Tuesday, October 06, 2015
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.
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 .....
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Posted by Black Dog at 9:09 PM
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.
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.
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.
Posted by Black Dog at 1:26 PM
Sunday, September 27, 2015
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.
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.
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.
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:
Davidson will probably get waived too and he will make it through.
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.
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.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:43 PM
Thursday, September 24, 2015
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'.
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.
Posted by Black Dog at 10:16 PM
Monday, September 21, 2015
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.
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.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:30 PM
Sunday, September 20, 2015
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.
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.
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.
Posted by Black Dog at 11:37 AM
Saturday, July 04, 2015
If you have ever seen Dazed and Confused (and if you haven't get the hell out now and go see it) there is a scene where Wooderson, Pink and Mitch Kramer walk into the emporium in slo mo and to this day that reminds me of how we would stride into City Lights, although there would be twenty of us or so. We didn't know everybody, the bar held a couple thousand people I think and so you'd have your folks from the Valley and Lively and Chemmy and all the small towns in between as well as any out of towners, it was the only place in town on Saturday nights really, but you would walk in and there would be nods and handshakes and smiles of recognition and we weren't the shit in town, if you know what I mean, but we were known and it was good. We'd drink and some of us would dance and we'd laugh and fuck around and life was great.
So a few years back we tried to set things up and it all fell apart and so at Christmas Frank and I went out for a few pints after work and we started talking about it and I said why don't we try it again, leave it to me and within a couple of weeks after Christmas we had a date and we had invited eleven of the old gang. Two were sure nos right away but everyone else said yes and in the end only one guy bailed and so we had eight come out, four for the full weekend and another four for the Saturday.
You know how you always hear people say that when they see old friends they just fall into conversation right away, never skipping a beat? Well this is how it was right from the get go. We all have different relationships now, the six guys still back home see each other, a few of them see each other frequently for that matter but there are a couple of them I had not seen in twenty years. And yet we sat down and started in on the beers and it was like not a day had past. The teasing and laughing and wisecracks and we were killing ourselves with laughter right away, we always had a lot of laughs, and we have all been relatively lucky with our lives so far and so as we continued on, going for a tool around on our host's boat and finishing off a nine pound porketta and sitting by a campfire into the night, well, you know I am a sentimental old fool but the best thing about it was that it wasn't a nostalgia trip, it was just a goddamned good time.
Oh yeah there were references to old stories here and there but most of the time we were talking about the now and the to come and about new stories and at one point I sat back in the sun, tipped back my beer, looked back at my old pals, all in conversation, shouting and laughing, and I just grinned and thought 'fuck this is great'.
We will never go back, we can't go back now. Christ just to look at us, although for the most part we have aged pretty damn well. A couple guys are heavier and a couple of guys are thinner up top but that would have been the case anyhow it was Sudbury in the late 80s you want to talk about a collection of beautiful mullets but otherwise we're still a bunch of pretty handsome dudes ;). At one point we set anchor by a cliff and a few of the guys headed out to jump. Back in the day I would have been out there for sure but when asked I said, 'naw man, too hammered' and one of the guys said 'if you know that then you're not' and I said 'yeah, can't swim well, have had ten beers and I'm clumsy, I'm not HAMMERED but this would not end well' and so yeah I'm an old man now lol. (This was also emphasized by the fact that I was out of commission until Wednesday recovering pretty well. I started drinking at 2 one day and at 9:30 in the morning the second, so while I apparently I can still do that, (with no hangover, gord bless the day drinking marathon) my body is more likely to cry uncle. Of course on Canada Day we ended up going mental again but that is for another day, that story.
And so we talked about doing it again next year and part of me thinks naw man let's wait another year or so, we're all busy as it is and if it becomes too common then guys will just start saying I'll go next year. And then part of me thinks that this was a weekend that I will never forget, because I won't, and what other things about life are better than enjoying it with your friends, very few things that's what.
It's a running joke amongst those who are not fans of the Leafs that almost any Saturday night there is a ceremony honouring some third liner from the 1964 Cup team who just made the Hall of Fame or the surviving members of the famous 1955 'Win One For Bucky Gooberson' gang or one of the ancient ushers who along with King Clancy used to pick through Harold Ballard's shit, looking for corn and other signs of the franchise's ultimate destination. As an Oilers' fan though over the past few years the smirking and snickering has begun to fade as the bumblers in charge of our once proud club tended to celebrate the glorious past, all the while hoping that this would perhaps shift our gaze from the rubble of the sad present. The Oilers, like the Leafs, have crumbled from once proud empire to a tiny rump state and a laughing stock to boot.
We cheered at the promise of McDavid and at the arrival of Chiarelli and the opening of the stables to the river's cleansing although to me that didn't go far enough. And then we waited to see what was next.
And so what of PC's first couple of weeks then? Here's what I think.
The big thing that destroyed the Oilers and turned what should have been a short rebuild into Moses in the desert (note how the Falmes have perhaps the best D in the league now and have added the immensely valuable Frolik to their lineup, just last June we were snickering at them and telling them to enjoy their bottoming out) was Lowe and then Tambo's modus operandi which consisted of shipping out quality NHL players for nothing. The list is a long one and I have talked about this before and so we won't go over it again. 'Get good players and keep them' is not a particularly brilliant idea but when I first said this a number of years ago in this corner of the internet it was just as true then as it is now. Look at good teams and that, more than anything, is what they do. They accumulate talent and when they can they keep it or they get other talent for it. For a number of years the Oilers turned a house into a paperclip. You do that and you will lose.
MacT came in and gord love him he tried to reverse this trend, he really did. He brought in some useful NHL players and in some cases did so for no more than cash or magic beans but in the end it seems that for every step forward he took a step back and so this season, for example, we saw Perron and Petry, two honest to goodness quality NHLers, shipped out for nothing. Again.
PC is here to stop the bleeding and his June and July have been pretty damn quality by me. By my count he has brought in seven NHL players at the cost of two and every move but one was an upgrade with a second being a beans for probable player move imo. Shall we?
1/ McDavid - well this one is an obvious no brainer. The kid is unreal and even old cynics like Dennis King have boners over him. As opposed to boners over other things I mean. (Dennis is not that old, I mean he's not dead yet). Him and Ted are going to be killer. No more issues at centre.
2/ Sekera - the cream of the UFA D crop and all he cost was money and I had no issue with the term or money. I think he plays with Fayne, who was a legit top D in Jersey when he had a partner who could move the puck and so I think we're actually getting two top four D for the price of one on this. He's a great fit for the team.
3/ Gordon for Korpikoski - Love Boyd Gordon. Love him. Talk about a guy who got the shit end of the stick game after game. Yet he never complained and he did his job well. Wish he was going to a contender though I bet he gets that chance in the spring. Korpikoski is a slight downgrade but he is fast as hell and he is a good bet to rebound. You know what else I like about this move? Gordon was gone by next summer anyhow, either at the deadline or as a UFA and PC turned him into another player with another year on his deal. So instead of nothing or a fourth round pick or something like that he got a guy who can play in the NHL. Imagine that. Smart.
4/ Mark Letestu - a solid bottom six player who can do everything and can slide up in the lineup if need be as well. Good UFA pickup, solid bet.
5/ Cam Talbot - good bet and the price was reasonable. I'm a big believer in the spending not a lot on goalies. The golden age of goalies - Roy, Hasek, Belfour, Richter, Belfour and so on - is over. The last great goalie to win a Cup was Tim Thomas. Other than that it is a list of journeymen, good but not great and guys who got hot for six weeks (See Cam Ward - spits) - Khabibulin, Ward, Giguere, Osgood, Fleury, Niemi and yes I would include Quick and Crawford in that list. The last two are good and the Cup wins count for a lot but there are about a half dozen goalies who I would pay big money or assets for and they aren't on that list. The reality is most goalies are good now and if the team in front of them is quality well that is what matters. Talbot may be Scrivens though I suspect he will be better (I also bet Scrivens rebounds, I certainly hope so, he seems like a bright, fine fellow) and in any case good on PC on upgrading the position and doing so on the cheap.
6/ Gryba for Marincin - not a big fan of this mostly because I like Marincin and Gryba is another bottom pair guy on a team flush with them. Never mind the numbers which like Marincin quite a bit, the kid is still young and developing and while he may have taken a step back last year I don't get why his sideburns suddenly became an issue. Giving up young Dmen (even if his ceiling is bottom pair which I think is a low bar for him) for a guy a year away from UFA doesn't make a lot of sense to me. As usual the response was 'small move, who cares' but Chara was a nobody when he went to Ottawa as well and Duncan Keith was a second rounder in the AHL before he became Duncan Keith. Not saying Marincin is Chara or Keith at all but would have liked the club to stick with him.
7/ Reinhart - I was mostly incommunicado when this went down so I didn't catch the backlash which I understand was pretty harsh. First of all let me say that I don't give a shit that he was a fourth overall pick or a World Juniors' guy or that he is famous. None of that matters. It doesn't. Give your head a shake. What matters is can he play now. And the answer is we don't know. The price? Probably too high. I would hope that perhaps a better option was available, someone who could step in now, or perhaps that option would have become available, remember Leddy and Boychuk? That said ... I believe he is going to be an NHL player. He is still a kid and he has been a pro for a year and the blueline is a hard gig to figure out, perhaps the hardest. I would have hoped for a true NHL top four guy for the price but I also think that he is probably going to be a second pair guy in the league based on what I have read. This one is really one I will reserve judgement on.
So overall pretty good. McDavid is cheap for three years. This is the key. PC has made moves to make the team better now. The forward corps is quality. The new coach is a quality NHL coach. The goalie is an upgrade just by, well, the fact that he couldn't be worse. The kids who are coming will FINALLY have to earn their spots on the team, it is likely that Nurse and Draisatl and Slepyshev (I think he can play) will start the year in Cali. The big question, same as it has been forever, is the blue. They need another veteran Dman, preferably RH, to step into the top four to play with Oscar (and of course they need Klefbom to not regress); the Petry fuckup could really haunt them.
Look at the market. It's obvious teams have smartened up. There have been no ridiculous contracts, which I have never seen before. There are still some quality players out there and there are still teams in cap hell and so my guess, a pretty good one I think, is quality players can be had for cheap. Not sure why they didn't buy out Nikitin but if PC can dump him or Ference or Schultz and use that money on a quality Dman then we're cooking.
And then we can start talking about the present and the future instead of the past.
Posted by Black Dog at 10:02 PM
Monday, June 22, 2015
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.
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.
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 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 ....
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.
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.
Posted by Black Dog at 5:06 PM
Thursday, June 18, 2015
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.
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.
Posted by Black Dog at 5:22 PM
Wednesday, June 03, 2015
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.
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.
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.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:53 PM