Jeff Skinner was recently awarded with an 8-year, $72 million dollar contract, working out to $9 million per year. Seriously, congrats to him. That is one hell of a payday.
Unfortunately, we here at Clappercast think that it is a . . . slight overpayment.
As the Buffalo Sabres are in the turnaround stage of a rebuild (and will have plenty of big contracts to sign in the next 5 seasons), they cannot afford to be handing out overpayments like samples at Costco. Luckily for the Sabres, they have many other contracts ending in the next 2 seasons and they do currently have the money to lock Skinner down long-term.
The $9 million per season he got is likely closer to what he may have gotten had he gone to free agency, and it is 100% certain that other teams would be very interested in bringing Skinner to their organization. Because of this, the Sabres had their hands tied, more or less, in having to pay a premium for a complementary scorer to play on their top line.
So far, there’s only a couple concerning contracts on their books, Skinner and Okposo, that last for more than a few years. They will have $15 million tied up in those 2 players until the end of the 2022-2023 season when Okposo’s contract expires.
We can only hope that the 27 year old Skinner can keep up how he played for a large portion of the last season, setting a career high in goals with 40 and tying his career high in points with 63. An opportunity to play long-term with Jack Eichel will set him up to succeed.
This brings us into the purpose of this post. To analyze Jeff Skinner’s contract and explain why we think it is an overpayment.
As previously mentioned, Skinner’s career high in goals and points are 40 and 63, while his career high in assists is 32, set way back in his rookie season. Although the goals are impressive, and he is also a 4 time 30 goal scorer, overall, those are not the numbers you would expect out of a $9 million dollar player.
Skinner has gained a reputation as being inconsistent. He has typically been more of a scoring winger, a type that does often go through highly noticeable hot and cold streaks. It is concerning that in the last 19 games of this past season Skinner recorded just 4 goals and 2 assists. Skinner shot at way above his career average shooting percentage in the 2018-19 season, a stat well worth noting. If he maintained his career average, he would be closer to 30 goals on the year.
Over his entry level contract, Skinner averaged approximately 21 goals and 44 points per season. In his second deal, those numbers rose to average 30 goals and 52 points per season.
This is actually fairly significant, notably in goals. To go from 20 to 30 goals on average is a big jump, and is definitely something a team will want to pay to have. The concern is in assists and points. He is averaging 9 more goals per season, but only 8 points more. Skinner is a player who consistently puts up the same, if not more, goals than assists every season. This leads to the question, if he isn’t scoring, what is he doing?
Over his career, Jeff Skinner has recorded over 25% of his points on the powerplay and has 0 career points shorthanded. Additionally, he has only spent 53 minutes total on the ice shorthanded in his entire career.
We know he is an offensive player, so it is not expected of him to be a penalty killer or a defensive forward and as long as he isn’t a liability it probably is not an issue. Looking at his advanced stats shows that his team typically controls the puck when he is on the ice (67% offensive zone starts, 57.5% Corsi For %, and 56.6% Fenwick For % over his career).
If he also is not a playmaker, he is very close to being a one-dimensional player who really only contributes in one way. $9 Million and 11% of your cap space is a lot to pay for a one-dimensional player.
This is the definitive section on showing just how much the Sabres may have overpaid to retain Jeff Skinner. Using the Capfriendly comparables tool, we will get a glimpse of what players of a similar calibre get paid. Dollar value isn’t everything and we will be focused on cap hit percentage to account for the salary cap rising every year.
In my opinion, these are not looking great for Jeff Skinner’s contract. The closest comparable based on the variables set is Tyler Seguin, who signed at the same age and for the same length as Skinner. However, Tyler Seguin had played a season’s less games but put up a season’s more points than Jeff Skinner. Seguin did sign for almost a million more per season. He is also a centre, a position that typically gets paid more than wingers.
For players who are closer to Skinner’s cap hit percentage, I will be looking at Steven Stamkos and Jakub Voracek who are both within 0.3% of Skinner.
At the time of signing, Stamkos was nearly a point per game player with a 60, 50, and two 40 goal seasons to his name, two Rocket Richard Trophies, three 90 point seasons, 2 lengthy playoff runs, and had been the captain of the team for a two seasons. That is a much more filled out resume than what Skinner possesses for a very similar percentage of the cap.
On the other hand, Jakub Voracek is much closer of a comparable, and he actually signed for a slightly higher cap hit percentage than Skinner did. Over their careers, Jakub Voracek has put up 0.7 points per game while Skinner has 0.67. Voracek has had two 80 point seasons and is a fairly consistent 20 goal scorer, but puts up far more assists. Voracek also averages about 8 points more than Skinner per season.
The biggest difference, in our internal discussion, is in the completeness of their game factoring in defensive reliability and intangibles. Jakub Voracek does have lower CF% and FF%, but he also has significantly more defensive zone starts (45% compared to Skinner’s 31%). To me, this indicates that he is utilized more in a defensive role (relied on in the defensive zone to win the puck back and get it out of your own end) and him or his line may not always have possession of the puck as much (making sense of the lower CF and FF percentages). Voracek also has extensive international experience and some in the playoffs.
So, while the quantifiable parts of Voracek’s and Skinner’s play are similar enough to warrant similar contracts, there are many qualitative aspects in defensive play, experience, leadership, and other intangibles that give Voracek a bit of an edge.
The Final Say
Jeff Skinner’s contract is an overpayment. For reference, he is now the 17th highest paid player in the league. But, it is not that simple.
As a pending UFA and highly talented player, Skinner held some leverage in the negotiation. He could leave and probably have a bidding war over him in free agency, or the Sabres pay him a bit more than he might be worth right now since 30 goal scorers are few and far between and Buffalo does not really have anyone to replace that production. They can also bank on him continuing to work well with Eichel, thrive under a new coach in Ralph Krueger, and improve as the team does.
The tricky part is that at 27, Skinner is already reaching his prime (or partway through it) as a scoring forward. Who knows what his production will be like in 5 seasons, assuming he stays healthy (and he has had concussion issues earlier in his career already). He is, on average, a 30-goal, 50-point player over the past 5 seasons. Impressive numbers, but that would not suggest he should be a $9 million player. That statline may not even warrant a spot on the first line for some teams, yet he is being paid as an elite first line forward.
Ultimately, we will have to see how Skinner responds to this deal. Can he develop his game under a new coach to add some dimensions? Maybe increase his assist and point totals and improve his defensive/two-way play? Or will he continue on as a goal scorer with good hands and strong skating? I think he needs to increase that career high in points before this deal is even close to ‘worth it’.
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