In the end, the Buffalo Sabres needed to re-sign slick winger Jeff Skinner, even if it meant overpaying the 40-goal scorer.
As a 27-year-old fresh off a career season and just weeks away from becoming an unrestricted free agent, the two-time NHL All-Star possessed most of the leverage.
So late Friday, the Sabres awarded Skinner an eight-year, $72 million contract.
The $9 million average annual value ranks second on the team behind captain Jack Eichel, who just finished the first season of an eight-year, $80 million deal.
Letting Skinner walk in free agency would’ve been a disaster for the Sabres, who own an eight-year playoff drought, the NHL’s longest.
The Sabres need Skinner as much for his ability to draw fans as his goal-scoring talents.
After Sabres general manager Jason Botterill acquired Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes on Aug. 2, he quickly became a fan favorite.
While the Sabres fell apart late in 2018-19, the tenacious Skinner provided an immediate impact, helping them rattle off 10 straight wins in November and surge to the top of the league.
The 5-foot-11, 187-pound Skinner scored 14 goals in his first 19 games, showcasing dynamic chemistry beside Eichel, his center most of the season. Even as the Sabres started stumbling, Skinner kept producing.
The former Calder Trophy winner scored twice Feb. 15 – his 35th and 36th tallies in his 59th game – putting him on a 52-goal pace. At that point, he hadn’t gone more than four straight games without scoring a goal.
Then Skinner, who has never played an NHL playoff game, experienced his first slump of the year. He endured a 13-game goal drought and mustered just one during a 22-contest stretch.
Still, Skinner scored three times in the final three games, including twice in the season finale, to hit the 40-goal mark for the first time in his nine-year career.
The Sabres hadn’t had a 40-goal scorer since Thomas Vanek in 2008-09.
Incredibly, the Sabres only dished forward prospect Cliff Pu and three draft picks to the Hurricanes for Skinner.
Skinner has compiled 244 goals and 442 points in 661 career NHL games. He also compiled 63 points in 82 games in 2018-19, tying his career high.
His 32 even-strength goals set a new high for a first-year Sabre.
Skinner just finished a six-year, $34.35 million contract.
Jeff Skinner #Sabres
8 year / $72M extension ($9M AAV)
2019-20: $10M Base
2020-21: $2.5M Base $7.5M SB
2021-22: $10M Base
2022-23: $2.5M Base $7.5M SB
2023-24: $10M Base
2024-25: $10M Base
2025-26: $7M Base
2026-27: $5M Base
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) June 8, 2019