The biggest question of the Buffalo Sabres offseason, at least now that the head coaching vacancy has been filled, is whether or not GM Jason Botterill can get Jeff Skinner under contract. The star forward is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and would be one of the very best available players on the open market. Buffalo has maintained since they acquired him last year that they want to re-sign Skinner long-term, but to this point nothing has been set in stone. That might be changing soon, as Bob McKenzie said on NBC Sports last night that the two sides are getting closer:
The sense seems to be that there’s optimism, but not to the point where either side is entirely comfortable with the numbers that they’re exchanging. I do expect that there is likely to be more dialogue between Skinner’s [representatives] and the Buffalo Sabres. For quite some time now I’ve been saying that I think the sweet spot for a number is an eight-year deal somewhere between $8.5MM per year and $9.5MM per year.
Buffalo certainly wants him back, and Skinner would like to come back but they’ve just got to get the final massaging of the numbers to the point where both sides are happy. So it’s very close, but it’s not done. And until it’s done, it’s not done.
Skinner of course is coming off the best season of his career, scoring 40 goals and 63 points for the Sabres while finding instant chemistry with Jack Eichel. There is every reason in the world for the Sabres to want to retain Skinner, given how they’ve watched talented players like Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane sent packing in recent years but still haven’t found much success on the ice. Buffalo needs to start keeping their talent around if they ever want to stop the perpetual rebuild they’ve found themselves in for so long.
Still, an eight-year deal for any player comes with plenty of risk. While Skinner is one of the youngest free agents on the market, he also is a relatively one-dimensional player that doesn’t provide much if his goal scoring ability ever dries up. That has led to underwhelming seasons in the past, including his final one in Carolina in which he scored just 49 points in 82 games and ended up in a trade north. He only turned 27 a few weeks ago, but those 40 goals came on a likely unsustainable 14.9% shooting percentage. If that drops his career average of 11.2%, a $9MM+ contract might be a bit tougher to swallow.