It would have been hard, if not impossible, for Jeff Skinner to ignore all the NHL trade speculation this summer.
Every week, it seemed, Skinner’s name was being mentioned and the Carolina Hurricanes forward said to be “available” for a trade.
The Twitterverse was aflame during the NHL Draft in late-June in Florida. For a few days, a deal involving Skinner appeared to be a given.
But it’s September. On Friday, he put in another informal skate with Hurricanes teammates at Raleigh Center Ice, then settled back in the locker room under a stall with a “Skinner” nameplate.
“There’s not much I can do about it,” Skinner said. “You hear all the talk, all the rumors. It’s tough to build expectations because anything can happen. You look at all the deals leading up to the draft and at the draft, and lot of it you didn’t see coming.
“I’m here, I love it here. I think in the summer when you hear all that stuff, that’s all it is – just talk. You can’t really do anything about it. You just focus on getting better.”
That’s not to say Skinner wasn’t on the phone with his agent, Rick Curran. Like any player, he wanted to know what the possibilities were. While he has four years left on his contract, at $6 million a year, he does not have a no-trade provision for now.
“I talked to (Curran) a couple of times but he’s got a lot on his plate, I think, and especially here,” Skinner said, smiling.
During the summer you’re able to reflect on how the season went and what you’d like to improve.
Canes forward Jeff Skinner
Curran also represents the Canes’ Eric Staal and Cam Ward, who both are entering the final year of their contracts and negotiating possible extensions.
“He had more to worry about than just me, so he’s had a busy summer,” Skinner said. “Fortunately for me I just had to concentrate on training. Refresh and refocus on getting better.”
A few tweaks
For Skinner, that again meant working with trainer Andy O’Brien in Toronto. It again meant going to Vail, Colo., for some recent high-altitude training with other NHL players.
“As you get older I think it’s less about adding strength but more about maintaining what you have and building off what you’ve done in the past and make a few little tweaks to improve,” he said.
Skinner first came to the Canes’ training camp in 2010 as an 18-year-old, as the team’s first-round draft pick that year. He looked even younger, although it was quickly apparent his offensive skills were NHL caliber, and his 31 goals that season helped make him the 2011 Calder Trophy winner.
He’s 23 now. He has played five NHL seasons. He’s also coming off perhaps the most puzzling season, as his goal production dropped from 33 in 2013-2014 to 18, when he failed to score in the final 18 games.
Skinner scored on 14.4 percent of his 215 shots in his 31-goal rookie season and 12 percent of his 274 shots in scoring 33 two years ago. That shooting percentage dipped to a career-low 7.7 percent on his 236 shots last season as he came up empty on his last 48 shots.
“Every year you come in you’ve put in a summer’s worth of training and you feel good and you want to improve on the last year, in all aspects of your game,” he said. “During the summer you’re able to reflect on how the season went and what you’d like to improve. It’s important for me to have a good year.”
The Canes struggled from start to finish to score goals last season, finishing 27th in the NHL with 2.23 per game. They’re counting on a bounce-back year and more production from Skinner, who played 77 games last season after suffering a concussion in the Canes’ seventh and final preseason game.
The concussion was the third of Skinner’s NHL career, causing some to question if he’s as fearless in attacking the net or if he’s become an injury risk.
“That’s another thing you can’t really control, so there’s no point in worrying about it or trying to change it,” Skinner said. “People are going to say what they’re going to say. For as many people that say negative things about you, there are people who say positive things and support you.
“You just try to roll with the good support and try to prove those people right. That happens in any business and especially in professional sports. It’s all a part of it, so you just embrace it and keep going.”