The Sabres losing Jeff Skinner is a major gain for the Edmonton Oilers

Just days after the Buffalo Sabres bought out his contract, Jeff Skinner will head to the Edmonton Oilers and play for the Western Conference Champion.
Mar 6, 2023; Buffalo, New York, USA;  Buffalo Sabres left wing Jeff Skinner (53) celebrates his goal with teammates during the first period against the Edmonton Oilers at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 6, 2023; Buffalo, New York, USA; Buffalo Sabres left wing Jeff Skinner (53) celebrates his goal with teammates during the first period against the Edmonton Oilers at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports / Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

When the Buffalo Sabres bought out Jeff Skinner’s contract, I knew he would end up with a team likely to contend for a playoff spot in the 2024-25. Barring some major breakdown, the Edmonton Oilers are shoo-ins to once again make a deep playoff run, and few deserve to play in the postseason more than Skinner. 

While some may believe Skinner signed an ill-fated contract in 2019, the truth is, he played well for the Sabres after former head coach Don Granato took over for Ralph Krueger in 2021. In the first full season without Krueger at the helm, Skinner scored 33 goals, once again tied his career-high of 63 points, and he followed that up with a 35-goal season and a new career-high of 82 points.

He didn’t reach the same milestones this past season, but in his defense, Skinner was rarely 100 percent healthy, and he missed eight games thanks to various injuries. Still, 24 goals weren’t half-bad, and joining a team that features Connor McDavid, Zach Hyman, Evan Bouchard, Viktor Arvidsson, Adam Henrique, and if he sticks around, Leon Draisaitl, Skinner is yet another key fixture on a stacked and fun Oilers team.

While the Oilers gained a key asset in Jeff Skinner, it’s a loss for the Sabres

During the latter half of the 2021-22 season and throughout 2022-23, Jeff Skinner was part of a surprising trio of first-liners that also featured Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch. The trio combined for 255 points and 118 goals that year, surpassing expectations by miles. And even if they couldn’t duplicate those numbers in 2023-24, they were nevertheless solid when playing alongside one another. 

While the Sabres are taking a loss in moving on from Skinner, it’s a massive gain for the Oilers, regardless of where they line him up - my guess is he will play next to Leon Draisaitl on the second line, but at this point, it’s safe to say he will play in the top-six. 

If Skinner regains the form we saw from him in 2022-23, I would be more than surprised if he wasn’t the missing piece for this team to hoist its first Stanley Cup since 1990. Oilers fans watched their team come so close to pulling off an epic comeback in this past season’s Stanley Cup Final, but it wasn’t meant to be. 

But Skinner, who through 1,006 games (and counting) has never even seen a playoff series, isn’t just a solid scorer who will more than help this team win; he’s got some added motivation to finally see a postseason series. And on a team as talented as the Edmonton Oilers, expect Skinner to more than do his part for the Oilers to remain the Western Conference’s most dominant team. 

How are the Sabres taking a loss after buying out Skinner?

We already talked about why this is Edmonton’s gain, but let’s discuss why the Sabres are losing a key asset. For one, there are no truly established players on the team who could adequately replace Skinner on the top line, even if there are intriguing options like JJ Peterka and Zach Benson. 

Peterka enjoyed a stellar season in 2023-24, and he could likely move up to the top line and emulate Skinner’s success after he finished his second full NHL season with 28 goals. Zach Benson fell to the Blue and Gold in the 2023 NHL Draft and was such a revelation, his reward was a full NHL season at age 18. 

While Benson was one of the more obscure rookies last season and finished the year with just 11 goals and 30 points, he started figuring things out toward the end of 2023-24, foreshadowing what could be a major jump in 2024-25. But still, neither Peterka nor Benson has seen perennial success in the NHL, and unless the Sabres make a blockbuster trade, Skinner would have been their best option next to Tage Thompson and Alex Tuch this season, and no, Jason Zucker isn’t the answer. 

But, this is why the Sabres can’t seem to put a winning team together - 13 years since their last playoff appearance - and it’s why the Oilers look more than ready for another deep playoff and potential run for the Stanley Cup. Overall, the Oilers enjoyed a big win here by bringing in one of the NHL’s more intriguing talents, who is still playing at a high level. 


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