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Skinner could be a buyout option for the Sabres

Buffalo Sabres left wing Jeff Skinner (53) is potential buyout option this offseason. AP Photo

Jeff Skinner is without a doubt one of the most polarizing players on the Buffalo Sabres.

Many fans love him for his vibrant personality, from his unique choices for goal songs to his off-ice segments like “Between Two Stalls” where he mockingly interviews teammates giving an insight to their personalities. Then on the flip side, Skinner is a streaky player who can disappear on the ice when not providing his expected offense that costs the Sabres $9 million a year.

With the hiring of Lindy Ruff, who is expected to take an old-school approach to coaching, questions arise on whether Skinner would be a player frequenting Ruff’s dog house throughout the season.

NHL insider Elliotte Friedman’s comments on The Jeff Marek Show on Sportsnet alluded to the possibility Skinner never visits Ruff’s dog house by naming him a potential buyout candidate. If Buffalo were to buy out Skinner it would become a six-year buyout as the forward has three more years with $22 million remaining on the contract.

Friedman highlighted that if Buffalo were to buy out Skinner the Sabres would receive $7.5 million relief toward the cap, allowing them to target a bigger free agent.

With how poorly Skinner finished the season during which Buffalo missed the playoffs again, heading into another crucial year for General Manager Kevyn Adams to make the playoffs, the extra cap space to get a more impactful forward puts it very much in play.

The decision whether to buy out a player comes 48 hours after the Stanley Cup is won, so Adams has very little time to make the choice which has many pros and cons.

If Skinner is bought out, there becomes an obvious hole in the lineup, giving the Sabres a need of acquiring a top-9 forward to make up for the loss of offense, but providing something new like a little defensive awareness.

As someone who is very high on the Sabres’ current prospect pool, I am fine with the departure of Skinner to create room in the lineup for someone like Matthew Savoie or Jiri Kulich. However, Savoie likely will be tested in Rochester before making the full-time jump to the NHL and Kulich is just a downgrade from Skinner at this point in his career.

While those prospects might see the NHL next season, serving as the Skinner replacement is unlikely, making the best choice coming via free agency, which I also endorse.

According to CapFriendly, eight of 10 of the top free agents are forwards this offseason with the headliner Steven Stamkos from the Tampa Bay Lightning and former Sabre and current Panther Sam Reinhart coming off a career-best 94-point season with 57 goals.

It is an interesting case for Stamkos, who was rumored the last time he was a free agent to leave Tampa for a destination closer to his home of Toronto, but instead he stayed and went on to captain the Lightning to two Stanley Cups. With the cap trouble Tampa Bay has put itself in, the rumors of Stamkos departing are mounting.

It is a no-brainer why the Sabres would want to bring in a Stanley Cup captain, but bringing in Reinhart is more of a complex question. The idea is Reinhart would leave Florida if the Panthers win the cup to go sign for a ton of money somewhere, but I don’t think Reinhart is the kind of person who is strictly money-motivated and he probably does not want to play for a bottom-dwelling team with a lot of cap space.

Realistically, Buffalo needs to look at the next few names on the list which are Jake Guentzel, Adam Henrique, Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Teuvo Teravainen and Jason Zucker.

Guentzel was the top target at the trade deadline and Carolina added the 29-year-old winger and Henrique went from Anaheim to Edmonton in a trade this season. I would stay away from Guentzel at all costs if building long-term since he will start the season on the wrong side of 30 and is expected to sign for his last big contract. While the 34-year-old Henrique provides a more well-rounded game and could only be with your team a few seasons.

Zucker is the last option I would target among the 10 since he provides the least offense and is the oldest remaining. Bertuzzi is the player I find most enticing.

Bertuzzi has proven in his career that he can score 30 goals and had 20 last year with Toronto, but he also provides a lot of nastiness to his game that many think Buffalo lacks. On top of that, Bertuzzi would not cost as much as many of the other options and can slide up and down the lineup when the time comes for prospects to take the team further.

Mantha has been an underwhelming player for most of his career and does nothing special that I think would give Buffalo the boost it needs into the playoffs. While Teravainen struck gold early winning the Stanley Cup his rookie season in Chicago then saw years of success in Carolina which could be replicated early in Buffalo, but he likely wants more money for long term which I would not give to a player who will be less valuable than Savoie and Kulich in two seasons.

Patrick Kane’s name will certainly swirl in rumors with a Skinner buyout or not, but I would only actively pursue the Buffalo native if he was replacing Skinner.

If that extra cap relief was not used on a forward and a prospect was deemed fit to fill that role on the wing, Buffalo could always add to its defense through free agency. Former Sabre Tyler Myers is listed as the top right-handed defenseman available, but I would avoid adding on the back end through the open market unless it was a minor signing.

This whole exercise could be a waste of time, because even though Skinner does have flaws in his game there is a great point to make for him staying the duration of his contract.

First and foremost, Skinner plays and acts like he wants to be a member of the Buffalo Sabres.

With the extensive list of players leaving Buffalo and finding success it makes playing for the Sabres look like a dreadful experience for NHL players. When Jack Eichel left it was someone not wanting to be in Buffalo going, while Alex Tuch came in as someone who really wanted to be in the Blue and Gold.

Skinner could have gone the way of Eichel, forcing his way out too, but instead he has embraced being a Sabres player and has helped bring life back into the lineup. While that energy has not resulted in making the playoffs, the Sabres have gotten close the past two seasons and missing is certainly not the fault of Skinner.

Furthermore, cutting a player that has undoubtedly pushed the culture of the Sabres in the right direction could be a huge setback.

I have no doubt that while Skinner would frustrate Ruff at times, he would still be able to thrive offensively under the returning head coach and maybe just open his eyes in the defensive zone. I think no matter what the Sabres decide to do, with the guaranteed returning players performing with any consistency under Ruff will lead to the playoffs.

Addressing that this is just a rumor, this news could all have been drummed up to entice Skinner to waive his no-movement clause in his contract. However, finding someone wanting to trade for that contract in its final three years might be a harder task than navigating a buyout or just dealing with a player that has obvious shortcomings to his game.

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