Sunday, February 05, 2017

Kris Russell, A Molehill.



 Remember when the boy started his hockey career? Four straight seasons and four straight championships. It was amazing. After that he played goal for a team that rode a hot start to a regular season championship but collapsed the last three months of the year, including the playoffs. Then he played for a thoroughly mediocre group and then last year he played for a very good team that could have won it all but lost to another very good team that did win it all.

 He's had a decent run but this winter ... hoo boy.

 His team started a solid oh and twelve. Yep you read that correctly. And with only two exceptions they had not been in any game. They had one game where they were down four after three minutes. Just before Christmas they were up by two with six minutes left. The boy had hurt his back so we were watching the end of the game together and he said it looks like we might win and I said son this lead is nothing and the other team suddenly seemed to realize the score and three minutes later THEY were up by two. There were some tears after that one.

 Four times in fifteen games they have given up 10 or more goals. Five more times they have given up nine. They can't score, they can't defend and their goalie can't stop a damn thing. Other than that things are going great!

 Three weeks ago they played a team that had beaten them 9-4, 9-3 and 9-4 (the other four teams in the division are all bunched together and competitive with each other). There was some balancing and the good guys did add two pretty good players just after Christmas, they had still lost both games since but only by four goals each time, so IMPROVEMENT! And this Saturday was their day. Their regular goalie wasn't there and his stand in played very well and there was no collapse and they held a kid who scored 7 on them a few weeks previous (!!!) to one goal and when the buzzer sounded they were 4-2 winners!

 There was much rejoicing!

 They then lost 10-1 and 10-3 but hey, a win!

 LOL.

-------------------------------------

 The reason the boy's team is terrible is a simple one, the usual one that plagues bad teams at any level. Not enough good players. It is why the Oilers have been terrible for a decade. It has nothing to do with chemistry or leadership or intangibles of any sort. They have not had enough good players for years and now that they have added a lot of good players over the past few years suddenly they are a much better team.

 The fact that they are a better team has nothing to do with trading Taylor Hall. Hall is gone, the team is better, therefore Hall was the problem is ... well, go sit in the corner and think for a while if that is your line of thinking on that.

 They are a better team because their most important players have been healthy, Cam Talbot has been very good, they have a fourth line that can bring some offence and their D is not Jeff Petry and a bunch of rookies and minor leaguers.

 They are a better team because, wait for it, they have added three NHL calibre defencemen to last year's roster.

And Kris Russell is one of those defencemen.

 Here's the thing about Kris Russell. I don't get him. Or maybe more accurately I don't get it, it being the idea of Kris Russell and why it is such a big deal.

 There is a guy online that I admire ( @ukranianplug ), we don't always agree on everything but he is a straight shooter and level headed and the other night he tweeted:




Is Russell great at blocking shots? Yes.



Does Russell tend to fall out of position & bleed chances against? Yes.


It's not one or the other.

 A (imagine!) measured and rational view.

 Russell has become the lightning rod this season. Part of this is because stats people don't like him and when stats people take a stand you invariably get the polar opposite fans staking out the opposite opinion and planting their flag there. But it goes deeper than that.

 After years of this (this being talking hockey on the interweb) I have learned one thing. People get an opinion and they can't be argued out of it. No amount of statistics, reasoning or evidence of any sort will make them change their mind. I have seen years of arguments that go simply like this: the Oilers would be a better team if they remove player A (a useful and in some cases excellent NHL hockey player) from the roster and replace him with anybody. (This is not just an Oilers' thing by the way).

 Think about that argument and how foolish it is. Remove their best player, best centre, best defenceman and put a minor leaguer in their place and the Oilers will be better. How do you come to this conclusion?

  It's because you don't like the player. You don't like him and you never will. I work with a guy who despises Phil Kessel and still will not acknowledge that he had a positive impact on the Pens or anything to do with their title last season. You can argue until you are blue in the face and he will always come back to 'cancer in the room, bad teammate' and so on. He has no evidence against overwhelming odds but he does not care. He hates Kessel and nothing will convince him that Kessel is a good NHL player. Seriously!

 And so it is with Russell. Hey I cheer for Russell, he plays for my team and I want him to do well because if he does well then the team does well. I just don't think he is very good. He skates very well. He works hard. He blocks shots, sure. And he is the team's fifth best defenceman and in a year both Nurse and Davidson will likely be better than him. He doesn't bring any offence and he is chaos in his own end too much for my liking. And the thing is, never mind the stats. Ask Falmes' fans or Dallas fans about the guy. Nice guy, works hard, good in the room. And that's about it. Eminently replaceable.

 And yet you have Elliotte Friedman, who I like a lot, mentioning him along with McDavid and Draisaitl as a guy the Oilers need to sign.

 Why is this? What is the attraction?

 I think we have to go back to the idea that the team is winning now and one difference between last year's team and this year's team is Kris Russell and so folks look at A and B and say that B has caused A whereas if the Oilers had added any other veteran Dman the same would have also been true. Why are the Oilers better this year:

McDavid healthy, Klefbom healthy, Talbot excellent, emergence of Draisitl, emergence of Maroon, having seven top nine NHL forwards, Sekera's excellence, addition of Larsson, addition of Benning, quality fourth line, addition of Russell.







That is how I would rank it, your mileage might vary, but I don't see adding Russell being that big a deal and he can be replaced easily.


But Russell is beloved, even though he is basically Steve Staios, (god I loved Steve Staios so maybe there you go!) only not as good as Steve Staios. Why is he beloved? The stats guys hate him, the Oilers are winning and also he goes to my pet theory about fans. Fans don't love Ales Hemsky or Oscar Klefbom or Phil Kessel because they can't relate to them. Fans didn't love Tom Gilbert even though he was amongst the tops in the league for shot blocking for years because he made the game look simple. Very good skater, smooth passer, smart player. But he made it look easy and so ironically despite being an excellent and prolific shot blocker he was derided as soft while Russell is lauded as Alberta grit personified. Maybe it was Gilbert's hair. (I actually guarantee that some dudes did not like him because of that hair.)



Russell is like so many players of that type, he is beloved because he works hard but also because fans identify with him. Unless you have been a top nine F/top 4 D in the NHL or grew up as a big fish in a small pond then you have known what it's like to be the guy who is too small, too slow, not good enough. And how do you hang in there? You work hard, check your ass off, block shots, dig for pucks in the corner, keep your teammates laughing. You watch Jordan Eberle stick handle and you can't relate to that talent. You see Kris Russell battle some guy bigger than him, fall down, get back up, block a shot and ring it around the boards and you think 'hmm that looks familiar ...'




Kris Russell is fine with me because he is an NHL defenceman and he is better than eighty percent of the guys who have played D for the Oilers this last decade. If come July and they need a guy to shore up the bottom pair and there is nobody better out there then give him a one year deal. Otherwise let him walk. Seriously. Who cares about Kris Russell.




 Although I will say if Chia gives him a longterm deal and the Oilers have to give up any sort of asset to keep a guy who was basically waived through the league last summer, well then we have a problem.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

Keep On Keepin' On or Why Pat Maroon is Chia's Most Important Acquisition


 Maroon reenacting the Orr shot.

-------------------

 My daughter is going to high school in the fall, just over four years from now she will graduate high school and may be gone soon after. Sure if she goes away to school she will come back for holidays and the summer but really that will be it. I am not looking forward to it.

 She's a teenager now and she can be a challenge at times. She is strong willed and independent and somewhat selfish, same as we are, and so we buttheads often butt heads. She is also smart and kind and hilarious and thank dog she has finally learned how to tell a story. About a year ago we were at dinner and I interrupted her as she tried to tell an anecdote, it was agonizing, all like this and like that and pauses and her voice trailing off. (She was just a typical kid, I have never met anyone under the age of 12 who can tell a story worth a damn).

 Be concise with your words I said. When you digress, which is allowed (and encouraged, I go off on tangents all of the time), you have to keep it relevant and it has to be very good. Build to the ending and then let them have the punchline. Don't speak in a monotone. Don't mumble. GODDAMNIT!

 Just kidding on the last, I would never say that to my kids. I would think it though.

 Well glory be she can tell a story now, man can she nail it, the other night she had us in stitches, just had us reeled in, wait for it, wait for it, and then let us have it. We rolled about the place and the great thing was it was just some little bullshit story about something mundane that had happened to her, nothing really, and she hit it out of the park, turned it into a work of art. Great stuff, as you might guess I put a high premium on the ability to spin a good yarn.

 She is applying for a couple of arts high schools, dance is her passion, she is at the studio nearly every day and I have taken to doing pirouettes and flying leaps around the house in imitation of her own high flying ways, she literally dances from room to room at times. Really no surprise that she is an excellent dancer as after a number of drinks I will cut the rug like nobody's business. She got that talent from me as well as, unfortunately for her, the monobrow and hairy back. :(

Last week she went to one of these schools, she had to audition and write an essay and interview with a panel. It would be nerve wracking I would think although Jenn was far more nervous than she. Afterwards we talked about it and she said that she had been a little nervous but had done well she thought except for one thing in the interview.

 What happened I asked. Well, she said, they asked me if I could explain the difference between dancing on my own and dancing as part of the performance team and I had a brain cramp and said that when I was dancing as part of the team there were other people there.

 Fuck we laughed and I will tell you that I was pretty proud of her at that moment because even though she had goofed she was not worried about it and was able to laugh at her mistake. It was a pretty cool moment. She is amazing.

-----------------

 Another guy who can probably laugh at his mistakes right now is Peter Chiarelli. He has made some big ones but the Oilers are sitting pretty right now. After years of discarding Real NHL Players for nothing, literally, this leading to the Oilers having a historically terrible run, Chiarelli has, in 18 months added a bunch of Real NHL Players, many for nothing but cash. Amazingly this has resulted in success. WHO KNEW?!?!??! (Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish didn't and um, fuck those guys). Besides Connor McDavid the Oilers added Sekera, Letestu, Kassian, Caggiula, Benning, Talbot, Russell and Lucic, not to mention the arrival of Davidson, Nurse, Hang on Slepy Hang On and Khaira.

 For. Basically. Nothing.

 Now a couple of the kids won't cut the mustard longterm and that Lucic contract is just waiting for the next lockout to get cut loose but even disregarding falling into McDavid I count eight actual NHL players there, not counting the kids who have come up through the system.

 Talbot has been great this year, Sekera is the best defenceman on the team, Letestu and Kassian and a rotating cast of kids and Matt Hendricks have given the team a quality fourth line for the first time since Glencross, Brodziak and Stortini. Benning is beautiful and Russell, well I have no complaints about Russell as what he presently is, a stopgap 4/5 guy on a one year deal.

 Remember when the Oilers' D was basically Jeff Petry and a bunch of third pairing or minor league guys (and before that Tom Gilbert and a bunch of third pairing or minor league guys) and how some wondered why the Oilers were so terrible? Well now they have a real NHL D and Kris Russell is an actual real NHL Dman and he is part of that.

 If they lose Davidson in the expansion draft then they can bring him back for another year but otherwise they are set on the blue for a while. They are young and mobile, the prototypical modern blue, and they are going to get better.

 But the most important guy Chiarelli has added for nothing, another one of these small deals, was Pat Maroon.

(He seems to have a handle on the little deals and midrange UFA stuff doesn't he? And I can forgive him Lucic, sort of. We all knew it was an overpay at the time but Lucic has been a 1LW for a long time.

 Reinhart was a fiasco and while I like Larsson quite a bit ... on no planet was he worth Taylor Hall. Chia panicked there, dealing from a position of weakness, and he blew it. Luckily for us I don't see a need for another big deal, he seems to have a tendency to lose those. And for the first time in a decade the Oilers are dealing from strength. It may be a matter of tweaking now, holy hell I hope so.)

 Anyhow back to Maroon. Everyone loved the deal right away or at least as far as I remember it. Cost nothing, they bought low on a guy who was at worst a proven top nine guy. Now, Anaheim didn't know they were giving up PAT MAROON and Chiarelli didn't know he was acquiring PAT MAROON and still didn't know this after the big guy has some success with the Oilers last spring. If he had known then likely Lucic is not an Oiler and Hall is and they would have brought in Demers or another Dman for cash to shore up that blueline.

 Because Maroon is what they were hoping for when they signed Lucic. Big, rough and tumble (ooh baby rough and tumble, rawrrrrr) and he can keep up with McDavid (as well as anyone can, nobody really can but he's not two zones back like Milan) and he can produce - I mean he won't keep this rate up but he's already almost at 20 goals. He has been fantastic and because he has been so great he has had a ripple effect down the lineup and through the organization.

 Maroon's success has allowed the Oilers to move Lucic down the lineup. He has outplayed Milan and the latter has struggled but having him on the third line means a legitmate third line for starters. They need a real centre for that line and my guess is that will be the target at the deadline and for the offseason, I like Caggiula but he's not the answer, certainly not right now. In any case Maroon sliding up the lineup means the possibility of a real top nine, not just a top six and hang on.

 More importantly long term Maroon has forced the Oilers' hand. A lot of the verbal last summer regarding the expansion draft pointed to the Oilers going four and four in the expansion draft. So:

Lucic, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle

Sekera, Larsson, Klefbom, Davidson or Reinhart (I kid you not, he was in the mix here) or Russell (once the season started and talk of an extension began to be talked about)

Now I like Davidson a lot but to me exposing a top 6 LW in Pouliot didn't make a lot of sense in the above scenario, regardless of who the fourth defenceman was.

 And now Maroon has essentially forced the Oilers' hand to go with seven and three:

Lucic, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Maroon, player X, player Y

Sekera, Larsson Klefbom

Now there are a few ways the Oilers could go here. For starters they could run with Pouliot and Letestu as their sixth and seventh guys. We know that won't happen, Pouliot doesn't look like he has a future with the team although to me, well I have always said 'Get good players, keep good players' and despite Benoit's stumble out of the gate this season he has had two good years with the Oilers and is a legitimate top six guy. Keep him and you have a pretty nice LW depth chart. As for Letestu, well he has proven his value this year, he is a really versatile player and right now their third best centre. Lose either guy and you have to replace them. Protect them and you have to replace a fourth line winger. The Oilers would basically hit the summer with this year's roster minus maybe Davidson and Kassian. Pretty damn good spot to be in (and while we assume Davidson would be picked he has struggled to get back up to speed since returning from injury.).

 And then there is another option and here is where things get really good. With Leon on the wing and young Puljujarvi coming and Benning's emergence there is one obvious gaping whole in this lineup. Sure another top four RH D would be great to give Benning some cushion but right now that hole is at 3C. The Oilers need one. A quality centre who can score fifteen goals and check would make what looks like a pretty good team that much better. Plus give Lucic someone other than a rook at C and I think we see more offence there as well.

 Now if I am Chiarelli and Pouliot isn't in my plans or I am thinking of exposing Letestu I am doing one of two things. I'm looking for someone at the deadline who still has term to fill that 3C role. Or when the season is over I am looking at teams who have expansion draft problems and who are looking to get anything for guys that they are going to lose for nothing.

 If you want to replace Pouliot and you want to add that 3C then make your moves then and those are your sixth and seventh forwards you protect.

 Just make sure to thank Pat Maroon for forcing their hand on this. ;)


Friday, January 27, 2017

The Oilers Have Risen and So Have I (not a boner reference)


Oh hello. I know, it's been a long time since we rock and rolled here, not a reference to my own rocking and rolling, not dead yet thank Christ.

It is slightly ironic, not in the Alanis Morrisette sense of purchasing 10000 spoons, that's mental illness, not irony, that other than the opening salvos of this blog, back in the spring of ought six, nearly it's entirety, all of those posts, over a thousand of them, were written when the Oilers were garbage, one of the worst stretches in NHL history and now, when they are actually good, I have written not a one.

 Well I am here to change that, let me tell you.

 Above is a picture of the boy the last time the Oilers made the playoffs. Below that is a picture of him now. He is 11 and finishing grade 6. He plays hockey and soccer, is a hell of a student, a hilarious dude who has been to France and will be going to Italy in April and yeah ... he has had a damn good run so far.

 When Pronger and Smytty and Horc and Ales Hemsky and Gator and Roli and the rest of that beautiful team were just falling short to that bullshit Carolina team (thanks Craig Simpson for that fucking power play that cost us the Stanley Cup) my son could not walk or talk and was still shitting his pants two or three times a day.

 It's been too long.

 This morning we wake up to the Oilers a hair out of first in their division, fourth in the conference and two points out of being alone in second, and twelve points up on the ninth place team.

 Their goal differential is second best in the conference and seventh best in the league.

 ....

 I am without speech.

 Miles still to go before we sleep and injuries could derail everything but this just in (to steal a phrase from Jeff Veillette), the Oilers are 'actually good'. This isn't a team riding ridiculous luck or hanging on to a playoff spot for dear life after a charge through October and November. The one place they have been lucky is in the injury department. Dwayne Roloson going down in G1 of the Final in 2006 was a harbinger of what was to come as increasingly talent thin teams invariably lost what little talent they had to injuries, many of the freakish variety. While this year had been very gratifying the fact is that last year's team, healthy, would have likely finished around 20th or 21st in the standings. The leap this season has been a big one but not as huge as we think.

 The injury bug has hit this club too but it has been third pairing D and fourth line wingers who have taken a beating. While poor Pitlick might disagree, guys like him and Khaira and Hendricks, Davidson and Fayne, Gryba and even Nurse, can be replaced pretty easily. Draisatl or Sekera or Talbot, not so much.

 So fingers crossed there.

 Playoffs? PLAYOFFS!?!?!??!

 Looks like.

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

Dad



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.