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Predictions on the biggest NHL free-agent decisions of 2019

The Sabres have a tough decision to make on a contract extension for Jeff Skinner, who has found instant chemistry with franchise center Jack Eichel. Stephanie Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

When it comes to making important decisions on upcoming restricted and unrestricted free agents, teams have a number of factors to weigh when deciding whether to begin negotiating a top-dollar deal, make a trade or slow-play the situation.

Organizations will ask themselves: What is their timeline to compete? Is the player's current performance what can be expected over a period of time? What salary-cap implications will a new contract have?

As we approach the dog days of the NHL season, let's have an early look at some of the most interesting UFA and RFA situations for the upcoming offseason and the best approach for each player's team going forward: new contract, trade, or wait and see.


2019-20 unrestricted free agents

Jeff Skinner, LW, Buffalo Sabres

Key stats: Outscoring opponents 20-11, with 53.1 Corsi for percentage while skating with Jack Eichel

Sabres' best option: Sign Skinner to an eight-year contract

Skinner has been an impressive offensive player in the NHL since day one, clearing 20 goals six times and notching 30-plus goals three times in his eight seasons with the Hurricanes. In Buffalo, the 26-year-old winger has been on fire, tied with Boston forward David Pastrnak for second in the NHL in goals with 19, and playing a major role in pushing the Sabres to the top of the NHL standings.

The major concern with signing Skinner to a massive contract now is that he's shooting a whopping 23.2 percent after scoring on 11.2 percent of his shots over the previous eight seasons. Normally that would be a sign that the club should wait to see if he continues to produce, but combining Skinner's past production with his outrageous chemistry with young superstar Eichel, it makes sense to lock him up as soon as possible and solidify a top-notch top line for a very long time.

Salary cap should not be a big concern, considering the Sabres will see some contracts come off the books after 2020 and only have three players locked up past 2021.