Jeff Skinner lit the red light behind Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price twice on Thursday night, bringing his season total to 11 goals. Though the Bell Centre siren didn’t sound for the visiting team, Sabres fans likely heard a different sound: cha-ching.
With every goal, the cost of retaining the proven scorer and inking him to a new deal is going up.
Through 16 games this season, Skinner has 11 goals (nine at even strength) and seven assists for 18 points. That ranks the sniper one point behind Sabres captain Jack Eichel for the team lead in scoring. Skinner has a team-best plus-11 rating and is tied with Sam Reinhart for the team lead in power play points–five. Of players on the team who have taken 15 or more shots, he leads everyone with an impressive 20.8 shooting percentage. By any metric, Skinner is red-hot.
Sabres Sizzling Top Line
In an effort to jump-start his team, on Oct. 20, head coach Phil Housley assembled a top line of Jack Eichel, Jason Pominville and Skinner to face the Los Angeles Kings. To say they’ve been dominant is an understatement. The line is on fire.
With two more goals tonight, Jeff Skinner now has 11 goals this season – only Patrick Kane, Timo Meier, Alex Ovechkin & David Pastrnak have scored more (12 each). pic.twitter.com/u8O8XDkeVH
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) November 9, 2018
The trio has put up some serious numbers – Skinner has 10 goals and five assists, Eichel has one goal and 13 assists, and Pominville has seven goals and seven assists. That’s 18 goals and 25 assists for 43 points in nine games.
For the season, the three players rank 1-2-3 in scoring for the Sabres. They’ve scored nearly half of the team’s goals (23 of 48). Should the line continue its torrid pace, Eichel would hit 97 points, Skinner would reach 56 goals (92 points), and the Mayor of Pominville would notch 77 points. It’d be career-best years for Eichel and Skinner. Pominville managed 80 points in his third season in the league.
Skinner’s sneaky speed, ferocious forecheck and tenacity on the puck have been welcome additions to the Sabres roster.
Related: Buffalo Sabres’ 50-Goal Scorers
When the Sabres acquired Skinner in August, they were hoping the speedy left winger would inject some offense into the lineup. After completing the deal, Botterill was giddy. “Here’s a player that comes in right away and helps our team right away. And I think that’s going to get our National Hockey League players excited,” said Botterill.
Skinner waved his no-trade clause in agreeing to be traded to Buffalo. The trade sent Sabres prospect forward Cliff Pu (a 2016 third-round pick), their 2019 second rounder, and third and sixth round picks in the 2020 draft to the Hurricanes. It took nearly four months for the deal to finally be made– both Sabres general manager Jason Botterill and Canes GM Don Waddell stood firm in what they wanted.
Skinner is playing in the last year of a six-year, $34.35 million contract originally signed by the Hurricanes, and will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The 5-foot-11, 187-pound native of Toronto, Ontario will likely be in the market for a long-term extension and a pay raise above his $5.725 annual salary.
Sabre Fans Anxious to Re-sign Skinner
Fans in Buffalo know all too well the feeling of having talent with expiring contracts leave the team. The sour taste of Chris Drury and Danny Briere leaving Buffalo after the 2006-07 season still lingers for many. They’d go ballistic if it happened again.
Surprisingly, Botterill is not in any rush to ink Skinner to a new deal. Neither is Skinner. They both have stated publicly that they can wait until later in the season.
Jack, are you serious with this 😱 pic.twitter.com/DLz5MIpgm4
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) November 9, 2018
“For me as a player, you focus on the things you can control,” said Skinner. “There are agents and management people, guys who are really a lot smarter than me, who deal with that kind of stuff. Fortunately for me, I focus on playing. That sort of thing will figure itself out in time.
“I’m happy with the adjustment that’s taken place in Buffalo. I’m comfortable and happy here. I’m just focusing on getting better, going game by game and getting where we want to be.” (from ‘Sabres’ Skinner willing to be patient about starting talks on contract extension’, The Buffalo News – 11/7/18)
Skinner Holds Leverage
Skinner’s got all the leverage now, especially if he keeps filling the net. He’s only 26 years old and has already eclipsed the 30-goal mark three times in his career. He had six 20-goal seasons for the Carolina Hurricanes. Players like him are hard to find.
A new contract for Skinner could easily be hovering around the $8 million mark annually. Former Sabre and current San Jose Shark Evander Kane inked a seven-year, $49 million deal. Kane, 27, has only one 30-goal season and was coming off three consecutive 20-goal seasons with the Sabres.
If Skinner’s asking price becomes too much for Botterill, it’s possible he gets flipped at the trade deadline. Of course, that could get really complicated if the Sabres are in the battle for a playoff spot.
Skinner is very productive in even-strength situations, an Achilles heel for the Sabres in recent years. Roughly three-quarters of Skinner’s 204 goals have come at even strength. Over the past three seasons, he ranks seventh among NHL players with 74 even-strength tallies.
Skinner Feeling at Home in Buffalo
Skinner has adjusted to life in Buffalo pretty smoothly. After getting a few games under his feet, things have started to click. He’s pleased with all the support he’s received while transitioning to western New York, both on and off the ice.
The Sabres have changed everything–owners, general managers, coaches and players–since the dark day of July 1, 2007, when they lost two star players. This management team is very different and continues to build toward a bright future. If they see Skinner as part of it, you can bet they’ll find a way to keep him.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”