Sabres Skinned the Hurricanes in Getting Skinner

Jeff Skinner is blowing up with the Buffalo Sabres. He is doing what everyone who has followed his career knew he could do, scoring a lot. The Carolina Hurricanes didn’t want to keep this stellar sniper on the roster so they traded him to the Sabres for Cliff Pu and a few picks.

Hurricanes and Skinner No More

At the time, a lot of heads were scratched and eyebrows raised at the one-sided nature of the trade. Were the Hurricanes really so desperate to get rid of Skinner that they were willing to let him go for virtually nowhere near his value in return? Apparently so.

While Skinner had another year on his contract, it was questionable as to whether or not he would sign an extension. One would think that he would like to have stayed in Raleigh with the only team he had ever played with, but that was not to be.

Jeff Skinner Hurricanes
Jeff Skinner, Carolina Hurricanes, Mar. 1, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As the start of the 2018-19 season drew near, the trade was made, almost as if it had to be done before Skinner played another minute with the team in the preseason or the regular season. The details have not been released as to what was going on behind the scenes with the Hurricanes and Skinner.

Did Skinner want out or did new coach Rod Brind’Amour, new GM Don Waddell or new owner Tom Dundon want him gone? If so, what was the reason? Was it because he was not playing defense the way former head coach Bill Peters wanted? Was he a bad seed in the locker room? Whatever it was, it reached the point that one could almost hear the voice of management echoing off the halls of Raleigh’s PNC Arena, “Skinner’s got to go and go now!”

Sabres Skinned the Hurricanes Getting Skinner

And so he went. The Sabres welcomed him with open arms, and undoubtedly with a feeling of having put one over on the Hurricanes. Skinner’s arrival in Buffalo was a game-changer and so far, he has been a season-changer for the Sabres.

Sabres center Jeff Skinner
Sabres forward Jeff Skinner (Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports)

While the Hurricanes currently languish near the bottom-tier of the league in points, the Sabres are sitting in the top-three of the Atlantic Division. They have turned what many thought would be another sub-par season into one with legitimate playoff contention within reach. The Sabres have the Hurricanes to thank for at least some of their surprising success this season.

In fact, those who believed that the Sabres might be able to turn things around this season after having finished last in their division four of the last five seasons cited the Skinner acquisition as one of the main reasons. Griffin Youngs at wrote several months ago:

Now with Jeff Skinner in their top-six, the Sabres have to start being taken seriously by other teams. It might not be enough to make them a playoff team just yet after finishing in last place the previous season, but it certainly gives them a fighting chance.

The truth is that Skinner is making a huge difference for the Sabres and may very well lead them into the playoffs. He is currently second to Jack Eichel in points with 38 but leads the team in goals scored with 26. His plus/minus plus plus-21 is immensely better than the minus-27 he put up with the Hurricanes last season. Perhaps the constant struggle with Peters about playing defense his way is reflected in that number.

Buffalo Sabres left wing Jeff Skinner Florida Panthers goaltender James Reimer
Buffalo Sabres left wing Jeff Skinner scores a goal against Florida Panthers goaltender James Reimer (AP Photo/Terry Renna)

But, while that argument swirled, and while Peters put Skinner on the third line as a form of discipline because of the defensive issues, the more prudent thinking was to let Skinner be Skinner. Let him focus on scoring like he is capable of doing and stop trying to force him into a defensive mold. Seems the Sabres got that memo.

On Dec. 3, Greg Wyshinski posted a conversation he had at ESPN with Skinner. On his thoughts on Buffalo’s chances of having a good season when he arrived, Skinner said, “For me coming in, the organization thought there was a young core of players. They had [Rasmus] Dahlin coming in. They made some other moves during the summer. There was a big sense of excitement around the team that we could get off to that fresh start. And fortunately, we’ve been on a nice little run.”

Skinner is the main reason the Sabres are having a “nice little run.” Imagine if he had been able to stay with the Hurricanes and be a part of the wide-open forechecking style that they started the season with. He might have 36 goals by now.

Waddell said when the Skinner trade was executed that the Hurricanes had talked with every team in the league and that the Sabres had provided the best value in return. It is hard to believe that getting Pu and a few picks was the best offer that Skinner could have yielded the Hurricanes.

No matter what really went on, the Sabres skinned the Hurricanes in getting Skinner. The Hurricanes desperately need what Skinner is for the Sabres – a proven goal-scorer. While the Sabres are the hottest team in the NHL, the Hurricanes are staring at the season and hoping to be able to dig themselves out of the hole they are in and miraculously make the playoffs.