Now that the NHL Trade Deadline has past and the Buffalo Sabres have pretty much removed themselves from the playoff picture, the focus turns to Jeff Skinner. The team’s leading goal scorer needs a new contract prior to hitting the open market as an unrestricted free agent in July.
We saw a comparable contract for Skinner handed out on deadline day that will be official when the calendar flips to March. The Vegas Golden Knights reportedly gave newly acquired winger Mark Stone an eight-year, $76 million contract ($9.5 million AAV).
The reported asking price from Skinner’s camp has always been in the neighborhood of a $9 million annual average value. This new contract with Stone doesn’t entirely help the Sabres cause for an AAV with eight in front of it, but it may be less than what Stone would have picked up on the open market in July.
I’m going to save the quibbling over the money on Skinner. We’ll have plenty of time to debate that over the next month or so. The focus here will be on if he’ll be worth being paid between eight to nine million dollars over the next eight years.
The 26-year-old winger is having a career year with 36 goals and 57 points in 63 games. Sabres fans are still feeling the burn of handing out big contracts to players like Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo. Neither of which have been able to live up to expectations for nearly the entirety of the contracts they were given by former general manager Tim Murray.
Skinner, however, is a different situation. He’ll be 27-years-old in May, which is one year younger than Okposo (28) and three years younger than Moulson (30) when they were signed during free agency. If the Sabres hand out an eight-year deal to Skinner, he’ll be 35-years-old when it expires. He probably won’t be the 40-goal scorer he was when he signs a new deal this season, but the Sabres will still likely get five to six solid years out of that contract.
The Toronto-native is a unique player that plays a style of hockey that has the ability to carry longer into his career.
His elite-level skating talent is one area that puts him near the top of the league in scoring. He can use his skating style to set up defenders and create space for himself. Unlike Moulson and Okposo, the speed of the game is not going to pass Skinner in his early 30’s.
Most importantly, it’s hard to imagine the scoring ability is going to abandon Skinner anytime in the near future. Of course, it’s highly unlikely he’ll keep up his current shooting percentage (17%), but he’s not a player who relies on beating the goaltender with his shot from distance.
He takes most of his shots in the high-danger scoring areas around the net as the shot density chart from Sean Tierney below lays out below.
He scores from in close to the goaltender in scramble situations, rebounds, and skilled in tight plays.
If he continues to go to this area of the ice the scoring is going to continue to come and based on this season, as well as his past there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to do so.
Throughout his career, Skinner has been at the top of the league in expected goals per 60 minutes. This season he’s currently tied for 14th with 1.01 xGoals per 60 minutes and he’s tied for fifth in the league in 5 on 5 xGoals with 15.5 according to Moneypuck.
Here’s the breakdown of his expected goal numbers at 5 on 5 over the previous three years with the Carolina Hurricanes according to Moneypuck:
- 2017-18: 1.01 xG per 60 (14th) | 19.5 xG (13th)
- 2016-17: 1.14 xG per 60 (2nd) | 22.2 xG (2nd)
- 2015-16: 1.03 xG per 60 (4th) | 19.4 xG (3rd)
Bottom line is Skinner is one of the best even strength scorers in the game and there’s no indication based on his style of play and track record that it’ll change in the near future. Especially when you take into account that he’ll play next few years on the wing with an elite play-making center in Jack Eichel.
Losing a player that is one of the best goals above replacement players this season will just create another hole in the lineup if the Sabres cannot retain Skinner. He ranks 13th in the entire league in GAR per 60 this season (0.795) among players with at least 500 minutes TOI and 17th in overall even strength GAR (10.8) according to Evolving Hockey.
His impact on the Sabres is undeniable and there should be no reservations about him being able to keep up his high production levels for a significant portion of the life of his next contract.