RALEIGH — The Jeff Skinner era — an eight-year run that included a Calder Trophy, career-threatening concussions, remarkable goals, team failures and an infectious smile — is over.
The Carolina Hurricanes traded Skinner, their seventh overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft who went on to be named rookie of the year that season and scored more than 200 goals in Raleigh, to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday for prospect Cliff Pu and three draft picks.
Hurricanes general manager Don Waddell said the team’s other offseason additions and its young forwards, led by second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov and 2017 first-rounder Martin Necas, can fill the void left by Skinner’s departure.
“We wouldn’t be making these moves if we didn’t feel that the players we have in place can do it,” Waddell said. “I know it’s hard when you’re trading a roster player that everybody’s familiar with and has done it in the past, when you’re trading for draft picks and prospects. But you’ve got to look at the entire picture and what we’ve done all summer.”
Carolina received Buffalo’s second-round pick in 2019 and its third- and sixth-round selections in 2020 in the trade. Pu, a third-round pick in 2016, had back-to-back 80-point seasons in the OHL, including 17 points in 14 playoff games this spring with the Kingston Frontenacs. He was traded to Kingston during last season after spending the previous 2½ years with the London Knights, which included winning the Memorial Cup in 2016.
It was the latest bold move in an offseason of upheaval for the team under new owner Tom Dundon, who has promised change for a franchise stuck in less than mediocrity.
Dundon relieved GM Ron Francis of his duties near the end of the season, eventually replacing him with Waddell, and coach Bill Peters opted out of his contract, paving the way for assistant coach and franchise icon Rod Brind’Amour to take the reins.
Then at the draft, the Hurricanes dealt former fifth overall picks Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm to Calgary — Peters’ new home — in exchange for Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland and prospect Adam Fox. Most recently, it was announced Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Chuck Kaiton would not be back with the team for a 40th season.
Waddell said the team never discussed a contract extension with Skinner, who is entering the final year of a six-year, $34.35 million contract he signed in 2012 that kicked in for the 2013-14 season.
“For Jeff, I think he was looking for a fresh start, too, a place where he gets to play with some very good top-end players,” Waddell said. “He’s a Toronto native. He had a full no-trade, no-move clause, as everybody knows. Buffalo was a team that was always high on his list.
“He earned that contract with the no-move, and we have to abide by it,” Waddell added. “We felt that the deal we could make with Buffalo was one that we would accept and continue to move forward.”
Waddell said the team talked to “every team in the league” about Skinner, but the 26-year-old’s full no-move clause limited the number of realistic trade partners.
“I was in dialogue with his agent on a regular basis,” Waddell said. “He had a list of teams that he was interested in going to, and so at the end of the day, he was going to make the decision whether he goes or not. That’s why these contracts are sometimes tough to work around.”
Waddell also said the team saw the move as part of an ongoing locker room overhaul it hopes will end a nine-season playoff drought that is currently the longest in the NHL.
“I think we felt, culturally, that we needed to make some changes,” Waddell said. “Saying that, I always say that you don’t make a change just for the sake of making a change, because that usually doesn’t work out for you. When you make changes, they’ve gotta be in the mindset that you’re helping yourself moving forward. So there’s no doubt we went into the offseason and we felt that we did need to do some things.”
Waddell’s most telling statement certainly pointed to issues with Skinner’s team play.
“You’re always concerned about goals, but I’m more worried about winning,” he said.
Still, aside from Francis’ firing, the new regime’s decision to deal Skinner cuts the deepest into the franchise’s fabric.
Skinner burst on the scene in 2010, scoring the shootout winner in his second outing — an NHL Premiere game in Finland — en route to 31 goals and the Calder Memorial Trophy, given annually to the league’s top rookie.
The left wing scored 30 twice more, including a career-high 37 just two seasons ago, but he never seemed to find consistent linemates in Carolina, shuffling around and often playing on the third line and second power play unit.
And then there were the losses.
Skinner, who made his mark in the Ontario Hockey League by scoring 20 goals in 20 postseason games with the Kitchener Rangers in his draft year, never reached the playoffs with Carolina.
There were times when Skinner looked like the most dangerous player in the NHL, scoring at will for weeklong stretches. But there were also goal droughts, and his minus-27 plus/minus rating this year — he only once finished as a plus player (plus-3 in his rookie year) and is minus-95 for his career — coupled with just 24 goals reinforced the perception that the Toronto native was more detrimental to the cause than beneficial.
Skinner — like Brind’Amour, Eric Staal and others before him — was often victimized by a team that lacked talent, especially in goal, and when he and the team struggled he was regularly a focal point.
But when Skinner scored, Carolina seemed to win. He had 128 goals in 250 victories during his Hurricanes career, compared to just 76 goals in 329 regulation and overtime/shootout losses.
He ranks fifth in franchise history in goals (204) and second behind only Staal in goals with the team since it moved to North Carolina. He trails Staal, Glen Wesley, Brind’Amour and Cam Ward in games played in a Hurricanes’ sweater.