Monday, June 22, 2015

Life's What You Make It

 


Two things about this summer. Six of my next nine weeks are short for work. And we are booked solid until the last weekend of August. Which follows endless booked weekends going back to ... March? Something like that. Short work weeks aren't the norm. Booked weekends are.

 It's quite the life.

 Now a number of years back I used to bemoan this a bit. I'd look at the calendar and say 'man a weekend of leisure would be good now and then' but the reality is these weekends past and present have been all about it. We've had family visiting and Jenn was in Cambodia and then Ottawa for a run. We had a ballet recital and my hockey tournament and the boy wrapped up spring hockey and this weekend I am off to a northern cabin to drink and laugh with old friends and the rest of the summer will be spent on lakes and beaches and when we are in town and Jenn is working I will take the kids to wander, like I once did when I was younger, hitting the streets dusty footed, looking for food and drink and the city. I have to admit though, the short weeks are coming at a good time.

 This past weekend, well this past weekend was pretty killer.

 Friday Night

 A long time teacher at our school is retiring, we have been lucky enough to have excellent teachers all the way so far and she was the best, teaching our two oldest. Loving and creative and strict as hell, she was perfect and so Friday we went to the legion and celebrated. You want to talk about cognitive dissonance, imagine watching the teachers and staff at your kids' school having some drinks and dancing up a storm. Weird man, weird. And Jenn and I danced and it was wonderful and the night went slowly and surely off the rails, in a good way. You had to be there. Mental.

 Saturday

 When the kids were younger Jenn and I would take turns having dates with them. So one afternoon I would take my daughter down to Kensington and we would hang out, just the two of us, and then another day Jenn would take the boy to lunch and the museum. So Saturday I took our youngest out for the day to the Annex, just west of Bathurst for a community music festival called Open Tuning. It was amazing and I highly recommend it. I'm biased because one of my buddies is a driving force behind it and his old tumble down garage is one of the venues scattered about the neighbourhood where you can see musicians, professional and not so much, play tunes. We went for ice cream and bought some books at Seekers, my favourite book store in Toronto and then we headed over. We hung out in a back alley for the day watching great music and when they had an open mic session my daughter walked up and belted out a song that had the crowd roaring and cheering. She's got guts, that one. One of my favourite days in a long long time ...

 Sunday

 Sunday was Father's Day and I'm not sure I've had one better. A sleep in cuddled right in with my love, we dozed in and out as the sun wafted through the blinds. A big breakfast and then down to College to take in the Italian Festival. After we got home a massive Cherry Chocolate stout on my porch, taking in the late afternoon quiet, then a barbeque and finally the World Cup. I am a lucky man no doubt.

 Before I went to bed the boy gave me his gift, it was a little paper bag with a tie drawn on it. He told me to open it and inside were four little notes. Excuse me while I tear up a little here because quite frankly when they scatter my ashes wherever they scatter them these notes will be part of what's left of me. To have your nine year old say, quite clearly, why he loves you and what he loves doing with you and why he things that you are a good person ....

 Unreal.

The Future
 
And so that was my weekend. And the upcoming one is going to be mental, my pal Frank, who I have talked about a number of times here, has made calls and god help us we are going to be drinking in some backwoods tavern and Saturday night we have some guy named Uncle Leo picking us up in his truck so we can go watch Canada hopefully win the quarters. And this is for starters. Whatever I can remember I will pass along here at some point although my guess is there will just be a blank piece of cyberwhat when that is all said and done.

 Welcome summer.

Fire Them All

 I don't think anybody can be surprised by the purge going on, once LaForge got the axe and Lowe got moved over you knew anything was possible. There are two thing surprising to me. One is how like the end of the first season of Boardwalk Empire the executioner is chopping off heads a couple at a time. There is no lining up of Oilers' staff against the garage wall. Instead you have a couple gunned down in the bar, another knifed in the alley over there, a few more mowed down by a driveby. The carnage just keeps on going and the streets of Edmonton run with the blood of years of failure, as they should, but one wonders why they don't just say 'everyone's gone'.

 The second thing that I am waiting on is the fate of Howson and MacT. The latter may have been given a stay and swallowed his pride to accept a lesser role but Howson's fingerprints are all over the Nikitin move and one has to believe that he's hiding in a dingy motel on the edge of town, watching his phone buzz, weeping as he wonders why Kelsey Grammar ever stepped away from their TV show, he was making a shit load playing Niles Crane with a lot less pressure than this gig.

Easy There Big Fella

 I trust Chiarelli, I do, but this apparent bidding war over Cam Talbot makes me nervous. Remember that goalies are literally a dime a dozen once you get past Carey Price. I could likely name a dozen available goalies who I would prefer to Talbot. I have nothing against him, people who know a lot more than me and or are smarter than me speak highly of him but how a 27 year old with 57 games played who is a year away from UFA is suddenly a hot ticket with a 'great contract' (Dreger carrying water for Sather) is beyond me. Ben Scrivens was a 27 year old with 70 games played a year away from UFA when the Oilers acquired him and his .931 save percentage with the Kings was better than Talbot's numbers this year. Both in small sample sizes of course but if Chiarelli gives up a first round pick or young NHLer under control for this guy I will not be impressed. The Oilers got the pick for an established top six forward, would you trade David Perron for an unproven backup a year away from UFA? If your answer to that question is yes then you, like Semenko, Gare and all the rest, are fired.

Blue on Blue

 Let's get one thing straight, a goalie (or two) has to be had but more important imo is the need for a couple of top four D, same as the Oilers have needed for years now. But it's impossible you say! And I say New York Islanders. Boychuk for two 2nds and a conditional 3rd. Leddy for middling prospects. So don't say it can't be done. Sure the Oilers have to outbid other suitors and they likely need to dump Nikita Nikitin's immobile corpse off the pier as well but remember how we keep being told how everyone is in salary cap hell? Well now is the time to make hay unless you think going into next year with Klefbom and Fayne as your top pairing is going to take the Oilers to the promised land. Find a team or two that needs to clear salary to get under the cap or so they can make their own moves and then pop the question, if Garth Snow can do it .... well I will leave it at that.

The Window Is Closing

 The Oilers aren't Indiana Jones quite yet, just rolling under the wall before it crushes them but once they select Conor McDavid that clock starts ticking. They have three years where they have the surest thing since Sidney Crosby (or maybe even prior) under an entry level deal. If they waste a moment of that then they're doing it all wrong. They need to compete for the Stanley Cup as soon as possible because as soon as he starts getting paid then they need to start moving guys. Don't believe me? Ask the Penguins. Get on it Peter.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Old Man Down The Road



 Monday night I came home from beer league and sat down and checked my phone and saw that Patrick Kane had just scored and so I told Jenn to go to the PVR and rewind it a couple of minutes and then I went upstairs and woke up the boy and brought him down to watch his team win the Stanley Cup.

 We had a ritual though the final, he stayed up and watched the first period on school nights and as long as he could stay awake for the Saturday games. When the Hawks won I would write the score and goal scorers as well as the series score on a post it and put it on whatever book he happened to have beside his bed. He put each one on his dresser and I actually wrote one up after he went back to bed on Monday as well. I was just upstairs and they are all lined up there still.

 The boy is a pretty serious little dude and so when Kane scored there was no eruption of joy, he sat there, taking it all in, maybe he is already knows as a fan that you always expect the worst but after the Hawks killed the last ditch Tampa PP (the Lightning never even really threatened in that last five minutes) and the United Center erupted in a joyous countdown he sat calmly, smiling now and then during the celebration and replying to Jenn's queries 'are you excited? are you happy?' with a quiet 'yes' and all the emotion of, well, Jonathan Toews usually.

 Me, well I was very pleased. As the Cup was passed around I thought of two men. I thought of Stan Mikita and I thought of my old man.

 Mikita was my favourite player growing up although by the time I tweaked to hockey he was past his prime, an aging superstar on a mediocre team. The best centre of his era, which is saying something, Mikita retired as the third highest scorer of all time but like Toews he did everything well. I'm not big into hero worship, especially when it comes to men and women who play games for a living but I admit that I had a big thrill a couple of years back when my friend Ellen, of Theory of Ice fame, a Chicago native, told me stories about her uncles, the diner they used to frequent and Stan Mikita, who apparently was a better man than he was a hockey player, a genuine, kind, humble man with a sense of humour, a man who would, when this diner got crazy, grab the coffee pot and help out the waitresses, a guy who hung out with the other regulars, eating and shooting the breeze.

 I thought of Stan Mikita because it was on Monday that a story was published about his failing health. Stricken with dementia he is now a shadow man, unaware of who he or his loved ones are. He may live like this for years, otherwise he is hearty and happy but I have a good friend whose mom went away when she was in early fifties and who only passed last year, nearly two decades later. She was long gone, no longer her and I think of my Dad's sister whose husband, my uncle Bill, a former fighter pilot, a good man with a sense of humour and a good heart, is now struggling with this disease and my Dad's brother Raymond, a former pilot as well, who is also no longer himself. As my grandmother once said, in her soft French Canadian accent 'ooever call it the Golden Year, well I would like to ave a word with him, 'e was not too smart that man'.

 And I thought of my Dad who was a terrific hockey player himself growing up in Franz. He was one of six and each of them had their team, for Dad, the oldest, it was Chicago. He was a Max Bentley fan and later on he was a Mikita man, he was a smallish speedy skilled centre and so he liked their games. When the Hawks won the Cup in 1961, led by a young Mikita and Bobby Hull, Dad was just married, not yet thirty and had not started what would be his career for nearly thirty years yet. When they beat the Flyers in 2010 he had been married nearly fifty years, had four grandchildren and had been retired for over fifteen years. That's a long time between Cups.

 Mom and Dad came down two weeks ago to visit for the first time in five years, ever since Mom got sick and was told she would never walk again they have not been down, we're fifteen steps up from the street and our old house is two stories with the bathroom and bedrooms upstairs. Last fall she said they were coming, she was strong enough to make it now and so they came down with my sister. They got to see my oldest's ballet recital and the boy play in goal and we went to the pub for dinner one night and we had a good time, as we always do. They're getting old, Mom and Dad, and it's hard to see sometimes let em tell you. They're still in good shape considering but by the end of three days they were worn down and sore and Mom had to lean on Dad to head out for dinner, luckily just  up the street and a few doors away, they left before us, hobbling up our little street arm in arm.

 Dad turns 83 tomorrow and I will call him and we will talk about the Hawks, he was certainly watching Monday night, he has followed them through the playoffs, Mom too, and I know they was smiling when Toews lifted the Cup. After years in the desert it's been a great run.

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 You can go on and on and try and parse what makes the Hawks so great and of course nowadays they are what passes for a dynasty, yes. The days of teams winning three or four in a row are long gone with the salary cap and thirty teams and so you can call it a dynasty or not but this last seven years has to rank up there with one of the greatest runs in hockey history. Three Cups and a bounce or two away from what certainly would have been a fourth last year as well as a fifth conference final appearance. And now for their reward they get to tear it all down again.

 I read Duhatschek today and I have always liked The Hat, I have, but like a lot of the old timey writers he tends to fall back on the old saws, turning a game into a lesson on courage and character and so he said that that the difference between the Hawks and everyone else is Toews' leadership and like Messier it looks like Toews will probably be able to dine out on that forever. Don't get me wrong, I am sure that whatever the ideal captain is, Toews is it, but I think if you want to talk about what separates the Hawks from everyone else it's a core of generational players surrounded by a team that is four lines deep (the Hawks were running four lines of NHLers when other dummies were still dressing two goons on their third line - hello Leafs, hello Oilers - I wonder what the Hawks brass would think when they saw that, probably they giggled) and led by a great coach.

 Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith. Four guaranteed Hall of Famers. Sharp, Saad, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Oduya.

 Throw in a good, if not great goaltender, an absolutely outstanding player in Marcus Kruger and then that depth and ... well, you can only shake your head and try and remember that for decades this team was run into the ground by Wirtz and Pulford. The Hawks as the flagship franchise of the league? The closest equivalent woud be the Red Sox and Giants recent successes after years in the desert but there is no real match in sports. It's amazing.

 And now for his greatest trick Stan Bowman has to break up the gang and yet ... and yet ... this cannot be like 2010. He has to keep the window open somewhat if only because while Toews and Kane are still relatively young and Hjalmarsson too and Saad and Teuvo are babies yet and coming on strong and Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa are robots or something the reality is that Keith and Seabrook and Hossa are on the wrong side of thirty, Hossa is closer to forty than thirty which can of course not be believed, other than Saad was there a better Hawks' forward in the Final, and Seabrook will be unrestricted in a year.

 Vermette and Desjardins and Richards will be gone. And Roscival. And biggest of all, probably Oduya. Bigger than Sharp. Bigger than Bickell, scratched for most of the Final. Bigger than anyone. Johnny Oduya.

 The reality is that this is like 2010 because it's really looking like a two year project and in two years Hossa will be 38 and Seabrook may be gone and then you're talking the window closing unless they manage to land another Saad and Tuevo lower in the draft.

 Sharp and Bickell will be gone along with the aforementioned and so you are talking five of your top thirteen forwards and two of your top five D and that's an awful hit to take. Bowman has made mistakes, of course, he is human, but man ohh man it's a tough league now, you can barely make a mistake at all. He will get out from under Bickell but the real albatross is Crawford or rather that contract.

 Don't get me wrong, I like Crawford. He's a good goalie, even though he lets in goals like that Johnson one, he's no Carey Price but nobody is. But he's not worth that money and if Bowman were braver than I suspect he is he would move Crawford and replace him with someone who can do the job for a half or two thirds of the price. A second Cup in three years, there are teams who would take him but of course Bowman and Q probably look at him and say a second Cup in three years. He was great in the Final and who's to say that someone else is as good.

 I guess I do but you know what I mean.

 I think Bowman can go one of two ways here. He can play it safe and try and cobble together depth next year with kids and cheap vets and somehow figure out a way to replace Oduya who will be the key loss back there and then extend Seabrook at some point and go from there.

 The second option is bold and I don't think he takes it but he could go big and move Bickell and Sharp and Crawford and Seabrook now and use that cap space to fill in the holes. The return for Seabrook in particular would be massive and with those picks and prospects and cheap players and cap space Bowman could probably add the top two D that he might need in a year anyhow if Seabrook leaves. Replace Crawford with a cheaper option and then go from there.

 I don't think it happens and I don't blame Bowman if he goes steady as he goes but the window closes fast and there's no place for sentiment.

 They're a team for the ages already though.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Bullfighting

 I'm a big reader, I always have been and all three kids have followed in my footsteps, Jenn will come home and we will be sprawled about the house, noses in books. She is not a reader at all. She is what used to be called a Philistine. Actually if I see her walking down the Danforth and I am in a pub having a cold beer I will pay a hobo five Canadian dollars to follow behind her at twenty paces and shout at her that she is a Philistine. I kid you not.

 Ever since we have been together which is closing in on twenty years which is completely absurd I have asked for books for Christmas. I put together a list and so on Christmas Day I eagerly open up around a dozen books while she grumbles that I am boring and of course I respond that this is what I want so lay it on me. You can't put a trip to Prague under the tree and we have a limit on what we spend besides and it's what I want. Book me. So now 17 Christmases spent together later I have a couple of bookshelves full of books and I have decided to read them all, one by one. I have read a number of them many times but we have limited space and so before we end up like those brothers in New York ( I have a book about them!) who perished in their hoarders' dream of a brownstone, buried (literally) under piles of newspapers, or in this case books, then I figure I need to cull the herd. It won't be easy because most of them are very good and I will reread them again. But anyhow that is what I am doing right now at the pace of about one or two books a week. At this rate I will be ... well I will be very old when I finish and the cops will find me when the neighbours complain about a sour odour and I will be found, expired, under an avalanche of Hornby and Hemingway, Joyce, McEwan and Boyden, Johnston, MacDonald and Toibin, to name a few.

 One of my favourite authors and one well represented in my little library is Roddy Doyle. I like his writing quite a bit and I have an affinity for the Irish and Dublin, having been there a few times and having good friends there. Last week I read Bullfighting and, like The Guts, it reflects Doyle's own life and the fact that he is getting on. The Guts is about Jimmy Rabbite, who is the guy who put together The Commitments and who appears in many of Doyle's stories that take part in and around Barrytown but he is no longer a young man but now a man in his forties. Bullfighting is a collection of stories and the jist of it is the same, each is about a man in his forties or early fifties. Their children are mostly gone, their marriages are sometimes good, sometimes stale but they are far different from the early days. They have their mates and their nights at the pub but they also have their health issues creeping up on them or their friends. It's a good read and I found it ... well I guess the easiest thing to say is that it spoke to me.

A few weeks ago I went for beers on a Friday night after work with two old friends, in one case he is one of my oldest friends. We don't see each other that much any more, I am in the city and they are in Oakville and up by Newmarket and we are all busy. Their kids are older. One fellow has three and one is in uni and another is graduating high school this month, his third is just turned 16. The other has two teenagers. We're all doing well, we're comfortable and happy and we haven't changed much, the old jokes came as easily as they ever have. At the end of June we're getting together, a gang of us, maybe a dozen of the old crew, up at a camp up by Sudbury. We're going to drink too much and tease each other about getting fat and bald and about the old days and it is going to be amazing.

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So here's the thing. Work has been mental. Mental. I love my job, I enjoy it, I work for and with great people and the last six weeks have been nuts. Haven't been sleeping and have been pounding back the old Budweisers as Joe Schultz would say, those and the cheeseburgers. (Note - I don't drink Budweiser because it's shit although if you offer me one I will drink it, anyhow that is a Ball Four reference, basically I have been drinking a lot of beer is what I am saying). Two weekends ago I was supposed to be off the hook and we got a last minute surprise and so the whole weekend itself just ramped everything up.

 And then Monday morning I was in the office and bam, chest pain and tingling and numbness all the way down my arm and so off to emerg I went even though I knew it wasn't classic heart attack symptoms, there was enough going on that I wasn't taking any chances. Spent the afternoon in the hospital while they ran a battery of tests, missed beer league (so you know it was serious!) and the end result was that it was almost certainly not cardiac although we're doing some follow up tests to be sure.

 Crazy huh? As I lay on a gurney, reading, what came to mind was if this is a heart attack it's going to put some serious obstacles into a lot of plans I have - the travel and the eating and the drinking and such. Talked to Jenn and I'm off this fall again, not sure where yet but man oh man it's going to be hard to drink and smoke and eat schnitzel or goulash or chips if I am dragging around an oxygen tent with me.

 So it ended up being a wake up call and really the gentlest one you could have, like someone waking you up by touching your genitals (NOTHING BETTER!). I have to eat better and exercise and I most of all I need to leave work at the office. First thing I did Tuesday was tell my bosses that I was stepping back from the overtime for a while. And I have to get my head together because the most ridiculous thing is that the stress was self induced. Nobody else cares! HAH!

 So I hit the ice on Monday for the first time in two months and it was a beautiful thing, we won which is one more win than I expected this summer, we are seriously overmatched, and so the rest is gravy from here on in, only three games into the season. I played fairly well, the legs and wind aren't great but I did fine and of course I couldn't ask for a better group of fellows to play with. I walked in the room and there were cheers and laughter and one fellow, the guy who coined Patty Sandpaper, reassured me that he could work the defib just fine and we roared (including the guy who did have a heart attack after a game about eight years ago). I've been sleeping just fine too since last Monday so thanks very much, I am fine :) just getting older and there isn't a goddamned thing I can do about it but ride that wave.

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 I was four and 0 in the quarters and while I didn't write up the conference finals I picked the Hawks and Rags (YOU CAN LOOK IT UP ON THE TWITTER) in what I figured correctly were two pick em series so I am 10 and 4 for this year which I will take because parity is coming to the NHL and this summer should do a good job of evening out the playing field even more with Chicago, Boston, LA and the Rangers getting dragged back even more. Nothing like punishing success and the league has come to the point where a GM cannot afford to make even one mistake (Crawford), much less two (Bickell).

 The playoffs usually start strong and then peter out but if anything this year it has seen the opposite. The opening round was pedestrian, the second round no better and then the conference finals were terrific. I expect the same from the final.

 This is the first time in a while (Boston/Chicago?) and one of the few times over the last decade where I expect that the eastern representative has a real legitimate shot at winning it all. I like Chicago unless one of their top four D gets hurt or Crawford falls apart and of course both of these are possible and even if neither comes to pass I think Tampa is legit and that a Cup is in their future, if not this year. Two great lines, Hedman and Stralman and guys who can play in the bottom part of the lineup and Bishop is fine, if not great, just like his counterpart. Chicago though, well they're Chicago. I love the Triplets and Stamkos and Killorn but they aren't Toews and Kane and Hossa and Saad and while their D is only four deep it's an unreal four and the bottom six includes Patrick Sharp (!!!) and Marcus Kruger and Vermette and the young Finn and I think they carry the day to be honest. There's too much there. Tampa is quality but they needed seven to beat a meh Wings' club and were outplayed by a Montreal club that is pretty average and got filled a couple of times by a Rangers' team that doesn't scare anybody with that offence. The Hawks are on a different level and while it won't be easy I think they win and establish themselves as one of the all time great clubs.

Hawks in 6.