In his first season with the Buffalo Sabres, Jeff Skinner had a career year and now he has a big decision to make as he approaches unrestricted free agency on July 1.
Will he return to Buffalo or sign with another team?
As the players addressed the media at KeyBank Center one final time before breaking for summer, the All-Star left winger said he'd take some time to reflect on the season and then evaluate the situation at hand.
Video: BEST OF LOCKER CLEAN OUT
"I think there's still talk and I've kind of said all year my focus was here. I'm playing the games and sort of finishing the season. Now that the season is over the questions are obviously going to start coming in but it's been two or three days," he said.
"It's not enough really to give it some proper thought that it deserves. It deserves some reflection, just like any season. We'll take the time to do that right away, but to answer your question, I like it here. I love it here. I like the guys, I like the city. I had a great time."
Skinner scored 40 goals for the first time in his career and tied his personal high of 63 points, set in 2010-11 and matched again in 2016-17. Thirty-two of those goals came at even strength and seven were game winners (three in overtime).
He ended up scoring the third-most goals ever by a first-year Sabre, trailing only Pat LaFontaine (46 in 1991-92) and Rick Martin (44 in 1971-72).
Skinner finished the season with 244 career goals and is tied with Jonathan Toews for 13th-most in the league since he began his career in 2010-11. His 191 even-strength goals rank behind only Alexander Ovechkin, John Tavares, Patrick Kane & Steven Stamkos during that span.
Video: LOCKER CLEANOUT: Skinner
However, the disappointment of missing the playoffs outweighed any personal successes he achieved.
"For me, I want to win. It's obviously not a good feeling where we are right now. We didn't accomplish our goal," he said. "You go through the season and if you don't accomplish your goal, you're disappointed. It's not a good feeling, and then you go into the summer, you reflect and you figure out what you can do better to help the team next year and make sure that doesn't happen."
Skinner is also confident that younger players like Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt, who were in their first seasons in the NHL, will only continue to improve. The Sabres drafted Mittelstadt with the seventh-overall pick in 2017 and Dahlin with the first pick in 2018. At 8.5 percent, the Sabres have the fifth-best odds to win the top pick in tomorrow night's NHL Draft Lottery.
Video: SJS@BUF: Skinner scores in OT, Sabres tie team record
"For me, when I came here I obviously knew where the organization finished last season and I was optimistic and positive about sort of the direction the organization is headed. I don't think that's changed," he said. "…In a lot of cases, the talent is going to keep getting better and it's going to keep going.
"… In a couple years they're going to be even better. That's just the reality. I think there is still growth. I think there are still things we can build on and can improve on as players. I think the organization is on a pretty good direction, in my opinion."
Sabres general manager Jason Botterill was asked during his press conference on Sunday if there was still a chance the Sabres could sign Skinner.
"One-hundred percent," Botterill said. "Both sides have continued to focus on, how do we get a deal done? I can understand where fans are coming from. He's a fun player. He's an entertaining player. You love watching Jeff Skinner out there. I think the relationship for both sides, for the player and for the team, has been a positive one. That's why we're trying to find a resolution."
Video: BUF@DET: Skinner nets wrister to hit 40-goal mark
Skinner has also left a great impression on his new teammates. Captain Jack Eichel joined Skinner on the Atlantic Division All-Star Team in January and while he would love to have Skinner back next season, he also understands the business side of the game.
"The nature of the business is, Jeff Skinner has to, at this time, worry about Jeff Skinner. This is his livelihood so he's going to make a decision," Eichel said. "This is all out of my control. Obviously, we love Skins. I love Skins. He's an unbelievable person. He's an unbelievable hockey player.
"We want him in the room just as much as you guys do. He's really close with all the guys. He adds a great dynamic to our team. You can't say enough good things about him. He scored 40 goals this year on top of everything. We would definitely love to have him in the room, but that stuff's going to take care of itself this summer."
Sam Reinhart, who played on Skinner's wing for a good portion of the season, echoed that sentiment.
"I think we've all expressed that to him all year and especially the last couple days," Reinhart said. "Who knows what's going to happen? He's a hell of a player. Hopefully he's here and hopefully we get to keep playing with him."