All of a sudden, the trade that sent Jeff Skinner to Buffalo doesn’t look so bad for the Sabres.
Skinner, a perennial 30-goal talent, came over in a contract year for a slew of futures. There were no guarantees he would regain his scoring touch after an off season. There were fewer still he would re-sign. After a career-best 40-goal season and a brand-new eight-year, $72 million deal, the Sabres now know for sure.
Those in doubt of how good of a deal it is should know in turn the Sabres had no choice but to make it. It was the right and only move.
Skinner Overperforms on Underperforming Sabres
The 2018-19 season was admittedly one to forget overall. However, Skinner’s brilliance was one of the few bright spots outside of a 10-game winning streak early in the season that served little other purpose than to tease the potential of the pieces general manager Jason Botterill has put in place.
Skinner is one piece that can most certainly help the Sabres reach those heights again. At the very least, they would need scoring to get back there. He provides it in droves. Even if you want to point to a career-high 14.9% shooting percentage that is likely unsustainable into the long term, Skinner has been generally very accurate in the past in that category. His career 11.2% shooting percentage points to an ability to find the back of the net with a higher degree of consistency than critics of this deal will argue Skinner has in his bag of tricks.
Yes, Skinner scored 18 of his goals over the course of just over a month early in the season. It was a hot streak that largely coincided with the 10-game winning streak. Even if you wish those goals away to prove some kind of point that he’s not worth the money, if Skinner isn’t, then who is?
Even with the huge deal signed, the Sabres have over $20 million in projected cap space entering next season. The restricted free agents they have left to sign (Zemgus Girgensons, Johan Larsson, Evan Rodrigues, etc.) are in no risk of breaking the bank. Even with all of them signed, it’s conceivable the Sabres would have the cap space to sign an additional game-breaking talent and that’s the takeaway here.
Skinner Is Not the Bad Guy
Skinner alone may not be the answer, but why can’t he be part of the solution? Just because, for all of his success, the Sabres still had a bad season? Newsflash: The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs ever since Jack Eichel was drafted either. Clearly, he must be traded.
In any case, Skinner should not be vilified for succeeding alongside the rest of the team, nor should he be singled out as the reason they fell from grace. After all, even if you take away his personal hot streak, there are still 22 goals that are left unaccounted for. They would still translate to approximately 30 over the course of an entire season.
Now, that’s a mark he’s reached three times before. So, it’s not like Skinner is a one-hit wonder. Far from it.
If you take a look at every other name on that list, the average cap hit is over $10 million. So, even though each one is more of a complete player than Skinner, the Sabres did all right for themselves with this deal, especially if you take into consideration how teams tends to overpay players via unrestricted free agency. That’s in effect what the Sabres did.
Sabres Win Their Free Agency
The Sabres successfully convinced a player who could have signed anywhere else in the league to play in Buffalo. Why would that be a cardinal sin? You would have had to overpay anyway. At least the Sabres get a player who’s been proven to be a good fit, one who wants to be here. He would have been the best UFA option of the bunch.
There is no bad news here, at least not for the foreseeable future. Skinner is far from being on the verge of seeing his production fall of a cliff. As a 27-year-old he at least has a fair amount of good years left.
Will Skinner be as productive by the end of the deal? Probably not, but that’s the nature of the NHL unfortunately. You’ve got to lock up talent when you can. The Sabres just did and they should make no apologies about the contract. It’s one deal they should have no regrets about making. After a few seasons characterized by bad deals aplenty, this is one step in the right direction.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.