Saturday, August 4, 2018

Sabres GM Jason Botterill is on a roll with the trade for Skinner

Published by, 8-3-2018

Perhaps we should start calling him Jason “Buttah-rill” because the second year Buffalo Sabres GM has been on a roll lately. After a season where no taco bar or door hinge was safe from Botterill’s overt frustration with the way his team played, a little bit of luck and some good timing is helping him transform the last place Sabres team into a young up-and-coming team

And he’s done so in remarkable fashion.

The transformation of the Sabres might be highlighted by April 28, the day Buffalo won the NHL Draft Lottery and the right to select defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, but around that date are a series of moves that showed some savvy on the part of Botterill.

In transitioning his team away from the previous regime, Botterill was able to land some high draft picks, including two first rounders (albeit conditional) when he shipped out two talented, but miscast players. Conversely, Botterill was able to bring in two talented players at a position of need without giving away the farm.

Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly, two players who were a big part of Buffalo's former young-vet group, were traded away in separate deals for two first round picks, a second, a fourth and two prospects. It’s not the greatest haul for two well regarded players, but considering that everyone in the league knew Kane was being traded and that O’Reilly carried a huge contract through 2022-23, most felt that Botterill got the most he could out of those situations, especially for a first-time GM.
However, those moves left some holes in the Sabres top-six, especially at left wing where Kane was the only viable top-six winger on the team. At an end-of-season presser where Botterill was projecting an anger not normally on display, he talked about the team and how they needed to approach the off season. "We understand where we're at right now," he told the press, "there's a disappointment [but] I don't want to hear about how disappointed they are, I want to hear about what's going to change, what is the action plan moving forward."

Botterill's action plan for his team was rather obvious as he needed to fill the gaping hole at left wing and he began by making a trade with his old team to land Conor Sheary. Sheary was an undrafted free agent by the Pittsburgh Penguins who worked his way up the system to log big minutes in the top-six before falling off and being deemed expendable. Botterill sent a conditional fourth round pick (which could become a third should Sheary score 20 goals or 40 points) to the Pens for the quick, 5'8" 178 lb. winger and journeyman defenseman Matt Hunwick.
Upon acquiring Sheary, Botterill told the media, "We were looking to improve our even-strength scoring and we had to try to get a little bit in scoring from our wingers. He creates a lot of chances out there."
Even with that move, the Sabres still had a big hole on the left side and Botterill was able to fill that, at least for this year, when he landed Carolina Hurricanes left winger Jeff Skinner last night. Oddly enough, Pittsburgh was linked to the 26 yr. old winger prior to Buffalo landing him.
Skinner took the league by storm as an 18 yr. old with 31 goals and 63 points while on his way to the 2011 Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. He would put up two more 30-goal seasons including a career-high 37 goals two years ago. In eight seasons with the Hurricanes Skinner averaged over 25 goals and 47 points but is in the final year of 6yr./$34.35 million deal signed on August 8, 2012 and will be an unrestricted free agent at seasons end.
There's a lot going on in this trade beginning with a new owner and new GM in Carolina. As we well know in Buffalo, with a new owner comes a new or altered philosophy and the 'Canes are going through that right now. Owner Thomas Dundon and GM Don Waddell set the course to make some changes and they began by pulling off the blockbuster of the summer so far. At the 2018 NHL Draft he Hurricanes sent two of their high first round picks C, Elias Lindhom (2013, fifth-overall) and D, Noah Hanifin (2015, fifth) to the Calgary Flames for D, Dougie Hamilton, F, Michael Ferlund and d-prospect Adam Fox.

They then followed that up just over a month later by sending Skinner, a seventh-overall pick in 2010, to the Sabres for forward prospect Cliff Pu, a 2019 second round pick plus third and sixth round picks in 2020.
Although Skinner was a favorite of team and fans alike, his pending contract situation seemed to unnerve the 'Canes and he'd been rumored to be on the block for a while. But as days and weeks went by without any movement, Waddell and Botterill began discussions in earnest on Wednesday and the trade was announced yesterday.
“I think it came back to, that as an organization, we felt he was coming into the last year of his contract and probably there was a good chance he would leave as a free agent,” general manager Don Waddell told the local press Thursday in an interview (via The News&Observer out of Carolina.) “We said at the end of the year we were going to look at all our options. With Buffalo, we got a plethora of draft picks. We got a prospect we like."
For Carolina fans, it's a kick in the crotch as the return was underwhelming at best despite the market and Skinner's pending UFA status.
Other factors were involved in the decision to move Skinner (and the return, possibly, as well) which included three concussions in a span of four years, the last one in 2015 and some luck in the draft lottery which landed them stud winger Andrei Svechnikov at the June draft. Perhaps equally as bothersome was the fact that the Hurricanes didn't go anywhere the past eight years with a star like Skinner and presently have the longest playoff drought (nine years.)
Skinner's play seemed to level off after that robust rookie campaign and it was said that two different coaches had problems getting him to play a two-way game. Both Kirk Muller and Bill Peters limited his ice-time because of the lack of commitment to a two-way game. "Only rarely during the course of his career here did he get the true first-line minutes his offensive production appeared to deserve on paper, wrote Luck Decock of the Charlotte Observer today, "and his unquestioned scoring ability appeared to deserve on the ice. It was a constant battle between player and coach."
Decock lamented the fall of Skinner's status as a player that would drive the 'Canes into the future, to one who was on the block this year. " it’s hard to fathom how the ebullient optimism that surrounded his rookie year was whittled down to Thursday’s trade to the Buffalo Sabres for a trio of draft picks and a prospect," he wrote.

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"Skinner once represented hope for the Hurricanes’ future," continued Decock. "He came to represent frustration with their past and present."
For the Sabres, it was a coup. Botterill had been in dire need of left wing help and he was able to land a top-six winger without giving up anything of supreme value. Sure there are question marks, including the concussion issues and his pending UFA status, but for this season we'll see a 25-30 goal scorer on the left of either Jack Eichel or Casey Mittelstadt which is pretty exciting.
Botterill was able to leverage advantageous situations while filling his gaping holes at left wing. Pittsburgh needed cap-space which opened the door to land Sheary and the market for Skinner, whom the Hurricanes seemed to desperately want moved, was thin at best. In all he gave up a good prospect, a second rounder, a conditional fourth and a sixth.
He's most definitely on a roll.

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