Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Goodgamegoodgamegoodgamegoodgame



Capsule is fighting time more than anything man. We have a few guys over fifty and a whole lot of guys getting close but we've been a top club in our division the last few years regardless. Two weeks ago we opened up our season, we were missing three pretty solid players as we faced a club that had a streak of two straight championship seasons ended last year. They're quality but so are we and the last two seasons we've split our games with them.

And they waxed us. I mean, they killed us. It was ugly.

And so we came out this past weekend maybe a bit nervous, maybe a little worried. We were playing a club that finished a point behind us in the standings last year (we were third in a ten team league) and they are solid.

 And we took it to them and they never really got a sniff. It was 5-2 when it ended and that flatters them pretty well and helped ease the sting of what was apparently an anomaly in the opener. Man I love playing. Still do even though I'm slowing down a bit. Legs are going but I still have my brains. About midway through the game one of their guys lost it at our blue line and I picked it up, looked up ice and saw our centre pulling 'a Phil Esposito' as he later said, just cruising back out of their zone. He turned and I hit him tape to tape and he raced in and wired one through the goalie. I gave a whoop, man I loved it, what a play.

 I have an uncle who played into his seventies and another who played into his sixties and would still be playing if it weren't for those damn blood thinners he has to take because of his heart attack.

 I want to beat those guys man. I want to pass them by.

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 So a new NHL season starts and ARE YOU EXCITED? I am, well, I am not I guess. Not as excited as I was for beer league beginning. I think as I get older my world is shrinking and by that I mean not that I am becoming a hermit or inward looking, unlike my old man I don't have EVERYTHING I NEED RIGHT HERE!!!! (Jenn and I are heading to Budapest and Vienna in a few weeks, woot!!!) but that the things that matter to me are the personal. My family, my friends, my community. I was thinking the other day and if you gave me the choice between a beer league or Exclaim Cup championship for Capsule and a Cup for the Oilers I would choose the former. Don't get me wrong, if the Oilers ever win (they have not since I became a fan ~ 1999) I would be over the moon, 2006 almost ruined me, my dog, but to whoop it up with my brothers on the ice. Man ... that would be sweet.

 NHL hockey is great entertainment for sure, well, for the most part. It's also a league run by cynical grifters whose primary goal always is to maximize profit. When I forget about that then I'm okay with things but it's difficult to explain to your nine year old son that his favourite player on his favourite team is a guy who he should not emulate in any way and this is why .....

 Ugh.

 Anyhow let's forget for a moment the shitty summer the league had off of the ice (you had to say they had it coming with their smug sneering at other leagues' issues) and concentrate on hockey, yes? Ok let's do that.

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 I consider myself a fairly astute hockey guy and am always pretty proud of the fact that I have made a pretty good run at predicting playoff winners over the past decade here. Before I started this post I figured I would look back at my thoughts from the beginning of last season and oh boy .... what a gong show.

 Now to be fair to me (ie make excuses) the league has more parity than ever before and really I think a lot of what I believed last fall was pretty reasonable. Teams are damn close to each other and all it takes is a key injury or two or a run of luck to either lift a club into the playoffs or knock them out of the race. I don't think anyone saw the Kings finishing out of it last year, indeed in the stretch run most were anointing them as a favourite to win the Cup if/when they made it. And then they didn't make the playoffs. Unreal.

 So here is what I think but first of all here is what I thought last year. In other words what I am about to say is worthless:

Real contenders - Chicago (on the money), Blues (out first round), Kings (no playoffs), Sharks (no playoffs)

Second tier - Ducks (conference final), Tampa (Cup final), Habs (out in second round), Bruins (no playoffs), Stars (no playoffs)

Other playoff teams - Wild, Pens, Rangers, Isles (all on the money) Avs or Canucks as last spot in west (Canucks made it), Devils in the east (nope) and I had no idea on the 8th seed in the east

So I predicted 5 out of 8 western clubs (!) and 6 out of 8 eastern clubs. All that said other than the Avs and Devils none of these picks are horrible.

Huh.

Anyhow, here goes nothing. Again I am going to break this down into tiers of clubs with the teams that I think will win the Cup at the top of the list. And if you are asking I am figuring on the Ducks and Tampa in the final with the Ducks winning it all. Can't cheer for a Cup for Kesler or Bieksa or another one for Perry but I would cheer like crazy if that old Russian pictured above got to hoist it.

The Heavyweights

Ducks - I think the Ducks do it all this year, they may have a nice window of a couple of years here. They have a deep quality team. So many good young players and adding Hagelin, man what a coup. Getzlaf and Perry carrying the mail up front, good role players and a relatively weak division. I think they win the division, the conference and then the Cup.

Wild on Jack Lemaire - before the playoffs started last year I predicted whoever won between the Wild and the Blues would go all the way but I reneged once it became clear that Chicago had been sleep walking the last few months of the season. That said with Chicago now weakened and the Wild having Dubnyk for a full season I think they tear it up and win the division. Too much talent.

Tampa - once they got rolling last year there was nobody stopping them out East and I don't see any other team from out there posing a threat. They are young and they are hungry and they will be better most likely. They almost won it all last year and I would not be surprised to see them do so this year. First Eastern team in years and years that can honestly compete with the best Western teams.

The Contenders

Kings - the Kings' depth is beginning to take a hit, as often happens with Cup winners, and I would rather Williams over Lucic any day. All that said there was a reason everyone was terrified even when they were out of the playoffs last year and the extra two months of rest will likely help them get off to a good start and they will probably cruise to the playoffs. I would not want to face them but they are not unbeatable, folks forget that in their 2014 Cup was won on the basis of three game seven victories. That's amazing and also playing with fire and I don't think this team is better than that one. Dangerous though.

Chicago - Chicago has undergone their usual roster gutting and this one probably falls between the minor surgery performed in 2013 (remember they fell a bounce short of beating the Kings after that and probably repeat of they did) and the absolute dismemberment of 2010. On paper it looks like they don't have a shot. Their LW depth chart has basically been erased. Saad, Sharp, Vermette, Richards, Oduya. Man oh man. All that said the guy they will really miss is Saad and after that ... Sharp was shunted down the lineup after his injury, Vermette was a deadline deal, Richards is not as good as Anisimov and Oduya, well he had his struggles for much of the season as well.

 Too rosy a picture? Maybe except that core is still there. Daley was a gong show in Dallas but Oduya was no hell before he came to Chicago either and Daley will be asked to do a lot less with the Hawks. Teemu will have a chance to shine all season and Panarin and Tikhonov (as well as Dano at some point) may very well be real players.

 The Hawks might miss the playoffs. That division is unreal. But unlike 2010 they brought in a ton of real NHL players, not picks, and ... well, I won't bet against the Hawks until I see them falling apart.

 (As an aside in the spring I wrote about what I thought the Hawks would do. I never thought Saad would be part of the purge and I didn't really see them bringing so many NHLers back in their deals. One is a big negative, the other a positive. At the time I suggested that the probable best move, in my opinion, would have been for them to move Sharp, Crawford and Seabrook, in other words go really big, clear cap space by the ton and then reload with young cheap talent. I still think this would have been the best move but it would have taken enormous balls for Bowman to make the latter two deals especially. And so he chose, well, he chose what likely most GMs would have chosen. The sure thing. In about five or six years Chicago will probably be awful, their prospects' cupboard bare, their roster weighed down by the massive deals they have given out to players who won't be able to give them value on those deals. But their window is now, it is still now and while Seabrook and Keith and Hossa are all on the wrong side of thirty the latter two are still amongst the best at their position in the game and Seabrook is pretty damn good. I think GMs are too loyal and I didn't like either the Crawford or Seabrook contracts but I can understand why Bowman did it. And that window is going to close at some point. It is still open right now. May as well go for it.)

Blues - these clowns keep falling short in the first round and I am starting to wonder if they are always going to be also rans. I mean at least the Sharks won some rounds! That all said ... they are still a very good club, they have great talent on the back end and Tarasenko is a game breaker. It is getting more difficult for them but if it is a down year for the Hawks and they get a good draw in the first round then maybe they finally get over the hump.

Pretenders

If we end up with a year like 93 then maybe one of these teams win it all but other than that I don't really rate many of them. In other words they will need a lot of luck.

Dallas - really really tempted to put Dallas in the next tier. They were let down by their goatending in a huge way last season and one would expect that that bounces back. And they have that top six - Sharp, a healthy Nichushkin and hopefully a better Ales Hemsky - to go with Benn, Seguin and Spezza.

 I don't trust their D fully yet though. Some nice youngsters there but not quality enough to put them in the conversation for the big prize.

Jets - they were ravaged by injuries and still made the playoffs and gave the Ducks a battle. A lot of great kids on the horizon. Nice looking D. Doubt they go anywhere with that goaltending but they will make the playoffs and lay a beating on whoever they meet there, maybe even win a round

Rags - Rangers have been quality the last two years, love Alain Vigneault. Speaking of closing windows this is a club that needs Tampa to stumble and then some luck - they could make the Finals but hard to see them beating a Western club

Habs - Can't bet against a team with the best goalie in the league. Petry was a great add. They need to dump Therrien of course. The team has skill and he is wasting it. With Price they could make a run to the Final and of course who knows if they get that far but again I can't see them beating a big boy from the West

Pens - loaded up front, what an offseason they had. That D is so young and of course you never bet on a team with that bucktoothed bastard in net. Eat me Fleury.

Caps - Caps are everyone's darling this fall. I have to say that I like them, I really like Holtby and of course Ovi is an all time great but I have a hard time seeing them getting anywhere. Like the Blues they never really go anywhere. Maybe that chages this year but I don't see them as anything special.

So that is seven western playoff teams and five eastern. The remainder:

Falmes - yeah I think they make it again. I don't believe in Nashville and I think the Avs are worse than last year with O'Reilly gone. The Canucks continue to shed talent and Arizona is going to be terrible and while I like the Oilers they aren't making the playoffs unless a couple of teams fall off of cliffs and Norris Schultz channels Doug Harvey. Ain't happening. Falmes did it with smoke and mirrors last year and added Hamilton and Frolik and have Giordano back. They're going to be legit enough this year to make it, tanks Bob 'Artley!

Isles - really like the Isles and the work of Garth Snow and to be honest I could see them win their division if everything falls right. Probably not but yeah playoffs.

BJs (lol) - I think they are coming on and adding Saad is going to be big for them, how's that for a hot take. Seriously though, good enough to make the playoffs though not much else.

Sens - wow is the east ever shitty huh? the Flyers, the Devils, the Leafs, the Canes. Holy fuck. And that doesn't take into account the fading Wings, the Panthers who are not there yet, the Bruins who, well I don't even know what to say about the Bruins and the Sabres who were the worst team in the league last year and may pass a whole bunch of these tire fires! What a fucking mess.

So there you go. TAKE IT TO THE BANK YO!

Closing Camp




The boy and I headed up north last week to help my old man close down camp. We were relatively lucky with the weather, it dropped below freezing at night but there was no rain and the wood stove kept the cabin warm into the night, so much so that early on I was kicking the blankets off. Come the dawn though we were bundled up and there was about a half hour between getting out of bed and the fire roaring again that was a little uncomfortable. You know, because IT WAS BELOW FREEZING!!!! Dad was planning on staying up for a few days after we left but the cold convinced him that it was time to wrap it up.

 So we worked pretty hard. Much like some reporters you know we hauled water and chopped some wood *rim shot* but mostly we were breaking things down and storing them for the winter. The boy works like Marian Hossa and so while my Dad and I were hauling the big stuff he kept asking 'now what do I do?' and I would give him a chore and ten minutes later he would be back. That work ethic skipped a generation in our family so that's great because he is sure to be a success and can take care of me when I am riding off into the sunset.

 All in all it was really terrific. Dad will be 84 next June and he's slowing down a little bit, we weren't cutting down trees to make a new dock like we did when he was 80. Him and Mom know that every year may be their last up by the lake but damn it they are going to go there as long as they can. They're going out with their boots on, it's the only way to be.

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 Camp wrapped up for the Oilers and the biggest takeaway for me is that for the most part the men in charge know what they are doing. Underachieving veterans were farmed out, youngsters were sent down for more seasoning and the team looks like it is close to the best team they could ice except for fucking Luke Gazdic oh man.

 I just don't get it.

 To me Draisaitl has to play and play a lot so I have no issue with him going down instead of Gazdic but I'd rather have Miller or Pitlick, they're not going to wither on the vine in the pressbox and they are both guys who can play on the fourth line and be useful.

 Anyhow on to more important matters.

Scrivens and The Goalers

I like Ben Scrivens because he seems like a well spoken dude and he's involved in the community but he was awful last year and there's no way around it. My guess is he bounces back, he's no Dubnyk who was a good starter before he went off the rails but he has always been a solid backup. You knew when they brought Nilsson in that he was in trouble, I mean real trouble, and the latter's solid preseason spelled the end of Scrivens in Edmonton, probably for good.

As for the goaltending well I like it but then again I thought last year was a decent bet as well so shows what I know about goaltending (very little). Personally I think you blow your wad on guys like Price and Rask and very few others and would not spend a lot of money on either Quick or Crawford, who have won four of the last five Cups, two guys who are imo slightly above average and way overpaid. Anyhow I think Talbot is a good bet and I hope he works out because this whole season getting sewered by Halloween because of dreadful goaltending is getting old.

Oh Nikita You'll Never Know

 Other than the Jeff Petry failure I can't think of a move that screams 'Edmonton Oilers of the last decade' like the Nikita Nikitin disaster. Penner and Souray were dumb because of the timing and we knew Big Sexy would get hurt but they provided surprising value. We knew Khabibulin was a bad move but he wasn't completed washed up yet and Whitney was another one you could see coming but before he went all Barbaro he showed what might have been.

 God this is a long list.

 Belanger was actually a good bet who just didn't work out, Lupul turned out to be an actual NHLer at least, Sam Gagner was ruined by the Oilers but he was drafted where he should have been, give or take a spot, Ference got too much term but was a top four Dman on a Cup Finallist the spring he was signed. And at least they didn't extend Nick Schultz. We figured Cam Barker to be a bust for sure but hey one year and done and you never know. Etc etc etc.

 But the only saving grace for old Niki Niki is that the cost to acquire him was minimal. But how horrible do you have to be at your job to trade for a guy who can barely make the roster of a very bad EASTERN CONFERENCE team and then, and then, oh man I can barely stand it, and then give him a two year deal that makes him your highest paid defenceman. All while you lowball a guy who went on to be an actual playoff team's second best Dman right off the hop.

 And then he shows up out of shape.

 Oh my.

 Now what Chiarelli should have done is walk in this summer and asked who was responsible for Nikita and then he should have gone Alec Baldwin on them, no steak knives, you are gone. What a disaster.

 The Oilers, like a lot of teams that make a lot of mistakes, there is a reason they've been really bad for a long time remember, now have Scrivens and Nikitin in the minors and Ference eating popcorn. Could be worse though, they could be the Flyers.

Luke, Luke, I Am Your Father, Here's a Quarter, Get The Hell Out of My House

I have no idea why Gazdic is on this roster. No idea. There are so few dancing bears left, none of the good teams employ them and Hendricks, Klinkhammer and Gryba can take care of the pests. Hell the first two guys can actually play hockey, the jury is still out on Gryba. And if a guy is going to take a run at McDavid Gazdic in the pressbox isn't deterring him.

Say it with me now. When Marc Savard had his career ended Milan Lucic was on the ice with him.

I don't fucking get it. Folks say the little things don't matter but the Canucks just lost a 22 year old RH Dman because they screwed up little things.

You can't give the other guy an edge. At all.

Schlippy Schleppy Schlip Schlup

The Slepyshev thing came out of left field a bit but the guy is not a rookie pro and he put up some good numbers in limited ice time in a good league. If the Oilers are ever going to get anywhere they need guys like this and Yakimov and Chase to come out of nowhere. If he can be a top nine or even *gasps* a top six guy it just opens up so much for the club. Suddenly you have the depth, you don't have to rush guys who aren't ready, you have the ability to move a guy to fix an area of need. Up front there is so much to like about this club. You have depth guys in the AHL plus a guy in Draisatl who could probably play top nine, maybe top six, in a sheltered role. You have guys like Lander and Letescu and Purcell who can slide up the lineup. There's a lot to like. Now about that D ....

The Damn D

 The D is going to be the shoal that wrecks this ship again, the club hasn't had a good blue since they shipped out Lubo and exiled Souray. We can hope and hope some more but the reality is that until Nurse is ready and / or they move a kid forward for quality top pairing blue we will be on the outside looking in. The West is mental though luckily for the Oilers they are in the weaker division. That said they are probably looking at maybe 10th in the conference if everything breaks for them. Not ready yet.

 Damnit.