In case you missed it, Jeff Skinner scored his 20th goal of the season on Friday for the Buffalo Sabres, before the calendar flipped to December. He’s fit in seamlessly on the top line in Buffalo with Jack Eichel.
Skinner and Eichel are a big reason why the Sabres are 17-7-3 with 37 points and are tied for third place in the NHL entering play tonight.
As the season moves along, the conversation around Skinner and his contract will grow louder. The 26-year-old winger is scheduled to become an unrestricted-free-agent next summer. He’s in line for a big payday whether he’ll get it from the Sabres or another team is the question.
One thing that should no longer be a question is whether the Sabres should consider trading Skinner if they don’t have a contract in place by the trade deadline.
That answer is a strong, no.
If you’d like to see some, we’ll say interesting reasons (mostly inaccurate) why they should trade Skinner while they can, you can check out this article from The Hockey Writers.
That content they pushed out on their site is the primary reason you’re reading this.
The conventional wisdom in the NHL has been to trade a good player on an expiring contract to make sure you avoid losing him for nothing if a deal cannot be worked out.
That doesn’t apply in this case.
Getting off to a strong start has changed the expectations on this season. They’re not as good as the team that went on a 10-game winning streak. Beating some of the top clubs in the league in the process. However, they’re an average team that outside of a collapse in the final 55 games of the season should be in the postseason come April.
This team hasn’t been in the best tournament in sports since 2011. Even if they’re quickly dispatched in the first round, picking up that experience for younger players like Casey Mittelstadt, Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Ristolainen, Sam Reinhart, and Eichel will go a long way. Not to mention it would be the first time Skinner saw the playoffs in his career, as well.
Moving the Toronto-native at the deadline does nothing to help that goal. All it does is make the task more difficult and send a message to the locker room that winning still isn’t a priority. Especially, if the team is still right in the thick of the playoff race.
Time to Focus on Winning
For seven years, the Sabres have been rebuilding and collecting draft picks. They’re finally seeing the results from all that suffering. Now, that it’s trending in the right direction there’s no need to take a step back.
They arguably hold one of the top prospects pools in the league and there’s no need to trade a player of Skinner’s talent for more future assets. The Sabres hold four first-round picks over the next two years. They also own eight draft picks in the first two rounds of the draft over the next three years.
That’s enough ammo to continue to re-stock your prospect cupboard and use a few of those picks to chase players to help in the immediate future.
Is one more late first-round pick worth selling off Skinner in the middle of a playoff race so you don’t risk losing him for nothing?
Look back at the top players on expiring contract who were traded at the past trade two deadlines.
Evander Kane was moved for a conditional second-round pick, that eventually became a first, and Danny O’Regan.
Rick Nash was traded for a first-round pick, Ryan Spooner (recently traded again), and Matt Beleskey (was in the AHL until yesterday), and Ryan Lindgren.
The St. Louis Blues picked up 2017 first-round pick, a conditional second-round pick, Zach Sanford, and Brad Malone for Kevin Shattenkirk and Pheonix Copley.
Outside of the first-round picks, there’s not a lot to write home about there.
Also, it shouldn’t be ignored that the Sabres and Skinner cannot agree to an eight-year contract until after the deadline. Of course, the two sides can get an idea if a contract extension is likely prior to that.
Worst case scenario, Skinner becomes the rental for the Sabres playoff push. They’re more likely enter the deadline as buyers this season, instead of sellers like in years past. They can keep Skinner as a hired gun, instead of giving up assets to acquire another one if they move him.
At the end of the day, the playoff experience will do more for the Sabres than acquiring another late first-round pick to toss on top of the pile that we’ll see in two to three years down the road.
Skinner is a big part of the Sabres hopes at breaking their postseason drought and potentially their future as a top-line winger. Moving him creates another hole on the roster and does little to improve the future of the team at this point.