Trying to make sense of the Jeff Skinner trade from a somber and reflective Carolina Hurricanes perspective.
I’ve met Jeff Skinner a handful of times over the last eight years. He used to shop at a specialty store I worked at. He’s been a customer at a car dealership my friend works at. We’ve shaken hands at various Carolina Hurricanes sponsored events. You could call us best friends, if you wanted.
I’ve watched Skinner grow up in Carolina. I’ve seen him go from Calder Trophy-winning 18-year-old and future of the franchise to frustrated passenger on a team that just could not get over the hump.
When Skinner was traded to Buffalo on Thursday night, I wasn’t surprised. No one in my circle of friends, all Hurricanes fans, was surprised. This trade had been years in the making. We all thought he was a goner following his 31-point 2014-15 campaign. His production has slipped and he clashed with first-year head coach Bill Peters, finding himself in the doghouse too often for a player of his caliber.
Skinner still had four years left on a deal that paid him $5.7 million per year. Far too much money for a player who could barely crack 30 points and didn’t fit with the new head coach.
For the next three seasons, Skinner and the Hurricanes co-existed together. But it was never the perfect relationship it looked to be after his rookie season. Whether it was Skinner’s effort on a game-to-game basis or Peters’ line blending, the two sides could never get on the same page.
Tensions mounted every February and June. If you wanted to gain a social media following, mention Skinner in trade rumors leading up to the deadline and draft.
Every deadline and draft day that passed without a Skinner deal felt like a misstep for the Hurricanes. The more days burned off his contract, the less leverage they had. Inside the building, maybe they believed they could smooth things over with their once promising forward. But no one on the outside saw it that way. At some point the rumors, line juggling, poor management decisions, and losing was going to push Skinner past the point of no return.
This offseason was that point.
Carolina got rid of Peters, turning the team over to former franchise cornerstone Rod Brind’Amour. Skinner and Brind’Amour just missed each other as teammates. Skinner was drafted by Carolina on June 25, 2010. Brind’Amour retired on June 30.
With a new owner, general manager and coach in town, this could have been the reset Skinner needed heading into the final year of his contract. Going into this offseason, Carolina’s mentality was “with us or against us.” Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm were playing hardball in restricted free agency negotiations. They were against Carolina. They are gone.
Skinner decided he too was against Carolina. He wouldn’t commit to Carolina past this season, and with a no-movement-clause in his contract, he held leverage that dwarfed his actual stature. Now, he’s also gone.
The situation between Skinner and the Hurricanes reminds me a lot of the situation between Matt Duchene and the Colorado Avalanche. Duchene grew up an Avalanche fan and could barely contain his excitement when the team drafted him in 2009. He brought hope to Colorado following the retirement of Joe Sakic.
But years of rumors, shortened seasons, and clashing with coaches wore on the Avalanche star. He wanted out. Colorado granted his wish, sending him to a team that had just made the Conference Finals.
I hope Skinner’s future turns out better than Duchene’s present. Skinner will get a chance to play alongside Jack Eichel and a host of other young, talented Sabres. Maybe Phil Housley can unlock unlock something in him that Kirk Mueller and Peters didn’t have the key for.
My lasting memory of Skinner is one of my first memories of him. Meeting him at the 2011 All-Star game in Raleigh. Skinner made the game as a rookie, making him the youngest player to ever compete in the All-Star game. Watching him shyly interact with veterans and superstars. The look on his face when P.K. Subban wore his jersey during the breakaway challenge.
Thinking, “This kid owns the city at 18.”