Sunday, September 27, 2015

Camping




The boy and I are heading up north on Tuesday at the crack of crow's piss, as the Islanders say, to help the old man close the camp for another year. The weather looks to be decent, dropping to 4 at night, which will be a vast improvement over our first go at this, four years ago, when the temperature hovered around freezing every day and it poured rain a lot of the time.

 For the three of us it is a chance to enjoy the camp one last time before winter comes. The colours will be spectacular and we will do some work, sit on the deck and have a few beers, maybe even get out and do a bit of fishing. On Father's Day the boy presented me with a craft, one of those little paper bags with a shirt and tie drawn on it, and inside were a handful of slips of paper on which he had written things that he loved about me.

 So they will bury me with that bag.

 Anyhow his favourite thing he said was these trips to camp with Dad and I would say that for Dad the feeling is the same. He's 83 now my old man and he is slowing down a bit. Three years ago he clambered over rocks and deadfall to bring down a couple of trees to build a new dock. This year the work will be a lot easier but of course no less satisfying and more importantly the company will be the finest kind.

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 Training camp is an exciting time because HEY HOCKEY IS BACK and you get a look at the new blood and of course everyone is in the best shape of their lives and for teams with new coaches the practices are always faster and crisper and cleaner and of course even down amongst the dregs of the league there is hope that maybe there will be lightning in a bottle.

 The reality is that the team is pretty well decided before camp starts except for the guys who are going to be press boxed and a week or two after the team breaks camp there will be injuries or the bubble guys will have shown poorly and so the shuttle between the minors and the show will begin. So hold your fire when kids get demoted while underperforming veterans make the grade. Those kids will be up soon enough.

 I can think of three instances where something happened at camp that was meaningful, there may be more but this is all that I remember. There was Patrick Thoresen coming out of nowhere to earn a job. There was Tom Gilbert, earmarked for the minors, passing pretty well everyone on the D depth chart to earn a job. And there was Kyle Brodziak seizing a job and establishing his NHL career if not out of the blue then pretty close to it.

 Often the real story is what doesn't happen. Anton Lander getting waived last year and making it through without getting claimed. If he gets claimed then the Oilers are short a real NHLer this season.

 For the most part though much of what happens in camp is meaningless and ironically so much of this is what happens in preseason games. Every year a team tears it up in preseason or some career suspect does and it's all white noise because when the real games start and teams start icing their actual lineups then the guys who are minor leaguers show that they are minor leaguers and the big boys actually show what they can do. So while your local columnist may say that Slepyshev is the next coming of Jari Kurri (and full disclosure I don't read anything from any Sun paper so if that isn't what was said apologies) because of two preseason goals I tend to, well, be a little more cautious.

 That all said camp and those preseason games aren't totally meaningless, you get your important tells. Slepyshev probably won't make the team but by all accounts it sounds like he is a player and that's a big deal. The more depth the better of course but also if this kid is the real deal then it opens up possibilities down the road. There are other takeaways so far that interest me. It sounds like the issues about Reinhart's skating are overblown which is a big deal. Nilsson has been excellent. Draisatl appears as if he is going to earn a job this year, not have it handed to him. Lander has picked up where he left off last year.

 All of this is excellent news for the Oilers who have been terrible for so long. Last year their forwards, as a group, were as close to being complete as they had been since 2006/2007 and this year I would say that finally we have an honest to goodness NHL forward corps.

Hall-McDavid-Draisatl
Pouliot-Ted-Eberle
Purcell-Lander-Yakupov
Hendricks-Letestu-Korpikoski
Klinkhammer, Gazdic

Slepyshev isn't going to make the grade unless there are more injuries, they aren't going to keep him around to eat popcorn. Let him go to the minors where he hopefully tears it up, we will see him soon enough.

The key here is that Klinkhammer, a perfectly serviceable guy is sitting in the pressbox and Miller and Pitlick have already been farmed out, with Pakarinen to follow. None of these four guys is a world beater but even Pitlick has shown in his short stints up that he is at the very least a decent NHL fourth liner. In the not so distant past these four guys would have probably all been in the opening day lineup, the Oilers have been that horrible. Now they don't even get a sniff.

 As for Gazdic well cut him I say but I don't think they will. I respect the guy for carving out a career but his role is unnecessary and it's a wasted roster spot.

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 The blueline is what is going to sink the Oilers this year as usual there is a plethora of bottom six guys and not enough in the top four. Let's call it Lowe and MacT's parting gift to Chiarelli. No Petry and Nikitin, Ference and Schultz are all overpaid and not helpful.

 I think Sekera is a great get and I believe that he is a perfect partner for Mark Fayne so in some ways we are getting two Dmen for the price of one. I also think Klefbom is legit. After that there is a lot of flotsam and it will be a lot of hoping and wishing that McLellan can unlock Norris' Norris potential or that Nikitin can rebound.

 This is old hat in E town where year after year the club's chances are dependent on a long list of ifs. If rookie A can step into the lineup and be a top pairing D and rookie B can step into the lineup and be a hard minutes top six F and veteran C can turn back the clock a decade and journeyman D can suddenly reach the potential of his draft year then maybe the club will compete for 12th in the conference.

 It's a sign of a good team that the ifs are dwindling. They need Schultz to wake up and Nikitin to play like a veteran and Klefbom to continue progressing. These likely won't happen, except for Oscar, and the result will be no playoffs but at least there is light at the end of the tunnel.

 Nurse is going to get sent down, which is fine. He will be back soon and be around for years to come. Reinhart is a goner too unless they move one of their D or go with 13 forwards and if they do that and one of the 13 is Gazdic well they're spitting the bit already. So I see it as such:

Sekera-Fayne
Klefbom-Schultz
Nikitin-Gryba
Ference

Davidson will probably get waived too and he will make it through.

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In net Nilsson has made it interesting which is why they brought him in and I would think that Scrivens is on thin ice here. I like him but he wrecked the Oilers' season last year and with Chiarelli having no loyalty to him I bet he gets moved or cut. I see a few folks talking about three goalies, this has been an Oilers' specialty for a decade now, they have carried three goalies how many times? Three? Four? More than the rest of the league combined I would gather. I can't see Chiarelli continuing this tradition.

Talbot
Nilsson

 So that is how I see it for now and if you look at past camps I have a knack for being consistently wrong so take it for what it's worth.

 Nothing.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Those Who Don't Learn History Etc Etc Etc




We were out east for our annual trip, talking to someone I can't remember who, and Jenn remarked that 'we like to have a good time'.

 This is very true.

 The first time I had a drink the clan had gathered somewhere up north along Superior, probably White Lake, which was our go to camping spot, middle of nowhere what the hell. You could drop your line in anywhere and pull it up and have a nice pickerel on the hook. We used to find a remote island with a decent beach and would set up camp there for a couple of weeks. The rest of the clan that lived in Northern Ontario would set up camp near the public landing. There would be my Dad's brother Don from Wawa and Raymond from Timmins and his sister Darlene from the Soo. We had all the north covered.

 Talk about a group that liked to have a good time. It reminds me of when I got married and my old man got up and made a lovely little speech, two minutes tops. He opened with 'We McLeans are a quiet peaceful bunch' and then he grinned and paused while this statement was met with laughter and clinking of glasses and farting from the tables where our family was gathered (I think they may have also gutted a waiter for kicks) and hooting and hollering from those friends of the family also gathered, while the Sandersons and Gilmores, a fairly serious and teetotalling bunch, looked on in horror and wandered what Jenn had brought upon their houses.

 This was standard stuff and I think that this type of reaction has been going on for generations as we McLeans infiltrated the society of clearer thinking people. God bless my dear departed cousin Spencer, the first doctor in our branch of the clan, his father, my uncle Roy was the second, anyhow Spencer always got a kick out of a saying I had, that we Goulais McLeans were not far removed from when the McLeans came howling naked out of the moors. He loved that line.

 Truth though, the aforementioned Roy, the quietest of the brothers McLean, was known as 'Crazy Roy' by his sons and their friends and the man holds a doctorate in education.

 So there you go.

 Anyhow it was summer and the clan had gathered, I had just finished grade 9, and my cousin Barry and I were playing crib in his dad's camper and he pulled out a bottle of vodka and away we went. By the end of it I was wrecked, man oh man and away I went.

 Truth was I didn't pick up the drink again until the end of grade 10 and then year after year I started pounding back more and more and more and more frequently. We'd bomb around town in Bruno Wennerstrom's van, going to house parties and dances at different ethnic halls, the Polish and Croatian and Serbian clubs, careening through the snow covered streets looking for a good time. Homemade wine and Canadian Club straight and whatever else we could get a hold of and somehow year after year we got away with it for the most part. My parents, like most of my friends' parents, were strict but also naive. They were partiers but my Mom in particular was late to the drinking game and so had no idea that her quiet straight A golden boy son was getting his drink on every weekend.

 And then in grade 13 I got caught. Can't remember the details. Mom stayed up one night, her Spidey sense was likely tingling, I came in a little drunk (I was only about 115 pounds when I graduated high school) and she got me. I bullshitted, first time etc etc. She wasn't happy but no biggies and then the following Friday she waited up for me again (dirty pool!) and bam we have a pattern.

 The next morning I came into the kitchen and faced the music. My Mom was on a full out rant (and what's hilarious is she is the calmest person I know next to my old man) and my Dad looked up from his toast and coffee and gave me a look I never will forget, shaking his head slowly, a look of disgust on his face.

 And I realized that he wasn't mad at me for drinking. His look was one of contempt because I had been dumb enough to not hold off for a week or two and had instead been caught. And now he had to hear my Mom raging and there went his quiet weekend and certainly she was saying to him when I was out of earshot that it came from his family, his old man was a drinker, probably learned it from his own father back in Goulais, what the hell would you do there but drink anyhow, especially in the middle of winter you may as well have been on the moon and Dad's grandmother famous in Goulais lore for putting on a good time for her neighbours on Saturday nights, these farmers and loggers in the middle of nowhere gathering in the Polly's kitchen for drinks and song and good food. My Dad and his brothers followed suit to varying degrees and his sister is famous for starting her evenings with what she calls a martoonie, one time we were up for a wedding in the Soo and stayed with her and my Uncle Bill. We got in and my aunt mixed a martoonie for her and one for Jenn and ten minutes later Jenn whispering 'I can't feel my face' and was out in the garage having a smoke with my aunt, Bill not having any of that in the house, a retired fighter pilot, neat and trim but he, having married into this family, happy to fire them back as well.

 So he had to listen to that, my Mom coming from reasonable money, stern English ramrod straight father and her mother's side French Canadian Timmins upper class, I know that 54 years ago they looked on in horror at my parents' own wedding as the McLeans drank the bar dry and hit the dance floor.

 My poor old man, just looking at me, shaking his head in disgust thinking 'man oh man, you are one dumb son of a bitch'.

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Justin Schultz had himself a night last night apparently, he was new and improved!!!

Now I am sure that Norris figured something out this summer or at least someone in his camp did. With the Oilers handing out long term deals like candy he has probably realized that if he doesn't get his shit together he's going to be Andy Delmore or some such. From the halycon days when he looked like the future of the blue he has now been passed by Klefbom and Nurse is coming and the Oilers went out and got Reinhart and of course the last two summers have seen Fayne and Sekera hired as well. If the Oilers hadn't blown it with Petry old Norris might be looking at the pressbox right now and getting cut loose as soon as the Oilers are able.

 So the writing is on the wall for the former darling, he plays D like, well he doesn't play D to be honest, making the same mistakes over and over again, all the while lollygagging about, to make it worse, and not providing a lot of offence, which is supposed to be his forte.

 So yeah this is it for old Norris, his last shot at it. If it all falls apart he is still a very wealthy young man of course but his career in ruins after such promise is a sad conclusion to all of that.

 I don't put much stock in preseason and Schultz's rambunctiousness last night, while nice (wow he actually has a pulse!) won't mean a thing if he can't figure out how to pick up his man. I guess this is where McLellan comes in. If he can't get a damn thing out of Schultz then the latter is a goner, probably begging for work next summer, maybe getting a shot a la Cam Barker, soon to end up playing in Zurich.

 I joke but of course the importance of Schultz cannot be overplayed. If he is able to get it together and reach his considerable potential of a few years ago well then the Oilers will have another young top four defenceman and things will be looking up, we're talking playoffs or close to it. If he fails well then it's another year up the track and he's a goner and other teams are going to look at him as damaged goods (ie even McLellan could not make a player of him).

 Up until now he has shown the learning curve of a certain young man we all know and love. That same young man was not discouraged. He learned that there is more than one way to skin a cat and that was to sleep over at his buddies on weekend nights. Here's hoping that Norris can turn it around and become a hero like that young man of many years ago.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Ted Rising


When I was a young man, like a lot of young men, or at least I'd like to think (!!!) I tended to leap before I looked. I was and am a talker, as one of the guys on Capsule said one time at post game beers 'Oh yeah Pat's a talker, Pat likes to talk' and it's true, Scotty (the man who coined Patty Sandpaper in a pregame stream of consciousness rant) and I are probably the talkiest on the team.

 And yeah so when I was young I had a bad habit of speaking and acting without thinking. Like I said I think (hope) that's fairly typical of young men but maybe not. I wasn't trolling for reaction, I was always a bit ahead of myself, fast talking, fast thinking, a bit hyper at times which was the opposite of my old man who speaks slowly and deliberately and who is as calm a man as I have ever known. For that matter my Mom is cut from the same cloth so maybe I'm just becoming them.

 And then, as I got older, well I slowed down. I don't know if it's experience or wisdom or that I am just really tired from having three kids but I learned to think before I speak. A lot of this is adapting to having kids of course. I don't make promises that I can't keep and that goes for threats as well. No quicker way to losing the room than not being able to follow through on what you say. And then of course there is work. When you're working at a video store or on a movie set you're not saying much of import that's for sure plus you're higghhhh quite a bit. In my present job, let's call it 'my career' when you're dealing with customers and staff well if you say dumb things then ... well you're not going anywhere fast is what's going to happen.

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 I think that like a lot of people I get frustrated by what passes for conversation in the hockey media. For me a guy like Bob MacKenzie is the gold standard. He doesn't make wild statements, he says what he believes and is open to new ideas and when he is not sure of something he says 'hey this is something I am not sure of'. To me this is what any guy in the business should be shooting for. Be informative, know what you're talking about, be open minded, keep it simple.

Of course I know that in a lot of cases guys are saying what they say because of what the producer is telling them, I am reminded of Aaron Ward saying on Twitter after one of TSN's quizzes where he took an indefensible position that someone had to, that was part of it. And of course anyone who has seen the quiet reasonable Pierre Maguire who actually makes sensible arguments can see that the loudmouth barking seal act is just that, an act.

 What has gotten me on this tangent is the comment that Kelly Hrudey made last year about Ryan Nugent Hopkins being a second or even a third line centre. Not to beat this to death of course, that happened last spring, that horse is nothing but a remote rusty stain on the pavement now but I have wondered about that comment since it was made. I like Hrudey, who seems an affable fellow, although he may just compare well to what is for the most part a lineup of buffoons and angry men on the HNIC set. Maybe it is just me but I seem to recall Hrudey as a far more astute observer but then again maybe he is just part of the general dumbing down of once was the go to hockey broadcast (oh how I miss TSN, even with Jeff O'Neill's antics, it is far superior).

 Anyhow Hrudey may have believed what he was saying or maybe he was just trolling, following the instructions of some callow behind the scenes genius, you know the type who thinks it's a good idea to get rid of Colonel Mustard. One has to think it was the latter because other than Hall I can't think of a more important Oiler (not including Mr. C. McDavid of course). Actually there may not be a more important man on the roster amongst the returnees.

 Ted is a man now and he gives the Oilers depth at perhaps the most important position on a hockey club. Now the Chicago Blackhawks might win the Stanley Cup with Jonathan Toews and three guys named Moe at centre (Marcus Kruger is a hell of a player don't get me wrong but he's no number two centre with that offence) but they also have (had I guess, so long Saad) a raft of top flight wingers, including two future Hall of Famers in Hossa and Kane, an embarrassment of riches that shunted Patrick Sharp to a bottom six position for most of last spring. Oh and of course those D.

 But go back, way back. Fedorov and Yzerman. Datsyuk and Hank. Forsberg and Sakic. Modano and Niewendyk. Crosby, Malkin and Staal. Staal and Brindamour. Kopitar and Carter and Richards and Stoll. Bergeron and Krejci. Lemieux and Francis. Gretzky and Messier. Etc, etc etc.

 You get the picture. Like most hockey axioms there are exceptions. You can win without a stud defenceman. You can win without depth at centre. You can win without homegrown talent. But those are the exceptions.

 The Oilers have McDavid and Ted and they have Draisatl and Lander and Letescu and four of them are kids and yeah it's wonderful.

 Did you know that Ted was tied for thirteenth OVERALL in the NHL last season in ES goals. 13th. Tied with John Tavares and Patrick Kane. I did not know that until last week, tip of the hat to LT for twigging me to that.

 He's a stone cold killer, he's 22 (!!!!) and he's ours.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Savant

OH HI!! HOW IT'S GOING? (as my Czech friend Gregory says)

Good summer? Yes? Well a few days ago someone mentioned that I was the second oldest active blog amongst the once prolific Oilogosphere and I figured that maybe I should write something because ... well ... it's been a while.

We had a lovely summer, yes we did, just trucking along here at Chez McLean. Everyone is healthy and happening and we're back to the grind of school once again. Grades seven, five and two.

Isn't that mental?

So the other day I slog home from work, let me tell you I've been a good boy after the incident this spring, it's been a bastard but I'm not worrying about it, anyhow I get home and the kids ambush me, they ask me to play a game with them and so I say sure and we sit down to a game of Clue.

 Remember Clue? Colonel Mustard and the rest of the gang? Good shit. Of course some genius marketer at headquarters decided it was a great idea to replace the original characters like Mustard and Professor Plum and so on with a generic bunch of new suspects with late 20th century names like Ashley White, who is a You Tuber or some shit and, like the rest of the characters, has the bland good looks of a Big Brother contestant and the 'biography' to match.

 And yeah I know I'm getting old man, I'll bitch about anything.

 So we're playing a little Clue and it's pretty obvious right from the get go who the doer is and what his weapon of choice is and so we're racing to try and figure out where it happened. They give you a little pad so you can make notes and scratch off the people/places/weapons as you eliminate them from contention.

 Now I'm no dummy and my oldest is pretty damn smart and the boy, well the boy is smarter than his parents already. He's well rounded which I am happy about, I have a pal who knows a six year old who went out for Halloween as an element, I can't remember which one, the kid is, well he's a nerd is what he is. He's a genius and he can't say hello. He's like one of those guys from that show I never watch, you know the one. About the nerds.

 NEEERRRRRRRRRDDDDDDDSSSSSSS!!!!!!

 Anyhow the boy is smart, bear with me as I brag on him. He tested for gifted last year and aced it and all that and we looked at the placement options, in the end we didn't bother for a number of reasons but yeah he's a bright one.

 Now that all said he may have competition in the house. Our youngest is a free spirit, a wild child and before grade one we figured that she might do well in school or not, It was hard to say. We knew she was smart but she could be lazy and we figured she might find it challenging to sit still and learn.

 And then we went to the first teacher interviews and were told that she was a model student and ahead of the grade and we looked at each other and smirked and figured that the teacher was taking the piss but she wasn't. Unreal.

 So back to the game, we're playing and things are getting narrowed down and then our youngest announces that she has solved it and she has done just that and she's pretty tickled because she's the youngest and she doesn't win a lot in this house, not unless the game relies on pure luck anyhow.

 And as we're packing up I notice that while the rest of us have our little sheets with notes and checkmarks and exes to denote what was happening, her own sheet is blank. And when I ask her where she marked her clues she just looks at me and shrugs and smiles and says that she just kept it all in her head.

 So now I have two kids who are smarter than me apparently.

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  Oscar Klefbom signed long term with the Oilers yesterday. We knew it was coming, it had been rumoured for a while. Seven years.

 When the rumours first started I opined on the interweb that it was crazy to me that a guy could get a seven year deal after playing less than eighty NHL games. I still believe that but of course this is the way of the league right now. I remember after the Oilers' Cup run, a couple of years after, and there were rumours of discord in the dressing room and I thought at the time that I could see why. You had guys like Moreau and Staios, guys who had ground it out in the league for nearly a decade before they got paid and in their case those paydays came in at around two million per and then you had Robert Nilsson who basically fucked the dog for three years and then rode a good eight weeks or so to a three year deal at just under two million and then immediately went in the tank again.

 That would piss me off I know.

 But as noted this is the way the league works now. Teams invest in youngsters, not the guys who are on the wrong side of thirty. In some cases the gamble doesn't pay off. In others - for example Hall, Eberle, Nugent Hopkins, you end up getting very good players locked up through their prime at an excellent rate.

 Is the Klefbom contract goofy? Sure it is, it's a roll of the dice but the dice are weighted in the Oilers' favour. Oscar is what I call a player. He has his struggles but they are the result of inexperience and once he gets more games under his belt he will be a top four, probably even a top pairing defenceman. He has the physical gifts but more importantly he can play the game. Tom Gilbert was the same when he made the leap to the NHL. So was Jeff Petry. So was Martin Marincin. They made mistakes and of course they weren't Chris Pronger or Duncan Keith but they all stepped in and knew what they were doing right away.

 This of course why we worry about Norris Schultz. He still doesn't have a clue three years in and it's probable that he never will. He pinches at the absolute worst times. He finds himself on the wrong side of his man constantly and when he has his man in the slot (which he often doesn't) he invariably doesn't tie him up.

 Last night the boy's team got knocked out of their playoffs in the semis. The boy is a try hard in hockey but soccer is his game. He gets it and he can play any position as a result. He's a player. He was wasted on D in the playoffs (he's best suited as a midfielder because he is a tenacious effective defender but also a deft passer and dribbler) although I can see why the coach put him there. The team was thin on talent and the boy being on D gave them a stopper back there. Anyhow last night they took an early lead against the run of the play and then in the second half the other team's rotation put two little speedsters up front and within a few minutes they were down one and that was that. The boy had the other team's best player in check the whole game but on both goals his partner came wandering over to 'help' and the ball ended up in space and his man, left alone, ran onto it and put it into the net.

 It is what it is, houseleague soccer, but there was the difference. The boy knew his position, didn't panic, stayed with his man, kept him outside. The kid never got a shot on net. But the other fellow got reeled in a few times and that was that.

 Reminds me of a guy who might be one of the most overrated players of the last twenty years, Bryan McCabe. Talk about a guy who got by on sizzle rather than steak for years. Big guy, big shot, rough and tumble and a ten cent head. If I had a nickel for every time he left his man open in the slot to venture into the opposite corner where Kaberle was engaged with his man I would be, well, a nickel is a nickel but we're talking a couple of nice steak dinners with a bottle of wine at least.

 Anyhow to get to the point to play D well in the NHL you need three things. You need the physical skills. Some guys are too slow or too small but Oscar Klefbom is a big man who can skate like the wind. You need experience which he will get over time. And you need to have the instincts to play the game. He has those as well and because of that I think it's a great bet by the Oilers. It's crazy, sure, but it's the way of the world and now they have another piece tied up for a long time. Good deal.