Pondering Jeff Skinner trade as Sabres visit Hurricanes

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Back in May, I surmised that the Carolina Hurricanes would likely be haunted by a Jeff Skinner trade, and that was before I shared Hockey Twitter’s general reaction of “that’s it?” when he was sent to the Buffalo Sabres.

As bad as that trade looked in August, it only seems to get worse as the 2018-19 NHL season goes along, and so the Hurricanes brass has to take it on the chin Friday, as people inevitably revisit the trade being that Skinner’s making his first visit to Carolina as a member of an opposing team.

Let’s dig a little deeper. For the most part, this will only pour more salt in the wounds of Hurricanes GM Don Waddell and his staff, yet there are a few things that will provide at least a little comfort.

Red-hot Skinner, and a cautionary tale

Puck luck stood as one of the main reasons why I was concerned about Carolina trading Skinner.

In 2017-18, Skinner scored 24 goals, down from 37 the previous season. While this point will cue a wah-wah from Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites, the 24 goals really weren’t so bad when you consider his 8.7 shooting percentage, down from his current career average of 11.4 percent.

This season, Skinner already has a ludicrous 29 goals, and he’s showing dazzling swagger with a 21.5 SH% (his previous career-high was 14.4 percent from his Calder-winning 2010-11 season). Goals like these have to sting the scoring-starved Hurricanes:

The Hurricanes remain as frustrating as ever when it comes to failing to finish chances. In fact, the frustration is only greater, as Skinner and fellow traded winger Elias Lindholm are enjoying the best runs of their careers on playoff-caliber teams, while Carolina looks like it will once again see the postseason as agonizingly just-out-of-reach.

The free agent factor

The dangerous thing for the Sabres is that Skinner, a pending unrestricted free agent, is virtually certain to cool off, but has socked away such a great season that his price is dramatically inflated. Skinner’s a fantastic player, so that’s not the end of the world, but it’s a factor that more far-sighted fans should consider.

Unfortunately for the Hurricanes, there’s only so much solace one can take from a move eventually looking a bit less painful.

Interestingly, there’s the slight chance – albeit slim – that the Sabres might decide to trade Skinner if they don’t think it’s better to keep him, thus reaping more indirect rewards from this trade. Yow.

Even if it’s just for one year, Buffalo desperately needed to make real progress in 2018-19, and Skinner’s been enormously important in the Sabres doing just that.

Diminishing returns

To review, Carolina received:

  • Prospect Cliff Pu, and the stinky puns that come with his name.
  • Buffalo’s 2019 second-round pick.
  • Buffalo’s 2020 third-round pick and six-rounder.

That seemed like a pupu platter weak return from the moment it happened, and unfortunately, it’s only stinking worse today.

Unfortunately, Pu’s had an awful first year with the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers. He has just one assist since Nov. 25, and only one goal and three assists for four points in 32 games.

Cruel stat: Pu’s .13 points-per-game are barely better than that of goalie Scott Darling (.11), who managed an assist in nine contests.

That second-rounder was a somewhat reasonable gamble that the Sabres would struggle again in 2018-19. Instead, they currently hold the second wild-card spot in the East. While Buffalo could fall short of a 2019 Stanley Cup playoff berth, they’re unlikely to fall enough for that to be anything better than a mid-second-rounder.

The third and sixth-rounders in 2020 carry dubious benefits, even if the Sabres struggle in 2019-20. Maybe the numbers will change in the next decade, but a few years ago, TSN’s Travis Yost noted that only about one-third of third-rounders became NHL players from 2000-09, and that number decreases as you go along. And the odds of finding a Skinner-level gem is even less likely.

Of course, draft picks can be helpful in making trades.

Think of it from a PR perspective, in particular.

Sports fans can be drawn in to the siren call of potential, and few things do the imagination wonders quite like throwing some draft picks into a trade, to soften the shock of losing a more proven commodity.

Maybe the Hurricanes could turn those Sabres picks into, say, a goalie for the future? Perhaps they could use them in a package to carve out some goals?

If nothing else, they give the Hurricanes options. Skinner’s goals are a lot more exciting, but still.

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Again, it’s crucial to consider context.

The Hurricanes likely believed that Skinner would leave in free agency (either by his choice, theirs, or both), so they didn’t want to lose him for nothing. It’s possible that both sides wanted to get a split over with after years of missing the playoffs and the tensions that tend to arise from falling short.

Still, Carolina and other teams can learn from this. Maybe you can’t trade a player on supremely hot streaks, but there may be better option than selling low when they’re ice-cold. There’s an alternate scenario where the Hurricanes bide their time by waiting to trade Skinner, likely driving up his value while enjoying the goals he could provide.

(Even if he might not be anywhere near as red-hot as he is now, prospering in a dynamic duo with Jack Eichel.)

This saga isn’t over for the Sabres, either, as they must make the right moves regarding his future.

There’s no denying that it looks like an enormous win for Buffalo right now, though, and that’s something the Hurricanes must contend with on Friday night.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL All-Star Game: Draisaitl, Landeskog, Letang, Skinner voted ‘Last Men In’

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Jeff Skinner of the Buffalo Sabres, Kris Letang of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Gabriel Landeskog of the Colorado Avalanche, and Leon Draisaitl of the Edmonton Oilers have been added to the 2019 NHL All-Star rosters after fans elected them through the Last Men In vote.

Following the player announcement last week, the NHL left one spot open on each divisional roster for the new Last Men In competition. After a week of voting by fans, those four will be heading to All-Star Weekend in San Jose later this month.

According to the NHL, more than 11.5 million votes were cast over in the last week, including two million on Thursday, which was the final day of balloting.

Still to be announced is the new captain for the Metropolitan Division after Alex Ovechkin pulled out for more rest. And barring another injury replacement, the Montreal Canadiens will be the only team without a representative after Carey Price announced he would not be participating.

Here are the updated rosters:

Atlantic Division
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
F Jeff Skinner, Buffalo Sabres (Last Men In vote)
F Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay Lightning
F Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Captain)
F David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
F Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning
F John Tavares, Toronto Maple Leafs
D Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators
D Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers
G Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings
G Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning*
(*Injury replacement for Carey Price)

Metropolitan Division
F Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes
F Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets
F Mathew Barzal, New York Islanders
F Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
F Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
F Taylor Hall, New Jersey Devils
D Kris Letang, Pittsburgh Penguins (Last Men In vote)
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
G Braden Holtby, Washington Capitals
G Henrik Lundqvist, New York Rangers
(*Captain Alex Oveckin pulled out.)

Central Division
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Gabriel Landeskog, Colorado Avalanche (Last Men In vote)
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche (Captain)
F Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues
F Mikko Rantanen, Colorado Avalanche
F Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets
D Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars
D Roman Josi, Nashville Predators
G Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota Wild
G Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators

Pacific Division
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Clayton Keller, Arizona Coyotes
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers (Captain)
F Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Last Men In vote)
F Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
F Elias Pettersson, Vancouver Canucks
D Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks
D Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings
D Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
G Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas Golden Knights
G John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks

The 2019 NHL All-Star Skills will take place on Friday, Jan. 25 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2019 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 26 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE:
NHL reveals 2019 All-Star Game rosters
Pass or Fail: NHL’s eco-friendly 2019 All-Star Game jerseys
NHL announces 2019 All-Star game coaches

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Jeff Skinner playing his way toward huge contract

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The Buffalo Sabres took a bit of a gamble when they acquired winger Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes just before the start of the 2018-19 NHL season. Not so much when it comes his talent or the level of production they should have expected from him, because everyone in the league already knew what he was capable of doing on the ice.

In short: He scores goals. Usually, lots of goals.

When the Sabres acquired him for prospect Cliff Pu and a collection of draft picks, Skinner was just beginning his age 26 season and had already been a 30-goal scorer three different times in his career. Since entering the league at the start of the 2010-11 season he has been one of the best goal-scoring wingers in the business and is still at a point in his career where he should be expected to perform near his peak level.

The gamble, such as it was, was based on how long they would be able to keep him as Skinner was entering the final year of his current contract, paying him just a little more than $5.2 million for this season.

Given that contract situation it could have been a one-year (or potentially less) experience.

So far, he has done nothing to make his price tag for this upcoming summer go down as he is off to one of the best starts of his career and has played a vital role in helping the Sabres go from a cellar-dweller in the Eastern Conference to one of the league’s most surprising — and exciting — teams. He has been a perfect fit on a line with Jack Eichel, Buffalo’s franchise center, as the duo has been at the front of the team’s resurgence.

[Related: Jeff Skinner has been just what the Sabres needed]

Entering play on Friday Skinner had 15 goals in his first 22 games, putting him on a 55-goal pace for the season.

(Update: Skinner scored two more goals in a 3-2 overtime win over the Montreal Canadiens on Friday, giving him 17 goals in 23 games on the season … which is now a 60-goal pace.)

Even if you assume that he will slow down at some point this season (and he almost certainly will because that 21 percent shooting percentage is probably not going to last) he should still be on a path for a massive season. Even if he shoots at his normal career level (around 10 percent) the rest of the way he would still be on pace for an additional 20 goals this season based on the number of shots he is generating per game.

Even doing that over the remaining 60 games would put him around a 35-goal season, a mark that he reached just two years ago as a member of the Hurricanes.

He was always going to be one of the top potential free agents on the market after this season, probably right after Artemi Panarin, and above the likes of Mark Stone, Matt Duchene, and Jordan Eberle. Nothing in his play this season has changed that.

What kind of contract should Buffalo be looking at if it wants to keep him beyond this season? Let’s just take a quick look at some comparable wingers that have signed new contracts over the past calendar year, including in free agency this past summer. The minimum dollar amount should probably be at least $7 million per season, and that is just taking into account his level of production.

Skinner has not only been a better goal-scorer than just about all of them throughout his career, he also still has age on his side.

Usually when top-tier players hit the free agent market — or are eligible to do so — they are typically later in their 20s or even into their 30s. That means teams are no longer getting the best production from that player when they sign them. Skinner, though, will still only be 27 years old when his next deal begins. That may not be his statistical “prime” (most scorers peak between 23-26), but he will still be pretty close to it and should still have several years of top-line goal-scoring production in his future.

And while Skinner always seems to have an injury-risk attached to him because of some concussion issues earlier in his career, the reality is that he has only missed 19 games over the past six years, with 11 of those games coming during the 2013-14 season.

Over the past five years he has missed only eight games, and over the past three years he has missed only three.

Just look at his resume right now. He is a proven top-line goal-scorer, he is still a few years away from hitting age 30, he is mostly durable, and he is having a great season at the absolute perfect time to help bring what has been a struggling franchise back to relevance. Put it all together and he should not only be able to command top dollar, whether it be from Buffalo or somebody else on the open market, but also get it.

Given how well he has seemed to click with Eichel fans in Buffalo should be hoping like hell it is with them because that duo could be the start of something special for the Sabres.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Video: Sabres’ Dahlin starts, finishes play for first NHL goal

Associated Press

Rasmus Dahlin has scored his first NHL goal.

The No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft was rewarded for following the play he helped create, pinching in from the point to latch on to a Jeff Skinner pass out front.

Dahlin started the play, picking up the puck in his own end before dumping it to Skinner in the neutral zone. Arizona couldn’t handle the transition and the rest is history now.

It’s still unclear what Antti Raanta was doing on the goal. The Arizona Coyotes goalie bit hard on Skinner’s move, leaving his goal wide open for Dahlin to poke the puck in.

Dahlin had a single assist in four games while averaging 19:07 of ice time per night heading into Saturday’s game, third highest among Sabres defensemen.

Oh, and he made history with the marker.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Canes coach Peters making tweaks with emphasis on being more dangerous offensively

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The Carolina Hurricanes endured a rough campaign in 2014-15 and their biggest overall issues surrounded their offense. Now going into his second season as head coach, Bill Peters hopes to address that.

“We’re going to tweak a few things from what we did last year, with an emphasis on being a more dangerous team offensively,” Peters told The News & Observer.

The Hurricanes had a number of key players that didn’t live up to expectations in that regard last season. Alexander Semin, who was bought out this summer, is the most obvious example, but Eric Staal led the team with just 54 points, which was his lowest total in an 82-game campaign since 2003-2004. Meanwhile, Jeff Skinner went from scoring 33 goals in 2013-14 to 18 last season and Jordan Staal was limited to 46 contests due to a fractured fibula.

There’s some hope that this season can be better though, in part because 20-year-old Elias Lindholm and 22-year-old Victor Rask may be ready to take another step forward.

As for the system itself though, blueliner Justin Faulk — who ranked second in the Hurricanes’ 14-15 scoring race — rose to its defense.

“It’s not a matter of trusting the system. It’s a matter of trusting the players to make sure everyone that’s in the lineup that night is ready to go,” Faulk said. “The system is there, it works. Guys believe that.”