Where Skinner Belongs
Jeff Skinner, the 2011 Rookie of the Year, was acquired by the Buffalo Sabres in the summer of 2018. In the following season, Skinner scored 40 goals while skating alongside Jack Eichel. He is the only player in a Sabres uniform who racked up 40 goals in a season since Thomas Vanek in the 08/09 season. Ten years. Ten long years since a Sabres player scored 40 goals or more.
As a reward, Jeff Skinner received a contract worth 72 million dollars with an average of 9 million dollars a year for the next eight years. Then Buffalo decided to be Buffalo. New coach Ralph Krueger, in all his soccer genius, splits up Jeff Skinner and Jack Eichel, the most dynamic duo the Sabres had seen since LaFontaine/Mogilny. After five years of searching for someone who can play with Eichel, Buffalo finally finds the guy and then breaks the pair up.
In case you are one of those who support this decision, it's time to recognize that you are wrong. You wouldn't break up the French Connection. You wouldn't break up LaFontaine/Mogilny. Why the hell would you break up Skinner/Eichel immediately after having more success than any Sabres line combo in a decade. Stupid stupid bad bad stupid.
It doesn't matter how much money Skinner is making. It doesn't matter that Skinner isn't producing with other linemates. It doesn't matter what Skinner has done previously in his career. It doesn't even matter if you think maybe possibly Eichel would have greater success with another player. None of that matters. There is only one thing that matters. That thing is the fact, the proven fact, that when paired with Eichel, Jeff Skinner scores goals, lots of them. Lots and lots and lots of them. Even more than Eichel does. Who in their right mind would put an end to that?
Sabres are giving the guy 9 million dollars per year. 9 million dollars! $9,000,000. They give him this money, not so he could play on a fourth line, not so he could be a driving force on his own line, and certainly not to play on a different line than Jack Eichel. The Buffalo Sabres give him all that money so he will be happy to stay in Buffalo scoring lots of goals next to Jack Eichel. They pay Skinner to be Jack Eichel’s wingman. Five dang years Sabres fans pined for the right combination for Eichel. No sooner do they find that combination, and the entire city rejoiced, do they rip it apart and throw it away. Buffalo being Buffalo. Stupid. I can't say the word stupid enough. Stupid stupid stupid.
Even if you think Skinner got lucky to score all those goals, which let me just say is itself a stupid thought, but even if you believe it was luck you do not separate these guys until you're sure the luck has run out. I don't care what stat you want to point to, Skinner and Eichel earned the right to play together for at least one more season, or until it is painfully obvious that a change is necessary. Alas, they were robbed of that opportunity. A new coach came in and separated them and the Buffalo Sabres continue to suck while other teams who used to be at the bottom of the standings with them are making playoff runs.
I'd like to think Taylor Hall is the answer. However, it's quite possible that Jack Eichel's best season with the Sabres will be the season he was paired with Jeff Skinner. So you can say what you want about Skinner. You can talk about his flaws as a player, but you cannot erase the magic he had with Jack. It’s the only thing that matters.