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Skinner signing first part of Sabres' plan to end playoff drought

Expect to be active this offseason after giving forward eight-year, $72 million contract

by Heather Engel / Correspondent

BUFFALO -- Jeff Skinner signing to stay with Buffalo Sabres is the first step in bolstering the roster, general manager Jason Botterill said Saturday.

The Sabres on Friday signed Skinner, a 27-year-old forward who could have become a free agent July 1, to an eight-year contract worth $9 million per season.

"We'll certainly be active in talking to different players in free agency," Botterill said. "We'll see how that plays out. Our biggest focus, I think, heading into free agency was getting Jeff signed, and we've accomplished that. We'll continue to talk to see if there's a fit to help out our team from that respect. I think sometimes a more realistic option is through trades, like we did last year with Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick, and utilizing our [NHL salary] cap space from that standpoint."

Video: Friedman talks Skinner signing contract with Sabres

Skinner scored an NHL career-high 40 goals and tied his high with 63 points in 82 games this season, his first with Buffalo after being acquired Aug. 2, 2018, in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes for forward prospect Cliff Pu and three draft picks.

"'Grateful' is the word I'd use to sum up this entire process, actually," Skinner told the Sabres website. "I'm grateful for the work my agents did to help this run smoothly. I'm grateful that the Sabres believe in me, and that I get to stay and be around all the same people, from my teammates, to the staff, to the fans in Buffalo."

The Sabres fired coach Phil Housley on April 7 after going 33-39-10 and finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference, and Ralph Krueger was hired May 15. The Sabres have not qualified for the playoffs since 2010-11.

"We didn't reach our goals as a team last season. That was disappointing," Skinner said. "But coming into a new locker room, a new community, a new organization, all those adjustments felt positive. ...

"Playing in Buffalo, you mean so much to the community. As a player, you really have to take pride in that. It's something I'm going to continue to take pride in for the next eight years."

Buffalo was 23rd in the NHL in goals scored (221) and 24th in goals allowed (268) last season.

"We have to continue to improve in a lot of facets," Botterill said. "I think the easiest one, and what we've talked a lot about is, continuing to try to add more scoring to our group, especially up front, and that's why getting Jeff signed was such a big deal for us. We want to focus on adding to that group, not replacing it."

Skinner was third on the Sabres in scoring, behind forwards Jack Eichel (82 points) and Sam Reinhart (65). Defensemen Rasmus Dahlin (44) and Rasmus Ristolainen (43) were fourth and fifth. All but Skinner are younger than 25 (Eichel, 22; Reinhart, 23; Dahlin, 19, Ristolainen, 24).

"With the pieces that we have now and the development of some of our younger players, I believe we have a chance to be consistently competitive for a long time," Skinner said. "It will be fun to see how Ralph Krueger helps us reach the next level. Before I even had the chance to speak with him, I had a few different people reach out and tell me about their positive experiences with him."

Botterill didn't rule out bringing back 36-year-old forward Jason Pominville, who can become a free agent July 1.

"We've kept a dialogue open with him," Botterill said. "Not surprisingly, Jason is working extremely hard in the offseason. We'll continue that dialogue through the summer. It'll certainly [depend] on how things present themselves during the talking period with free agents (that begins June 23) and what materializes from trade fronts, both at the [2019 NHL Draft, June 21] and heading into July 1."

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