Wednesday, July 02, 2014
Monday night I was feeling a little bleak about the Oilers and of course could you blame me? Eight years of garbage. Eight years! And while I had little attachment to Sam Gagner, I mean he seemed like a nice enough kid but he also played defence like it didn't matter if he played defence, it bothered me, a lot, that the cluster from the first rebuild (the non rebuild, the Lowe years that somehow a lot of folks seem to forget) is pretty well all gone.
A lot of the kids brought in before the latest golden boys are already out of the NHL and have been for years, a couple due to injury or illnesses, some probably due to poor development by the Oilers, some because they just weren't any good. Schremp, O'Marra, Pouliot, Jacques, Nilsson, O'Sullivan, Deslauriers, Peckham, Plante, Brule, Chorney, oh yes the list goes on and on. And now with Gagner gone to join Cogliano, Brodziak, Dubnyk, Smid and Gilbert nobody remains although at least Gagner brought back an honest to goodness NHLer.
Unlike the entire roster of reasonable players the Oilers have sent away for nothing. (Although it looks like Penner may have netted Klefbom at least).
And so with Gagner gone well that was a capper to the last eight years, a reminder to me of all of the good players sent away for nothing or for kids who were supposed to be the next great thing who are all playing in Europe or senior leagues now. Pronger begat Eberle, true, but Smid was the centrepiece prospect and of course there was Lupul who begat Pitkanen who brought us Cole who left us with Patrick O'Sullivan. And that worked out better than the Smyth deal. Smyth ended up coming back and even all of those years later his battered, aged body was better than all three of the kids he brought in.
So Monday night I was frustrated and really, honestly, I had little faith in MacT. I like MacT and his first year was decent, if uneven, but the UFA market is a minefield and based on these past eight years I had little faith that Edmonton management could navigate it.
The problem for MacT is that Lowe and Tambo, by sending out so many quality NHLers for nothing, by drafting poorly for the most part, by selecting the wrong prospects when sending away their own players, had gutted the roster. So last year when he sent Paajarvi away for Perron, a good move, it also meant the one chip he had that he could afford to give away was gone unless he wanted to move one of the golden boys. Too many holes and no way to fill them.
And yet ... and yet.
Today I am remarkably buoyant. And here is why:
Its MY GOD ITS AN ACTUAL NHL ROSTER!!!
MacT pulled the Tambopposite and turned one NHL player into four actual players in the last week. After the one rookie (and Draisaitl is making the team there is no doubt about it) there are no players with less than two years of experience on this list. What else do I like about it?
While the Pouliot contract may be a slight overpay in term neither he nor Fayne have ridiculous contracts. Both are good solid quality players, these aren't reaches at all. Purcell isn't a world beater but again he is a proven NHL player. The worst of the bunch, Nikitin, is a bit of a gamble and the money is goofy but at worst he holds the fort for the upcoming kids as a bottom pair guy and obviously this is a Howson deal so here's hoping Niles knows what he's doing, obviously when he dumped that horrible Maris for Daphne he showed he has some smarts.
The acquisitions push guys down the lineup and for the first time in years guys won't be batting too high in the order. Gordon and Hendricks, who were decent third liners last year, are pushed down and this is great. Schultz (I presume) will be given a lighter load at times, this is great too. Same with Ference.
There is depth to the lineup now. The fourth line is an actual NHL line and all three guys can punch above their weight to varying degrees. Same with Purcell and Pouliot, they can slide up if need be.
The kids, especially on D, need not be rushed. Klefbom can start in OKC. Nurse can be sent back down to the Soo. In other words the Oilers will be developing kids the proper way for the first time in a long time.
So now what? Well I can't see them going with Arcobello as the 2C and they are saying all of the right things about getting that 2C so this to me is a good sign. The big (only?) question is can they find that C for cheap? I would hope so. There had been talk of Petry being moved, perhaps to fill that hole but if you do that then you have another hole to fill. I like Petry and I don't think you move him unless you a) get proper value back and b) replace him properly (I think that applies to any player really - anyone can be moved but you better be smart about it or you end up eight years out of the playoffs). So that is the key there.
They do need that 2C though there is no doubt about it. Presently there is no depth and if Draisaitl struggles (likely) then what do you do? Have him play 8 minutes a night on the 4th line? Terrible.
So that is where they are at. One hole up front to fill. A blueline that isn't a big boy blueline but is at least a real blue for the first time in years. They still need that number one Dman of course but at least they have six NHLers back there. And they have two real goaltenders too.
Playoff team? Well you have LA and Chicago and San Jose and St Louis and Anaheim and Dallas. My god, as I said on the tweeter yesterday its a bearpit out west. And Minnesota is a pretty good club too.
So probably not but at the very least I expect a step forward this season, especially if that last hole can get taken care of smartly.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:42 PM
Wednesday, June 25, 2014
When my daughter turned ten last fall (ten! I can hardly believe it) I told her that to celebrate we would spend a weekend away at a destination of her choice that we could drive to (within reason). She chose Niagara On The Lake and when told to plan the itinerary asked if we could go to the Falls and ride the boat up to them as well as go to the butterfly conservatory and 'Bird Kingdom' which turned out to be one of those old school attractions that you see here and there in rural Florida. A little run down and seedy, a little cheesy. Totally fun.
We found a weekend which with Jenn working many weekends and all of our activities and obligations isn't that easy - case in point we have two free weekends where we will all be at home from now until after Labour Day - and after our youngest's kindergarten graduation ceremonies last Friday morning we hopped in the van and headed down the QEW. We stopped for a quick lunch and were closing in on St Catherines when suddenly the engine light came on and the van began to shudder. We pulled over, dead in the water. Visions of a ruined weekend appeared in my head and I pushed them down violently. This was going to happen. It had to happen.
The same thing happened a year ago and it turned out the engine was misfiring due to a fouled sparkplug. We got a tow to the nearest Honda dealer and they said they'd look at it and we tried to figure out what was next. They were amazing (super amazing!) - they got a van from the used car lot and shuttled us to the cottage we rented 25 minutes away and told us that in the worse case they would deliver a rental car to us so we could enjoy our weekend. Minutes later our shuttle driver was back to take me to the dealer. It was the same problem as last year and the van was ready to go. (It turns out there is some sort of known issue so we need to get that fixed but for now we were good to go.)
We were lucky. In a few weeks we head out east for our annual trip and I pictured us breaking down between Quebec City and Edmundston, stuck two hours from a town of any size, trying to convince someone whose second language was English that what we needed to get back on the road immediately. Instead it all worked out and my daughter (and the rest of us) had a tremendous weekend.
What drives my wife crazy about my family (and me) is we're optimists. We can't help ourselves. Our family crest should be a guy drinking a beer in a boat with an elk and a wolf with whatever the Latin for 'It Will Work Itself Out' embroidered below. When Mom was sick a number of years ago and we were in the hospital discussing options Mom and Dad nodded and smiled and repeated this mantra regardless of whatever the doctor or nurse or therapist said.
It will work itself out.
For us, well its a coping mechanism I guess. We aren't dummies. We know that sometimes things don't work themselves out. A year ago yesterday Dave Bolland had just scored and I got an email telling me that my dear cousin had passed after a short valiant battle with a vicious cancer. Just about to go to California to start a fellowship after finishing his surgical residency he had his whole life before him. And then he was gone.
I had a beer for him last night. A big fantastic beer. I miss him so much.
Things don't always work out.
So much depends on luck. That cluster of cells that turns on you. The drunk driver on the road, the sudden violence of cars colliding that always gets me when I hear it. You can make all of the right choices and it helps you if you do so of course but when it gets down to it shit happens and a lot of the time there's not a thing you can do about it.
It's ironic that Spencer's passing woke me up to this and that because of his death I've become more alive than I ever have been. He always lived his life full out and for that matter I had too, as best as I could, you can't live every day like you're going to drop dead tomorrow, its a nice sentiment but exhausting as a philosophy but with that said I worry very little about things anymore and when the question is do it or don't do it, whether its travel or adventure or anything within reason then my answer is yes, yes, yes, lets do it and so we went to Paris last fall rather than wait and then New York this past spring and in the fall I will be heading off again, though to where is still up in the air, perhaps Budapest, perhaps the west of Ireland, the balls of life, as philosopher Aaron Ekblad says, are being juggled and I don't know where they'll land and I wish my balls were being juggled right now but I digress.
People don't like thinking about that eh? That luck is always there lurking in the shadows and that you can do everything right to fashion your life so that all will be well and then BAM you're a goner. Its a hell of a thing to get your mind around, it can be terrifying really but its also the way it is. We have friends who have had miscarriages and we had one couple whose baby died when she was being delivered. All was well and the baby was perfect, something just went suddenly wrong and that was it.
But we can't think about it other than as a cautionary tale that we are lucky and that we should enjoy what we have and celebrate it. Because we should, right? Because another truth is that it can always be worse. Car breaks down on side of the road? Its nothing. The absolute and total exhaustion that comes with being a new parent? Its nothing. And on and on and on. You do what you can, the best you can and then you hope that the dice come up for you.
People don't like talking about luck in hockey either. The preference is to attribute championships to hard work and character, its the story that sells see? The reality is the team that wins is usually the one that is the most talented, healthiest and luckiest. See those guys in the NHL? They all busted their asses to get there, on the rink, in the gym, countless hours pursuing their dream. They are all tougher than you are, sitting on your couch, drinking your Pepsi, eating your Cheetos. Professional hockey is a vicious brutal game, it always has been, and the softest player in the NHL has more guts than you can imagine. So lets put that notion to rest please. Telling me that, for example, Dave Bolland has some sort of intangible quality (he is good in the room - how do you know that?) that makes him a better hockey player than Mikhail Grabovski when watching the game proves the opposite. Dave Bolland was a fourth liner on the Chicago Blackhawks. He lost his job to Michael Handzus. He wasn't worth what he was paid last year. He scored the Cup winner, same as Frank Kaberle, Ruslan Fedotenko, Uwe Krupp, Maxime Talbot. These guys were all decent NHLers, don't get me wrong (and I don't mind Dave Bolland, at least before he pulled up lame, I wouldn't pay him a cent until I saw if he could still skate) but so much of what we read and see and hear is overblown nonsense isn't it? Character and wanting it more and all that. It is more entertaining than to think that plain old luck has a lot more to do with it that's for sure.
Los Angeles was a deserving Cup winner and they squeaked by Chicago due to luck. If Chicago had beaten them? Luck. You don't win three seven game series, including one on overtime (and multiple OT games to boot) without getting the bounces. Not to take anything away from LA, they're a great team and they own the puck and get a lot of shots on net and the end result is that luck smiles on them more often than not, especially when they added a guy in Gaborik who could turn all of that possession into production but if any of those odd deflections go a little awry then its Chicago in the final and likely winning it all again. And that's fine, that's the way it goes sometimes, it was actually a relief to, for once, not hear how a losing team lacked character or try, good god I hate that.
Where does all of this meandering take us with regards to the Edmonton Oilers? Well I've been thinking about the Oilers a bit lately, I didn't for a while as the real teams played to win the Cup but now we're at the Oilers' big moment, as it has been for the past eight years, the draft, and with the first big pick from their rebuild, Sam Gagner, soon to follow the prize prospect of the Pronger deal, Ladi Smid, out the door, my thoughts turn to ... despair? My bottle of whiskey? Murder most foul?
I saw Ekblad play a bit in the WJC but I have no idea about any of these kids, just like you probably don't. I believe in best player available and think the idea of picking a kid who can 'step right into the lineup' is silly. You want to draft the guy who is going to help you win a Stanley Cup. That's the point of it all, right? So pick the guy who you think is going to be have the best career and go from there. I don't know if its Bennett or Ekblad or the German kid or some kid who isn't even ranked in the top five. Nobody does, you're projecting the next ten to twenty years on teenagers and unless you're talking Sidney Crosby who knows? Remember that Jonathan Toews went third overall. Joe Sakic 15th. Anze Kopitar 11th.
It's a crapshoot.
The problem facing the Oilers and Craig MacTavish is the same problem that they faced last summer. Too many holes. Thanks to Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini the Oilers were left bereft of actual NHL players as they reversed the proverbial paper clip into a house idea by trading, well, everyone, for basically nothing.
The result is that now that they have the prize kids they have few solid veterans to augment them and, on top of that, while Toews and Kane had a whole team of players behind them who were drafted later than the first round the Oilers have fallen down in that regard too.
You have to really be massively incompetent to be as bad as the Oilers have been and remember they were pretty healthy last year too.
It looks like MacT has solved the goaltending but while it looked like he had eight top nine forwards last fall (Hall, RNH, Eberle, Perron, Gagner, Yakupov, Gordon, Hemsky) he now has seven and two of those, Gagner and Yakupov, fell off the cliff last season. On the back end, well its the same old story. Last year it seemed they had two top four Dmen in Smid and Petry and the hope was that Ference could step in and Schultz Younger would step up and instead Smid fell off the cliff and got moved, Ference got exposed and Schultz was terrible. Only Martin Marincin was a bright spot.
So this is the problem. Too many holes. Same as it has been for years.
And another problem ... the constant devaluing of the players the Oilers have. So you see Ales Hemsky traded for nothing, going to Ottawa and putting up a point a game playing with real players for the first time in years. Playing for a bad hockey team with a lot of bad hockey players means that you probably aren't going to look good and the end result is you have guys who get traded for nothing who then flourish elsewhere. Erik Cole was one of the first examples of this, brought in, immediately put out of position and then ending up taking on tough minutes with Ethan Moreau and Kyle Brodziak while people whined about how he didn't score any goals.
Anyhow rehashing everything that has happened over the past eight years isn't going to get us anywhere and we'd run out of Internet talking about the failings of this club. They are a joke to everyone outside of Edmonton, deservedly so, and they deserve no benefit of the doubt, I'm sorry. I like MacT, why I don't know. Memories of 2006 and he's articulate and compared to Tambellini anybody is an improvement but really none of these are good reasons. I guess that it's just hope, that's all.
He has to do a good job this summer, he has to, what's next, another new coach? Bringing in Ramsay was great and Nikitin is an improvement over Fraser (as am I but that's another story right?) although in the case of the latter I sure hope Howson knows something that we do not because buddy has been not so great lately.
Remember way back when when we talked about luck? That's the problem when you've dug yourself a hole as big as big can be, you've got little room for error. You can bring in Boyd Gordon and Andrew Ference and David Perron but you still have a half dozen holes to fill and so you roll the dice on cheap gambles - Belov, Grebeshkov, Joensuu, LaBarbera - but then none of them work out and on top of that Dubnyk falls apart and Schultz younger and Yakupov regress and Gagner gets hurt and looks like a rookie when he gets back and Nick Schultz falls apart and now the season is over and you've taken a step back, not forward and you have to start wondering how long before Hall asks out.
So now MacT has added Nikitin and he's a gamble and they're hoping that Schultz the remaining can show that he has a clue and that Marincin doesn't take a step back and that Ference can rebound and that's a lot of ifs and we're just talking about the D here.
This is the problem.
Stauffer was throwing names around and apparently Kulemin and Grabovski were mentioned and I'll tell you right now signing that pair would help turn things around. These are the types of guys that MacT has to chase after, slightly undervalued, good players, and here's hoping that Stauffer is in the know here. Spending big money on mediocrity is not going to get it done, it's going to take smart buys and moving picks or middling prospects for salary dumps that's going to get it done. I've seen a lot of Grabovski and Kulemin these past number of years and would take both in a heartbeat. Your mileage may vary but these are the types of players Edmonton needs. Guys who can play at both ends of the rink who move the puck in the right direction regardless of the opposition.
This team needs men on it for lack of a better description. The 2006 team was loaded with them. MacT has to find some without dumping what good he has up and coming and if he decides to move the good kids then it has to be home runs, none of this Marincin for Boychuk horseshit that Matheson was floating earlier this week (trading a possible top four Dman that young and cost controlled for a guy on the other side of 30 with one year left on his deal would be a firing offence of course). No more suspects or guys with WJC pedigree from a decade ago or any of this 'character player' bullshit. Keep the few good hockey players that you have. Get more.
And then maybe we won't have to rely so much on all of the 'ifs' working out and all of the dice landing just so. And then when the GM makes mistakes and they all do, even the great ones, then there's a ton of cushion for it.
The boy and I are going to help Dad open the camp this weekend so we will literally be incommunicado from around Friday at noon until Sunday. Crazy. I hope the weekend turns out well for the Oilers but I worry. It has been a bad eight years. I'm hopeful but that's just my nature.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:59 PM
Thursday, June 19, 2014
As frequent visitors to this space know by now my son has had tremendous fortune during his short hockey career. As a newbie and spare part last year (up and down your wing, get the puck out of your end, get the puck into their end) he was a champion in both his winter and spring leagues. This past winter he came in as one of the elder statesmen on his team and a larger contributor, first as a defenceman and then as a goalie as he requested the opportunity to backstop his team through the playoffs (he's got guts). It was brutally stressful for his parents but he his team triumphed, making him three for three. The picture above is after that triumph. He is in the middle. This is one of my favourite pictures ever taken.
Three seasons played. Three trophies raised.
This spring his team hit the ice running. It turned out that out of the best seven players in the league all but two were on the boy's club. In the preseason they destroyed each opponent in turn, outscoring the rest of the league 38-3 in three games. The team was so good that they actually played hockey, passing the puck, making plays, it was absolutely unfair and so the teams were balanced, three of their five best players were moved out and replaced and the end result was that in the first shift of their first regular game they allowed as many goals as they had all preseason.
Not only did swapping the players out make their roster weaker but it also exposed a goalie who had never played before and had not even faced double figures in shots yet,
It was a short schedule and the top two teams would go directly to the final. With two weeks left they were in the mix but in danger. They tied the first place team to gain a valuable point and then lost to the last place team (in fact they had gathered a point out of a possible six from that team, two out of six from the first place team and four out of four from the team they were trying to catch. Parity!) That single point out of four should have doomed them but their prey were blanked themselves and so going into the final weekend the two teams were tied. Saturday the boy's team managed a draw against their nemesis, knocking them out of the race (that team managed six of their eight total points against the boy - talk about having their number!) and so they went into their game Sunday only needing a tie to advance to the big game.
The team had been playing better and better. Their coach was terrific, all enthusiasm and smiles, but talking to each player after the game to point out an improvement they could make. They had been outshooting their opponents, done in by a lack of finish by all but one player who had carried the offence and by their own inexperienced goaltending. One got the sense though that something might break and so on this Sunday it did. With everything on the line they fell behind by one almost immediately and then tore the other team apart. By the time the clock was running down they were up seven to one and a couple of garbage goals did nothing to change the fact that they were going to the final. For the boy, old hat.
After last season there were few nerves for him. His start to the season had been rough, two months or so between the pipes had dulled his instincts and he was a step behind but he improved as the season went on and so with the final looming he was ready, having played his best games in the previous weekend. I gave him the usual 'you'll be a bit nervous, that's normal, just play your game and enjoy it, you never know when you may play in another' - I should know, for me its been over thirty years :( - and he nodded and smiled.
The first team the boy played on was an all out team, his second and third were more star driven though in both cases the coaching was terrific and the supporting cast made a difference. This team, a .500 team that somehow finished second (the first place team was miles ahead), had the best player in the league but with a three goal maximum per game his team tied a lot of games 3-3 and lost a few 4-3 and 5-3. They needed to be like the boy's first team and in their last two games they suddenly began to become that team and in the final they were that team through and through.
Their opponent had a kid who could shut down our star or at least match his three goals every game, on this day he was shut out, checked into the ground by the five D and waves of forwards who got on him as soon as he started to wind up to go. Only a few minutes in a kid so anonymous I had no idea who he was got behind their D and picked the corner. 1-0 and his Dad, beside me, laughed. I told him he would score today he said; it was his son's first ever goal.
After that, well lets just say I've seen few games with so many twists and turns. A shot by the boy's team trickled over the line, the refs didn't see it and waved it off. Two more cleared off of the goalline. A mercurial little defenceman who had ripped it up in the preseason and then disappeared until the previous game when he scored three made it 2-0 and then they got one back. And then ... a penalty shot for them. We groaned because for all of our carrying the play it looked like the hockey gods were not smiling. And then, the blocker shooting out, the puck bouncing off of the post and staying out.
Early in the third our star player finally broke free and got one and it was all running downhill from there. The little defenceman got his second with four minutes left and then another player got his first career goal to make it 5-1. They got one in garbage time but that was it. The underdog was champion and it wasn't even close.
Four for four the boy is now. Four for four. (And he had his best game of the year, by far.)
On Father's Day we went for lunch and I joked that maybe some day he could play for Capsule, maybe he would be a champion twenty times over by then and then we could see whose mojo was stronger, him winning or me losing.
What I'm saying is he's a human rabbit's foot. We're taking offers all of you downtrodden NHL franchises. Lineup starts on the right.
Posted by Black Dog at 7:55 PM
Wednesday, June 04, 2014
Look at those crazy kids!
We have three weddings this year and when you get to our age that's a lot of weddings. Last Saturday we went to the first of these, it was here in Toronto, it was our kids' first babysitter and so they too were invited and for all three of them it was their first wedding.
I enjoy weddings, I really do. I'm, well, I'm a realist and a cynic about a lot of things but I'm also sentimental and I like to party and I've had the good fortune of being to a lot of fun weddings mostly because I hang around the right type of people, the unpretentious partying type of people I mean.
I remember one of the first weddings I went to as an adult, we were in our mid twenties, it was a huge affair, set in a ballroom downtown iirc, they had money or their parents did and so we wandered amongst the hundreds of people and we partook of the free bar liberally of course. As the father of the groom began his speech, which would last, well forever, with the words 'A marriage is like a merger' - he was an accountant and all of the accountants in the crowd raised their eyebrows in an explosion of mirth - we rolled our eyes and listened sadly as Van Morrison rollicked in the room next door, a reception that began AT THE SAME TIME AS OURS DID. We sat and we sat and we sat while we heard laughter and dancing and drunken singing and like that scene in Airplane I may have been the last one standing when the speeches finally ended as my tablemates did themselves in one by one.
Other than that though we've had good times. Good times. DYNOMITE!
The wedding on Saturday was fun though my fun was dampened by the fact that I was the designated driver. That's okay though. I don't need alcohol to have fun. Not me. /retrieves one of many strategically placed mickeys of gin from hiding spot/.
This was a Portuguese wedding, my first of these and oh my god the food. Talking to the father of the bride we asked him what was on the menu and he said 'fish, chicken and roast beef' which we took to mean that we would have a choice of one of these options. So after the bread and salad we were surprised when the servers came around and piled our plates with fair sized pieces of fish (two or three of them) and rice. We thought 'oh this is the meal' and so we told the kids to have some as well even though we thought we were told they would have chicken fingers. No matter right?, we were probably high at the time. So we finish our mountains of rice and fish and then about ten minutes later they come out with the chicken and the beef and the potatoes and the veggies.
The kids were troopers but as the night wore on they began to tire and especially the boy was struggling as he had been up early to play hockey that morning and he had a slight (massive) stomach ache. They began to agitate to leave and it was around 10:00 and then the seafood buffet came out as well as a massive table of sweets so that delayed our departure and then we were about ready to wrap it up and I was coming back from the bathroom when Home For A Rest began to play, you know that nice easy beginning just before it gets mental.
This is a wedding standard, at least at the weddings we attend and traditionally I have had a dozen or so at that point and start jumping around and I am quite sure (hopeful) that when I go it will be at the age of ninety or so from a heart attack induced by this. So I come back to the table and sit down and look at my lovely wife, my God she's a beauty, and she gives me a little smile and the slightest nod to the dance floor and up she gets and up I get and next thing we're hopping around like we're absolutely mad and our kids are staring, mouths agape, at a sight they have never seen.
Almost seventeen years we've been together now, married for thirteen, isn't that something?
I swear I'll never forget that moment, that smile, that nod, a reminder of something shared between us all of these years, of so many wonderful times. Just a second and my heart ready to burst out of my chest. Isn't that something?
Wasn't that Chicago - Los Angeles series unreal? I know there's a term for it but I can't remember it, how people attribute more value to something because it is more recent. That's not the best description of it but you know what I mean, right? The guy who argued with me last year that Jonathan Toews is the greatest Blackhawk ever, greater than Stan Mikita or Bobby Hull. Or that some basketball player a few years into his career is better than Jordan or, in the most ridiculous examples of this, that a player is better than another player based on his work of the past week. So Jonathan Toews is the best player in the world, better than Crosby, although now I guess that's Anze Kopitar, except he's European so probably not, right?
With that said I have been around a long long time and I cannot remember a series played at such a high level as that Western final just completed. It was dramatic and it was unreal hockey and in the end it came down to a coin flip. If these teams played one hundred series they would probably each win fifty. Fantastic hockey and of course it reiterates what I talk about here a lot. Luck, man, luck. If the Kings get one less bounce (every single goal in game seven came off of a relatively crazy bounce) then Chicago moves on and we're talking dynasty if they beat the Rangers or as close to a dynasty as we will see in these times. Instead two blocked shots bounce right to a Kings' shooter, Carter goes offside and knocks a puck out of midair, Gaborik picks off a rebound perfectly and then Martinez puts one in off of Leddy's shoulder. Just nuts. (Though from the other point of view we can talk about the goal Toews scored of course and that is just a starting point for Chicago luck).
That's the way it goes. Hockey is a flat circle of violence and degradation and puck luck and the sorrow of Leaf fans. /creates little Hossa out of Slovakian beer can/
I had the Hawks winning and the Habs too, the latter was more of a hunch which was dumb because those never work out. That left me at 9 and 5 for these playoffs and by round my all time records are as follows:
First: 53-19 Second : 18-18 Conference Finals: 12-6 Stanley Cup Final: 4-4
Funny huh? In two rounds I kick it and two I'm even steven. I looked back and in the final I wrongly picked the Oilers (should have won), Sens (stupid anti Pronger sentiment), Wings in 2009 (should have won) and the Canucks (losing losers who lose).
Honestly though those three all went seven games and of course here is the crux of it all.
Either the Kings or the Rangers have a good shot at this. The West is the best, we all know this, there is no argument against this but the Rangers are quality, this isn't the Panthers or Capitals sneaking in to get strafed by a juggernaut. I had the four western powerhouses and Boston in my first tier and then the Ducks and then after that the rest with the Rangers at the top of the East, which makes going with my gut on the Habs that much dumber.
I'm not going to run through all of the pros and cons because this has been done a thousand times but here are some quick thoughts:
- the Kings have a ton of elite talent, more than the Rangers, this is a huge deal
- the Kings are unreal up the middle, Stepan (who I like) would be the King's third best centre
- in Doughty LA has the best defenceman in the league imo
- the Rangers actually have a little more depth up front and are the faster team
- McDonough is healthy and is pretty amazing himself
- obviously if things go according to the past six weeks Lundqvist is vastly better than Quick but its goaltending so it may not
- two great coaches, I really rate Vigneault highly
Should the Kings win? Yes and they are my pick. Some folks point to the rest New York has had but I think by this point unless a guy is relied upon too much they'll just keep going. Chara is an example of this last year and maybe Doughty could wear down, he was making some mistakes near the end of the conference final so this may be an issue for Los Angeles. The possibility of injuries aside I think that the Rangers have a shot but they will need Lundqvist to steal one or two games or for Quick to give one or two away or they will need some luck.
Of course all three of these things are absolutely possible and so the Rangers have a shot but in the end I am picking the Kings in six because I always pick series to end in six but mostly because LA has Kopitar and Gaborik and Carter who are three elite offensive talents and when you are so good that you have Justin Williams on your third line then you're a really good team and probably the best in the league.
Posted by Black Dog at 3:11 PM
Wednesday, May 14, 2014
I'm not one to have regrets or to think that the good old days were the greatest days because these days are quite excellent thank you very much but when we came back to Toronto something had stirred me, maybe it was just the beauty of the day but I thought back to when I was a young man and how each summer day was glory, I'd work outside all day for good money and then the evenings and weekends laid out before me, no cares, no obligations, no aches or burdens, just a young man getting his drink on, all small but wiry grinning endless libido.
Was in New York a few weeks ago and found a little joint around the corner from the tiny apartment we were staying in on the Lower East Side, Molly's was the name, an old Irish saloon with banged up tables and sawdust on the floor. I walked in one morning at 11 while Jenn was out running and our traveling companions slept in and I sat at the bar and ordered a Murphys and then I ordered another and one of the best burgers I have ever had and then as I prepared to settle up your man brought me a third pint on the house to apologize for how the new equipment they had just adjusted had meant that my pints had poured slower than what was acceptable whatever that meant but a free pint is a free pint. The upshot was that just past noon I was three pints in and enjoying a sunny day walking through Manhattan with that easy beer buzz haze that envelops you when you're day drinking. Nice and steady drinking all day, first at another pub for a pint a while later than to Jimmy's in midtown, an old school New York dive bar pointed to me on Twitter, a good old long grungy place with a jukebox, an ancient bartender and four dollar pints of Sam Adams (!) with the Blackhawks and Blues on a little TV in the corner while Jenn and the girls shopped. Seabrook knocked out Backes and the Blues scored with seconds left and then it was off to another pub for dinner and then a cab back down to where we were staying and then pint after pint in pub after pub, never getting too carried away but oh it was a fine time.
Highly recommend Jimmy's. Total dive but not in a stabby way. Go and thank me later.
So it may have been the recent memory of that or the coming of summer or both but I thought of those days quite a bit the other day and then last night one of my old running mates from those days called me out of the blue and we're out for drinks in a few weeks from now.
Should be good, it should be very good.
As round two winds up a few thoughts, for a while there it looked like the entire general consensus might be turned upside down. With Chicago and the Rangers through it looks like the final four may still be what we expected it to be as long as the Bruins and Kings hold up their end of the bargain but of course this remains to be seen.
Someone on the HNIC broadcast last night said that the expectation was that the Pens would be back in the Final, I'm not sure who it was, either Millen or Galley I guess, I don't really pay much attention to who is talking much anymore as the commentary is generally very poor. This was certainly a case in point as nobody I know of other than a couple of old timer sports hacks called the Pens to go to the Final. Iffy goaltending and blueline, poor forward depth, some guy named Gibbons (?) playing on Crosby's wing. Oh yes it screams Stanley Cup contender. The Rangers screwed themselves on the schedule but they were superior at every position and once they got their legs it was going to take some awful luck for them not to move on.
Now talk in Pittsburgh is that heads are going to roll and Bylsma is probably the first to go which means that someone is going to end up with a really good coach and very soon. Shero is the guy who deserves to go, he's never been able to replicate the rosters he put together originally, a nice mix of kids and vets who could play surrounding his superstars. Like all champs the Pens' depth bled away but poor drafting meant there was no stream of replacements and Shero failed to pick up any cheap options at the deadline. Gaborik, Vanek, Hemsky, Cammellari, Moulson, the one thing that was available this deadline was top six talent and the asking price was cheap and still Crosby played game seven with just some guy on his wing. Not really excusable.
Crosby had one goal in thirteen games, same as a stretch Toews had last year despite playing with Marian Hossa for the most part but narratives say that somehow Sid lacks something and Toews is captain clutch but we've discussed this here, narrative run wild, the same playoff junk that proclaims Shawn Thornton is relevant. (Hint, he is not).
With all of that said Crosby is not one to make excuses but if you WATCH THE GAMES NERD it was obvious that he's not right. Malkin was terrifying, well at least if you were a Ranger fan or lived in a small Balkan village in the shadow of a dark forboding forest but Crosby, well Crosby was not Crosby (Crosby) and so when he says he was healthy methinks he's subscribing to that old timey hockey ethos - no excuses!
Hilariously for the Pens this may end up in a major overhaul when the reality is they need minor surgery, well at least everywhere but in net where Fleury was not abysmal but was below average again. Fleury always skates mostly because he has a cheerful grin but until they get rid of him (they can get better goaltending for a fraction of the cost) then they are probably not going anywhere, especially when the Rangers, the Bruins, the Habs, the Jackets, Tampa, Florida and on and on all have better options in net than Pittsburgh does.
As for the Rangers well I picked them to beat the Pens and we're getting to the point where we might wonder why not them? They have the goaltending and McDonaugh looks to be healthier and Staal is a bit more himself and they have the depth which to me is everything, its why they beat the Pens. Cam Thomson (RiversQ to us oldtimers) said today that while the West has to be considered the best still and the favourites in any matchup the reality is that with Lundqvist and Price or Rask being the remaining goalies standing after tonight any Eastern team will have a shot. I would bet the Rangers are hoping for the Habs tonight though they would never say so of course, I think they can beat the Habs. The Bruins on the other hand ....
The Habs have been lucky and Carey Price has been very good and the two together (Bruins have hit seven posts, Habs have hit one, thanks Jonathan Willis!) mean its game seven and of course anything can happen. My guess is the Bruins win it, they are the better team and they are at home and the refs are going to put the whistles away which works in Boston's favour but ... but ...
Its been a fantastic series, the best one this round, so entertaining. The teams hate each other's guts and the Bruins, well you may loathe them but they put on a good show with larger than life characters here there and everywhere and of course the Habs have PK Subban who is pushing up the ranks of my favourite players. Hossa and Chara won't play forever after all and Subban, well, he could win this by himself. What a fantastic player. Unreal.
I figured the Bruins out of the east all the way, same as nearly everyone else, so its not like I'm going out on a limb there but if they go down it really blows the tournament open. If I am a Bruins' fan I'm pretty happy with the kids on defence, they have been pretty good. If I'm a Bruins' fan then I'm worried because Chara is starting to look human. That breakaway Pacioretty scored on? He had him. He could have leaned into him or used his stick and instead he just stopped skating. To me that's a sign of a tired dude and last spring against Chicago we saw what happens when Chara gets tired. It gets ugly.
If the last few years, well, if hockey history has told us anything, its that to win the Cup you need a stud on the blue line and up the middle. The odd time you might sneak through without one or the other but there's a reason every team in the league is looking for a true number one centre and a thirty minute a night Dman. How do you think Randy Carlyle won a Cup anyhow? He had three of the latter, well close to it anyhow.
Dougie Hamilton might be a star, its early, but if Chara is crumbling then the Bruins window is closing and soon.
The Hawks were ... lucky. Yes, lucky. Well, Crawford was great is what happened but the Wild announced that they are coming and coming hard and wow the west never gets easier does it? Vancouver starts to fall off and here come Dallas and Minnesota and Colorado all rising, brimming with young talent. Wow are the Oilers ever fucked.
James Mirtle told me that the Wild had started the year as a possession team but injuries forced them into a bit of a more chip and chase style until recently. Bryzgalov was great and it was nice to see him have a good series, he's a bit of a weirdo but an endearing one. The Wild were fast as hell, they made a few Hawks look plodding and their depth actually exposed Chicago a few times. With Frolik, Bolland and Stallberg gone, Shaw out and Handzus losing whatever step he had suddenly Chicago didn't look like a four line team anymore as other than Ben Smith the replacements offered little help. What the hell happened to Kris Versteeg anyhow?
The problem for Chicago is that fact. Also Leddy is struggling and Roscival too, replaced by Brookbank. Every shift that guy takes I can see how the Blues need to revamp their offence. He was in the lineup three games and they couldn't beat Chicago? Seriously!
Anyhow with their depth getting pummeled the end result is the top four spent shift after shift defending and all of the offence falls on the big guys and at some point that is going to dry up probably. So they need Shaw to get back and be effective and Quenneville to figure out some sort of bottom six that can hold its own or there may be no repeat (although if I were a betting man I would still be betting on Chicago.)
And down the road? How does Bowman get Toews and Kane under contract without becoming the Pens? At least the Hawks can draft but what a challenge that is going to be.
I have little to say about the Ducks and Kings except its outstanding hockey and the Ducks have done a lot better than I expected. Mitchell being out hurts the Kings I think. And I have no idea what happened to Mike Richards. Done.
Its been close enough that the Kings winning the next two games would be no biggie but the Ducks, well it looks like they are for real after all. Speed man. Speed kills. Its a new game. Speed has always mattered of course but now so more than ever and players like Murray and his ilk are disappearing.
Posted by Black Dog at 3:56 PM
Friday, May 02, 2014
If they make it that far it will mark three conference finals and at least two Cups in five years for Chicago. Boston will have a Cup, another trip to the Final and at least an appearance in the conference final in four years. And the Kings will have a Cup and at least two conference final appearances in three years.
And next year none of these teams will have major roster upheaval, all of their key players are signed and so one would expect them to be in the mix again although of course in the west especially anything can happen.
Pretty impressive but its important to note that while the cap levels the playing field it also makes it difficult for teams to make huge strides from year to year. Toronto may talk about adding Paul Stastny (or at least their fans do) but Clarkson's contract (among others) makes that a difficult proposition. So if you can build a nice core and keep it together you can have a nice run near the top of the league with some luck.
I'm getting ahead of myself here because anything can happen, as we know, but I'm guessing in two weeks we are going to see the Kings and Hawks facing off in a rematch of last year's conference final.
Hawks v Wild
Minnesota is a solid club. Lots of veterans up front, Ryan Suter. But the Hawks are the Hawks. Deep up front and on the blue and against a tough out in the Blues they got stronger and stronger until they blew their doors off in game six. The scary thing for Chicago's opponents is that the Hawks have more elite offensive talent than probably any other team - Kane, Toews, Hossa, Sharp. With those four gamebreakers they can have one or two guys get shut down for a series and still prevail. Sharp and Hossa were both very good against the Blues although they didn't get rewarded, the Wild might focus on Toews and Kane and have these two punish them instead.
Put it this way, the Hawks wingers are so good that they won the Cup with Handzus as their second centre last year. Unreal. And Ben Smith was excellent in that role last round.
The saving grace for any underdog is great goaltending. I love Bryzgalov but he's shown no indication that he can steal a series. I'm thinking Hawks in five in what is a great draw for them.
Ducks v Kings
All through the year I looked at the league as follows. The true contenders were Chicago, LA, San Jose, St Louis and Boston. Then you had the Ducks in the next tier.
Anaheim isn't horrible, they're a solid team for sure but LA is the real deal and now they're rolling. They have great depth up front, I mean the Ducks are no slouches there either, but really they can't match the Kings in overall depth and also in top end talent. The Ducks can roll out Getzlaf and Perry but LA has Kopitar and Carter and Williams and Gaborik and Doughty and okay you get the picture. Plus LA has better goaltending. Plus they are possession monsters while Anaheim are ... not.
Kudos to the Ducks for winning the division, I thought there was no way they'd hang in there, but this is it for them and it will be quick (HAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHHAH*gasps*HAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHHA) and painless.
Kings in five.
Posted by Black Dog at 7:24 PM
Thursday, May 01, 2014
Six and two in the first round, let down by the Avs and Sharks. I mean really let down by the Sharks who I also picked over the Kings last year. Plus I picked enough of them (I had them and Chicago going to the conference final) in my pool that I am already done.
So for the first round over nine years I am 53 and 19 which is pretty solid but I looked back at round two and I am a sad 15 and 17. Pretty confident this year I get at least to .500 though. I tend to try and be clever in round two, so none of that 'gut' stuff (looking back at last spring I went with the Sharks in round two because of my gut - dummy) plus really the second round looks pretty straight forward.
First, the east.
Bruins - Habs
I'm figuring Bruins to represent the east again this year, I know talk about going out in a limb right? They rolled over the Wings pretty easily but I don't think the Habs will be an easy touch. Price could steal the series for them first of all and I think the Habs' speed might give the Bruins problems and I like the Habs' depth as well. A lot of decent players sprinkled everywhere through the lineup. The question is whether or not Therrien can refrain from putting Murray in the lineup if things get rough and tumble, which they will. We're witnessing the extinction of the big slow stay at home Dman these playoffs and Murray is the biggest and slowest of them all (maybe besides Hal Gill). Boston will tear him apart if he gets in there.
Seriously though is it just me or have we not really seen an acceleration in this the last few months? Teams still look for these guys - Fraser and Gleason for example - but more and more it seems players of that ilk are getting exposed badly. The two aforementioned, Murray, Gill, Matt Greene, Regehr, Brad Stuart. The league is getting faster and faster and if you are a big man who can't skate your time is coming to an end. Its the main reason why I'm looking at Chicago to come out of the west now if they can stay healthy. Unless the Kings can grind everything to a halt (and maybe they can), the Hawks are going to eat Regehr and Greene alive.
Back to Boston and Montreal. Probably the most fun of any series in this round and I think the Habs have a chance if Price stands on his head but really I think Bruins in six on their way to another berth in the final.
Pens - Rangers
The Pens have one edge and one only and that's their top end talent but other than that I don't rate them with the Rangers at all. New York has the decided edge in net, on the blueline (where Marc Staal looks to have rebounded by my eye) and in their depth up front. Columbus is a typical little team that could (that is, not very good) and they gave Pittsburgh fits and if Crosby is hurt, which seems to be the consensus, then even the one edge the Pens have shrinks to almost nothing.
And Fleury? Fleury skates from blame every year it seems but last round he was terrible in a couple of games, again, and he can be counted on being the same this round and that will be enough to cost Pittsburgh the series and probably Dan Bylsma, who I think is an excellent coach, his job. The Rangers are the one club that I think has a shot against the Bruins (though I think they will need injuries on Boston's side as well as some luck) and I think they beat the Pens pretty easily, with Nash tearing it up. He's due.
Rangers in six at most.
Posted by Black Dog at 11:37 AM
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
People say that the western team that comes out is going to be beaten to a pulp but every year this is the case, the west is a tough road, although Chicago had a decent draw last season in terms of their opponents being a little less physical until they met the Kings. Unless you play a minimum of games you're going to be beaten up, that's the way it is. Sometimes this will have a big impact on the final such as in 2009 when Datsyuk, Lidstrom and Hossa were all in rough shape by the time they played the Pens but generally everyone is banged up.
The west is ridiculous though. I have four of five real contenders in the west and two of them will be knocked out in the first round. Crazy shit.
Looking at the east I realized that I went with the team with the better record in each case because I'm a madman (unless no Bishop for Tampa). Hm, pretty boring.
Ducks - Dallas
Dallas is a sexy pick to pull an upset. Their possession numbers are better than Anaheim and they were a team whose record didn't reflect this, especially earlier in the year.
But man that goal differential difference is a big one and the Ducks didn't ride the shootout either. They're good. I don't rate them like I do the other western big boys but they're not a pushover. Seven players other than Getzlaf and Perry with double figures in goals so they have that offensive depth I'm always harping about, some young guys, some vets, a lot of guys who can check. Dallas is almost a mirror image though, with six guys in double figures after their big two of Benn and Seguin (and a kid in Sceviour who had 8 goals in 26 games). Again they have that solid mix of kids and vets up front.
The hilarious thing, to be honest, is I don't even know if some of the guys on either team are any good. I shit you not. Dillon and the other Benn on D? Not a clue lol.
Anyhow the one thing that worries me about Anaheim is their goaltending. I don't think they are going far anyways and a lot of people are saying that this Gibson kid is going to be their downfall and while I think it isn't going to help them in round two I think its good enough to get them past the Stars. My gut says Dallas but while I like them and its possible I don't like them that much. Ducks in six or seven.
Colorado - Wild on Jack Lemaire
For me the Avs aren't in the elite group either and are probably a step below the Ducks as well. They have a whiff of the Leafs about them if you know what I mean. The Wild still are not in their league though. They might win a game, maybe two but the Avs are better I think, even with Duchene out of their lineup. I'm going to say Avs in five, maybe six. I don't really care. Neither team is that good.
Sharks - Kings
This one is a rematch of last year's homer series which went seven and ended with the Kings edging out the Sharks. This time around the Sharks have home ice and its probably a push between them and the Hawks as to who I think is the team to beat. San Jose will have to beat LA first but even a fully staffed Kings team would have trouble with the Sharks. If Drew Doughty is not 100% and of course I have no idea if he's resting or actually hurt, then this is not going to end well for LA. Even if he is healthy I think it ends well. The Sharks are too deep up front and on the back end, anchored by Vlasic. LA are sound, they really are, but too many of their guys have seen their offence dry up. Brown, Richards, Stoll, even Justin Williams has seen his production fall off. We know LA can check but I think San Jose has just too many weapons. It will be tight, it will go seven (unless Doughty is hurt, then its over sooner) but San Jose will win.
Chicago - St. Louis
For me the Hawks are Cup favourites again (or at least co-favourites). They coasted home with Toews and Kane on the shelf and there were times this season where they seemed ... bored but they still ended up in the top five in goal differential. They have almost the same lineup as last season, with only Viktor Stallberg, Frolik (who was a pretty big loss imo) and Leafs' franchise centre Dave Bolland moving along. As always it seems the Hawks have some kids in the pipeline and so Ben Smith had 14 goals, Jeremy Morin chipped in near season's end and Brandon Bollig appears to have turned into an actual hockey player plus Versteeg is back. Depth. The advantage Chicago has over everybody though is that elite talent - Toews, Kane, Hossa and Sharp all had 28 goals or more and Duncan Keith averaged nearly a point per game. Shaw had twenty, Saad had nineteen and three others had double figures as well.
I like the Blues - for me the issue has always been their lack of a guy who can create offence out of nothing, the gamebreaker. They're a deep team up front and on D and they score a lot but man those shooting percentage numbers are crazy high, we're talking out of this world high, we're talking unsustainable really and we're talking about six of their top seven goal scorers having these ridiculous numbers.
My guess is the Blues try and pound the Hawks into the ground and the Hawks' superior skill wins out. I saw them play earlier this year and St. Louis played physical and Chicago either brushed them aside, gave back as good as they got or just skated out of trouble. To me this is not a great matchup for St. Louis at all. I don't love Crawford in net but I don't love Miller either. I think Chicago moves on in six.
Posted by Black Dog at 3:32 PM
Monday, April 14, 2014
I did a count last year on my first round predictions going back to 2006 and was amazed to find out that I had gone 40 and 16 and then preceded to go 7 and 1 for an overall record of 47 and 17 so I guess I'm doing something right but this year I'm not very confident mostly because there are so many 'pick em' series but also because so many key players are either hurt or just returning from injury. Bishop, Toews, Patrick Kane, Doughty, McDonaugh. Obviously if Drew Doughty is not Drew Doughty then the Kings are dead meat so this is also part of the mix.
Here is what I look at when I'm making my picks.
First of all I do not look at how a team finished the season or at the head to head matchups. To me they don't mean a thing. Sometimes a team will finish strongly and go all the way and sometimes they will not and they will win the Cup. Every year people say 'oh they finished such and such a way' and it really doesn't matter. Same for head to head, a game in November or January doesn't tell me anything now.
The huge thing for me is depth. Obviously injuries play a huge part in the playoffs but also year after year we see that clubs with deep rosters go farther. If you can roll four lines, as Chicago and Boston did last year for example, then you're going to go a long way. For example if Toronto had dressed an actual hockey player rather than Colton Orr last spring I believe they may have survived game seven. Certainly having someone you could throw out there who could play a reliable shift would have helped. In a similar vein as the Bruins began to get banged up their depth suffered and as the series wore on against Chicago the Hawks were able to use their superior depth to push the pace. As a result they had the puck more, Chara especially was forced to defend more and by the end of the series the Bruins were done. To me I always look for teams that run four lines deep and six defencemen as well.
When I look at records the big thing for me is goal differential. A team that is even or maybe even in the red is a team that I always avoid. The real heavyweights are the clubs that have a big goal differential. This may seem like common sense but I look at that even more than I look at a club's win loss record.
I don't put a lot of stock in your usual narratives, teams that 'know how to win' and all of that. Nearly every year since the end of that stretch where the Cup was always won by the Wings, Avs, Stars or Devils has had a different starting goalie lead his team to the Cup (except for when the Wings won in '08 I think) as an example. So I don't look at the Blues and think that they can't win because Miller has never won the Cup for example or at San Jose and think that they are going to fail because they're San Jose. Intangibles like this are just a lot of noise imo.
Of course as an out I always say that anything can happen (because it can) - injuries, hot goalie, bad luck. Its hockey so sometimes that's the way it goes but generally I feel pretty good about how I make my picks.
Anyhow here we go. I have a better handle (I think) on the east so I'll start there. I figure Boston to come out of the east because I like going out on a limb but if they falter somehow then its really wide open.
Bruins v Wings
I think the Bruins come out of the East. I also think that if they fail it may be here. Detroit was ravaged by injuries as we all know. I think Babcock is an outstanding coach and that the Wings have enough speed to trouble the Bruins' blue line. The Leafs almost took Boston down last year and the Wings are better than that club, right?
The problem is that the Bruins are just so good. The Wings had a negative goal differential (and of course a lot of that is due to the injuries they faced) but the Bruins are plus 84. Plus 84! That's unreal. And the kids on the blueline have come in and done a great job replacing Ference and the injured Seidenberg. The Bruins also have perhaps the best goalie in the league and their depth up front is outstanding. Six forwards with over fifty points, a seventh with 48 in 73 games and Loui Eriksson isn't even in that group. If the Wings had Zetterberg I'd think they might have a better shot at this but the Bruins are just too good and way too deep. The Wings will give them a bit of a scare but unless they get unreal puck luck or Rask blows up its Bruins in six, maybe less.
Tampa v Habs
These two teams are just so underwhelming if that's a word, I know it's not 'cause Sloan sang about it, but really whoever comes out of this is going to be meat for the Bruins.
The Habs are loaded with famous players (because they're the Habs) who don't impress and the Lightning have a bunch of anonymous players, especially up front, who don't do much for me either but ... Tampa were a +25 and that is without Stamkos for a lot of the year while Montreal was +11. Tampa has the best forward in the series and while the Habs have PK Tampa counters with Hedman and on top of that I like their D, a couple of nice vets in Brewer and Salo, Matt Carle. Its a coin flip but I say Tampa in 7 with one caveat which I normally do not ask for, if Bishop can't play then I'll take the Habs in 7, maybe 6.
Pens v Columbus
To me this is similar to the Pen's opening round series last year. I don't rate the Pens at all really. Their D is shoddy, their depth up front is atrocious and that grinning buck toothed bastard Fleury has ruined my pool the last two years the prick. That said it's Columbus. They're solid but with Nathan Horton and Umberger out its not like they're loaded up front outside of Ryan Johansen; only two other Jackets had more than twenty goals. So while I do think the BJs (heh) have the edge in goal and the Pens back end is not championship calibre I don't believe that Columbus has enough to really threaten Pittsburgh even with Malkin out. Pittsburgh in six.
Rangers v Flyers
After Boston I like the Rangers out east. I don't think they can beat Boston but if the Bruins stumble or Chara or Rask gets hurt then I think New York could pull it off. The Rangers were a plus 25, the Flyers barely in the black. The Flyers really stumbled out of the gate so I think they are better than that and I think this series will be close but New York has more top end talent at every position and that will be enough to get them over the top. The clincher is that it sounds like McDonaugh is good to go. Rangers in six, maybe even seven.
Posted by Black Dog at 2:17 PM
Friday, April 11, 2014
My old man was a Max Bentley man as a boy, Dad was the oldest of six, five boys in there, and a lot of his boyhood was spent doing what the oldtimers did as boys, the Canadian ideal that is fondly recalled now. They had no television, no computers, they lived in the Soo and then a tiny village called Franz, perched on the Canadian Shield in the midst of the wilderness, literally in the bush, and then Wawa and when they weren't in school or doing chores they played hockey, no matter how cold.
They didn't have a lot of money. At a family reunion years ago my uncles talked about the time they got a case of carnation milk and what a big deal it was and my favourite story my Dad tells is about when he was very young, maybe four, and his old man, my grandfather, walked him down the hill in the Soo. They stopped outside a store and there was a bright red wagon in the window and my grandfather asked his oldest son what he thought of it and my Dad said he told his father he liked it a lot and then my grandfather told him it was his and, well I wish I had a picture, when my Dad told me the story a few years back, he was pushing eighty then, and his eyes grew wide with wonder as he laughed and said this is what I looked like and it was beautiful, a boy's wonder suddenly erasing nearly eighty years in his craggy face. And his dad went in and bought the wagon and my old man got into it and he got towed home up the hill.
Sorry, its almost like I've had a few beers here with the rambling.
Anyhow Dad and his brothers were all very good hockey players, they each had their team and Dad was the Hawks and Bentley was his man. Dad patterned his game after his idol (or maybe that's just the way he played), he was fast and a skilled playmaker and he could score as well. Years later he and his brother Gerald were scouted by the Red Wings, hilariously Dad said he was disappointed that it was the Wings because he was a Chicago fan.
After Bentley was moved away the Hawks were terrible for a long while until two kids came along, Mikita and Hull, Hull was the more famous of the two, the flamboyant goal scorer with the huge shot but Dad became a Mikita man and so too did I when I started following hockey as a boy. By that time he was on the downside of his career and we only got one game a week, Saturday nights, so I only probably saw him play a dozen times live. But he was my Dad's favourite and so he was my favourite too. I even have his book 'I Play To Win', the boy is reading it now and I have heard stories in recent years that paint the man as a wonderful guy, down to earth, just a lovely fellow and that makes me feel pretty good too.
After Mikita retired I remained a Hawks' fan for nearly another twenty years. Larmer was my favourite player during this time period, him and Gretzky, but I took to neither as much as I did to Mikita and I took to neither as much as I did to Ryan Smyth.
If you have visited this blog for any length of time you will know how Bill Wirtz killed my love of the Hawks, bit by bit, until all of it was gone, hollowed out by that miserable old man and the equally miserable Bob Pulford. It wasn't a conscious choice, it was wholly organic, my change of allegiance. I had always liked the Oilers, had loved the way they played the game in the eighties all go-go skill and speed, that elan that all of the greatest teams have. And so as the nineties marched on and they gathered a team of kids who would work and work and work (though often with little result) I began to pay attention to them again. They had Dougie Weight and Bill Guerin of course but the guy who symbolized those clubs was Ryan Smyth.
Now Ryan Smyth was a hell of a hockey player. People look at the fourth liner now whose wheels are gone or think of the things that make Smyth an icon and they forget that he could skate and that he could make plays and that he had terrific hockey sense. You don't play in three best on best tournaments for Canada (winning an Olympic gold and a World Cup gold) unless you're an amazing hockey player.
That's the ironic thing. People forget this fact. Even when he was at the top of his game and he and the Oilers parted ways there were mutterings, the usual bullshit from the enablers of this broken management team, that Smyth wasn't even really a first line winger.
I used to believe that this type of thinking was an Oilers' fan thing, for a fanbase that had witnessed one of the greatest, if not the greatest team ever assembled, no player could be good enough. How can you live up to Gretzky and Messier and Kurri and company after all? The reality though is that a generation brought up on video games and highlights at eleven seems to think that a good player can (and should) score at will and do so by dancing through a team and then follow that by filling in the other team's best player. Smyth, even in his prime, wasn't that guy. He did a lot of big things well and he did all of the little things superbly.
What made Smyth an icon though wasn't the fact that he had such great tools, though obviously that helped, it was how he approached the game, how he played it, that is what made him beloved. And it is why I became a huge fan of his and how one day, watching Chicago play Edmonton (it was 98 or 99) I realized that I was cheering for the Oilers and that actually I was no longer a Chicago fan. So its because of Ryan Smyth that I am an Oilers' fan. Its his goddamned fault!
I BLAME YOU SMYTTY!! ;)
Smytty could skate and make and take a pass but his shot was a muffin and yet he became a goal scorer. He scored almost all of his goals from within a few feet of the net, banging in rebounds and deflecting shots from the point with his old wooden paddle, his legs, his big beautiful hockey ass, all the while taking abuse that make you wonder how he lasted all of these years. He did the dirty work in front of the net and in the corners and along the boards and he learned how to play at both ends of the rink until he became an excellent two way player and penalty killer. He loved to play, he was an old time rink rat with that amazing mullet and the Nuke LaLoosh responses to interviewers, he was a hockey player through and through and he became beloved, I think, because he did things that anyone could do. I talked about this recently. Your Joe Beerleaguer can't do what Ales Hemsky does and so he cannot identify with him but anyone could do what Ryan Smyth did and so he was an everyman, a guy who its hard to find a comparable for, an elite grinder who drove play and put up points.
Smyth should have been an Oiler for life and when Lowe botched it and sent him away for magic beans it was really the end of the Little Team That Could, that crew of players who played fast and hard nosed, with that elan of old, if not the skill, the group that competed for the playoffs year after year despite the annual diaspora of the most expensive players on the team. Smith, Niinimaa, Brewer, Staios, Pisani, Mironov, Horcoff, Hemsky, Weight, Guerin, Comrie, Arnott, Stoll, Torres, Moreau, Murray, Marchant, Grier, Cleary, Ulanov, Salo, Joseph, Carter. Some were great players, some were journeymen. Some went on to win Cups elsewhere (they always win them elsewhere) and others faded away and many of them went on that long run in the spring of 2006, the last time the Oilers meant anything. 2006 to me will always be Roloson battling, the madman, and Pisani scoring so many enormous goals and Hemsky finishing off the greatest team of our generation and Smyth, teeth smashed. setting up Horcoff in the third overtime to cue the comeback against the Sharks.
Afterwards Ron Wilson sneered when asked about Smyth, saying it was no big deal, and the reality is it wasn't because that was not ultimate Ryan Smyth but the usual Ryan Smyth.
And now he is gone, just weeks after Ales Hemsky and months after Horcoff. Ladi Smid is gone too and so the Oilers finish the year out of the playoffs, as is standard now. Four more NHL players out the door and nothing to show for them but Philip Larsen, magic beans and cap space, business as usual for the Edmonton Oilers.
With Smyth and Hemsky gone all that remains are a bunch of losers and while that sounds harsh its the honest truth. Nobody on the team has won a damn thing in Oiler colours, hell none of them have played a game that matters and that goes for most of the roster period with the exception of Andrew Ference, who like all of these guys is probably wondering what the hell he has gotten himself into.
Yakupov's season was a mess and the fanbase wants to run Jeff Petry out of town and Sam Gagner is probably a goner too, following Smid out of town, remember when they were the future? I remember rumours of rifts in the room years ago, I don't pay much attention to rumours or claims of fans (or media) who know what is going on in the room or how a guy is in the room. Ales Hemsky was a 'problem' and yet two years ago his teammates stood up one after and another unsolicited and said that he should be extended and I have seen an email from a teammate of his lauding him for staying after practices and working with him on the finer points of his craft. That never got into the papers though, funny that.
That said I always did wonder what guys like Moreau and Staios thought when guys like Gagner and Nilsson and others waltzed in and got their dough right away when they had played for relative peanuts for a decade before they got their money, doing the dirty work while the golden boys floated. Its years later and Sam Gagner still can't check his hat and while I'm sure he's a fine young man (I guess, who knows?) that speaks to something. Maybe he's dumb though I doubt it. Maybe he doesn't care? I don't know.
But when you got used to watching Smyth and Moreau and Gator and Niinimaa and Grier then watching this group of Oilers cashing their huge cheques all the while playing matador dummy defence is certainly hard to take at times.
Another year down the toilet and the team has taken a step back and next year looks like more kids on D which never works. The team is too thin up front to send anyone anywhere for that stud Dman they need and the free agent market is poor as well so it may be the tact they take and while the goaltending is fixed or so it seems the forward depth has gone from a strength to another point of concern especially where Gagner and Yakupov are concerned. So when Gord Miller said that it might get worse next year he could be right.
Ryan Smyth should have gone wire to wire as an Oiler. He did not and that's a shame. He was a winner though and he squeezed every ounce he could out of the talent that he had and he loved the Oilers and Edmonton, actually arranging a trade back to the Oilers.
Just for that he's one in a million.
Best wishes you mulleted toothless fat ass rink rat. Thanks for the memories. Wish we had won it in 2006, watching you raise the Cup would have been the thrill of a lifetime for this hockey fan.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:00 PM
Monday, April 07, 2014
What I can do without during the Stanley Cup tournament are the awful narratives that pop up. Its the worst.
Now I'm a guy who loves a good story. I enjoy telling stories and I appreciate a good tale well told, its one of the few things that irritates me about my kids. They're bright and funny and they're the worst at telling stories. Its painful. Its just their age, I know they will get better at it. If they don't then I will have to disown them. NOT IN MY HOUSE!
While I love a good story however I also want it to be accurate. Sure maybe you put in a little flourish here and there, a little exaggeration to spice things up, but the meat of it has to be true. If its not then its just bullshit.
Sports lends itself to story telling of course. Hey if you have been around this blog for a while you know that I often talk about my beer league club or about the boy's adventures on the ice. The last post I wrote was about this very thing. There is a beginning and an ending and there are twists and turns to the plot and colourful characters and it basically writes itself.
The problem with sports story telling though is, well its like this. There's a lot of bullshit mixed in with the natural story of who won and who lost and how they got there. I'm not old enough to know when it began but I know that at least it goes back to 1972. I know this because, like you, I was brought up on the mythology of that Series with the Soviets. A few years ago I looked at the Series in depth, watched every game, every shift, recorded what went on and discovered that actually the accepted truth was not supported by the facts. It was not a case of plucky Canadian heart and try winning the day but rather Canada being a far superior team that should have probably won six or seven of the games. They outplayed their opponents right from the beginning, even in game one where their conditioning was supposedly a huge factor. The Soviets were this year's Leafs forty years before their time. Badly outshot, badly outplayed, relying on excellent goaltending and a quick strike offence, mostly on the powerplay. If the two teams played a hundred times Canada probably wins seventy five or eighty of the games, if not more, especially if they run with Tony Esposito in net.
But narrative, right? Especially when there was a patriotic drum to beat and an opportunity to demonstrate our superior 'character'.
I don't recall the seventies or eighties when it comes to hockey story telling other than there were three very good hockey clubs that won thirteen of fifteen Stanley Cups. The seventies Habs, the Islanders, the Oilers. There was no need to tell a story because the story was a simple one. Three teams too good for the league they were playing in.
At some point though things turned. It was due to parity in the league. It was due to the World Juniors giving us an annual us vs them event. It was due to Don Cherry.
At some point hockey became about character.
This narrative has been pushed by the networks and their commentators who were nearly all fourth liners or backup goalies. Star players in hockey don't need the money, generally, so they gravitate to the golf course or to jobs with their clubs as ambassadors. Some go into management, usually starting with an assistant to the GM's title, often in a situation where the club likes having them around to remind fans of better times.
But the plugs? Well they stay in the game by starting as scouts or maybe assistant coaches deep in the minors or, because they are generally 'great guys' (they have to be great guys because if you're a borderline guy you can't afford to not be great on the room), they end up in media.
And for plugs, guys like PJ Stock and Louie Debrusk and Don Cherry, well for them they are now going to push character and the grinder and the plugger because THAT IS WHAT THEY WERE.
And so you get tales like we did a few years back where Shawn Thornton got an avalanche of credit for the Bruins Cup win. Shawn Thornton.
Now part of this too is that the plugger appeals to a lot of fans. Never in a million years could your beer league couch potato do what Kadri or Ales Hemsky do, not a chance. But he could back check hard and work his ass off in the corners and go to the net and stick up for his teammates. Anyone can do that of course because its monkey work. I can do that! So for Joe Fan, well he can identify with Colton Orr a lot easier than he can with Nazem Kadri. Its human nature really and so you have a willing audience in a lot of respects.
The problem is that in the media we have guys, some ex jocks, some not, who are either not very smart or they are lazy or, to be fair, they believe in this story line because its how they were taught to understand the game. Generally these are the guys who respond to criticism with 'you never played the game' or my favourite ' you don't understand the game, just watch the game and you would see'.
(I always find this amusing because guys like Tyler Dellow and Vic Ferrari are amongst the most astute observers of the game that I know. They watch the games and they watch them over and over again and notice the little things that make a difference. Anyhow, I digress.)
Anyhow these writers and broadcasters look for stories to tell and generally the simpler the better. And so you get Jason Strudwick proclaiming last night that the Oilers were winning against the Ducks because they had three fights and were emotionally engaged.
This is a common story and I have never understood it. Two guys fight. One team gets momentum from it and proceeds to win. But why them? Why doesn't the other team get momentum? Their guy fought too after all. Sometimes the team gets momentum because their guy won. Sometimes they get it because he hung in there against a bigger guy. Sometimes they get it because their guy got pummeled. Seriously. Remember a few years back, I think it was Prust was a Ranger and got destroyed by a Senator in a fight and the Rangers to a man said that was a game changer. Is it true because they believed it? I don't know, I never played the game. But sign me up and we'll solve three problems. I will then have played so I can talk about hockey (this entire blog and every discussion I ever had about the sport is meaningless due to not having played, right?), I will make a shitload of money (league minimum is ok!) so I can pay off my mortgage and buy you a dozen beer and also whichever team I play for will go 98 and oh, all the way to the Cup baby, because I will guarantee you momentum every night by absolutely getting killed by the other team's biggest goon.
Now don't get me wrong, I like Strudwick, I do but by my eye, when I was watching the game, my impression was that the Oilers won because Hiller was terrible and Fasth was very good.
And I guess the question I also had was what if the Ducks had come back? Would it have been because the Oilers became less emotionally engaged. Are they like I was in my early twenties, all hot and heavy for some girl I saw at a party, having a great couple of months of lusty boning until I became bored and more and more emotionally detached until it all crashed in ruins? Wait a second, the Oilers are mostly in their early twenties!! Maybe I should have had a buddy hanging out with me on dates to start fights so I would have stayed emotionally engaged! Maybe I would have been more successful at love!!
But really, what if the Ducks came back and tied it. And then gone ahead. Does Hendricks fight someone else and the Oilers bounce back? Is it really a question of a character win? If Perry scores another goal or two, if Getzlaf doesn't hit the post is it because the Oilers are bad people? Or is it because the Ducks are a far better team?
But that's how it works. Three weeks ago or thereabouts the Leafs were home and cooled, third in the conference, the local media crowing about how the naysayers were wrong and now they are dead in the water, out of the playoffs, and suddenly its a character question. The team doesn't have it.
Its an easy answer and a ridiculous one of course. So three weeks ago they had character and now suddenly its gone! Where did it go? Did it melt with the snow? They had enough character last year to make the playoffs and push the Bruins to seven (although that character disappeared with eleven minutes to go in that game, damn!) and strangely enough people forget that Joffrey Lupul had a great chance to end it in overtime. He missed, just as Datsyuk missed a glorious chance in the slot in G7 against Chicago, Stallberg getting his stick enough of his shot from the slot was a weak one. Bergeron scored and that was that. But if Lupul scores then suddenly the team oozes character, is that how it works?
Of course the Leafs did the right thing and dumped Grabovski and MacArthur over the summer because they were the problem or part of it I guess and they brought in the wonder twins from Mimico to solve the character issue. And it seemed to have worked ... until just recently.
Or maybe. Maybe there is something to Randy Carlyle's system that does not lend itself to success unless you have two Hall of Fame defencemen and Beauchemin in the 3 slot as well as four lines of very good forwards and excellent goaltending. Maybe the reliance on a hot power play and out of this world goaltending while allowing the other team to outshoot you massively game after game because you never have the puck (partially because you dumped two skill guys and won't play other skill guys) is not a recipe for winning, especially when your goaltending no longer performs at Hasek like levels and your few remaining skill players go cold or don't score enough because the rest of your lineup is no longer good enough to chip in offensively.
But its easier to say that the team has no character than to try and figure out what is going on. Its one sentence versus paragraphs of investigation and explanation.
I've been going on and on here and I am just going to finish up with this. Despite what Don Cherry says all hockey players are not good guys. Some are. Some are not. They are like any collection of guys you will find except they are elite athletes who play hockey very well. Because of this the majority probably have a bit of a sense of entitlement, which I would expect. And a few are pretty sociopathic when it comes to pursuing their goals. You'd have to be. There are billions of people on this planet. 690 of them play in the NHL.
All that said they have all worked their asses off to get where they are. All of them. The endless drills, the tedious hours in the gym, the rehab when necessary. Its like toughness. The softest hockey player in the league is a hundred times tougher than your regular citizen. They play through pain that would leave you or I bedridden and their job involves fighting for space with enormous armed angry men, all on ice. Think about that. Oiler fans used to go on about Tom Gilbert being soft, a guy who blocked more shots than most defencemen in the league in his time in Edmonton, all the while getting pounded into the boards, sticked, elbowed, often while playing injured. Yeah, he's soft. Don't pull a muscle cracking open that Coors Light fatty.
Are there players who are tougher than others? Sure. Jason Smith and Ethan Moreau and Matt Hendricks are three that come to mind right away but this idea that players lack character or toughness is a hilarious one.
The falsest of all accusations stinks the most however and that is what people like Cherry and Mark Spector and others put forward about European players. Now think about this for a minute. These are people who whine about players who won't talk to them or about donuts getting yanked from press boxes or about games being boring and they claim that European players lack character. (My favourite remains Spector assassinating Ales Hemsky's character last spring, following that up with a column where he whined that Hemsky wouldn't talk to him. Better yet a few days after that it was revealed that Hemsky had played for a month with a broken foot as he tried to help his team get into the playoffs. I mean what a piece of garbage this Spector guy is.)
So now who lacks character? The guy who confesses to a conflict of interest essentially (this guy doesn't talk to me so he is a bad person) and also does not investigate whether or not the player in question was hurt (nice journalism!) or the guy who came to a strange country as a teenager, unable to speak the language, in order to pursue his dream. Pictured above is Michal Rozsival. At the age of 17 (!) he moved to Swift Current to play junior hockey.
Seventeen. Mark Spector wouldn't want him on his team though. (More on that later.)
What do you think?
Its plain xenophobia is what it is of course. When Kovalchuk played the 2012 finals with a wrecked back CBC roasted him every chance they got. He didn't care about the Cup!!! Never mind that he had been lights out the first three rounds, suddenly he didn't care. And then with a minute left in the last game Hughson ripped him one last time and Healy piped up 'well he's been playing badly hurt' like this was a revelation and what does Hughson do? He sniffs that he shouldn't be playing then.
A double standard. Marian Hossa plays through an injury so severe that he cannot feel one foot and Tony Amonte, who couldn't hold Hossa's jock if you taped it to his hand, talks about Hossa not being tough enough. Europeans don't CARE ABOUT THE CUP, don't you know.
Why we're even having this conversation these days I don't even know. To me if you have common sense you know the whole myth is garbage. Look at the history of the game over the last twenty years. Pick any year. 1998 - three of the top five scorers were Europeans. In 2009 four of the top five were Europeans. Europeans have lead their teams to Cups and won the Conn Smythe trophy. Last season Spector (there he is again!) said that you could not win with Europeans or skill guys in your support roles.
Chicago's bottom six forwards in the playoffs - Saad, Shaw, Stallberg, Kruger, Bolland, Frolik.
Chicago's bottom four defencemen - Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Rozsival, Leddy
Good thing nobody told them!!!!
Anyhow if you managed to stick around this long, thank you, a bit long winded I know. My final thought is this. The hilarious thing about the this whole narrative idea is that you get the people generally going on about character and pride, guys like Simmons and Spector, are the guys who go on and on about 'WATCHING THE GAME' the most. Bring up Corsi and JUST WATCH THE GAME they say.
I'm not a huge stats guy, mostly because I have slight ADD (look, a bird!) but like most thinking people I think they help tell part of the story and when properly applied they add important information. That said I find it hilarious that the biggest proponents of 'just watching the game' are also the biggest proponents of things that you cannot see, character and clutchiness and whatnot.
I believe in Corsi and Fenwick taken in context. I also recognize that Joffrey Lupul is usually going to bail out rather than get smoked to make a play while someone like Hossa is not, mostly because the guy who hits Hossa is probably just going to fall over, but also because Hossa is tougher than Lupul (who is a million times tougher than you or I) and a lot better hockey player.
Just don't try and tell me that a team's fortunes can be explained through character or lack thereof because these arguments are only so much voodoo. You find 'advanced' stats hard (hint, its shot attempts basically, they are not that advanced), tell me how a team has loads of character and try one month and then weeks later they do not. Tell me how a team has heart and knows how to win one round and then do not one round later?
You want to talk about hocus pocus bullshit.
You want to talk to me about intangibles and character?
Just watch the fucking game and spare me the fairy tales.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:18 PM