Forward Jeff Skinner was a healthy scratch again for the Sabres Thursday and hasn’t played since February 20, so it’s safe to say things are coming to a head in Buffalo.
The 28-year-old is in the second season of an eight-year contract to the tune of $72 million, so leaving him on the pine isn’t exactly cheap.
Skinner has just one assist in 14 games this season, registering 31 shots without finding twine. He put in for just about 11 and a half minutes his last two games and hasn’t played over 16 minutes since February 15 against the New York Islanders. That game, he clocked 16:44 and was a minus-1 with three shots.
Performance does seem to be the reason behind Ralph Krueger’s benching of Skinner and it’s probable this situation may be reaching a breaking point – one way or another.
Skinner’s agent Don Meehan spoke with Buffalo general manager Kevyn Adams on Wednesday, but there aren’t many details about the specifics of that conversation.
There are reports Skinner could be in the lineup Saturday when Buffalo faces Philadelphia.
“We are an environment of accountability, and you need to earn your keep here on this group every single game and every practice,” Krueger said. “What I’m telling you doesn’t only apply to Jeff. It applies to every player on our team, and if somebody slips there are different ways to deal with it. In the end, the goal is to find out what the potential of the player is for us now and get that player to that potential.”
Benching a player to reach a certain level of potential isn’t exactly novel, but the second-highest player on the club has to be held to higher standards of responsibility.
“If he’s satisfied it’s a judgment he has to make,” Skinner said. “All I know is for me I try to help the team win as much as I can and that’s my main focus. Obviously, the coach is trying to win games too, and I think we can agree on that.”
It should be noted that Skinner has not asked for a trade. He’s on record wanting to remain in Buffalo and says he wants to win as a Sabre.
Buffalo is 6-8-3 with 15 points, putting them in the basement of the NHL with the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators. They’ve scored 44 goals and allowed 51 goals against, which gives them one of the tightest goal differentials of all lower tier teams.
In order to swing a few more wins out of this season, the Sabres need Skinner to produce and produce soon. If nothing changes, the Toronto native could be spending even more time in the press box.
Pic: Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press