After making sweeping changes within the organization and to their roster, the Buffalo Sabres have once again found a familiar spot at the bottom of the NHL standings due to their inability to score consistently and running into difficulties with COVID-19, injuries and the benching of one of the club’s highest-paid players.
The Sabres are 1-4-0 since returning to action last week and are in last place in the East Division with a 5-8-2 record. Nine players were on the NHL’s COVID protocol list during the club’s two-week hiatus, eight have returned to action, but the status of defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is uncertain due to his severely weakened state after contracting the virus.
“Ristolainen will be a long process to get him back because of the setback he’s had and what he’s gone through,” Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger said. “I am concerned that it will take a while to get Risto back, but I’m optimistic that we’ll have him back in a couple of weeks.”
In their 3-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Monday, the Sabres lost winger Tobias Rieder to an upper-body injury and the club announced before the game that blueliner Jake McCabe was lost for the season after suffering an ACL, MCL and meniscus tear to his right knee.
The continuing saga involving Skinner reached a new level on Monday when the veteran winger was announced as a healthy scratch.
“We don’t measure players only on statistics. It’s part of the mix, it is just a bit of a gut feel that the best lineup for tonight was with Casey Mittelstadt in that spot. It’s less against Jeff than it is for what we think this group needs today and what we need for a game from our team today.” Krueger said. “I think it’s good for Jeff to take a look once from the outside.”
After scoring 40 goals playing on the first line with Eichel and signing an eight-year, $72 million extension with the Sabres in 2019, Skinner was dropped to the second line by Krueger and scored only 14 goals last season. The downward trajectory continued this season, as the 28-year-old has played mostly on the fourth line, with just one assist in 14 games.
With six years remaining at a $9 million AAV and a no-movement clause in place, Skinner’s contract is virtually untradeable and immoveable, which makes the current standoff with Krueger all the more critical to the future of the club and the head coach.