So, how about that Jeff Skinner guy, huh? In what could very well end up being the most lopsided deal of the offseason, Jason Botterill sent a package of futures to the Carolina Hurricanes for the 26-year-old scoring machine. With 12 points in 11 games to start the season, Skinner already has fans talking contract extension.
As the Sabres approach the end of a lengthy rebuild, it’s reasonable to speculate that the Skinner acquisition was intended to be more than just a one year rental. After the departure of Evander Kane at last season’s trade deadline, the organization was in desperate need of a scoring threat at left wing.
They addressed the issue, in part with the acquisition of Conor Sheary right before free agency, but Botterill knew that his team needed another even-strength weapon. Skinner is an even-strength juggernaut. 165 of the 210 goals he’s registered in his career have been at even-strength. In fact, he ranks seventh in the NHL in that category since 2015-16.
With six goals so far this season (all of which have come at even-strength, by the way), it’s fair to wonder what a potential contract extension might look like. Automatically, Skinner’s situation has drawn comparisons to Kane who inked a seven-year, $49 million extension with the San Jose Sharks last summer. Statistically, the two are pretty close in terms of production over the past three seasons. Kane has averaged .655 points per game in that span while Skinner holds a mark of .670.
Interestingly enough, Skinner has actually been considerably more durable than Kane. Since the 2015-16 season, he’s only missed three games due to injury. That’s pretty impressive considering the concussion issues he experienced early in his career where it was speculated that he might not be long for the NHL. Conversely, Kane has missed 32 games in that same span.
Age is another factor to consider here as well. When Kane signed his extension he was essentially the same age as Skinner will be at the end of this season.
Max Pacioretty’s new deal is another comparable, but for all of the wrong reasons. Though his .75 points per game average over the past three seasons is considerably higher, at 29 years old, his four-year $7 million AAV extension with Vegas is a bit precarious considering the down season he had last year. Given the fact that Skinner is likely heading into his prime (and considering his current scoring clip), it’s reasonable to speculate that he’ll command a higher yearly compensation.
Comparisons aside, the Sabres are actually in a good position to ink Skinner to a long-term deal. With expensive contracts coming off of the books this summer as Matt Moulson, Jason Pominville’s deals expire, Buffalo won’t be short on cap space. The only other potentially (somewhat) expensive contract they’ll have to think about this season belongs to Jake McCabe who will become an RFA at the end of the league year.
Evan Rodrigues will hit the restricted market as well, but his new figure (should the Sabres choose to extend him) won’t really make a dent. By the end of the 2020-21 season, Buffalo only has six contracts on the ledger at the moment. They’ll still need to be cautious as players like Casey Mittelstadt and Sam Reinhart will require new deals at that point. One year later Rasmus Dahlin’s entry-level contract will be up as well.
Still, there should be plenty of room for Skinner, especially if Botterill can convince a certain Seattle expansion team to absorb one of their uglier contracts (i.e. Patrik Berglund or Kyle Okposo). The salary cap will certainly go up by that time too, which is obviously a plus.
At the end of the day, the Sabres’ need to retain the best winger they’ve had in over a decade supersedes any corresponding concern about cap space. The organization simply cannot allow Skinner to hit the open market next summer, even if it means signing him to a deal that approaches $8 million per season.
The immediate positive impact he has had on Jack Eichel is something that also cannot be overstated. The Botterill regime will want to continue to cultivate that chemistry moving forward. Oh, and did I mention that Skinner currently leads all Buffalo forwards with a Relative Corsi of 6.24-percent?
Bottom line, the Sabres need to make it an immediate priority to sign a player who brings a skill set that the team has desperately missed since the 2006-07 season (yeah, it’s been that long). If they wait too long, the sweet siren of unrestricted free agency may lure him away, which would be a colossal gaffe on the part of the front office.
Corsi Stats Courtesy of Corsica.Hockey