Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The West Is The Best, Get Here And We'll Do The Rest

We are a long long way away from handing out the Stanley Cup but as always there's a really good chance that the winner is going to come out of the West. Boston could knock off any of the big boys from the big boy conference but I couldn't see any of the other eastern teams getting a sniff.

 People say that the western team that comes out is going to be beaten to a pulp but every year this is the case, the west is a tough road, although Chicago had a decent draw last season in terms of their opponents being a little less physical until they met the Kings. Unless you play a minimum of games you're going to be beaten up, that's the way it is. Sometimes this will have a big impact on the final such as in 2009 when Datsyuk, Lidstrom and Hossa were all in rough shape by the time they played the Pens but generally everyone is banged up.

 The west is ridiculous though. I have four of five real contenders in the west and two of them will be knocked out in the first round. Crazy shit.

 Looking at the east I realized that I went with the team with the better record in each case because I'm a madman (unless no Bishop for Tampa). Hm, pretty boring.

Ducks - Dallas

Dallas is a sexy pick to pull an upset. Their possession numbers are better than Anaheim and they were a team whose record didn't reflect this, especially earlier in the year.

 But man that goal differential difference is a big one and the Ducks didn't ride the shootout either. They're good. I don't rate them like I do the other western big boys but they're not a pushover. Seven players other than Getzlaf and Perry with double figures in goals so they have that offensive depth I'm always harping about, some young guys, some vets, a lot of guys who can check. Dallas is almost a mirror image though, with six guys in double figures after their big two of Benn and Seguin (and a kid in Sceviour who had 8 goals in 26 games). Again they have that solid mix of kids and vets up front.

 The hilarious thing, to be honest, is I don't even know if some of the guys on either team are any good. I shit you not. Dillon and the other Benn on D? Not a clue lol.

 Anyhow the one thing that worries me about Anaheim is their goaltending. I don't think they are going far anyways and a lot of people are saying that this Gibson kid is going to be their downfall and while I think it isn't going to help them in round two I think its good enough to get them past the Stars. My gut says Dallas but while I like them and its possible I don't like them that much. Ducks in six or seven.

Colorado - Wild on Jack Lemaire

For me the Avs aren't in the elite group either and are probably a step below the Ducks as well. They have a whiff of the Leafs about them if you know what I mean. The Wild still are not in their league though. They might win a game, maybe two but the Avs are better I think, even with Duchene out of their lineup. I'm going to say Avs in five, maybe six. I don't really care. Neither team is that good.

Sharks - Kings

 This one is a rematch of last year's homer series which went seven and ended with the Kings edging out the Sharks. This time around the Sharks have home ice and its probably a push between them and the Hawks as to who I think is the team to beat. San Jose will have to beat LA first but even a fully staffed Kings team would have trouble with the Sharks. If Drew Doughty is not 100% and of course I have no idea if he's resting or actually hurt, then this is not going to end well for LA. Even if he is healthy I think it ends well. The Sharks are too deep up front and on the back end, anchored by Vlasic. LA are sound, they really are, but too many of their guys have seen their offence dry up. Brown, Richards, Stoll, even Justin Williams has seen his production fall off. We know LA can check but I think San Jose has just too many weapons. It will be tight, it will go seven (unless Doughty is hurt, then its over sooner) but San Jose will win.

 Chicago - St. Louis

For me the Hawks are Cup favourites again (or at least co-favourites). They coasted home with Toews and Kane on the shelf and there were times this season where they seemed ... bored but they still ended up in the top five in goal differential. They have almost the same lineup as last season, with only Viktor Stallberg, Frolik (who was a pretty big loss imo) and Leafs' franchise centre Dave Bolland moving along. As always it seems the Hawks have some kids in the pipeline and so Ben Smith had 14 goals, Jeremy Morin chipped in near season's end and Brandon Bollig appears to have turned into an actual hockey player plus Versteeg is back. Depth. The advantage Chicago has over everybody though is that elite talent - Toews, Kane, Hossa and Sharp all had 28 goals or more and Duncan Keith averaged nearly a point per game. Shaw had twenty, Saad had nineteen and three others had double figures as well.

 I like the Blues - for me the issue has always been their lack of a guy who can create offence out of nothing, the gamebreaker. They're a deep team up front and on D and they score a lot but man those shooting percentage numbers are crazy high, we're talking out of this world high, we're talking unsustainable really and we're talking about six of their top seven goal scorers having these ridiculous numbers.

 My guess is the Blues try and pound the Hawks into the ground and the Hawks' superior skill wins out. I saw them play earlier this year and St. Louis played physical and Chicago either brushed them aside, gave back as good as they got or just skated out of trouble. To me this is not a great matchup for St. Louis at all. I don't love Crawford in net but I don't love Miller either. I think Chicago moves on in six.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Here Goes Nothing

I don't think I've ever had less of a handle on the playoffs than I do this year. Mostly this is because of the way the west finished. If you want to talk about true contenders I have five - San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis and Boston. And four of these meet in the first round as Anaheim held on in the Pacific and Colorado zoomed right by the Blues in the last two weeks. Crazy shit.

 I did a count last year on my first round predictions going back to 2006 and was amazed to find out that I had gone 40 and 16 and then preceded to go 7 and 1 for an overall record of 47 and 17 so I guess I'm doing something right but this year I'm not very confident mostly because there are so many 'pick em' series but also because so many key players are either hurt or just returning from injury. Bishop, Toews, Patrick Kane, Doughty, McDonaugh. Obviously if Drew Doughty is not Drew Doughty then the Kings are dead meat so this is also part of the mix.

 Here is what I look at when I'm making my picks.

 First of all I do not look at how a team finished the season or at the head to head matchups. To me they don't mean a thing. Sometimes a team will finish strongly and go all the way and sometimes they will not and they will win the Cup. Every year people say 'oh they finished such and such a way' and it really doesn't matter. Same for head to head, a game in November or January doesn't tell me anything now.

 The huge thing for me is depth. Obviously injuries play a huge part in the playoffs but also year after year we see that clubs with deep rosters go farther. If you can roll four lines, as Chicago and Boston did last year for example, then you're going to go a long way. For example if Toronto had dressed an actual hockey player rather than Colton Orr last spring I believe they may have survived game seven. Certainly having someone you could throw out there who could play a reliable shift would have helped. In a similar vein as the Bruins began to get banged up their depth suffered and as the series wore on against Chicago the Hawks were able to use their superior depth to push the pace. As a result they had the puck more, Chara especially was forced to defend more and by the end of the series the Bruins were done. To me I always look for teams that run four lines deep and six defencemen as well.

 When I look at records the big thing for me is goal differential. A team that is even or maybe even in the red is a team that I always avoid. The real heavyweights are the clubs that have a big goal differential. This may seem like common sense but I look at that even more than I look at a club's win loss record.

 I don't put a lot of stock in your usual narratives, teams that 'know how to win' and all of that. Nearly every year since the end of that stretch where the Cup was always won by the Wings, Avs, Stars or Devils has had a different starting goalie lead his team to the Cup (except for when the Wings won in '08 I think) as an example. So I don't look at the Blues and think that they can't win because Miller has never won the Cup for example or at San Jose and think that they are going to fail because they're San Jose. Intangibles like this are just a lot of noise imo.

 Of course as an out I always say that anything can happen (because it can) - injuries, hot goalie, bad luck. Its hockey so sometimes that's the way it goes but generally I feel pretty good about how I make my picks.

 Anyhow here we go. I have a better handle (I think) on the east so I'll start there. I figure Boston to come out of the east because I like going out on a limb but if they falter somehow then its really wide open.


 Bruins v Wings

 I think the Bruins come out of the East. I also think that if they fail it may be here. Detroit was ravaged by injuries as we all know. I think Babcock is an outstanding coach and that the Wings have enough speed to trouble the Bruins' blue line. The Leafs almost took Boston down last year and the Wings are better than that club, right?

 The problem is that the Bruins are just so good. The Wings had a negative goal differential (and of course a lot of that is due to the injuries they faced) but the Bruins are plus 84. Plus 84! That's unreal. And the kids on the blueline have come in and done a great job replacing Ference and the injured Seidenberg. The Bruins also have perhaps the best goalie in the league and their depth up front is outstanding. Six forwards with over fifty points, a seventh with 48 in 73 games and Loui Eriksson isn't even in that group. If the Wings had Zetterberg I'd think they might have a better shot at this but the Bruins are just too good and way too deep. The Wings will give them a bit of a scare but unless they get unreal puck luck or Rask blows up its Bruins in six, maybe less.

 Tampa v Habs

 These two teams are just so underwhelming if that's a word, I know it's not 'cause Sloan sang about it, but really whoever comes out of this is going to be meat for the Bruins.

 The Habs are loaded with famous players (because they're the Habs) who don't impress and the Lightning have a bunch of anonymous players, especially up front, who don't do much for me either but ... Tampa were a +25 and that is without Stamkos for a lot of the year while Montreal was +11. Tampa has the best forward in the series and while the Habs have PK Tampa counters with Hedman and on top of that I like their D, a couple of nice vets in Brewer and Salo, Matt Carle. Its a coin flip but I say Tampa in 7 with one caveat which I normally do not ask for, if Bishop can't play then I'll take the Habs in 7, maybe 6.

 Pens v Columbus

 To me this is similar to the Pen's opening round series last year. I don't rate the Pens at all really. Their D is shoddy, their depth up front is atrocious and that grinning buck toothed bastard Fleury has ruined my pool the last two years the prick. That said it's Columbus. They're solid but with Nathan Horton and Umberger out its not like they're loaded up front outside of Ryan Johansen; only two other Jackets had more than twenty goals. So while I do think the BJs (heh) have the edge in goal and the Pens back end is not championship calibre I don't believe that Columbus has enough to really threaten Pittsburgh even with Malkin out. Pittsburgh in six.

 Rangers v Flyers

 After Boston I like the Rangers out east. I don't think they can beat Boston but if the Bruins stumble or Chara or Rask gets hurt then I think New York could pull it off. The Rangers were a plus 25, the Flyers barely in the black. The Flyers really stumbled out of the gate so I think they are better than that and I think this series will be close but New York has more top end talent at every position and that will be enough to get them over the top. The clincher is that it sounds like McDonaugh is good to go. Rangers in six, maybe even seven.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Smytty And Those Oilers

 I grew up a Stan Mikita fan. Mikita, for you young pups, was one of the all time greats. Think Pavel Datsuyk but with even more offence, a playmaker and goalscorer who could do it all, kill penalties, win faceoffs, check. When he retired he was the third leading scorer of all time and he did most of that work in the sixties when he was probably the game's best all round player.

 My old man was a Max Bentley man as a boy, Dad was the oldest of six, five boys in there, and a lot of his boyhood was spent doing what the oldtimers did as boys, the Canadian ideal that is fondly recalled now. They had no television, no computers, they lived in the Soo and then a tiny village called Franz, perched on the Canadian Shield in the midst of the wilderness, literally in the bush, and then Wawa and when they weren't in school or doing chores they played hockey, no matter how cold.

They didn't have a lot of money. At a family reunion years ago my uncles talked about the time they got a case of carnation milk and what a big deal it was and my favourite story my Dad tells is about when he was very young, maybe four, and his old man, my grandfather, walked him down the hill in the Soo. They stopped outside a store and there was a bright red wagon in the window and my grandfather asked his oldest son what he thought of it and my Dad said he told his father he liked it a lot and then my grandfather told him it was his and, well I wish I had a picture, when my Dad told me the story a few years back, he was pushing eighty then, and his eyes grew wide with wonder as he laughed and said this is what I looked like and it was beautiful, a boy's wonder suddenly erasing nearly eighty years in his craggy face. And his dad went in and bought the wagon and my old man got into it and he got towed home up the hill.

 Sorry, its almost like I've had a few beers here with the rambling.

 Anyhow Dad and his brothers were all very good hockey players, they each had their team and Dad was the Hawks and Bentley was his man. Dad patterned his game after his idol (or maybe that's just the way he played), he was fast and a skilled playmaker and he could score as well. Years later he and his brother Gerald were scouted by the Red Wings, hilariously Dad said he was disappointed that it was the Wings because he was a Chicago fan.

 After Bentley was moved away the Hawks were terrible for a long while until two kids came along, Mikita and Hull, Hull was the more famous of the two, the flamboyant goal scorer with the huge shot but Dad became a Mikita man and so too did I when I started following hockey as a boy. By that time he was on the downside of his career and we only got one game a week, Saturday nights, so I only probably saw him play a dozen times live. But he was my Dad's favourite and so he was my favourite too. I even have his book 'I Play To Win', the boy is reading it now and I have heard stories in recent years that paint the man as a wonderful guy, down to earth, just a lovely fellow and that makes me feel pretty good too.

 After Mikita retired I remained a Hawks' fan for nearly another twenty years. Larmer was my favourite player during this time period, him and Gretzky, but I took to neither as much as I did to Mikita and I took to neither as much as I did to Ryan Smyth.


 If you have visited this blog for any length of time you will know how Bill Wirtz killed my love of the Hawks, bit by bit, until all of it was gone, hollowed out by that miserable old man and the equally miserable Bob Pulford. It wasn't a conscious choice, it was wholly organic, my change of allegiance. I had always liked the Oilers, had loved the way they played the game in the eighties all go-go skill and speed, that elan that all of the greatest teams have. And so as the nineties marched on and they gathered a team of kids who would work and work and work (though often with little result) I began to pay attention to them again. They had Dougie Weight and Bill Guerin of course but the guy who symbolized those clubs was Ryan Smyth.

 Now Ryan Smyth was a hell of a hockey player. People look at the fourth liner now whose wheels are gone or think of the things that make Smyth an icon and they forget that he could skate and that he could make plays and that he had terrific hockey sense. You don't play in three best on best tournaments for Canada (winning an Olympic gold and a World Cup gold) unless you're an amazing hockey player.

 That's the ironic thing. People forget this fact. Even when he was at the top of his game and he and the Oilers parted ways there were mutterings, the usual bullshit from the enablers of this broken management team, that Smyth wasn't even really a first line winger.

 I used to believe that this type of thinking was an Oilers' fan thing, for a fanbase that had witnessed one of the greatest, if not the greatest team ever assembled, no player could be good enough. How can you live up to Gretzky and Messier and Kurri and company after all? The reality though is that a generation brought up on video games and highlights at eleven seems to think that a good player can (and should) score at will and do so by dancing through a team and then follow that by filling in the other team's best player. Smyth, even in his prime, wasn't that guy. He did a lot of big things well and he did all of the little things superbly.

 What made Smyth an icon though wasn't the fact that he had such great tools, though obviously that helped, it was how he approached the game, how he played it, that is what made him beloved. And it is why I became a huge fan of his and how one day, watching Chicago play Edmonton (it was 98 or 99) I realized that I was cheering for the Oilers and that actually I was no longer a Chicago fan. So its because of Ryan Smyth that I am an Oilers' fan. Its his goddamned fault!


 Smytty could skate and make and take a pass but his shot was a muffin and yet he became a goal scorer. He scored almost all of his goals from within a few feet of the net, banging in rebounds and deflecting shots from the point with his old wooden paddle, his legs, his big beautiful hockey ass, all the while taking abuse that make you wonder how he lasted all of these years. He did the dirty work in front of the net and in the corners and along the boards and he learned how to play at both ends of the rink until he became an excellent two way player and penalty killer. He loved to play, he was an old time rink rat with that amazing mullet and the Nuke LaLoosh responses to interviewers, he was a hockey player through and through and he became beloved, I think, because he did things that anyone could do. I talked about this recently. Your Joe Beerleaguer can't do what Ales Hemsky does and so he cannot identify with him but anyone could do what Ryan Smyth did and so he was an everyman, a guy who its hard to find a comparable for, an elite grinder who drove play and put up points.

 Smyth should have been an Oiler for life and when Lowe botched it and sent him away for magic beans it was really the end of the Little Team That Could, that crew of players who played fast and hard nosed, with that elan of old, if not the skill, the group that competed for the playoffs year after year despite the annual diaspora of the most expensive players on the team. Smith, Niinimaa, Brewer, Staios, Pisani, Mironov, Horcoff, Hemsky, Weight, Guerin, Comrie, Arnott, Stoll, Torres, Moreau, Murray, Marchant, Grier, Cleary, Ulanov, Salo, Joseph, Carter. Some were great players, some were journeymen. Some went on to win Cups elsewhere (they always win them elsewhere) and others faded away and many of them went on that long run in the spring of 2006, the last time the Oilers meant anything. 2006 to me will always be Roloson battling, the madman, and Pisani scoring so many enormous goals and Hemsky finishing off the greatest team of our generation and Smyth, teeth smashed. setting up Horcoff in the third overtime to cue the comeback against the Sharks.

 Afterwards Ron Wilson sneered when asked about Smyth, saying it was no big deal, and the reality is it wasn't because that was not ultimate Ryan Smyth but the usual Ryan Smyth.

 And now he is gone, just weeks after Ales Hemsky and months after Horcoff. Ladi Smid is gone too and so the Oilers finish the year out of the playoffs, as is standard now. Four more NHL players out the door and nothing to show for them but Philip Larsen, magic beans and cap space, business as usual for the Edmonton Oilers.

With Smyth and Hemsky gone all that remains are a bunch of losers and while that sounds harsh its the honest truth. Nobody on the team has won a damn thing in Oiler colours, hell none of them have played a game that matters and that goes for most of the roster period with the exception of Andrew Ference, who like all of these guys is probably wondering what the hell he has gotten himself into.

 Yakupov's season was a mess and the fanbase wants to run Jeff Petry out of town and Sam Gagner is probably a goner too, following Smid out of town, remember when they were the future? I remember rumours of rifts in the room years ago, I don't pay much attention to rumours or claims of fans (or media) who know what is going on in the room or how a guy is in the room. Ales Hemsky was a 'problem' and yet two years ago his teammates stood up one after and another unsolicited and said that he should be extended and I have seen an email from a teammate of his lauding him for staying after practices and working with him on the finer points of his craft. That never got into the papers though, funny that.

 That said I always did wonder what guys like Moreau and Staios thought when guys like Gagner and Nilsson and others waltzed in and got their dough right away when they had played for relative peanuts for a decade before they got their money, doing the dirty work while the golden boys floated. Its years later and Sam Gagner still can't check his hat and while I'm sure he's a fine young man (I guess, who knows?) that speaks to something. Maybe he's dumb though I doubt it. Maybe he doesn't care? I don't know.

 But when you got used to watching Smyth and Moreau and Gator and Niinimaa and Grier then watching this group of Oilers cashing their huge cheques all the while playing matador dummy defence is certainly hard to take at times.

 Another year down the toilet and the team has taken a step back and next year looks like more kids on D which never works. The team is too thin up front to send anyone anywhere for that stud Dman they need and the free agent market is poor as well so it may be the tact they take and while the goaltending is fixed or so it seems the forward depth has gone from a strength to another point of concern especially where Gagner and Yakupov are concerned. So when Gord Miller said that it might get worse next year he could be right.

 Ryan Smyth should have gone wire to wire as an Oiler. He did not and that's a shame. He was a winner though and he squeezed every ounce he could out of the talent that he had and he loved the Oilers and Edmonton, actually arranging a trade back to the Oilers.

 Just for that he's one in a million.

 Best wishes you mulleted toothless fat ass rink rat. Thanks for the memories. Wish we had won it in 2006, watching you raise the Cup would have been the thrill of a lifetime for this hockey fan.

Monday, April 07, 2014

An Inconvenient Truth

 Its my favourite time of the year when it comes to sports, the NHL is wrapping up its regular season and the playoffs are about to start. This year I will have the added bonus of the World Cup in June so its going to be a lot of fun over the next couple of months despite the Oilers not making the playoffs again and Canada nowhere near the big tournament in Brazil.

 What I can do without during the Stanley Cup tournament are the awful narratives that pop up. Its the worst.

 Now I'm a guy who loves a good story. I enjoy telling stories and I appreciate a good tale well told, its one of the few things that irritates me about my kids. They're bright and funny and they're the worst at telling stories. Its painful. Its just their age, I know they will get better at it. If they don't then I will have to disown them. NOT IN MY HOUSE!

 While I love a good story however I also want it to be accurate. Sure maybe you put in a little flourish here and there, a little exaggeration to spice things up, but the meat of it has to be true. If its not then its just bullshit.

 Sports lends itself to story telling of course. Hey if you have been around this blog for a while you know that I often talk about my beer league club or about the boy's adventures on the ice. The last post I wrote was about this very thing. There is a beginning and an ending and there are twists and turns to the plot and colourful characters and it basically writes itself.

 The problem with sports story telling though is, well its like this. There's a lot of bullshit mixed in with the natural story of who won and who lost and how they got there. I'm not old enough to know when it began but I know that at least it goes back to 1972. I know this because, like you, I was brought up on the mythology of that Series with the Soviets. A few years ago I looked at the Series in depth, watched every game, every shift, recorded what went on and discovered that actually the accepted truth was not supported by the facts. It was not a case of plucky Canadian heart and try winning the day but rather Canada being a far superior team that should have probably won six or seven of the games. They outplayed their opponents right from the beginning, even in game one where their conditioning was supposedly a huge factor. The Soviets were this year's Leafs forty years before their time. Badly outshot, badly outplayed, relying on excellent goaltending and a quick strike offence, mostly on the powerplay. If the two teams played a hundred times Canada probably wins seventy five or eighty of the games, if not more, especially if they run with Tony Esposito in net.

 But narrative, right? Especially when there was a patriotic drum to beat and an opportunity to demonstrate our superior 'character'.


 I don't recall the seventies or eighties when it comes to hockey story telling other than there were three very good hockey clubs that won thirteen of fifteen Stanley Cups. The seventies Habs, the Islanders, the Oilers. There was no need to tell a story because the story was a simple one. Three teams too good for the league they were playing in.

 At some point though things turned. It was due to parity in the league. It was due to the World Juniors giving us an annual us vs them event. It was due to Don Cherry.

 At some point hockey became about character.

 This narrative has been pushed by the networks and their commentators who were nearly all fourth liners or backup goalies. Star players in hockey don't need the money, generally, so they gravitate to the golf course or to jobs with their clubs as ambassadors. Some go into management, usually starting with an assistant to the GM's title, often in a situation where the club likes having them around to remind fans of better times.

 But the plugs? Well they stay in the game by starting as scouts or maybe assistant coaches deep in the minors or, because they are generally 'great guys' (they have to be great guys because if you're a borderline guy you can't afford to not be great on the room), they end up in media.

 And for plugs, guys like PJ Stock and Louie Debrusk and Don Cherry, well for them they are now going to push character and the grinder and the plugger because THAT IS WHAT THEY WERE.

 And so you get tales like we did a few years back where Shawn Thornton got an avalanche of credit for the Bruins Cup win. Shawn Thornton.

 Now part of this too is that the plugger appeals to a lot of fans. Never in a million years could your beer league couch potato do what Kadri or Ales Hemsky do, not a chance. But he could back check hard and work his ass off in the corners and go to the net and stick up for his teammates. Anyone can do that of course because its monkey work. I can do that! So for Joe Fan, well he can identify with Colton Orr a lot easier than he can with Nazem Kadri. Its human nature really and so you have a willing audience in a lot of respects.

 The problem is that in the media we have guys, some ex jocks, some not, who are either not very smart or they are lazy or, to be fair, they believe in this story line because its how they were taught to understand the game. Generally these are the guys who respond to criticism with 'you never played the game' or my favourite ' you don't understand the game, just watch the game and you would see'.

 (I always find this amusing because guys like Tyler Dellow and Vic Ferrari are amongst the most astute observers of the game that I know. They watch the games and they watch them over and over again and notice the little things that make a difference. Anyhow, I digress.)

 Anyhow these writers and broadcasters look for stories to tell and generally the simpler the better. And so you get Jason Strudwick proclaiming last night that the Oilers were winning against the Ducks because they had three fights and were emotionally engaged.

 This is a common story and I have never understood it. Two guys fight. One team gets momentum from it and proceeds to win. But why them? Why doesn't the other team get momentum? Their guy fought too after all. Sometimes the team gets momentum because their guy won. Sometimes they get it because he hung in there against a bigger guy. Sometimes they get it because their guy got pummeled. Seriously. Remember a few years back, I think it was Prust was a Ranger and got destroyed by a Senator in a fight and the Rangers to a man said that was a game changer. Is it true because they believed it? I don't know, I never played the game. But sign me up and we'll solve three problems. I will then have played so I can talk about hockey (this entire blog and every discussion I ever had about the sport is meaningless due to not having played, right?), I will make a shitload of money (league minimum is ok!) so I can pay off my mortgage and buy you a dozen beer and also whichever team I play for will go 98 and oh, all the way to the Cup baby, because I will guarantee you momentum every night by absolutely getting killed by the other team's biggest goon.

 Now don't get me wrong, I like Strudwick, I do but by my eye, when I was watching the game, my impression was that the Oilers won because Hiller was terrible and Fasth was very good.

 And I guess the question I also had was what if the Ducks had come back? Would it have been because the Oilers became less emotionally engaged. Are they like I was in my early twenties, all hot and heavy for some girl I saw at a party, having a great couple of months of lusty boning until I became bored and more and more emotionally detached until it all crashed in ruins? Wait a second, the Oilers are mostly in their early twenties!! Maybe I should have had a buddy hanging out with me on dates to start fights so I would have stayed emotionally engaged! Maybe I would have been more successful at love!!

 But really, what if the Ducks came back and tied it. And then gone ahead. Does Hendricks fight someone else and the Oilers bounce back? Is it really a question of a character win? If Perry scores another goal or two, if Getzlaf doesn't hit the post is it because the Oilers are bad people? Or is it because the Ducks are a far better team?


 But that's how it works. Three weeks ago or thereabouts the Leafs were home and cooled, third in the conference, the local media crowing about how the naysayers were wrong and now they are dead in the water, out of the playoffs, and suddenly its a character question. The team doesn't have it.

 Its an easy answer and a ridiculous one of course. So three weeks ago they had character and now suddenly its gone! Where did it go? Did it melt with the snow? They had enough character last year to make the playoffs and push the Bruins to seven (although that character disappeared with eleven minutes to go in that game, damn!) and strangely enough people forget that Joffrey Lupul had a great chance to end it in overtime. He missed, just as Datsyuk missed a glorious chance in the slot in G7 against Chicago, Stallberg getting his stick enough of his shot from the slot was a weak one. Bergeron scored and that was that. But if Lupul scores then suddenly the team oozes character, is that how it works?

 Of course the Leafs did the right thing and dumped Grabovski and MacArthur over the summer because they were the problem or part of it I guess and they brought in the wonder twins from Mimico to solve the character issue. And it seemed to have worked ... until just recently.

 Or maybe. Maybe there is something to Randy Carlyle's system that does not lend itself to success unless you have two Hall of Fame defencemen and Beauchemin in the 3 slot as well as four lines of very good forwards and excellent goaltending. Maybe the reliance on a hot power play and out of this world goaltending while allowing the other team to outshoot you massively game after game because you never have the puck (partially because you dumped two skill guys and won't play other skill guys) is not a recipe for winning, especially when your goaltending no longer performs at Hasek like levels and your few remaining skill players go cold or don't score enough because the rest of your lineup is no longer good enough to chip in offensively.

 But its easier to say that the team has no character than to try and figure out what is going on. Its one sentence versus paragraphs of investigation and explanation.


 I've been going on and on here and I am just going to finish up with this. Despite what Don Cherry says all hockey players are not good guys. Some are. Some are not. They are like any collection of guys you will find except they are elite athletes who play hockey very well. Because of this the majority probably have a bit of a sense of entitlement, which I would expect. And a few are pretty sociopathic when it comes to pursuing their goals. You'd have to be. There are billions of people on this planet. 690 of them play in the NHL.

 All that said they have all worked their asses off to get where they are. All of them. The endless drills, the tedious hours in the gym, the rehab when necessary. Its like toughness. The softest hockey player in the league is a hundred times tougher than your regular citizen. They play through pain that would leave you or I bedridden and their job involves fighting for space with enormous armed angry men, all on ice. Think about that. Oiler fans used to go on about Tom Gilbert being soft, a guy who blocked more shots than most defencemen in the league in his time in Edmonton, all the while getting pounded into the boards, sticked, elbowed, often while playing injured. Yeah, he's soft. Don't pull a muscle cracking open that Coors Light fatty.

 Are there players who are tougher than others? Sure. Jason Smith and Ethan Moreau and Matt Hendricks are three that come to mind right away but this idea that players lack character or toughness is a hilarious one.

 The falsest of all accusations stinks the most however and that is what people like Cherry and Mark Spector and others put forward about European players. Now think about this for a minute. These are people who whine about players who won't talk to them or about donuts getting yanked from press boxes or about games being boring and they claim that European players lack character. (My favourite remains Spector assassinating Ales Hemsky's character last spring, following that up with a column where he whined that Hemsky wouldn't talk to him. Better yet a few days after that it was revealed that Hemsky had played for a month with a broken foot as he tried to help his team get into the playoffs. I mean what a piece of garbage this Spector guy is.)

 So now who lacks character? The guy who confesses to a conflict of interest essentially (this guy doesn't talk to me so he is a bad person) and also does not investigate whether or not the player in question was hurt (nice journalism!) or the guy who came to a strange country as a teenager, unable to speak the language, in order to pursue his dream. Pictured above is Michal Rozsival. At the age of 17 (!) he moved to Swift Current to play junior hockey.

 Seventeen. Mark Spector wouldn't want him on his team though. (More on that later.)

 What do you think?

 Its plain xenophobia is what it is of course. When Kovalchuk played the 2012 finals with a wrecked back CBC roasted him every chance they got. He didn't care about the Cup!!! Never mind that he had been lights out the first three rounds, suddenly he didn't care. And then with a minute left in the last game Hughson ripped him one last time and Healy piped up 'well he's been playing badly hurt' like this was a revelation and what does Hughson do? He sniffs that he shouldn't be playing then.

 A double standard. Marian Hossa plays through an injury so severe that he cannot feel one foot and Tony Amonte, who couldn't hold Hossa's jock if you taped it to his hand, talks about Hossa not being tough enough. Europeans don't CARE ABOUT THE CUP, don't you know.

 Why we're even having this conversation these days I don't even know. To me if you have common sense you know the whole myth is garbage. Look at the history of the game over the last twenty years. Pick any year. 1998 - three of the top five scorers were Europeans. In 2009 four of the top five were Europeans. Europeans have lead their teams to Cups and won the Conn Smythe trophy. Last season Spector (there he is again!) said that you could not win with Europeans or skill guys in your support roles.

 Chicago's bottom six forwards in the playoffs - Saad, Shaw, Stallberg, Kruger, Bolland, Frolik.

Chicago's bottom four defencemen - Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Rozsival, Leddy

 Good thing nobody told them!!!!


 Anyhow if you managed to stick around this long, thank you, a bit long winded I know. My final thought is this. The hilarious thing about the this whole narrative idea is that you get the people generally going on about character and pride, guys like Simmons and Spector, are the guys who go on and on about 'WATCHING THE GAME' the most. Bring up Corsi and JUST WATCH THE GAME they say.

 I'm not a huge stats guy, mostly because I have slight ADD (look, a bird!) but like most thinking people I think they help tell part of the story and when properly applied they add important information. That said I find it hilarious that the biggest proponents of 'just watching the game' are also the biggest proponents of things that you cannot see, character and clutchiness and whatnot.

 I believe in Corsi and Fenwick taken in context. I also recognize that Joffrey Lupul is usually going to bail out rather than get smoked to make a play while someone like Hossa is not, mostly because the guy who hits Hossa is probably just going to fall over, but also because Hossa is tougher than Lupul (who is a million times tougher than you or I) and a lot better hockey player.

 Just don't try and tell me that a team's fortunes can be explained through character or lack thereof because these arguments are only so much voodoo. You find 'advanced' stats hard (hint, its shot attempts basically, they are not that advanced), tell me how a team has loads of character and try one month and then weeks later they do not. Tell me how a team has heart and knows how to win one round and then do not one round later?

 You want to talk about hocus pocus bullshit.

 You want to talk to me about intangibles and character?

 Just watch the fucking game and spare me the fairy tales.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

 If you've been reading this blog for long you will know that the boy started playing hockey last season. He played in a winter league and in a spring league and while he was pretty well a spare part on both teams he was lucky enough that both teams won their playoff championships, giving him more hardware in ten months than I have won as a player over over forty seasons of hockey. Serious the little bas ... never mind.

 He loves the game. He learned a lot and was lucky enough to play in a league and for two coaches who valued the tenets of fair play and sportsmanship and doing things right and so while he wasn't the greatest player he did what he could, the little things that he could manage and was proud, rightly so, of what he accomplished and how he contributed to the team.

 This fall things were different. He was one of the older guys and on a team that had three stars and a handful of players who were very young or very small or not very strong he was one of a handful who fell in the middle of those two groups. He was bigger and stronger and hockey school and practicing his passing and puck handling in front of our house for hours had turned him into a decent player. As his team roared through the league early on he found his niche on the blueline, one of those defensive defencemen types, his game improving quickly enough that he actually struggled at times because he found himself in unfamiliar situations, the puck on his stick suddenly when it had never been before. He had the same coaches as last winter though and so again they guided him and he kept getting better.

 The big difference between this team and last year's team is that last year they had a regular goalie who played every game. This winter there was no goalie and so players took turns. Some did well, some less so. The problem was that the ones who did well included the top three players plus my son and one other of that middle group which was fine except especially in the first case what was gained in net resulted in a big loss out on the ice.

 And so just after Christmas, with his team battling another for first place, the boy announced to me that he thought that he should be the team's starting goalie for the entire playoffs. His logic (and man he is a logical little guy) was that he was pretty good at it (he was) and that if he went in then 'the big three' could skate and this was the best way to ensure that the team went all the way.

 Now there is no history of goaltending in my family with the exception of my wife's uncle and this would seem strange because my family is mental, have been since they came howling out of the moors, naked and dirty, to wreak carnage on the bloody English. And yet despite this NOT crazy enough to play goal.

 I thought about the damage the stress would do to my poor aging heart and then told him to talk to his coach, which he did, and he was told that they would talk about it and think on it, hoping, I think, that another option might present itself because the boy, as noted, was doing a good job on the blue and his coach is a strong believer of a solid D corps.

 And then a few weeks later he was told that it was his to run with.

 His team finished second by a point and had sawed off against their main rivals with a win, a loss and a tie. Their two losses could be explained away pretty easily and so going into the playoff round robin where they would face the other top teams once apiece, top two to move on, I felt that essentially, like Team Canada in Sochi, they were going to be golden unless they played for the championship on a day when the hockey gods were angry. As long as the goaltending held up. :(

 The boy was three and oh going into the playoffs and had allowed nine goals in total. In the first game they played a team with one of the best offensive players in the league, a guy who had beaten him over his shoulder three times in a game earlier. His coach made some suggestions, be big, challenge him, see if you can force him to make the first move. Standard stuff.

 The first period ended with no score and he made a couple of saves which was all that was needed as his team ran rampant in the other end. It was a matter of time, you could see it, and sure enough the dam burst in the second. The other team had a handful of chances after that, the boy stood tall, stopping a breakaway against his nemesis, coming out, taking away the high shot until his opponent ran out of room. By game's end he had allowed one goal as his team romped.

 The next week they needed a win to book a spot in the final. Their opponent had upset them just a few weeks previous, one of those games where all the stars aligned one way. I had been nervous the previous week and was again when the game started. Three minutes in it was three to nothing, I relaxed and had a coffee. The boy had to make one stop (it was a nice one at least) and he got the shutout in an absolute rout. They were through!

 An hour later he told me he was getting nervous for the final, maybe suddenly realizing what he had asked for.

 The third game of the round robin was meaningless now and because it was March Break his team faced their biggest rival shorthanded, missing two of their top three players, icing seven skaters in total.

 They actually jumped to an early lead but when their top player scored his three goals to give them a three to one lead (each player is allowed no more than three goals in a game) the offence was tapped and the foe came in waves. They have an outstanding player, second only to our best player in the league, he scored two but attempt after attempt was turned away as my son had the game of his life. They fell six to three but he stopped over thirty at least and so despite the loss everyone was all smiles. We had the goaltending, it was clear, and with a full roster the result should be a good one a week from now.

 The week before the big game calm prevailed. I talked to the boy now and then, he was nervous, I told him that it was okay to be nervous, that when the game started he just had to concentrate on doing what he knew how to do and to try and enjoy the fact that he was going to be playing in a big game and that he would have the ability to help his team win it all. The morning of the game we arrived early and got him in his gear. Later he told me that as they waited to hit the ice a kid from the other team commented 'hey its the same goalie as last week, we're going to win for sure'. No such thing as bulletin board material in squirt but when he heard this my son got 'really mad' and his nerves went away. So thanks kid with the big mouth!

 His coach ran out the same lineup he did in the first two games of the playoffs. His son (by my eye the best allround player in the league) played in one group and his two other strong players played together. It was a pick your poison. Usually teams started their best player against ours and would get shut down and outscored, meanwhile the other line ran rampant. Their coach chose to do the opposite, running his best player away from our best.

 The game started and it went as well as one would hope really. His team jumped out, scoring one, two and then three goals. Jenn and I, well, we were happy but dying inside. I have never found less pleasure in a game than this one and when the other team threw a puck at the net from the corner and found our son off the post and it bounced in, well I don't think I've ever had a worse feeling. I could just imagine his team losing as everything thrown at him went in.

 But instead the game turned out perfectly. After the slow start their opponents came on strong. They fell behind by three again and then pressed for more. They scored a nice one (the same kid who had scored the first, he fist pumped and danced down the ice after each goal) and so the deficit was two and the boy made some saves and then his team opened up the three goal lead again and then buddy finished his hattrick on another nice play (more fist pumping and grabbing his jersey) and then the other team's best player broke in alone with the deficit only two again ....

 And my boy. Well my boy stopped him cold.

 With about seven minutes left his team scored one more, this time it was our star's sister with a partial break, stopping at the hash marks so her pursuer suddenly slid by and then the puck was in the net and it was three goals again.

 Still no relief as their opponent came on, one rang off the post the boy made more saves and then three minutes left and they pulled the goalie but they didn't get closer, the last shift it was our star and his sister and two other girls and another boy who played great defence all game and then with a minute left an empty netter by our star player and so it wound down, seven to three and then the buzzer and then we could enjoy it, our son dropping his stick and raising his arms and his teammates surrounding him for an extended group hug. 

The trophies presented and his coach calling him up last, making a big deal about him and really it ended perfectly, the team playing as well as it could, beating another very good team and our boy being relied upon to make some big saves, to be a big part of the victory. It couldn't have been any better, the team picture with a huge trophy and him lying down in front of the team, HIS team and reveling in it all.

 For me, more relief than anything at first and then pride, pride in a boy seeing a challenge and having the guts to take it on and see it through. A great day for this Dad. A great day.

 And now he's three for three the little ......!

Mud, Muck and Dead Things

 So here we are.

 Imagine the Edmonton Oilers not being a good team again until Taylor Hall was retired. Imagine if they were not even halfway through the really bad years, that after that they had eight years where they were just mediocre and then another six before they won a Cup. Bam! Stanley Cup! right?

 On other words you are twenty five now and would be pushing fifty when it finally came together. And that's with having already lived through the past eight years of garbage hockey from a garbage franchise.

 In other words for you Oiler fans or Falmes fans or Canuck fans who are crying about two bad months(!!), I guess the phrase would be stop your crying you crying crybabies. Your teams may be the worst team in hockey for the last eight years or a team that waited too long to rebuild or a team whose window has closed but you've nor right to say a damn thing about losing until you suffer the way Wings fans suffered from 1967 to 1983 and beyond.

 The worst of the worst.

Detroit Red Wings 1967 to 1983

Length - 17 seasons

Losing Seasons - 14 (including 12 of 13 after 1970)

Bottom Five - 9 of 13 after 1970

Last Overall  - 2

Worst Season - 1976/77, 16 wins for 41 points, outscored 309 to 183 (!!!!!)

Playoff Appearances - 2

Playoff Wins - 3

Weirdness - oh boy. OK well first of all the Wings only missed the playoffs four times in the thirty five years before this streak began and have only missed twice since it ended. They were the best American franchise in hockey before expansion and have been the premier franchise in hockey since 1991. But for nearly twenty years they were a disaster.

 In 1986 the team actually finished dead last one more time, with forty points!

 From 1968 to 1982 they had fourteen coaches (hello Oilers!)

 From 1970 to 1973 the team was run by Ned Harkness, this time period was known as 'Darkness Under Harkness'. Harkness is best remembered (by Wikipedia at least) as instituting rules regarding drinking, smoking, haircuts and phone calls. In the 1970s. Lol.

 The Good - In 1971 they drafted Marcel Dionne with the second pick overall. In 1983 they drafted Steve Yzerman with the fourth pick overall.

The Bad - they traded Dionne to the Kings where he would go on to become one of the most prolific scorers of all time

The Bad - Between these two home runs (and before Dionne) their top ten picks were *deep breath* Jim Rutherford (10th), Bill Lochead (9th), Rick Lapointe (5th), Fred Williams (4th), Dale McCourt (1st overall!), Willie Huber (9th), and Mike Foligno (3rd). Good job good effort scouts!

The Bad - Two of the years in this stretch they didn't even have a first round pick!

The End Game - As noted in the introduction the team wasn't all that great for the eight years after the Yzerman draft but because they were in the Norris they began to make the playoffs regularly. They were bad enough though to draft in the top ten five times in those eight years, including 1st overall in 1986 and 3rd overall in 1990. Plus 11th overall two more times. So yeah they were still pretty junky until 1992 when they started a twenty year run where they were basically a contender every year. They won four Cups and would have won a fifth if not for injuries to Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Hossa in 2009 ( I feel pretty comfortable in saying this) plus they made the Finals one more time for six in under fifteen seasons if my math is right. And their roster included a literal who's who of hockey greats during this time.

But if you were middle aged when the run began in 1967 you were either dead or pretty old when they finally won something. That's the definition of sorrow right there.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - they're number one! Though what would have been hilarious is if the end game was more or less being the Leafs and not winning anything. The hockey gods aren't that cruel though.

What We Learned - if you are a fan of the Oilers, which I am, or the Blue Jackets or Islanders or Thrashers/Jets the reality is that you have not seen anything yet. Things could get worse and you might be dead before anything good happens for your favourite team. Best to go out and enjoy a beer and a cigarette patio now that spring is here. (looks at weather forecast, shoots self in gut to ensure slow painful death)

Monday, March 24, 2014


So now its down to our final two. Two teams worse than the Thrashers, the Blue Jackets, the Seals, the Oilers, the Islanders. A team that makes the expansion Sens and Pens tank jobs and Chicago's long Wirtz winter look like positively joyful experiences. Awful reminders that no matter how bad you have it someone else can have it worse.

 This was literally almost a coin flip. In the end the difference was the length of one drought compared to the other and the fact that the payoff, as it were, was still a generation away. But honestly you could place these guys at number one and I probably couldn't argue too strongly against it. I almost rewrote this just now I am that unsure myself.

 This team had a run of thirteen seasons in which they had one playoff appearance but even that season they managed to lose more games than they won. They moved TWICE during that period. TWICE! And they finished in the bottom five eleven times including seven times in eight years in a 21 team league.

 Unreal. This is basically impossible

Kansas City Scouts/Colorado Rockies/New Jersey Devils 1974-1987

Length - 13 seasons

Losing Seasons - 13 for 13 (!!)

Bottom Five in the League - 11 

Last Overall - 3

Worst Season - 75/76 12 wins for 36 points, barely beating out the previous year, 13 wins for 36 points

Playoff Appearances - 1

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - Ok where to start. They played two years in Kansas City, two!!, before they pulled the plug. The second season they finished the year 1-35-8.

 Look at those numbers for a second. Still want to complain about your run of tough luck Canucks' fans?

 Once in Colorado they made the playoffs pretty quickly. With a 19-40-21 record. Yep. Of course they were swept.

 In one four year stretch the club had seven coaches and two owners. In 1979/80 future television star Don Cherry, just fired by the Bruins, came to Denver to coach. He lasted one season. In his last game both teams lined up after the game forming an arch with their sticks which he walked through in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots while the crowd cheered.

 After six years the team moved to New Jersey of all places.

 In Jersey they hired Lou Lamoriello in the spring of 1987 after finishing in the bottom five four of the previous five years, a stretch in which Wayne Gretzky, who makes Sid Crosby look like Don Cherry, called the team 'a Mickey Mouse organization'.

*stops typing, suffering from sudden onset of carpel tunnel*

The Good - There is nothing good to say about this franchise during this time.

The Bad - I think their record speaks for itself.

The End Game - Lamoriello came in at a good time, the club had some decent young talent. It took him another eight years but in 1995 the club won a Cup, the first of three it would win in nine seasons. Everybody hated the Devils in those years but they were a top notch franchise, only the Wings had more success in that era.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - It was tight, as noted, but their run was shorter than our number one team and their payoff came sooner. A thin line but to me that was the difference.

What We Learned - I don't even know what to say. This franchise was a goddamned disgrace. Any club that would make Wayne Gretzky show that he is an actual human being with real emotions rather than a hockey playing robot built bu John Zeigler to promote the game ... well that says it all.

So I guess that's my takeaway - Wayne Gretzky is human. And also things can always get worse. Indeed in this case there is one more team to go.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Thrashing Madly. As Parasites Might In Your Blood

 Top three now. Based on the Oilers' much trumpeted 'improvement' which saw them beaten at home by Buffalo (3-1) and the Falmes (8-1) I am beginning to think that in a few years the Oilers will be here, they are just a Taylor Hall trade request away and my guess is that day is coming.

 But for now they remain in sixth (though with a bullet!!) and so here we are at number three.

 In the seventies the NHL was a lot less patient with franchises that weren't working. The Seals were moved to Cleveland and then folded. Kansas City went to Denver and then to Jersey soon afterwards. And the Atlanta Flames ended up in Calgary because hockey and Atlanta did not mix. The Flames didn't win a playoff series in their eight years but they made the playoffs six times, had a winning record five of those years and were basically the most successful 70s expansion club after the Islanders and the Sabres.

 It didn't matter because they couldn't draw flies.

 Of course the NHL, as its wont to do, did the natural thing and twenty years later, chasing the money as usual, decided to put a new team in Atlanta.

 And the end result, in a league far less eager to move franchises after the go go 90s when half the league seemed to be on the move, a league that has gone to the mat to keep a team in Phoenix of all places, was that after eleven years hockey failed in Atlanta again. And this team, unlike the Flames, deserved the city's indifference.

Atlanta Thrashers 2000-2011

Length - 11 seasons (plus, more on that later)

Losing Seasons - 8  

Bottom Five In The League - 5

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 1999-2000, 14 wins for 39 points

Playoff Appearances - 1

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - Their very existence (based on what I noted above). And the fact that unlike Phoenix the franchise was allowed to perish without even a whimper.

The Good - Atlanta had nine top ten picks including two number ones, two number twos, a number three and a number four. And unlike a lot of these failures they drafted pretty well. Of those lottery picks only Patrik Stefan was a real bust and they picked up two superstars in Kovalchuk and Heatley

The Bad - GM Don Waddell had a tough time building around his young core. Despite being in the worst division in the league they only got into the playoffs once!

The Good - When they moved Heatley they managed to get Marian Hossa in return! A future Hall of Famer! All of these years later Heatley is done and Hossa remains a star.

The Bad - Hossa plays in Chicago. Going nowhere is no way to keep your star players (MacT take note). Hossa was gone in 2008 and two years later Kovalchuk followed. The franchise could not get fair return and was doomed, probably when Hossa went.

The Good - Don Waddell is still employed, by USA hockey. This is good news if you are not an American.

The Bad - Don Waddell is still employed, by USA hockey. This is bad news if you are an American

The End Game - The Thrashers moved to Winnipeg which counts for a lot in this exercise. They and the Blue Jackets are equally as abysmal but these guys were so bad they killed hockey in a city. Even if it was Atlanta that is impressive. Also although they have the 21st century inflated winning record in their first two seasons in Winnipeg (and possibly a third) the Jets look to be about to miss the playoffs for the third straight year. You can take the Thrashers out of Atlanta apparently but they're still not that good.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - As I noted these guys and the Jackets are at about the same level, which is totally shit, but the two teams remaining had runs as long or longer than them and were even worse. So Oiler fans, it can get worse! Now excuse me while I drink some gasoline and die a painful death which will probably be less painful than being an Oilers' fan.

What We Learned - Don't put a team in Atlanta. You might destroy a franchise but in hockey you will always find a job anyhow (see Waddell and Steve Tambellini). And that you might draft a bunch of hotshot kids, actual superstars, but if you don't fill in the pieces around them you are still doomed to failure until finally they make their escape wait why is this sounding familiar and why am I so sad all of a sudden.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Emperor's New Clothes

 A must read for any hockey fan is Gare Joyce's 'Future Greats and Heartbreaks' a look at scouting and the NHL draft from within an NHL organization. Joyce was embedded with Columbus for a year and his stories about the process are fascinating. Phil Kessel's interview, the preferential treatment given to London stars Pat Kane and Sam Gagner (perhaps explaining the latter's coasting through his career in Edmonton so far when it comes to the more difficult parts of his job), the silk scarves favoured by Tom Renney - these are amongst the interesting stories that Joyce tells but my favourite stories are about the man who agreed to allow him in on the process, Doug MacLean.

 MacLean is an Island good old boy, the same as good old boys from everywhere,a grinning, handshaking, story telling salesman. When MacLean is fired at the end of the book his replacement, Scott Howson, is described as 'quiet, keeps to himself, the anti-MacLean'. Howson may have been the 'anti-MacLean' in temperament but when it came to hockey management the two were cut from the same cloth although to be fair to Howson the team he left Jarmo Kekalainen is poised to make the playoffs for only the second time in franchise history this spring. In contrast to the Jackets their sister franchise, the Minnesota Wild have four playoff appearances, a fifth coming, two series victories which led to a spot in the conference finals and a division title.

 The Jackets have nothing.

Columbus Blue Jackets (2001-2013)

Length - 12 seasons

Losing Seasons - 10

Bottom Five In the League - 5

Last Overall - 1

Worst Season - 2011/2012 with 29 wins for 65 points

Playoff Appearances - 1

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - That there is a team in Columbus at all. One of the goalies they selected in the expansion draft, Dwayne Roloson, signed with an AHL team rather than with the BJs. Doug MacLean was their GM and he's horrible

The Good - The BJs nabbed Rick Nash with the first overall pick in 2002.

The Bad - The BJs drafted in the top eight nine years in a row. Besides Nash they selected Rusty Klesla, Pascal Leclaire, Nikolai Zherdev, Alex Picard, Gilbert Brule, Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek and Nikita Filatov.

The Bad - Nash asked to be traded.

The Bad - Howson traded Voracek and another top pick to Philly for Jeff Carter. The Flyers picked Sean Couturier. Carter pouted his way out of Columbus within months.

The Worse - The return for Carter - Jack Johnson.

The End Game - The Jackets almost made the playoffs last season and are in good shape to make it this season. Young centre Ryan Johansen looks like a star in the making. While the team remains weirdly anonymous (try and name a half dozen players on their roster) it seems that the franchise has finally turned the corner.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - They were bad but their badness was more of an anonymous mediocrity than a truly disastrous run. Always bad but not bad enough to get those lottery picks (which in itself is a form of badness of course). Plus the team stayed put.

What We Learned - Again, drafting and development (Brule, for example, was rushed into the NHL) trumps all.

The hockey business is an incestuous old boys' club. MacLean was a disaster as a GM and yet now works in hockey media. Of course this tells you all you need to know about hockey media and Rogers specifically, a guy with a big mouth and no sense is front and centre on their broadcasts.

 And meanwhile the second architect of the Blue Jackets' sorry history was hired almost immediately by the Edmonton Oilers, who are working hard to move up this list and catch these guys.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Oh, What A Void There Is In Things

 We're in our top five now. If things don't get better for the Oilers and Islanders they will crack this group soon, as a matter of fact if the Oilers have another disastrous season next year then I would probably move them into this spot. The team here is like a retired hockey player watching his career totals getting passed. They aren't going anywhere.

 Two things work against this team being the worst of all time. First of all while they were bottom five for eight straight years it was in a league ranging in size from 14 to 18 teams so while that is impressive (more impressive is the fact they had no playoff appearances in that time span) its not that big a deal compared to some of their competitors.

 Secondly they had a blip of two years between their first season and the beginning of this streak where they made the playoffs. Those teams were terrible and were helped by the league putting all of their expansion teams in one division but for two seasons at least there was hope before it all collapsed into nothingness. If they had bottomed out right from the beginning they would probably be number one but they finished second in the West in 1969 the bastards.

 The 70s were crazy times man, this team's demise fits right in.

Oakland Seals/California Golden Seals/Cleveland Barons (1971-1978)

 Length - 8 seasons

Losing Seasons - 8

Bottom Five In League - 8

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 1973/1974 78 games, 13 wins, 36 points

Playoff Appearances - 0

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - Where to start. The original owner sold the team after two seasons but (shades of John Spano) the new ownership group filed for bankruptcy and it reverted to the first owner. He then sold it to Charlie Finley whom the NHL selected over a higher and more detailed bid. Two games (!!!!!) into the first season under Finley they changed the team name from the Oakland Seals to the California Golden Seals. Three months into the first season under Finley the new GM, some guy named Bill Torrey, resigned, never to be heard from again.

Under Finley they famously wore white skates after first wearing green and gold skates (the style at the time was to wear skates in team colours apparently).

!n 1974 the league took over the team.

In 1976 the team moved to Cleveland.

In 1978 the team folded, the first NHL club to fold entirely since 1942. What remained of the carcass was absorbed by the Minnesota North Stars.

The Good - There is nothing, no goodness to be found, except for those funky uniforms.

The Bad - In 1970/71 the Seals finished last, behind two expansion teams. They had traded the first overall pick in the draft the previous year to Montreal for Montreal's first round pick in 1970 (the Seals picked Chris Oddleifson), Ernie Hicke and money. Montreal picked some guy named Guy Lafleur.

The Bad - When the WHA started up the Seals had improved from dead last to 13th overall (out of 16 clubs). Finley refused to pay higher salaries and five of his top ten scorers bolted for the rebel league.

The Bad - In three consecutive years (1971-1973) the Seals had no first round picks despite being horrible

The Bad - They had seven GMs in eight years

The Bad - After moving to Cleveland attendance was worse than in Oakland. The team drew over 10000 fans seven times out of forty games in their first season. The home opener was not one of those games (8900 fans)

The End Game - the franchise moved and then it died. It disappeared into nothingness.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - this was a bit of a tough one because a big part of me thought they could be or should be number one especially seeing as how the franchise actually died. I mean how bad can it get right? In the end there were one thing that weighed against them in my opinion and that was longevity. Their run was only eight years and three of their main competitors were a dozen years or longer and the fourth was eleven years and might be considered longer (more on that shortly).

What We Learned - Unlike Gary Bettman the old time guys weren't afraid to put a sick dog down. NHL owners didn't vet the people who wanted to join their club back then either. And while bad drafting can doom you to a long trek in the wilderness, no first round picks at all will leave you gut shot in the desert, bleeding out for days while the coyotes close in.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

I Know A Thing Or Two About Winning! A Flat Circle of Violence and Degradation.

The fun thing about bad teams is that even when they are bad they try and sell hope. They have to, of course, they are in the business of making money and if fans aren't paying for tickets then there is no (or less) money being made. So even when a team sucks the organization sells hope, wrapping that idea in whatever they can to make the shit sandwich that is on the ice more palatable. So its exciting hockey (!!!) or civic pride or loyalty or whatever they can use to keep the paying customer coming back until things turn the corner.

 In Edmonton they add nostalgia to the mix. Team sucks (thanks to Kevin Lowe), don't worry we will build a new team, just like they did in the 80s with youngsters like Kevin Lowe, that will take us back to those glory days. Just never mind that the guy who drove the team into the ditch is still around overseeing everything that  is going on.

 When Kevin Lowe began to dismantle the very nice club he built that came within a break or two of winning the Stanley Cup and some of us would point out that he was a fuckup people would always say 'why do you question Kevin Lowe about hockey? He won six Stanley Cups. He knows what he's doing!' and hilariously last spring when the club was wrapping up its seventh straight season out of the playoffs Lowe fired Tambellini and installed MacT as GM and then when the media began asking him some very pointed questions he went on his famous rant saying just that.

 Like Rustin Cohle says 'Time is a flat circle of violence and degradation'. Or was it 'The thing I like about prospects is that I get older but they stay the same age.' Whichever one it is it fits the Oilers.

Edmonton Oilers 2007 - present

Length - 8 seasons and counting

Losing Seasons - 6 (take out OT and SO wins and losses and certainly its 8)

Bottom Five In the League - 4 (I'm including this season)

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 2010/2011 25 wins for 62 points 

Playoff Appearances - 0

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - Unlike nearly every other team on the list the Oilers started from a position of strength, a team full of players in their prime that came within a goal of the Cup. In the ultimate house into a paperclip story management turned a pretty good team into junk very quickly. Everyone associated with the team from the owner to the trainers has changed since the summer of 2006 except the guy most responsible for this mess.

Remarkably paranoid and tone deaf, the Oilers have blocked a critical media member's car in with a Zamboni, clumsily threatened a move from one of the most lucrative markets in hockey to get public funding for an arena for their billionaire owner, publicly spoken of different tiers of fans and used the local media (they make Pravda and Tass look like Now Magazine under the Ford Administration) to deride players who are no longer in the organization's plans.

Have we mentioned that the man responsible for this mess went on a famous rant about how much he knows about winning?

The Good - Somehow in a thirty team league the Oilers have been so bad and so unlucky and so lucky that they finished last over all twice and won the lottery the year they finished 29th thus giving them three straight number one picks overall. They also have had three other top ten picks and will have a lottery pick this year.

The Bad - Much like the Islanders the Oilers have made good picks but have already traded one (after botching his development), have another one who looks totally lost at sea in Nail Yakupov and generally are making a mess of it. Despite all of these picks the team is worse.

The Good - Billionaire owner Daryl Katz continues to sell out his rink and is getting a new one built for him, mostly through public money which is good because the Oilers are already one of the most profitable franchises in the league despite no playoff appearances in eight years wait what were we talking about again?

The Bad - Scott Howson came back to rejoin this management team after a number of years with Columbus. Why is this bad? They are on this list too and haven't shown up yet and we're at number six.

The Bad  - The Oilers have traded away a roster worth of good NHL players of all types and literally have nothing to show for it. Which explains why their roster is an inch deep and why they are garbage.

The Bad - Eight years into it it looks like the Oilers only need two top nine forwards (three if Yakupov continues to struggle), two top pairing D, a power play and a clue as to how to play in the NHL collectively, you know with the team play and the checking and consistent effort and the winning puck battles.

The Good - I think that's it so they should be ok.

The End Game - Still no idea. Its eight years out and the end is not in sight and it all depends on what you think of MacT. You look at Gordon and Scrivens and Perron and think he knows what he is doing and then you hear the Clarkson contract talk and you think about the Islanders and then you get really sad. Right now these guys are in sixth place but they are on the cusp of top five and if Taylor Hall were ever to ask out then the sky's the limit BABY!!

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - Believe me I think they deserve it except ... well if you want to talk about degradation wait until you see the top five. The Oilers may very well get there but they have a few years to go yet. (In other words we'll revisit this in 2020 when they hit number one)

What We Have Learned - You would think that these truths are self evident but apparently not. If you move out NHL players of quality for nothing but picks that don't turn out and prospects who suck then your team will suck. Success as a player, no matter how much, does not qualify you to run an enormous business.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Alligator Shouldn't Call Hog Long Mout

This next spot may be controversial.

This team had a dozen losing seasons and in eleven of those they finished in the bottom five of the league and this is in the Bettman league, not the 1970s. Amazingly terrible. Whenever anybody points to the Nordiques or Pens and says REBUILD GOOD this club is the automatic counterpoint as despite all of this losing they still suck.

 Why aren't they ranked higher? Because the twelve seasons are actually two sets of season, one of seven and one of five and they are divided by a five season period in which they made the playoffs four times. They did not win a series (and in total only six games) but they were in the playoffs.

 So why not run them as two separate groups? Because its the New York Islanders, the Mike Milbury and Garth Snow Islanders and while they could be divided into two separate entities the fact that this is the rebuild that never ends deserves to be treated as a full body of work.

New York Islanders (1995 - today) (lol)

Length - 19 seasons

Losing Seasons - 13 (including this one)

Bottom 5 in the League - 11 (probably 12 after this season)

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 2000/2001 21 wins for 52 points

Playoff Appearances - 5

Playoff Wins - 8

Weirdness - Where to start. The team was sold to a guy who had less money in the bank than me (I have very little money in the bank). If you include John Spano (you really have to as its the most Mickey Mouse story in the Mickey Mouse history of the Mickey Mouse NHL) then the team has had four owners during this span and the latest is Charles Wang. Mike Milbury was the GM forever and his replacement is Garth Snow. Oh between them was Neil Smith, who was GM for a month. There was the Fishsticks logo. There were the thirteen coaches, including two stints by Milbury himself. The Rick DiPietro contract. Oh and apparently both Milbury and Snow each offered up all of their draft picks to a team in order to move up in the draft.

The Good - There were the drafts. In the first go round the Isles drafted Wade Redden, JP Dumont, Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo, Eric Brewer, Tim Connollly, Taylor Pyatt and Raffi Torres, all guys who went on to long NHL careers, a couple who will be in the Hall of Fame.

The Bad - They traded all of those guys plus Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe plus the second overall pick who would become Jason Spezza. ALL OF THEM!!

The Good - In their second stint in the basement they have drafted John Tavares, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, Travis Hamonic and a number of other promising youngsters.

The Bad - They have already traded Niederreiter after botching his development. They did get Cal Clutterbuck for him though. Lol.

The Good - Tavares is a kid and is one of the best players in the league already.

The Bad - They used their other number one pick overall on Rick Dipietro. And they gave him a fifteen year contract.


The End Game - We don't know yet. The first seven years resulted in a grand total of six playoff wins. The next five years have resulted in two and the team is in the basement again this season. They are unreal bad.

Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - I can't ignore that playoff run in the middle of this shitshow, especially in a thirty team league.

What We Have Learned - When Mike Milbury opens his mouth on TV hit the mute button. He is the man most responsible for this disaster, nothing he says will help you understand anything about hockey or winning.

Number 8 - Washington Capitals

  I originally thought going through the worst teams in the NHL post expansion would be a fun exercise. I wanted to see where the Oilers fit and where some of the other teams that come to mind when you think of bad teams slotted. Much like when I looked at the 72 Summit Series I found that things are a lot more complicated than I believed and that some of the teams that came to mind at first are rank amateurs when it come to being absolutely terrible. As a matter of fact when I first looked at this last week the Capitals were in my top three or four at worst. A little more research and they slid down the list.

 Further making things difficult is the fact that you have two (or even three if you really want to drill down) eras. From 1967 to 1979 you have between a dozen to eighteen teams. From 1980 to the arrival of San Jose you have twenty one. And then the number rises to the present day bloat of thirty.

 Does being bottom five in an eighteen team league as opposed to a thirty team league matter? How about playoff berths? Its far easier to beat out five teams than fourteen. This isn't as easy as I thought it would be.

 And yet as I noted previously there was a clear demarcation between the two groups of eight I have found and there were three reasons for that.

The ones I have looked at so far tended to have shorter periods of being horrible. Three were ten seasons or more, one was nine, the rest were five or less. The shortest in the worst of the worst is eight seasons. Four are over ten seasons with a fifth closing on on that mark.

 The ones I have looked at so far, buoyed by the Canucks and Leafs yes, had some playoff appearances and success. Nineteen appearances in seventy total seasons, forty six playoff games won, three of them won series, one went to the Cup Final. The ones to come have a total of four playoff appearances in eighty five seasons and this includes four teams that competed against the Leafs and Canucks if you're wondering why they didn't even make the top eight. Four appearances! And three total games won!

 And finally there was the success that resulted from the suffering. Our first eight franchises included five that won a Stanley Cup within five years of their disastrous runs and three of those won a second with the core they built and Chicago may not be done yet. Eight Cups in total. In our next group we have a total of zero.


Washington Capitals 1975-1982

 The one thing I have noted is that drafting is pretty well the end all and be all. Surprisingly a lot of top five picks for these clubs don't turn out at all but the clubs that find the real superstars are obviously the ones that do really well. The difference between a Cup (or two) and no Cups may be the pick that you use on Daigle rather than Pronger and all it takes to turn the corner in many cases is one truly elite talent.

 The Capitals picked first overall in the 1974 draft. The Islanders picked up Bryan Trottier (who lasted until the second round) and Clark Gillies. The Bruins drafted Mark Howe. After these three there were a lot of solid NHL players selected, guys who played over a decade here and there including another Islander pick in Bob Bourne. The Caps selected Greg Joly.

Length - 8 Seasons

Losing Seasons -8

Bottom 5 of the League -7

Last Overall - 2

Worst Season - 1974/75 - 8 Wins in 80 games (!!!) for 21 points

Playoff Appearances - 0

Playoff Wins - 0

Weirdness - That the Caps survived at all especially considering what happened to the Scouts and the Seals

The good - Its not good but they were an expansion team and not only did they have to compete with the established NHL clubs for talent but also the WHA.

The bad - the above point holds true and three other of the 70s expansion clubs were also dreadful but two others became powerhouses relatively quickly.

As often happens the draft mattered most of all. Note the Islanders' draft mentioned above. With their first round picks the Caps drafted Greg Joly (1st overall), Alex Forsyth (18), Rick Green (1), Robert Picard (3), Ryan Walter (2), Mike Gartner (4), Darren Veitch (5), Bobby Carpenter (3) and Scott Stevens (5). So when they started drafting well then the team turned around (also when they traded for Rod Langway) but when four top three picks net you Joly, Green, Picard and Walter then you're not going very far.

The end game - the Caps would become a solid franchise in the 80s, starting a run of fourteen straight playoff appearances which included three straight seasons of 100 points or more. They never got over the hump though and close to forty years of existence have gotten them one Cup Final appearance and nothing more.

Why they don't rank higher - these teams were awful, their first season is probably the worst NHL season in history. The main reason they aren't higher on the list is the era they played in. There are three teams from the same time and all were worse than the Caps. Our other four contenders were worse for longer and/or posted worse/equivalent results in a bigger league. So for the Caps its eighth overall

What we learned - Not much that we didn't know already. Drafting is everything. Being an expansion team sucks. One thing we learned (that we will see time and again now) is that sometimes you can be terrible for a long time and not even become much of anything.

 Also read this on former Sudbury junior Mike Marson, a member of a great junior team in the 70s and one of the original Capitals.