The Buffalo Sabres needed to find a coach before doing anything else this offseason. Their new bench boss would be a huge influence on the direction of the team this summer, and now that they have Ralph Krueger locked up as their man, they can move onto other important decisions. One of those is regarding the pending unrestricted free agency of sniper Jeff Skinner, but things seem headed towards an extension if you ask GM Jason Botterill. He was on WGR 550 in Buffalo earlier this week and explained where things stand:
A contract is never done until you get it signed, but our discussions with Jeff have been extremely positive. I think it’s been a relationship that has worked out very well for the Buffalo Sabres, and I think it’s a relationship that has worked out very well for Jeff.
We went through the coaching search here, sometimes people get a little impatient, but we wanted to make sure we went through the process correctly. I think what’s going on with Jeff and ourselves now is there was never going to be an extension announced before a coach was hired. A coach is now hired, we’ll continue our discussions there and get the chance to sit down with Jeff and go over things with how we see him fitting in, and how Ralph is going to coach this team and how he will interact with his players and his structure moving forward. Then we’ll hopefully find a way to get a deal done. From our standpoint, our discussions with both Jeff and Newport Sports have been extremely positive.
Skinner, 27, was listed fourth on our Midseason UFA Power Rankings, behind only Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin and Mark Stone, who has since signed an extension with the Vegas Golden Knights. Even with the emergence of Matt Duchene into a postseason force for the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Sabres forward may be the second best offensive weapon available on the open market if he doesn’t reach a new deal in the next six weeks. After struggling to maintain his high pace last season in Carolina, a fresh start in Buffalo rejuvenated Skinner’s career and his instant chemistry with Jack Eichel led to a career-high 40 goals and 63 points. Easily pacing the Sabres in goals means his departure would be a devastating hit to their offense for 2019-20, but handing out a blank check is always risky.
Luckily, the Sabres have put themselves in an extremely flexible financial situation even with their $80MM commitment to Eichel. The team has just four one-way contracts that extend through the 2020-21 season—Eichel, Kyle Okposo, Carter Hutton and Rasmus Ristolainen—and plenty of money coming off the books if they want it to. A deal for Skinner that could reach as many as eight years with a healthy raise from his $5.75MM cap hit would come with a lot of expectations, but also not cripple the Sabres finances if he takes a slight step backwards. As one of the youngest players on the free agent market—Skinner turned 27 just three days ago—and with an outstanding 244 goals in 661 career games, there may be no better bet available.