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Sabres GM still confident Skinner will re-sign

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill remains confident that 40-goal scorer Jeff Skinner will re-sign with the team.

Contract talks began in January. Botterill says negotiations continue and both sides are focused on having a contract completed before the NHL's free-agency period opens July 1.

"I would say discussions continue to go very well, but you never have a deal completely done until there's a signature," he said. "We've clearly shown that this is a priority to try and get something done. Hopefully, we can find a way to get that materialize."

Botterill spoke Wednesday following a news conference introducing new coach Ralph Krueger. Talks between the Sabres and Skinner were on hold until the team hired its coach.

Krueger says he spoke with Skinner by phone and believes he will remain on the team.

"I work on the basis that Jeff Skinner is a Buffalo Sabre and as a result that's how our conversation went," Krueger said.

"It was really just the flow of the conversation that made me feel comfortable," he added. "I felt he really loved to be here and that he was happy to be here."

The 27-year-old Skinner is a nine-year NHL veteran who has topped 30 goals four times and been considered a key piece for a rebuilding team since Buffalo acquired him in a trade with Carolina in August.

Under NHL rules, the Sabres can offer Skinner an eight-year contract. He would be limited to negotiating a maximum seven-year deal as a free agent.

In saying Skinner has earned the right to test the market, Botterill added that at no point has that possibility been broached by the player's agency.

"There's always that option for the player," he said. "But in my dialogue with Newport Sports, it's been to try to find a solution before then."

Skinner's uncertain status overshadowed Krueger's introduction, which came some three weeks after he was hired .

He arrived in Buffalo on Tuesday after spending time in Europe where he met with several players, including captain Jack Eichel, competing at the World Championships in Slovakia. Krueger also had personal issues to deal with in preparing to move back to North America after spending the past five years serving as chairman of soccer's Southampton FC of the English Premier League.

Fully focused on being the Sabres coach, Krueger said he has little interest in reflecting on what's gone wrong with a team in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought -- the NHL's longest active streak -- and now on its fifth coach since Lindy Ruff was fired in February 2013.

"I'm not the kind of person who spends a lot of time on the opinions of the past," he said. "For me to analyze one year, three years, five years, 10 years, 15 years past would be a waste of time in my opinion. It's more, what do we need to be. And I'll focus on that."

At 59, Krueger returns to the NHL, where he fired after one year as the Edmonton Oilers coach following the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Krueger, who is from Winnipeg, Manitoba, established his reputation as a hockey innovator and motivator internationally while coaching the Swiss national team and leading Team Europe to a second-place finish at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Krueger has much on his plate. He will be attending the NHL draft in Vancouver, British Columbia, in two weeks, immediately followed by the Sabres' annual rookie development camp, and hopes to have a staff in place by the end of the month. He's already spoken to half the players on the Sabres' roster, and hopes to reach out to the remaining ones over the next week.

Krueger characterized his conversations with Eichel and forward Sam Reinhart at the world championships as productive.

"There was a clear understanding of what needs to be done here I thought in their conversations. We didn't just speak about the weather," he said. "We spent a lot of time speaking about what needs to happen off ice, on ice and through."