Since the conclusion of the regular season, Jeff Skinner's name had regularly surfaced in trade talk conversations around the league.
Then, on Thursday evening, rumor evolved into reality.
The Carolina Hurricanes dealt Jeff Skinner to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for forward prospect Cliff Pu and Buffalo's second-round draft pick in 2019 and their third- and sixth-round picks in 2020.
With a transaction such as this one - parting ways with a former first-round selection who is undoubtedly a skilled goal scorer - it's necessary to peel back the layers and implications in order to discern the how and, perhaps more importantly, the why.
Let's first analyze the business side of the deal.
Skinner was set to become an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season, and instead of losing him on the open market with no return (see: the Islanders and John Tavares), the Hurricanes were able to retain value in the acquisition of a prospect and three draft picks.
Additionally, the Canes currently have just a handful of forwards under contract for the 2019-20 season and beyond. It's not that the team is short on cap space, but that gap becomes a lot tighter when you figure in new and likely long-term contracts for Skinner, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and others.
Time, though, was on the Hurricanes' side, and they were able to do their due diligence. President and General Manager Don Waddell had varying degrees of discussions with every team in the league over the summer, and Buffalo offered the most attractive package, which included Pu, another talented prospect to add the Canes' burgeoning collection.
Pu is coming off his fourth season in the Ontario Hockey League, in which he totaled 84 points (29g, 55a) in 65 games with London and Kingston. The 20-year-old winger ranked eighth in the league in assists and 10th in the league in points. Pu, who inked his three-year, entry-level contract last October, will begin his professional career this season.
"Skates well, great hockey sense, and he's put up great numbers," Waddell said on a Thursday conference call. "If you look at his track record, he's been able to score at every level."
Let's not overlook the three draft selections, either. Whether they are utilized to make picks in 2019 and 2020 or packaged in a separate transaction, they are quality future assets.
Video: Thank you, Jeff Skinner
Now, how does this trade affect the Hurricanes on the ice?
Skinner totaled 204 goals and 379 points in 579 games in eight seasons with Carolina. He crossed the 30-goal threshold thrice, including in his rookie season, during which he appeared in the All-Star Game and won the Calder Trophy. Skinner leaves the organization ranked fifth in franchise history in goals, seventh in points and ninth in games played.
"We felt, culturally, that we needed to make some changes. … Everybody was a little bit frustrated with how the season went and the past few seasons, and the thought was maybe a change might be better," Waddell said. "For Jeff, I think he was looking for a fresh start, too."
There's certainly a hole to fill, especially when goal scoring is at a premium, but the Hurricanes have significant talent waiting in the wings.
A door has now opened on the left side of the Hurricanes' forward lineup, and Valentin Zykov or Warren Foegele - two young forwards who have had a taste of the NHL and are now in search of a roster spot with the big club - will be competing to fill that void. There's also Lucas Wallmark, who has logged 19 NHL games over the last two seasons, and Janne Kuokkanen, who played in four NHL games at the beginning of last season; both are left-shooting centers who will be stating their cases in training camp. Plus, there's the expectation that Andrei Svechnikov, selected second overall in the 2018 NHL Draft, and Martin Necas, selected 12th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, are ready to step in.
"We've got a bunch of good, young players in Charlotte that we feel like need an opportunity," Waddell said. "You need goals from a lot of different areas. If you're just going to talk about one player with goal scoring, it might not be the best recipe to have success as a team."
Pu only adds to the Canes' deep pool of skilled forwards who will be vying for limited spots on the roster in just over a month's time. Skinner's departure ensures an additional opportunity for someone to prove himself and earn that spot.
"We wouldn't be making these moves if we didn't feel that the players we have in place can do it," Waddell said. "I know it's hard when you're trading a roster player that everybody is familiar with … and you're trading for draft picks and prospects. But, you've got to look at the entire picture and what we've done all summer."
It's been a summer of change for the Hurricanes, this the latest in a myriad of alterations both on and off the ice. For Skinner, a new opportunity in a new city with a new team awaits. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes maximized their return for a player entering the last year of his contract while continuing to construct a team that aims to bring playoff hockey back to the Triangle for the first time since 2009.