One of the biggest and most one-sided NHL trades during the off season saw 26-year-old left-winger Jeff Skinner being dealt to the Buffalo Sabres from the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes originally drafted the Markham-born player in the first round with the seventh overall pick in 2010. He quickly proceeded to tear up the league as a rookie by winning the Calder Memorial Trophy with 31 goals and 32 assists in his first season in 2010/11 and it appeared Carolina had found an excellent franchise player.
In his debut season, Skinner became the youngest NHL’er to be named rookie of the year at the age of 18 and was also the youngest ever to play in an NHL All-Star Game. In addition, he became the youngest all-star in any of the four major sports leagues in North America. The former Kitchener Ranger missed 18 games the next season, but still managed 20 goals and 24 assists and then posted 13 goals and 11 assists in the shortened 42-game campaign of 2012/13. Following that, Skinner had seasons of 33, 18, 28, 37 and 24 goals for the Hurricanes and notched 204 goals and 185 assists for 379 points in 579 games with the struggling franchise.
But even though he arguably hadn’t hit his prime yet at the age of 26, Carolina decided to trade him to Buffalo for prospect Cliff Pu as well as a second-round pick in the 2019 draft, and a third and sixth-rounder in 2020. At the time of the trade, Skinner had one year remaining on his contract with a salary cap hit of $5.725 million. He may have started off relatively slowly with the Sabres with just two points in his first six outings this season, but he’s now started to roll with six goals and six assists in 11 games to lead the squad and is a plus-nine. He’s also helped the team get off to a fine 6-4-1 start.
If he can keep the pace up, Skinner will set new career highs in goals, assists and points and there’s no better time to do so since he’ll be an unrestricted free agent next July. Playing mainly on a line with centre Jack Eichel has certainly helped, but all of Skinner’s stats and possession numbers have been impressive so far. This bodes well for the winger when it comes time to sign his next contract and his stock should rise even higher if he can help the Sabres reach the playoffs this season. It wouldn’t be unrealistic to see Skinner get close to $8 million a year on his next deal.
As long as Skinner can stay healthy through the 2018/19 campaign he should be in a good bargaining position when it’s time to negotiate his next contract. However, it’s unclear if he’d rather test the free agency waters next year or re-sign with the Sabres. Of course, Buffalo doesn’t want to lose him for nothing, so they really need to feel him out to see how interested he is in remaining with the club after this season. If they get the feeling Skinner wants to shop his services around next summer they will need to deal him before the trade deadline to recoup some of the assets they used to acquire him.
There’s no doubt the speedy goalscorer could bring in an attractive return at the trade deadline as playoff-bound teams try to strengthen their squads. This puts the onus on the Sabres to start negotiating with Skinner now to see just what his future plans are. If Buffalo continues to play well and Skinner can keep producing, he may very well be tempted to stay with the young squad since it could have a bright future. But wherever he ends up in 2019/20, you can bet Skinner’s next contract should contain a considerable hike in pay.