BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres have re-signed leading scorer Jeff Skinner to an eight year, $72 million contract in addressing one their most pressing off-season needs.
Skinner becomes the team’s second-highest paid player behind captain Jack Eichel in a deal reached Friday night, and three weeks before the forward was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent. The ninth-year player, who has now topped 30 goals four times, had been considered a key piece for a rebuilding team since Buffalo acquired him in a trade with Carolina in August.
The just-turned 27-year-old led Buffalo with a career-best 40 goals and finished third on the team with 63 points in 82 games.
Negotiations began in January, with Skinner expressing a desire to stay in Buffalo. Aside from his production and bond he developed with Eichel, Skinner also enjoyed playing closer to his hometown of Toronto, about a two-hour drive from Buffalo.
Re-signing Skinner was general manager Jason Botterill’s next priority after filling the team’s coaching vacancy by hiring Ralph Krueger three weeks ago.
A failure to re-sign Skinner would have been considered a significant setback for a franchise in the midst of a team-worst eight-year playoff drought — the NHL’s longest active streak — and at a time the Sabres are set to celebrate their 50th season.
Buffalo is coming off a season in which it finished 27th overall and joined the 2016-17 Philadelphia Flyers in becoming the second of 50 NHL teams to miss the playoffs in the same season they won at least 10 straight games.
The Sabres followed their 10-game winning streak in November by closing the season winning 16 of their final 57 games, which led to coach Phil Housley’s firing two years into his tenure.
The only downside during Skinner’s career is the NHL’s 2011 rookie of the year and two-time all-star selection has yet to appear in the playoffs since the Hurricanes selected him with the seventh pick in the 2010 draft.
Skinner’s new contract means the Sabres have committed a combined $152 million to two forward after Eichel’s eight-year, $80 million contract kicked in last year. Even with Skinner’s addition, Buffalo is currently projected to have $22 million still available to spend this off-season under a salary cap expected to rise to $83 million.
The Sabres are expected to continue being active in free agency and the trade market this off-season in a bid to address a lack of secondary scoring. Skinner, Eichel and forward Sam Reinhart accounted for 90 of Buffalo’s 226 goals last season.
Though Skinner became Buffalo’s first player to score 40 goals since Thomas Vanek in 2008-09, his production tailed off over the final six weeks of the season. He went 13 games without a goal and scored just four times in his final 25 games.