Conference Call to discuss Jeff Skinner signing (1 p.m.)
Q: You expressed optimism throughout the whole negotiating process since January. What gave you the belief that this thing was going to be done and what drove you to get this thing done based on how much you spent? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)
A: Obviously, we’re ecstatic to have Jeff as part of our organization for the next eight years. I think both sides were very happy with the relationship over the past year. I think it’s my job to show optimism. I think when the organization wants a player and when a player demonstrates to the organization and says that he wants to be part of the solution, it’s my job to try to find a way to come to an agreement. I understand that’s not always going to happen, but I’m very glad that to myself and Newport could come to a resolution and get this deal done.
Q: You’ve said so many times that it was a priority to get Jeff re-signed. Was there a particular reason? I mean, obviously you look at the numbers, you look at how prolific he was at times last year. What did he do for your team, kind of big picture? (Matt Bove – WKBW)
A: I think big picture, he came in and he scored goals. It’s pretty much what the game’s about, is scoring goals, and it’s something that we struggled with. We understand that Jeff’s goal total will probably fluctuate over his time in Buffalo. But [when] you look back on the stats is extremely consistent in creating chances at even strength and certainly his rate of the success rate of capitalization on scoring goals is going to fluctuate from year to year. But it’s something that we talked a lot about, improving our scoring up front and improving our depth scoring. We want to add to our group and not try to have to go out there and try to replace what Jeff Skinner can bring. The other element that gave us comfort in going to a deal with this, with Jeff, is just how we fit in with our group. I thought he was a great influence on young players. The relationship with some of our elite players, such as Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart), but going out of his way to have an impact on Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt, and just his professionalism off the ice. Probably one of the next questions is going to be about giving an eight-year contract to a 27-year-old, but there’s always going to be risk sometimes in doing that. But we feel very comfortable in how Jeff handles himself off the ice, how he’s dedicated to conditioning and training, and we think that attitude along with our sport science department will hopefully allow him to be healthy and help the Buffalo Sabres the next eight years.
Q: How you navigate, I know the cap’s going to go up in the coming years, but how do you navigate the challenge of having two players like Jack (Eichel) and Jeff take up a significant portion of your cap space, or your cap overall. My second question is how does your experience in Pittsburgh, having two players with similar contract structures, sort of prepare you to navigate that challenge? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)
A: I think this contract just goes to show you when very good players want to stay here in Buffalo and be part of it, we’re going to find a way to try to get it done. Our goal is to continue to try to develop our players within our system and we want to give them big contracts. We want them to develop and be players that are deserving of their big contracts. I feel very comfortable having some of our top players taking pieces of our salary cap up. People talk about some teams throughout the league having “cap situations.” Well they have cap situations because they have excellent players on the roster. That’s what we’re trying to get to. I think the successful teams here are willing to find ways to get deals done with their top players, but then also continually have young players coming through the system here. That’s what we’re trying to develop here and is why we continue to try to have draft picks. We continue to have such an emphasis on [the Rochester Americans] and player development, because we want to find ways to keep good players here in Buffalo and also continue to have strong teams by bringing entry-level contracts into the system, into our team.
Q: Ultimately, what do you think sold Jeff on the long-term commitment to the Sabres? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)
A: I think that’s a good question to ask directly to Jeff. In my discussions with Jeff, I think he felt very comfortable how he was treated coming into the of the organization. It’s always difficult being traded for the first time and coming to a new environment. I felt we handled it well for him. He was allowed to stay focused on hockey. I think just the facilities, whether it’s in Buffalo or on the road, is first class. I think he’d appreciate that. And I think he just sees the potential for this team. I think, obviously, he was a big part of our success in the first half and there was a frustration in the second half or how our team performed. But he sees the potential in the Jack Eichel, he sees potential in Rasmus Dahlin or Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson, some of our younger players. That’s certainly got him excited [about] where this organization can go in the future.
Q: You mentioned there might be some fluctuations, but he did just set a career high. Is there still more room to grow for Jeff, even though he is 27? (John Vogl – The Athletic)
A: I certainly believe so. You can always debate it, John, back and forth. Was he fortunate for some of the goals that he had early in the season? But then he went through a slump in the second half of the second half the season. I think there’s still opportunity for him to go beyond that. Hopefully with us having younger players that are going to continue to improve around him and having a stronger team around him will just allow him to have better goal totals. And like I said, the way he goes about having a work ethic and going about trying to find different methods of keeping his body in shape, training in the off-season and then also being a student of the game and where to go on the ice, body position around the net, I still believe he’s growing as a player for sure.
Q: How does this contract, and now your new salary structure with this contract, does it in any way handcuff you to add more elite players including in free agency this off-season, while knowing that Rasmus Dahlin’s contract year is coming up on the horizon? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)
A: We have young players such as Rasmus in our organization, and it’s our job continue to help them develop so they’re deserving of the of these higher-end contracts. I think our focus as we move forward here, we’ll certainly be active in talking to different players in free agency. 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 him sometimes a more realistic option is through trades, like we did last year with Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick, and utilizing our cap space from that standpoint, or adding a player like Jack Skinner like we did later on in the summer. So I think we’ll continue to look at both ways through the both the trade route and free agency to see if we can improve our team.
Q: I know, obviously, you don’t want to go into super detail about this, but what are your goals in free agency? What kind of players do you want to add to this roster? I know you touched on that a little bit at the end-of-season press conference, but what ideally, what kind of players would you like added? (Matt Bove – WKBW)
A: It’s a fair , but I’ll probably respond with a general comment: We didn’t make the playoffs. We have to continue to improve in a lot of facets. 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. And that’s what we’ve accomplished with signing up with Jeff. We certainly are excited about some of our young players going into different roles, but if we can find a way to add a little bit more depth instead of relying so much on Jeff, Sam and Jack, I think that’s certainly one of our goals here is an organization
Q: Is there an interest in bringing Jason Pominville back? Have you guys made a decision yet on him? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)
A: Nope, Jason’s actually working out at our facility right now. We’ve kept a dialogue open with him. Not surprisingly, Jason is working extremely hard in the off-season. We’ll continue that dialogue through the summer. It’ll certainly [depend] on how things present themselves during the talking period with free agents and what materializes from trade fronts, both at the draft and heading into July 1.
Q: Was there any pressure on yourself to get something done before the negotiation period opened up? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)
A: I certainly think that’s a fair assumption. We didn’t want to get that part. I think when you get to talking to other teams and other situations, it always brings in more of a risk that the player’s going to leave. What I like about the two sides, I know some people may have thought this negotiation dragged on, but the bottom line was that wasn’t to be a resolution until we had a head coach in place. And then once we got a head coach in place, you have to go through the process of making sure the head coach interacts with Jeff, and then you start talking. It’s not just a simple thing of, “here’s the numbers” type of thing. When you’re looking at a deal like this, there’s structure, there’s different clauses, that you have yet to look at the entire package. At the same token, I thought all our discussions were very cordial. All our discussions were certainly trying to find a resolution to both sides’ stances, and what they wanted accomplished through the negotiations. The fact that we were able to get this done two weeks before the talking period, three weeks before July 1, I think was great from both sides. We’re very excited to have Jeff on board, but to get back your first thing, we certainly didn’t want it get to the point where he’s discussing options with other teams and discussing different possibilities.
Q: If this team — and some people, if you look at the team and how it played last year — if it has underachieved the previous two years, how difficult is it knowing what the potential of this team is moving forward and assessing your roster and now with the new coach in place? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)
A: I think this team has shown glimpses of it. So our first half versus how it performed the second half, it’s all over the place from that standpoint. I think with so many young players, you continue to hope that it’s our job to help them develop. You saw Jack and Sam taking steps from a statistical standpoint in the past year. Now we need that from some of our younger players, whether it’s the Casey Mittelstadt Tage Thompson, Victor Olofsson stepping in, Alex Nylander, we need some of these young players stepping in there. I think we’re excited about where our group can move to. I think we’ve shown glimpses and we’ve gone through different stretches, but we’ve been a good team. Now it’s our job to be a lot more consistent over 82 games. So that certainly gives us hope, but we also understand that there needs to be a lot of work to be done with that. But from a standpoint of projecting exactly where we’re going to be, I think that’s very difficult in the National Hockey League. You just look at what’s happened in the playoffs, you just look at where the so-called experts had a lot of predictions for teams at the start of the year and where they ended up finishing, it’s the beauty of the sport is that there’s that much parity. We have an opportunity, I think, to accomplish something and to be playing in meaningful games later on the season, but that will certainly be dictated by how we come together as a team, what moves we make here in the summer and also a lot on our players on how that they’re going about things with the training throughout the summer.
Q: You’ve got some younger players that ever since they’ve been drafted in Buffalo have done really nothing but lose and lose badly. And you get talk to these guys, you can see how it wears on them, because nobody wants to lose, everybody wants to win. How much do you take that into account of somebody just mentally, maybe need a change when you’re thinking of trades, or you’re thinking of qualifying offers, or you’re thinking of those things? Do you take that into account that maybe these guys have just lost too much and need a change of scenery? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)
A: That’s certainly a concern. What gives us hope it is a lot of these players have had success earlier in the careers in other situations, whether it’s junior, college, over in Europe, World Championships, and they at least do know how to win in those environments. Also, the thing that gives us as an organization hope is [our winning streak that] materialized in November, December. I think they realize what can happen with the city when you have some success. I think what happened in the first half at least shows these guys that it can be accomplished. Now it’s the next step to do it over 82 games.