Sabres’ Jeff Skinner Deserves More Credit for Breakout Season

The Buffalo Sabres’ offense has been the best thing about them this season, and their top line has been absolute dynamite. Tage Thompson is third in the league with 50 points this season, Alex Tuch is on pace to shatter his previous career best in every scoring category, and Jeff Skinner is poised to do the same. Skinner in particular is interesting because he is usually known as a pure goal scorer, but this season he has shown a level of playmaking skill that looks completely different from the player the Sabres re-signed back in 2019. He has become an offensive catalyst, and no longer is relying on other players to create scoring chances.

Skinner’s Value Lies Beyond Scoring

Skinner can put pucks in the back of the net better than most players, but his offensive value goes beyond just putting up points. He is an agitator and he thrives at getting under opposing players’ skin. Every night on the ice, he is the primary source of verbal confrontation with the opposing side, and it provides a very important distraction for the team. If all eyes are on him because of what he is saying, the focus shifts from someone like Thompson or Dylan Cozens, and it ultimately gives them more space to do what they do best.

Mika Zibanejad New York Rangers
Mika Zibanejad of the New York Rangers faces off against Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabres on April 25, 2021. (Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images)

What he does is similar to another notorious NHL pest like Brad Marchand (minus the licking), and it not only makes room for his teammates to score more, but it also has him draw a lot more penalties. Skinner is one of the best players at drawing penalties, so the frustration he causes the opposing team puts them on edge, and causes them to make more mistakes around him. As the Sabres have one of the best power plays in the league (running at 29.8 percent), his ability to draw more penalties has been one of his most valuable assets this season.

Skinner’s Playmaking is Game Changing

Skinner has always been a player that scores more goals than assists. In his 13-season NHL career, he has amassed a total of 314 goals and 264 assists, and has put up more assists than goals in only three seasons before this one. This year he is on pace to score 44 goals and 54 assists for 98 points, and every single one of those stats would be a personal best. He has always been a primary scoring threat for the Sabres, and while the near-100-point pace will likely not stand, his newfound playmaking skills have been a huge reason for his linemates’ production.

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Skinner is easily the most fluid and controlled skater on the Sabres, and while his speed may not be what it once was, his shiftiness while moving around with the puck is his greatest asset. He has shown some great vision with the puck all season, and his chemistry with Thompson has been nothing short of electrifying. He uses his skating to position himself in different ways that draw opposing players in, and then when they least expect it, he dishes the puck to Thompson, who rarely misses this year. This new facet of his game makes the Sabres’ top line less one dimensional, since they all have the ability to make plays, as well as finish them.

Skinner’s Contract Hurts Much Less Now

After the 2018-19 season concluded, the Sabres re-signed Skinner to a massive eight-year, $9 million per year contract and some said that it was an overpayment for a one-time 40-goal scorer. In the subsequent years, Skinner fell off offensively due to the fact that he was buried on the fourth line by former coach Ralph Krueger, and he only mustered 14 goals in the 2019-20 season, and seven goals in the 2020-21 season. Fans and media alike were voicing their displeasure about his contract, and his poor offensive performances even saw him being exposed, as well as passed up on in the Seattle expansion draft.

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Jeff Skinner scores beautiful goal against the St. Louis Blues.

Once current coach Don Granato took the reins, Skinner looked like his old self again, and he rebounded with a 33-goal and 30-assist season in 2021-22. Since regaining his role and his confidence, he has become the player that the Sabres hoped he would be when they re-signed him, plus more. His recent absence due to suspension caused a gaping hole to be found in their offense, and it shows how much value he truly brings to this team now. While his contract looked horrible to start, he is on his way to showing that it was a bargain, rather than a bust.

Skinner Deserves To Play in the Playoffs

Every player’s dream is to make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and then ultimately to win the Cup itself. Skinner has never had the opportunity to do this in his entire career, as he was traded to Buffalo from Carolina before the Hurricanes made the playoffs. While in Buffalo, he has dealt with nothing but failure, but the new culture built here has him looking at a much brighter future.

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His never-ending positive attitude in the face of adversity, combined with his work ethic, are two of the biggest reasons he has earned the right to play for the Stanley Cup. Buffalo still needs to make some goaltending and defensive adjustments if they want to make a long run in the playoffs, but they are currently trending in the right direction on all fronts. The Sabres are currently in the hunt for a playoff spot, and if they are going to get there, Skinner will be one of the biggest reasons why.

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