9:27 PM: It is official now and McKenzie was right on the mark with the terms. The Buffalo Sabres have announced an eight-year, $72MM extension with leading goal scorer Jeff Skinner. Skinner’s eight-year term is the NHL maximum and one only the Sabres could have awarded him. His new $9MM AAV is one that only 13 other forwards have topped, including teammate Jack Eichel. The Sabres hope that this investment can keep those two stars playing together on the team’s top line and dominating the competition en route to a return to the postseason.
8:46 PM: It was widely assumed that the Buffalo Sabres and star forward Jeff Skinner would eventually come to terms on a contract extension. After all, both sides benefited from the partnership in year one. Skinner enjoyed one of his best seasons to date, including potting a career-high 40 goals, while the Sabres landed a surefire top-line forward, who finished third on the team in scoring and found chemistry with young centerpieces Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart. Now, it appears that this speculation is about to pay off. TSN’s venerable insider, Bob McKenzie, reports that Buffalo is closing in on signing Skinner to an eight-year extension, thought to be in the realm of $9MM AAV.
If this $72MM deal comes together, Skinner could wind up in the upper echelon of NHL players when it comes to contract value. P.K. Subban, the only other player in the league with a $9MM cap hit, is currently ranked 16th in the league in AAV. The next players on the list are at $9.5MM, likely outside of the projected ranger for Skinner, but anything between a $9MM and $8.7MM AAV would put Skinner right there with Subban. Among those Subban would pass up include Sidney Crosby, Leon Draisaitl, Steven Stamkos, Claude Giroux, and Logan Couture. Obviously, the salary cap ceiling is increasing and Skinner’s cost is a function of that, but this is still a considerable leap for a player whose last contract was a six-year deal with a $5.75MM AAV with the Carolina Hurricanes.
Whether or not Skinner’s reported new value is a fair representation of his ability is up for debate. What’s not up for debate is that Buffalo can afford to offer this contract and possibly overpaying is better than the alternative. The Sabres are currently ranked 25th in committed salary cap entering the off-season with more than $29MM in space and Skinner is arguably their only priority free agent. Buffalo is a team that desperately want to improve, especially after a hot start was followed by an embarrassing second half and would up in yet another disappointing finish. Letting Skinner walk in free agency would be a nightmare for the team and GM Jason Botterill would rather gamble with his job down the line than almost surely lose it in the present if he failed to retain or somehow substantially replace Skinner. Will the 27-year-old be worth $9MM when he’s 35 years old? Almost certainly not, but that’s the trade-off of every long-term UFA contract. In the short-term this would be a great deal to hold on to a talented player who has been a great fit.