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Sabres will have competition if Jeff Skinner reaches free agency

As General Manager Jason Botterill's search for the next Buffalo Sabres' coach nears the one-month mark, Jeff Skinner's free-agent clock is ticking.

Skinner, the 26-year-old left wing who scored a career-high 40 goals this season, will be free to sign with any NHL team if he does not formalize a contract extension with the Sabres prior to July 1.

During a 20-minute news conference last month to explain Phil Housley's firing and the direction of the franchise, Botterill said there was a "100 percent" chance a deal with Skinner could be completed.

However, those odds will decrease significantly if Skinner reaches the open market since there will be no shortage of competition for his services. There are a number of teams with cap space who will be looking for scoring help.

The Sabres likely will be the favorite to sign Skinner if a deal is not struck before the calendar flips to July. They have $23 million in cap space and are in the best position to pay a long-term contract with an average annual value between $7 million and $9 million, a significant raise from the $5.75 million Skinner counted against the cap this season.

After all, Jason Pominville is their only other unrestricted free agent and of the five players who are restricted, only Evan Rodrigues should receive a significant raise. He made a team-low $650,000 this season.

Additionally, Buffalo proved to be a remarkable fit for Skinner upon his arrival from Carolina in August. Skinner formed instant chemistry with center Jack Eichel and has not been shy about his admiration for the core of the roster, including defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.

If there were any doubts about Skinner's interest in Buffalo, he used the word "we" on several occasions when asked about the Sabres' prospects for 2019-20. He also grew up in Markham, Ont., a suburb of Toronto located 120 miles north of Buffalo, and typically trains in the city during the offseason.

Jeff Skinner using lessons from family, figure skating to succeed with Sabres

Still, Skinner could prioritize winning when deciding where he will play next season. The former seventh-overall draft pick has the league's longest active streak of games played (661) without appearing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Skinner left Carolina after failing to reach the playoffs in eighth consecutive seasons only to watch the Hurricanes reach the second round. Meanwhile, the Sabres have the NHL's longest postseason drought.

Skinner could wait to see how Botterill plans to remake the roster and which coach will replace Housley.

Any conversation about pending unrestricted free agents should center around the Florida Panthers, who are expected to be the league's most aggressive team after they hired Joel Quenneville as coach.

The Panthers have long been rumored to be the desired landing spot for Columbus winger Artemi Panarin, who had a team-high 87 regular-season points and has helped the Blue Jackets reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.

Skinner could be an option if Panarin signs elsewhere, though Florida could chose to allocate their cap space to signing a defenseman. It's important to note the team is saddled with a few bad contracts that will be difficult to move.

The Blue Jackets will be a team to watch since they are projected to have $28 million in cap space. Though Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky are expected to leave, the team is expected to try to re-sign center Matt Duchene, whom it acquired prior to this season's trade deadline.

Duchene is expected to command around $10 million per season, and the Blue Jackets must re-sign defenseman Zach Werenski, who will receive a significant raise. A surprising departure by Duchene could put Columbus in the Skinner sweepstakes.

The New York Islanders could give Skinner the quickest route to the playoffs. They are expected to have $31 million in cap space and need help up front after they scored the fewest goals in the NHL during the regular season.

The team first will work to re-sign unrestricted free agents Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson, but Skinner would be a significant addition to a top-six that has scored only one goal in two games during its second-round series against the Hurricanes.

Another intriguing potential landing spot for Skinner is the New York Rangers, who have roughly $17.5 million to spend without any notable unrestricted free agents. They are rumored to be interested in Panarin and could contend next season since they are expected to select Finnish winger Kaapo Kakko with the second overall pick in June's draft.

It remains unclear if the Philadelphia Flyers will be active in free agency this summer. They have $31 million in cap space with notable restricted free-agent defensemen Ivan Provorv and Travis Sanheim in need of contracts.

However, the Flyers need additional skill up front and bringing Wayne Simmonds back may not be the best use of cap space. Skinner would fit nicely with one of their two franchise centers, Claude Giroux or Sean Couturier.

The San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins should be considered darkhorse candidates to make a push for Skinner.

Regardless of their playoff fate, the Sharks will have several difficult roster decisions to make since their $20.9 million in cap space won't be enough to re-sign all of their unrestricted free agents: Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Gustav Nyquist, Joonas Donskoi and Erik Karlsson. Also, Timo Meier and Kevin Labanc will be restricted, and the former will require a significant raise after he scored 30 goals this season.

Karlsson and Meier alone would make any free-agent additions difficult. However, San Jose could be among Skinner's preferred destinations if the team does express interest.

The Sharks' coach, Pete DeBoer, drafted Skinner in the Ontario Hockey League, and one of the team's assistants, Steve Spott, was Skinner's coach for two seasons with the Kitchener Rangers.

The direction of the Penguins' offseason won't be revealed until GM Jim Rutherford clears significant cap space. Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang, Patric Hornqvist or Olli Maatta could be moved in the coming months.

Trading those contracts for young players would give Rutherford cap space to make a significant free-agent signing, and Skinner could top his list. Remember, Rutherford drafted Skinner in Carolina and signed him to the six-year, $34.4 million contract extension that ended this season.

Rutherford tried to trade for Skinner last summer but could not clear enough cap space to make a deal work.

Montour on Canada's roster

Sam Reinhart won't be the only Buffalo Sabres player on Canada's roster for next month's IIHF World Championship in Slovakia.

Defenseman Brandon Montour, whom the Sabres acquired ahead of this season's trade deadline, was on the 22-man roster released by Hockey Canada on Monday. The tournament will be held May 10-26 in Kosice and Bratislava, Slovakia.

The two Sabres were chosen by General Manager Jason Botterill, who is part of Canada's three-person management team for the tournament. Additionally, center Jack Eichel will represent the United States.

Montour had three goals and seven assists in 20 games after joining the Sabres in February.

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