It’s been an interesting season for Buffalo Sabres forward Jeff Skinner. He started the season off hot in terms of production, but that has cooled off over the last few months. The 27-year-old winger has gone scoreless in the last five games and is currently running well short of the 40-goal pace we saw him produce last season.
Having said all of that, just because Skinner is scoring at a lower rate than last season, doesn’t mean he’s playing any worse. His offensive impacts are at a similar rate to last season. So, let’s dive into what kind of season the scoring winger is having thus far.
Usage and Deployment
Before we get into the numbers, I want to get into some outlying factors that have changed for Skinner this season. His usage and deployment under Ralph Krueger are different than what we saw under Phil Housley. The obvious thing to note is that he is not tied to the hip of Jack Eichel this season. While that seemed like an obvious move going into the season, Krueger decided to go a different direction.
Although I believed that Skinner should have been with Eichel, I understand Krueger’s approach of trying to spread the scoring which is the correct strategy. This season, Skinner’s three most common linemates have been Marcus Johansson, Vladimir Sobotka, and Conor Sheary. None of those three are at the level of his most common linemates last season, Sam Reinhart and Eichel.
Johansson started strong with Skinner but has cooled off. Sobotka isn’t an offensive threat and Sheary has had perhaps one of the most disappointing seasons to date of any forward on the roster.
To go along with lesser linemates, Skinner is playing a full minute less this season in time on ice per game at 5 on 5 than he did last season. He’s also seen a change in his zone deployment under Krueger. So far this season, according to Evolving Hockey, he’s getting the lowest percentage of offensive zone starts (13.96%) since the 2012-13 season. In the 2018-19 season, 22.5% of his shifts started in the offensive zone. The Sabres new head coach has given Skinner his highest rate of defensive zone starts (10.82%) since the 2014-15 season. Last season, he only started 7.11% of his shifts in the defensive zone.
I’m not telling you all this to make a list of excuses for the player. You can argue how impactful zone starts can be on production, but it’s important to understand all of the factors at play here.
Still Generating Offense
In spite of the changes I mentioned above, Skinner is still creating offense for his team at a rate similar to last season. He’s on pace for one 5 on 5 goal (27) less than what he scored last season. His reputation is built on being one of the best 5 on 5 scorers in the sport and that has continued this season. He’s 16th in the league among all forwards to play at least 150 minutes in goals per 60 minutes at 5 on 5 and is scoring at a higher G/60 rate than last season (1.42 vs 1.34).
Outside of just scoring, he’s still generating high-quality scoring chances without the help of Eichel. He’s 14th in the league among all forwards to play at least 150 minutes in individual expected goals per 60 minutes and again is doing it at a higher rate than last season.
The other interesting part to look at is how Micah McCurdy’s isolated impact chart has Skinner increasing his offensive impact over the last season and his defensive impact as well. He’s still doing all of the things you want him to do. He’s creating offense at 5 on 5 and driving play when he’s on the ice.
There’s no denying that he’s cooled off from earlier in the season. His scoring is down and he’s scoring at a lower rate than he did in October, but his individual shot quality is improved this month over what it was in November. Also, his individual shot attempts are higher this month than what he was generating during his hot start in October. Here’s the breakdown if you want it:
- October: 17.13 iCF/60 | 1.25 ixG/60
- November: 18.75 iCF/60 | 0.85 ixG/60
- December: 20.07 iCF/60 | 0.87 ixG/60
So, let’s address the elephant in the room and get to the real reason that Skinner’s goal production is down. The answer is simple a one: the power play. Skinner is not getting the same production on the man advantage as he did last year. He scored eight goals on the power play last season and has none so far during the current campaign. He’s also recently been removed from the top power play unit in the last few games.
Until recently, the power play as a whole has struggled for the Sabres outside of the hot start to open the season. Skinner’s production has suffered in this area as a result of that. Those eight goals on the man advantage were the second-highest of his career last season, which contributed to his career-high in goals.
The Sabres paid Skinner this summer to be one of the best 5 on 5 scoring forwards in the NHL and he’s continuing to deliver on that. He’s continued to be a threat offensively in the area that the majority of the game is played (5 on 5).
He needs to get himself out of the three-game stretch he’s in that has resulted in him generating very little in terms of offense. It may benefit Krueger to put him back with Johan Larsson. Those two had success in the few games they played together.
For the majority of the season, Skinner has been one of the better forwards on the Sabres roster. Although his overall production is down, the other areas of the game that are not measured in points continue to indicate he’s an impact player on a nightly basis.