NHL Rumor Roundup: Re-signing Jeff Skinner at top of Sabres to-do list

Jeff-Skinner-Sabres-Getty
Jeff Skinner (Getty Images)

Can’t get enough NHL rumors? Lyle Richardson’s Rumor Roundup column serves as a one-stop guide to the latest rumblings around the league.

Sabres GM facing a busy offseason

After several years of fitful rebuilding, the Buffalo Sabres got off to a promising start this season. They sat atop the Atlantic Division by late November and seemed well on their way to reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11.

But it was not to be. A porous defense plus the lack of secondary scoring coupled with no established starting goaltender sent the Sabres tumbling down the standings and out of postseason contention.

With yet another disappointing season on the books, there’s an expectation general manager Jason Botterill will be busy this summer tinkering with his roster. TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports he’ll be under pressure to do whatever’s necessary to turn things around.

Topping his “to-do” list is re-signing Jeff Skinner. The 26-year-old left wing, acquired last summer from Carolina, quickly established tremendous chemistry with center Jack Eichel. Having tied his career-high of 37 goals, he should reach 40 by season’s end.

However, Skinner is slated to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and, as per Cap Friendly, he’s completing a six-year contract. His performance this season ensures he’ll get top dollar this summer. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman noted the lack of an extension for Skinner, suggesting the longer he goes unsigned, the more folks could wonder if a deal will get done.

Friedman also added he’s heard term might be an issue. Meanwhile, McKenzie believes the Skinner camp will seek a long-term deal worth over $9 million per season, while the Sabres might be more comfortable with something in the $8 million range.

The Buffalo News’ Lance Lysowski expects Botterill will get Skinner re-signed but doesn’t see him making any big splashes in this summer’s free-agent pool. Instead, he thinks the Sabres GM could attempt to shop some assets, including a few prospects, for immediate roster help.

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Lysowski didn’t rule out the possibility of Botterill drawing upon his blueline depth for trade bait. He noted Rasmus Ristolainen has surfaced this season in the rumor mill. Given his age (24), upside and reasonable $5.4-million salary-cap hit through 2021-22, Ristolainen could fetch an attractive return.

Moving Ristolainen, however, might not be the best course of action. The Sabres’ blueline depth drops sharply beyond Ristolainen, rookie Rasmus Dahlin and recently acquired Brandon Montour. Veterans Zach Bogosian and Marco Scandella are under contract for next season but both have long injury histories.

Unless Ristolainen has grown weary of the constant losing and seeks a change of scenery, it would be best to hang onto him. He could prove to be a crucial part of the Sabres’ defense next season.

Golden Knights could shed salary this summer

The Vegas Golden Knights pulled off the biggest move at the trade deadline by acquiring right wing Mark Stone from the Ottawa Senators. They subsequently re-signed Stone to an eight-year, $76 million extension.

With Stone under contract, the Golden Knights have over $82 million invested in 17 players for 2019-20. They’ll get some cap relief by placing all-but-retired winger David Clarkson on long-term injury reserve at the start of next season. Nevertheless, GM George McPhee must shed some salary to make room for other moves. 

A new contract for center William Karlsson will be a priority. He’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights following the completion of his one-year, $5.25 million deal.

The Athletic’s Jesse Granger speculates McPhee could attempt to move a forward like Cody Eakin or Ryan Reaves. Both are depth forwards with a year remaining on their respective deals. Eakin’s contract is carrying a $3.85 million annual average value and Reaves a $2.775 million AAV.

Granger also suggested shopping Colin Miller. The 26-year-old rearguard is signed through 2021-22 with a $3.875 million cap hit. He tallied 40 points in 2017-18 and could reach 30 this season, perhaps making him enticing to teams seeking an affordable right-side defenseman.

Will the Islanders shop Leddy?

The New York Islanders improvement this season has some observers wondering what GM Lou Lamoriello might do this summer to bolster his roster for next year.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun pointed out the Isles have the fourth-most salary-cap space for 2019-20. With over $47.7 million tied up in 16 players, Lamoriello would have plenty of room to make some big additions if ownership is willing to spend toward the projected $83 million ceiling.

There’s speculation Lamoriello could pursue a big-ticket free agent like Columbus’ Artemi Panarin. The Athletic’s Arthur Staple, however, feels the Islanders remain a difficult sell to free-agent talent.

Staple thinks Lamoriello could be forced to go the trade route. With young defensemen such as Ryan Pulock, Adam Pelech and Devon Toews seeing more playing time, he wonders if veteran blueliner Nick Leddy might become expendable.

Once the leader among Isles defensemen in points and ice time, Leddy has seen those numbers decline this season. Staple proposed the Edmonton Oilers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs or Winnipeg Jets as possible trade partners.