2024 NHL free agency: Potential landing spots for Jeff Skinner if Sabres buy out contract

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Boston Bruins
Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

After rumors surfaced several weeks ago that the Buffalo Sabres were considering buying out Jeff Skinner, Chad DeDominicis of Expected Buffalo confirmed that the Sabres do indeed plan to buy out the remaining three years of the 32-year-old winger’s $9 million AAV contract.

The League’s first buyout period begins Thursday, June 27, and will run until Sunday, June 30, at 5 p.m. ET. If Buffalo follows through, they’ll free up over $7.5 million in cap space for this season and Skinner will join a deep free agent class of talented forwards.

The former No. 7 overall pick and Calder Trophy winner as NHL rookie of the year has enjoyed a productive 14-year career, amassing 357 goals and 670 points in 1,006 games. Despite his ample experience, he’ll only be 32 years old next season.

Skinner isn’t getting any younger, but he’s still got a lot of value to give to any team that wants him. Keep in mind, he’s just one year removed from scoring 35 goals and a career-high 82 points with the Sabres in 2022-23. He has scored 30+ goals six times, including an NHL career-high 40 in 2018-19.

His production fell off this past season, though he did score 24 goals, but only 46 points in 74 games. Given the large $9 million cap hit, the Sabres’ front office deemed that it was too hefty a contract to proceed with, particularly as pressure builds to snap a 13-year playoff drought that’s tied with the New York Jets for the longest in professional sports.

With elite wingers like Sam Reinhart, Jonathan Marchessault and Jake Guentzel available in this year’s free-agent class, Skinner won’t be the top target on a lot of team boards and might even have to wait for the top guys to get signed.

He’s not a perfect hockey player and doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of defense or physicality. Then, of course, there’s the long-running story that he hasn’t made the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in his career.

But he’s still got a lot left in the tank and is a talented scorer who can do so at even strength. Now that he’s in line for a more reasonably-priced contract, since he’ll be collecting plenty from the buyout, he should draw plenty of interest.

Related: 2024 NHL Mock Draft: First-round picks for all 32 teams

Best options for Jeff Skinner in NHL free agency

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Calgary Flames
Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s take a look at some potential fits for the newest addition to the free agent pool.

Carolina Hurricanes

Skinner spent the first eight years of his career in Carolina after he was selected seventh overall in the 2010 NHL Draft. There, he scored 30-plus goals three times and was a reliable presence, playing over 70 games six times and all 82 in his final season.

The Hurricanes know him well and they’re entering an offseason when they’ll likely need help on the wing, considering Guentzel, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Martinook, and Stefan Noesen are all unrestricted free agents and RFA Martin Necas is reportedly seeking a change of scenery.

Even with $26.23 million in projected cap space, currently ranked seventh-most in the NHL, it’s unlikely that they return all five wingers, especially with defensemen Brady Skjei and Brett Pesce also UFAs.

Skinner is an affordable option; and the Hurricanes have plenty of capable forechecking forwards so Skinner’s offensive-minded game shouldn’t disrupt their strong defensive system.

Plus, who doesn’t love a reunion?

Los Angeles Kings

The Los Angeles Kings now have the ninth-most cap space in the NHL after dealing Pierre-Luc Dubois to the Washington Capitals. With Dubois gone and Victor Arvidsson likely leaving as an unrestricted free agent, the Kings need some scoring punch in the lineup.

As the clock ticks on Anze Kopitar’s career, a new core is emerging led by Adrian Kempe and Quinton Byfield, who just enjoyed a breakout season. Even in his late 30’s, Kopitar’s still giving them valuable play down the middle, making the Kings a legitimate contender. But they’re not a complete force yet.

Los Angeles averaged 3.10 goals per game, the third-fewest of any team that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, ahead of only the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. It’s safe to say they could use a bit more goal scoring.

Skinner’s been a reliable goal scorer throughout his career and should provide enough of a jolt to a Kings team that is good enough to return to the postseason, but needs a little more juice to get past the first round.

Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks should be in on any winger who can help with Connor Bedard’s development.

Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson attempted to add veteran talent for Bedard during his rookie year, signing Taylor Hall and Corey Perry. But Hall was lost to injury after just 10 games and Perry was released, leaving Bedard with Nick Foligno and a roster that didn’t have much in the way of NHL talent. Yet, Bedard still had 61 points and is the favorite to win the Calder Trophy.

Chicago is reportedly in on Guentzel and it would make sense for them to show interest in Skinner as well. Certainly that would help Bedard up his production.

It likely wouldn’t help Skinner’s career-long stretch of never appearing in the postseason. The Blackhawks are a ways away from being a playoff team. But they do have $32.94 million in cap space and can afford to pay a bit extra if it means bringing in some higher-end talent.

Seattle Kraken

Recent reports from Elliotte Friedman indicate that the Seattle Kraken are looking for scorers. It makes sense considering the Kraken finished the season averaging 2.61 goals per game, the fourth-lowest mark in the NHL.

The Kraken took a step back after making the postseason in their second year as an NHL franchise, finishing under .500 with a 34-35-13 record.

To return to the playoffs, they’ll need more scoring talent to do it. They’ll likely need more than just Skinner to get the offense out of the basement, but it would be a nice start. The Kraken have over $22 million in cap space, so paying Skinner won’t break the bank or put them in a tight spot with any of their other contracts.

The Pacific Division is shaping up to be tough next season, as the Kings, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, and Vegas Golden Knights should all be in the running for the postseason once again. Seattle will need some help in order to tread water and stay competitive throughout the season.

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