The Skinner trade was a success... Let's do it again

June 18, 2019 - 2:15 pm

It's been almost a year since the Buffalo Sabres paid almost nothing to acquire Jeff Skinner from the Carolina Hurricanes. Cliff Pu, a second, a third and a sixth round pick for a guy who scored 40 goals this past season. A smashing success. If anyone comes at Jason Botterill with a comment on how bad the Ryan O'Reilly trade looks, he can comeback with what he gave up to get Skinner.

The Sabres need another Skinner trade.

A big part of the reason Skinner got traded for so little was that the Sabres were taking on risk by acquiring him. A great player, yes, but a great player with just one year left on his contract. Had he been on a long-term deal, the Sabres surely would've had to pay a lot more. Why not make another trade like that? Target a great player on an expiring contract. Take on the inherited risk to try and get a great player for a discount.

There's really only one player in the NHL that this works with right now. That player is New Jersey Devils winger Taylor Hall. It works in that he has one year left on his contract, reportedly won't re-sign with the Devils, and is, arguably, an elite player in the league. He'd dramatically improve the Sabres' top-six scoring.

Hall is a better player than Skinner. He won the Hart Trophy as the league's most valuable player last season. Since arriving in New Jersey in 2016, he's averaged more than a point per-game, and is about the same points per-game rate as Jack Eichel.

Hall will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and the winds are blowing towards him not staying in New Jersey.

This might not just be a "I don't want to stay in New Jersey" thing, as much as it is a "I want to get to the open market" thing. If that's the case, the Sabres would be trading for a player they'll likely lose in 12 months.

That's the risk.

The upside is what just happened with Skinner. You get a great player to play here, be a part of the locker room, be a part of the community, and convince him to stay long-term. If the upside is getting a player good enough to win the Hart Trophy to sign with your team long-term, the Sabres should take a hard look at trading for Hall, if he's available.

Despite also having just one year left on his deal, Hall would certainly cost more than Skinner did. The Sabres might have to be willing to part with a piece like Rasmus Ristolainen, or even the seventh overall pick in Friday's NHL Draft.

The Devils may have to think about trading Hall before Friday. They'll likely take Jack Hughes first overall, and should want to build around him with pieces they know will be there for a while.

For a second though, put yourself in the Devils' shoes. You have a player that has 130 points in his last 109 games, while playing with a teenage centerman. If I'm them, I'm asking for Casey Mittelstadt. A 20-year-old center with all the potential in the world who also struggled in his rookie season. That's what they should be after. Realistically, you're not getting a prospect like Mittelstadt without having any assurances from Hall. That's the idea.

It can be argued it'd be beneficial to the Sabres to not know if Hall would stay here long-term. That's how you get him cheaper. Now, you'd have to pay him big money if you convince him to stay, but the Sabres have the room. They have just under $50 million in cap space after next season.

There's also the point of Jason Botterill's job security. There's at least some pressure on him to get the team into a better spot this upcoming season. Another bottom-five finish and he could be out the door. You wouldn't know if Hall would be here long-term, but he would make a big impact on the Sabres lineup for 2019-20. The blue line would still need upgrading, but a top-six that includes Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Sam Reinhart, and Taylor Hall would be formidable.

In a year where the Toronto Raptors took on future uncertainty trading for Kawhi Leonard, and the Columbus Blue Jackets went all in on good players on expiring contracts, the Sabres wouldn't be the first to do it.

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