Sunday, September 27, 2015
The boy and I are heading up north on Tuesday at the crack of crow's piss, as the Islanders say, to help the old man close the camp for another year. The weather looks to be decent, dropping to 4 at night, which will be a vast improvement over our first go at this, four years ago, when the temperature hovered around freezing every day and it poured rain a lot of the time.
For the three of us it is a chance to enjoy the camp one last time before winter comes. The colours will be spectacular and we will do some work, sit on the deck and have a few beers, maybe even get out and do a bit of fishing. On Father's Day the boy presented me with a craft, one of those little paper bags with a shirt and tie drawn on it, and inside were a handful of slips of paper on which he had written things that he loved about me.
So they will bury me with that bag.
Anyhow his favourite thing he said was these trips to camp with Dad and I would say that for Dad the feeling is the same. He's 83 now my old man and he is slowing down a bit. Three years ago he clambered over rocks and deadfall to bring down a couple of trees to build a new dock. This year the work will be a lot easier but of course no less satisfying and more importantly the company will be the finest kind.
Training camp is an exciting time because HEY HOCKEY IS BACK and you get a look at the new blood and of course everyone is in the best shape of their lives and for teams with new coaches the practices are always faster and crisper and cleaner and of course even down amongst the dregs of the league there is hope that maybe there will be lightning in a bottle.
The reality is that the team is pretty well decided before camp starts except for the guys who are going to be press boxed and a week or two after the team breaks camp there will be injuries or the bubble guys will have shown poorly and so the shuttle between the minors and the show will begin. So hold your fire when kids get demoted while underperforming veterans make the grade. Those kids will be up soon enough.
I can think of three instances where something happened at camp that was meaningful, there may be more but this is all that I remember. There was Patrick Thoresen coming out of nowhere to earn a job. There was Tom Gilbert, earmarked for the minors, passing pretty well everyone on the D depth chart to earn a job. And there was Kyle Brodziak seizing a job and establishing his NHL career if not out of the blue then pretty close to it.
Often the real story is what doesn't happen. Anton Lander getting waived last year and making it through without getting claimed. If he gets claimed then the Oilers are short a real NHLer this season.
For the most part though much of what happens in camp is meaningless and ironically so much of this is what happens in preseason games. Every year a team tears it up in preseason or some career suspect does and it's all white noise because when the real games start and teams start icing their actual lineups then the guys who are minor leaguers show that they are minor leaguers and the big boys actually show what they can do. So while your local columnist may say that Slepyshev is the next coming of Jari Kurri (and full disclosure I don't read anything from any Sun paper so if that isn't what was said apologies) because of two preseason goals I tend to, well, be a little more cautious.
That all said camp and those preseason games aren't totally meaningless, you get your important tells. Slepyshev probably won't make the team but by all accounts it sounds like he is a player and that's a big deal. The more depth the better of course but also if this kid is the real deal then it opens up possibilities down the road. There are other takeaways so far that interest me. It sounds like the issues about Reinhart's skating are overblown which is a big deal. Nilsson has been excellent. Draisatl appears as if he is going to earn a job this year, not have it handed to him. Lander has picked up where he left off last year.
All of this is excellent news for the Oilers who have been terrible for so long. Last year their forwards, as a group, were as close to being complete as they had been since 2006/2007 and this year I would say that finally we have an honest to goodness NHL forward corps.
Slepyshev isn't going to make the grade unless there are more injuries, they aren't going to keep him around to eat popcorn. Let him go to the minors where he hopefully tears it up, we will see him soon enough.
The key here is that Klinkhammer, a perfectly serviceable guy is sitting in the pressbox and Miller and Pitlick have already been farmed out, with Pakarinen to follow. None of these four guys is a world beater but even Pitlick has shown in his short stints up that he is at the very least a decent NHL fourth liner. In the not so distant past these four guys would have probably all been in the opening day lineup, the Oilers have been that horrible. Now they don't even get a sniff.
As for Gazdic well cut him I say but I don't think they will. I respect the guy for carving out a career but his role is unnecessary and it's a wasted roster spot.
The blueline is what is going to sink the Oilers this year as usual there is a plethora of bottom six guys and not enough in the top four. Let's call it Lowe and MacT's parting gift to Chiarelli. No Petry and Nikitin, Ference and Schultz are all overpaid and not helpful.
I think Sekera is a great get and I believe that he is a perfect partner for Mark Fayne so in some ways we are getting two Dmen for the price of one. I also think Klefbom is legit. After that there is a lot of flotsam and it will be a lot of hoping and wishing that McLellan can unlock Norris' Norris potential or that Nikitin can rebound.
This is old hat in E town where year after year the club's chances are dependent on a long list of ifs. If rookie A can step into the lineup and be a top pairing D and rookie B can step into the lineup and be a hard minutes top six F and veteran C can turn back the clock a decade and journeyman D can suddenly reach the potential of his draft year then maybe the club will compete for 12th in the conference.
It's a sign of a good team that the ifs are dwindling. They need Schultz to wake up and Nikitin to play like a veteran and Klefbom to continue progressing. These likely won't happen, except for Oscar, and the result will be no playoffs but at least there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Nurse is going to get sent down, which is fine. He will be back soon and be around for years to come. Reinhart is a goner too unless they move one of their D or go with 13 forwards and if they do that and one of the 13 is Gazdic well they're spitting the bit already. So I see it as such:
Davidson will probably get waived too and he will make it through.
In net Nilsson has made it interesting which is why they brought him in and I would think that Scrivens is on thin ice here. I like him but he wrecked the Oilers' season last year and with Chiarelli having no loyalty to him I bet he gets moved or cut. I see a few folks talking about three goalies, this has been an Oilers' specialty for a decade now, they have carried three goalies how many times? Three? Four? More than the rest of the league combined I would gather. I can't see Chiarelli continuing this tradition.
So that is how I see it for now and if you look at past camps I have a knack for being consistently wrong so take it for what it's worth.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:43 PM
Thursday, September 24, 2015
We were out east for our annual trip, talking to someone I can't remember who, and Jenn remarked that 'we like to have a good time'.
This is very true.
The first time I had a drink the clan had gathered somewhere up north along Superior, probably White Lake, which was our go to camping spot, middle of nowhere what the hell. You could drop your line in anywhere and pull it up and have a nice pickerel on the hook. We used to find a remote island with a decent beach and would set up camp there for a couple of weeks. The rest of the clan that lived in Northern Ontario would set up camp near the public landing. There would be my Dad's brother Don from Wawa and Raymond from Timmins and his sister Darlene from the Soo. We had all the north covered.
Talk about a group that liked to have a good time. It reminds me of when I got married and my old man got up and made a lovely little speech, two minutes tops. He opened with 'We McLeans are a quiet peaceful bunch' and then he grinned and paused while this statement was met with laughter and clinking of glasses and farting from the tables where our family was gathered (I think they may have also gutted a waiter for kicks) and hooting and hollering from those friends of the family also gathered, while the Sandersons and Gilmores, a fairly serious and teetotalling bunch, looked on in horror and wandered what Jenn had brought upon their houses.
This was standard stuff and I think that this type of reaction has been going on for generations as we McLeans infiltrated the society of clearer thinking people. God bless my dear departed cousin Spencer, the first doctor in our branch of the clan, his father, my uncle Roy was the second, anyhow Spencer always got a kick out of a saying I had, that we Goulais McLeans were not far removed from when the McLeans came howling naked out of the moors. He loved that line.
Truth though, the aforementioned Roy, the quietest of the brothers McLean, was known as 'Crazy Roy' by his sons and their friends and the man holds a doctorate in education.
So there you go.
Anyhow it was summer and the clan had gathered, I had just finished grade 9, and my cousin Barry and I were playing crib in his dad's camper and he pulled out a bottle of vodka and away we went. By the end of it I was wrecked, man oh man and away I went.
Truth was I didn't pick up the drink again until the end of grade 10 and then year after year I started pounding back more and more and more and more frequently. We'd bomb around town in Bruno Wennerstrom's van, going to house parties and dances at different ethnic halls, the Polish and Croatian and Serbian clubs, careening through the snow covered streets looking for a good time. Homemade wine and Canadian Club straight and whatever else we could get a hold of and somehow year after year we got away with it for the most part. My parents, like most of my friends' parents, were strict but also naive. They were partiers but my Mom in particular was late to the drinking game and so had no idea that her quiet straight A golden boy son was getting his drink on every weekend.
And then in grade 13 I got caught. Can't remember the details. Mom stayed up one night, her Spidey sense was likely tingling, I came in a little drunk (I was only about 115 pounds when I graduated high school) and she got me. I bullshitted, first time etc etc. She wasn't happy but no biggies and then the following Friday she waited up for me again (dirty pool!) and bam we have a pattern.
The next morning I came into the kitchen and faced the music. My Mom was on a full out rant (and what's hilarious is she is the calmest person I know next to my old man) and my Dad looked up from his toast and coffee and gave me a look I never will forget, shaking his head slowly, a look of disgust on his face.
And I realized that he wasn't mad at me for drinking. His look was one of contempt because I had been dumb enough to not hold off for a week or two and had instead been caught. And now he had to hear my Mom raging and there went his quiet weekend and certainly she was saying to him when I was out of earshot that it came from his family, his old man was a drinker, probably learned it from his own father back in Goulais, what the hell would you do there but drink anyhow, especially in the middle of winter you may as well have been on the moon and Dad's grandmother famous in Goulais lore for putting on a good time for her neighbours on Saturday nights, these farmers and loggers in the middle of nowhere gathering in the Polly's kitchen for drinks and song and good food. My Dad and his brothers followed suit to varying degrees and his sister is famous for starting her evenings with what she calls a martoonie, one time we were up for a wedding in the Soo and stayed with her and my Uncle Bill. We got in and my aunt mixed a martoonie for her and one for Jenn and ten minutes later Jenn whispering 'I can't feel my face' and was out in the garage having a smoke with my aunt, Bill not having any of that in the house, a retired fighter pilot, neat and trim but he, having married into this family, happy to fire them back as well.
So he had to listen to that, my Mom coming from reasonable money, stern English ramrod straight father and her mother's side French Canadian Timmins upper class, I know that 54 years ago they looked on in horror at my parents' own wedding as the McLeans drank the bar dry and hit the dance floor.
My poor old man, just looking at me, shaking his head in disgust thinking 'man oh man, you are one dumb son of a bitch'.
Justin Schultz had himself a night last night apparently, he was new and improved!!!
Now I am sure that Norris figured something out this summer or at least someone in his camp did. With the Oilers handing out long term deals like candy he has probably realized that if he doesn't get his shit together he's going to be Andy Delmore or some such. From the halycon days when he looked like the future of the blue he has now been passed by Klefbom and Nurse is coming and the Oilers went out and got Reinhart and of course the last two summers have seen Fayne and Sekera hired as well. If the Oilers hadn't blown it with Petry old Norris might be looking at the pressbox right now and getting cut loose as soon as the Oilers are able.
So the writing is on the wall for the former darling, he plays D like, well he doesn't play D to be honest, making the same mistakes over and over again, all the while lollygagging about, to make it worse, and not providing a lot of offence, which is supposed to be his forte.
So yeah this is it for old Norris, his last shot at it. If it all falls apart he is still a very wealthy young man of course but his career in ruins after such promise is a sad conclusion to all of that.
I don't put much stock in preseason and Schultz's rambunctiousness last night, while nice (wow he actually has a pulse!) won't mean a thing if he can't figure out how to pick up his man. I guess this is where McLellan comes in. If he can't get a damn thing out of Schultz then the latter is a goner, probably begging for work next summer, maybe getting a shot a la Cam Barker, soon to end up playing in Zurich.
I joke but of course the importance of Schultz cannot be overplayed. If he is able to get it together and reach his considerable potential of a few years ago well then the Oilers will have another young top four defenceman and things will be looking up, we're talking playoffs or close to it. If he fails well then it's another year up the track and he's a goner and other teams are going to look at him as damaged goods (ie even McLellan could not make a player of him).
Up until now he has shown the learning curve of a certain young man we all know and love. That same young man was not discouraged. He learned that there is more than one way to skin a cat and that was to sleep over at his buddies on weekend nights. Here's hoping that Norris can turn it around and become a hero like that young man of many years ago.
Posted by Black Dog at 10:16 PM
Monday, September 21, 2015
When I was a young man, like a lot of young men, or at least I'd like to think (!!!) I tended to leap before I looked. I was and am a talker, as one of the guys on Capsule said one time at post game beers 'Oh yeah Pat's a talker, Pat likes to talk' and it's true, Scotty (the man who coined Patty Sandpaper in a pregame stream of consciousness rant) and I are probably the talkiest on the team.
And yeah so when I was young I had a bad habit of speaking and acting without thinking. Like I said I think (hope) that's fairly typical of young men but maybe not. I wasn't trolling for reaction, I was always a bit ahead of myself, fast talking, fast thinking, a bit hyper at times which was the opposite of my old man who speaks slowly and deliberately and who is as calm a man as I have ever known. For that matter my Mom is cut from the same cloth so maybe I'm just becoming them.
And then, as I got older, well I slowed down. I don't know if it's experience or wisdom or that I am just really tired from having three kids but I learned to think before I speak. A lot of this is adapting to having kids of course. I don't make promises that I can't keep and that goes for threats as well. No quicker way to losing the room than not being able to follow through on what you say. And then of course there is work. When you're working at a video store or on a movie set you're not saying much of import that's for sure plus you're higghhhh quite a bit. In my present job, let's call it 'my career' when you're dealing with customers and staff well if you say dumb things then ... well you're not going anywhere fast is what's going to happen.
I think that like a lot of people I get frustrated by what passes for conversation in the hockey media. For me a guy like Bob MacKenzie is the gold standard. He doesn't make wild statements, he says what he believes and is open to new ideas and when he is not sure of something he says 'hey this is something I am not sure of'. To me this is what any guy in the business should be shooting for. Be informative, know what you're talking about, be open minded, keep it simple.
Of course I know that in a lot of cases guys are saying what they say because of what the producer is telling them, I am reminded of Aaron Ward saying on Twitter after one of TSN's quizzes where he took an indefensible position that someone had to, that was part of it. And of course anyone who has seen the quiet reasonable Pierre Maguire who actually makes sensible arguments can see that the loudmouth barking seal act is just that, an act.
What has gotten me on this tangent is the comment that Kelly Hrudey made last year about Ryan Nugent Hopkins being a second or even a third line centre. Not to beat this to death of course, that happened last spring, that horse is nothing but a remote rusty stain on the pavement now but I have wondered about that comment since it was made. I like Hrudey, who seems an affable fellow, although he may just compare well to what is for the most part a lineup of buffoons and angry men on the HNIC set. Maybe it is just me but I seem to recall Hrudey as a far more astute observer but then again maybe he is just part of the general dumbing down of once was the go to hockey broadcast (oh how I miss TSN, even with Jeff O'Neill's antics, it is far superior).
Anyhow Hrudey may have believed what he was saying or maybe he was just trolling, following the instructions of some callow behind the scenes genius, you know the type who thinks it's a good idea to get rid of Colonel Mustard. One has to think it was the latter because other than Hall I can't think of a more important Oiler (not including Mr. C. McDavid of course). Actually there may not be a more important man on the roster amongst the returnees.
Ted is a man now and he gives the Oilers depth at perhaps the most important position on a hockey club. Now the Chicago Blackhawks might win the Stanley Cup with Jonathan Toews and three guys named Moe at centre (Marcus Kruger is a hell of a player don't get me wrong but he's no number two centre with that offence) but they also have (had I guess, so long Saad) a raft of top flight wingers, including two future Hall of Famers in Hossa and Kane, an embarrassment of riches that shunted Patrick Sharp to a bottom six position for most of last spring. Oh and of course those D.
But go back, way back. Fedorov and Yzerman. Datsyuk and Hank. Forsberg and Sakic. Modano and Niewendyk. Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Staal and Brindamour. Kopitar and Carter and Richards and Stoll. Bergeron and Krejci. Lemieux and Francis. Gretzky and Messier. Etc, etc etc.
You get the picture. Like most hockey axioms there are exceptions. You can win without a stud defenceman. You can win without depth at centre. You can win without homegrown talent. But those are the exceptions.
The Oilers have McDavid and Ted and they have Draisatl and Lander and Letescu and four of them are kids and yeah it's wonderful.
Did you know that Ted was tied for thirteenth OVERALL in the NHL last season in ES goals. 13th. Tied with John Tavares and Patrick Kane. I did not know that until last week, tip of the hat to LT for twigging me to that.
He's a stone cold killer, he's 22 (!!!!) and he's ours.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:30 PM
Sunday, September 20, 2015
Good summer? Yes? Well a few days ago someone mentioned that I was the second oldest active blog amongst the once prolific Oilogosphere and I figured that maybe I should write something because ... well ... it's been a while.
We had a lovely summer, yes we did, just trucking along here at Chez McLean. Everyone is healthy and happening and we're back to the grind of school once again. Grades seven, five and two.
Isn't that mental?
So the other day I slog home from work, let me tell you I've been a good boy after the incident this spring, it's been a bastard but I'm not worrying about it, anyhow I get home and the kids ambush me, they ask me to play a game with them and so I say sure and we sit down to a game of Clue.
Remember Clue? Colonel Mustard and the rest of the gang? Good shit. Of course some genius marketer at headquarters decided it was a great idea to replace the original characters like Mustard and Professor Plum and so on with a generic bunch of new suspects with late 20th century names like Ashley White, who is a You Tuber or some shit and, like the rest of the characters, has the bland good looks of a Big Brother contestant and the 'biography' to match.
And yeah I know I'm getting old man, I'll bitch about anything.
So we're playing a little Clue and it's pretty obvious right from the get go who the doer is and what his weapon of choice is and so we're racing to try and figure out where it happened. They give you a little pad so you can make notes and scratch off the people/places/weapons as you eliminate them from contention.
Now I'm no dummy and my oldest is pretty damn smart and the boy, well the boy is smarter than his parents already. He's well rounded which I am happy about, I have a pal who knows a six year old who went out for Halloween as an element, I can't remember which one, the kid is, well he's a nerd is what he is. He's a genius and he can't say hello. He's like one of those guys from that show I never watch, you know the one. About the nerds.
Anyhow the boy is smart, bear with me as I brag on him. He tested for gifted last year and aced it and all that and we looked at the placement options, in the end we didn't bother for a number of reasons but yeah he's a bright one.
Now that all said he may have competition in the house. Our youngest is a free spirit, a wild child and before grade one we figured that she might do well in school or not, It was hard to say. We knew she was smart but she could be lazy and we figured she might find it challenging to sit still and learn.
And then we went to the first teacher interviews and were told that she was a model student and ahead of the grade and we looked at each other and smirked and figured that the teacher was taking the piss but she wasn't. Unreal.
So back to the game, we're playing and things are getting narrowed down and then our youngest announces that she has solved it and she has done just that and she's pretty tickled because she's the youngest and she doesn't win a lot in this house, not unless the game relies on pure luck anyhow.
And as we're packing up I notice that while the rest of us have our little sheets with notes and checkmarks and exes to denote what was happening, her own sheet is blank. And when I ask her where she marked her clues she just looks at me and shrugs and smiles and says that she just kept it all in her head.
So now I have two kids who are smarter than me apparently.
Oscar Klefbom signed long term with the Oilers yesterday. We knew it was coming, it had been rumoured for a while. Seven years.
When the rumours first started I opined on the interweb that it was crazy to me that a guy could get a seven year deal after playing less than eighty NHL games. I still believe that but of course this is the way of the league right now. I remember after the Oilers' Cup run, a couple of years after, and there were rumours of discord in the dressing room and I thought at the time that I could see why. You had guys like Moreau and Staios, guys who had ground it out in the league for nearly a decade before they got paid and in their case those paydays came in at around two million per and then you had Robert Nilsson who basically fucked the dog for three years and then rode a good eight weeks or so to a three year deal at just under two million and then immediately went in the tank again.
That would piss me off I know.
But as noted this is the way the league works now. Teams invest in youngsters, not the guys who are on the wrong side of thirty. In some cases the gamble doesn't pay off. In others - for example Hall, Eberle, Nugent Hopkins, you end up getting very good players locked up through their prime at an excellent rate.
Is the Klefbom contract goofy? Sure it is, it's a roll of the dice but the dice are weighted in the Oilers' favour. Oscar is what I call a player. He has his struggles but they are the result of inexperience and once he gets more games under his belt he will be a top four, probably even a top pairing defenceman. He has the physical gifts but more importantly he can play the game. Tom Gilbert was the same when he made the leap to the NHL. So was Jeff Petry. So was Martin Marincin. They made mistakes and of course they weren't Chris Pronger or Duncan Keith but they all stepped in and knew what they were doing right away.
This of course why we worry about Norris Schultz. He still doesn't have a clue three years in and it's probable that he never will. He pinches at the absolute worst times. He finds himself on the wrong side of his man constantly and when he has his man in the slot (which he often doesn't) he invariably doesn't tie him up.
Last night the boy's team got knocked out of their playoffs in the semis. The boy is a try hard in hockey but soccer is his game. He gets it and he can play any position as a result. He's a player. He was wasted on D in the playoffs (he's best suited as a midfielder because he is a tenacious effective defender but also a deft passer and dribbler) although I can see why the coach put him there. The team was thin on talent and the boy being on D gave them a stopper back there. Anyhow last night they took an early lead against the run of the play and then in the second half the other team's rotation put two little speedsters up front and within a few minutes they were down one and that was that. The boy had the other team's best player in check the whole game but on both goals his partner came wandering over to 'help' and the ball ended up in space and his man, left alone, ran onto it and put it into the net.
It is what it is, houseleague soccer, but there was the difference. The boy knew his position, didn't panic, stayed with his man, kept him outside. The kid never got a shot on net. But the other fellow got reeled in a few times and that was that.
Reminds me of a guy who might be one of the most overrated players of the last twenty years, Bryan McCabe. Talk about a guy who got by on sizzle rather than steak for years. Big guy, big shot, rough and tumble and a ten cent head. If I had a nickel for every time he left his man open in the slot to venture into the opposite corner where Kaberle was engaged with his man I would be, well, a nickel is a nickel but we're talking a couple of nice steak dinners with a bottle of wine at least.
Anyhow to get to the point to play D well in the NHL you need three things. You need the physical skills. Some guys are too slow or too small but Oscar Klefbom is a big man who can skate like the wind. You need experience which he will get over time. And you need to have the instincts to play the game. He has those as well and because of that I think it's a great bet by the Oilers. It's crazy, sure, but it's the way of the world and now they have another piece tied up for a long time. Good deal.
Posted by Black Dog at 11:37 AM
Saturday, July 04, 2015
If you have ever seen Dazed and Confused (and if you haven't get the hell out now and go see it) there is a scene where Wooderson, Pink and Mitch Kramer walk into the emporium in slo mo and to this day that reminds me of how we would stride into City Lights, although there would be twenty of us or so. We didn't know everybody, the bar held a couple thousand people I think and so you'd have your folks from the Valley and Lively and Chemmy and all the small towns in between as well as any out of towners, it was the only place in town on Saturday nights really, but you would walk in and there would be nods and handshakes and smiles of recognition and we weren't the shit in town, if you know what I mean, but we were known and it was good. We'd drink and some of us would dance and we'd laugh and fuck around and life was great.
So a few years back we tried to set things up and it all fell apart and so at Christmas Frank and I went out for a few pints after work and we started talking about it and I said why don't we try it again, leave it to me and within a couple of weeks after Christmas we had a date and we had invited eleven of the old gang. Two were sure nos right away but everyone else said yes and in the end only one guy bailed and so we had eight come out, four for the full weekend and another four for the Saturday.
You know how you always hear people say that when they see old friends they just fall into conversation right away, never skipping a beat? Well this is how it was right from the get go. We all have different relationships now, the six guys still back home see each other, a few of them see each other frequently for that matter but there are a couple of them I had not seen in twenty years. And yet we sat down and started in on the beers and it was like not a day had past. The teasing and laughing and wisecracks and we were killing ourselves with laughter right away, we always had a lot of laughs, and we have all been relatively lucky with our lives so far and so as we continued on, going for a tool around on our host's boat and finishing off a nine pound porketta and sitting by a campfire into the night, well, you know I am a sentimental old fool but the best thing about it was that it wasn't a nostalgia trip, it was just a goddamned good time.
Oh yeah there were references to old stories here and there but most of the time we were talking about the now and the to come and about new stories and at one point I sat back in the sun, tipped back my beer, looked back at my old pals, all in conversation, shouting and laughing, and I just grinned and thought 'fuck this is great'.
We will never go back, we can't go back now. Christ just to look at us, although for the most part we have aged pretty damn well. A couple guys are heavier and a couple of guys are thinner up top but that would have been the case anyhow it was Sudbury in the late 80s you want to talk about a collection of beautiful mullets but otherwise we're still a bunch of pretty handsome dudes ;). At one point we set anchor by a cliff and a few of the guys headed out to jump. Back in the day I would have been out there for sure but when asked I said, 'naw man, too hammered' and one of the guys said 'if you know that then you're not' and I said 'yeah, can't swim well, have had ten beers and I'm clumsy, I'm not HAMMERED but this would not end well' and so yeah I'm an old man now lol. (This was also emphasized by the fact that I was out of commission until Wednesday recovering pretty well. I started drinking at 2 one day and at 9:30 in the morning the second, so while I apparently I can still do that, (with no hangover, gord bless the day drinking marathon) my body is more likely to cry uncle. Of course on Canada Day we ended up going mental again but that is for another day, that story.
And so we talked about doing it again next year and part of me thinks naw man let's wait another year or so, we're all busy as it is and if it becomes too common then guys will just start saying I'll go next year. And then part of me thinks that this was a weekend that I will never forget, because I won't, and what other things about life are better than enjoying it with your friends, very few things that's what.
It's a running joke amongst those who are not fans of the Leafs that almost any Saturday night there is a ceremony honouring some third liner from the 1964 Cup team who just made the Hall of Fame or the surviving members of the famous 1955 'Win One For Bucky Gooberson' gang or one of the ancient ushers who along with King Clancy used to pick through Harold Ballard's shit, looking for corn and other signs of the franchise's ultimate destination. As an Oilers' fan though over the past few years the smirking and snickering has begun to fade as the bumblers in charge of our once proud club tended to celebrate the glorious past, all the while hoping that this would perhaps shift our gaze from the rubble of the sad present. The Oilers, like the Leafs, have crumbled from once proud empire to a tiny rump state and a laughing stock to boot.
We cheered at the promise of McDavid and at the arrival of Chiarelli and the opening of the stables to the river's cleansing although to me that didn't go far enough. And then we waited to see what was next.
And so what of PC's first couple of weeks then? Here's what I think.
The big thing that destroyed the Oilers and turned what should have been a short rebuild into Moses in the desert (note how the Falmes have perhaps the best D in the league now and have added the immensely valuable Frolik to their lineup, just last June we were snickering at them and telling them to enjoy their bottoming out) was Lowe and then Tambo's modus operandi which consisted of shipping out quality NHL players for nothing. The list is a long one and I have talked about this before and so we won't go over it again. 'Get good players and keep them' is not a particularly brilliant idea but when I first said this a number of years ago in this corner of the internet it was just as true then as it is now. Look at good teams and that, more than anything, is what they do. They accumulate talent and when they can they keep it or they get other talent for it. For a number of years the Oilers turned a house into a paperclip. You do that and you will lose.
MacT came in and gord love him he tried to reverse this trend, he really did. He brought in some useful NHL players and in some cases did so for no more than cash or magic beans but in the end it seems that for every step forward he took a step back and so this season, for example, we saw Perron and Petry, two honest to goodness quality NHLers, shipped out for nothing. Again.
PC is here to stop the bleeding and his June and July have been pretty damn quality by me. By my count he has brought in seven NHL players at the cost of two and every move but one was an upgrade with a second being a beans for probable player move imo. Shall we?
1/ McDavid - well this one is an obvious no brainer. The kid is unreal and even old cynics like Dennis King have boners over him. As opposed to boners over other things I mean. (Dennis is not that old, I mean he's not dead yet). Him and Ted are going to be killer. No more issues at centre.
2/ Sekera - the cream of the UFA D crop and all he cost was money and I had no issue with the term or money. I think he plays with Fayne, who was a legit top D in Jersey when he had a partner who could move the puck and so I think we're actually getting two top four D for the price of one on this. He's a great fit for the team.
3/ Gordon for Korpikoski - Love Boyd Gordon. Love him. Talk about a guy who got the shit end of the stick game after game. Yet he never complained and he did his job well. Wish he was going to a contender though I bet he gets that chance in the spring. Korpikoski is a slight downgrade but he is fast as hell and he is a good bet to rebound. You know what else I like about this move? Gordon was gone by next summer anyhow, either at the deadline or as a UFA and PC turned him into another player with another year on his deal. So instead of nothing or a fourth round pick or something like that he got a guy who can play in the NHL. Imagine that. Smart.
4/ Mark Letestu - a solid bottom six player who can do everything and can slide up in the lineup if need be as well. Good UFA pickup, solid bet.
5/ Cam Talbot - good bet and the price was reasonable. I'm a big believer in the spending not a lot on goalies. The golden age of goalies - Roy, Hasek, Belfour, Richter, Belfour and so on - is over. The last great goalie to win a Cup was Tim Thomas. Other than that it is a list of journeymen, good but not great and guys who got hot for six weeks (See Cam Ward - spits) - Khabibulin, Ward, Giguere, Osgood, Fleury, Niemi and yes I would include Quick and Crawford in that list. The last two are good and the Cup wins count for a lot but there are about a half dozen goalies who I would pay big money or assets for and they aren't on that list. The reality is most goalies are good now and if the team in front of them is quality well that is what matters. Talbot may be Scrivens though I suspect he will be better (I also bet Scrivens rebounds, I certainly hope so, he seems like a bright, fine fellow) and in any case good on PC on upgrading the position and doing so on the cheap.
6/ Gryba for Marincin - not a big fan of this mostly because I like Marincin and Gryba is another bottom pair guy on a team flush with them. Never mind the numbers which like Marincin quite a bit, the kid is still young and developing and while he may have taken a step back last year I don't get why his sideburns suddenly became an issue. Giving up young Dmen (even if his ceiling is bottom pair which I think is a low bar for him) for a guy a year away from UFA doesn't make a lot of sense to me. As usual the response was 'small move, who cares' but Chara was a nobody when he went to Ottawa as well and Duncan Keith was a second rounder in the AHL before he became Duncan Keith. Not saying Marincin is Chara or Keith at all but would have liked the club to stick with him.
7/ Reinhart - I was mostly incommunicado when this went down so I didn't catch the backlash which I understand was pretty harsh. First of all let me say that I don't give a shit that he was a fourth overall pick or a World Juniors' guy or that he is famous. None of that matters. It doesn't. Give your head a shake. What matters is can he play now. And the answer is we don't know. The price? Probably too high. I would hope that perhaps a better option was available, someone who could step in now, or perhaps that option would have become available, remember Leddy and Boychuk? That said ... I believe he is going to be an NHL player. He is still a kid and he has been a pro for a year and the blueline is a hard gig to figure out, perhaps the hardest. I would have hoped for a true NHL top four guy for the price but I also think that he is probably going to be a second pair guy in the league based on what I have read. This one is really one I will reserve judgement on.
So overall pretty good. McDavid is cheap for three years. This is the key. PC has made moves to make the team better now. The forward corps is quality. The new coach is a quality NHL coach. The goalie is an upgrade just by, well, the fact that he couldn't be worse. The kids who are coming will FINALLY have to earn their spots on the team, it is likely that Nurse and Draisatl and Slepyshev (I think he can play) will start the year in Cali. The big question, same as it has been forever, is the blue. They need another veteran Dman, preferably RH, to step into the top four to play with Oscar (and of course they need Klefbom to not regress); the Petry fuckup could really haunt them.
Look at the market. It's obvious teams have smartened up. There have been no ridiculous contracts, which I have never seen before. There are still some quality players out there and there are still teams in cap hell and so my guess, a pretty good one I think, is quality players can be had for cheap. Not sure why they didn't buy out Nikitin but if PC can dump him or Ference or Schultz and use that money on a quality Dman then we're cooking.
And then we can start talking about the present and the future instead of the past.
Posted by Black Dog at 10:02 PM
Monday, June 22, 2015
It's quite the life.
Now a number of years back I used to bemoan this a bit. I'd look at the calendar and say 'man a weekend of leisure would be good now and then' but the reality is these weekends past and present have been all about it. We've had family visiting and Jenn was in Cambodia and then Ottawa for a run. We had a ballet recital and my hockey tournament and the boy wrapped up spring hockey and this weekend I am off to a northern cabin to drink and laugh with old friends and the rest of the summer will be spent on lakes and beaches and when we are in town and Jenn is working I will take the kids to wander, like I once did when I was younger, hitting the streets dusty footed, looking for food and drink and the city. I have to admit though, the short weeks are coming at a good time.
This past weekend, well this past weekend was pretty killer.
A long time teacher at our school is retiring, we have been lucky enough to have excellent teachers all the way so far and she was the best, teaching our two oldest. Loving and creative and strict as hell, she was perfect and so Friday we went to the legion and celebrated. You want to talk about cognitive dissonance, imagine watching the teachers and staff at your kids' school having some drinks and dancing up a storm. Weird man, weird. And Jenn and I danced and it was wonderful and the night went slowly and surely off the rails, in a good way. You had to be there. Mental.
When the kids were younger Jenn and I would take turns having dates with them. So one afternoon I would take my daughter down to Kensington and we would hang out, just the two of us, and then another day Jenn would take the boy to lunch and the museum. So Saturday I took our youngest out for the day to the Annex, just west of Bathurst for a community music festival called Open Tuning. It was amazing and I highly recommend it. I'm biased because one of my buddies is a driving force behind it and his old tumble down garage is one of the venues scattered about the neighbourhood where you can see musicians, professional and not so much, play tunes. We went for ice cream and bought some books at Seekers, my favourite book store in Toronto and then we headed over. We hung out in a back alley for the day watching great music and when they had an open mic session my daughter walked up and belted out a song that had the crowd roaring and cheering. She's got guts, that one. One of my favourite days in a long long time ...
Sunday was Father's Day and I'm not sure I've had one better. A sleep in cuddled right in with my love, we dozed in and out as the sun wafted through the blinds. A big breakfast and then down to College to take in the Italian Festival. After we got home a massive Cherry Chocolate stout on my porch, taking in the late afternoon quiet, then a barbeque and finally the World Cup. I am a lucky man no doubt.
Before I went to bed the boy gave me his gift, it was a little paper bag with a tie drawn on it. He told me to open it and inside were four little notes. Excuse me while I tear up a little here because quite frankly when they scatter my ashes wherever they scatter them these notes will be part of what's left of me. To have your nine year old say, quite clearly, why he loves you and what he loves doing with you and why he things that you are a good person ....
And so that was my weekend. And the upcoming one is going to be mental, my pal Frank, who I have talked about a number of times here, has made calls and god help us we are going to be drinking in some backwoods tavern and Saturday night we have some guy named Uncle Leo picking us up in his truck so we can go watch Canada hopefully win the quarters. And this is for starters. Whatever I can remember I will pass along here at some point although my guess is there will just be a blank piece of cyberwhat when that is all said and done.
Fire Them All
I don't think anybody can be surprised by the purge going on, once LaForge got the axe and Lowe got moved over you knew anything was possible. There are two thing surprising to me. One is how like the end of the first season of Boardwalk Empire the executioner is chopping off heads a couple at a time. There is no lining up of Oilers' staff against the garage wall. Instead you have a couple gunned down in the bar, another knifed in the alley over there, a few more mowed down by a driveby. The carnage just keeps on going and the streets of Edmonton run with the blood of years of failure, as they should, but one wonders why they don't just say 'everyone's gone'.
The second thing that I am waiting on is the fate of Howson and MacT. The latter may have been given a stay and swallowed his pride to accept a lesser role but Howson's fingerprints are all over the Nikitin move and one has to believe that he's hiding in a dingy motel on the edge of town, watching his phone buzz, weeping as he wonders why Kelsey Grammar ever stepped away from their TV show, he was making a shit load playing Niles Crane with a lot less pressure than this gig.
Easy There Big Fella
I trust Chiarelli, I do, but this apparent bidding war over Cam Talbot makes me nervous. Remember that goalies are literally a dime a dozen once you get past Carey Price. I could likely name a dozen available goalies who I would prefer to Talbot. I have nothing against him, people who know a lot more than me and or are smarter than me speak highly of him but how a 27 year old with 57 games played who is a year away from UFA is suddenly a hot ticket with a 'great contract' (Dreger carrying water for Sather) is beyond me. Ben Scrivens was a 27 year old with 70 games played a year away from UFA when the Oilers acquired him and his .931 save percentage with the Kings was better than Talbot's numbers this year. Both in small sample sizes of course but if Chiarelli gives up a first round pick or young NHLer under control for this guy I will not be impressed. The Oilers got the pick for an established top six forward, would you trade David Perron for an unproven backup a year away from UFA? If your answer to that question is yes then you, like Semenko, Gare and all the rest, are fired.
Blue on Blue
Let's get one thing straight, a goalie (or two) has to be had but more important imo is the need for a couple of top four D, same as the Oilers have needed for years now. But it's impossible you say! And I say New York Islanders. Boychuk for two 2nds and a conditional 3rd. Leddy for middling prospects. So don't say it can't be done. Sure the Oilers have to outbid other suitors and they likely need to dump Nikita Nikitin's immobile corpse off the pier as well but remember how we keep being told how everyone is in salary cap hell? Well now is the time to make hay unless you think going into next year with Klefbom and Fayne as your top pairing is going to take the Oilers to the promised land. Find a team or two that needs to clear salary to get under the cap or so they can make their own moves and then pop the question, if Garth Snow can do it .... well I will leave it at that.
The Window Is Closing
The Oilers aren't Indiana Jones quite yet, just rolling under the wall before it crushes them but once they select Conor McDavid that clock starts ticking. They have three years where they have the surest thing since Sidney Crosby (or maybe even prior) under an entry level deal. If they waste a moment of that then they're doing it all wrong. They need to compete for the Stanley Cup as soon as possible because as soon as he starts getting paid then they need to start moving guys. Don't believe me? Ask the Penguins. Get on it Peter.
Posted by Black Dog at 5:06 PM
Thursday, June 18, 2015
We had a ritual though the final, he stayed up and watched the first period on school nights and as long as he could stay awake for the Saturday games. When the Hawks won I would write the score and goal scorers as well as the series score on a post it and put it on whatever book he happened to have beside his bed. He put each one on his dresser and I actually wrote one up after he went back to bed on Monday as well. I was just upstairs and they are all lined up there still.
The boy is a pretty serious little dude and so when Kane scored there was no eruption of joy, he sat there, taking it all in, maybe he is already knows as a fan that you always expect the worst but after the Hawks killed the last ditch Tampa PP (the Lightning never even really threatened in that last five minutes) and the United Center erupted in a joyous countdown he sat calmly, smiling now and then during the celebration and replying to Jenn's queries 'are you excited? are you happy?' with a quiet 'yes' and all the emotion of, well, Jonathan Toews usually.
Me, well I was very pleased. As the Cup was passed around I thought of two men. I thought of Stan Mikita and I thought of my old man.
Mikita was my favourite player growing up although by the time I tweaked to hockey he was past his prime, an aging superstar on a mediocre team. The best centre of his era, which is saying something, Mikita retired as the third highest scorer of all time but like Toews he did everything well. I'm not big into hero worship, especially when it comes to men and women who play games for a living but I admit that I had a big thrill a couple of years back when my friend Ellen, of Theory of Ice fame, a Chicago native, told me stories about her uncles, the diner they used to frequent and Stan Mikita, who apparently was a better man than he was a hockey player, a genuine, kind, humble man with a sense of humour, a man who would, when this diner got crazy, grab the coffee pot and help out the waitresses, a guy who hung out with the other regulars, eating and shooting the breeze.
I thought of Stan Mikita because it was on Monday that a story was published about his failing health. Stricken with dementia he is now a shadow man, unaware of who he or his loved ones are. He may live like this for years, otherwise he is hearty and happy but I have a good friend whose mom went away when she was in early fifties and who only passed last year, nearly two decades later. She was long gone, no longer her and I think of my Dad's sister whose husband, my uncle Bill, a former fighter pilot, a good man with a sense of humour and a good heart, is now struggling with this disease and my Dad's brother Raymond, a former pilot as well, who is also no longer himself. As my grandmother once said, in her soft French Canadian accent 'ooever call it the Golden Year, well I would like to ave a word with him, 'e was not too smart that man'.
And I thought of my Dad who was a terrific hockey player himself growing up in Franz. He was one of six and each of them had their team, for Dad, the oldest, it was Chicago. He was a Max Bentley fan and later on he was a Mikita man, he was a smallish speedy skilled centre and so he liked their games. When the Hawks won the Cup in 1961, led by a young Mikita and Bobby Hull, Dad was just married, not yet thirty and had not started what would be his career for nearly thirty years yet. When they beat the Flyers in 2010 he had been married nearly fifty years, had four grandchildren and had been retired for over fifteen years. That's a long time between Cups.
Mom and Dad came down two weeks ago to visit for the first time in five years, ever since Mom got sick and was told she would never walk again they have not been down, we're fifteen steps up from the street and our old house is two stories with the bathroom and bedrooms upstairs. Last fall she said they were coming, she was strong enough to make it now and so they came down with my sister. They got to see my oldest's ballet recital and the boy play in goal and we went to the pub for dinner one night and we had a good time, as we always do. They're getting old, Mom and Dad, and it's hard to see sometimes let em tell you. They're still in good shape considering but by the end of three days they were worn down and sore and Mom had to lean on Dad to head out for dinner, luckily just up the street and a few doors away, they left before us, hobbling up our little street arm in arm.
Dad turns 83 tomorrow and I will call him and we will talk about the Hawks, he was certainly watching Monday night, he has followed them through the playoffs, Mom too, and I know they was smiling when Toews lifted the Cup. After years in the desert it's been a great run.
You can go on and on and try and parse what makes the Hawks so great and of course nowadays they are what passes for a dynasty, yes. The days of teams winning three or four in a row are long gone with the salary cap and thirty teams and so you can call it a dynasty or not but this last seven years has to rank up there with one of the greatest runs in hockey history. Three Cups and a bounce or two away from what certainly would have been a fourth last year as well as a fifth conference final appearance. And now for their reward they get to tear it all down again.
I read Duhatschek today and I have always liked The Hat, I have, but like a lot of the old timey writers he tends to fall back on the old saws, turning a game into a lesson on courage and character and so he said that that the difference between the Hawks and everyone else is Toews' leadership and like Messier it looks like Toews will probably be able to dine out on that forever. Don't get me wrong, I am sure that whatever the ideal captain is, Toews is it, but I think if you want to talk about what separates the Hawks from everyone else it's a core of generational players surrounded by a team that is four lines deep (the Hawks were running four lines of NHLers when other dummies were still dressing two goons on their third line - hello Leafs, hello Oilers - I wonder what the Hawks brass would think when they saw that, probably they giggled) and led by a great coach.
Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith. Four guaranteed Hall of Famers. Sharp, Saad, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Oduya.
Throw in a good, if not great goaltender, an absolutely outstanding player in Marcus Kruger and then that depth and ... well, you can only shake your head and try and remember that for decades this team was run into the ground by Wirtz and Pulford. The Hawks as the flagship franchise of the league? The closest equivalent woud be the Red Sox and Giants recent successes after years in the desert but there is no real match in sports. It's amazing.
And now for his greatest trick Stan Bowman has to break up the gang and yet ... and yet ... this cannot be like 2010. He has to keep the window open somewhat if only because while Toews and Kane are still relatively young and Hjalmarsson too and Saad and Teuvo are babies yet and coming on strong and Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa are robots or something the reality is that Keith and Seabrook and Hossa are on the wrong side of thirty, Hossa is closer to forty than thirty which can of course not be believed, other than Saad was there a better Hawks' forward in the Final, and Seabrook will be unrestricted in a year.
Vermette and Desjardins and Richards will be gone. And Roscival. And biggest of all, probably Oduya. Bigger than Sharp. Bigger than Bickell, scratched for most of the Final. Bigger than anyone. Johnny Oduya.
The reality is that this is like 2010 because it's really looking like a two year project and in two years Hossa will be 38 and Seabrook may be gone and then you're talking the window closing unless they manage to land another Saad and Tuevo lower in the draft.
Sharp and Bickell will be gone along with the aforementioned and so you are talking five of your top thirteen forwards and two of your top five D and that's an awful hit to take. Bowman has made mistakes, of course, he is human, but man ohh man it's a tough league now, you can barely make a mistake at all. He will get out from under Bickell but the real albatross is Crawford or rather that contract.
Don't get me wrong, I like Crawford. He's a good goalie, even though he lets in goals like that Johnson one, he's no Carey Price but nobody is. But he's not worth that money and if Bowman were braver than I suspect he is he would move Crawford and replace him with someone who can do the job for a half or two thirds of the price. A second Cup in three years, there are teams who would take him but of course Bowman and Q probably look at him and say a second Cup in three years. He was great in the Final and who's to say that someone else is as good.
I guess I do but you know what I mean.
I think Bowman can go one of two ways here. He can play it safe and try and cobble together depth next year with kids and cheap vets and somehow figure out a way to replace Oduya who will be the key loss back there and then extend Seabrook at some point and go from there.
The second option is bold and I don't think he takes it but he could go big and move Bickell and Sharp and Crawford and Seabrook now and use that cap space to fill in the holes. The return for Seabrook in particular would be massive and with those picks and prospects and cheap players and cap space Bowman could probably add the top two D that he might need in a year anyhow if Seabrook leaves. Replace Crawford with a cheaper option and then go from there.
I don't think it happens and I don't blame Bowman if he goes steady as he goes but the window closes fast and there's no place for sentiment.
They're a team for the ages already though.
Posted by Black Dog at 5:22 PM
Wednesday, June 03, 2015
Ever since we have been together which is closing in on twenty years which is completely absurd I have asked for books for Christmas. I put together a list and so on Christmas Day I eagerly open up around a dozen books while she grumbles that I am boring and of course I respond that this is what I want so lay it on me. You can't put a trip to Prague under the tree and we have a limit on what we spend besides and it's what I want. Book me. So now 17 Christmases spent together later I have a couple of bookshelves full of books and I have decided to read them all, one by one. I have read a number of them many times but we have limited space and so before we end up like those brothers in New York ( I have a book about them!) who perished in their hoarders' dream of a brownstone, buried (literally) under piles of newspapers, or in this case books, then I figure I need to cull the herd. It won't be easy because most of them are very good and I will reread them again. But anyhow that is what I am doing right now at the pace of about one or two books a week. At this rate I will be ... well I will be very old when I finish and the cops will find me when the neighbours complain about a sour odour and I will be found, expired, under an avalanche of Hornby and Hemingway, Joyce, McEwan and Boyden, Johnston, MacDonald and Toibin, to name a few.
One of my favourite authors and one well represented in my little library is Roddy Doyle. I like his writing quite a bit and I have an affinity for the Irish and Dublin, having been there a few times and having good friends there. Last week I read Bullfighting and, like The Guts, it reflects Doyle's own life and the fact that he is getting on. The Guts is about Jimmy Rabbite, who is the guy who put together The Commitments and who appears in many of Doyle's stories that take part in and around Barrytown but he is no longer a young man but now a man in his forties. Bullfighting is a collection of stories and the jist of it is the same, each is about a man in his forties or early fifties. Their children are mostly gone, their marriages are sometimes good, sometimes stale but they are far different from the early days. They have their mates and their nights at the pub but they also have their health issues creeping up on them or their friends. It's a good read and I found it ... well I guess the easiest thing to say is that it spoke to me.
A few weeks ago I went for beers on a Friday night after work with two old friends, in one case he is one of my oldest friends. We don't see each other that much any more, I am in the city and they are in Oakville and up by Newmarket and we are all busy. Their kids are older. One fellow has three and one is in uni and another is graduating high school this month, his third is just turned 16. The other has two teenagers. We're all doing well, we're comfortable and happy and we haven't changed much, the old jokes came as easily as they ever have. At the end of June we're getting together, a gang of us, maybe a dozen of the old crew, up at a camp up by Sudbury. We're going to drink too much and tease each other about getting fat and bald and about the old days and it is going to be amazing.
So here's the thing. Work has been mental. Mental. I love my job, I enjoy it, I work for and with great people and the last six weeks have been nuts. Haven't been sleeping and have been pounding back the old Budweisers as Joe Schultz would say, those and the cheeseburgers. (Note - I don't drink Budweiser because it's shit although if you offer me one I will drink it, anyhow that is a Ball Four reference, basically I have been drinking a lot of beer is what I am saying). Two weekends ago I was supposed to be off the hook and we got a last minute surprise and so the whole weekend itself just ramped everything up.
And then Monday morning I was in the office and bam, chest pain and tingling and numbness all the way down my arm and so off to emerg I went even though I knew it wasn't classic heart attack symptoms, there was enough going on that I wasn't taking any chances. Spent the afternoon in the hospital while they ran a battery of tests, missed beer league (so you know it was serious!) and the end result was that it was almost certainly not cardiac although we're doing some follow up tests to be sure.
Crazy huh? As I lay on a gurney, reading, what came to mind was if this is a heart attack it's going to put some serious obstacles into a lot of plans I have - the travel and the eating and the drinking and such. Talked to Jenn and I'm off this fall again, not sure where yet but man oh man it's going to be hard to drink and smoke and eat schnitzel or goulash or chips if I am dragging around an oxygen tent with me.
So it ended up being a wake up call and really the gentlest one you could have, like someone waking you up by touching your genitals (NOTHING BETTER!). I have to eat better and exercise and I most of all I need to leave work at the office. First thing I did Tuesday was tell my bosses that I was stepping back from the overtime for a while. And I have to get my head together because the most ridiculous thing is that the stress was self induced. Nobody else cares! HAH!
So I hit the ice on Monday for the first time in two months and it was a beautiful thing, we won which is one more win than I expected this summer, we are seriously overmatched, and so the rest is gravy from here on in, only three games into the season. I played fairly well, the legs and wind aren't great but I did fine and of course I couldn't ask for a better group of fellows to play with. I walked in the room and there were cheers and laughter and one fellow, the guy who coined Patty Sandpaper, reassured me that he could work the defib just fine and we roared (including the guy who did have a heart attack after a game about eight years ago). I've been sleeping just fine too since last Monday so thanks very much, I am fine :) just getting older and there isn't a goddamned thing I can do about it but ride that wave.
I was four and 0 in the quarters and while I didn't write up the conference finals I picked the Hawks and Rags (YOU CAN LOOK IT UP ON THE TWITTER) in what I figured correctly were two pick em series so I am 10 and 4 for this year which I will take because parity is coming to the NHL and this summer should do a good job of evening out the playing field even more with Chicago, Boston, LA and the Rangers getting dragged back even more. Nothing like punishing success and the league has come to the point where a GM cannot afford to make even one mistake (Crawford), much less two (Bickell).
The playoffs usually start strong and then peter out but if anything this year it has seen the opposite. The opening round was pedestrian, the second round no better and then the conference finals were terrific. I expect the same from the final.
This is the first time in a while (Boston/Chicago?) and one of the few times over the last decade where I expect that the eastern representative has a real legitimate shot at winning it all. I like Chicago unless one of their top four D gets hurt or Crawford falls apart and of course both of these are possible and even if neither comes to pass I think Tampa is legit and that a Cup is in their future, if not this year. Two great lines, Hedman and Stralman and guys who can play in the bottom part of the lineup and Bishop is fine, if not great, just like his counterpart. Chicago though, well they're Chicago. I love the Triplets and Stamkos and Killorn but they aren't Toews and Kane and Hossa and Saad and while their D is only four deep it's an unreal four and the bottom six includes Patrick Sharp (!!!) and Marcus Kruger and Vermette and the young Finn and I think they carry the day to be honest. There's too much there. Tampa is quality but they needed seven to beat a meh Wings' club and were outplayed by a Montreal club that is pretty average and got filled a couple of times by a Rangers' team that doesn't scare anybody with that offence. The Hawks are on a different level and while it won't be easy I think they win and establish themselves as one of the all time great clubs.
Hawks in 6.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:53 PM
Thursday, April 30, 2015
So the first round wasn't a complete bust for me, I went five and three, let down by the Jets, the Sens and the Canucks. Way to go jerks. So all time 58 and 22 in the first round, not bad.
On to round two where I am eighteen and eighteen since I started doing these things. I tend to go with hunches here and this has forever been my downfall and so I am going to go with head rather than heart this time around except for maybe one series cause I'm a dummy!
First though a couple of thoughts on the first round which was pretty meh if you ask me. A couple of series over quickly and not a lot of drama in a lot of others. Few overtimes and few goals and a couple of series devolving to dead puck garbage with skilled players hogtied, the only penalties called for the most part being the puck over the glass (which I don't mind, honestly, back in the day there was an endless stream of pucks fired into the crowd to relieve pressure), two many men and even once, a faceoff violation. So the NHL is basically the petty bureaucrat who fines you because even though your paperwork is entirely in order, an 'i' is not dotted, meanwhile your suitcase is full of heroin and rare spiders and prostitutes. Gary Bettman has one job and that is to make the owners as much money as possible and he is good at that and really nothing else. What an absolute failure he is, a smarmy puppet with a tin ear and really if you get down to it if his job is to make the owners as much money as possible, to maximize profit for this collection of shameless grifters, he is a failure at that, his attachment to the money pit in Glendale being example one. So it goes though.
As soon as McDavid came up copper and blue the call went out on the interwebs to trade Hall, trade Ted, trade them all!!!!! I exaggerate slightly and let's get one thing straight, anybody can be traded, absolutely, but you don't trade Hall or Ted or Eberle for anything less than young top pairing D who are established and under team control for years. No trades for pending UFAs like that quack from Boston suggested. No second pairing D. No goalies holy christ unless his name is Carey Price. No once wases or may be somedays. If you are going to trade quality young talent you need the real deal coming back, no ifs or maybes or gambles.
The Oilers need D and what they need is Chiarelli to pull a Garth Snow and poach guys from teams in cap trouble, of which there are many. Is it easy? No. Can it be done without selling the farm? Absolutely. Do you remember who Snow traded to get Boychuk and Leddy? Of course not because the price was minimal.
As for goaltending if anything these playoffs have proven what we have known all along, there is a glut of goaltending out there and there is no need to pay a premium for it unless you're a dummy. Other than Price and Lundqvist who amongst the remaining guys would you consider elite? None, that's who. You have a few inexperienced up and comers in Anderson, Bishop and Holtby, a solid old hand in Hiller, a guy who was out of the league a year ago in Dubnyk and a guy who was benched, deservedly so, for part of the first round. Goalies are voodoo. Don't overpay.
Anyhow on to the picks!!!
Anaheim v Calgary
We'll start with the one gimme. The Falmes took out the fading Canucks in a series highlighted by Bob 'Artley's old school goonery lol, what a throwback. They keep on trucking these Falmes and certainly they've proven a lot of naysayers wrong although let's be clear their first round matchup wasn't really battle of the titans yeah? Meanwhile the Ducks had the closest sweep you will ever see, breaking a battered Jets' team's hearts time and time again. Some ascribe the Ducks' late game success to clutchiness and character and while there is a lot to be said about a team's low panic threshold in those situations, it does count, a lot more might be said about the Jets' poor defensive zone coverage. Pavelec is Pavelec but when guys are getting uncovered one timers from the slot I don't think you can blame the goaltending or wax erotic about the leadership qualities on the Ducks. PICK UP YOUR MAN!
The Falmes have some nice pieces, starting with a real live top pairing D and some great kids and it will be interesting to see if they sell some guys high this summer or, like the Avs, double down on what was a lot of luck. (Don't get me wrong, fair play to them for making the playoffs and winning a round and smart moves this summer could build on this. Also spare me the 'analytics don't matter' on the one season in hundreds that beats the house, think man think!).
The Ducks, however, may not be the team to beat out west (I think it is whoever wins the Central) but they are big and fast and skilled and deep and anyone who watched their series or those in the central would be in cloud cuckoo land to believe that the Falmes or for that matter anyone out east can keep up with the big boys. Maybe the east will challenge, the Falmes will not. Ducks in 5.
Chicago and Minnesota
Oh boy. This may be the Cup Final right here. Now my first instinct was that the Blues/Wild series was but the way Chicago did in a very good Preds team while their goalies took turns imploding makes me think that this may be similar to the 2010 club which was just too good for everyone else even with goaltending that could blow up now and then.
Now ... that said I look at the Wild and remember that they gave the Hawks fits last spring and that was with Bryz in net. They are fast as hell and there are times that the Hawks have looked vulnerable on the back end and Crawford has struggled and so a big big part of me thinks that the Wild may actually be the favourites.
OK I am going with Chicago although more than any series this may bite me in the ass. But Sharp and Oduya look like Sharp and Oduya again and while the Wild are a nice team they don't have Toews and Hossa and Kane and Keith, basically four future hall of famers who know that this may be their last shot for a while. The old gang is getting broken up this summer and you only need to look at the Pens to see how hard it is to win when you are paying two guys a shed load of your cap.And I think that while Dubie Dubie Doo had been awesome and I am very happy for him the Hawks are not the Blues. These guys can shoot the lights out.
Hawks in 7.
Rangers and Caps
I figured Rags and Tampa for the conference final and while New York New York were not that impressive in beating Sid, a hobbled Malkin and a D that included me, my 82 year old old man and the ghost of my dear departed dog, they are still going to beat the Caps imo. I like Washington and love Ovi but they barely beat an Isles team whose D was almost as thin as the Pens beyond their beauty first pair. The Rangers have the edge in goal and AV may be one of the top five coaches in the league and this team is, if anything, faster and deeper than last year's club. (!!) They're going to roll.
Rags in 6
Habs and Bolts
Montreal has the decided edge in net but that's about it and Therrien makes Randy Carlyle look like Toe Blake as he has shackled the skill the Habs have and has them playing a chip it off the glass style that is both dull and doomed to failure. Try and score one and hold on for dear life.
Ottawa gave them all they could handle and if they had gone with Anderson earlier they probably would have won it although that said I don't blame Cameron for riding Hammond. Buddy got them there and that's not just sentimentality (although I don't rate Hammond at all - he's an AHL goalie who got hot basically) - he was that good and after one bad game do you pull the plug on that? You may do so of course but I don't blame Cameron.
Anyhow Tampa remains a great bet here. Deep quality D led by Hedman and the probably no longer underrated Stralman. The Habs can't match it even with Petry killing it in support of Subban. And up front the Habs have some nice things but the Bolts beat Tampa with Stamkos not scoring a goal. That's not going to last GOOD CANADIAN BOY you can bet the house on that. That shrimp line us unreal and are going to eat Emelin, amongst others, alive.
Tampa in 6.
Posted by Black Dog at 3:14 PM
Friday, April 24, 2015
Six or seven years ago or so, I can't even remember really, some dude posted, I think on Dellow's site, about how he couldn't wait for Ty and Dennis King and Cam and I and all the other nay sayers to eat crow about Kevin Lowe. My response was that I hoped I was wrong, I would be happy as hell to be wrong, all I want is for my team to win, I don't care who is in charge.
We never got to eat that crow,
Year after year, especially when I posted a lot back in the day, guys would take their shots. Why are you such a pessimist? Why don't you believe? Blah blah blah.
Now of course the thing about me that you know, if you know me at all, is that I am a dyed in the wool optimist, just like my old man. Absolute glass half full until I drink it and fill it up again, sunny side of the street, dumb, grinning, to hell with it let's live it up and drink, smoke, fuck, laugh and eat dude going. Even after this week, a mentally and physically grinding bastard of a week at work that has left me wrecked, I am smiling. It's been a great week never mind the work and the Oilers' news. Had some beers with an old friend last Saturday, a little eee ee oo oo Sunday night with my lovely wife, volunteered for an afternoon in my youngest's classroom, planning my autumn trip (Iceland the leader with the Azores or Lisbon rising), ate some wonderful Chinese Wednesday for lunch. You get it. Life's what you make it. (Turns on a little Talk Talk, feathers hair, pops collar).
The one grey cloud in my worldview this last nine years is the Edmonton Oilers. They've been junk. Forever. Nine years of being an enormous mess. I ranked the NHL's saddest sacks last year, the worst franchises over a long period of time and this Oilers' era was top five and rising and if I revisited my list I think they've likely moved up a notch or two.
The turnover during this time has been unreal. Taylor Hall is now the longest serving Oiler at 23 years old. Todd Nelson is the sixth coach (and likely out the door now.) Assistant coaches, minor league coaches, scouts, equipment managers. MacT was the third GM. Hell even the owner changed.
Over the years the constant was Kevin Lowe and of course this is what everyone harped on. Lowe was the GM when it all went to hell and then when he brought Tambo and then MacT in he was still in the picture. Whether he was involved heavily or not his presence was a sore spot, because of what he represented. First that for all the preaching about accountability here was a guy who always skated. And secondly the fact that this team, like many many teams let's face it, was an old boys' club. The Leafs were too. Nonis and Loiselle and Poulin and so on and it's telling that when Shanahan came in and Loiselle and Poulin got canned they remain unemployed a year later. The NHL is changing, slowly. Sure you get the old boys, you see it a lot, the old star returning to run the joint, or at least distract the braying masses. Yzerman was one of the first. Then Nieuwendyk, Hull, Robitaille, LaFontaine, Sakic, Linden, Shanahan, Neely and have you noticed Alfredsson hanging around Ottawa a lot more lately? A couple of these guys came and went, a couple have less prominent roles and those in prominent positions have been pretty bad at it with the exception of Yzerman (and the jury is out on a few to be fair).
Anyhow I digress but the reality is that more and more owners have decided that entrusting huge multimillionaire companies to guys with high school educations whose main qualification is 'I played the game' may not be the best move. And so we are seeing guys who have a hockey background, sure, but who followed up their college or minor league careers with extensive education and apprenticeship.
But in Edmonton there was Lowe. And guys like Semenko and Musil scouting. And Buchberger coaching despite being by all accounts useless. And Messier hanging around, my god that was terrifying. And MacT leaving and coming back and Howson leaving and coming back and after a while we were all wondering what does a guy have to do to get fired around here. Apparently finishing in the basement year after year wasn't enough.
And on top of that there was the arrogance. Even Lowe, by all accounts a prince of a man, made the ridiculous comment that he knew a little something about winning when he was finally challenged by the spineless simple minded collection of media that let the clowns pile out of the clown car year after year without a peep. The not so veiled threats by LaForge to move the team to a better market (there are no open markets better than Edmonton and few that are not open for that matter), the joke that the ice at Rexall has become, the thin skinned reaction to criticism, the Oil Change series, longest running other than Corrie Street, the comments, again from Laforge, that empty seats were because of a little cold weather. It went on and on. These weren't the Cubs, loveable losers, or the old Oilers, the little team that could, despite a tight budget. Nope, these guys were absolutely incompetents and on top of that they were, in public at least, arrogant and unlikeable to boot.
Arrogant and unlikeable I could stand if the team was winning. Christ those adjectives describe a large number of NHL players and executives. Don't care. Win.
When they brought in Nicholson we said so what. Hockey Canada is like running the Yankees back in the day. Pick the best 25 players and sit back and watch the rivers run with gold. An empty suit. You can forgive us our cynicism, it has been bought and paid for. When the team sagged out of the gate (again) and the announcement was made that there would be a full audit of the Oilers' operations we snickered and jeered and the snark flew and again we had earned that right. Back in September I wrote about the Oilers and I said that until the Oilers actually do something they didn't deserve the benefit of anything and of course they don't, nine years of shit should bring repercussions if you aren't going to get fired. The audit was a PR move we said, nothing more.
And so the season ended in shit again, nine years on and we noted with jealousy that Boston, like Vancouver last summer, had cleaned house almost immediately despite years of success. One hiccough after a decade of success and the axe fell. And we wondered what the fuck was going on. Even Toronto fired massive failure Dave Nonis and everyone realized that this was the right thing to do except for toadies like Steve Simmons who judge a man as a hockey man not by his acumen but by the fact that he is a 'good guy'. And in Edmonton business as usual.
And then last Saturday there was the luckiest of lucky draws and then Monday suddenly there was Nicholson with his Alexander Haig moment except he was actually in charge and still we sneered at generalities about change coming maybe and then two days later Chiarelli in town and Thursday night after the pc had been announced and Bob McKenzie said that Ch-ch-ch-chiarelli was only coming in if he had full autonomy and we knew it was true because Bob is two things, he is a mensch and he is reliable. He doesn't throw shit against the wall and if he's not sure he says he is not sure.
And so we knew that Lowe was out and that this was a blood letting most likely.
And so this morning the news came fast and furious and it is just the beginning.
Lowe is out.
LaForge, in a move nobody saw coming, is out.
And there is no doubt that this is just the beginning. MacT will be offered a job probably and he may or may not take it. It will be a step down but the thing is a whole lot of these guys aren't going to be finding work that easily. 'What have you been doing Craig?' 'Well I've been a big part of the worst franchise in hockey' 'Ok then, we will call you'
So he may stick around but Howson will be gone and the scouts will be purged as well. Todd Nelson is a bit of unfortunate collateral damage here. Is he a good coach? Maybe? Like every Oiler coach since 06 he had to make chicken salad out of chicken shit and that's no easy task. He did alright but these guys aren't fucking around and they don't want to gas Nelson next year, they want a real big boy coach right from the get go, so McLellan or Bylsma or Babcock or maybe Julien or Hitchcock if things go sideways for those gentlemen. Is it fair to Nelson? No but I am guessing that he will either stick as an assistant or go elsewhere. He didn't hurt himself with his work this spring and he will get his shot one day I have no doubt.
I will post something about Chairelli but let me just say that my overall impression is a good one. There are people who will tear down anyone and so today I saw a lot of 'all his good moves were luck' and 'look at all of these bad moves' and all I can say is that I look at one of the three best teams of this era along with Chicago and the Kings and he had a huge part in it so yeah I think the Oilers did ok here. He probably had some luck both bad and good and there was politics bad and good but this isn't Brian Burke walking into Anaheim and having Pronger fall into his lap and bam Stanley Cup. This was longterm repeated success in a thirty team cap league. That's good.
The reality here is that this day has been a long time coming and should have happened in 2010 when they signed Khabi to make the playoffs and capped out and finished dead fucking last. Maybe even earlier than that. What happened in Boston this spring was politically motivated in large part but it also is the opposite of a mentality that has permeated the Oilers for nearly a decade. Boston, hugely successful, barely out of the playoffs for the first time in a decade, axes their GM.
In Edmonton year after year winning never happened. The seasons invariably ended by Remembrance Day. The concern was with the new arena and getting as much public money as possible to finance that. The majority of the media, either cowed or bought off by 'inside information' or simple minded or all three, stood idly by or were vacuous cheerleaders. And the old boys' club mugged for the cameras and carried on, untouchable.
Imagine being Jeff Petry, lowballed while Norris Schultz made the money and got praise, a guy who couldn't hold your jockstrap. Or Shawn Horcoff or Jason Smith, teaching kids how to be pros or dragging anchors around the ice with you, getting jeered while management sat on their hands. Or Ales Hemsky, coming halfway around the room as a boy to a different country, no English, busting your ass, giving your all year after year, getting your ass kicked by Reghyr and going back for more and then some dummy questions your character and your bosses never step up in your defence.
And imagine being Taylor Hall, always a winner, losing and losing and losing because of shit management and now somehow you are the problem. Or Devan Dubnyk, called out by your boss in public before the season starts (!!!) and then shit falls apart and your career ends up in the toilet.
Imagine being a player who lives to play and to win and that is all that you want to do and the guys who are in charge of your team are incredible failures.
And imagine being a fan watching this mess year after year and then Patrick LaForge says the team may move to a better market (EDMONTON AGAIN A REMINDER THAT THERE ARE ONLY MAYBE A HALF DOZEN BETTER AND MORE PROFITABLE MARKETS IN THE LEAGUE!!!!) and you look around a full rink and look at your visa bill for your season's tickets.
And now tell me that this isn't the most glorious day in a long time.
Posted by Black Dog at 11:47 PM