Back when the season ended in April, the Buffalo Sabres general manager spoke about big changes that could be coming for his hockey club. “When you finish where we are you have to look at everything, that means looking at even changing up our core players,” said Jason Botterill at his postseason press conference.
Up to this point, it looked as though Botterill had made a lot of changes already by trading Ryan O’Reilly and bringing a good amount of new faces.
Today, he continued to change things up by acquiring winger Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for prospect Cliff Pu, a second-round pick in 2019, a third-round pick in 2020 and a sixth-round pick in 2020.
From a Sabres perspective, it seems like a small price to pay for a player who has the ability to score 30 plus goals in the NHL, even if he only has one year remaining on his contract. Especially when he could be paired with an elite center like Jack Eichel.
Months of Dialogue
Both Jason Botterill and Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell spoke today about how the two sides have discussed this trade for some time. Wadell stated this was one of the hardest trades he’s completed and it went back about four months with discussions.
Skinner had Buffalo on his list of teams willing to be traded to. Waddell said that this was the longest he’s worked on trading one player.— Mike Maniscalco (@mikemaniscalco) August 2, 2018
“We talked about a lot of different scenarios over the last few months,” said Botterill. It’s no secret that the Hurricanes were interested in acquiring O’Reilly back around the NHL Draft in June. However, the Sabres general manager indicated that the circumstances changed around the draft with the deals that were made.
“Both teams making trades at the draft I think changed things around a bit.”
It’s More Than on the Ice
Shifting the focus to the acquisition itself, it’s not hard to see the impact it can have on the ice. Skinner is one season removed from a 37 goal season and has scored 30 goals twice in his career. He’s also never had the ability to play with a center that has the talent of Eichel, who could end up being his linemate next season.
The 26-year-old is also a good even strength scorer, which is a big need for the Sabres. Skinner was second in the league in even strength scoring in the 2016-17 season with 30 of his 37 goals coming at five on five.
Even though he had a down year last season with only 24 goals, 20 of those came at even strength. For his career, 78 percent of his goals have come at five on five.
Botterill was well aware of the struggles at even strength his team has had in the past saying, “you look at our even-strength scoring over the last couple years here in Buffalo has to improve.” He went on to state that this was one of the reasons he went after Skinner, “one of his strengths is he’s a consistent goal scorer in the National Hockey League and he creates a lot of chances at even strength.”
Along with his even-strength scoring, Botterill liked his speed and competitiveness on the ice which was two traits he mentioned he was looking for this summer back in April.
“We’ve talked a lot about our group being more competitive, playing with pace and that’s right up Jeff’s game right there,” said the Sabres general manager.
Beyond his on-ice impact, Botterill liked what Skinner brought to the club off the ice as well. “I respect his work ethic a lot off the ice, just his professionalism, how he goes about handling himself,” he said during his conference call tonight.
Twice, it was mentioned how much he liked what Skinner brought off the ice and with his professionalism. Something that has been an issue for the Sabres over the last few seasons.
Rental or Long-Term Piece
An important part of this trade is the contract status of the speedy winger. Skinner only has one year remaining on his contract that carries a cap hit of $5.725 million. As of now, the two sides have not talked contract according to Botterill.
“Right now our focus with Jeff is to make this transition into Buffalo as easy as possible for him...we’ll talk about things such as contract or extension down the road,” he said.
Although they haven’t talked an extension yet, doesn’t mean that Skinner wouldn’t be open to it. Remember, he had to waive his no-movement clause to come to the Sabres. There were reports that he wouldn’t waive it to go to other teams a month ago. One team, reportedly he vetoed a trade to was the Los Angeles Kings.
He clearly wanted to come to Buffalo, which is a good sign for a potential extension down the road. The city is also close to his hometown of Toronto, again working in the Sabres favor perhaps during discussions.
Botterill promised changes back in April and boy, did he deliver. Players like O’Reilly and Robin Lehner were not brought back. They were replaced by Conor Sheary, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, Carter Hutton and now Skinner.
Throw in the lucky bounce of the ping pong balls they got this year and were able to add a potential star defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin.
The Sabres general manager wanted to add speed on the wing and he accomplished that.
He wanted to improve his top-six. Check.
Add new leadership to the room. Check.
All-in-all a very successful offseason for Botterill and not to mention he did all of this keeping his first-round pick and picking up two more in the process (one with Evander Kane re-signing with the Sharks).
If nothing else the Sabres will be a very interesting team going into next season and the idea of being in the playoff discussion isn’t farfetched at this point.