It’s not uncommon to hear about players having a banner year when playing in a contract season. With that in mind, what Jeff Skinner is doing in Buffalo with the Sabres is approaching ridiculousness.
After only 26 games, Skinner scored his 20th goal of the season on Friday and he’s been the story of a Cinderella-like season for the Sabres who sit near the top of the NHL standings and are surpassing all expectations. Behind only Patrik Laine, Skinner’s 20 markers put him second in the NHL for goals and should he come anywhere close to continuing his torrid pace, he should become the biggest ticket in unrestricted free agency this summer. You wouldn’t think based on his numbers, the Sabres would remotely consider letting that kind of player leave.
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) December 1, 2018
Unlike most players on pace for 80 -90 points and over 50 goals, the Sabres may be better served to trade their sniper, especially if he’s looking to hit a home run in NHL free agency — rumored to be asking somewhere in the $8.5-$10 million per season range.
The Massive Skinner Sticker Price
Yes, Jeff Skinner is having a tremendous year. Friday night was just another example of his innate ability to score. But, history also shows that the sticker price on Skinner’s next contract could be highly overpriced. The Sabres are best-suited not to be the team who pays too much, especially if he winds up being available in the discount bin come 2020 or 2021.
A closer look at Skinner’s career statistics shows there are some red flags the Sabres shouldn’t ignore. First, he’s currently carrying with him a 23.2% shooting percentage. For a player who has never shot higher than 14.4% (he did so in his rookie season) and typically shoots around 10% on average, this number reflects more than double his consistent average. He can’t possibly keep it up.
Second, as Bob McKenzie pointed out, Skinner’s reputation in the NHL is that of a streaky and inconsistent scorer. Taking a look at his past seasons, there’s nothing there to suggest he’s going to duplicate the success he’s having this season and Buffalo has to be aware of the gamble that presents. In fact, we know they are because they’ve chosen not to negotiate with him now, electing to wait until his season comes back to some semblance of normalcy.
In 2017-18 for example, Skinner played all 82 games and scored 49 points. In 2016-17, he was better (63) but well below the pace he’s currently on. In 2015-16, he was at 51 points and in 2014-15, he had only 31 points. He’s also consistently a minus player on the plus-minus charts.
This is not to crap on Skinner or suggest he’s a bad player. But, if you’re considering re-signing someone who wants $9 million over the next six-to-eight seasons, the last thing you want to be said about that player is, “I think there’s been enough inconsistency in his career where there’s a little bit of buyer beware in terms of the really big numbers.”
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Skinner: The Unwanted Sniper
This season, Skinner represents a real win for the Sabres franchise. Still, when Skinner was acquired from the Hurricanes, it was only after a number of other teams passed on the man who seems to be unstoppable now.
Pierre LeBrun said during a spot on TSN 1040, before trading him to Buffalo, the Hurricanes had been shopping Skinner since as early as the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Unfortunately, teams had concerns about his health and inconsistency. It was that concern that opened the Hurricanes’ eyes to moving him in the first place. A lack of leverage from the Hurricanes allowed the Sabres to win this deal, likely more than recognizing the team was landing a 40-50 goal scorer.
As such, it might be important for the Sabres to remember, trading Skinner might be easy to do now, but not so easy to do later. Should his production decline, there will be far fewer teams ready to offer major value in return and should the Sabres sign him, and his production declines, good luck getting rid of his monster contract. If teams didn’t want him at $5.75 million, who’s going to want him at $9 million?
Skinner’s Scoring May Work Against a Sabres Extension
The reality is the more Skinner scores, the more attractive he makes himself to be traded. Obviously, removing Skinner’s offense won’t be an easy pill to swallow, especially as the team makes a run for the playoffs. That said, while he’s hot, his value will be at an all-time high. So high in fact, the Sabres may have a hard time passing on viable trade offers.
Darren Dreger was on TSN 1050 and said that the combination of Skinner’s $8.5-$10 million asking price, this being a contract year and the likelihood he’ll want to test the free agent market, means between now and the NHL Trade Deadline, he could fetch a king’s ransom in the form of draft picks and prospects. That may be hard to pass up. Trade him now and the Sabres might also be able to get a contributor that can help today.
The Skinner Dilemma
There’s such a thing as a good problem to have. The Buffalo Sabres are currently finding that to be true. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean this dilemma will go away on its own.
What do the Sabres do with a player who is so hot, teams who didn’t want him before would now love to have him for the remainder of this season as they work towards the playoffs? Can the organization possibly sell the idea of trading someone who is producing at the pace Skinner is? After all, removing him from your lineup tells your fanbase you’re comfortable with the idea of not making the playoffs this season with the long-term future in mind.
Fan reaction aside, unless the Sabres discover Skinner is just asking for the moon and the stars, knowing he’ll never get it, and feel he’ll take somewhere around $7 million per season, there’s plenty of reasons to move him while the getting is good.
As they say in business… buy low, sell high. That, right now, is Jeff Skinner.
Jim Parsons is a freelance writer who covers the Edmonton Oilers and news and rumors posts here at The Hockey Writers.
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