tried to get to his feet. … Miami Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel – who has also been a regular at Miami Heat games during their playoff run this spring – banged the drum before the game. When done, without a mic to drop, he simply dropped the mallet instead.


Tkachuk’s goal midway through the opening period put Florida up 2-0 – and marked the first time, in nearly 14 periods of play to that point, that a team had a two-goal lead in this series. Every bit of action came with the score tied or someone up by one in the first 272 minutes (including all the overtimes) of the series.