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Sabres remain hopeful of signing Skinner to new contract

Forward can become unrestricted free agent July 1

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

The Buffalo Sabres remain hopeful of signing forward Jeff Skinner to a new contract, general manager Jason Botterill said Wednesday.

Skinner leads the Sabres with 36 goals and is third in the NHL behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (42) and Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks (38). The 26-year-old can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

"His group and ours have obviously continued our dialogue," Botterill said in Tampa, where the Sabres will play the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; SUN, MSG-B, NHL.TV). "We haven't done play-by-play in the media just because that's the way we wanted to go about things. Both sides continue to work to try and find a resolution."

Video: NYR@BUF: Skinner snaps home wrister from the circle

Skinner was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes on Aug. 2 for forward Cliff Pu, a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, a third-round pick in the 2020 draft and a sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft. He has said he's enjoyed his time in Buffalo, but his future there is cloudy because the Sabres (28-24-7) have fallen six points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

The Sabres were 17-6-2 and first in the League with 36 points after a 10-game winning streak from Nov. 8-Nov. 27 and have gone 11-18-5 since. Botterill prefers to look at the bigger picture and the improvement from last season when Buffalo went 25-45-12 and was last in the League with 62 points.

"Look, we're disappointed with our results right now," Botterill said. "It's a situation where we felt, if you take a step back, we've made improvements as an organization. We like parts of our game and the development of some of our players. But we are facing a new challenge here. It's a scenario where our players are playing games in the second half of a season that mean a lot. 

"The intensity of NHL games in the second half ramp up, and it's a challenge to win hockey games in the second half. That's, right now, what we're looking at and we're trying to find solutions there."

Video: NYR@BUF: Skinner buries PPG for his second of game

Botterill said he has been talking to other general managers about possible trades but is unsure if that would lead to any deals before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. ET.

"We've had a lot of conversations going on," Botterill said. "Whether those things come to fruition over the next couple days, it's always hard to predict. As I think we saw last year, sometimes you look at the draft and then things can move into July 1 and things can move into the summer. ... We are always looking to make moves that are going to help our group. I'd also say we're going to trust our players. We're going to trust our group."

That includes Phil Housley, who is in his second season as Sabres coach. When asked if he's considering a coaching change, Bottterill expressed his support for Housley and the Sabres' direction under him.

"We've made progress as an organization compared to last year," Botterill said. "We're in a position where we've been in games. I see the results on the ice. I see the communication that we're going through here. There's not going to be a coaching change."

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