It's relatively rare to see a star level player in the National Hockey League change the number on the back of his jersey, but that's exactly what Buffalo Sabres star forward Jack Eichel has decided to do in the middle of his career.
On Friday the Buffalo Sabres surprised their fans when they revealed that Eichel would be switching from his current number and would instead adopt a number that he wore earlier in his career starting in the 2018 - 2019 National Hockey League regular season. Eichel was currently wearing number 15 for the Sabres but will be going back to the number 9, the same number when he won the Hobey Baker Award as collegiate hockey's very best player.
Eichel made an official statement on Friday, expressing that the number has special significance to him while also seemingly implying that the number would also give him a fresh start in a new era of Buffalo Sabres hockey.
“For a long time, the number nine has always been a part of my identity as both a person and as a player,” Eichel said Friday as per the Buffalo News. “The opportunity opened up to switch and I felt it was the right time to make the change as I begin the next phase of my career as a Sabre.”
That opportunity that Eichel speaks of, the one that suddenly "opened up," was of course created by the departure of star forward Evander Kane at the National Hockey League's trade deadline. It's interesting to note that this would seemingly indicate that Kane has been wearing a number that Eichel has likely wanted for the past 3 seasons. Given the reports that have circulated about a dysfunctional Buffalo Sabres locker room, reports that were seemingly bolstered by the end of the season comments from former Sabres star center Ryan O'Reilly, you have to wonder if this could have contributed in any way.
Many have rather comically refereed to Jack Eichel as "Sabres general manager Jack Eichel" due to the perceived influence his status as the organizations most valuable player gives him over the direction of the franchise. The fact that Kane was moved out at the trade deadline almost certainly had nothing to do with Eichel himself but the perception that him taking Kane's number after his departure will create in the mind's of some fans will be quite amusing I'm sure.
All jokes aside though Eichel's comments do display the fact that there is huge importance on the number for him and if even just as a placebo it can impact his performance in any kind of positive way than the Sabres will be more than happy to oblige. Not only could it be symbolic of the new era of the Sabres as first overall pick Rasmus Dahlin enters the fray but it could actually make Eichel more comfortable in his own skin.
Last there's also the monetary aspect of this, there's almost no doubt that the Sabres and Eichel are going to sell a ton of new Eichel #9 jerseys next season. I'm sure they will be happy about that but I don't think that was even factored into the decision from Eichel based on his comments.
Photo Credit: Nicholas T. Loverde/CSM/Zuma