A day after the Carolina Hurricanes traded forward Jeff Skinner, one of the team’s most popular players, team owner Tom Dundon said the decision wasn’t a hard one.
“It had to be done,” Dundon said Friday. “The consensus in the organization, and it has been for a while, was it was better for all parties. It’s good for him, too.”
Skinner, 26, said Friday he was excited about Thursday’s trade to the Buffalo Sabres, about joining another team with a young core of players, one that includes Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NHL draft.
“It’s a fresh start,” he said.
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At the same time, Skinner said it was tough to leave behind the team that made him its first-round pick in 2010, to leave a community and fan base that quickly embraced him.
“I enjoyed my time in Carolina,” he said. “I made a lot of great friends, played with a lot of great players, worked with a great staff. I’m grateful I had the opportunity the organization gave me. The fans were unbelievable to me.
“It was frustrating for sure to not reach your goal. Everyone involved gets frustrated. We didn’t reach our goal and it’s disappointing. It’s disappointing for me personally and disappointing as the team.”
Soon after Dundon became the team’s majority owner in mid-January, he said he wanted players only totally committed to the Hurricanes, to winning and to doing all the things necessary to win all over the ice. When the team failed to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs — the ninth straight year for Carolina — Dundon said changes would be made.
Gone is former general manager Ron Francis, a Hockey Hall of Famer. And goalie Cam Ward, one of the stars of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup champs. Gone is longtime radio voice Chuck Kaiton, another team icon.
Skinner was entering the final year of his contract with Carolina and due to make $6 million in salary this season. If not re-signed he would have become an unrestricted free agent after the 2018-19 season.
“This was not money motivated,” Dundon said. “This was simply that we think the team has a better chance to perform at the level we think it can perform at right now.”
General manager Don Waddell said Skinner had discussions after the season with Dundon, who conducted the team’s exit interviews. By the NHL draft in June, Waddell and Dundon were talking openly about Skinner being one those players who might be available for a trade, one who might need a “change of scenery,” as Dundon put it.
With a full no-move clause in his contract, Skinner and agent Don Meehan could have refused all trades. He could have played out his contract, then tested free agency next summer, with the Hurricanes getting nothing in return.
But Skinner did not do that to the Hurricanes.
“It just seemed like they wanted to go in a different direction,” Skinner said. “I think as a player you want to play where you’re wanted.”
With no discussions of a contract extension, it became almost a given that Skinner’s time with Carolina was coming to an end. The only question was where he might land. Skinner approved the trade to Buffalo, saying it came rather quickly and was handled smoothly.
Skinner was asked Friday about his relationship with former coach Bill Peters, which was contentious at times — Peters resigned after the season to become head coach of the Calgary Flames. But Skinner said it did not sour his feelings for playing for the Canes or fuel a desire to leave after the season.
“I don’t think so,” Skinner said. “During the season, as a player and coach, we’re both looking to win games. Our goal is the same. I liked playing for Bill. He’s a good coach.
“For me, during the season you’re focused on trying to win games and focused on trying to make the playoffs. After the season is when things kind of settle down and people reflect on the season. Then it’s not too long and the draft is on the agenda and teams looking to make changes to improve.”
Skinner now has a new coach and new organization. He’s still in the final year of his contract, but that’s Buffalo’s issue now and Skinner said he would let Meehan again do the legwork.
“I’m just focused on the season and preparing for the new season,” Skinner said.