When a concussion sustained in the preseason caused Jeff Skinner to miss only the first four games of the 2014-15 season, the Carolina Hurricanes were relieved at the speed with which the star forward was able to return to action.
After all, the injury was Skinner's third concussion in three years, a recurring pattern that has led to growing concern about the 22-year-old's future. It seemed back in October that Skinner and the 'Canes had gotten lucky.
But perhaps it was one concussion too many.
An absolutely horrendous season for No. 53 hit a new low on Tuesday night when he played just 11 minutes and 45 seconds, the lowest total of any 'Canes skater, in an overtime loss to the Anaheim Ducks. The game extended his pointless streak to eight consecutive appearances.
Every aspect of Skinner's once-prolific offensive production has fallen apart in 2014-15, from scoring to assisting to even producing opportunities.
The former Calder Trophy winner has just 10 goals (including zero on the power play) and 19 points in 45 games, a sharp contrast to his stat line of 33 goals and 21 assists in 71 games a season ago.
The alarming disparity in Skinner's game, however, is evident on a far greater scale than in merely the primary scoring categories:
|Jeff Skinner: A Changed Player|
|Time on Ice||17:11||16:39|
|Shots on Goal||3.86||2.98|
|Average SOG Distance||26.78 ft.||31.49 ft.|
|Wrist Shot Frequency||43.4%||37.6%|
|Stats by per-game rate. (Data via NHL.com, stats.hockeyanalysis.com, sportingcharts.com)|
It's not just the goals that aren't happening for Skinner; it's essentially everything. Of greatest concern may possibly be his shot production, which has dipped near career-worst levels:
The quality of Skinner's shots is falling simultaneously with the quantity. According to Sporting Charts data, the average distance of his shots on goal has increased dramatically, as visualized by this heat-based frequency chart:
Skinner has fallen into a deep slump in his shooting percentage—the percentage of his shots on goal that become goals. While likely to eventually regress back in the direction of his 10.8 career percentage (he's at 7.5 percent this season), plenty of other factors besides luck also affect the statistic:
Since Christmas, Skinner has played in 17 'Canes games and averaged just 2.0 shots on goal per game (his career average is 3.3 per game). He's accumulated just three points—all three of which came in a lone two-game span—and totaled a minus-seven rating, including minus-four in the Hurricanes' ongoing three-game losing streak alone.
Said head coach Bill Peters after playing Skinner less than the likes of Brad Malone and Patrick Dwyer on Tuesday night, per Michael Smith:
Yet Skinner's long-term drought is hurting the 'Canes far more than on a game-to-game basis.
The franchise has $5.75 million in cap space (per Spotrac.com) tied up in Skinner for four more seasons after this one. They are, meanwhile, paying 20-year-old Elias Lindholm just $925,000 to score only one fewer goal so far this season. As Cam Ward plays his way out of criticism for his $6.3 million albatross, Skinner is sliding right into Ward's vacated pigeonhole.
The former seventh overall pick was once worth that and much more—had the Carolina front office traded him at last June's draft (not that such a decision was ever considered possible), they easily could have received a top selection and several additional A- and B-grade prospects in return.
Now? Not nearly so much.
His awful season will surely raise questions about his long-term viability and value. One more concussion could jeopardize his entire future, if the last one didn't do so already.
Skinner may be only 22, but his value his sinking as fast as any typical 36-year-old.
And for a Hurricanes club with essentially no playoff chance this spring and one-and-a-half eyes on a summer rebuilding and 2015-16 return to relevance, that's a major problem.