Since his arrival in the NHL, no Carolina Hurricanes player has scored more goals or more points than Jeff Skinner. There’s no Hurricanes player who has been more lethal on the power play, scored more game-winning goals or tested goaltenders more often. Since 2010-11, his rookie campaign, no one has played more games in Carolina than the 26-year-old Skinner. It appears, however, that there’s a chance Skinner’s next game in Raleigh will come as a member of the opposition.
With the Hurricanes entering the off-season with the winds of change blowing, it has become increasingly clear that, at the very least, minor alterations will be made to the group next season. It seems unlikely that pending free agents Lee Stempniak, Derek Ryan or Cam Ward will be back. There’s a possibility at least one member of the defense corps moves on before the 2018-19 campaign begins. And with new Hurricanes GM Don Waddell speaking about a potential culture change for an organization that has missed the post-season in each of the past nine seasons, Skinner’s name has repeatedly come up in off-season trade chatter. Waddell hasn’t exactly gone out of his way to altogether extinguish the Skinner trade talk, either.
Case in point, speaking with the News & Observer’s Chip Alexander in late-May, Waddell danced around the subject of trading Skinner. “We have him for another year and that’s the way it remains,” Waddell told Alexander. “Jeff’s been a great player for our franchise. Certainly if there’s another fit someplace that makes sense for all of us we might explore it, but if not we know he’ll be a part of this group going forward.”
Despite Waddell’s comments, though, Skinner’s ubiquity in summer trade rumors gives more credence to the belief that he’s likely to be gone from Carolina this summer. His name was oft-mentioned even last off-season as a potential trade chip for the Hurricanes, and those rumors haven’t quieted with Carolina’s playoff drought stretching to a league-worst ninth season. Most recently, TSN’s Frank Seravalli slotted Skinner high atop a list of players with potential to be moved at some point this summer. Not long after, The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported Carolina could be looking for a package that includes a first-round pick and a prospect to pry the winger out of the only NHL home he’s known. And if that’s the price, you have to believe a number of teams are going to come calling. Matter of fact, at that price, most teams would be foolish not to.
As the NHL campaign nears its conclusion — at most, three games remain before a Stanley Cup champion is crowned — the league’s 31 teams will begin the off-season arms race in earnest. Talks will begin with pending free agents, deals will be made at and ahead of the draft and the league’s GMs will start looking forward to spending season, which kicks into high gear on July 1. For teams builders looking to add scoring, however, the options could be few and far between.
No doubt, John Tavares is the top prize, a game-changing superstar the likes of which every team would love to get their hands on, but the options up front for top-tier talent thin out considerably beyond Tavares. David Perron was the second-highest scorer among unrestricted free agent talent, followed by Thomas Vanek, James van Riemsdyk, Paul Stastny and James Neal. It’s a decent class with some top-six talent, surely, but it’s not the type of class that will allow every team looking for a bit of a scoring upgrade to get what they seek. But that’s where Skinner comes in. For those who swing and miss when the summer signing season opens — or for those unwilling to pay exorbitant prices for high-risk, high-reward targets — the trade market is going to become the next-best option to bolster an offense.
Since debuting in the NHL, Skinner is the 12th-highest scoring left winger in the business and has the seventh-most goals. He’s a three-time 30-goal scorer who has produced at a 20-goal pace in every single campaign. It’s worth noting, too, that Skinner has done all of this while playing for a Hurricanes franchise that has the NHL’s sixth-lowest rate of scoring during his tenure. That’s just the pure numbers, too, and says nothing of his speed, agility or mind for the game.
But Skinner’s underlying numbers are just as impressive. Consider this: there are 193 forwards who have skated at least 5,000 minutes at 5-on-5 since 2010-11. Of that group, Skinner is tied for 20th in points per 60 minutes. In fact, his 1.64 points per 60 minutes is slightly better than that of Alex Ovechkin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Getzlaf and Anze Kopitar at 5-on-5. It’s also in the same wheelhouse as the likes of Max Pacioretty, Taylor Hall, Phil Kessel and Logan Couture. And when it comes to goal scoring at five-a-side, few have matched Skinner during his tenure. His rate of 1.08 goals per 60 minutes is the fifth-best among those 193 forwards, surpassed only by Evgeni Malkin, Vladimir Tarasenko, Rick Nash and Steven Stamkos.
Best of all, though, Skinner’s services aren’t going to be all that costly to acquire or to retain, at least not for the upcoming campaign. Given LeBrun’s reported asking price, a first-round draft pick and a prospect is an almost stunningly fair ask from the Hurricanes and one that should prompt every team to at the very least inquire about acquiring Skinner. From the cap-strapped teams such as the Los Angeles Kings down to those with money to blow such as the Arizona Coyotes, Skinner can help just about every organization immediately. And the best part is he’s not all that costly for this coming season. His cap hit is a manageable $5.725 million in 2018-19.
The added benefit of acquiring Skinner, too, would be that there are a ton of options moving forward. As he heads into the final season of his contract, a team acquiring Skinner could look at what a long-term extension would look like for the winger, and locking him up for the foreseeable future wouldn’t be a great concern. Truth be told, he’s only just entered the prime of his career and an eight-year contract would only carry him through to his 33-year-old season. A shorter-term deal would put him in his early 30s. Age doesn’t loom large at that point, unlike signing a free agent such as Neal, Perron, Vanek or Stastny, all of whom will begin their next deals having celebrated their 30th birthday.
And if it so happened that Skinner didn’t work out in a new locale — hard to fathom given his skill set and the potential for a coach and a system that turns him loose — or if his asking price on his next contract were too high for his new team’s taste, there’s potential for an acquiring team to recoup some assets come the deadline. A pending free agent at next season’s end, Skinner is perfect deadline fodder and if he has a good year, he could fetch a first rounder-plus ahead of the 2018-19 trade freeze.
So, while all eyes remain squarely focused on the free agent market and the big spending we’ve become used to come the start of the NHL off-season, keep a watchful eye on Skinner. Because given the reported price, his talent level and potential for him to be a long-term fit elsewhere, Skinner could be one of the best gets of the summer if or when a team manages to swing a deal with the Hurricanes.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.