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NHL: Making the Case for Trading Jeff Skinner

Jeff Skinner’s trade value may be at its high water mark and Carolina should consider a trade.

Jeff Skinner NHL Trade Rumors
Jeff Skinner NHL Trade Rumors

Dec 1, 2013; Raleigh, NC, USA; Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner (53) looks on against he Vancouver Canucks at PNC Arena. The Vancouver Canucks defeated the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2. James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Two seasons removed from a 30-goal rookie effort, 21-year-old Carolina winger Jeff Skinner has reignited his game. However, the return of Skinner’s scoring touch has failed to push the Hurricanes up the standings. If the Carolina Hurricanes can’t climb into the playoff picture, their high-scoring young star might fetch some intriguing offers on the NHL trade market.

Skinner almost single-handedly downed the Capitals on Thursday with his second hat trick of the season, tapping home Ryan Murphy‘s centering pass 1:20 into overtime to clinch a 4-3 win. Skinner’s marvelous night in DC came hot on the heels of a two goal performance against Montreal on New Year’s Eve that also resulted in an overtime win. The pair of victories is the first set of back-to-back wins for the Canes since they capped a three-game streak by beating the San Jose Sharks on December 6.

That early December streak also included five Skinner goals. The 2011 Calder Trophy winner finished the month with 12 strikes, and he now has 15 goals and 19 points in his last 14 outings making him the league’s top goal-scorer since December 1.

Despite his success, the Hurricanes lost eight of nine from December 9 to 27, losing four of those games in overtime.  Skinner had a minus-13 rating through that stretch, suggesting that he may not be as valuable as his scoring stats imply.

Though Carolina’s Alexander Semin has long been the NHL’s poster boy for mercurial scorers, Skinner is just as streaky. After taking the league by storm as a teenager, his production dropped off significantly in the last two seasons. In the lockout shortened 2013 campaign, he scored five times in as many games to start the season, but later tallied just five goals in his final 28 games. He also ended the year with a team-worst minus-21 rating.

A minus-34 player over the last three seasons, Skinner is proving to be one of the least efficient scorers in the National Hockey League. Of course, his defensive struggles are emphasized by Carolina’s shortage of blue-line talent and goalie Cam Ward‘s string of injuries. However, it’s still worth wondering if Skinner’s value to the Hurricanes is equal to his potential trade value. 

At the peak of their powers, the Staal brothers (Eric and Jordan), Alexander Semin, and Jiri Tlusty could seemingly motor a lethal offense. However, Semin, Tlusty, and Jordan Staal have failed to inspire much confidence this year. If all of those guys come alive before Skinner slows down, there is little doubt that the Canes can sneak into the postseason. But even then, it’s unlikely that they could do much more.

The Hurricanes simply aren’t stout enough defensively to compete for the Stanley Cup, and a potential Skinner trade could start to change that. Undersized and averse to contact, Skinner is unlikely to hold up in the tight-checking playoffs, and his elite shot might net the Canes a top-pairing blue-liner and then some.

Back in May, Raleigh News & Observer‘s Luke DeCock noted that, “If the opportunity arises to add an elite defenseman… it is worth some serious thought about what trading Skinner might bring in return.” Skinner’s value has presumably sky-rocketed since then.

Carolina GM Jim Rutherford has already hit the trade market this season, sending Tim Gleason to Toronto in exchange for John-Michael Liles on Wednesday. If he is interested in making a bigger move, he might consider calling the New York Rangers.

On December 21, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun wrote that Rangers GM Glen Sather was actively shopping defensemen Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto. Always looking to add scoring, the Rangers could be an ideal fit for Skinner. The winger’s $5.725 million cap hit through 2018-19 will be difficult to move, but New York should have enough flexibility to make a move possible.

One of the league’s grittier defenseman, Girardi would be a perfect fit in Carolina’s top-four with a willingness to bang bodies and block shots. He will be a free-agent this summer, so an extension might have to be pre-negotiated to seal a deal. But it seems plausible that a package including Girardi and another quality asset or two could convince the Canes to part with their young star.

The Rangers currently sit just one point ahead of the Hurricanes in the Metropolitan Division standings, and they just might be desperate enough to make an intra-division deal following a very disappointing first half of the season.

It would undoubtedly be scary for Jim Rutherford to cut ties with his most productive player, but sometimes a bold move can get a franchise moving forward. The Canes are currently bound to wallow on the playoff bubble, but selling high on Jeff Skinner could make them a contender down the road.

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