Buffalo - May 16, 2019 - Jeff Skinner is the next priority for the Buffalo Sabres, who will try to sign the forward before he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1.
General manager Jason Botterill said the hiring of Ralph Krueger as coach Wednesday was an important step to help the Sabres keep Skinner in Buffalo.
"If you're going to sign a long-term contract with an organization, you kind of want to know who the head coach is," Botterill said. "We've kept in dialogue with Jeff and certainly made him aware of who we were going to name here as head coach today, just as we did with a lot of our leadership group."
Krueger replaces Phil Housley, who was fired April 7 after two seasons as Sabres coach.
Skinner scored an NHL career-high 40 goals and matched his NHL career-high 63 points this season, mostly on a line with center and Buffalo captain Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart.
Skinner, the No. 7 pick by the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2010 NHL Draft, has 442 points (244 goals, 198 assists) in 661 games with the Hurricanes and Sabres. The 26-year-old was acquired by Buffalo in a trade from Carolina for forward prospect Cliff Pu and three draft picks Aug. 2, 2018.
Among Krueger's first tasks as coach will be reaching out to his new players, and Skinner is high on his list.
"Just as it's important next week for Ralph to touch base with Jack and Sam over at the World Championship [in Slovakia]," Botterill said, "it's going to be very important for him to build a new relationship with Jeff and make sure that he feels comfortable with what our plan is moving forward here both as a team, as an organization, and where we see Jeff fitting into the mix."
At the same time they are working on a long-term commitment from Skinner, the Sabres are preparing to start next season without defensemen Zach Bogosian (hip) and Lawrence Pilut (shoulder), who each has an expected recovery time of 5-6 months following surgery.
Defenseman Brandon Montour, acquired in a trade from the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 24, sustained a lower-body injury playing for Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Championship on Monday. He is returning to Buffalo to be examined by Sabres doctors; Botterill said he does not anticipate Montour's injury to be serious.
"You have to make sure you have a plan to at least start the season off because it will be important, as any season is, to have a good start, but we're looking long term here," Botterill said. "It's got to be a situation that if something comes up that helps our team throughout the course of the second half next year or even beyond that, we'll certainly look at that.
"We like [what we've seen from] some of our young defensemen this past year, like a Will Borgen, and we have Jacob Bryson and Casey Fitzgerald joining our organization. We think that there's a situation where they could possibly push for jobs at the start of the year. Does it mean that they'll be able to help us over the course of 82 games? That's a big step for young players. But we certainly think they can help us at the start of the year."