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COMMENTARY

Jason Botterill's only option was to make a deal with Jeff Skinner

So the Jeff Skinner melodrama is officially over. On one hand, you can say good for the Sabres and General Manager Jason Botterill.

On the other hand, what else could they do?

The Sabres had to pay Skinner. And at $9 million per season for eight years, it's a bit of an overpay at least for now. Skinner can repay the team with some more 30- or even 40-goal seasons to make it look like a good investment, and the likely increases in the salary cap — which could be pushing past $90 million in the next three years or so — will make the investment less onerous on the Sabres as time goes on.

This whole situation took much longer than it probably should have, but both sides have trod cautiously since Skinner arrived last fall. They put talk of a new deal on the back burner as player and organization got to know each other during the first half of a season that went much better than expected.

Then the sides clearly did some soul searching as the bottom fell out for both team and player in the second half. It was reasonable for Skinner to wait and see who Botterill hired as his coach, and to have a meeting with Ralph Krueger before agreeing to terms.

And it was reasonable for Botterill to examine all the cap ramifications of a big deal for Skinner, when you consider he now has tied up $19 million of his cap space on his top two forwards (Jack Eichel and Skinner), and Rasmus Dahlin's mega payday is looming just a couple of years away. Not to mention the possibility of a good-sized deal for Sam Reinhart.

In the big picture, Botterill's measured approach worked well here. This deal was not negotiated in the media and the GM's few public comments never hinted at an issue in the talks.

"I think it’s my job to show optimism," Botterill said Saturday. "I think when the organization wants a player and when a player demonstrates to the organization and says that he wants to be part of the solution, it’s my job to try to find a way to come to an agreement."

There was no chance Botterill could let Skinner walk away and he had to know that too. You're not replacing those goals in free agency — what key name is coming to Buffalo at this point? — and the public relations hit would have been disastrous for an already teetering season ticket base.

Jeff Skinner signs 8-year, $72M contract to return to the Sabres

But the deal wasn't the kind of how-much-do-you-want contract that people wanted it to be, either. Skinner's side clearly worked to get a full no-movement clause for the length of the deal as well as a $7.5 million signing bonus in both 2020 and 2022. Remember, those are paid even in the event of a lockout.

Botterill had to feel some of the same pressure Darcy Regier felt in 2007 when the former GM matched Edmonton's offer sheet to Thomas Vanek. Revisionist historians say the Sabres should have accepted the Oilers' four first-round picks and let Vanek go, but forget that was a team coming off consecutive Stanley Cup runs that had just seen Daniel Briere and Chris Drury depart.

No way Regier could quit on the fan base back then and no way Botterill could do it now. Especially with Ryan O'Reilly front and center playing for a Stanley Cup in St. Louis on Sunday night after the GM's foolish selloff of one of his core players last summer.

Botterill has continuously pushed the narrative — faulty in these eyes — that the trade of O'Reilly was what allowed him to trade for Skinner a month later. So how would you be able to justify that trade now if you let Skinner leave?

You couldn't. Skinner had all the leverage here.

The Sabres were hoping for big things out of Skinner when Carolina dumped him in their lap and they got that. Botterill knew months ago he was going to have to break the bank on a new deal.

One of the more interesting sidelights to Botterill's conference call with reporters Saturday was when he revealed he's maintaining dialogue with Jason Pominville to return. He should make that deal happen, say one year for $2 million. Botterill said an underrated aspect of Skinner is his influence on the team's young players and Pominville excels in that area as well.

Pominville was spotted on the team's web video last week in the workout room greeting Krueger as the new coach got his first tour of KeyBank Center. Pominville can add depth on the third and fourth lines, something this club badly needs, and play some special teams.

It's pretty easy to forget Pominville was fourth on the team in goals last year with 16. As in more than Kyle Okposo, Conor Sheary, Evan Rodrigues or Casey Mittelstadt. And more than double the total of the much overhyped Tage Thompson.

Botterill said he needs to work on this club's forward depth and Pominville would help. The GM likely needs to go the trade route again, perhaps another August stealth move like the one that produced Skinner. Fans need to forget their Matt Duchene free agent fantasies. The big money is accounted for.

The GM has his core and the cost of doing business is you pay your top players. In the NHL, 40-goal scorers get Paid, capital P intentional. Maybe Skinner never gets 40 again but he's probably good for a consistent 30-35 goals for several years.

Over the last four seasons, Skinner is tied for third in the NHL in even-strength goals. Patrick Kane is the leader with 113, Alex Ovechkin has 112 and Skinner is tied with John Tavares and Vladimir Tarasenko at 106. That's one more than Connor McDavid, four more than Brad Marchand, five ahead of Nikita Kucherov and seven ahead of Sidney Crosby.

No way this franchise can just let that kind of production go for nothing.

Skinner, remember, was on a 50-goal pace well into the 2019 portion of the season until he lost his finishing touch and had just one goal in a 22-game stretch.

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

You wonder how much bad luck Skinner was shooting into during March, when he had just one goal on 54 shots for a paltry percentage of 1.9. Because he didn't shoot less than 10.2 percent for any other month of the season.

Of course, if Skinner does more in March, the Sabres probably win more than two games and there's a good chance Phil Housley is still their coach.

One valid concern is that Skinner played last season achieving a contract-year bump that he'll never equal, that he posted a career high in goals and shooting percentage (14.9) in a season when he was trying to get paid. But with Skinner going into his age-27 season, Botterill simply had to take the chance that Skinner can duplicate that production, or at least approach it, and maybe prove even more valuable on a better team.

For all this money, of course, it would be nice if Skinner was a better two-way player and maybe that's an area Krueger can help him improve upon. Housley wouldn't play Skinner much in 3-on-3 overtime and a couple of grievous turnovers in extra sessions validated his point even as fans howled.

But as the Sabres continue to build their roster, they need to keep as much of their high-end talent as they can and acquire more through trades or the draft. Letting Skinner's production leave simply wasn't an option.

This team was bad enough last season, wasn't it? What would it be like without Skinner among its forward group?

It's a scary thought, one that Sabres fans no longer have to ponder. Botterill got the deal done.

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