Yesterday, THN.com examined the roller-coaster career of Nashville Predators star forward Matt Duchene, and today, we’re turning the focus to one of the Eastern Conference equivalents to Duchene – Buffalo Sabres forward Jeff Skinner.
Now, some of the more cynical among you may sneer at us for comparing Skinner to Duchene, who netted a career-high 43 goals on a playoff Preds team, but consider: both are in the same age range (Skinner is 30, Duchene is 31); both are among the top-paid players on their team and are in the same pay range (Skinner has a salary cap hit of $9 million, Duchene carries a hit of $8 million); both are keys to their team’s playoff hopes this season, and both are coming off bounce-back seasons and are seeking to stabilize at that level this year.
Skinner’s contract, which runs for another four seasons after the 2022-23 campaign, may be one of the most difficult to move in the entire NHL, but for a team that’s desperate for positive playoff results – or one that’s desperate just to make the playoffs, period – Skinner’s deal could be more palatable if he’s as good at goal-scoring as he was last year.
Of course, no matter how much Skinner improves on his 33-goal, 63-point 2021-22 season, it’s still virtually impossible he can be moved unless Buffalo retains a chunk of his salary, but maybe there is a team willing to take a huge chance, trade for Skinner, and if things don’t work out on the ice, choose to go the buyout route with him down the line.
Otherwise, the Sabres and Skinner will be together for a good long while. Skinner’s contract is quite bloated, but it helps the cash-conscious Sabres to get to the salary cap floor. And if you leave out his sub-par performances in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 campaigns, Skinner has scored at least 20 goals in seven of the previous nine seasons. By and large, he’s a more effective goal-scorer than a large percentage of the league.
The problem for Skinner is, he’s a thirtysomething on a Buffalo team that won’t be elite Stanley Cup contenders until a number of years from now when he’s far less effective/consistent and he’s still earning that gigantic amount of money – and he will until he’s 35 years old. There very probably are going to be players on that 2026-27-season Sabres team that the franchise hasn’t drafted yet. That’s still how far away Buffalo is from a championship.
So, with that in mind, do you call Skinner’s years with the Sabres so far money not well-spent? He isn’t a generational-type player. You probably wouldn’t put him in the same category as some other players – the Rangers’ Adam Fox (who earns $9.5-million per year), Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen ($8.45 million) and Ottawa’s Tim Stutzle ($8.35 million) – who are earning as much, or less, than many teams’ foundational pieces. He does have soft hands, but those hands aren’t capable of carrying a team.
And even though Buffalo will be an improved group this year as youngsters Peyton Krebs, Jack Quinn, Dylan Cozens, Rasmus Dahlin, and Owen Power settle into prominent roles at the NHL level, it will take just about everything possible going right for them to make them a playoff team.
For most organizations, evolving into a playoff team takes many a year, and unfortunately for Skinner, the competitive hole the Sabres have to dig out from is so massive, he probably will be on his last legs as an effective NHLer when Buffalo rises to the top of the Atlantic Division.
What if Skinner scores 40 goals this season? Would that be enough to make a team take a considerable chance on him? Is his contract that radioactive? Or is he stuck with Buffalo for the foreseeable future? Because those questions aren’t yet answered, he’s a player to keep an eye on this year.
- Jeff Skinner Needs Career-Highs To Make Contract Palatable
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