BUFFALO – Having a no-trade clause attached to his six-year, $34.35 million contract meant Jeff Skinner controlled his future. The Sabres’ newest player could veto a deal and wait until the Carolina Hurricanes and his agent found him a new team he liked.
While Skinner denied he turned down any offers before the Sabres materialized, reports and the timing of his trade – high-profile NHL deals rarely transpire in August – suggest otherwise.
Whatever the case, Skinner, who was dealt Thursday, clearly sees a fit and wanted to join the Sabres.
In his final season before hitting unrestricted free agency, the three-time 30-goal scorer will likely skate at left wing beside slick center Jack Eichel, one of a few youngsters with superstar potential that helped lure Skinner to Buffalo.
If Skinner isn’t playing with Eichel, he will almost certainly receive action beside Casey Mittelstadt, one of the NHL’s top center prospects. On the blue line, the Sabres have No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, perhaps the best young defenseman in decades.
“First and foremost, the young group of players they have, the young core is exciting,” Skinner said of why he approved a trade to the Sabres. “There’s a lot of good players. I’m excited to join those guys and be a piece of the puzzle to them.
“After that, I think you try to do your homework based on sort of guys that have played there, maybe guys that you know. … I’ve heard a lot of positive things about the city, a lot of positive things about the ownership group, management group and the fans.”
Skinner, 26, doesn’t know Eichel and said playing beside “one of the top centermen in the league” would be coach Phil Housley’s decision.
“I’m excited to get to know him and get to meet him,” Skinner said of Eichel on a conference call Friday.
Skinner, a Toronto native, said “yes and no” when asked if the proximity to his home factored in coming to the Sabres.
“It’s a positive, all things considered,” he said. “My family’s excited. But I think, for me, when you sort of rank priorities and weigh everything that goes into it … it’s nice to be close to family, it’s nice to be close to friends. I’ve gotten a lot of texts and people are excited.
“But for me, I think the focus is winning and having a good season and right now coming into camp … to sort of start on the right foot.”
Skinner hasn’t done much winning. In eight NHL seasons, he has played zero playoff games. The Hurricanes have morphed into perhaps the league’s most irrelevant franchise.
While Skinner wouldn’t say if he wanted a fresh start, he and the Hurricanes agreed after last season a trade would be best for the former Calder Trophy winner.
“I enjoyed my time in Carolina,” said Skinner, who was dished for forward prospect Cliff Pu, a second-round pick in 2019 and third- and sixth-round selections in 2020. “I made a lot of great friends. I got to play with a lot of great players and work with a lot of great staff in the organization. It’s frustrating for sure not sort of reaching your goal. …
“But I think when you look at it, sort of moving forward on that basis, it’s exciting for me, and that’s the way you can look at it, is that it is going to be a fresh start.”
Naturally, the Sabres will look to Skinner for leadership. Sabres general manager Jason Botterill lauded his professionalism discussing the trade Thursday.
Having played 579 NHL contests, Skinner ranks fourth in games played among Sabres forwards, trailing only Jason Pominville (987 appearances), Patrik Berglund (694) and Kyle Okposo (670).
Only one other player on the roster, Pominville, has scored 30 goals in a season.
“You want to continually grow that as a person, as you mature as a person and a player,” Skinner said. “You want to pass on to young guys as much as you can anything you may have picked up, and anything that may help the team in the future. I’m excited to bring that to Buffalo.”
But how long will Skinner be in Buffalo? If he doesn’t fit well or the Sabres struggle, they could dish him before the trade deadline.
Skinner said he hasn’t thought about a possible contract extension yet.
“Obviously, the last 24 to 48 hours have been busy,” he said.