Friday, May 31, 2013

Luck





 Hello. Hello? *taps mic* I'm still here. Is anybody out there?

 This is going to be a ramble, making up for lost time a bit here.

 The idea of luck, serendipity, the path not taken, the path taken because of a random event, these thoughts have appeared on these virtual pages many times and for good reason. This blog is a blog about two things, its about life and its about sport and in both cases it is luck that plays a major role in how the story and thus the stories here, are written.

 This isn't to say that hard work and smarts and courage and plain old talent don't play a role because obviously they do. Where I am and who I am with today is a result of a path taken which was the result of a dozen chance encounters, each leading to the other. Once I got to the path it was what I did that got me here but getting on that path? Pure and total luck.

 The path is a beauty. In my mind I always go back to those northern pine woods by the lake and so for me this is a walk through those woods, the bed of pine needles soft underfoot, the trees whispering in the wind, the sun filtering down, through the spruce and cedar at the shore, the cold blue waters sparkling. I hear birds and deeper in the forest the rush and rustling of a fox or its prey. Its simple and its beautiful and I'm a lucky man for living it.

 And of course this is the thing, even though all is well for us the reality is that all it will take is a sudden turn, a cell turning on the body, a drunk driver, any number of things, and it could all come crashing down. Its the way it is. My Mom turned eighty yesterday and her and Dad, who will be eighty one in three weeks, are getting ready to head into those woods for the summer. One of these years will be the last one but for now they are going to go up and enjoy their favourite place for another summer, the forty fifth one I think it is now. Mom still has pain in her leg from the nervous disorder that attacked her three summers ago but she is strong again and walking (they said it couldn't be done!) and so she has beaten it, just as she has beaten cancer twice. Three times her body turned on her and three times she won out but it may have gone another way. And my father in law, visiting us now, who pretty well died from a massive heart attack four years ago, is fit and trim and enjoying his second lease on life and so it goes for them, unlucky and lucky as well.

 With that said the past few months have been awfully tough for me and a lot of lost sleep, a friend and two cousins struck by cancer, fifty and thirty nine and thirty four and so yeah fuck it all to hell. Mom and I talking and she said 'Life's not fair' and even my kids already know that and so we think good thoughts and hope for the best. I'm not the praying type but those who are are doing so. And so we wait.

 Bad luck for all three. Here's hoping that some good luck follows.

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 The boy is a hockey madman. Friends of ours were up from the Island and their young lad said to my young lad hey lets play some street hockey and my son was all 'wha, you can do that?' as he has two sisters and every kid on our little street (I've lost count of how many kids are on our street now, two more pregnancies happening and another baby just born recently, its mental) is either too young or is a girl who has no interest in hockey. His older sister is game and so the call of 'Car' has begun to be heard again, apparently a decade ago there was plenty of road hockey going on but that generation has moved out and moved on. What this means when it comes down to it is that I'm the main opponent and so last Sunday I spent five hours give or take pounding the pavement until dinnertime came and I could barely walk. I haven't done a whit of exercise in over a month and still I weighed myself the other day to find myself six pounds lighter than after Christmas despite all of the beer and I'm thinking I lost twice that last weekend.

 So we have the road hockey and he's watching as much of the playoffs as possible, I'm afraid he's straying from his nominal favourite, our Edmonton Oilers, and when Hemsky goes this summer that may be it. He's seen enough great hockey this spring to recognize that the Oilers are shit and when I tell him its been seven years out he snorts with derision. He loves Crosby and Hossa and Datsyuk, he has an appreciation for the artists for sure (he loves Hemsky) but I think its Crosby's strong muscular thighs which have caught his eye most of all, much like Pierre Maguire.

 And he's playing spring hockey, its a 15 game season and the top two teams play for all of the marbles and did I mention to you that I have played hockey for probably about forty teams in my entire life and in all of those seasons I have played for the championship twice with one title? And did you know that my son, who is seven years old, won a championship in his first hockey season and that in his spring league with four games left to go they need two more wins to clinch a spot in the final.

 Seriously.

 SERIOUSLY.

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

 With the final four upon us and two game sevens having just been played, each being decided by a goal, we might think again on luck and how it has an impact on hockey. I was on Twitter discussing Chicago a few nights ago and Michael Parkatti remarked that he was a bit amazed that the Hawks had a total of four (4!) championships over their long history.

 It is and it isn't. I'm not a big math guy but I think the Hawks should have seven or eight titles if my math is right, the big problem for the franchise is between 1942 and 1967 when they should have won four they only won one and the main reason for that is for nearly that entire time they had horrible ownership that hobbled them. They probably should have won another Cup or two between 1961 and 1973 but they didn't because, generally, other teams were a bit better or a bit luckier (1971 stands out most of all) but after 1973 they really only two true contenders, in 1991 and 1992, and again you can blame ownership for that as well. The reality is the franchise wasn't cursed, as many say losing franchises are, other than to be owned by James Norris when they had the best opportunity to win Cups and to be owned by Bill Wirtz and run by Bob Pulford for decades.

 When you don't win in forever there may be a bit of luck involved but the reality is that there is usually a reason. Sure the Red Sox collapse in 1986 was a disaster but for the rest of that massive drought they went through they didn't even get a sniff. But if Bob Stanley had struck out one of those guys that he had two strikes on in the bottom of the ninth with two out, well then, everything is different. Of course if Rivera closes the Sox out years later and the Yankees sweep the Sox then ...

 (As an aside I remember reading somewhere shortly before the Chicago White Sox won to break their own drought that the odds of both they and the Cubs not winning a World Series for as long as they had was something ridiculous like 10000 to 1. Imagine.)

 What makes hockey (and most sports) so wonderful and so exasperating at the same time is that randomness will get its due. Take the three most famous goals in Canadian history. While Canada deserved to win in 1972, 1987 and 2010 it is easy to imagine Henderson, Lemieux and Crosby not scoring and history taking a different path.

 Tony Esposito stops Jacques Lemaire's slapshot in 1971. Hawks win the Cup.

 Nashville does not allow a Chicago SH goal late in game five in 2010. Hawks lose game six or seven and the team gets disbanded without ending the drought.

 Stan Smyl scores.

 Jeff Friesen does not score with two minutes left of game seven against the Sens in 2003.

 Nathan Lafayette does not hit the post.

 Kerry Fraser calls that high stick.

 Joe Pavelski gets that puck up on Jonathan Quick and Sharks win.

 Nathan Horton does not score in OT against the Habs and the Habs win. Or he does not score late against Tampa and Tampa wins.

 Martin Gelinas' goal counts.

 Fernando Pisani scores late in game seven.

 See how that works? Isn't it mental? And the thing is, NONE of these scenarios are anywhere outside of the realm of possibility. NONE OF THEM. And yet the history of franchises, the way players are regarded, coaches' jobs, all altered.

 Chicago wins in 1971. Or does not in 2010.

 The great Calgary team from the nineties never wins a Cup but the one in 2004 does.

 That beauty Oiler club from 2006 wins it all.

 The Senators win a Cup (you know they would have beaten the Ducks). The Sharks move on to face Chicago and try and rewrite their own narrative.

 Boston's drought does not end and Claude Julien gets fired and that team is dismantled. The Canucks win the Cup easily against Tampa or Montreal, their second one.

 The Rangers don't end their drought.

 The Leafs end theirs.

 Luck. Bounces. I'm not saying the better team did not win in those games but a lot of better teams have lost series over the years.

 Why do I bring this all up? Well its a bit of an odd year to do to be honest, we have the last four Stanley Cup winners competing in the final four. There is no narrative to be written for any of these franchises or their players or staff. They are all winners, so to speak. Each coach has won. All of the big name players on each team have won the Cup.

 But I noted how close the Sharks came and how almost immediately after the call came for Thornton and Marleau to go despite the fact they had been, as they usually are, the two best Sharks' players in the playoffs this year.

 And I noted how dismissive a small minority were of the outcry over the Walkom call at the end of game seven in Chicago. And I thought about it and I wondered why were some people saying that it wasn't a big deal and how some people said oh poor Stephen Walkom, he's such a good guy (EVERYONE IN HOCKEY IS A GOOD GUY) instead of a cowardly incompetent which is basically what he is.

 And I have to admit I'm a guy who has always dismissed Leaf fans, who, twenty years later, still complain about a missed call.

 Not any more.

 Here's the thing. If everything were fair you'd win the Cup every thirty years. Thirty teams. Right? But of course it doesn't work that way. Lets look at the twenty two years since the Sharks entered the league.

 In the twenty one years the Cup has been contested there have been a dozen winners. That's all. A dozen.

 So yeah the refs had better get those calls right because the reality is there are going to be years that your team is lousy, unless you are Detroit, and there are years your good team is going to get riddled by injuries and there are years where your team is really good but other teams just happen to be better.

 And there are times where you're just going to be unlucky. It doesn't matter how hard you work or what a great teammate you are or how good a player you are (does anyone doubt that Mats Sundin did not deserve to win based on his 'hockey attributes'? Or Doug Wilson? Or Saku Koivu?) sometimes shit doesn't work out.

 And that is the exasperating part. It doesn't matter what you do you might still not win because of pure dumb circumstance.

 And that is what is exasperating when your team has bad management because, for example, the Oilers have basically just lost a decade unless somehow MacT pulls off a miracle and speeds up the process. Or as Chicago (Chicago model!!) did under Wirtz and Pulford, lost fifteen years between the Keenan years and the death of Dollar Bill.

 And then you have the boy.

!!!!!!

 Ramble ramble meander meander, going drinking tonight onto the patios. Have a great weekend!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Round One Thoughts


The first round is invariably the best round. So many matchups, so many stories, upsets. By the time the Final rolls around the grind has taken its toll on the players and the ice is soft and crappy and quite often the matchup is a dud. The highlight for me, the presentation of the Cup, is still great but even it has been watered down over the years by the confinement of the players to a little area of the ice and of course Bettman's presence doesn't help my mood one bit.

 But in the first round you get wars and major surprises and hockey hockey hockey every night all night. Its the best.

 What can we learn from the first round? Not much really. Narratives are written based on a team's performance over a two week period and what happens two weeks later means a new narrative is written. So a player who does not score in the playoffs is soft and a choker until he scores some and then when he doesn't then he is labelled again. Unless the media likes him.

 Anyway here are some thoughts, series by series.

Chicago - Minnesota

Colby Cosh wrote about how a short season meant that some pretty shitty teams would make the post season. The Wild were one. I've never been a fan of the Wild. Jack Lemaire put in that passive Devils type of hockey into place and years later nothing has changed. I'm not even talking about trapping, I'm just talking about a style which has no style. The Wild barely hit, they didn't attack, they didn't do a damn thing and any chance they had at all went down when Backstrom did. No sorrow from this quarter, especially with Leipold being a driving force behind the lockout apparently. The Hawks barely broke a sweat and except for the first goal Crawford allowed he was fine, which may put to bed their biggest worry. They are so deep on the back end that its difficult to figure out which is their top pair and which is their third and their bottom six scored seven of seventeen goals in their series. They're the real deal, which we knew, and as I noted in my thoughts on round two, things are working out nicely for them in terms of the draw they have.

Anaheim - Detroit

 I watched very little of this one but Pavel Datsyuk provided everyone with some more magic moments on his way to the Hall of Fame. I figured the Wings had a good chance in this one and they proved me right. They're not the team they once were but they're still solid. As for the Ducks well they were riding the percentages all year and these failed them (and especially Corey Perry) when it mattered most. One revelation? Old friend Andrew Cogliano playing tough minutes and doing so quite well. The playoffs - always a source of embarassment for Oiler fans somehow.

 Vancouver - San Jose

 What happened here is probably the most interesting result from the first round and one from which a few possible serious conclusions might be drawn. It looks like Vancouver's window is closing and the question is what now? Vigneault will likely take the gaspipe although really I don't know if they will find a better coach out there. Luongo will finally be traded but the return will be very little unless Gillis finds a couple of desperate teams this season, which is possible. And then Gillis needs to figure out if he needs to tinker (like San Jose has done for the most part these past few years) or if he needs to tear it down. His core is getting older for the most part and the worry for him has to be whether his club is a contender anymore or if they are just reaping the reward of playing in a garbage division. Even if it is the latter though can he bring in enough to make the team a contender once again in the twilight of the Sedins?

 Its one thing to lose because of some bad bounces, quite often a team will get swept undeservedly (I think of San Jose in 2010 for one) but the Canucks were full value for this loss for the most part. Where do they go from here and can they rejig it around the Sedins, Kesler, Bieksa et al? Should make for a very interesting summer.

 St. Louis - Los Angeles

 This one was a war as expected and in the end it went to the defending champions. For the Blues, to me, it comes down to the fact that they lack those pure offensive gamebreakers. They have some great players, no doubt, but unlike the Kings who have guys like Kopitar, Doughty, Williams, Carter and so on, they tend to be more grinders than snipers. I thought this would be the difference and in the end they managed ten goals in six games. Not enough. My guess is they will stay the course although probably a blueliner or two will shake loose from that fantastic top six, hopefully the Oilers will get in on that action.

 Los Angeles? Well I'm picking against them in round two, which is dumb, for they look like a true contender again. For them the big question is will they be healthy enough to finish San Jose and then Chicago. I think not.

 Pittsburgh - Islanders

 This one proved what a lot of people already figured out (although reading some of Derek Zona's Retweets it seems there are some dopes out there still) - Marc Andre Fleury is a major part of the problem in Pittsburgh. Last year the cheery grinning little bastard (he cost me both of my pools last years, he owes me THIRTY DOLLARS!!!) skated despite a performance that was so abysmal that he got outgoaltended by Ilya Bryzgalov. Instead the blame fell on the D (rightfully in some cases) and Crosby and Malkin, amongst others (!). Indeed many were still pronouncing Fleury as a candidate for Sochi next winter for Canada.

 Shero though, well Shero went out and got Vokuon and it was Vokuon who shut the door on a very game Isles club after the laugher Fleury turned in in game four. Is Vokuon and this D enough to take this club all the way, as I would bet the vast majority of predictions figured they would win it all? Very very unlikely. And Fleury is now being mentioned by some as a candidate to be bought out this summer. Like the band that has toured for a decade and is labelled an 'overnight sensation' so too is Fleury's fall from grace 'sudden', no matter how surprised some might be.

 Montreal - Ottawa

 The only series I picked incorrectly although I hemmed and hawwed on it. When it came down to it things weren't even close as ALL of the bad luck happened to Montreal at once. Ottawa had been ruined by injuries to key players all season, scratch that, should have been ruined, but now only Giggly Spezza was out. The Habs? Well in the space of a game they lost three of their top six forwards and then, to add salt to the wound, lost Price to a freak accident while they were somehow still making a battle of it. An overtime goal by Turris on Budaj and then a blowout and that was it. For the Habs though I think the future is bright, they have some great young players. For the Sens, well, its odd, for a franchise that used to be known as the worst possible club come playoff time they won with a bunch of unknowns and, when the Habs tried to goon it up, kicked the shit out of them. Strange but entertaining days.

 Washington - New York

 I didn't watch a minute of this.

 Boston - Toronto

 Probably the most entertaining series of the first round. This one was a war and its probable that Boston won't get past round two because of the toll taken on their D. The Leafs need at least one top four D (ideally two) and a better centre than Tyler Bozak in the top nine, which shouldn't be hard to find, and, well, I know they rode the percentages most of the year but add that to the mix and I think they're back in the playoffs next year.

 Now this depends, of course, on Carlyle playing his best lineup, funny how with Gardiner, Frattin and MacArthur in the lineup and Grabovski getting better linemates and more icetime that suddenly the Leafs looked the Bruins' equal and could have (should have) won the series. And while Carlyle will be bulletproof for this season one would be safe in saying that better lineup choices all season probably means a division title and better first round matchup for Toronto.

 Oh well.

 Boston, well for the Bruins that one was one for the ages. Rask saved them for much of the series and they got little offence outside of the Krejci line until there was less than a minute left in game seven and really I think they are done now unless Seidenberg is not really that badly hurt. But regardless of all of this you can add it to the franchise lore. What a series.

Round Two, ooo ooo ooo, ooo ooo ooo

 Round one was sweet for me, seven and one to bring my alltime first round record to forty seven and seventeen.

 Checking back on round two over the years I was surprised (just as surprised to see how well I had done in round one) to see that in round two I actually have a losing record at thirteen and fifteen.

 Hm.

 So here goes nothing, I'll probably write up some further thoughts on the first round later as well.

Chicago v Detroit

 For the Hawks, like the Pens in the other bracket, things could not have gone more swimmingly for them unless you rate the Wings highly, which I do not. Five games to roll over Minnesota in a series that was pretty well a no hitter on top of being short. Bolland back from injury now too. Meanwhile the Wings went the distance against a Ducks' team that fell back to earth, as many expected.

 I'm not saying the Wings are garbage, they're not, but imo there were five teams in the West to watch, the top six minus Anaheim (and apparently the Canucks too, oops). The Wings are a good veteran club but they don't have the horses that Chicago does and they don't play the heavy game that LA and St. Louis do that might (might) be Chicago's undoing. Of course there are Datsyuk and Zetterberg and both are amazing but Chicago can roll four lines and three pairs of D and as a result I think this is done in five, maybe six. The games will be close but Chicago will prevail.

LA v San Jose

 There really is very very little to separate these two clubs. LA still doesn't score a lot although Penner waking up from his annual hibernation is helping them. I rate Niemi higher than I do Elliott but then again St Louis' D is probably the best in the league. Hm.

 I think San Jose is a bit deeper up front. And I think they are a bit deeper on D and that the goaltending edge goes to them or at the very least is a wash. I also think the Kings took a beating in round one and that this is going to catch up with them. I can't believe I'm going to say this but I'm going Sharks in six.

 (I think I tend to go with my gut more in this round which is probably why I am a LOSER in it)

 Pittsburgh v Ottawa

 A lot of people, I mean almost everyone, was picking Pens to go all the way but I had my doubts. I figured the east was theirs for the taking unless Boston was healthy but the Islanders proved that they can be had. Lucky for the Pens though the draw is a bit easier for them with the Sens beating Montreal. Ottawa won't be a pushover, they have a big D and Anderson is very good but I don't think they score enough. The Pens D and goaltending can be had but its going to have to wait at least a round. Pens in five or six.

 Boston v Rangers

  The Bruins had a comeback for the ages last night and if they were healthy I'd consider them the favourites here but with Seidenberg and Ference on the shelf they're not going to be able to handle the Rangers. Chara looked mortal at times against the Leafs and at his age I can't see him handling a half hour of icetime a night against a Rangers' team that's going to hit him every chance they get. The Rangers don't score a ton but they have a deep enough lineup up front to match the Bruins and in the end the decimated Boston D is going to cost them the Series. Rangers in six.