Af­ter Skin­ner’s bit­ter­sweet re­turn, could Fer­land be next?

The Herald-Sun (Sunday) - - Sports - BY LUKE DECOCK lde­[email protected]­sob­ Luke DeCock: 919- 829- 8947, @LukeDeCock

If watch­ing Jeff Skin­ner score against the Carolina Hur­ri­canes – for the first time in his ca­reer – was a lit­tle painful, wait un­til Micheal Fer­land does it later this sea­son.

There was some­thing both bit­ter­sweet and in­evitable about Skin­ner’s first-pe­riod goal, bat­ted out of midair on a power play in his first visit back to Raleigh since the trade that sent him to the Buf­falo Sabres in Au­gust. Trad­ing Fer­land, who had a ca­reer-high three points in a 4-3 win, is slightly less in­evitable but would be even more cruel.

It may be hard to fathom a Fer­land trade since the Hur­ri­canes have won six of seven to get back on the fringes of the play­off bub­ble and are fi­nally get­ting bounces – Fri­day, they scored off sticks and skates and the up­per back frame of the net – but the re­al­i­ties of the busi­ness of hockey are never far away, and the Hur­ri­canes are stuck in a tough spot with Fer­land, who stands to make life-chang­ing money on the free-agent mar­ket this sum­mer.

The Skin­ner trade is still, un­sur­pris­ingly, hard for some to un­der­stand, never more so than af­ter he scored his 30th goal Fri­day night, a mark he hit three times in eight sea­sons with the Hur­ri­canes.

The Hur­ri­canes de­cided they had a bet­ter chance to win with­out Skin­ner than with him – con­sider it a cul­tural ad­just­ment – and time will tell whether they’re right about that. That’s the why. As for the what, the pal­try re­turn of a prospect and three draft picks, none in the first round, was clearly the best they could do af­ter dan­gling Skin­ner on the mar­ket all sum­mer.

At one point, they were even pre­pared to go into the sea­son with Skin­ner on the ros­ter, which only made his even­tual and im­me­di­ate suc­cess in Buf­falo all the more in­fu­ri­at­ing, es­pe­cially as the Hur­ri­canes went through a two-month pe­riod where it seemed like Skin­ner was per­son­ally outscor­ing them.

When things were good with Skin­ner – that mag­i­cal 2011 sea­son in par­tic­u­lar, with the All-Star Game and the pa­rade of prom pro­pos­als – they were so good. But af­ter eight post­sea­son-free sea­sons here, Skin­ner needed a change of scenery as much as the Hur­ri­canes needed one from him. Com­bine that with a con­tract year, and Skin­ner was primed for a ca­reer year wher­ever else­where he went – es­pe­cially when it turned out to be Jack Eichel’s left wing.

Which is where he was Fri­day night, of­fer­ing a wave to the ap­plause af­ter the team’s video tribute, not long be­fore the many Buf­falo fans cel­e­brated his goal while the home fans could only shake their heads. (Skin­ner fin­ished the game with the one goal and mi­nus-2 in a loss, which re­sem­bled what heads had of­ten been shaken about in this build­ing in the past.)

And heads will shake if (or when) Fer­land is traded be­cause of his con­tract sit­u­a­tion. Fer­land will be an un­re­stricted agent this sum­mer and, at 26, this is his chance to cash in on a mas­sive free-agent deal. He will be in se­ri­ous de­mand. He may even be able to write his own ticket.

The Hur­ri­canes love Fer­land and would like to keep him, and there’s ev­ery in­di­ca­tion he en­joys play­ing here, but their current sur­plus of salary-cap space will evap­o­rate quickly as Se­bas­tian Aho backs up the ar­mored car to the PNC load­ing dock and Teuvo Ter­a­vainen gets an ex­ten­sion and some­one (Sergei Bo­brovsky?) gets paid to play goal next sea­son.

They’re will­ing to give Fer­land a hefty raise on the $1.75 mil­lion he makes now, but not what he might get on the open mar­ket this sum­mer.

Fer­land has been ex­actly what the Hur­ri­canes needed, big and rough, a huge fac­tor in Aho’s ex­tra­or­di­nary play, will­ing to crash the net but with a sneaky­good wrist shot as well. Be­yond his 13 goals, he makes the Hur­ri­canes a bet­ter team, all by him­self.

There’s an ar­gu­ment to be made that Fer­land is worth what­ever he wants. There’s also a coun­ter­ar­gu­ment that teams that aren’t Stan­ley Cup con­tenders have to make smarter, tougher de­ci­sions for the fu­ture, and pay­ing play­ers more than you’ve de­ter­mined they’re worth – and the Hur­ri­canes, to be sure, think Fer­land is worth a lot – is a road to long-term ruin.

That’s why it re­mains im­per­a­tive they move either Justin Faulk or Dougie Hamil­ton for a for­ward by the Feb. 25 trade dead­line; hav­ing an ex­cess of that kind of tal­ent on the right side is a lux­ury this team can’t af­ford at the mo­ment.

The same is true if they can get a first-round pick for Fer­land, who may only get one shot at the free-agent mar­ket like this in his ca­reer. He owes it to him­self to make the most of it. Can’t hold that against him.

The re­al­ity for this fran­chise is it can’t af­ford to lose Fer­land for nothing, and if the Hur­ri­canes can get a first for him, that’s a trade they have to make.

If he is traded and in­ter­est doesn’t ma­te­ri­al­ize in Fer­land in the sum­mer as he hopes and ex­pects it will, there will be a place for him back here. It’s hard to imag­ine a bet­ter fit.

Still, even if all of that makes sense, even if you trust Tom Dun­don and Don Waddell and Rod Brind’Amour and their plan, it doesn’t make any of it eas­ier to swal­low. That point was driven home all too ef­fec­tively when Skin­ner scored his first goal ever against the Hur­ri­canes on Fri­day.


The Sabres’ Jason Pom­inville (29) reaches for the puck with the Canes’ Teuvo Ter­a­vainen and the Sabres’ Jeff Skin­ner (53) in Fri­day’s game, which was Skin­ner’s first visit to Raleigh since he was traded in Au­gust.

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