Friday, April 24, 2015
Six or seven years ago or so, I can't even remember really, some dude posted, I think on Dellow's site, about how he couldn't wait for Ty and Dennis King and Cam and I and all the other nay sayers to eat crow about Kevin Lowe. My response was that I hoped I was wrong, I would be happy as hell to be wrong, all I want is for my team to win, I don't care who is in charge.
We never got to eat that crow,
Year after year, especially when I posted a lot back in the day, guys would take their shots. Why are you such a pessimist? Why don't you believe? Blah blah blah.
Now of course the thing about me that you know, if you know me at all, is that I am a dyed in the wool optimist, just like my old man. Absolute glass half full until I drink it and fill it up again, sunny side of the street, dumb, grinning, to hell with it let's live it up and drink, smoke, fuck, laugh and eat dude going. Even after this week, a mentally and physically grinding bastard of a week at work that has left me wrecked, I am smiling. It's been a great week never mind the work and the Oilers' news. Had some beers with an old friend last Saturday, a little eee ee oo oo Sunday night with my lovely wife, volunteered for an afternoon in my youngest's classroom, planning my autumn trip (Iceland the leader with the Azores or Lisbon rising), ate some wonderful Chinese Wednesday for lunch. You get it. Life's what you make it. (Turns on a little Talk Talk, feathers hair, pops collar).
The one grey cloud in my worldview this last nine years is the Edmonton Oilers. They've been junk. Forever. Nine years of being an enormous mess. I ranked the NHL's saddest sacks last year, the worst franchises over a long period of time and this Oilers' era was top five and rising and if I revisited my list I think they've likely moved up a notch or two.
The turnover during this time has been unreal. Taylor Hall is now the longest serving Oiler at 23 years old. Todd Nelson is the sixth coach (and likely out the door now.) Assistant coaches, minor league coaches, scouts, equipment managers. MacT was the third GM. Hell even the owner changed.
Over the years the constant was Kevin Lowe and of course this is what everyone harped on. Lowe was the GM when it all went to hell and then when he brought Tambo and then MacT in he was still in the picture. Whether he was involved heavily or not his presence was a sore spot, because of what he represented. First that for all the preaching about accountability here was a guy who always skated. And secondly the fact that this team, like many many teams let's face it, was an old boys' club. The Leafs were too. Nonis and Loiselle and Poulin and so on and it's telling that when Shanahan came in and Loiselle and Poulin got canned they remain unemployed a year later. The NHL is changing, slowly. Sure you get the old boys, you see it a lot, the old star returning to run the joint, or at least distract the braying masses. Yzerman was one of the first. Then Nieuwendyk, Hull, Robitaille, LaFontaine, Sakic, Linden, Shanahan, Neely and have you noticed Alfredsson hanging around Ottawa a lot more lately? A couple of these guys came and went, a couple have less prominent roles and those in prominent positions have been pretty bad at it with the exception of Yzerman (and the jury is out on a few to be fair).
Anyhow I digress but the reality is that more and more owners have decided that entrusting huge multimillionaire companies to guys with high school educations whose main qualification is 'I played the game' may not be the best move. And so we are seeing guys who have a hockey background, sure, but who followed up their college or minor league careers with extensive education and apprenticeship.
But in Edmonton there was Lowe. And guys like Semenko and Musil scouting. And Buchberger coaching despite being by all accounts useless. And Messier hanging around, my god that was terrifying. And MacT leaving and coming back and Howson leaving and coming back and after a while we were all wondering what does a guy have to do to get fired around here. Apparently finishing in the basement year after year wasn't enough.
And on top of that there was the arrogance. Even Lowe, by all accounts a prince of a man, made the ridiculous comment that he knew a little something about winning when he was finally challenged by the spineless simple minded collection of media that let the clowns pile out of the clown car year after year without a peep. The not so veiled threats by LaForge to move the team to a better market (there are no open markets better than Edmonton and few that are not open for that matter), the joke that the ice at Rexall has become, the thin skinned reaction to criticism, the Oil Change series, longest running other than Corrie Street, the comments, again from Laforge, that empty seats were because of a little cold weather. It went on and on. These weren't the Cubs, loveable losers, or the old Oilers, the little team that could, despite a tight budget. Nope, these guys were absolutely incompetents and on top of that they were, in public at least, arrogant and unlikeable to boot.
Arrogant and unlikeable I could stand if the team was winning. Christ those adjectives describe a large number of NHL players and executives. Don't care. Win.
When they brought in Nicholson we said so what. Hockey Canada is like running the Yankees back in the day. Pick the best 25 players and sit back and watch the rivers run with gold. An empty suit. You can forgive us our cynicism, it has been bought and paid for. When the team sagged out of the gate (again) and the announcement was made that there would be a full audit of the Oilers' operations we snickered and jeered and the snark flew and again we had earned that right. Back in September I wrote about the Oilers and I said that until the Oilers actually do something they didn't deserve the benefit of anything and of course they don't, nine years of shit should bring repercussions if you aren't going to get fired. The audit was a PR move we said, nothing more.
And so the season ended in shit again, nine years on and we noted with jealousy that Boston, like Vancouver last summer, had cleaned house almost immediately despite years of success. One hiccough after a decade of success and the axe fell. And we wondered what the fuck was going on. Even Toronto fired massive failure Dave Nonis and everyone realized that this was the right thing to do except for toadies like Steve Simmons who judge a man as a hockey man not by his acumen but by the fact that he is a 'good guy'. And in Edmonton business as usual.
And then last Saturday there was the luckiest of lucky draws and then Monday suddenly there was Nicholson with his Alexander Haig moment except he was actually in charge and still we sneered at generalities about change coming maybe and then two days later Chiarelli in town and Thursday night after the pc had been announced and Bob McKenzie said that Ch-ch-ch-chiarelli was only coming in if he had full autonomy and we knew it was true because Bob is two things, he is a mensch and he is reliable. He doesn't throw shit against the wall and if he's not sure he says he is not sure.
And so we knew that Lowe was out and that this was a blood letting most likely.
And so this morning the news came fast and furious and it is just the beginning.
Lowe is out.
LaForge, in a move nobody saw coming, is out.
And there is no doubt that this is just the beginning. MacT will be offered a job probably and he may or may not take it. It will be a step down but the thing is a whole lot of these guys aren't going to be finding work that easily. 'What have you been doing Craig?' 'Well I've been a big part of the worst franchise in hockey' 'Ok then, we will call you'
So he may stick around but Howson will be gone and the scouts will be purged as well. Todd Nelson is a bit of unfortunate collateral damage here. Is he a good coach? Maybe? Like every Oiler coach since 06 he had to make chicken salad out of chicken shit and that's no easy task. He did alright but these guys aren't fucking around and they don't want to gas Nelson next year, they want a real big boy coach right from the get go, so McLellan or Bylsma or Babcock or maybe Julien or Hitchcock if things go sideways for those gentlemen. Is it fair to Nelson? No but I am guessing that he will either stick as an assistant or go elsewhere. He didn't hurt himself with his work this spring and he will get his shot one day I have no doubt.
I will post something about Chairelli but let me just say that my overall impression is a good one. There are people who will tear down anyone and so today I saw a lot of 'all his good moves were luck' and 'look at all of these bad moves' and all I can say is that I look at one of the three best teams of this era along with Chicago and the Kings and he had a huge part in it so yeah I think the Oilers did ok here. He probably had some luck both bad and good and there was politics bad and good but this isn't Brian Burke walking into Anaheim and having Pronger fall into his lap and bam Stanley Cup. This was longterm repeated success in a thirty team cap league. That's good.
The reality here is that this day has been a long time coming and should have happened in 2010 when they signed Khabi to make the playoffs and capped out and finished dead fucking last. Maybe even earlier than that. What happened in Boston this spring was politically motivated in large part but it also is the opposite of a mentality that has permeated the Oilers for nearly a decade. Boston, hugely successful, barely out of the playoffs for the first time in a decade, axes their GM.
In Edmonton year after year winning never happened. The seasons invariably ended by Remembrance Day. The concern was with the new arena and getting as much public money as possible to finance that. The majority of the media, either cowed or bought off by 'inside information' or simple minded or all three, stood idly by or were vacuous cheerleaders. And the old boys' club mugged for the cameras and carried on, untouchable.
Imagine being Jeff Petry, lowballed while Norris Schultz made the money and got praise, a guy who couldn't hold your jockstrap. Or Shawn Horcoff or Jason Smith, teaching kids how to be pros or dragging anchors around the ice with you, getting jeered while management sat on their hands. Or Ales Hemsky, coming halfway around the room as a boy to a different country, no English, busting your ass, giving your all year after year, getting your ass kicked by Reghyr and going back for more and then some dummy questions your character and your bosses never step up in your defence.
And imagine being Taylor Hall, always a winner, losing and losing and losing because of shit management and now somehow you are the problem. Or Devan Dubnyk, called out by your boss in public before the season starts (!!!) and then shit falls apart and your career ends up in the toilet.
Imagine being a player who lives to play and to win and that is all that you want to do and the guys who are in charge of your team are incredible failures.
And imagine being a fan watching this mess year after year and then Patrick LaForge says the team may move to a better market (EDMONTON AGAIN A REMINDER THAT THERE ARE ONLY MAYBE A HALF DOZEN BETTER AND MORE PROFITABLE MARKETS IN THE LEAGUE!!!!) and you look around a full rink and look at your visa bill for your season's tickets.
And now tell me that this isn't the most glorious day in a long time.
Posted by Black Dog at 11:47 PM
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Hey, check it out
I went down to the station
I didn't scream or fuss
I didn't have lots of patience
Waiting for that bus
Dug deep down in my pockets
To try and find some coin
But much to my chagrin
All I found was my groin
I've never been a big New Year's guy, same as St Patrick's Day you know, amateur hour. I had a few monster benders back in the day on NYE and the St Patrick's Day I spent in PEI was riotous but generally I keep a low profile.
It was probably about twenty five years ago or so, a year or two after we finished school that a group of us went to the Pilot Tavern, a fine old place here in Toronto, for New Year's Eve. We had plenty of drinks beforehand and at some point we smoked up as well and so by the time we got there we were feeling pretty fine, just that nice buzzing you know. And around, oh Christ I don't know what time it was, they announced the headliner and The Shuffle Demons came out of the kitchen or bathroom or somewhere, playing their saxamophones, they danced through the crowd, right by our table and oh man I was freaking out, crazy crazy shit to see when you're high man, I highly recommend.
Someone must have slipped me some peyote this week because I am in a fevered dream, no? Oilers win the lottery and then Bob Nicholson is named head of state and spoke about change in general terms, no promises, and we cynics, damn we're cynics after nearly a decade of shit, we sneer and shrug and then suddenly Peter Chiarelli is in town and on Friday it seems that he will be named POHO, which happens to be Kevin Lowe's job.
Now Chiarelli is like anyone who has ever run a team. He has made missteps, most notably the Seguin deal of course although that one may be Neely's handiwork. As Cam said tonight the thing with these bloated front offices is that it's hard to say who is responsible for what, Christ look at the Oilers - Katz, Nicholson, Lowe, MacT, Howson and so on.
In any case Chiarelli is a guy who built one of the three most successful teams of this decade. A Cup, a trip to the Final which could have easily resulted in a Cup and a President's Trophy. Pretty great, only Chicago and the Kings have been better.
And he's not one of the guys on the bus.
So what we have awaited for years is here unless this is all Katz taking the piss and adding another layer to this mess but according to Bob McKenzie who doesn't throw shit against the wall to see what sticks Chiarelli will get full autonomy.
Did he make mistakes in Boston? Yes. Were the Bruins nine years out of the playoffs, worst team in the league? No. He's a vast improvement, make no bones about it.
So Christmas has come early or is it Ukranian Christmas now? Whatever. Lowe is going to become VP of Remembering the 80s and Pancake Breakfasts. All the old boy scouts, pro and amateur, gone. MacT and Howson, gone, or on thin ice.
I can hardly believe it.
Posted by Black Dog at 10:16 PM
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Saturday evening an old friend of mind from up north came over for dinner and he had a candygram for Mr Mongo, meaning he brought me some beer from the microbrewery up there, a whole lot of big cans of good beer. We had the first barbeque of the year and shot the shit and it was a very good evening. We were heading out to the new pub that opened up about a sixty second walk from my house (I will never live anywhere where I need to drive to get a good beer man, let me tell you) and realized that the lottery was coming on and so we turned on the teevee and of course you know what happened next.
My pal is a Bruins' fan so we had joked about either them or the Kings getting McDavid but when Daly smirked and revealed the golden ticket we laughed and laughed. Unreal.
I didn't think the Oilers would win the lottery, I knew it was possible of course, but the odds were the odds. I wanted McDavid but like many I never considered that they would have a chance to draft him. And here we are. Some thoughts:
- the NHL is run by a collection of billionaire sociopathic grifters so the idea that someone was more or less deserving of a franchise player makes me laugh as does the comment that certain fans are more deserving than others. They pulled a name out of a hat. It has nothing to do with karma. The teams with the best shot at your man were the worst of the worst, choosing to sewer their year while keeping a hand in their fans' and / or local governments' wallets or better yet, so hilariously incompetent that they stumbled into the race despite their best efforts to win win win. Nobody will ever beat the Oilers who signed Khabibulin and made move after move to cap out and return to the playoffs and still finished dead last. And in true Oiler tradition everyone kept their jobs. Oh it is to laugh.
Anyhow spare me the sobbing that it is Edmonton or the cheers that somehow Edmonton are deserving. Deserve has nothing to do with it whether the Oilers got it or not or whether anyone else got it. The Oilers are run by incompetents. The Sabres tanked completely. The Coyotes did the same all while bleeding Glendale. And the Leafs charge over five hundred dollars for each of their best seats and nearly twenty bucks for a terrible beer despite not winning the Cup in nearly fifty years.
What this league needs is a relegation system. I could get behind that.
Until they abolish the draft altogether it will always be a roll of the dice weighted towards the worst the league can offer. From the people in Toronto moaning that Edmonton will ruin McDavid to the usual suspects in Edmonton bleating about the eastern media here's a tip for you, same as I tell my kids when they act up.
Stop your crying.
- Positives? Other than the obvious fact that the kid is going to be a star I also think that one effect of this is that management is about to be on a short leash, finally. I may be wrong but I cannot see Katz sitting idly aside much longer. What excuse do MacT and Lowe and company have now? The club needs D and goaltending still but Garth Snow showed last summer that this can be done without giving up roster assets. And with the cap flat this summer there are going to be teams dumping salary and UFAs who will be left without a spot when the music stops.
So it's time. Personally I would still fire them all now anyways, except for my pal Dellow, christ he'd do a better job than these fucking monkeys, and I'd start with the guy who thought Nikitin was a top four D man and the guy who thought he should be paid as such. I don't think it's going to happen this summer but I think these guys are on thin ice. If you can't fill in the blanks now then get out.
- As noted they need D and a goaltender. So what do you do? I think you can trade anyone if the return is right but it has to be right. No trading sure things for picks or prospects or gambles. People are talking about trading Hall. Now Hall took a step back, sure, and last season he was in the top ten in scoring as a 22 year old. So do I trade him? If I get a number one Dman under contract for a long time then I do but I am talking Subban, Doughty, that type of guy. My friend Olivier Bouchard said he's not worth that and he is right and so I don't trade him then. Not for some top four D man or a guy like Phaneuf or any of that shit. Real value on the blueline or don't trade any of these guys.
That's the way the Oilers need to roll. The market is perfect if you're a buyer. Pick up what you need for cheap. See how these kids roll with a couple of real NHL Dmen back there and an honest to goodness goalie and then go from there. Will they need to move a guy or two from the core? Most likely but right now your top six is Hall/McDavid/Yakupov Pouliot/Ted/Eberle. Unless you get an absolute stud young D back why would you break that up? Right? RIGHT?!??!!
- And there has to be some urgency here. They have three years before McDavid gets paid. Once he starts getting paid then they have real troubles, just ask the Penguins about that. Then you need to start moving guys and not more value, just to move them. Look at Chicago's roster and try and figure out what they will do this summer. They need to win this year because if not then it's a few years down the road to reload and then Hossa and Keith may be done.
So they need to get on their horse right away. Two (or three) D. Dump Nikitin. Dump Ference if you can. A real guaranteed goalie (although I think if you fix the D then the goaltending will follow even if you don't add a big name). Get in the mix for the playoffs. And then go from there.
- the scary thing of course is that even with McDavid there are no guarantees even if he stays healthy and is all that. Look at Crosby, even with Malkin as his running mate he has one Cup and the only reason he got that one is because Lidstrom almost lost a nut and Datsyuk and Hossa were hobbled and Fleury played like Georges Vezina and Osgood played like Osgood and they still barely eked one out. It's not easy winning a Cup, not with thirty teams and a cap system so after all of this we may end up with nothing.
It's the lot of a fan eh? Like Mongo we are just pawn in game of life.
Posted by Black Dog at 8:02 PM
Tuesday, April 14, 2015
I love this picture of Daryl Wirtz. Anyhow ....
It was a couple of years after it ended between the girl from Rawlins' Cross and I when her sister and I (we were friends before and after the whole relationship) were talking and she asked me what I ever saw in her sister.
They never did get along very well.
I replied truthfully that I was in love, head over heels in fact, and even now, twenty years later I would say the same thing, I was crazy about her. I was lucky it didn't work out of course, a bullet dodged in the end, that's not a slag on her, it's just the truth it would not have worked out and so it goes.
As an aside thinking about those long ago times reminded me about a couple of funny stories, you can read them here and here if you so desire, it's some pretty funny shit if I do say so. In any case the jist of it all is that my folks were never really a fan of her but they bit their tongue because they're live and let live and they hoped it would all crash and burn and had the confidence that I would crawl out of the wreckage and survive. We broke up once about eight months before the end really came and this conversation with my old man is one that I will never forget:
A few days after the breakup my parents called to check up on me. They were each on a phone, calling to lend me support. The conversation went something like this:
Mom : How are you? Are you better? We’re just calling to check in on you.
Me: (Barely choking it out) Oh, I’m ok.
Dad: You do realize that there are plenty of fish in the sea right, son? You have heard of that expression? I think it applies here.
Mom: Jesus Murphy Jack, that’s not helping.
Me: But … but, I love her. I …
Dad: Son, do you know when you’re walking on a beach do you realize that there are millions and millions of grains of sand under your feet. Millions of them. Do you get my drift here?
Dad: Or say the beach is up by Goulais. You look out and you see the north shore and there are trees stretching as far as the eye can see. Millions of trees all of the way up to the tundra.
Mom: Jesus Murphy, Jack.
Dad: Son, have you ever kicked over an anthill? And all of the ants come streaming out of the hill into the hot hot sunlight ….
A week or so after that conversation we were back together, no matter what my old man was hinting at there.
The funny thing is all of these years later I know where my folks were coming from when they kept it all quiet because as I get older I realize more and more that I don't know a damn thing about a lot of things and most of all I don't know nor should I care about people's business. I went through a stretch of a few years where I was a pretty smug little dude, I knew it all and would sit in judgement quite easily. There's right and there's wrong and all that.
But as I have gotten older I don't know if it's the fact that I have kids or if I am just getting smarter or if this is wisdom (are you there Gord, it's me Margaret?) but I have discovered, mostly through a few divorces of folks we know, that behind closed doors things go on that are far more complicated than we can guess at. Pretty basic yeah? (I never claimed to be that bright). We're complex apes, we are, and to think that we know better or that we can tell people how to act or behave, as long as they aren't hurting others, well, that's something I don't want any part of because quite frankly life is short and if you're spending any part of it worrying about what your friends and neighbours are doing then you probably should get over yourself and try and take in what you can before it's all over.
Know what I'm saying?
The thing that really fascinated me about the whole situation with the Oilers is Daryl Wirtz because let's face it he has been the man behind all of this and in the end the buck, as they say, stops with him. I remember when he became the owner how we huzzahed because for a long time there was a danger that the club would move and I remember writing at the time how happy I was because I basically knew that I would never have to worry about that again.
Years later and the Katz ownership has been a disaster for the franchise and this has been one of the ugliest times for any club in NHL history. The team is garbage but even off ice they display an unerring tin ear to what is going on. The clumsy threat of Seattle in arena negotiations, the smirking foolishness of Patrick Laforge, the ridiculous letters to the public, the deterioration of the ice at Rexall, it goes on and on. We all know that if the team began winning the outside stuff would be forgiven for the most part but it's all part and parcel of what seems to be a very very unlikeable bunch of people. Arrogant, greedy, dishonest, incompetent, this group has it all or so it seems.
I remember reading a story from a few years back about Bill Wirtz. Wirtz killed hockey in Chicago, him and Bob Pulford, annd it was not a coincidence that when the old man died Pulford was exiled and the team almost immediately became one of the best in the league. Anyhow the story went something like this, there was a Hawks' fan working somewhere and an old man came in, they began talking hockey and the young man began to rant in the harshest language about how the Hawks had been ruined by Wirtz and of course the old man was Wirtz. The thing about it was that Wirtz did not get angry or stomp off, if anything he was stunned and saddened by the reaction. He had no idea that anyone would think that of him and of course remember how the fans booed the eulogy Dale Tallon tried to give him. Man what a legacy and imagine what his family thought.
Now honestly I don't know if that tale is true or not although I read it on the interweb so it probably was but the point of it or rather what it got me thinking about was what Darren Katz thinks about all this. Is he, like Wirtz was, completely oblivious to what is going on? Is the whole thing just a play for the arena, as some have surmised? If not, if he really wants to win the Cup with this club (and as a young man he was a fervent fan by all accounts), then how is he putting up with this disaster?
We know very little about young Darryl Wirtz. Hugely successful businessman and all that we would guess that this means (ie he is ruthless, driven and hugely competitive - I think those are reasonable assumptions). But otherwise we know very little. It really is fascinating.
So what to think then? I was watching some video from the Sloan Conference the other day and on one panel were my friends Dellow and Mirtle as well as Kyle Dubas and Dallas Eakins. It was very interesting stuff but one thing that tweaked my interest and led to this post was a comment that Tyler made. Paraphrasing here, he basically said that people outside have no idea about the relationships, the personalities and what is going on inside. He was just making a matter of fact comment, that's all, just saying that for example, people say that a coach is stupid because of a move he makes when the reality is there is a process that has led to this decision, a lot of thought and reasoning.
To digress for a moment I have always found this part of the industry infuriating. Media members with an agenda or a lack of talent comment on a player's 'lack of character' constantly and fans eat it up and feed the monster. People like Dreger and Simmons echo their sources and so we see the folks who have absolutely destroyed the Leafs defended to the hilt. Guys like Poulin and Loiselle were supposed to get jobs right away, remember? Teams and players work hard (they all work hard for the most part let's get serious) and get a few lucky breaks and they are paragons of character even though they lock the man who guided them to their titles (and made a lot of them richer in the process) out of the dressing room. Shane Doan cheapshots yet another player and because he is a 'good guy' he gets lauded on HNIC as a standup guy while European players by the boatload, guys who came to another country as teenagers to pursue their dreams despite not speaking the language, get derided constantly for their lack of character.
Anyhow you get the picture. It's all conjecture, often guided by a self serving agenda, presented by 'insiders' and 'experts' who value plugs more than the best players in the league because they are mostly drawn from the ranks of the backup goalies and benchwarmers themselves. I don't think that it's coincidence that the best ex players commenting on the game nowadays are Ray Ferraro and Mike Johnson, two guys who were decent players in their time. I have no answer for Jeff O'Neill though.
So what is the point of all of this rambling? I don't really have one other than to wonder what Katz thinks. We have no idea. He makes a ton of money on this club, less now with the dollar tanking, but he'd make more if they were a playoff club. That's a ton of revenue flushed right there and it's not like he runs the team on a shoestring, They spend the money, which of course makes the failure that more galling. So the people who say that he only cares about the money, well he could be making a lot more money so where does that leave us.
Is it loyalty to his hockey men? Friendship? There are rumours that Lowe offered to resign and Darryl Wirtz refused. We have to think that this has a lot to do with it in any case. The results speak for themselves. The team is a howling embarassment and yet while the axe falls in Vancouver, Toronto, potentially in Boston, in Edmonton there is not a whisper of discontent. There is talk of audits and accountability but nothing happens and so we can say that loyalty plays a part, one certainly cannot see Katz nodding his head in agreement as MacT explains away another disastrous season.
But when it comes down to it we don't really know what the hell is going on!
What I'm saying here is that we have to face it, Oil Change is getting stale, only Coronation Street and Big Brother have had longer runs. So Mr Kirtz, if you are reading this, what I'm saying is bring in Baba Wawa and have a sitdown with her. It would be a nice change of pace, it would answer our questions (as long as it's not the Edmonton sports 'journos' asking the questions god help us) and maybe we could find out what makes you tick and why you are standing by while hockey fans everywhere laugh at what your employees have wrought.
I'd buy that for a dollar, maybe more. Think of it as a way to recoup some of that lost playoff revenue.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:01 PM
The collapse of San Jose and the bad luck of LA (if they go 500 in OT/shootouts the rest of the league is shitting its' collective cooperalls) and the apparent slide of Chicago have contributed to thsisparity. The big boys have come back to the pack, at least for a season, but as a whole the west is weaker. The two worst teams in the playoffs are in the west and while I rate the Rangers and Lightning as best in the east there are other teams on their heels. The east, for one year at least, looks legit.
Like the west the east is a gong show this spring. I am always confident of picking five or more series correctly and I think maybe once I went 4-4. If I went 0 and 8 this round I would not be surprised. Unreal.
I haven't liked the Pens in years. Every spring columnists fall over themselves proclaiming them to at least win the East, every year since 2009 their goaltending and shoddy D and lack of depth up front does them in. Truth be told the only reason Crosby and Malkin have a Cup is because the Wings were wracked by injury and had Chris Osgood in net. This season their underlying numbers are good but their D is a disaster thanks to injury and Fleury is still the man between the pipes. If I had a dollar for every time that grinning buck toothed bastard cost me a pool I'd have a few dollars.
The Rangers have eight players with over 45 points which basically makes them the 1977 Habs in this league. They have a deep quality D, speed and depth and one of the few reliable proven goalies in the league.
Rangers in 5
For me the Caps are just in that group below the big boys. I like them a lot. I like the Islanders too for that matter. Both teams have a ton of depth up front. I like their D as well. I have to give the Caps the slight edge because of Holtby and because I like Ovie and Backstrom a little more than Tavares and Okposo. This may be the best series in the first round though.
Caps in 7
This one reminds me of Blues and the Wild a bit and I went with Minnesota there (which I am already regretting) so I think I need to go with the Sens here. As much as I expect Hammond to implode at some point the truth is the Sens have been lights out for months and they have some serious quality up front plus Karlsson. I don't like their D a ton but I don't really like the Habs, they have some great players but without Price they would be decidely below average. Adding Petry was a big get for them but with Pacioretty apparently hurt and Therrien being awful I think the Sens' roll continues. This will be a lot of fun I think and obviously there is no reason that Price can't win this on his own but I think the Habs have the odour of a first round exit around them. *sniffs air*
Sens in 7
The Lightning are stacked with kids eh? Unreal. They could be very good for years and Yzerman has done a terrific job. The deal for St. Louis. Wow.
Listen, the Wings are always dangerous but their goaltending is a big question mark here and for that matter their D is iffy as well imo. They have quality up front but nothing compared to Tampa and Hedman and Stralman are fantastic on the back end for Tampa as well. Some injury issues on the blue for the Lightning will make this a bit closer but I can't see the Wings going anywhere, probably the weakest team in the eastern picture.
(By the way if you are ever down south go to a game in Tampa. Great atmosphere outside the arena pregame and in game presentation is very very good. Crowd is loud and smart and you're not getting bombarded by Tshirts and other white noise constantly. I prefer games there to anywhere else in the league, not that I am well travelled that way.)
Tampa in 6
Posted by Black Dog at 12:15 PM
Monday, April 13, 2015
MacTavish also called his buddy Scott Howson an ace talent evaluator and said that next year is going to be another development year and with those two comments he has made up my mind.
Fire him. Fire them all. Every last one of them. Open every orifice at Rexall and divert the river through it to clean the shit out because until this happens we fans will never see improvement.
The first kids from the dismantling of the team that almost won a Cup have all been moved along, retired or off to Europe or greener pastures. The Hall cluster are now the longest serving Oilers and are getting into their mid twenties which is about when the management team likes to cut them loose. Willing to wait for Nurse, Draisatl and whichever new hope emerges this summer? By the time they are ready the last group's contracts will be up or, more likely, they will have asked out, sick of wasting their careers without even the sniff of a playoff race.
We can't fire Daryl Wirtz sadly though it looks more and more like we are going to have to wait for his kid to clean up this mess. I always wondered what happened to Bob Pulford and await forty years from now when the Kevin Lowe mask gets ripped away to reveal that franchise destroyer.
Bob Nicholson talked about an audit as to what is going wrong and all we get is more of the same and so he also has to go. We need a Shanahan, a guy who is going to come in and get rid of everyone from top to bottom.
In Vancouver after a successful run that included a run to the Finals, one bad year meant everyone got gassed. In Boston the architect of one of the best three franchises of this era is apparently on very thin ice after their first stumble.
In Edmonton the song remains the same. Nine years out.
Fire them all.
Posted by Black Dog at 5:52 PM
Sunday, April 12, 2015
Two other division winners are paper tigers, the Pens barely squeaked in and to add to the confusion for the first time in nearly a decade the Eastern Conference has a couple of clubs that match up with anyone from out west straight up. Goaltending matters but with the influx of new blood and failure of the old guard one could say that with the vast majority of playoff clubs their goaltending is iffy. I love Devan Dubnyk and this year is more like him than last year (though still not 'really' him imo) but I could see him falling apart in the first round easily. Same as whoever starts for the Blues, Falmes or Ducks and do you really trust Eddie Lack or Pavelec? And Corey Crawford has had his hiccoughs over the years and Rinne has been decidedly average for months and you get the picture right? And Fleury has cost me more money than I remember, Andrew Hammond was a disaster in the minors just short months ago, Jimmy Howard has gone to hell and so you are left with Bishop, Price, Holtby and Lundqvist and then you say hmmm maybe this is an Eastern team's year.
In the past I have divided clubs up as follows - true heavyweights (so last year that was the aforementioned five teams), good teams with a shot (iirc that was Anaheim and the Rangers last season) and darkhorse clubs with a slim chance (I'm thinking Dallas from last year but don't quote me on that. I certainly didn't rate anyone from the East as having a real shot other than Boston and New York).
This year, well I have no 'true heavyweight' clubs if I am being honest but I have to pick someone so if you are asking me which teams have the best shot to win it all I'd say St. Louis, Minnesota Wild on Jack Lemaire and the Rangers. I think the Blues or Wild come out of the west and the Rags come out of the East but there is no doubt in mind that this could all be blown to hell very quickly. As for the next tier I'm going with Chicago, who have been rotten since Christmas or so, but with Oduya and probably Kane healthy if they get rolling they might run the table. So them, Winnipeg, who have a sweet draw, and Tampa. But really other than Vancouver, Calgary and Pittsburgh (assuming their D don't get healthy) I can see anyone winning it and that is absolutely nuts.
Nuts I tell you.
So here goes nothing. 53 and 19 in the first round over the years but I could see myself easily going oh fer with these picks. Oh well here are my Soupy Campbell Conference selections.
God help me. I honestly believe that whoever wins this series is going to win the Cup unless Chicago finds their mojo in which case it's all over. Just two years ago a green Wild team pushed the eventual champs from Chicago to the limit with their speed and they are a better team now, never mind the upgrade in goaltending. For St. Louis this is their year, their chance to avoid being the next Ottawa or San Jose. They had Chicago dead to rights last season, up in the series and Seabrook suspended and they promptly dropped three straight.
The big issue for St. Louis these past few years is the game breaker. The Hawks had Kane and Toews and Hossa and Sharp and LA for all of their defensive stylings had Kopitar and Carter and then Gaborik. The Blues had a bunch of 23 goal scorers which is great and all but when things tighten up you need a guy or two who can make something out of nothing.
And now the Blues have Tarasenko and Schwartz and a team so deep that for some reason Paul Stastny is apparently down way further on the depth chart than he should be. So yeah I think they may be ready for prime time.
Only four teams had more goals than the Blues and only Dallas in the West. And only two teams had a better goal differential.
But .... the Wild had the same amount of regulation wins as St Louis and their GD over the past few months blows everyone away. If the season goes another few weeks or if they pick Dubnyk up earlier then they likely win the division. I like their depth at F more than the Blues although remember that whole 'bunch of 23 goal scorers' thing - yeah that's the Wild. And the Blues' D is unreal, it's so deep.
This is a coin flip and if you had asked me a few weeks ago I would have picked the Wild no doubt. I think the Blues are better up front and on the blue and while the Wild have the edge in net I think St. Louis has enough to win a bunch of 2-1 games. That said I am going to go with the team that has been the best in the league over the past few months, that and my gut, which is dumb because rule one is never pick with your gut. It's a pick em though and so here goes.
Wild in 7
Two teams that roared out of the gate, Chicago's start was reminiscent of their 2010 season but at some point things went off the rails for them. Was it boredom? Are they just no longer that good? On paper they're as stacked as they ever were but Sharp and Oduya, to name two, had off years and if it weren't for Crawford they may have ended up as a wild card or worse. Brad Richards was never the answer at 2C, anyone who saw him play the last two years could have told you that, but then again he was an upgrade over Michael Handzus and the trade for Vermette gives them a guy to play in his place anyhow. The question for Chicago (other than will Kane be back and word is he may be back for G1) is whether or not they can find their game. I'm not a big believer in the whole idea of a team 'being able to turn it on', things don't work that way, but Chicago is the same team as last year, if anything on paper they may be better and for me Nashville is the perfect matchup for them in the first round. The Hawks have a slightly better GD and I think the goaltending is a wash but in the end I think Chicago is the better team, plain and simple. Josi and Weber are a great top pairing but the Preds' forwards are pretty pedestrian for the most part (Mike Ribiero, really? He had a very good year but does anyone think he's not going to get eaten alive by Toews.) and I don't think their D is as good either after that top pairing.
Hawks in 6
Everybody hates the Ducks. Well not really but certainly nobody respects them. They, like the Sharks and Hawks, went seven with the Kings last year but still nobody looks back and says 'oh for a bounce or two here or there the Ducks would have advanced'.
Why? Because this year, like last year, there is the odour of smoke and mirrors, if mirrors had an odour, about this club. 109 points and they have a GD of 10. 10! 16 teams have a better GD than that. 16!
And that's playing in a junk division!!!!
The Ducks have a solid blue but lack the big stopper and up front they are top heavy, which frightens me as well but when it comes down to it I think they are just not that good a team.
The Jets have been quality most of the year, they had brutal luck with injuries which ravaged their blue and then their centres in turn and yet they held it together. They are big and fast and deep up front and on the back end. Ten players with 14 goals or more and a blue with Byfuglien, Enstrom, Trouba and Meyers which outshines that of the Ducks. For me it comes down to Pavelec who is either unbelievably lights out or just the worst of the worst. I think he is enough to get the Jets by a team which I frankly think is inferior to them by quite a bit.
Jets in 6.
This is a real dog's breakfast of a series with two teams that somehow made it in. The Canucks are on their way down but bounced back from the Tortorella fiasco of last year, thanks mostly to Eddie Lack who they probably should have run with from day one. Note to GMs out there (especially St Louis and Vancouver) Ryan Miller has been more famous than good now for a long time. Anyhow no matter because Lack picked up the sLack (AHAHAHHAHAH) and to be fair with the Sharks imploding and the Falmes this year's version of the Avs from last year and the Leafs from the year before that and the Oilers and Yotes also being in the division it's possible that the Canucks might have playoff berths until the Sedins get taken out to the back forty. These aren't the Dys of old though. Sure the Sedins are still freaks and Vrbata was terrific but the drop off from those guys to the next echelon of forwards is huge. Bonino, Matthias, Burrows, Hansen and Higgins are all decent foot soldiers though but man their depth is not what it once was up front or on the back end.
As for the Falmes well a lot has been said about how lucky they were and they have been, there is no doubt about it at all. They've laid the foundation for a nice future, helped along by an actual legitimate top pairing D but Giordano's absence is going to kill them here and much like Vancouver the drop off from their big three up front is enormous. They get a ton of offence from the back end which is a good thing because after that top line there isn't anybody scoring, you have a pile of guys barely breaking double figures in goals.
In a lot of ways this is a pick em. The Falmes are lucky but the Canucks are no hell either. Nobody works 'arder than the Falmes work for their coach Bob 'Artley but while they have an enormous amount of gumption and character and leadership and all that, unlike the Canucks who have a bunch of Euros and Frenchmen on their roster, I still like the Canucks barely.
Canucks in 7
Posted by Black Dog at 8:37 PM
Friday, April 10, 2015
Anyhow so the other day we were heading out the door to go to the big tournament semifinal where I scored a sniper's goal for the first time in my life (more on this another time) and after proclaiming HOW MUCH SHE LOVES READING she then explained to her brother why she was bringing her book on dolphins and sharks, called Dolphins and Sharks, for the ride to the arena:
My favourite books are non fiction books because that is how I learn and I love to learn about new things and so I like to read non fiction because that is how I learn. I like to read non fiction books like this bad boy right here (raises book about dolphins and sharks called Dolphins and Sharks) because then I learn about things.
This bad boy right here.
Here is what I wrote before the playoffs last year:
I don't think I've ever had less of a handle on the playoffs than I do this year. Mostly this is because of the way the west finished. If you want to talk about true contenders I have five - San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis and Boston.
Now we are a year later and I have no clue for the first time in forever. I mean none. We have come to a year where the traditional powers have suddenly taken a huge step back - LA and San Jose are out before the tournament even begins, Boston may be and Chicago don't look great at all - and the possible up and comers - Minnesota, Winnipeg, the Islanders - aren't powerhouses yet (although Minnesota may be, I guess we will see). So we have a bunch of very good teams but are any really head and shoulders above the rest of the field? I don't see it which means we are looking at 1993 again.
Much like Jaromir Jagr and his teenage linemates I watched Marty McSorely end up in the box with an illegal stick while most of you were still eating your own poop or at least smearing it all over the walls because you're animals. Me I was long past that stage and was living cheque to cheque, working for peanuts, running on empty, busting a move, wandering the streets of Toronto all dusty and plaid and underfed like a modern day I don't know what. Anyhow I was there when the Leafs had their high water mark of the last half century by making the conference finals and yeah that is exactly as pathetic as it sounds. The Jays were champs though. And dinosaurs roamed the earth. So those of you who believe in creationism there you go I was there and it was mental.
But I digress as I am wont to do. First round predictions right? I'm 53 and 19 in the first round in the nine years I have written these bad boys down so that's pretty good right? RIGHT!??!!??!!
Here is what I look at when I'm making my picks. This is also from last year, I am too lazy to rewrite it and nothing has changed really in how I go about things:
First of all I do not look at how a team finished the season or at the head to head matchups. To me they don't mean a thing. Sometimes a team will finish strongly and go all the way and sometimes they will not and they will win the Cup. Every year people say 'oh they finished such and such a way' and it really doesn't matter. Same for head to head, a game in November or January doesn't tell me anything now.
The huge thing for me is depth. Obviously injuries play a huge part in the playoffs but also year after year we see that clubs with deep rosters go farther. If you can roll four lines, as Chicago and Boston did last year for example, then you're going to go a long way. For example if Toronto had dressed an actual hockey player rather than Colton Orr last spring I believe they may have survived game seven. Certainly having someone you could throw out there who could play a reliable shift would have helped. In a similar vein as the Bruins began to get banged up their depth suffered and as the series wore on against Chicago the Hawks were able to use their superior depth to push the pace. As a result they had the puck more, Chara especially was forced to defend more and by the end of the series the Bruins were done. To me I always look for teams that run four lines deep and six defencemen as well.
When I look at records the big thing for me is goal differential. A team that is even or maybe even in the red is a team that I always avoid. The real heavyweights are the clubs that have a big goal differential. This may seem like common sense but I look at that even more than I look at a club's win loss record.
I don't put a lot of stock in your usual narratives, teams that 'know how to win' and all of that. Nearly every year since the end of that stretch where the Cup was always won by the Wings, Avs, Stars or Devils has had a different starting goalie lead his team to the Cup (except for when the Wings won in '08 I think) as an example. So I don't look at the Blues and think that they can't win because Miller has never won the Cup for example or at San Jose and think that they are going to fail because they're San Jose. Intangibles like this are just a lot of noise imo.
Of course as an out I always say that anything can happen (because it can) - injuries, hot goalie, bad luck. Its hockey so sometimes that's the way it goes but generally I feel pretty good about how I make my picks.
So there you go, if you care. Still waiting on the final day to suss out what is going to happen in terms of matchups and as I said I have no idea for the most part. Out east I think you can say Rangers and Lightning with the Caps rising. Out west ... well I think it's the Blues and the Wild in the top tier with the Hawks a possibility if they can ever get their shit together. I think if they end up with the Preds in the first round and can get some traction they might come on but right now I'm saying the Cup is coming out of one of those four - Rags, Tampa, Blues or Wild but the gap between them and everyone else is a very small one. Almost anything can happen. It's going to be mental.
Posted by Black Dog at 1:00 PM
How are you, how have you been? Good, good.
It's been a good spring for the McLean clan. Indulge me and sit for a while while I brag on my kids.
The boy's string of four (!) straight hockey championships ended this spring with a whimper. His team roared out of the gate in the fall, ROARED OUT, winning six straight to start, thumping everyone in sight and then, as happens in houseleague usually, the other teams began to get better. And so they squeaked one out and tied another and then they got pounded. And then they got pounded again.
Now the boy has never faced adversity as a goaltender before. He did great last year in the dozen games he played but he jumped up a division this year and suddenly the kids were bigger and they could shoot harder and pick corners and put it upstairs and so he got filled a few times and he took it hard. His league is great in many ways but there is little practice time and like most leagues at that level the coaches are dads and they don't know a lot about goaltending. (Back when I coached the extent of our instruction was 'Head up, stick down, don't get beat', we were fucking quality).
So we went online and looked at instructional videos and a few times a week we went to the basement and worked on what we could work on, mostly the most basic of basics. And he worked, man, did he ever. He'd get a good sweat going and every evening he would be after me to get downstairs to shoot on him. And of course, as you would expect, his hard work paid off. He couldn't beat the fact that he is a little guy or that he is a try hard more than an exceptional athlete (this runs in the family) but he did cut down on the soft goals completely and he made himself as big as he could and he cut down his angles and so you could see that he improved. His team bounced back and did enough to finish first in the league and so they went into the playoffs feeling good even though the reality of it all is that while all the teams got better they had actually gotten ... worse.
And so it was in the first game of the round robin to determine who would go to the big game they barely eked out a win over the last place team and it was the boy, standing on his head in the last two minutes, who got the two points for them. That was the high point right there. They managed a tie, a close loss and they got cleaned out twice. They ended up playing for fifth out of six teams and that game ended in a loss as well. The boy though, well he played well throughout, the last game may have been his best of the year, and so we were proud of him and he was proud of himself. Hard work eh? Who knew!
My oldest daughter is eleven. She's a funny kid. When she was younger she was always pretty quiet at school and maybe a bit immature compared to her peers and we worried about her and how she would fit in as she got older. Nothing wrong with being quiet or not fitting in socially, don't get me wrong, you just want your kids to be happy and growing up can be tough (I've seen all the JOHN HUGHES FILMS SO I KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT!!!).
And so this year in grade six something happened that, well, took us by surprise. I had a pal back in the day, he was the guy who made our social lives hum. Every weekend he set the agenda and so from Thursday to Sunday nights we had shit going on. Bars, parties, playing ball, impromptu road trips and so on. He moved to BC the year after he finished university and the next time I went home to Sudbury (I was in Toronto fulltime as of the year previous) the town was dead. It was all the same people, all the same scene but the guy who was the catalyst was gone and with him it was over.
Well my daughter is Frank Kuznik. Lunches, sleepovers, sledding, movies ... if something is happening it is likely that she has put it together. I don't even know what to say. And when she stopped doing choir and peer review this past fall we were disappointed at first but she was just changing gears. She started going out for school teams instead. Now she is in grade six and these are grade eight teams and she's pretty small in stature so even though she may be the best athlete in the family she was still in tough and sure enough she didn't make it to either team she tried out for before Christmas. She was really disappointed and discouraged and yet when soccer tryouts came up a few weeks ago there she was, ready to give it another go. Try your best we said that's all you can do.
And she made it.
Isn't that great? I think that's just great.
What can one say about the Oilers? Well, as you can see by the activity here over this past season, not much. There's no way to sugarcoat it, it has been another disaster for the team and one can only talk about how much they suck so many times. I am astounded that LT still pounds out content daily. He is a better man than I.
There are only two lessons to draw from this past year. First of all is that even the small victories are meaningless until the organization changes once and for all. Sure it's great that Nugent Hopkins took a real step forward and that Yakupov found his confidence and that Lander (and Pitlick for that matter if he could ever stay healthy) is finally a bona fide NHLer and that Klefbom is the real deal. We've seen this all before with Gagner and Cogliano and Nilsson and Gilbert and Penner and Petry and Paajarvi and Brodziak and Dubnyk and so on. Every year brings small victories. They are nice, hell I have always been a big fan of Lander and am very happy for him, but in the end they are meaningless. The players regress (remember how Marincin was a nice story last year) or if they establish themselves as real NHLers they spin their wheels in the mire that is this franchise until they finally escape to greener pastures (all of the pastures are greener).
Ben Massey made the hilarious point the other day when Ryan O'Marra announced his retirement from the County Cork League or wherever he is plying his trade now that the Oilers have been rebuilding so long that the prospects they acquired nearly a decade ago are now finishing up their careers and yet the team is actually ... worse.
And it's true. It takes a special kind of incompetence to turn the Oilers into what they are but it's a combination of bad drafting, poor professional scouting, terrible development and awful management at the top to get this team where it is right now. So just minor tweaks are needed!
And while I am happy for those small victories I remember the small victories from last year and see Perron gone for a pick and Marincin likely on his way out the door and Scrivens' confidence in ruins and you get the picture.
There are only one way this is going to get better - get a lot of good hockey players on this roster. Scott Bowman couldn't turn this team into a contender so whether Nelson stays or not won't make a difference. Nope, they need good players and they need to keep good players. Draft them and develop them, trade for them, sign them. It doesn't matter how, get your good players and then HERE IS THE FUCKING KEY keep them.
You know who had been awful for years? Awful. The Jets. For years they were one of those island of misfit toy teams like the Islanders were or the Devils have become or the Coyotes, Canes and Panthers always are. The way the Falmes have been until recently and the Leafs will be next year.
A team full of guys who you weren't even sure were in the league anymore. Vets hanging on, overpaid UFAs, fringe NHLers and failed prospects with a couple of kids with promise. Anonymous, mediocre, going nowhere.
(The Oilers don't qualify for this because they are a) too bad b) too famous and c) have too many quality kids still but the possibility remains for this of course).
And now the Jets are in the playoffs and if Pavelec holds up (a big if no doubt about it) there is a real chance they could go a long way. And they have a lot of skilled kids on the way. And the Oilers are still rotten. And how did the Jets manage this? By acquiring real professional hockey players, one by one, so that when their D Corps was decimated by injuries they survived and when Perreault and Little went down they had brought in three (3!) NHLer forwards and so they got by.
Anyhow back to point right? There is one way for the Oilers to get better but the problem is this, the management team has not shown in any way that that they can do this. They needed a 2C last summer and they brought in Derek Roy long after the season was down the drain. And the D has been a festering sore forever and the solution was Nikita Nikitin.
So do you think they have the chops? I don't. The proof is right there. So they need to replace these guys and hope that the new guys have the chops.
And on top of that the new guys have the same holes they had last summer plus now they need to replace Perron and Petry and the goaltending is in ruins. And it's not like they have endless cap space.
So you could bring in Bill Torrey (circa 1976) and it's a tall order.
They need a real 2C.
They need two or maybe even three top four Dmen.
They need goaltending.
Can it be done? Well the Islanders brought in Halak, Leddy, Boychuk, Grabovski and Kulemin last summer so of course it can be done, anything can be done.
But can the Oilers do it?
The answer would be no, of course. Nine years out of the playoffs. What a disaster.
Posted by Black Dog at 10:09 AM
Monday, February 09, 2015
I wonder what happened one day. Did an eight year old boy tell his parents that he was going to head over to his buddy's a couple of streets over and they said no and then that buddy's parents caught wind of this idea and thought that is a good idea and next thing you know the entire neighbourhood went silent and every kid under twelve was being ferried from playdate to activity to school by his parents.
When I was a kid if I walked out of my driveway and turned left I would walk a couple of short blocks and get to school. I walked by myself right from Grade One. Along the way I could turn left and one of my buddies lived a short jog that way. If I went a bit further and crossed a fairly busy street I would be in a wooded rocky area that abutted the community college. We would go there quite often, in the summer and spring and fall we would explore and play games and hide our porn, in the winter we would go sliding.
If I turned right from my folks' place and went to the end of our street and crossed the street there and cut through a yard I would be in the bush, plain and simple. It was mostly scrub, not as wooded as the other area but it went for miles and miles, forever really, you could walk north until forever and here on the edge of town it was scrub brush and marsh and a few small ponds and rugged rocks. We would roam the hills for hours and the blueberry picking was pretty damn good.
Or I would turn left before I hit the edge of town, which was just a dozen houses north of my parents' house and if I did this in winter I could see the lights of the outdoor rink a couple of streets away and hear the thud of pucks against the boards. I had a few pals who lived this way and sometimes we met at the rink and sometimes we met at their place to play road hockey or hang out in their basements, one of the guys had an older brother, he smelled of cigarettes and had a muscle car he bought with money he made bagging groceries at the A&P and sometimes he would let us hang out downstairs listening to the latest album he had, he was into Kiss and Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and all that good stuff.
My parents were (and are) lovely people, caring and concerned and strict when it came to rules and curfews and yet once homework was done I was out the door and expected to make my own fun and take care of myself. When I was 6 or 7 years old!
Our oldest turned eleven in the fall and we have been loosening the reins, so to speak. We'll leave her home alone for an hour at a time, she walks to and from school with a friend and has been allowed to go for lunch with her pals as well. And suddenly this past couple of weeks we have gone full Hemingway (Hemingway and his first wife would leave their baby alone in their apartment while they went out in the evenings and got sauced. Well okay, not full Hemingway.).
It has been snowing here for a couple of weeks. Not like they have gotten out east where they have four feet on the roofs in PEI but just steady daily flurries. The park one street over has a couple feet of snow and the hill there (the park has a lip on it, the edge of an ancient river valley apparently, the water has gone underground now though when it rains heavily the area turns into a swampy morass) has been perfect for sledding, considering that two winters ago the kids got out once (!) it has been pretty great for them.
Our oldest goes over with her friends daily, much to the boy and our youngest's chagrin. And then last week one of the neighbour kids, he's twelve, came knocking to see if the kids wanted to have a snowball fight. I gave it some thought, I can't believe that I even had to do this, and gave it the ok and the kids whooped and piled out the door to make snow forts and play with other kids, not an adult to be found. The next night he came back and asked if they wanted to go sledding. We said no to our youngest (she was pissed) and yes to the boy who gave an actual fist pump and stormed out the door with his sister and their friend. He got to the hill to find it swarming with other kids he knew, when he came back, grinning like a madman, I asked him if he enjoyed traveling back to 1979.
I have no idea what to say. We walk or drive our youngest two kids to school and the schoolyard is flooded with parents. When I was a kid parents were nowhere to be seen.
I know it's crazy. I do. Seriously. And Jenn does too, though she is loathe to admit it. And we are probably more permissive with this stuff than a lot of people we know (though there are others who are more old school for sure).
Why are we like this? What happened? Of course it's media and the internet and all of that, a child disappears in Montreal and everybody with a phone is aware of it immediately and the coverage is overwhelming, back in the day we had a local paper and two TV stations that ran news at dinner and then again at 10pm or so. We are inundated with 'news' now and while it is irrational we have become frightened, just as now any snowstorm is a major disaster that will wipe us off of the face of the planet and jihadists lurk in every dingy suburban apartment.
We're irrational. We know that we are more likely to meet our end at the hands of, well anything, than a terrorist bomb, but we let governments suction up our rights left right and centre because we are afraid. (How many people were killed by guns in the US last year? And I don't mean this as a political statement. Hundreds? Thousands? How many by terrorist bombs? It's mental.)
Sorry, I rarely delve into politics here, if ever, but it's crazy right? As the boy says sometimes to my wife and his sisters, we're just animals that can talk. Ever try and reason with a Boston Terrier? I have this week and it's going nowhere. Right now he is burrowed under the blankets on our bed, same as every night.
He's a smart one. The boy, not the dog. We're crazy, even the most rational of us has a tinge of madness to us. How else would you explain us locking our kids away?
And how else would you explain MacTavish's latest 'plan'? Petry is a goner, the best defenceman the Oilers have and like Perron right in his prime. Apparently the Oilers offered him multiple years last year but how long and at how much we don't now though based on how they have always undervalued him I would bet LOWBALL would be accurate and even if not who would blame Petry deciding to see how the grass is on the other side because in this case it's definitely greener.
Christ even in the franchise bumfight I watched Saturday night the Leafs have been head and shoulders above the Oilers for the last decade and believe me living in Toronto I can tell you there is no bigger bunch of sad sack losers than the Leafs. Except for Edmonton.
So of course Perron and Petry want out and Ales Hemsky finally said enough is enough. The Oilers are LOSERS, just look at the last decade. Why would you play there if you didn't have to?
And so what is MacT's plan for next year, nine years out and counting. Petry will be gone. Klefbom, who looks like a beauty but has only a handful of games under his belt (ask Marincin how quickly things can go off the rails) will apparently play with Norris who is definitely maybe going to have a career as a soft minutes third pair guy. Mark Fayne will get to drag Nikita Nikita around with him and will probably cry himself to sleep every night wondering where he went wrong (hint - you signed in Edmonton buddy). And Andrew Ference will get to break in a rookie.
So take this year's D, an absolute gong show, remove the best man on the unit and replace him with a rookie.
Now one has to think MacT is just taking the piss here. We know that Seabrook and Oduya will be available, the former as a salary dump (bye Marincin) and that's just for starters, with the cap barely going anywhere and team after team strapped there are going to be quality Dmen available.
He knows that right?
Posted by Black Dog at 5:05 PM
Sunday, February 08, 2015
I have a friend who I have known since I was five years old, my oldest and closest friend. We see each other maybe twice a year now, we have seven kids between us and all of the chaos that this entails. Once a year we go to a hockey game here in Toronto. He drives in from the Shwa, we hop on the subway and usually have enough time to grab a dinner and a couple of pints at The Irish Embassy. Then we head down to the ACC.
I went to the old Gardens a number of times, back when the most expensive seats were fifty bucks. This means that I am old, obviously, and also that over the years Leaf ownership has discovered that the fans' wallets are a well that can never be gone to too often, because let's face it, I'm not that old and the tickets we had last night, first row, ran 505.00 each, as if the Leafs were a South American banana republic faced with hyper inflation.
They're corporate seats of course, which is a big part of the answer to the question. Believe me, I would not pay 500.00 to see an NHL hockey game.
Over the years we've seen some quality clubs. We saw Chicago the year they won their first Cup. They had flown in late the night before after waxing someone and the Leafs took advantage and jumped out to a three or four goal lead. About halfway through the game it was as if some vengeful god had picked up the rink and tilted it, the remainder of the game was played in Toronto's end. Only amazing goaltending got it to overtime and the Hawks ended it seconds in. Best team we have seen in all of the years we have been going.
We've seen the Pens a couple of times although both times Crosby was hurt. We saw Dan Cleary break his face, Mats Sundin get honored, some anniversary that brought the 1967 team out, maybe a couple of those. We've seen the Habs and the Wings a couple of times and we saw Ryan Smyth in the Marc Pouliot penalty shot game, a game where Pouliot looked like a bona fide top six NHLer, although the Oilers lost and Smyth was shipped away just a few days later.
A few years after that we discussed which game to go to and I pushed the Oilers hard. My buddy agreed and we went to a dog of a game, this was before Hall so maybe 2008 or 2009 I guess? It was an awful affair, the Oilers were garbage, same as they've been forever now. Literally nothing sticks with me about that game other than afterwards my pal was peeved and I agreed that never again would I foist the Oil on him, ruining our traditional evening out.
And then this fall he emailed me and said alright - February 7th. Oilers. I replied that I didn't think this was necessary or a good idea but as it turns out the alternates before us were generally bad faceless teams themselves, the likes of Arizona and Miami and Carolina, so Oilers it was.
We went downtown earlier than usual and met his father and youngest brother who had driven down from up north to see the game. His brother is an Oilers' fan as well and was proudly sporting his jersey. It was good to see his Dad, who I haven't seen in a while. They lost their Mom just over a year ago so I am sure it has been a difficult time for him but he was cheerful and joking with us, talking about taking another brother's youngest to hockey, tying his skates and getting him out on the ice, same as he did over forty years ago with my buddy and then afterwards with his brothers. We were early enough to eat at a leisurely pace and had enough time for me to fire back three pints of Guinness so I was pretty pleased.
We got down to the ACC and well the game lived down to the billing. In one corner a team that had lost a franchise record number of games in a row, a franchise that hadn't won the Cup, never mind that they haven't even made the Finals, in nearly fifty years despite having an endless supply of cash. The flagship franchise of the NHL an owner famously said, true that if the NHL was the Cunard Line. I could make a million jokes about the Leafs but the franchise, truth be told, is a punchline although the joke is on their long suffering fans. There are empty seats in Edmonton these days as fans vote with their feet but last night the place was jammed to the rafters and the cash registers were singing and this was with the Oilers in town.
And so in the other corner were those Oilers, a team with a rich history themselves, first as a dynasty and then as a little team that could. Now they are nine years out of the playoffs, a joke run by a group of old boys who are putting in the grave the old lie that playing the game has any correlation with being a smart hockey man. In a few weeks they will trade their best defenceman, he will follow another top player in his prime who was moved out a few weeks ago and so the wheels will keep on turning. Fans say 'well Perron and Petry don't want to be here' and strangely enough few are asking if the problem might be not the players but maybe finding out why they have no desire to stay here. The answer of course is a simple one. Edmonton has become a place where careers go to die. Highly touted draft picks are jerked around and their development ruined. The golden boys have no accountability. The owner is a louse and his mouthpiece opines that there are empty seats at Rexall because it is winter. They are a sad disgrace run by unlikeable know it alls and the news that Kevin Lowe may be given a bigger role at Hockey Canada makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with Hockey Canada and also when will we play Israel in the C pool, because it's coming people.
The game was, well it was terrible, the Leafs on a double digit losing streak, having played last night, a broken group, their poor coach looking like he was on the verge of a stroke the entire game, his dream of being an NHL head coach in tatters. They should have been easy pickings but the Oilers, lacking Hall and Pouliot, basically mailed it in with few exceptions. Nugent Hopkins was a fierce puckhound and Petry was emotional and engaged physically and mentally (though he didn't play great) and the Old Contemptibles, Gordon and Hendricks and Klinkhammer, came to work as they always do. But Fasth was a disaster and Reimer was on the way to his easiest shutout ever, catching fifty foot lob after fifty foot lob while the Leafs raced behind the Oil 'defence' time and time again. The highlight of the game was Morgan Reilly undressing Ference and putting it topshelf, not so much the goal itself which was a beauty but for the reaction of his teammates, a bunch of 'holy shit did you see that grins' which made us laugh.
The one bright spot was Reimer, a young man who seems like a very good person, getting the shutout but even that was ruined as one of the last of the goons in the league, probably one of the least likely players to score, broke it with two seconds left. It was an ending that was oh so very Leafs.
As tank battles go it was the tankiest but the Leafs have nothing on the Oilers who have mastered this. Wait until Petry and others get moved out. They're just getting started.
I see the Sabres finishing last overall and then in the Leafiest, Oiliest lottery ever, some darkhorse winning the lottery, so let's say the Kings or Dallas or Ottawa and thus neither of these sad sacks getting McDavid or Eichel. It would be what is right and just, no doubt about it.
All that said it was a great night, friendship and family and laughter running through it. And aside from that the highlight (other than the very seventies Boogie Nights vibe couple that were sitting a few rows up from us, he with leathery face and feathered dyed blonde hair, her absolutely spilling out of an outfit that looked like something you would see at the Dong and Balls or whatever the porn awards are called) was meeting Scott Oake. We were lounging in the lounge and there he was, just steps away, holding court. Having had a few I excused myself and shook his hand (he has a firm excellent handshake and is a very handsome man) and told him truthfully that I missed After Hours and it was the best part of the old Hockey Night in Canada (truth be told other than the production values the only good part) and he thanked me, said he didn't know why they cut it and encouraged me to write my MP and to ask my friends to do the same.
And so as is only right when talking about Scott Oake, I had an awkward conversation with him.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:00 PM
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Tomorrow morning the kids will be up early but they aren't allowed downstairs until 8am. We like to build the suspense. :) Plus Jenn is working today so a couple of extra hours sleep will be welcome. We will go downstairs and open our stockings and then Jenn will put the turkey in and we will have breakfast. My oldest has a homemade cocoa recipe so we will have that, probably with a bit of Carolans in it, and then once we have eaten we will open the presents. This is a tradition from Jenn's house and it's a great one, the kids go a bit mental waiting but it also draws out the morning and makes it last.
We visited my folks last weekend and we saw friends in Sudbury as well and we had company Monday night and are having people over next week and we will see a lot of friends over the holidays. It's my favourite part of Christmas other than Christmas morning itself.
With three kids in the house Christmas is a big deal, of course, a really big deal. Our oldest is now eleven and her enthusiasm has not waned one bit. She loves receiving gifts but she has also become immersed in the idea of the whole holiday, not the baby Jesus part, we are not church goers, but in the joy and the excitement and the pleasure that it can bring, the giving of gifts, the feasting, the parties with family and friends. She has spent weeks making gifts, homemade treats and hot chocolates and handmade soaps and scrubs. Seriously. She has become ... challenging over the last few months, asserting herself and pushing Jenn's buttons and after being told this she retorted that Jenn pushes her buttons so yeah there you go, it's going to be a fun ride. She's a wonderful kid, smart and funny and generous and she is growing up and it's breaking our hearts.
The boy is facing some adversity in between the pipes. His last game his team, previously undefeated, was shelled 9-2. He didn't get an ounce of help and afterwards he was choking back some tears. I hate being the father of a goalie but he enjoys it and now he has to work hard and try and bounce back. I'm going to be taking a lot of shots on him over the next few days I think. He's the rock of the family though, a golden boy. He works hard and never complains and he is a brilliant boy and curious about the world around him. He is all me, Jenn says, but the truth is he is all of the best of me, with none of the bullshit and we could not have a better son.
Our youngest is a bright shining star. When she laughs it is a roaring rolling series of giggles and chortles and howls and it makes everyone around her smile. She is in grade one now and still at the stage where she makes great leaps in the space of weeks, at one point in September she learned how to read, swim and tie her shoes in a matter of weeks. Unreal. She has always been a bit wild, certainly less serious than her siblings, and so we were surprised, happily, when we found out that she is killing it in school. She is the heart and soul of the family.
Jenn turned forty this year and celebrated by going to Vegas where she ran her first and only full marathon. She remains the love of my life, brilliant and hilarious and beautiful, and we make a damn good team. I'm a lucky man.
As for me things are great, mostly because of what I have just told you. We have been very fortunate this year after the great sorrow from last year. Mom and Dad keep on trucking, at 82 and 81, and I am fully aware that some day this will no longer be the case. They are active and they are enjoying themselves and they are teaching us how it's done. I have my health too, just turned 47, can you believe it? And I have a good job that I enjoy and we were lucky enough to travel this year, New York with Jenn and Germany with a dear old friend. We are very very fortunate. Some of that good fortune we have earned. Most of it is the luck of the draw. Jenn works Christmas Eve day and Boxing Day this year and she is caring for children who have not been so lucky and I could not imagine what it would be like to be the father of one of those kids.
I've been writing here for nearly nine years now. Isn't that mental? I don't write so much anymore, it's hard to say the Oilers suck in a different manner. The team is a disgrace but through this blog I have met so many good people and have been part of a fun community for nearly a decade. I have a rich and wonderful life and this has been a good part of it and I am lucky beyond measure.
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas to you and yours and a safe and healthy and happy 2015.
Posted by Black Dog at 11:41 AM
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
Part of this is I'm a bit of a savant when it comes to remembering numbers and events but mostly it's because I'm a beer league geek, if there's such a thing.
I love it.
I'll be 47 in a few weeks and I hope, well I hope like one of my uncles I play into my seventies. I've slowed down slightly but I'm skating a few times a week on my own this winter, partially to stay (get back into) shape and partially to try and improve myself as a skater.
As for Capsule, well we are on the run of our lives right now. Eleven wins and two ties in thirteen games so far. Unreal. We're enjoying it but there is some trepidation, last year we had a terrific start, hit the skids at Christmas, roared back by sweeping all of our main rivals aside and then fell apart down the stretch, finishing our year by losing six straight games, bombing out of the playoffs.
So we'll see. It has been fun though.
I finished last season on the bench, watching as we went down with a whimper, my MCL strained earlier in the game in a weird nothing moment. Missed summer hockey. Skated well right off the hop this season with nothing to show for it and then in the last five games I have found my stride, four goals and four assists. I don't score a lot of goals so it has been nice.
Last week we had a rotten game and so were tied at ones with a couple of minutes left. We hit the ice for a draw in their end, our centre won it back to the point. A nice low hard shot, the goalie went down, screened by my linemates, puck popped right to me, open net. Winner. That was exciting.
This weekend we faced our nemesis, they've knocked us out the last two years. They are a solid club, play hard, good goaltender and they have a big centreman who is probably the best player in the league, just a monster of a guy who can skate, shoot and pass the puck. We were doing a good job of checking him but with him the problem is you have to play a perfect game and it's beer league so there's no such thing. Sure enough he pounced on two turnovers, blew everyone away and scored twice. Game was winding down and they had a 3 to 1 lead.
Then with six minutes left we got one and our line went over the boards and we had them hemmed in and our leading scorer (leading scorer in the league actually, he's a hell of a player and maybe he is the best player in the league, think Hossa for a player type) picked up a rebound on a wide point shot and flipped it in. Tie game.
And with less than a minute left we hopped over the boards again for a draw in our own end. We won it and a D to D pass and then our Dman put it on the tape of our aforementioned main man just inside our blue line.
Little things eh? If our D rings it then Ben has to pick it up and their D man probably pinches. Instead he gets it on his tape and their D fall back right away because they have to, he'll kill them, he steps over our blue and hits me going full bore up the opposite side. Their D are flat footed, I'm by them, all alone, full flight, go backhand. Their goalie, who has killed us for years and who has had my number in particular, goes with me but the puck is behind him and I'm whooping and hollering.
Winner. 34 seconds left.
I always joke with the boys that one day I'm going to skate right off the ice after scoring, right to the room, hang them up right then and there and this would have been the time to do it. Of course I'm lying. They'll have to drag me away.
What is there to say about the Oilers? Anything? Anything positive? Anything constructive?
We can talk about grand gestures and master plans and the process outweighing the results right now but what it comes down to is that while this is the strongest Oilers' team on paper in years on the ice it is hot garbage.
They could fire the coach but Scott Bowman couldn't get an ounce more out of these mopes I suspect, although Norris would be sitting in the pressbox so that might be a start right there.
The majority of players either have no value or are going to bring back less in a trade than is reasonable. There is certainly a market for Jordan Eberle, as an example, but MacTavish is going to be dealing from a position of weakness.
With first Perron and now Ference speaking up it's pretty clear that this is becoming a team divided. You can hack on Ference all you want for his play, though I think he's been better this year, but what he says is true.
Petry is a goner. Much like Ales Hemsky there is no way he is going to stay even if the Oilers want him to stay. This franchise is poison. And what that means is another player gone for nothing which means another spot to fill by trading someone else or by overpaying a UFA.
So what can be done? Everyone except Lowe has been fired. The entire roster has turned over. They've brought in veterans. The roster is unbalanced but ten losses in a row unbalanced? Two shorthanded goals at home in one pp against a bad team unbalanced?
The team is rotten to the core. Literally. The Rieder shorties were both hilarious and devastating because in that minute nine years of incompetence was summed up brilliantly. The prospect discarded for a never will be goon showing that management has no idea when it comes to player evaluation. The rookie fourth rounder playing on the PK and having more goals than Yakupov and one less than Eberle and RNH displaying that the Oilers cannot develop worth a damn, screwing up even the sure things. The terrible power play. The horrible giveaway by Hall showing that even basic mistakes keep happening again and again, partially due to the lack of accountability for the organization's chosen few. The defensive gong show on the second Rieder goal, with Nikitin the goat again, either too hurt to play effective defence or just not good enough (see management's inability to evaluate talent again).
What should happen in the short term? Honestly? Well first of all Katz and Lowe and MacTavish should get up in front of the press and explain themselves but that is unlikely to happen and so it is left to Eakins to take the brunt of it.
What do we want to happen? Lowe's head on a pike, if only to show that there is some sort of accountability. More than anyone he is the reason for the last nine years. Such a record of failure would have resulted in dismissal a long time ago. I don't think it will happen and other than the thrill it would give us I don;t think it would make a big difference really.
What would be the best thing for the franchise? Really? A full house cleaning. Or at the least something akin to what is happening in Toronto with Shanahan. And maybe that is what Nicholson is going to do. Certainly his remarks about scouting the other day sound ominous for that group. Maybe he is reviewing everyone and everything and come the spring Rexall will run red from the bloodletting. Maybe it will be a full purge and that purge will tear apart the roster itself.
Based on what we've seen this year would we blame Nicholson? The Oilers are the Islanders. A once proud franchise wandering the wilderness, only worse. A laughing stock. It's a horrible disgrace. It is ruining reputations and destroying careers. What a meat grinder. Unreal.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:47 PM