Matthews: Jeff Skinner Figures To Strike Gold

NEW SABRES HERO JEFF SKINNER FIGURES TO STRIKE FREE-AGENT GOLD

New Buffalo hockey hero Jeff Skinner scored the overtime goal to give the Sabres a much-needed 4-3 overtime win Tuesday night over the Los Angeles Kings. It ended a five-game losing streak for the Sabres and was his team-leading 21st goal and fourth game-winning goal for the season.

Buffalo general manager Jason Botterill could be the frontrunner for NHL Executive of the Year, and his biggest coup appears to be trading for the 26-year-old Skinner this summer. Carolina decided to embark on a full-scale rebuild and Skinner was entering the final year of his contract.

The Sabres sent prospect Cliff Pu and three draft picks to the Hurricanes for Skinner, a three-time 30-goal scorer and the 2011 NHL Rookie of the Year.

Skinner obviously has taken a liking to Buffalo:

2017-18 season with Carolina – 82 games; 24 goals; 25 assists; 49 points; minus-27 goal differential  when team at even strength; 4 power-play goals; 2 game-winning goals; 8.7 goal percentage on 277 shots.

2018-19 with Buffalo: 31 games; 21 goals; 10 assists; 31 points; plus-18 goal differential when team at even strength; 6 power-play goals; 4 game-winning goals; 23.19 goal percentage on 91 shots.

Skinner waived the no-trade clause in his Carolina contract and accepted the trade to Buffalo because it was a much shorter drive to his hometown of Toronto.

So here’s the challenge for the Pegulas, owners of the Sabres: Buffalo and the Maple Leafs figure to be prominent in the bidding war for Skinner next summer when he’ll be an unrestricted free agent. The Buffalo/Toronto hockey rivalry is as hot as ever. Skinner opting for Toronto over Buffalo would be a devastating blow to Sabres fans.

The Pegulas might need to overpay to keep Skinner. How high will they go?

JOSH ALLEN VS. MATTHEW STAFFORD IS AN INTERESTING QB SHOWDOWN

Sunday’s Detroit Pistons at Buffalo Bills game will feature one of the NFL’s best passing quarterbacks –Matthew Stafford – versus the NFL’s best running quarterback –rookie Josh Allen.

They have a few things in common. Stafford was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL college draft and Allen was the No. 7 overall pick in the 2018 draft. Both are on losing teams (the Lions are 5-8 and the Bills are 4-9). Both currently are short on talented offensive skill players to help pad their stats and win games.

Both have golden arms. Stafford is famous for making passes from all sorts of arm angles. Arm strength is Allen’s main claim to QB fame.

Stafford has the NFL record for the quickest quarterback to reach 3,000 yards passing. He did it in his 109th career game. Unfortunately for him, he’s close to becoming the first quarterback to top 4,000 career passing yards without winning a playoff game. He’s 0-3. He won’t get a chance in this his 10th NFL season.

Allen is on pace to set all kinds of rushing records for NFL quarterbacks if he stays healthy and the coaching staff can devise a way to maximize his extraordinary abilities. Bills fans are hoping he’ll have a few playoff wins to his credit within the next decade.

TORONTO RAPTORS ARE FLYING HIGH

The Toronto Raptors, playing without injured star Kawhi Leonard, humbled the host Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday night, 123-99, to boost their record to an NBA-best 22-7.

The Raptors play at Golden State Wednesday night, around 10:40 p.m. It’s on ESPN and must-see TV if you’re an NBA fan and can stay up that late. It could be can NBA Finals preview.

The Raptors are 6-1 in games Leonard has missed for minor injuries or to rest. He has a bruised right hip and his status for the game at Golden State was unknown at noon Wednesday.

Toronto had the second-best regular-season record in the NBA last season – 59-23. They outscored opponents by 13.8 points per game. But after they were swept by Cleveland in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, MNA Coach of the Year Duane Casey was fired and leading scorer DeMar DeRozan (27,3 points per game) was traded to San Antonio(with center Jakob Poeltl and a 2019 draft pick) for unhappy Kawhi Leonard (and Danny Green).

The Raptors had their al-time best regular season last year and might be an even better team now. The team chemistry has been excellent under new coach Nick Nurse, who opted to coach Tuesday and Wednesday after his 94-year-old mother died Monday.

Nurse said, “I’m here because my mother wouldn’t want it any other way...94 years, nine kids (Nick was the youngest) and about 80,000 games watched are her final stats.”

COUNTING DOWN TO THE UB BULLS AT SYRACUSE GAME NEXT TUESDAY

If the host Syracuse Orange are favored over the University of Buffalo Bulls Tuesday at 8 p.m., before a national TV audience on ESPN2, it probably won’t be by many points.

In this week’s Associated Press college basketball Top 25, the UB Bulls are ranked 14th, the best in school history. SU is tied for 25th.

Syracuse has a 7-2 record coming off a home win over Georgetown last Saturday. The Orange host Old Dominion this Saturday and can’t afford to be looking ahead to the game against UB.

The Bulls are 9-0, their best start since they were 15-0 in the 1930-31 season.

SU leads the series 28-5, including an 81-74 home win last Dec. 19.

Here’s how the teams compare this season (ranking among the 351 NCAA Division 1 teams in parentheses):

Records – SU 7-2...UB 9-0

Scoring offense – SU 71.9 (242nd)...UB 86.6 (13th)

Scoring defense – SU 62.2 (29th)...UB 67.7 (t90th)

Scoring margin – SU +9.7 (85th)...UB +18.9 (13th)

Field-goal percentage – SU 42.2 (t277th)...UB 47.5 (79th)

Three-point FG percentage – SU 29.0 (316th)...UB 34.7 (t174th)

Free-throw percentage – SU 69.5 (176th)...UB 71.9 (103rd)

Rebound margin per game – SU +2.4 (t145th)...UB +5.2 (t72nd).

My guess is that Syracuse will be favored by around 5 points, mainly on reputation and because the game will at the Carrier Dome.

BOB’S “BEST BET” THURSDAY: CHIEFS (-3 ½) OVER CHARGERS

Another Four-Star matchup on a Thursday night. The Kansas City Chiefs arguably are the NFL’s most explosive team and the Los Angeles Chargers are arguably the NFL’s most-balanced team.

Chargers veteran quarterback Philip Rivers is having one of his finest seasons but Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes is enjoying an even better season.

The Chiefs will miss suspended running back Kareem Hunt but the Chargers would miss running back Melvin Gordon (knee) more if he can’t play.

Bob’s pick: KANSAS CITY (-3 ½) 30, Los Angeles Chargers 24.

KYLER MURRAY HAS BEEN NO BASEBALL WHIZ FOR SOONERS

Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray is expected to report to spring training with the Oakland A’s. He was the No. 9 overall pick by the A’s in the first round of baseball’s 2018 amateur draft and received a $4.66 million signing bonus.

The A’s are highly regarded for finding relatively obscure talented players. Murray wasn’t exactly a terror in his two baseball seasons with the Oklahoma Sooners:

2017 – 27 games played, including 16 starts. Played left field...Batted .122 (6-for-29), with no extra-base hits, 16 runs and 6 RBI. He stole 12 bases in 13 attempts.

2018 – 51 games played, including 50 starts. Played center field...Batted .296 (56-for-189), with 13 doubles, 3 triples, 10 HRs and 47 RBI. He had 28 walks, 6 hit-by-pitches, 56 strikeouts and 10 stolen bases in 14 attempts.

SOME NFL NEWS AND VIEWS...

Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is getting most of the raves but fellow rookie and teammate Nick Chubb has a chance for 1,000 yards rushing: 144 carries for 760 yards, 5.3-yard average, 8 TDs). How many teams have had a rookie QB/RB 1-2 punch like that?

Here’s one of the most demoralizing Buffalo Bills factoids: They’re second in the NFL in time of possession in the second half of games – 54.55 percent – but they’re 28th in average points in the third quarter (28th) and 31st in average points in the fourth quarter (3.6).

Does anyone still think the New York Giants goofed in making Saquon Barkley the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft? The league record for yards from scrimmage (rushing + receiving) is 2,212 by Eric Dickerson in 1983. The current leaders in total yardage: 1-Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas) 1,764; 2-Saquon Barkley 1,753; 3-Todd Gurley II 1,707 (with three games to go).

The Philadelphia Eagles have an excellent chance to become the fourth Super Bowl champion in the last eight years to miss the playoffs the following season.

SHORT SHOTS

ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Tuesday reported that the 2019 NFL salary cap is projected to be $187 million to $191.1 million...Field Yates posted the NFL teams with the fewest cap commitments for 2019: Jet $99 million; Bills $106 million; Colts $117 million; Raiders $117 million; Cardinals $124 million.

The latest National Lacrosse League expansion team on Long Island will play at Nassau Coliseum starting next season. Stocking the new team and the Rochester Knighthawks will water down the rest of the league’s teams.

The Los Angeles Dodgers reportedly are prepare to trade two of these four outfielders – Matt Kemp, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig and Cody Bellinger. The Dodgers minus Puig would be far less interesting and letting Bellinger go would be a bad move.

I’m not surprised that Byron Buxton is saying he was upset when Minnesota didn’t promote him from Rochester when the MLB rosters expanded September 1. He hit .365 in 56 at-bats for the Red Wings in August. Boston’s plan to switch Andrew Benintendi to leadoff and Mookie Betts to No. 2 should give Betts a better chance for 100-plus RBI and another MVP award.

Oakland’s Triple-A Pacific Coast League team will be called the Aviators in honor of Howard Hughes and will play in a new stadium in suburban Summerlin, Nevada. The team is owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO....

Wednesday, December 12

Tyron Smith 28...Mike Glennon 29...Ervan Santana 36...Andrew Whitworth 37...Nate Clements 39...Orlando Hudson 41...Rey Mysterio Jr., 44...Kurt Schulz 50...Haywood Jeffires 54...Tracy Austin 56...Mike Golic 56...Rubin Carter 66...Billy Smith 68...Gorman Thomas 68...Emerson Fittipaldi 72...Ralph Garr 73...Bob Pettit 86. Dionne Warwick 78 and Bob Barker 95 are invited to the birthday party...Buffalo Braves star Randy Smith was born on this dare 70 years ago (1948) and died in 2009 at age 60. Frank Sinatra died on this date 20 years ago (1988).

Thursday, December 13

Gleyber Torres 22...Vladimir Tarasenko 27...Fletcher Cox 28..Rickie Fowler 30...Ricky Nolasco 36....Sergei Fedorov 49...Bo Pelini 51...Gary Zimmerman 57...Richard Dent 58...Bob Gainey 65..Rubin Casrter 66....Ferguson Jenkins 75...Gus Johnson 80. Taylor Swift 29, Jamie Foxx 51, Steve Buscemi 61 and Dick Van Dyke 93 are invited to the birthday party.

ON THIS DATE IN SPORTS...

December 12

119 years ago (1899), George F. Bryant of Boston invented the wooden golf tee. Do you wonder why it took so long to think of that?...88 years ago (1930), baseball’s rules committee rulede that a fair ball bouncing into the stands would be a double and not a home run...85 years ago (1933), Boston Bruins defenseman Eddie Shore hit Toronto Maple Leafs star Ace Bailey from behind, fracturing his skull and ending his career...53 years ago (1965), Chicago Bears star Gale Sayers scored six touchdowns in a 61-20 victory over San Francisco at Wrigley Field...50 years ago (1968), Arthur Ashe became the first black tennis player to be ranked No. 1 in the world...7 years ago (2011), Baylor’s Robert Griffin III became the 77th Heisman Trophy winner.

December 13

88 years ago (1930), baseball Hall of Famer George Sisler was released by the Boston Braves. He played for the Rochester Red Wings in 1931...82 years ago (1936), the Boston Redskins, in their final NFL game before moving to Washington, D.C., lost 21-6 to the Green Bay Packers...36 years ago (1982), Chris Evert-Lloyd won her first Australian Open, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 to Martina Navratilova...8 years ago (2010), Auburn’s Can Newton won the 76th Heisman Trophy.

Bob Matthews' Column

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