Thursday, October 09, 2014
There were a dozen boys in our grade six class. Six of us got around all of the time and five of our little group were on all of the teams along with a couple of Italian kids, Dean Prelazzi and Felix Cerelli, and a kid from the nearby government housing projects who captained our city championship hockey team a couple of years later. It's funny when you look back and you realize what was going on. This guy never had gloves or a warm winter hat and came to school in the dead of winter in a leather jacket. No money, just a poor kid. He wasn't a great student but he was a terrific guy. I wrote about him years ago and Dennis King asked me if I knew what became of him and I don't know.
Anyhow it was this group and a handful of the strongest grade five athletes (one who would go on to a scholarship, fifteen years in the minors and Europe and one game in the NHL) who made up the core of the St. Andrew's Thunderbirds. Also rans in our sports of choice - hockey, soccer and ball, we tore through the city to become the unlikeliest of city champions in handball. We had some decent athletes but we were carried by the kid from the projects. He was a bit bigger than normal but the key was that he had a gun for an arm and big hands so he could palm the ball. He knocked at least one goalie out that I can remember and by the end of the tournament when he got the ball our opponents would hit the floor when he wound up. The rest of the team provided enough support and we got good goaltending and we won it all. I played quite a bit until the championship when we faced a big team from the other side of the city (many of them had moustaches coming on) and my size, lack of size that is, became a factor. So one of my buddies and I sat on the bench for most of the big game. He, a fellow shrimp, was pissed. I cheered on my pals. I was so happy to win.
Anyhow at this assembly buddy gives out the ribbons or certificate or whatever it was, there were no trophies, it wasn't like it is today that's for sure, maybe we each got a pebble or something picked up from the schoolyard and if I recall correctly (this was nearly thirty five years ago so cut me some slack) he named each kid who was on a team or teams and then gave them their piece of gravel. Well he goes through everybody, I mean everybody, and I get no mention and then he looks at me and calls me up, the last guy.
Now I was a bit of a smart aleck and I didn't really like the teacher much so I didn't really appreciate it at the time, certainly not as much as I should have. He gave a nice speech about having heart and trying hard and made the point that despite being a little guy (and honestly not that athletic on top of everything) I had made all four school teams plus the track team and that showed you what you could do with some heart and guts and all that good stuff.
A try hard. That's what I was. That's what I am today. I'm a decent hockey player but I'm a try hard with hands of stone.
And the boy, well he's a chip off the old block.
He's a bit bigger than I was. I was a shrimp. A real shrimp. Like in grade 10 I had barely broken a hundred pounds. (I went out for football in grade 11 and was cut. Couldn't believe it. In retrospect the coach probably saved my life). So the boy can't help but be bigger. Impossible not to be.
He's a smart player, which I was as well but he is has more guts and while I like to say I was a try hard the reality is that I wasn't one of those little guys whose motor is always running. Now I am but when I was a kid I could coast a bit. Not the boy.
He just finished his fourth year of cross country and it was a resounding success. Last year was tough. Two years ago there was a work to rule deal going on with the teachers here thanks to that stupid asshole Dalton McGuinty (I never talk politics - sorry about this - but I despised that guy. Worst premier in Ontario's history and there have been some awful awful ones) and so a lot of schools didn't send teams to the meet so the boy finished pretty well compared to his first year. Are you keeping up?
So he is feeling pretty good about himself last year and he puts in the work. Monday to Thursday he gets up early and goes to practice and runs his laps even while a bunch of his buddies ran one lap of the school and then goofed off. And then on race day he finishes nearly a hundred places lower than the year before and to rub salt in the wound his buddies, the goof offs, all finish higher than him because essentially they are far better athletes.
He was devastated.
This year we talked about the process and he did his work again. I timed him when I took him to practice, to give him an idea of how each lap was going so that he could work on being consistent. Jenn is training for her first marathon (she's mental - she ran a half the other night. Just went out and ran it. Crazy.) and so she talked to him about some different ideas and took him to the practice run last weekend.
On race day I told him that he had put in the work and should be proud of it and that my only advice would be to try and stay with the pack. Last year there were the rabbits and then the lead group and then the pack and then the stragglers, of which he was one. I told him to stay with the pack as best as he could and then sprint when he was ready to sprint.
How did he do? Hilariously Jenn did not have the camera ready because she was not expecting him to be where he was. He was with the pack and finished in the middle of it and improved his placing by eighty over last year. He had nothing left when they came to the homestretch and so was passed by a few but there was no doubt that he had left it all out there. He's ready for next year and his goal, certainly attainable, is to cut 15 seconds off each 500 metres (it's a 2K). Do that and he will move up another fifty places or so at least, the pack is that closely bunched together.
Very proud of our son today. More importantly he is proud of himself.
After the contenders and second tier clubs I wrote about yesterday come the rest of the playoff teams. It's pretty touch and go at this point. For the upper echelon clubs only total disaster is going to knock them out of the playoffs, a raft of injuries, bad luck and off years for everyone. For the following clubs, well, for a few of them the playoffs are a sure thing but for others a couple of bad breaks (or another team suddenly taking off or getting tons of luck) will mean they are out.
I don't think any of these clubs have a shot at winning or even playing for the Cup. They might win a series, sure, but they are all too flawed to go very far.
Playoff Shoo Ins
Wild on Jack Lemaire - Minnesota beat the Avs and gave Chicago fits in the second round. Fast, deep and a lot of kids on the way. Plus Vanek added to the mix. A good club.
Pittsburgh - The Pens have Crosby and Malkin and they will make the playoffs but to me they are still top heavy up front, though not as much as last year. Ehrhoff is a star but I rate Bylsma highly and think replacing him was a mistake and their D and goaltending are still suspect. As usual there are those who think they are the class of the east. I don't get that at all. Too good to not make the playoffs though.
Rangers - Love Alain Vigneault and like this team a lot but their depth took way too many hits for them to be considered a contender.
Islanders - This feels weird. Still, the Isles added a real goalie, two real defencemen and two real forwards. Plus Tavares is healthy. I think they make it with room to spare.
That's seven teams out west and six in the east. Now for the bubble teams.
Now For The Bubble Teams (Like I Just Said)
Honestly any of these teams could have a regular amount of luck and stay healthy and still bomb out. Bad luck and injuries and they are doomed. We're getting into dicey territory now. *rolls dice*
That last spot is probably between the Avs and the Canucks. The former are on their way up and the latter are on their way down and I would not be greatly surprised if neither make it but they are the best of the rest. The Avs were very very lucky last year and had amazing goaltending and then they moved out Stastny and Parenteau. Relying on out of this world goaltending does not a contender make and while their youth up front is amazing, I mean just unbelievable, that D stinks. On the other hand the Canucks, well they are no longer the Canucks. The D is great but Miller is a step down from Luongo and Schneider and now Kesler is gone too? This team is just a shadow of themselves but Tortorella is horrible and they had pretty well everything go wrong last year. The abyss is near but they might sneak into the playoffs one last time.
What a goddamned mess this conference is. I honestly don't even know who might make the playoffs once you get past those first six teams. I'm going to go with Jersey who actually gave Martin Brodeur starts last year and didn't get one shootout win. A few of those and some decent goaltending in those Brodeur starts should be enough to get them in. After that though, um ..... I could see one of a half dozen teams getting in. So let's save them for one last post because honestly I don't know. And I don't really care that much.
Posted by Black Dog at 2:30 PM
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
I've always taken pride in being a Dad. Whenever I get the news that people are expecting their first baby my immediate response is to tell the new father to make sure that he is all in. Except for breastfeeding do everything. Diapers. Up at night. Take that baby out first thing in the morning so your wife can get some sleep. Get your wife out for nights out, dinner, drinks, whatever she needs, while you stay home with baby. She will thank you but more importantly you will get a start on being the best father you can be and you will never have a more important job, ever. It goes by fast. Get in there and do it!
I remember being on Twitter once and some guy was boasting to me about how he, a bigshot lawyer (or so he said, maybe he was a Belgian goalie, who knows), never changed a diaper, never got up with a baby in the middle of the night, never washed a dish, never did a load of laundry. He was proud of this. Now obviously he was a huge asshole with a tiny cock but I also felt sorry for the guy. Your ego is so tied up in your life as a lawyer that you can't be bothered to get in there and do the down and dirty work of being a parent and a husband? Pretty sad really. Way to go buddy.
I've known a couple of guys who either are not involved through their choice (and their wife's ceding this to them - it's their fault too for allowing this to go on) or, amazingly, through their wife's choice. I knew a guy whose wife harped on him about everything he did with the kids because it wasn't 'right' (that is it wasn't the same way she did it) and finally he stopped trying.So everybody lost. She was overwhelmed and he and the kids lost out.
Before we started having babies I told Jenn that she was going to parent one way and I was going to parent another. Don't get me wrong, we have established goals and are on the same page when it comes to discipline and general beliefs as to what we are working towards but we are different people. When the boy does something I am not going to check with her to see what she wants done, I am going to act according to how I feel is right. And it works the other way too.
And while I believe and have always believed in what I am doing as a parent I have also gotten better as I have gotten older. I have made mistakes and learned from them. I am calmer now, I can't remember the last time I raised my voice or lost my temper. I've had to work at it. I'm a better father for it.
Interesting times for the clan. They are always interesting times but these days are even more so. Our oldest just turned 11 (HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!) and the roller coaster has begun. One moment she is sweetness and light, the next she is an angry grunting troll. Every second sentence out of her mouth is 'I've got this under control, you don't have to worry about it'. (The alternate sentence is '...... is not fair').
We'll be okay, most of the time when she is being difficult a calm response will get through to her. Fun times ahead for sure though!
As for our youngest, el pistola, well she has come into her own all of a sudden. Reading and swimming and tying her shoes, all conquered within weeks. Suddenly there is no chasing her to do her chores, no threats falling on deaf ears. The spark remains the same but she has, at six, suddenly grown up quite a bit and while it is gratifying and lovely and it makes our lives a lot easier there is also the realization that time is passing us by and we no longer have truly young children and that is sad and it makes those requests for piggy back rides and cuddles all the sweeter when they come now.
It goes quick though. You young dads, take it from me, enjoy it, even when the sleep deprivation knocks you on your ass, which it will. It's funny, I look back and when we had one kid it was so easy but we were so overwhelmed by being new parents and so crushed by the newness of having no sleep that we never realized it. Anyhow, take it all in stride, do your best and make sure you're right in there and you will never regret it, ever!
New NHL season! Are you excited? I am ... pleased. More excited about Capsule's hot start to this year, five and oh so far. We need to find a league that plays September to November I think, last year we were undefeated in our first nine games and then had a five game losing streak, bounced back to sweep all of the other contenders in our division aside and then never won another game. Crazy collapse. Hopefully this year will see a happier ending. First two games for me since hurting my knee in March were meh but over the weekend I played very well and the knee feels great so I'm feeling pretty good about it all. Not dead yet!
Anyhow on to the NHL! Last year I figured on there being five honest to goodness Stanley Cup contenders - LA, Chicago, San Jose, St. Louis and Boston, in no particular order. Then I had the Ducks and then after them the pretenders. This year is going to take some time to suss out as there will be injuries, trades, collapses and meteoric rises but for now here is how I see it, for what it's worth. (Reminder not to put any money on anything based on these predictions, I know parenting better than I do hockey ;) )
These are the clubs that, barring disaster, will produce the Cup winner next spring. Again in no particular order.
LA - the defending champs aren't unbeatable, Vlasic staying healthy or a bounce here or there and they go home early last spring, but they will be in the mix again. Quality depth up and down the lineup, elite forwards, Drew Doughty, a couple of kids in Toffoli and Pearson who could break out ... they have an embarrassment of riches. I think losing Willie Mitchell hurts slightly and if they get bad Quick then they have problems but they are a great great team.
Chicago - if not for a bad bounce the Hawks would have gone on to the finals and repeated as champs, they and LA were a coin flip. Unreal forwards, especially on the wings with Kane, Hossa, Sharp and Saad. Unbelievable. Depth up front not as great as either of their Cup teams but if Versteeg bounces back and Ben Smith and Morin step in, not to mention Teuvo Teravainen, then they could be close to the 2013 club. I think Brad Richards is done but he could help an anemic PP and is still an upgrade over Handzus. And of course they have a great top four D. They will be there at the end as well, there's a good chance it will be them and the Kings again, the possibility of bad Crawford and their lack of cap space to augment the lineup if needed could be issues
San Jose - pretty sure if Vlasic stays healthy they beat the Kings but the Sharks, well the Sharks are going to Shark regardless it seems and seem doomed to join the Sens as the greatest club to never win the Cup. Loaded up front, quality youngsters coming up at forward and on the blueline. I would never bet on them after all of these failures but they will be there this year, again. Winning their division might be key, get an easier matchup in the first round, not that there are many easy matchups in the West, but better a wild card than the Kings or Ducks.
Blues - St Louis had Chicago where they wanted them, up two to nil and Seabrook suspended and they coughed it up. Part of me thinks they don't belong in this group but they are a very good team and adding Stastny to the mix up front may be what they need to put them over the top finally, that and the maturation of a couple of kids who can actually score a bit in Tarasenko and Schwartz. Carl Gunnarsson is a great addition too, especially if that surgery puts his hip issues behind him.
The Next Level
It's early (it gets no earlier) so these clubs might jump to the next level (or slide as well). The top eastern teams are here and of course in a seven game series anything can happen so we might see a champ from the junior circuit but in all of these cases I think we're not talking about the same level as the big boys.
Anaheim - Adding Kesler is going to help and of course Getzlaf and Perry are awesome and they have nice depth up front. I look at that blueline and goaltending though and I don't buy it. I kept waiting for it to all go to shit last year and it didn't but yeah I don't buy it.
Dallas - The blueline is a concern for this sexy pick but if they can add a piece there (hi Jeff Petry) then I think they could make the jump to the next level. They were pretty damn good last year and have added Spezza and Hemsky and ah yeah, this team could be killer especially if Nichushkin makes the leap which I expect he will. A few question marks but the forwards are unreal.
Boston - the Bruins fell out of that elite pack this summer imo though they could return if their collection of kids - Hamilton, Smith, Krug - take the next step. Losing Boychuk means two of their top four Dman from the finalist team are gone and Seidenberg is a question mark and Chara, well Chara is getting older and more than anything this is what is scary for Boston. Their window is closing and there are other eastern teams catching up. That said Rask is great, they have wonderful forwards and old Chara is better than nearly every defenceman in the league. Not the team they once were though (funny to say about the President's Trophy winner, huh?)
Tampa - like Dallas, a sexy pick, like Dallas they are deserving of the designation. Yzerman has added depth up front and on the blue every year and they have some great kids coming up. I really really like their D. Biggest issue is outside of Stamkos their forward group doesn't have the elite talent that the other teams at this level and above, except St Louis, have. They have enough to get out of the conference though which means they have enough to win it all.
Habs - I really rate the Habs though I don't trust Therrien not to blow it. Really though they were a solid club last year and they have Mike Weaver for a full year plus a terrific add in Tom Gilbert plus a kid who I think is going to tear it up this year in Galchenyuk. Elite players in Price and Subban and again a lot of depth up and down the lineup. Pacioretty, Gallagher, Plekanec, Eller, Desharnais, Paranteau, Bourque, Emelin, Markov. Not a western conference quality lineup but definitely amongst the best in the east.
In the next day or two I will look at my guesses for the remaining playoff teams plus the also rans.
Posted by Black Dog at 3:03 PM
Monday, October 06, 2014
Once you get to a certain age (old, like me), the flood of weddings slows to a trickle. A couple of years ago we had two, both people who work for me, but otherwise we've had none for ages. Until this year.
Four! Four! Can you believe it? Our babysitter, Jenn's sister, a close friend (he's family really) and in two weeks one of Jenn's coworkers, this one might be a harbinger of things to come as Jenn is a nurse and there is a constant stream of youngsters starting at the hospital, every year, so chances are there will be a few more of these.
A few weeks back we went up to Sudbury for the third of these. I really enjoy weddings, I do, and was looking forward to this one all year. I've know the groom since he was seven (!) when I helped his dad coach the neighbourhood squirt team for two winters before I went off to university and as I noted, he and his family are family to us. Wonderful generous people who have done so much for us (and for me since I was just a kid) over the years.
We left our loinfruit with my folks (everyone survived!) and headed over to the other side of town. We had woken up to pouring rain but by late afternoon it was gone, though gusts of wind rattled the tent overlooking the lake. The ceremony was short (best kind) and we stood and cheered and as they went off for pictures things got a bit surreal.
I coached the groom off and on for years, even after I came to Toronto for school I would head home for the summer and coach soccer. He was a terrific soccer player, probably a little better than hockey and he was a hell of a hockey player, and so many of his friendships began on the soccer field or at the rink and so everywhere I turned at this wedding I saw someone who I had not seen in nearly twenty five years. A few I had seen a little more recently but there were quite a few, now in their late thirties, married with kids, who I had last seen when they were thirteen or fourteen years old. I was talking to one of them, a young man named Pete, as we did the reception line thing and he said oh yeah a bunch of the old gang is here and I said oh yeah like who and he turned to the couple behind us and said well for starters here's Watson, who had been the goalkeeper on a couple of the clubs.
The evening started with two kegs from the local microbrewery (Stack Brewery - if you're up north pick some up, I highly recommend it) and wine from the vinyard where they got engaged. On our own trip to Niagara this spring we got them a case of wine from there for a wedding gift. Around 5:30 I was in the little northerners' room (Proud To Be A Northerner! as the slogan on the old Northern Ale bottles once said) and overheard a couple of young dudes wondering how the hell they were going to make it past dinner at this rate.
Pace your self lads and drink lots of water! Now get back up to the bar!
A great meal and more wine and at our table was Pete from the soccer days and many wonderful things were said about me by him and it was damn fine and the best man gave a speech that, well, it was either the best or worst speech ever given depending on who you talked to, I leaned to the former, he managed to somehow offend everyone in the room, it was raucous and profane and I'm still laughing about it, you had to see it to believe it you really did. And then dancing and out into the cool beautiful night it turned into and then beer and more dancing and outside again and catching up with old friends and it was a night that I was sad to see end although I got to go home with the prettiest girl there as I always do.
I've always been one to enjoy myself and to embrace life and all that it has to offer and this night was about as good as it gets, truly. When Spencer passed last summer it was a heartbreaker, I will never get over it, but it was a reminder to me to not sweat the small stuff. I've always been good at that, I'm a champ now, let me tell you.
Yesterday was a weird day. I didn't like the Marincin move and I didn't like that they kept Acton. I'm not freaking out about it because in two weeks someone will get hurt and Marincin will be back and likely Pitlick or Lander will be too.
I understand people getting really pissed off though (and boy were some people pissed off) and here's the thing. I like MacT. I like Eakins. But the organization has been a clown car for nearly a decade now and so they have to earn back the benefit of the doubt that nobody will give them. Eight years out of the playoffs and a roster of current NHL players given away for nothing will make a guy a little antsy, you know. I think MacT is a better than average GM and I think Eakins is going to be a good coach but you know, win some games.
Marincin played over forty games last year in a top four role as a rookie and he did well by any measure. The organization asked him to put some pounds on and he came to camp fifteen pounds heavier. Sounds like he's all in, right.
Now he didn't have a great camp and some say Klefbom outplayed him, others disagree. And yet he goes down. Why? Politics.
The Oilers have their golden boys, same as most organizations really. Klefbom and Nurse are part of the club, same as Hall, Ted, Eberle and Schultz. Marincin, Yakupov, Petry ... not part of the club.
Is it a big deal longterm? I don't think so really. Marincin will be back soon. I don't like the fact that a small sample size (arguably better camp for Klefbom) outweighs what Marincin did last year and I don't like that the club is going Ference, Klefbom and Nurse at LD to start the season when last year's disastrous start sewered the club by Remembrance Day. Points in October count and wanting to get a look at Nurse ( I do not believe at all that he is ready for a fulltime job, does anyone at all) doesn't lend itself to winning.
As for Acton, well Lander was awful but by all accounts Pitlick and Pinizzotto were better in camp. So ... what gives here? Acton is a better PK man and I guess that is the key to it and as long as he is in the pressbox it's fine I guess but if Eakins yanks Arcobello for him after a loss I won't be too pleased. Play Pitlick. Give him a shot.
Again though Joensuu will be out within a week so my guess is we'll see Pitlick before the ink is dry on this here interweb thing I am doing.
Don't like the moves. Not going to die on that hill.
As for the Oilers, well, they're getting there. They really are. For the first time in a long time I feel positive about this club.
I don't think they're making the playoffs. An injury to Ted and they're in the lottery again actually. To which you might say what the hell!?!?!?! But you just said you're positive!
You know my old saw, the one that everyone uses now. Get good players. Keep them. (I should have trademarked that and #BecauseOilers, I really should have.) Not an original thought really but the reason the Oilers have been terrible is because for eight years they turned the house into a paperclip. A full NHL roster of actual NHL players out the door for nothing. Literally. Although Penner can come off that list now that Klefbom has arrived.
Well in the last year MacT has started to reverse the trend. Scrivens. Fasth. Ference. Nikitin. Fayne. Gordon. Pouliot. Actual NHL players for nothing more than money or picks. And when guys leave other guys come in return. Paajarvi for Perron. Gagner for Purcell. Even Dubnyk brought in Hendricks.
So now the club has two NHL goalies who are decent. And depth, real depth on the wings. Six actual NHL wingers. When is the last time we could say that? (2007 spring, that's when). And while the D is green and Petry getting traded is going to be a step back again there are actual NHL defencemen back there, not Belov and Grebeshkov and Nick Schultz. (I didn't mind the gamble on the two Russians. Didn't work out. That's okay.)
Forget about centre though yeah? Yikes!
So the team is better. And there are a ton of kids on the way and no not all of them will work out but so many of them have good arrows that some of them will and the reality is that this team is going to be a good team quite soon barring a run of career ending injuries or Taylor Hall asking out. Maybe not a Cup contender. But yeah a good team. Soon.
Hard to believe and this year could be an absolute gong show but it's coming.
Posted by Black Dog at 2:44 PM
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Our oldest two kids are absolutely wonderful, smart and funny and good hearted and they will find trouble along the way I am sure but they are like Jenn and I through and through, they will be the ones who like to party but do it on the sly, they will get good grades and do well and their wildness will be private.
Our youngest? She has already pronounced how so so much she loves boys and she cuts holes in the blinds to let the sunshine in and she teaches the neighbourhood toddlers how to unlock baby gates set up to prevent them from coming to harm.
We're in trouble here do you get this? Threats to cajole proper behaviour do not work nor does reasoning nor any other sort of carrot or stick if it is not in her interest to agree. Tried and true practices used on the other two - identify what matters and take it away to punish, keep them off balance, set reasonable goals and boundaries with them and make sure they understand the why and how - these do not work or not at as much as we hope.
So it's work, a lot of work and likely down the road some worries. But of course it is more than worth it. Everyone we know loves her, quite often conversations go like this 'We love all of your kids of course but there is just something about her' and we get that. She is the life of the party, a cheerful, energetic little imp whose smile lights up every room and whose giggling makes everyone laugh. She's enthusiastic and spirited and her head is in the clouds. She is a unique little soul and we happily remember that night we threw caution and planned parenthood to the wind and got down to business time.
Last summer we were up at the lake and while we were out on the paddle boat our youngest announced that she wanted to swim to shore. She had not yet started taking swimming lessons but of course she had her life jacket on and we're I don't know, forty or fifty feet from shore (I'm terrible with that sort of thing. It was less than a mile anyhow.) and so we said sure get on in, we'll follow you in the boat and so she slips into the water and starts dog paddling in and we laugh and say how cute and we begin to paddle to follow her and discover that the paddle thingy on the boat, I don't know what you call it, anyhow it has jammed.
The rope has gotten into it and gotten wrapped around it and just at this moment it has tightened so we aren't going anywhere. And of course now the wind picks up and begins to push us across the bay toward the neighbour's.
Now everything is fine except my eldest, the vegetarian (she is now a full blown vegetarian, yes, read my last post for the cause of this) begins to panic about her younger sister. There are tears and yowling and our youngest, now standing on shore, turns and says of course that she will come and save us.
And so we call to her telling her to stay put as we blow across the bay and Jenn turns to me and says that one if us has to go into the water to make sure the little one a) does not come into the lake after us or b) wander into the woods and she isn't wearing her swimsuit and so off comes my shorts and shirt and into the water I go in my boxers.
Now I don't like the water and did I mention that like Martin Short I am not that strong a swimmer? I dabble. Basically I splash in the shallow end. I mean I can dog paddle but come on. So into the water I go and I'm thinking who the hell is going to rescue me.
Of course I get to shore just fine and then into the woods in my gitch like some sasquatch who has just killed a camper and put on his fruit of the looms for a gag to show the other sasquatches and after I towel off and put on another shirt and shorts our youngest and I wander down the path to find Jenn at the neighbours having a drink laughing it up.
Starting to suspect I know where part of this impish behaviour comes from.
Hockey. Right. I remember it. And the Oilers. It's been a while.
My own hockey starts Sunday. I had to take the summer off after I hurt my MCL in our last playoff game last season. Knee felt fine during the Kostka Kup and so I am ready to go. The boy starts two weeks after, full time as a goalie this year, holy shit. So I am excited about both of those seasons starting definitely.
As for the Oilers I am cautiously optimistic. I think MacT has had a pretty good two years. The whole goon squad pursuit after Gagner went down didn't make me happy and I didn't like the Smid deal at the time but it sounds like our man Ladi struggled mightily in southern Alberta.
The Hemsky move was a killer too. More of the old 'good players out for nothing' deal that turned the house into a paper clip in the first place. The reality is that Ales was probably not signing here again and who would blame him of course. Not sure why they thought playing him with Gordon as a checker was a good idea when it came to pumping up his value. Oh well. And I suspect Petry is next to go and I don't like that either.
On the other hand what MacT has done is the opposite of what Lowe and especially Tambo did. He has brought in veteran players, mostly for nothing. Scrivens and Fasth. Ference, Nikitin Nikitin. Fayne. Boyd Gordon. Pouliot. Hendricks. All in for picks or cash. And when he shipped Gagner out he got Purcell in return. So imagine that, guys who can play. Some of them make too much money but damn it I'm not one to quibble after years of watching Ryan Jones fall down while 'hustling'*
*(whereas hustling means blowing the zone looking for the breakaway pass and other wise doing little but looking busy)
So for the first time in years the Oilers actually look like an NHL team up and down the lineup.
Two reasonable options in goal. (I didn't mind the Dubnyk/LaBarbera tandem to start last year, both had been decent in those roles but wow what a disaster.)
On the blue you have Fayne, Petry, Marincin, Nikitin Nicotine, Ference and Schultz younger and Klefbom, Nurse and Gernat on the way. Is it a Cup calibre D corps? Lol. It's not even a playoff quality D corps. But you have four guys with experience and a kid who looked great last year and then the golden boy Schultz who maybe Ramsey can get through to.
Forgot about Ramsey. Nice hire.
Up front there are more men to help the boys and Hall is all world. The team looks pretty deep on the wings but oh man they are thin up the middle unless the kid Draisaitl or Arcobello can step up. I suspect not but ... but here is the thing. Every year since, well since 2005/2006, the club has gone into October hoping and wishing and not just here or there but almost everywhere. They NEED everyone to stay healthy and they NEED kids to step in right away and they NEED guys to bounce back from awful years and if all of that falls into place and they get some luck then maybe they will be in the range come spring.
If Ladi Smid and Shaggy can play top four D they will be ok.
If Khabibulin can provide true number one netminding they will be fine.
If Nilsson and O'Sullivan can play in the top six and Schremp can make it and Cam Barker can bounce back and Sam Gagner can play some D and so on and so on and so on then the team might be mediocre. Maybe.
Things are better.
They need either Draisatl or Arcobello to handle a top six C role and that is probably the deal breaker right there.
They need Nicotine Nikitin or Ference or Schultz younger to handle top four minutes with Fayne. Or Klefbom to make the leap and do the same. I think the odds are that one of them may be able to do this. Maybe not. But we're not talking Cam Barker here. These guys are NHL defencemen.
They probably need Yakupov to get it together and become an NHLer.
Now what will all of this get them? Probably nothing yet, even if all the chips fall their way unless they explode I don't see this team making the playoffs. But they need to take a step forward and I think they can do that. I am cautiously optimistic.
Have I said that? I am cautiously optimistic.
To me they need four things to come out of this year. Your mileage may vary but if it is all about winning the Cup and that is exactly what it is all about then the following has to happen.
Hall has to feel that the franchise is on the move. He is the franchise. He hates losing. Taylor Hall has to, in April, look back and say 'We're on our way I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. If he asks out then the club is looking at becoming the Islanders. This is the most important thing, bar none. The talent has to be happy.
Yakupov has to be salvaged. I think this kid is an all world talent and I think that he can become an NHL superstar. They need to figure him out and he has to figure them out.
Marincin and Klefbom have to establish themselves or get on the road to being proven top four Dmen. I honestly am not worried about this in the least. The weakness of this team is on the blue line. Not for long.
I know Eakins is not everyone's favourite guy but I think it is paramount that he establish himself as an NHL coach with the Edmonton Oilers. The constant turnover is Mickey Mouse but then again so is the franchise or lately anyhow. I think he can coach. He needs to prove it this year.
I think if they stay reasonably healthy that they are in the race until mid March and by in the race I mean they are one of those teams that doesn't really have a shot but the way the NHL points' system works they hang around within striking distance until they lose two or three games and fall eight points out on St Patrick's Day. Not really in it but better than they have been.
Excited for camp and cheering for Tyler Pitlick and Anton Lander to make the team and become regular NHLers.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:56 PM
Saturday, August 09, 2014
Hi, how are you? I'm well, thanks for asking. Summer good? It's been a grand one here in McLeanville, population of five. We took our annual trip to PEI and made good time for the most part. Jenn's sister was married and we ate and drank and caught up with friends and family and when the weather didn't cooperate we did what we do and made the best of it. On the way back to Tranna we stopped in Quebec City and introduced it to the kids, as much as we could anyways before a deluge of rain flooded the streets and drove us inside. They enjoyed what they saw and took the bad luck with a shrug and decided that we would come back. Back home for five days, barely enough to catch our breath, though long enough to sneak a night out with two of my oldest friends in there and then up north for a week in the bush with my folks.
Dad is 82 now and Mom is 81 and while they are slowing down they still have that elan boy do they ever. They're smart enough to know that they're getting up there and smart enough to not worry about it. They've been in the woods for six weeks now and will stay up there as long as the weather allows. The camp has been their getaway for 45 years now and it will remain so until they are no longer able to make it up there. Here's hoping for many more years, right? For them a week with their grandkids in their hidden paradise is about as good as it gets.
I enjoy it, Jenn less so though she grins and bears it for my sake (she claims drinking helps, this is silly because drinking helps everything of course) but while she struggles with the bugs (there are a lot of bugs) and the lack of electricity and plumbing, she enjoys the campfires and canoe rides and paddle boating and all that. As for the kids well my oldest learned how to play crib (I taught the boy when we were up in June) and they tried to catch frogs and they swam and roasted marshmallows and basically ran wild for a week and what kid doesn't love that?
We went fishing one night, fully expecting not to catch a damn thing. My buddy and I used to fish years ago in the lake and the running joke was that Ministic was Ojibwa for 'no fish here'. The boy has caught bass in the lake before, always releasing them as they have been too small. This time we motored out to an island in the bay where we had seen a lot of boats over the week. We let ourselves drift with the wind and then came back and the second time around I got a bite and a solid one at that and so I hauled in a pickerel, about two pounds or so, the biggest fish I have caught in probably twenty five years. I hauled him in, took the hook out and tossed him into the bottom of the boat.
At which point all hell broke loose. Our oldest began to cry and shake and shouted that we had to let the poor fish go and soon THE BOY joined in. We explained that we were going to eat him and this caused the angst level to shoot through the roof. Cries of 'What would you do if something picked you up and ate you?' and 'I never knew that you would kill it' echoed over the lake, as you know sound carries over water and when we told the boy that maybe he shouldn't fish anymore as what did he expect would happen he cried out 'BUT I LOVE FISHING!'. So I guess I need to but him some hooks that have corks on the end of them, I don't know.
So we went back to the dock with breakfast (it was fantastic) and two traumatized kids, one who is seriously considering vegetarianism (my wife, exasperated, exclaimed, WHERE DO YOU THINK BACON AND BURGERS COME FROM ANYHOW!?!??!). On top of everything our youngest, who was not fazed by the whole event came upon her grandfather later that evening, up to his elbows in fish guts as he filleted it in the kitchen. She may have said oh shit as she fled the room.
On our final night we stumbled upstairs to the cabin after one last campfire and after putting the kids to bed we retired to the porch where our bed is and commenced fooling around. Things were going pretty well when all of a sudden a light shone in the doorway. We managed to get reasonably arranged and found our eldest, a worried look on her face. I heard noises she said. Not a howling like a wolf but like a dog yelping. Stifling laughter I brought her back to bed, assuring her that there were no wild dogs in the bush and that she was safe. Returning to our business we were doing fine and as we lay in the cool we saw a light bobbing our way again. I heard another noise she said and we asked what was it and she said I don't know it wasn't like the last but it was a steady thumping noise.
We fell about the room laughing. Some day we'll tell her I guess.
Last night we pulled in worn out for sure, a suitcase full of dirty clothes, smelling of campfire, bug spray, pickerel, sunscreen, filth, charred meat, camp sex and outboard motor. The yard is a jungle of weeds, the fridge is empty, the laundry is a mountain and Monday awaits with awful teeth and claws but the past month was fine indeed, so fine.
Out of the woods and oh the news! Elliotte Friedman found Vic Ferrari and I've said it before but if you have the time check out Vic's old blog and read him and Cam Thomson and Dennis King. When I came to this corner of the internet there were five established Oiler blogs, Vic and Battle of Alberta, Covered in Oil, Mc79Hockey and Lowetide. All but the last are gone now, inactive for years or, in Tyler Dellow's case, shut down just this past week. Wonderful stuff, all of them, the community back then was smaller and while I sound like an old fogey, it was a better time, imo. I've learned so much about hockey and writing from that old gang and most importantly I have made some good friends.
Of course the biggest news from this past week was that Tyler was hired by the Oilers. I've known Tyler for years now, he is a friend of mine. I know he is a divisive person for many but he and Amanda have always been kind and generous in my experience. If you don't like him a few words from me aren't going to convince you otherwise of course but that's the truth.
He's a very smart man, is Tyler, and his addition to the Oilers would make me happy even if I didn't have a personal relationship with the guy. His work over the years and especially this past year where he has married video analysis with his statistical work on the blog is just top notch. If you are a fan of a team you want that team to do everything in it's power to win the Stanley Cup and Tyler will add something to the Oilers that brings them closer to that goal than they were before they hired him.
Arguments against the hire seem to be of two kinds. One is from people who don't like him. Whatever. The other is from people who somehow think that there is no value in analytics. Part of me thinks that these are trolls but reading what some of them have to say (think Steve Simmons) actually reveals them to be wilfully ignorant and those people are essentially the worst type of people.
It has been clear for years that many (most?) NHL teams use analytics, including the most successful teams of this generation, Chicago and Los Angeles. This is a known fact, acknowledged throughout the industry. (Read up on the Dallas Stars and Jim Nill and the articles written about them this summer.) Teams use analytics and marry it with scouting and video and try and build a better mousetrap. It's a tool, a useful tool and Tyler Dellow is a guy who was in on the ground floor and has helped shape the conversation. He is smart and passionate and while he may fail, as some hope, my guess is this is only the beginning for him. I'm happy for him, as his friend and as an Edmonton Oilers' fan.
Posted by Black Dog at 5:17 PM
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