BUFFALO, N.Y. — Sabres general manager Jason Botterill continued fulfilling an off-season objective to shake up a team that finished last for the third time in five years, acquiring playmaking forward Jeff Skinner in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes.
"What’s exciting about this trade here for our group is it’s not just all about futures," Botterill said, shortly after completing the deal Thursday night. "Here’s a player that comes in right away and helps our team right away. And I think that’s going to get our National Hockey League players excited."
In giving up prospect forward Cliff Pu and three draft picks, the Sabres landed a three-time 30-goal-scorer, and the NHL’s 2011 rookie of the year, who has the potential of playing on Buffalo’s top line centred by Jack Eichel.
Skinner’s acquisition also offsets the production Buffalo lost in trading second-line centre Ryan O’Reilly to St. Louis last month.
For Carolina, Skinner wasn’t part of the team’s long-term plans that involve rebuilding through youth. The 26-year-old was considered expendable because he’s entering the final year of his contract and eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
"I think we felt culturally that we needed to make some changes," Hurricanes GM Don Waddell said. "This was the right time for us to move on and provide Jeff with a fresh start in Buffalo."
Skinner waved his no-trade clause in agreeing to be traded to Buffalo, where he will be playing closer to his hometown of Toronto, which is about a two-hour drive away.
The 20-year-old Pu was the Sabres’ third-round pick in the 2016 draft and completed his fourth season in the Ontario Hockey League last year. He has scored 80 goals and 210 points in 232 career games split over three teams.
The Hurricanes also acquired a 2019 second-round draft pick and Buffalo’s third- and sixth-round picks in the 2020 draft.
It was a trade four months in the making, after the Hurricanes began entertaining offers shortly after extending their playoff drought to a ninth season — the NHL’s longest active streak.
"You go back the last couple of months, this is the longest I’ve worked on a one-player deal, because we just never felt like we were getting value," Waddell said. "Buffalo was a team that was always high on his list. We felt that the deal we could make with Buffalo is one we could accept and continue to move forward."
Waddell acknowledged he had no discussions with Skinner this off-season regarding a potential contract extension.
Botterill said it’s too early to begin contract talks just yet.
"Right now, our focus with Jeff is to make his transition into Buffalo as easy as possible for him," Botterill said. "We’ll talk about things such as an extension or contract down the road."
Skinner finished second among the Hurricanes with 24 goals, and fourth with 49 points in 82 games last season. He struggled defensively in finishing with a team-worst plus-minus rating of minus-27.
What excited Botterill about Skinner is how productive he has been in even-strength situations, an area the Sabres struggled with last season.
Skinner ranks seventh among NHL players in having scored 74 even-strength goals over the past three seasons. Overall, he has 204 goals — 159 at even strength — and 379 points in 579 career games.
Change is in the air this off-season in Buffalo. The Sabres acquired forwards Tage Thompson, Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund in the trade that sent O’Reilly to St. Louis. They also acquired forward Conor Sheary in a trade with Pittsburgh.
Then there’s the addition of No. 1 draft pick, Swedish defenceman Rasmus Dahlin, who is expected to play in the NHL this season.
The Hurricanes are also retooling, with a new GM and coach, and after new owner Tom Dundon declared no player untouchable but 20-year-old forward Sebastian Aho.
In June, Carolina acquired defenceman Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland in a trade that sent defenceman Noah Hanifin and forward Elias Lindholm to Calgary. In May, Carolina acquired third-year forward Jordan Martinook in a trade with Arizona.
Waddell is confident he has enough youngsters set to make the jump to the NHL to offset Skinner’s loss.
One candidate is Andrei Svechnikov, who was drafted with the No. 2 pick. Waddell also mentioned centres Martin Necas and Nicolas Roy, who made their NHL debuts by playing one game each last season.
"Well, you’re always concerned about goals, but I’m more worried about winning," Waddell said.
"This isn’t about Jeff Skinner and us not winning, it’s about us feeling we have to make a change," Waddell added. "And we feel the pieces we’ve added this off-season will make up for the goals."