Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Once We Had Hope, Now We Have ... E?

 Remember when the first cluster was beginning to crash and burn - Schremp, Pouliot, Peckham, DesLauriers, Plante, O'Marra all unable to make the grade, Lupul, Glencross, Brodziak, Stoll, Nash, Torres and Pitkanen found wanting and shipped out of town, Nilsson a bust, Gagner, Cogliano, Smid and Gilbert all we could hold onto? Lowe and his media toadies wouldn't call it a rebuild but when you ship your two best players out of town for nothing but futures and let Spacek and Peca and Samsonov walk for nothing, well you need to call a spade a spade, right? Of course Lowe tried to have his cake and eat it too so while all of the signs pointed to rebuild he and his successor splashed big money at free agents like Souray and Khabibulin, blew a wad of picks to sign Dustin Penner and sent two young forwards to LA for Lubo Visnovsky. Lowe spent to the cap bless his heart and finished dead last. But remember he was a GM and you are not so you could do no better even though there is literally nothing worse than that accomplishment.

 Then the rebuild began in earnest and while we had been four years in the wilderness our hearts were cheered, somewhat, as the team admitted what we fans had known for years. They weren't going anywhere. And so they tanked. And tank battling was something that the Oilers showed that they were quite good at, actually peerless at. Kursk good. Tambo was Heinz Guderian. As a matter of fact they were too good at it as they shipped nearly every veteran with a pulse out the door in pursuit of those high picks. It was the Chicago model (people forgot Chicago went over 15 years with garbage teams before it paid off), the Pittsburgh model (over a decade) but it also forgot small details like drafting quality after the first round, developing your youth properly, quality pro scouting and so on.

 The plan was draft high picks and BAM Stanley Cup!

 But despite the failure of the first cluster we had HOPE - Hall, Omark, Paajarvi, Eberle. And then we had the Nuge and then we had Yak. And then we signed JUSTIN SCHULTZ, future Norris winner! And we had some kids coming up - Lander, Pitlick, Hamilton - all were solid consensus picks - and there was Dubnyk and there was Petry and Ryan Whitney and how about those sleepers Tobias Rieder, Marty Marincin and Teemu Hartikainen and then the pick of Oscar Klefbom? Sure the Oilers blew a pick on Mitch Moroz and was it true what they said about the footspeed of David Musil and Colton Teubert?

 No mind, we had hope!

 No longer though. Omark was the first to go and then Magnus, after a nice rookie season in which he scored 15 goals and showed he could find his own end of the rink without a map, was discovered to have sideburns that were much too long.

 And we will just try and forget the rest, shall we ...

 The season starts today and the last four or five days have been extremely disappointing. Late last week the Oilers' depth at C and RW was as follows:

C - McDavid, Ted, Draisaitl, Letestu, Lander

RW - Eberle, Versteeg (PTO), Yakupov, Kassian, Caligula (rookie), Pujujarvi (rookie)

Notice how I have the two rookies who are rookies at the bottom of the depth chart. You could make a case that Caligula earned a job. You could not make the same case for the young Finn. And they are rookies.

Then Chia traded Yak for nothing. Fair enough, that was his value. And the good news is that they had Versteeg ready to sign and then the waiver wire spit up not one but two possible solutions, one was a young Finn who the fancy stats love, Teemu Pulkkinen, the other was a veteran, P.A. Parenteau.

 Now here is the thing with the NHL. It's a tough league. You cannot have enough depth. Guys get hurt all the time. So even if you believe in your heart of hearts that the guys that you have on your roster are better than the guys out there, it behooves you to add talent when you can because sure as shit you are going to need bodies to survive the grind.

 Peter Chiarelli hasn't covered himself in glory these past two years. From the Reinhart deal (both guys picked by the Isles with that return are starting with the big club while Reinhart is back in the AHL) to the Korpikoski move (at least he nutted up and bought him out) to the Hall capitulation (the Oilers could have had a better Dman for less return by the way) to this latest mess, well Chia may have won a Cup but either Bob Nicholson has too big a voice in the room or Chia was lucky in Boston or maybe he just doesn't have what it takes to handle the pressure of a Canadian market. My guess is it's a little of everything sprinkled with some 'Conor McDavid is going to drag us to the Promised Land'.

 Because this could have been the depth chart:

C - McDavid, Ted, Draisaitl, Letestu, Lander

RW - Eberle, Versteeg, Parenteau, Kassian, Caligula (rookie), Pujujarvi (rookie)

What made me laugh yesterday is the folks who sneered about Versteeg and Parenteau. Who cares they said? It's Kris Versteeg they said. Well Versteeg was 15-23-38 last year and Parenteau was 20-21-41.

 That's second line production and in Parenteau's case that is first line goal production.

 On last year's club P.A. would have been third in goals (although of course McDavid was hurt) and now Taylor Hall is gone. On last year's club Kris Versteeg would have been 5th in goals scored.

 And now Taylor Hall is gone.

 Now they have added Milan Lucic who popped 20 and Benoit Pouliot will score 20 if he is healthy and Maroon scored at a terrific pace when he came in from California.

 But with the Oilers it is always half measures. You could add 35 goals for nothing. Literally. Send the young Finn down for seasoning and bring him up when he is ready. Let Caligula cut his teeth on the fourth line and move him up when the inevitable injuries come.

 But no ... half measures and a RW and C depth chart which is now a mess and includes two rookies in the top 9.

 So for Chia to say with a straight face that what he has is better than anything out there, well if he believes that then ... I don't even know what to say. But then again he threw out some random data about Kris Russell that is contradicted by every piece of data out there so ... either he is really dishonest or he has been taken to the cleaners by someone who sold him a monorail.

 The Oilers are going to need McDavid to go supernova (possible), perfect health (improbable) and a whole lot of luck to get anywhere near the playoffs this year.

 I'm not getting any younger goddamnit.

 Where we once had HOPE all we have now is hope and I can understand why Oiler fans refuse to believe that Chiarelli is a dud just as we refused to believe that Lowe and Tambo and MacT were duds. Because if he is then it means more wandering the wilderness and Nuge and Pouliot gone next and all of a sudden it isn't the Chicago model but rather the Islanders or Columbus model and then some day Conor McDavid will take his talents elsewhere as well because let's be honest who wants to spend their career playing for the worst franchise in sports? (Taylor Hall wanted to but he was a 'problem' - see how that PR spin works?)

 Anyways HOPE is gone but hope springs eternal and here we go, another season coming. Let's hope that Kris Russell is all that and more because Mark Fayne is next out the door and for all his struggles he is an actual RD and he is a better player than Mr Shotblocker.


 A few other random predictions, I usually try to do a preview of the season and will attempt to do this in the next few days.

 The East has finally caught the West and imo the Cup champion will be Tampa. I think they will win a couple in the next five years unless they have an awful run of luck. Other true Cup contenders, I always try and separate the league as such - the Pens, the Caps, the Blues, the Sharks.

 The Kings may move into that group but man they have lost so much talent over the years. And I like Dallas except for that blueline and that goaltending. Lol. Other than that they look great!

 And what about Chicago? Well I won't go so far as to say no playoffs but that lineup is thin. The bottom six is worse than Edmonton (!!!!!!!) and the D runs four deep which is one deeper than last year but all of those years of slashing for the cap and trading kids and picks for reinforcements - well it's coming home to roost. It was worth it of course for the Chicagos but now they pay the piper.

 I expect Anaheim to step into the elevator shaft as well. Let's just call it the Carlyle Effect.

Out east you have that top tier and then a whole lot of mediocrity although I expect Florida will separate themselves from the pack. But the Isles are going to take a step back, jeez they lost some quality, and the Rangers are withering and Boston, Detroit, Ottawa oh man.

 It's awful and I expect Tampa will run away with the division if they are healthy and ride an easy first two rounds to a win in the conference final and then a Cup win.

 More to come.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Mission Accomplished

I'm dusting off the old virtual pen and paper. I'M OKAY!!

The kids' school runs a very popular cross country program every fall. Kudos to the teacher who runs it, he started it from scratch and now has ~ 150 kids coming out four mornings a week to practice for the meet. Every year he has more participants and more and more of them qualify from the meet for the next round. The boy goes out year after year and every year he improves. I don't know that he will ever qualify, The top thirty move on and he was just over thirty short this year but he improves every year and the attrition of kids with age might mean he gets over the hurdle, maybe in his last attempt in two years. He does well, he is a try hard and he sticks with it and I hope that he gets rewarded but of course it may never come to pass.

Our youngest joined up this year which was a bit of a surprise. When she was younger she would run around with the kids unofficially but once she could actually join the team she demurred. Perhaps she agreed with our friends' daughter (a close friend of hers) who said 'why would I want to do that, all they do is run in circles'.

But she did run in circles for five weeks and lined up for the race on Thursday morning. She is long and lean and has perhaps the most raw athleticism of any of our kids. The older two are good athletes, I call the boy a try hard but he is quick and coordinated and can play almost any sport pretty well. Our oldest is a dancer and sprinter and plays soccer as well, she is lean and has the ropy muscles of a gymnast. But our youngest, when she puts her mind to it, I think is the best of the bunch. Of course the key is that last detail.

So when they blew the air horn and the herd took off I noted our daughter trailing early, jogging along, checking out the clouds and Lake Ontario and perhaps the hawk that we saw later, perched high above us with a squirrel in its' talons. Who knows what she was looking at but she certainly was enjoying the view.

 And so to the finish line where two of her friends, no more athletic than her, came home in the top twenty and so I waited for her appearance and the little girls ran past in their bright coloured jerseys, their parents and classmates and teachers cheering them on and they ran past and ran past and then came little girls walking, in tears from cramps or aches or exhaustion, and then the ones who were lame, limping slowly, and then the blind and the legless and the disembowelled (the hawks again) and yeah you are getting the picture.

 And then she came around the corner at a trot and saw me and waved and smiled for multiple pictures (I was able to get only one pick of the boy as he surged for the line, battling for his placement) and so she finished, 254th out of 263.

 Now don't get me wrong. I am competitive and so is Jenn, We really are. Last year the boy laid some kid out in the slot, totally by accident, and he helped the other kid up and as I watched I felt pride and shame for if that were me I would have likely cross checked the dude as he lay defenceless (I can be a dick on the ice. I am not proud of it and I am getting better but I also recognize it). The boy though, he is a better person. (And don't say that's on Jenn, who comes home from soccer with tales of 'stray' elbows and knees and stomping feet evening scores on the soccer field).

 In any case K is who she is. The thing I learned early on as a parent is that while there are some things you can instill in your kids - manners, respect, good work habits - you aren't going to change their personality. You might smooth out some rough edges here and there but if your kid is a contrarian who marches to their own beat then that is what they are, you may as well live with it. And our little one dances to her own beat and really doesn't give a shit about where she places in a race. After she was done I asked her if she had fun and she said yes and so that was that, good deal. She's eight.

 Although ... when I asked her what she thought of her race she replied that she had met her goal to which I asked 'what was your goal' and she answered 'I didn't want to advance because I am tired of running'.

 Mission accomplished and of course the first thing I thought of was the Oilers.


 Oh those Oilers.

 They are going to be better than they were last year mostly because it's hard to be any worse. And actually if it weren't for the injuries, starting with McDavid and Klefbom, they likely would have seen a jump into the low twenties last season, say 22nd or so in the league. So barring disaster it's likely we see an Oilers' club maybe in the high teens this year. Seriously. I see people on the twitter shitting on this team (and I am happy to call a spade a spade believe me, carry on, you will see), but a healthy Klefbom and the addition of Larsson means two top four d instead of a half of one. Sekera is the goods and so while we are still short one more top four D man (although Fayne's numbers with Sekera and in a less challenging role than last year basically say he is this guy) the D is better. Davidson slots in just fine and while Russell is one of these guys whose reputation far outweighs his value he is at least a real NHL Dman and so if they run these six you are talking six actual NHL D men with no rookies and when is the last time the Oilers could say that. Of course the problem is that it appears that Russell is going to be playing on his wrong side and a slot up and Nurse is going to slot in instead of Fayne and so yes the Oilers can't help themselves really, right? LOL.

 They always have to fuck things up.

 A few quick things before we move on just in case everyone forgets where I stand on certain things.

 - Just because a GM is a GM does not mean he is good at his job. There are good teams and bad teams and the difference between the two is the fact that one team has good management and one has bad management. The Chicago Blackhawks didn't go without a Cup for nearly fifty years because of bad luck. Bad luck played a part at times but good management puts their club in a position to win time and time again and at some point luck evens out. When the Hawks lost to LA in 2014 in game seven they had abysmal luck in the deciding game, pucks caroming all over the place in the Kings' favour. Stan Bowman built a team that was so good that they won three Cups anyway (and in game seven against the Wings in 2013 luck turned in their favour).

Anyhow telling me to trust in Chia because he is an NHL GM and I am not is ridiculous. Lowe, Tambellini and MacT all managed this team into the ditch. And don't give me the old 'he won a Cup' deal. Lowe was a couple of deflections away from being a cup winning GM. And then he destroyed the franchise.

- as soon as a reporter brings up 'character' just before or after a player is traded you can guarantee that they are being fed a line by management in order to cover their asses. Taylor Hall has won at literally every level - U18, WC and Memorial Cup (two time MVP), silver at WJC but his character was an issue. LOL, Sorry to sound like a dick (and any one who has come here over the past 11 years know that I am not) but if you think Hall was a problem then you can get fucking bent, you will believe anything to keep your illusions about Oiler management alive. Reinhart, another winner, gets sent down and suddenly he does not want it enough according to the team mouthpiece. Yakupov, Hemsky, Petry, Gilbert - too soft, too selfish etc etc.

 Management has to cover their mistakes and the first thing they do is run to a reporter to enlist them in the coverup. Trade almost the same package for Griffin Reinhart that netted Calgary Dougie Hamilton? Apparently if Reinhart wanted it more then he would be a top four defenceman who could, you know, skate and produce offence.

- no matter how much you want it to be the case moves don't exist in a vacuum. There are folks who would argue (and have argued) that every single move the Oilers have made over the last decade was a good one. The team is historically bad and has been for ten years. Telling me that management knows what they are doing because they are management doesn't really fly when we have a decade of errors isn't really an argument, it's a surrender.

 So what does it all mean when it comes to Yak?

 Well I loved the kid's enthusiasm and personality and of course he was flawed. What was the line? 'Skating like he was being chased by bees?' Something like that. He didn't have a lot of hockey sense, no doubt about it.

 But if he was a poor pick then that was on the Oilers. And remember that he was the consensus number one pretty well so what does that mean?

 Same as it always means - the process after the draft and the Oilers have sucked at it for years. They do two things that I hate and which have set the team back time and time again. They don't put kids in a position to succeed and they play favourites.

 Because when Yak played with real honest to goodness players he produced. A point per game last year playing with McDavid and Pouliot. Small sample sure but he did it. Was he a passenger for the phenom and the underrated Benoit? Sure but he still produced at a first liner's pace. And 17 goals as a rookie.

 But this is the Oiler way. Magnus Paajarvi had fifteen as a rookie. Marty Marinicin was a top four Dman as a rookie. But they weren't Sam Gagner or Justin Schultz, two of what I like to call the golden boys.

 You see the Oilers have two sets of rules. The golden boys can lose puck battles and make the same mistakes over and over again and they never see the pressbox or the end of the bench because they are the chosen ones. But if you are not one of the chosen few then those mistakes or moments of lollygagging or being European, well they are not forgiven.

 It is reminiscent of the old time baseball manager Montgomery Burns who once suspended one of his best players due to the length of his Ambrose Burnsides. No matter how short the excellent batsman trimmed his goalie sticks it was not enough for his exacting dugout boss.

 But ... but ... Burns was a winner, you sputter, so who cares?

 Well it matters unless you think that Conor McDavid is going to single handedly win the Cup by himself. This is an impossibility although the youngster did feed my family enough with bread and wine when we only had a glass of water and piece of bread the other day, it was amazing really. All kidding aside though young Conor needs a team and in two seasons he is going to get paid which means building that team is going to be harder, not easier and so yeah, basically what I am saying in a roundabout way is Chia needs to get a clue.

 If Yak didn't fit then they needed him to play with Conor for twenty games and then strike while the iron was hot. He was worth nothing because they buried him with the plugs, same as they played Erik Cole with Brodziak and Moreau and Hemsky with Gordon and Hendricks and then said SEE HE DOESN'T PRODUCE HE DOESN'T CARE and then moved him for peanuts because they had turned a house into a paperclip. Again.

 Turning an actual NHL player into nothing is the Oiler way and why they have been one of the worst teams in NHL history in the last ten years. Yak wasn't going to be a 50 goal scorer but not finding a way to turn him into something useful is on management same as turning one of the best LWs in the game into a solid Dman with no offence is ... on management.

 Here is what I think. Bob Nicholson is a bureaucrat, a politician. He toed the line and then when the Oilers own the lottery he saw his moment. He knew the feelings out there about the old boys' club and he knew LaForge was despised and so in one week he cleaned house, making himself a hero with Oiler fans, and he put himself into a position to win a Stanley Cup or two with the golden ticket. He knifed MacT and the lot of them and brought in his man and saw glory for himself in the cards.

 But the problem is Chia has a body of work that is spotty. He fell into two excellent draft picks. Maroon was a stroke of genius. Talbot was a decent move and the Benning and Caligula moves look promising (as do the drafts but who knows how that will go). Lucic, well too much term and money but so it goes with UFAs - he is a legit first line LW.

But the Reinhart trade was a disaster and Bob Green should be fired for it (or whomever was responsible for it). Whoever was responsible for Petry over Schultz (I assume that was MacT) should have been fired as well, But that was MacT you might say. Right, well then why is he still employed? Get rid of him.

 Korpikoski was a disaster. The Monster is one of the worst goalies in the league, why he was signed is beyond me. Nurse was throw to the wolves, the worst thing you can do to a young Dman.

 And the Hall deal? Well I said my piece. I like Larssen but this was a huge overpay. When fans and media around the league are killing themselves laughing at you (or feeling pity) then you're not on the side of the angels.

 And one more thing. This idea that Chia didn't have better options out there or MacT before him didn't have better options? The reporters who shill for the Oilers for 'access' know that the facts are that this team's management have had some fantastic opportunities over the past two years to make this team much better and they failed to do so.

 For no other reason than they are incompetent. I will leave it at that. It is worse than you know.

 That said the Oilers are going to be better. The problem is it is not enough after ten years. But Oiler fans, who once had HOPE, have nothing left but hope. McDavid and a prayer and I don't blame anyone for believing that management  know what they are doing because the alternative is far far worse.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Quoth The Raven: 'Oh Those Oilers!'

Well ... I wanted to come up with something pithy to segue into a look at the Oiler's moves over the past week but honestly I have nothing. So here's what I think:

- the Oilers are going to be better this year. They would have finished 21st or 22nd this past season if not for getting ravaged by injuries. A full season of McDavid and Klefbom alone would have done the trick. So they were going to be better in any case and as the roster is presently constituted I think they probably will be around 20th, maybe even higher in the standings. If they can add another top four Dman without moving Ted then I think they are in the conversation for the playoffs but they fall just short. Reminder - anyone who says after the Oilers improve 'see we improved because we got rid of Hall' either is trolling you or is someone whose opinion on hockey you can totally ignore. One has nothing to do with the other.

- the Lowe/Tambo/MacT/Howson years crippled this franchise beyond measure. The gift that just keeps giving, these clowns, never mind the decade of failure. Sign Jeff Petry and the Hall trade is likely not necessary as Chia would have needed one, not two, Dmen.  And remember that three of these guys STILL work for the Oilers, two in hockey ops. In an organization where the talk of accountability is a metronome that never stops that whole idea somehow goes no higher than the coach

- the Hall trade was and will always be terrible unless Larsson turns into Lidstrom (this is not going to happen) but if he is Hjalmarsson, and he may be, then he is going to help this team a lot. Trading your best chip, an elite NHL forward, for less than an elite Dman is unforgiveable and Chiarelli should be fired for it of course but he would have run this by everyone so we know this is not going to happen. Remember how I said I always expected the worst when it came to this team but knew that this was not fair to Chia? Well, unless he hits a home run getting Barrie or an equvalent we know what we have and that is another guy who is over his head. I never would have thought it. We can only hope that he does no more long term damage to the franchise.

- you overpay of UFAs, they always get term and money (unless you're Demers in Florida or a few others, man after last year when there were so few bad deals everything was mental again this summer) and so the Lucic deal is of course completely nuts. He was the best F on the market though and he is no David Clarkson. He is the real deal. And I don't give a hoot about how he is being framed as Mark Messier II by the dummies, what I care about is that he is a real 1LW. His deal is moveable at the end if he falls off a cliff and while he is not Taylor Hall he is, as noted, a real 1LW. He is a very very good player and he will help this team win games. (and of course he will be a fan favourite, he is in that Messier/Pronger mold, he is not at that level obviously but he is a very talented thug and that player type is beloved more than any other)

- Mark Fraser couldn't play in the NHL his last goround here and I expect he won't make it to Edmonton this year, his job is to protect kids from the goons in Bakersfield, I can't get worked up about this either way though knowing the Oilers he will play 1st pair for the Condors and destory some kid's development. (See what I say about expecting the worst.) Seriously though, who cares.

- I expect that Brossoit is already pencilled in as the backup, Gustavsson is absolutely awful and always has been. I don't like this at all and would have preferred they throw more money at a better alternative. If Talbot gets hurt then they will be desperate for a replacement and we have already seen how Chia does under pressure.

- the Korpikoski buyout was necessary, talk about a disappointment, at least they weren't afraid to cut their losses there

- when you look at Florida and how they added three RHD to their roster for Kulikov, money and futures, do you get aggravated? I sure do.

- if anyone tried to frame it as Hall for Larsson and Lucic tell them, as the boy would say, to get wrecked. Hall was traded for Larsson, Lucic cost nothing but cash. Framing it otherwise is either being dumb or trying to sell a version of events that is untrue (although the Oilers would love for you to see it this way)

- we talk a lot about process and results, I remember Tyler Dellow saying once that if he were a GM then every single move would be geared to one goal, that of winning the Cup. The results of what we have seen so far this summer is a better Oilers' club and as noted if they could add another top four D we might, might, be talking playoffs. The problem is the process, again, stinks, and so that end result, the only one that matters, remains a distant bell. The Oilers had two elite talents and traded one for a good player. If you want to win the Cup you need elite talent first and foremost, dumping it for 60 cents on the dollar is a good way to end up being a first round and done type of club. The sad thing is that this would be a huge improvement for us. In the short term the team is better, no doubt and there is still a lot of quality there. I haven't given up on Nurse at all and find it hard to believe that so many people already have. That said he should either be first pair in California or bottom pair in Edmonton this year, if not then we know they haven't learned a damn thing. If he's in the top four it's Ladi Smid all over again. And Gord help us if Oscar is toast ( I think he will be fine but that may just be my old man talling, sunny days and all that).

 The ironic thing about Chia talking about standing pat now is that after panicking with Hall he is looking at flushing another season if they don't add that other top four D. Man oh man.

 Thanks MacT, Howson et al. Eat me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Not Making Good Time

 Heading to PEI tomorrow, our twelfth trip if you can believe it. I could do the trip blindfolded I am sure.

 So let's talk about Pete Chiarelli our wonderful GM.

 Did you see what I did there?

 When I got up this morning I tweeted that while I trusted Chia (despite Reinhart and Korpse, his body of work has been pretty good I think) a decade of suffering has made me a pessimistic worrier about the Oilers and it would take a lot to change that. I'm the most positive guy in the world but when it comes to the Oilers I'm a broken man drinking a nice cold beer, a Cup I'll never see I fear ...

 Oh I wish I was in Sherbrooke now!

 Lowe, Tambo and MacT took a house and turned it into a paper clip. That is a very difficult thing to do but slowly but surely they turned a Stanley Cup finallist with great underlying numbers into a last place team that spent to the cap. Can you imagine the incompetence necessary to pull that off? But they did it. They lurched from trading their best two players for futures (rebuild!) to sending out futures and young players and money for veterans (we're going to contend!), all the while sending out quality players for literally nothing for ten years. I won't go through the moves because it's a litany of failure and it's terribly depressing is what it is. That's all it is. Very very sad. So hard to take.

 There was one silver lining. The kids. The Oilers managed to screw up with Gagner and Paajarvi and Yakupov and they shipped out Cogliano, Brodziak, Dubnyk, Gilbert and Petry for literally nothing and (see I told you it was depressing) their drafting outside of the guys in the top ten was generally atrocious but they still managed to load up on some nice talent - Klefbom and Nurse and Davidson on the back end, Draisatl and Eberle and Ted up front.

 And of course the crown jewels - McDavid and Hall. The book end number ones to the cluster and the best two players on the team. Hall had established himself as one of the best left wingers in the game when the Oilers won the golden ticket last summer. A passionate speedster who has won everywhere but in Edmonton (he's a loser mumbles the stupid idiot on the couch as he reaches for his pork rinds and screams at the TV, moaning as he suddenly sprains his fat) - an under 18 gold, WJC silver, two Memorial Cups, two Memorial Cup MVPS, two World Championship Golds - Hall is a throwback to the Oilers of the 80s, he played with speed and heart and most importantly elan.

 This being the Oilers there were always grumblings, Oiler fans are pissed off at anyone who doesn't play like Gordie Howe basically, a combination of sheer talent and viciousness that we saw in Messier and Pronger and of course we are tired of the losing and so while Hall's teams had no goaltending usually and no defence ever and basically no bottom six forwards either it became his fault (him and Ted and Eberle, the latest golden boys) that management continued to fail to build any sort of team around them.

 It became clear after last season that the D needed shoring up most of all and so we waited for Chia to make his move. At the draft the Oilers got lucky again when Columbus, perhaps the only franchise as bad as Edmonton, screwed up again and gifted them. And then the talks with UFAs began and Lucic and Demers came to town and the Oilers were definitely front runners on the former and in the game on the latter and suddenly, suddenly things were looking up. Sign Demers for cash only and find one more D and ... we might have a real team.

 We knew that likely someone was going but the feeling was it might be Draisatl or Ted or Eberle. We didn't want to give them away, sure, but you need to do what you need to do and you have to give to get. There were rumours that Hall's name was out there too but the fair return for a player of that calibre was rare. We were talking about guys like Subban and Ekman-Larsen and Lindholm and that ilk. Established young top pairing guys. The media was talking Hamonic or Fowler (love that Matheson parody account, oh man, the guy running that plays the senile out of touch joker so well it's amazing!) and we laughed. Check out Draisatl's numbers when he wasn't playing with Taylor Hall and weep. Our man number four drives play, he can carry a line as Jason Strudwick said the other day.

 And then today the storm broke. Rishaug set the table, fed his lines by management surely, and Twitter blew up and then Bob broke the news and you knew it was true.

 One for one deal for Adam Larsson.

Chiarelli seemed a man defeated at the presser and I guess now we know that maybe Neely wasn't behind that Seguin move after all eh? Of course Boston got a Cup out of it before Seguin got moved even if they are heading for the dumpster now. He kept coming back to having to pay a price but I have never seen a move like this honestly. An elite winger for Adam Larsson.

 A couple of guys I trust, Dennis King and Darcy McLeod, like Larsson and that means something. They're not dummies and Darcy said he would have traded Ted for Larsson so there is that. He is a legit top four guy in the league.

 But he's not worth Taylor Hall.

 The Oilers will try and couch this as Hall for Larssen and Lucic but of course that is bullshit. Lucic costs money, probably too much money and term, like all UFAs. He's a good player but he is no Hall and his signing here has nothing to do with Hall other than he plays left wing.

 Hall was traded for Adam Larssen. Full stop.

 I don't know if I will be back in the fall to watch this team. I may be, of course, I'm not saying I am out but knowing that the new guy is basically the same as the old guy, that is he gets back fifty cents for a dollar when he makes a move, well that says a lot about his lack of ability to gauge talent and negotiate. This strikes me as a man panicking is how it strikes me. And after ten years of this club being the worst team in history, a run of historical awfulness, well it is very difficult to take, a trade that many are calling one of the worst in hockey history, a trade that brought laughter from fans of twenty nine other teams (the laughter stopped soon after in Montreal though).

 It's brutal is what it is. Absolutely brutal. It's a bad day to be an Oilers' fan and Gord knows we've seen a decade of them and this, along with the Pronger and Smyth deals is right up there for a kick in the nuts. Just devastated.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Happy Thoughts

Isn't that fantastic?

 As everyone here knows I love to travel and I had a six month stretch from November to April where the stars aligned, it will unlikely ever be matched to be honest. It started last spring when we decided that a trip was in the cards for me as Jenn had again been away. So I began to poll various friends to see who would accompany and I will tell you something, it was impossible. (Maybe it's me!, wait a second that never occurred to me ...) The only exception was my buddy who I had been to Berlin with the year previous who said hey we have a show in Budapest and why don't we meet there and man we were on like donkey kong as the kids say I believe.

 Except his work hemmed and hawwed and so really about six weeks before he told me I was on my own by the looks of it and I figured I was stuck ... except Jenn's parents were coming to stay while I was gone and they said why don't the two of you go and it is our fifteenth anniversary in 2016 and we do a trip every fifth anniversary and so away we went. I told Jenn we didn't have to go to Budapest but she said ah why not and there you are. Vienna was cool but Budapest blew us away, seriously if you can, you have to get there, what a wonderful trip.

 And then in February I was lucky enough to get to Dublin, which is where our head office is, and while it was a work trip, well I was able to get into town three times in five nights (!) and when I got to the airport I was astounded that I was able to order a Guinness as I felt that there should have been none left based on my hard work that week at depleting the stores.

 With our anniversary trip done we had decided on no travel this year, Jenn is going to school in the fall and we have braces coming for the oldest and so last fall we decided NO TRAVEL but I had a feeling and sure enough Jenn's running buddies said hey no anniversary trip in 2016 now? let's do a run and so they booked a trail run in Vegas and I said well I'm not sitting on the sidelines and so in April I went to Barcelona!!!!

 I have a good friend who had never been to Europe and he had shown a lot of interest last year but had been unable to pull it off. When I emailed him in the winter he said I'm in if we can make the dates work. Summer and fall were out and slowly but surely the weeks were eliminated until we realized that we each only had one option and they matched! Looked at flights and amongst the options (we looked for direct flights that arrived early so we could hit the ground running) were Istanbul, Brussels, Copenhagen and Barcelona. So Spain it was!

 What can I say about Barcelona? It was wonderful. We didn't book much of anything, preferring to let our feet take us wandering. We checked out the Sagrada Familia, which was outstanding, and we did a walking tour of the old Gothic Quarter and otherwise we walked here and there, eating and drinking and taking in the sights. We were lucky to have sunny days with the exception of one drizzly morning and we took advantage, sitting on patios when we could and watching the world go by. We would go back to our flat late in the afternoon, it was about twenty minutes walk from the main plaza, and we'd hang out there and drink wine and relax and then we would have dinner in a neighbourhood restaurant, which meant cheap but delicious food. Sangria with the Mediterranean just metres away, tapas lunches (the food was unreal) and wine and beer at little hole in the wall joints and brew pubs.

 Our first night went off the rails, albeit slightly, up for over thirty hours and both punchy from sleep deprivation and pretty loaded to boot we ended up in a dive joint right near our flat for what would end up being our nightcap, though we didn't know it at the time. (At 9 we went to bed, setting our alarms for 11 to head out for a late dinner and more drinks, we both screwed up our alarms and woke up at 8 the next morning, probably for the best really).

 The bartender knew a bit of English but none of the patrons, nearly all grizzled seniors, though nattily dressed, did not. Still they pointed and gestured and made sure we knew to try this cheese and that ham and yes these sardines floating in vinegar and then the most enthusiastic of them, probably in his eighties, in a fine suit and cap, grabbed Trev and dragged him to the back of the shop where the barrels of wine lived and soon we were staggering home with two bottles of wine and a bottle of vermouth, 1.5 litre bottles mind, purchased for the princely sum, in total, of five Euros.

 Oh it was a good time alright!


 I am thinking a lot of those sunny days in Barcelona with the silly season upon us. On Twitter today someone asked me if my feeling of upcoming doom was based on anything other than the beatings we received over the last decade from Lowe, Tambo and MacT and truthfully I said that this was the case. I don't love Chia but other than the Reinhart deal (I was hammered all draft weekend last year on a boys' weekend, thank gord, man I called that one a stinker from day one) and of course Korpsikoski he has done pretty good work. And his track record with Boston was pretty good as well.

 Now let's get one thing straight. I am not one of these guys who says you can't trade anybody. Other than McDavid anybody can be had as long as the return makes the team better. Which means that you can't really trade Taylor Hall, who yes is that good a player.

( Quick aside, if you're going to talk about the need to trade a youngster because of culture change or because he hasn't won anything or you don't want someone because they have never won anything then seriously get the fuck out now. Now. See you later.

 The Oilers' problem is not the culture it's the fact that they have had terrible players for years. Not enough forwards, not enough D, poor goaltending. Lowe and Tambo turned a house into a paper clip. Hockey is not a video game and it's not basketball, you can't win with a couple of stars. You need talent all through your lineup and if you think that Hall or Eberle or Nugent Hopkins are the problem, well, I hate to come off as a jerk, but grow up. And spare me the 'he's a cancer in the room' bs. Who got the loudest cheer from his teammates when he took his skate with the Cup? That's right, that guy with no character, that terrible person, Phil Kessel.

 Quick story - Robbie Alomar was the best player the Toronto Blue Jays ever had and the catalyst for those great teams in the early 90s that won two World Series. There was never anything but praise for the guy until his contract began to wind down. There were negotiations and they didn't go well and all of a sudden guess what? The papers began to publish columns bashing Alomar, not for his play on the field, which was still outstanding, but for his character. Nothing that was said out loud, just whispered allusions about how he was a cancer in the clubhouse.

 What had changed? His contract status. Nothing more. And in exchange for 'insider' info more than a few of the media gladly assassinated his character in print and over the airwaves so that as the season wound down some fans began to lustily boo the greatest player in franchise history.

 So when you read or hear about a player and how he is a cancer in the locker room consider the source. It is almost certain that the messenger has an axe to grind (remember Spector and Hemsky), is carrying management's water or literally (in the case of any fan who 'knows' the inner workings of a professional hockey team) knows nothing at all.

 So dumb.)

 Now ... that rant over with, nobody is untouchable and yes the Oilers need D and, well, a lot of everything if we are honest. And if Chia gets a call that will improve the team and it will cost them Hall well then he has to make the deal. But as noted that had better be a full on number one Dman, young and under contract, no fading vet on an enormous ticket like Weber or Seabrook. And if you make that move then you still need to fill in that suddenly enormous gap up front.

 Here is the issue for the Oilers. They need to start to finally make that move. Let's be honest, if they don't have such awful luck last year they are likely in the low twenties, say 21st or 22nd in the league. McDavid and Klefbom, Nuge and Davidson and Pouliot and so on and so on, they were ravaged by injuries and didn't have the depth to hang in there. But the time is now and they need to get better. Two top four D, a couple of solid bottom sixers, a quality backup. The Islanders added two top four D for a song so don't tell me it can't be done. Now if Chia has to ship someone out then so be it but the value coming back has to be there. No UFAs to be. No might be down the roads or were good once upon a times. Sure bets. Use the pick. Use prospects. Use guys off the roster when need be but remember that dealing Eberle means a hole to fill, dealing Nuge means a hole to fill, dealing Klefbom means the same. That's fine but if they can fill the holes without taking from the roster then all the better.

 All of those years where they discarded NHL players for literally nothing? (I still am not over Petry, my oh my they made a hash out of that). Well now is the time to reverse the trend, or to continue it really - Sekera, Talbot, Kassian, Maroon, Davidson. This is what they need to do.

 Here's hoping Chia can do it, it's been a long time coming. And yeah I am terrified that someone is going to be moved for ten cents on the dollar. I can't help it anymore. :(

 Think good thoughts, think good thoughts, think good thoughts .......

Saturday, June 18, 2016


This one is from last fall. We go up every year, usually in the fall to close, once we helped Dad open camp in the spring. It's always a quick trip, the boy and I are out the door at 7am, at Mom and Dad's by 11, on the lake by noon. We have been lucky with the weather, the first time up was miserable but otherwise we have had sunshine which fits our outlooks and is very apropos. We spend two nights there, preparing the camp for winter and helping Dad with any jobs he has put off through the summer. A few years back we helped him prep for the dock he was going to build the next spring. He was 80 and he clambered amongst the granite and pines and laughed and said 'we're like mountain goats up here'.

 Mom and Dad are up there right now actually, he turns 84 on Father's Day this year, my sister texted me to let me know that I'd have to call up there to give him my regards. They caved in and agreed to a phone up there about a decade ago but it's unlikely that when I call that they will answer. Hopefully I will catch them at dusk, the blackflies will be terrible and they will likely be inside.

 Every year Mom says 'this will be the last year we go up' and every year Dad says no no and every year so far she has been wrong. They had a bear torment them late last summer and it was a bit of a hard go, they're slowing down and it took a bit out of them but when we were up a few weeks ago Mom was raring to get up and so they are there now and will be until the leaves turn in the fall.

 Jenn worries and says what if something happens and I say Christ they're 84 and 83 now what would you have them do sit in their chairs and watch the news until their time comes, let them live the way they want as long as they can. When I was up last time one of my best friends called, he was up as well, his Mom had suffered a massive stroke a few weeks prior and his old man is suffering from dementia and he was picking up the pieces and he couldn't believe I was also in town and we had to go out. I'm going to write about it but we started at his place and the boxes packed and bags of things to be thrown out and the pictures of kids and grandkids still about were heartbreaking and it was all a reminder of you know what and it was the saddest thing I have seen in a long time. We went out and we drank and laughed and enjoyed ourselves because what the hell are you going to do anyhow.

 Dad is slowing down, it's become noticeable the last year or so now. His memory isn't what it was and we worry about that and while he is still strong and hearty he is smaller now and a bit quiet. He still enjoys himself and it's always good times but it weighs on me a bit I can't lie. My Dad is getting old.

 And so it goes. Tomorrow I will call him and wish him a happy birthday and Happy Father's Day and thank him for everything for without him I would not be the man I am today. I lucked out let me tell you. Life is good and he's a big part of why that is and when I celebrate the day with my own kids I will remember that and when I have a beer, or two, as we wander the streets (because that was my request and that is what we will do) I will raise a glass to him.

 Happy Father's Day to all of you Dads out there. Nothing better in the world. Enjoy and make the best of it.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

2016 Fin.

 Here we are!!!

 10 and 4 after three rounds and it's the Pens and Sharks in a final that I like very much, yes I do. I would prefer a Sharks' victory, with Thornton and Marleau and Burns and James Reimer and Joel Ward who played hockey at UPEI and who I have never heard a bad word about from any Islander. That said a Cup for Phil Kessel just to shove it up that idiot at the Toronto Sun's ass ... oh that would be sweet. And maybe that would shut up the dummies who question Sidney Crosby's character every time he goes a game without scoring.

 Your regular reminder - the use of 'character and leadership' as reasons for a sports' team's success or failure is what lazy writers or broadcasters who cannot actually provide useful analysis fall back on because they are bad at what they do for a living.

 A hockey game is not a morality play. It is a game between two teams. Over seven games the better team usually wins but the outcome is determined not only by talent but by luck, injuries and often, a hot goaltender. It is not determined by who has the better character. Full stop.

 Joe Thornton has not suddenly learned how to win because he made the finals. He is by almost any measure, a winner. He is one of the best hockey players who has ever lived, a surefire Hall of Famer. He has won individual awards. He has won gold medals at the World Juniors, World Cup and Olympic Games. He has made literal boatloads of money playing hockey. So remember all of that when, if the Sharks lose, some fat hack journalist or idiot coworker says that Joe Thornton lacks character or is not a winner.

 So ... what do I think happens in the next two weeks? Well ... the Pens are fast but the Sharks aren't plodders at all so I am pretty sure they can stick with them. The big advantage for the Pens is they have three lines that can score and at some point they should be able to make hay from that. That said the Sharks are almost as deep up front. The Crosbies have Crosby, Malkin and Kessel with Hornqvist, Rust, Bonino, Hagelin and a rejuvenated Chris Kunitz but the Sharks counter with Thornton, Pavelski and Couture and a supporting cast of Marleau, Hertl, Donskoi, Ward and Tierney. Slight advantage to the Pens, sure, but their problem is that blueline. The Sharks have two excellent pairs but for the Pens after Letang there is a real dropoff and I think that is where the series is lost for them. I can't see Lovejoy, Maatta, Cole and Norris Schultz handling the Sharks' game down low and while Matt Murray has had a nice run he has tailed off - I can't see him being the difference maker he needs to be.

 Everyone is calling this to be too close to call and I could see it going seven but really unless Martin Jones completely melts down I could see it going six or even less. Seriously. The Sharks have handled a murderers' row of opponents pretty handily and each of those clubs were deep up front and had bluelines way deeper than the Pens. We'll split the difference and say Sharks in six.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Those Melodies Come Back To Me

We hung around till the final band
Called "Escape Is At Hand For The Travelling Man"
You yelled in my ear this music speaks to me

 Absolutely gutted this morning, just shattered by the news about Gord Downie. It's been an awfiil year for musicians in general but for the Canadian music community and people of a certain age it has been especially horrible. First the devastating news about John Mann and now Downie. Both so young.

 Beware of nostalgia and sentimentality coming, even more so than usual.

 I remember a number of years back having an online conversation about music and the soundtrack of your life and how that nearly always goes back to your youth, not so much when you are in high school but when you are in your early twenties, fancy free, having fun before the responsibilities start coming on. So it is for me, when it comes to music I am a real Philistine (to which those people who sneer at the Hip will say here's the perfect example) and while I know some newer music and enjoy it, thanks to my kids, for the most part I listen to music and bands that I listened to 25 years ago. What can I say, I am a simple man.

 And The Hip ... well the Hip have always been there. I was nineteen or so when we were talking about this new Kingston band and my friend Sharon, still a dear friend all of these years later, commented on their name and how she loved it and that was when it began. Within a few years they had gone from playing University pubs to headlining a show called Another Roadside Attraction. I was 23 I guess, or thereabouts. This was a two day festival up at Markham Fairgrounds, fifty thousand people, an absolute bacchanal, the show starting at noon and running until midnight, the sun blazing, stumbling about dusty and grinning. They were different times back then for sure, no security lineup. We had beer on ice in our car (we had a DD) and if we wanted a beer we'd walk out of the grounds and drink a few, the wandering cops turning a blind eye.

 Maybe four or five years later I went to the second tour by the same name. One show only. This time I was with the Girl From Rawlins Cross. There was no beer in the parking lot, once you were in past the security you were in and if you wanted a beer it was the beer garden for you. It was a tremendous show once again, I never attended an average Hip show, they always brought terrific energy and Downie was a rambling madman on stage, an outstanding showman. But times were changing, at 29 I looked around at the drunken kids and thought to myself 'what is wrong with these people'. Lol.

 In 2002 we were married for a year and had just bought a house and Jenn and I went to Ontario Place with friends and sat on the lawn ('That night in Toronto ....') and in the cool summer evening we sat back and revelled in it all.

 And then just over a year ago we were at the ACC, my birthday present, three kids and over a decade after the last show. It was great, as great as ever. Gord (to me he was always simply Gord) was a bit shouty, or shoutier lol, it was a February show so maybe he was battling something or maybe all of the years were taking his toll on his vocal cords. But it was a terrific show all the same and the best birthday present I ever received.

 What is it about the Hip and Gord himself that spoke to me? I don't know. Their sound is simple driving rock and roll, which I enjoy, but what separated them for me were the lyrics, referencing obscure Canadiana, often digressing and wandering here and there, I can't explain it but I can sing along to dozens of their songs without missing a beat. ('There is nothing uglier than a man hitting his stride' except maybe me trying to carry a tune but man oh man I know them all.)

 Maybe it's because for all the fame and wealth Downie still remains the hoser, with the hoserest name, the hockey fan, the beer drinker, the guy I saw at The Dora Keough one afternoon having a few pints at the bar or who came into the Famous one day to pick up his takeout Indian, waiting with us and then hopping on his bike and pedalling off with his dinner. He's one of those guys, like my boyhood hero, Stan Mikita, who is sadly also having health issues, who I have never heard a bad thing about. Just a simple guy, a good guy, and I think for a lot of Canadians we look at the Hip and see ourselves in them, just a bunch of regular dudes who happened to make it big. Maybe that's it? I don't know and I will leave it to someone smarter than me to explain how they became the biggest Canadian band ever.

 It's hit me hard and let's be honest, a lot of this has to do with the fact that he is only a few years older than me. His wife battled cancer herself and they have four children and really that is the most heartbreaking thing and the thing that terrifies me the most, leaving my children behind, so I cannot imagine what they are going through right now.

 All the best to Gord and his family in this toughest of times. With great sadness but also with thanks for the joy he has brought me over all of these years.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

All The Marbles

The Western Conference has pretty well dominated the NHL now for almost two decades. Thirteen Cups in nineteen years, seven of the last ten, if it weren't for New Jersey the gap would be even more ridiculous, never mind the blown Gelinas call, Roloson's knee, Chris Osgood and myriad Detroit injuries and Tim Thomas having a season for the ages (and Dan Hamhuis getting hurt).

 It's not just that the West wins every year it's that every spring you could pick six or seven or even eight or more western clubs that could beat anyone in the east while the eastern talent pool runs one or two or three teams deep. When those teams go down, as they often do, then the Western final essentially becomes the Cup final.

 Now the gap has begun to close, thanks to Gary's cap. LA and the Hawks have been pulled back to the mushy middle and will continue to lose players this summer. The window for success has become one or two years, then the kids on entry level deals need to get paid and teams need to pay the price. For a team to continue to have success they need to, well they need to do a lot of things right. They need to bring in a steady stream of young (cheap) guys who can play. They need to be ruthless with vets coming into UFA, regardless of tenure or past contributions. They need to find useful vets on value contracts. And on top of that they need to have luck of all sorts - injuries, the right draw come playoff time, simple bounces.

 It's not an easy path to navigate. You look at Tampa who just last year probably gave the Chicago/LA combo the toughest test in the final either team has had. With a break here or there and a healthy Tyler Johnson and Ben Bishop they may have carried the day. They fell short but it seemed that this could be their year. A slow start and then Stralman and Stamkos knocked out of the lineup (and now Bishop besides) and it seemed that their chances were doomed. And now Stamkos possibly out the door.

 The window closes quickly.

 Back to the original point, why is it that the West has been so good for so long? Well my theory is this, I call it the Norris theory. (Actually I don't call it anything but let's call it something.))

 Back in the 80s the NHL has 21 teams. 16 of these made the playoffs and the setup was similar to today. You had four teams in each division make it, they played off against each other and then whoever came out faced the other division winner in the conference final.

 So out West you had the Smythe and there you had the Oilers, one of the best, if not the best, teams ever. You had the Flames, who were probably the second best team in the league over a five or six year span. And you had the Jets who were very good for a year or two but who never could get past either Alberta team. So every year you had two teams with 90 or more points and while the third and fourth place teams were up the track they also had to play Edmonton and Calgary 16 times.

 And you had the Norris - Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, Minnesota, Toronto. In the early 80s Detroit was finishing up a stretch of nearly twenty years of being terrible (yes Oiler fans it could get worse). Toronto and Chicago had probably the two worst owners in hockey history. And St. Louis and Minnesota were relentlessly mediocre. Only once from 84 to 90 did a division winner top 90 points and this was playing a large number of games against other terrible teams. There were years that Norris teams made the playoffs while barely cracking 50 points!

And four of these clubs made the playoffs evey year.

 It's hard to explain how bad these teams were but let me tell a little anecdote to illustrate, if I may. In the spring of 87 we were winding up our first year of university. I lived on campus at St Mike's College at U of T on a floor with eight other dudes, seven if whom were also freshmen. We were a tight lot, they were all terrific guys, we had ourselves some good times. It was in April that one of the guys had a birthday, he would have been turning twenty and so we decided to get out and celebrate. The playoffs had just started and the Blues and Leafs were slugging it out in the first round, the Blues having ripped up the division to win it with 79 points and a -12 GD and the Leafs way down the track with, um, 70 points and a -33 GD. Two quality clubs.

 So we went to the Morrissey, the Mo as it was called, a classic Toronto watering hole, long gone now alas, and we ordered pitchers at whatever ridiculously cheap price they were (this was when the Mo was slightly divey, it had a rebirth soon after as a preppy hotspot and prices responded accordingly) and got to drinking. Wanting to bring some sport into the equation we agreed to fire back an extra beer (they had those little draft glasses, you know the ones) everytime there was a shot on net.

 Ten minutes into the game no word of a lie and we hadn't had a drink yet. It was typical Norris garbage, sloppy, terrible hockey. Finally, fed up, I announced that we would drink every time someone touched the puck. Five minutes passed with no luck at all ...

 I kid. But barely.

 The thing was that there was no incentive to improve. I am sure these GMs would say they were trying their best to win but the reality is you could be mediocre or worse and you were guaranteed playoff dates and with a break or two you could easily get to the third round. Remember St Louis had money troubles at the time and again there was Ballard and Wirtz. These guys weren't spending money on players or scouting or anything.

 And then Mike Keenan came to Chicago. His first year the Hawks struggled but as the fourth seed they managed to make the Conference final. The next year the club improved by 22 points and again made it to the Conference Final, where they fell to the Oilers, in six games.

 And that was the end of the old Norris. It took one team to break from the pack, to see that the division was easy pickings and invest in taking the next step. And then the others followed. In 90/91 Chicago and St Louis both had over 100 points. The Wings won the division the next year with 98 points and began to become the team that dominated the NHL for decades. The Leafs hired Cliff Fletcher and Pat Burns and in 92/93 Chicago had 106 points, Detroit had 103 and Toronto had 99.

 Keenan started an arms race, for lack of a better term, and that was it for the old sad sack Norris.

 And so I believe that in many ways the Western Conference is the same. In the late nineties the big money Eastern teams, the Rangers and Leafs and Flyers, spent their money poorly, they didn't fail for lack of trying but they had no Cup appearances between them after 96 (!). Meanwhile Detroit, Dallas and Colorado developed a ton of young talent, paid it and augmented it with smart free agent buys. Come the introduction of the salary cap the Stars and Avs regressed but the Wings remained the standard and so we saw Anaheim and San Jose, first of all, making their moves and then Vancouver, Chicago, LA, the Blues, the Stars and so on. The West became a war zone, so brutal that even a quality club like Nashville has found it impossible to get past the second round and annually quality clubs found themselves on the outside of the playoffs entirely. Basically unless you are the Oilers and are run by the worst owner and management team in hockey, a group that has spit in the face of their fans for a decade, all the while reaping massive profit and grifting the city of Edmonton for hundreds of millions of dollars, well if you are anyone else then you need to do everything and anything to get better because it iis almost impossible just to make the playoffs, never mind get by Chicago or LA to get a shot at the Cup.

 And so here we are.

 This year was different I thought. I figured the Ducks and Tampa at the beginning of the year and then coming into April this is what I had to say:

To me there are five real heavyweights this year - Anaheim, LA, St Louis, Washington and Pittsburgh. If Tampa were healthy I would throw them in that mix as well. After that I see Dallas, Chicago and San Jose as good but flawed teams and then everyone else. (I can't take Tampa seriously unless Stralman and Stamkos were able to return.)

 So you can see how things have changed, if Tampa were healthy, three of the six teams I rated were eastern teams and that has not happened ... ever? Not as long as I remember anyhow.

 That all said, I think it is the West again this year, barring calamity striking the winner of the Blues/Sharks series. After watching Pittsburgh and Washington I cannot take the Pens that seriously, I really can't. Not with that D. Same would have gone for the Caps if they had won. So your Cup winner will be .....

 The Sharks. Oh man, I literally just changed my mind there. Which is what I did for Caps and Pens, which did not work out well. It's a coin flip, it really is, but when I think about it .... this is what tips it in San Jose's favour, in my opinion.

 They can roll four lines, the Blues can only roll three pretty well, depth matters. I always say it and I can't go back on that now. And they have three good D pairs and quality goaltending. They have it all and the Blues had a tough time getting by a Stars' team missing Seguin and having a D that is nowhere near the quality of the Sharks and that Dallas goaltending.

 I may regret this. Well I mean not really, I don't have money on this or anything.

 Sharks in 6 or 7. Joe gets his Cup.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Hot Dog!

Three and one in an entertaining second round, the only loss being the Caps. Hilariously enough I was going to go with the Pens and then changed my mind at the last minute, going with my gut. Stupid gut. Anyhow, now at 8 and 4 for the year and all time I am 63-25 in the first round and 25-19 in the second. On to the conference finals where I am 14-6.

 The Penguins really look good huh? I mean really good. Not that this is a huge surprise. When Phil Kessel is on your third line (!) it means you're a damn good team and you survive Crosby and Malkin scoring 1 goal between them.

(By the way remember the time Toews scored no goals in three rounds and Chicago still winning the Cup? That's right, even the best players go cold and it has nothing to do with character or wanting it more or knowing how to win.)

This of course leads into my rant (redux) about the media and in this case Rogers in particular. It is hard to believe how bad Rogers is. I mean they are terrible. Only ten years more! Shoot me right fucking now, as Daffy Duck used to say.

 I don't mind Strombo to be honest and of course Elliotte is Elliotte but the rest of the crew is ... well just awful. They've carried on with the Cherryification of hockey coverage that HNIC started. The talented players get insulted, their character questioned, their play sneered at. The grunts are deified  (Never forget that without Shawn Thornton the Bruins never win that Cup!) and in place of real analysis we are provided with a morality play. How did Pittsburgh beat Washington, in particular how did they shut down so many of the Caps' stars (though not Ovechkin)? I mean literally how did they do it? What did Mike Sullivan do when he came in that turned their season around?

 Who knows? We don't know or at least none of these guys paid a lot of money to analyze the sport have told us. Instead we get cliches about a fresh voice in the room and a team that knows how to win beating a team that does not have the character or leadership or 'winning knowledge'. You know, like the Blues and the Sharks who didn't know how to win until they suddenly ... did. Of course if the Pens end up winning it all, or Tampa, then I guess both San Jose and St Louis will not have learned to win.

 My head hurts.

 And can you not afford to send your own crews to cover each series? How bush can you be, streaming another network feed? Unreal.

 And what of Phil Kessel? His career playoff stats (like Marleau and Thornton, two other guys with terrible playoff reps) are very good and yet we all know his reputation. Frankly it's disgusting to see the media members who delighted in running him out of Toronto now saying that he wasn't a cancer at all but rather a very good player who was stuck on a terrible team. Much like Mats Sundin dragging Jonas Hogland around the ice with him for years so was Kessel burdened with plugs and also rans and all he did all of his time in Toronto was score goals, the hardest thing to do in the sport. And when he was in Toronto well, he got shit on, to put it mildly, because like Ales Hemsky, to name another, he did not play the game (ie he was not a good quote/wasn't chummy with the old boys in the media).

The media ran him down and the Leafs, in one of their rare missteps recently, took a page from the Oilers' management playbook and let it happen. The end result is that their best player was devalued to the point where the return was abysmal. If Kessel did not fit into the rebuild (and his age and contract and for that matter his personality may not have, in their view, which is fine, if that is their belief) then that's okay - trade him. But don't stand by and let a hack, the hackiest of hacks, Steve Simmons, assassinate the character of your top player. You may not like the guy yourself but business and asset management demands that you go in front of the mics and defend your man strongly and with conviction. But instead there was silence.

 I want the Sharks to win it all but if it ends up being they and the Pens in the Final I do hope that Kessel goes off in a big way, albeit in a losing cause.

 Anyhow on to the Pens and the Lightning ... if Tampa had both Stralman and Stamkos I would like their chances a lot better than I do. I mean, they're good and they have a shot, of course. Bishop is capable of winning a couple of games himself and I am still not sold on the Pens' goaltending and D (I know I know, what will it take, I guess if they win the Cup I will become a believer). Murray has been good but Greiss had a great first round and then pfft and we've seen Lundqvist and Holtby and Quick and Crawford all go down already. Goaltending is ... impossible to predict. And if Murray does go poof do you really trust that grinning buck toothed bastard to carry the day? I don't.

 But without Stralman ... well the Tampa D is pretty solid and they are nice and deep up front as well but the Pens have that edge at forward and their D is proving better than advertised and well, I can see them losing, sure anyone can be beaten, but Tampa hasn't faced anyone like the Caps and the Pens handled them pretty well.

Pens in 6, maybe even 5. And then all things being equal, I think the west wins again. These eastern D corps are just terrible, aren't they? Taylor Chorney killing a third period penalty in an elimination game? REALLY!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Do You Know The Way To San Jose?

 I'm not counting the Predators out but if you are San Jose things are lining up pretty well I would think. The Ducks are gone and the Kings are gone and while there are no pushovers left I could see the Sharks going a long way this spring.

 (btw while the Caps and Pens are both loaded up front did anyone watch last night's game and think that those D corps might get abused but the Sharks, Blues or Stars? Thin man, real thin.)

 So 5 and 3 in the first round and of course you read my previous post and so you know I am thinking Caps, Tampa and the Blues. And for Sharks - Preds I will take the Shorks who strike me as a team that is hitting it's stride at the right time. LA is no longer LA just as Chicago is not Chicago but the way the Thorntons handled the Kings was in strike contrast to, well, say the Blues.

 Just to note I am not selling the Preds short, man oh man that D, but the Sharks have a quality blue line themselves and the edge in goal and up front too I think. They will take it in six.

 As for the Ducks, well LeBrun tweeted how it was a brand new WC now with the Kings, Hawks and Ducks all out and all I could think of was how one of these was not the same as the others. And yeah I figured the Ducks for the Cup this year, I mean they are a quality club for sure but one conference final in four years, well, um, yeah. LA with three in four and two Cups and the Hawks with the same. So basically the Ducks are the Coyotes (I had to look it up).

 Firing Boudreau, well they aren't likely going to find a better coach out there although I don't blame Murray. His roster is locked in, this is it, and they are about to start shedding talent - Anderson and Vatanen likely out the door this summer, no? - so the window is closing. And say what you will about Boudreau and I love the guy but it's not just one game seven but multiple playoff failures. Is that on him? Well some of it has to be.

 Too bad for Boudreau though he will be unemployed for what, five minutes, and too bad for Shawn Horcoff, this might be the end of the line for our old friend. But Perry, Bieksa, Kesler?


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Funny That

 Five and two so far in the first round so all time 63 and 24 in the first round with one to come. Not bag yeah? Not bag at all.

 Now on to the second round where before last year I was eighteen and eighteen before going 4 and 0 to improve to 22 and 18 all time. My theory on my second round struggles? I tend to go with my heart more than my head. Don't know what that means but it sounds good, real good, good for you and good for me.

 But seriously this year, coin flips in the second round.

 Anyhow before we go to our second round picks, sans Smythe for now, a few words from our sponsor, reason.

 The big storyline coming out of the first round was how a bunch of boys became men, or something like that. Seriously it must be exciting for so many of the players going into the second round to find out that they have character or are good guys or whatever that narrative is, now that they have moved on. While nobody is questioning the character or leadership bonafides of Drew Doughty and Jonathan Toews (zero goals between them) I do feel terrible for the likes of Jaromir Jagr (slacker), Henrk Lundqvist (what has he ever won), Pavel Datsyuk (enigmatic Russian) and Devyn Dubnyk (egghead dogfucker).

 The Sharks, Blues, Caps and Penguins have all learned what it takes to win. Until they lose. Or something. Unsure about the Ducks though. Have to wait and see on them.

 Narrative, narrative, narrative. Sidney Crosby won a Stanley Cup and scored the Olympic gold medal winning goal before he needed to shave and yet for some reason his character is still called into question. Phil Kessel had cancer and barely skipped a beat and he is the worst person ever. Never mind guys like Joe Thornton or Alex Ovechkin. I guess it's who you know in the media? Or maybe the truth is that broadcasters and writers, not really understanding why one team beat another team or not wanting to ascribe results to luck (where's the story there!?!?!) fall back on simple story lines. As that moron who writes for the Toronto Sun once bemoaned (and I paraphrase) 'stats and data are ruining sportswriting, there's no more romance'.

 Much easier (and dramatic) to write about how a team lost because it's star players are enigmatic lollygagging Europeans than to talk about the systems one team used to neutralize the other team and how even with that success they relied on a few lucky bounces to carry the day. Luck is not sexy.

 Oh well. For now you can revel in the fact that you are a real live boy Joe Thornton. Until you're not.


Adams - Tampa vs Islanders

Oh boy is this division the shits this year. I feel badly for Tampa who had their window open and shut in one year. Too bad. If Stralman and Stamkos were healthy they might have another go but they aren't and so they aren't going any further than the next round.

But I think they have this one. They weren't all that impressive in the first round against a mediocre Wings' team but the Isles are lucky to be here, outplayed by the Panthers they got all the bounces and all the calls and a backup goalie channelling Steve Penny and these things never last.

 Now, the Isles do have the best player in the series in John Tavares who is just fantastic. He is cut from the Crosby mold entirely, through and through the superstar groomed for it from childhood, same as Toews and McDavid and Stamkos, wonderful players all, with the public personality (and maybe private too for that matter, one suspects in some cases this is true) of, well, I can't think of something that bland right now. Kale? I don't know maybe kale isn't bland or I am eating the wrong kale.

(Reminds me of my buddy's Dad. They were at a wedding and to get the couple to kiss you had to give the crowd a metaphor. Well old Wayne steps up to the mic, he's a real character I will have to tell you the fried chicken in Montague story sometime although it loses something if it's not in the original thick Island brogue, anyhow he steps up and says:

I'd give you a metaphor but I'm not that good at math

And then returns to his seat.)

 Anyhow John Tavares is no Wayne MacLeod let me tell you mister.

 He's a fucking great player though. Not enough in this case. Tampa isn't Tampa anymore but Bishop tips the scales. Lightning in 7.

Patrick - Caps vs Pens

 Here's the Whales final right here and either team has a good shot at taking it all. The Caps were the best team in the regular season, the Pens the best team for probably the last three quarters of it?

 (The Caps won 52 games in regulation. That's unreal.)

 I like the Penguins up front. They are so deep - Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Hornqvist with a good veteran supporting cast in Cullen, Kunitz, Bonino and Hagelin plus a veteran role player in Eric Fehr and some speedy youngsters as well like Rust, Sheary and Kuhnackl. Their D, well I don't love their D and their goaltending is iffy as well even if Fleury comes back.

 That said they absolutely slaughtered the Rags, although I think a lot of that has to do with the Rangers whose time has passed.

 As for the Caps they faced a tough foe in the Flyers and almost ran them out of the rink before Neuvirth salvaged Philly's pride.

 Just like the Pens the Caps are loaded up front. Start with Ovie, Backstrom and Kuznetsov. And then you have Williams, Oshie, Johansson, Chimera (20 goals!!) and Burakovsky. The Pens have Letang and Daley bringing offence from the back end, the Caps have Carlson and Niskanen.

 The Caps lower end of the roster has veterans rather than rookies - Mike Richards and Winnik and Beagle and Tom Wilson. And their D, well I like their D more than the Pens - Orlov and Alzner rbign some offence too.

 To be honest when I started writing this up I was leaning Pens but now, well, now I am going with the Caps. Coin flip like I said but these teams are so evenly matched except I think Washington has the better D and they definitely have a major edge in goal regardless of who the Pens throw out there.

Caps in 7

Norris - Stars vs Blues

 This may be the easiest one to call in this round especially if Seguin is not available for the Stars.

 Built in the image of the Wings and Hawks the Stars are getting there but their D (their blue and team defence) can be an adventure still and their goaltending does not inspire confidence in me, that's for sure. Great forwards but the Blues just faced another great set of forwards and did a pretty good job on them.

 I think the game has passed Hitchcock by, his explanation on Tarasenko just doesn't hold water, short shifts my ass, and if I were Tarasenko I would be pissed too, you know why BECAUSE I WANT TO WIN and in this case playing him was the best way to achieve that goal. When the coach starts overthinking things then you have a problem. The Blues should be able to handle the Stars as long as Hitchcock doesn't get in the way and actually plays his skill guys.

Keith and Hjalmarsson couldn't handle Tarasenko and his linemates and I certainly don't see anyone of that quality on Dallas' blue. And Elliott is the best goalie here. And the St. Louis blue is quality through and through. Blues in six, maybe five.


 Some thoughts on the end of Chicago, for now and maybe for good.

 Last year I wrote that if I were Stan Bowman I would trade Seabrook and Crawford and Sharp and load up on kids and picks and use the cap space to sign Saad and reload with younger (cheaper) players. The first two especially would bring back a nice return and by freeing up the space he could then either keep Sharp for another year or move him but under less duress.

 Instead Bowman doubled down, not only keeping Seabrook and Crawford but signing the former to a monster extension that is probably going to sink the Hawks unless he can Phaneuf him this summer or next before the wheels come completely off. He also moved Stephen Johns as part of the cost of moving Sharp and then at the deadline he traded Phillipe Daneault and Marko Dano, two youngsters who were cheap and could play, for the now. And did I mention he traded Saad.

 Now here's the thing. I don't blame Bowman entirely. I suspect he has job security that is pretty well ironclad but you see that kid who brought the World Series back to Boston and you realize that anyone in management can be fired, unless you are Bob Pulford. Then it actually takes a death to move you along.

 Anyhow while he probably has a lot of rope like most GMs he is living in the now and last summer he probably looked at his roster and saw Marian Hossa getting older and Keith and Seabrook on the wrong side of thirty and figured that he could take a step back to take another forward or he could roll the dice and take another shot before the window closes. Hossa and Keith are two Hall of Famers and not really replaceable (although Saad sure reminded me of Hossa in style and substance).

 And dismantling a team that had won two of the previous three Cups and was a bounce away from winning the third (yeah they beat the Rags in 2014) by trading Seabrook and Crawford? Well that would require massive balls. How do you sell that to the fans, to your players, to your coach, to ownership? Especially when you invariably take a step back. If you don't return to the promised land then your legacy will always be the guy who took apart a champion.

 Yeah I don't blame him.

 So he rolled the dice and the funny thing is the Hawks could have won the series and while I am not reneging on my preseason and preplayoff pick of Anaheim to come out of the West and win it all, the Blues are in the mix in a big way. Meaning yeah if Chicago had won they would have been in it too.

 The Hawks did a good job of replacing the forwards they lost - Panarin, Anisimov, Ladd, Weise and Fleishman for Sharp, Richards, Vermette, Saad and Versteeg is pretty close to a wash. You might give a slight edge to last year's group. But they never replaced Oduya and that is what killed them. Literally. Bring in a real top four guy and they probably beat the Blues.

 Oh well.

 Now Bowman is one step back anyway and he has no Saad and Andrew Shaw is probably out the door and Stephen Johns is in Dallas and the cap is going nowhere and he has, in Brent Seabrook, a major cap issue that is going to tie his hands for years. It's 2011 for the Hawks again and we know how that worked out but they are running out of runway now.

 That said, their accomplishments on the ice over the past six years bear real respect and awe really. Yes they are no 'dynasty' in the old school definition of the word but one could argue that this run is the best in hockey history. They won three cups and came within a bounce of probably winning a fourth (no doubt they beat the Rags in 2014) and they did this while all the while shipping quality out the door because they had to comply with the cap. And all this in a league where there are no soft touches come playoff time. The 70s Habs, the Isles, the Oilers - all faced creampuffs every year in the playoffs, teams they rolled over without breaking a sweat. One or two tough matchups to win and they were Cup winners. None of that for Chicago. What a great club.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Smythe Cup favourites!!!!!!

Here we are in California. Washington so far is the team to cheer for if you are an Oiler fan according to our extremely nuanced rating system which uses mathematics, physics and marine biology. Science! And math!


ex Oilers - 10 - oh the ex Oiler factor is strong here. We have the wonderful Shawn Horcoff who was a tremendous two way centre who cashed in and then got blamed for cashing in. Horc is probably done after this spring and he hasn't dressed yet :( but here is hoping Boudreau gets him in there. Don't want to see Horc coming down the tunnel in full gear after the buzzer goes. Awkward!

And there is Cogliano, who the Oilers could not figure out/get through to so they gave on him. Development!  Now he plays an important role on one of the best teams in the league. Well done.

 And finally there is David Perron, who was one of my favourites in his brief time as an Oiler. A terrific player who called management on their 'quality' handling of certain unnamed golden boys and who got shipped out of town immediately because of it. He's no dummy!

players - 6 - this would be way higher but fuck Kesler and fuck Bieska too, I am sure if the Ducks face the Blues he will seek out Paajarvi and go after him again, he's such a tough guy. He will go after Paajarvi and Kesler will go after Fabbri.

 I hope Kesler wakes up at night and realizes that one of the reasons the refs let the Bruins goon the Canucks all series long back in 2011 was because he and Burrows are such garbage. Good job you fucking weiner.

franchise - 3 - the team is named after a Disney movie which has nothing to do with real hockey from the ~ 3 minutes I have watched of it. And they just won a Cup less than a decade ago. So BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.


ex Oilers - 0 - there are none

players - 4 - you've got a couple of classic oldsters in Mike Fisher and Barret Jackman. Kudos for still being in the league at 35! And Shea Weber is pretty cool. But on the other hand Mike Ribiero and Eric Nystrom. I feel dirty cheering for them.

franchise - 2 - I know the fans are great and it's supposed to be a great place to see a game but what can I say, I don't like any of these Bettman teams. Fold them all, I say!

Los Angeles

ex Oilers - 3 - Matt Greene is still there and I love the guy but he is on IR and has won two Cups already

players - 2 - much like Chicago the Kings are full of players who have won at least a Cup and in many cases two. LeCavalier winning again would be pretty cool I guess. But then again there is Dustin Brown who is a poor man's Shane Doan if Doan was a diver. Fuck Dustin Brown.

franchise - 3 - much like the Hawks this would be way up the scale except they have won Cups two of the last four years. I respect the excellence (and love Darryl Sutter) but there is no suffering here..

San Jose

ex Oilers - 0 - none here, too bad :(

players - 10 - seriously, where do I start. James Reimer is a prince of a man. Brent Burns has more personality in his beard than ninety percent of the players in the league. Patty Marleau is super awkward and super awesome. Joel Ward is beloved from his days on PEI, there is not an Islander who has a bad thing to say about him.

And Joe Thornton? If he wins the Cup I'm whipping out my cock.

franchise - 8 - yeah they haven't been around as long as the Blues or the Capitals but they came into the league with a bang and have really been a factor for quite a while. There isn't forty years of suffering but they have been top notch for a decade and somehow they haven't won the big one. Always very good but never the best. If they won I think it would be super cool.

And so for our final standings!!!!!

San Jose - 36
Washington - 35
Dallas - 32
Anaheim - 28
Philadelphia - 28
St. Louis Blose - 26
Florida - 24
New York Rangers - 22
New York Islanders - 22
Tampa - 18
Minnesota - 18
Pittsburgh - 16
Detroit - 16
Chicago - 15
Los Angeles - 13
Nashville - 12

 So there you have it Oiler fans, if Hemsky or Horcoff were on other teams those squads would probably be who I would cheer for (and certainly if Dallas or the Ducks win I will be very excited for the ex Oilers) but I am hoping for San Jose / Washington in the final with Jumbo Joe winning by a knob.