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Oilers getting important contributions from confident AHL call-ups



EDMONTON — Having the best winning percentage in the West and a 13-4 record with a week left in November? That’s impressive.

Doing it without your No. 1 goalie (Mike Smith), the player who killed more penalties last season than any other forward (Josh Archibald), and now minus top defenceman Darnell Nurse, third pairing vet Slater Koekkoek, third-line centre Derek Ryan and fourth-line centre Devin Shore?

That’s more than just impressive. It’s functional.


Neither the fact that the Edmonton Oilers are winning, nor that 39-year-old Smith has been injured through most of it, is the biggest surprise of the National Hockey League season. That they are happening at the same time — with Mikko Koskinen and farmhand Stuart Skinner manning the twine — is another level of bombshell, of course.

But as Skinner said on Monday, a local kid about to embark on a road trip and guaranteed a start in either Dallas or Arizona, “Here we are.”

“Ken’s philosophy is, they’ve got to be ready to jump up. You can’t just plug (in) them because of where they were drafted,” said Dave Tippett, when asked about the depth that GM Ken Holland’s has accrued.

Holland’s rule of thumb is, only call ‘em up once. That means, leave a young player in the minors long enough so that when he gets the call he’s ready — and he doesn’t have to go back.

Now, it doesn’t work out every time. But even when a player can’t make it in Edmonton, the AHL seasoning still serves him well upon his return to Bakersfield.


“Look at (Ryan) McLeod right now,” said Tippett. “He didn’t have the best camp — more was expected of him — he went down for a bit, came back up and bow his game is really picking up.

“(Philip) Broberg came in (Saturday), and he’s played key minutes down there (in the AHL). He was solid (against Chicago).”

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Then there is Skinner, who we suspect will be in the pipes for his third consecutive start Tuesday in Dallas. If not, he’ll get the Wednesday game in Arizona.

When we all looked at the Oilers’ iffy goaltending situation back in September, fans and media alike questioned what recourse the Oilers would have when Smith inevitably succumbed to injury. Smith, this team’s No. 1, went down over a month ago and the team still has no idea when next he’ll play.

That Koskinen has stepped up to post a 2.96 goals-against average and a .910 saves percentage — plus lead the league with nine wins — since Smith went down is found money. The Oilers thought they knew what they had in Koskinen, but he has provided a better product than they could possibly have imagined.

Now, Skinner has shown up and been every bit as good in his four starts, posting a .939 save percentage and a 2.08 goals-against average.


Another farmhand showing up ready to play? Forgive our surprise, but this has not been the norm in Edmonton over the past couple of decades.

“Sometimes these young guys come up, and… show what they’re all about,” said Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the longest-serving Oilers player. “Skins has stepped in… and been awesome. He’s been a wall, and really confident over the puck. Broby stepped in and looked like a seasoned vet.”

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, when you think about it: Build a better team, and it’s easier for young players to step in and play. Develop your young players longer and better, and they’ll help make you a better team.

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Gone are the days of only No. 1 overall picks sticking in Edmonton. Skinner was a third-round draft pick, while guys like Ethan Bear (fifth round), McLeod (second), Caleb Jones (fourth), William Lagesson (fourth) are either helping out in Edmonton or were traded for help.


“It definitely helps that we have more of an older, experienced team,” said Nugent-Hopkins. “We’re more of a structured team. So you come in, you fit right into the structure, and you kind of watch the older guys and play from there. The group that we have in here kind of helps them along the way.

“These guys have a good opportunity to be part of a winning team right now, and show what they’re capable of.”

Skinner is a prime example of a player who, unlike so many Oilers picks over the years, was not rushed.

He played all five years in the Western Hockey League before a full season in the East Coast League. He’d play two further seasons with Bakersfield before showing at this fall’s training camp that he was perhaps ready.

But he was sent back anyhow.


“You look at a guy like that, who has put a lot of work in. He’s earned the respect of his teammates,” Tippett said. “You know, you have to do it day by day. That’s why we put him back in against Chicago. It was an emotional game, a good win against Winnipeg (in a shootout Thursday), but if you’re going to be an NHL goaltender every day, you’ve got to do it every day. He stepped back in (on Saturday) and played very well.

“There are good signs for him. Very good signs, and I’ll go back to this: The main reason why this is going in the right direction is that he knows he’s put the work in, he’s ready for it, and now the opportunity is in front of him.

“He wants to grab it.”

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How is Skinner’s confidence these days?

“Right where it needs to be,” the Edmonton native said quietly.

He’s a pro. Not some kid being called up for a chance he hasn’t earned.

So his confidence is real, not make believe.

“Confidence is something,” he began, “where it shouldn’t be where if you’re playing well you’re confident and if you’re not playing well you’re (not). No matter what’s happening… I’m confident in who I am, and how I play.


“That’s where my confidence comes from.”

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Former Player Offers A Solution To Justin Fields, Bears Drama



(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)


Heading into his third season as a member of the Chicago Bears, many expected quarterback Justin Fields to take the next step in his development and potentially even break out in a similar fashion to the way Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts did in 2022.

Through three games, however, Fields and the Bears are 0-3, and it seems like the young quarterback is actually worse than he was last season.


Last week, Fields made some comments (that he then backtracked on) that hinted at Chicago’s coaches being part of the reason for his struggles this year.

Following those comments, former NFL All-Pro cornerback Charles Woodson believes the ball is now in Fields’ court to basically put up or shut up, via FOX Sports: NFL.

“For Justin Fields, you gotta play your way out of Chicago or play the coaches up outta there. That’s the way I see it. Either you’re going to play well in spite of the coaches, or you’re going to play really bad. This is your time to either say, ‘I want to be in Chicago’ or ‘I’m really that bad, and they’re going to get rid of me anyway.’”

Woodson is very familiar with playing for a poor-performing team as he was a member of the Raiders for multiple years when they failed to qualify for the playoffs.

Despite the Raiders’ lack of success during his tenure with the franchise, Woodson still continued to play at a high level, and it ultimately resulted in him landing with a much more stable organization in the Green Bay Packers.


So it seems like Woodson is speaking from his own experience and attempting to send a message to Fields to keep striving to be the best, no matter how much the Bears struggle this season.

Will the quarterback find a way to bounce back from his early-season slump or will he give Chicago more reasons to consider moving on from him in 2024?

The post Former Player Offers A Solution To Justin Fields, Bears Drama appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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The Braves Joined A Powerful MLB Club This Week



(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)


The 2023 Atlanta Braves are one of the most prolific and consistently productive offenses in the history of MLB.

They have made their money by hitting home runs often.


Very often.

In fact, on Tuesday, the team surpassed the vaunted 300-homer barrier in a single season.

“The 2023 #Braves are the third team in MLB history to hit 300 home runs in a season!” they tweeted.

They finished the day with 301, and now we are on record watch.


The other two organizations to hit more than 300 round-trippers in a single year are the 2019 Minnesota Twins (307) and the 2019 New York Yankees (306).

As you probably remember if you are a hardcore baseball fan, 2019 was an oddly productive year for hitters because of the “juiced” ball that was used.

That makes the Braves’ feat all the more impressive.

With five games remaining on their regular-season calendar, Atlanta has a chance to tie the Twins for the top spot with six additional dingers.

It’s certainly doable, but the team’s priorities are making it through these last few games relatively healthy.


They have already secured their playoff spot, and they don’t want to risk an injury.

Still, it’s something they can achieve even while not playing at full effort.

Amazingly, the Braves have seven different players with 20+ home runs: Matt Olson (53), Ronald Acuña Jr. (41), Austin Riley (37), Marcell Ozuna (36), Ozzie Albies (32), Sean Murphy, (21), and Eddie Rosario (21).

They have two more with 15+: Michael Harris II (18) and Orlando Arcia (17).

Long story short, anyone in the lineup is capable of sending one to the stands.


They just need to average a little over a home run per game in the remainder of the 2023 schedule to be crowned as the new collective home run kings.

The post The Braves Joined A Powerful MLB Club This Week appeared first on The Cold Wire.

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Yankees Are Looking To Avoid Unfortunate History



(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)


The New York Yankees have consistently been one of the best teams in baseball over the past few decades.

When you have a payroll like them, it is easy to compete for championships year in and year out.


But, the Yankees took a major step back in 2023.

Not only will they not be in the postseason, but they are in danger of not having a winning record.

According to Bryan Hoch, the Yankees need just one win in their last five games to avoid a losing season.

That is important to New York because they have not been under .500 since 1992.

If the Yankees can get two more wins they will have a winning record for the 31st consecutive year.

While some fans may care about this streak, it does not mean much if they are not in the playoffs.

One of the main reasons for the Yankees’ downfall this year was due to injuries.

They lost Aaron Judge for a few months and got mostly nothing out of newly-signed starting pitcher Carlos Rodon.

It just seemed like everything that could go wrong for this team did.


The only bright spot from this year is Gerrit Cole, who is in the driver’s seat to win his first AL Cy Young award.

Cole has been dominant and is proving to be well worth the massive contract the Yankees gave him a few years back.

Even in a lost year like this, the Yankees can take a few positives.

The pitching of Cole is one along with finishing the season with a winning record.

The post Yankees Are Looking To Avoid Unfortunate History appeared first on The Cold Wire.


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