OPINION: Jeff Skinner is not underperforming. He's underutilized

The Sabres forward was a healthy scratch Monday night after zero goals in 14 games this season
By WGR 550 SportsRadio

Jeff Skinner is what he is - an offensive finisher, reliant on others to create opportunities for him.

Skinner has always been that player, and will always be that player.

In 59 games last season, plus 14 games this season, Skinner has just 14 goals. That comes after a 40-goal season that earned him an eight-year contract worth $9 million annually.

It is too simplistic and shortsighted to just look at the goal totals and declare that Skinner is not performing. I would argue that Skinner is overachieving, given the impossible situation Ralph Krueger has put him in.

In the 2019-20 season, Skinner's most common linemates were not an impressive group of offensive creators:

1.) Marcus Johansson (336:03)
2.) Conor Sheary (211:46)
3.) Evan Rodrigues (166:16)
4.) Vladimir Sobotka (160:54)

Despite playing almost entirely with a group of players that averages 36 points per-82 games combined in their careers, Skinner somehow managed to lead the Buffalo Sabres in goals per-60 minutes of ice-time at 5-on-5.

Yes, you read that right.

In the 2019-20 season at 5-on-5, Skinner had the most goals on the Sabres per-60 minutes of ice-time. More than Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Victor Olofsson.

Skinner produced with subpar help, without getting a proper amount of ice-time.

In 2019-20, Skinner averaged just 13:28 of 5-on-5 ice time per game. His lowest amount in five years.

Fast forward to the 2020-21 season, and Krueger, once again, has put Skinner in an impossible position. From the start of the season, Skinner has skated with Curtis Lazar and Riley Sheahan. Two of the worst offensive players on the team.

The difference this season is Skinner has not scored at all.

However, now is not the time to panic.

Skinner is not experiencing the career decline that Kyle Okposo has gone through, for example.

In fact, Skinner's rate of high-danger scoring chances per-60 minutes this season is actually higher than each of his first two years with the Sabres. This includes his 40-goal season back in the 2018-19 campaign.

Okposo, for comparison, is averaging a career-low 2.01 high-danger scoring chances per-60 minutes. It's a sign that goals are not going to come.

Skinner, meanwhile, is creating nearly triple the scoring chances that Okposo is, with 5.74 per-60 minutes.

Simply put, Skinner is unlucky.

If Krueger was trying to be predictive instead of reactionary, he would be playing Skinner big minutes at the top of the lineup and not sticking him in the press box.

Let's also end this narrative that Skinner doesn't help the Sabres if he's not scoring.

Skinner ranks first on the Sabres per-60 minutes in penalties drawn, takeaways, rebounds created, and he has the third-most blocked shots among forwards.

The shot block total is definitely a fluke, if looking at the rest of Skinner's career, but the other categories are constants in his game.

Getting the most out of Skinner is critical for whoever the Sabres head coach is in the future. He is under contract through 2027 at $9 million per-year. Like it or not, Skinner is here and isn't going anywhere.

It is vital for the head coach to find a way to make it work. Krueger should be doing everything in his power to get Skinner scoring.

So far, Krueger's way of getting the most out of Skinner is to keep him far away from the Sabres' other top offensive players, and then punish him when he doesn't score with a guy who was signed to a PTO (professional tryout) a month ago.

The solution is sitting there right in front of Krueger. It's the only thing he hasn't tried with Skinner since he walked through the door as the head coach in Buffalo - Giving Skinner extended playing time with, at least, one of the top forwards at driving offensive play. That's Eichel, Reinhart and/or Taylor Hall.

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