Responses to the pressures of a contract season vary – some players thrive under the added weight of justifying a new, perhaps more lucrative contract, while others struggle with the distractions of impending uncertainty.
How Jeff Skinner handles it will be unknown until the 2018-19 season.
Approaching the final season of his three-year, entry-level contract, Skinner agreed to a six-year extension with the Hurricanes on Wednesday, one that will pay him $4.35 million in 2013-14 and $6 million in each of the five seasons following.
“For me, the opportunity to get it done this summer and have seven more years to focus on, it’s exciting for sure,” he said.
That opportunity, according to the 20-year-old forward, wasn’t even anticipated.
“I wasn’t going into this offseason expecting a deal or thinking about it, really,” Skinner said. “My agent was in contact with Mr. Rutherford pretty much daily over the last couple of weeks. I was kept up to date, and I was day-to-day talking to my agent. It all went pretty fast and pretty smoothly from my perspective.
“It wasn’t really stressful at all for me. It’s exciting more than anything.”
Exciting for the Hurricanes, too, who lock in their All-Star forward for the next seven seasons before he touches free agency. In 146 career games with the Canes, Skinner has recorded 107 points (51g, 56a). In his rookie season, Skinner led all rookies with 63 points (32g, 31a) en route to becoming the first player in franchise history to capture the Calder Trophy.
Year two proved to be more of a struggle, as the Markham, Ontario native fought through a concussion suffered in early December, causing him to miss 16 games.
He was also the target of much of the physical agitation from opponents. The result? Thirteen of his 23 penalties were roughing, high-sticking or slashing infractions. He was also suspended for two games for kicking Scott Nichol in mid-March.
“Going through last year, I learned a lot. There are some situations that I probably could have handled a little differently,” he said. “As a young guy, I’ll learn from those instances.
“My offseason training hasn’t changed much,” he said. “The biggest thing I can do personally to prepare for [physical play] is mental.”
Skinner said before last season that his next goal was to make the playoffs, something he and the Canes missed by just a game in his rookie campaign. Falling short again in year two, the goal remains the same for his third.
“That’s the goal going into any season,” he said. “Once you get there, anything can happen.”
With no postseason play this past summer, Skinner headed to Europe with four other Hurricanes to compete in the IIHF’s World Championship. With head coach Kirk Muller looking on from behind the bench as an assistant coach for Team Canada, Skinner recorded three goals and two assists (5 points) and was a plus-3 in eight tournament games.
Though he returned from his concussion in late January and was moderately productive, Skinner said the tournament was a turning point in what can be an oscillating recovery period.
“I feel like I played well there,” Skinner said of the World Championship. “It’s always tough to come back in the middle of the season after taking that much time off. Getting that confidence back in the World Championship, I think that’s probably the biggest part; I felt like I was playing with a bit more confidence. I hope I can continue that and build off it going into next year.”
Skinner’s contract extension marks yet another aggressive move by the Hurricanes’ front office in what has been a swift, efficient offseason. Skinner himself has taken note.
“There have been a lot of big moves from our organization this summer, and I think it’s exciting,” he said. “I don’t know any other word you can use to describe it. It’s exciting to see ownership and management making those kinds of moves, and hopefully it’s a sign that we can step up next season.”
He might not be heading toward a contract season, but will his $34 million-plus payday bring added pressure to produce?
Possibly, but Skinner said he can’t let that affect him.
“All athletes want to perform to the best they can,” he said. “Going forward, it’s not going to change the way you look at yourself. I know the investment and confidence the Canes are showing in me, and I appreciate that. I hope that I can come through and be a big part of this team for the next while.”