Tuesday, March 11, 2014
In Edmonton they add nostalgia to the mix. Team sucks (thanks to Kevin Lowe), don't worry we will build a new team, just like they did in the 80s with youngsters like Kevin Lowe, that will take us back to those glory days. Just never mind that the guy who drove the team into the ditch is still around overseeing everything that is going on.
When Kevin Lowe began to dismantle the very nice club he built that came within a break or two of winning the Stanley Cup and some of us would point out that he was a fuckup people would always say 'why do you question Kevin Lowe about hockey? He won six Stanley Cups. He knows what he's doing!' and hilariously last spring when the club was wrapping up its seventh straight season out of the playoffs Lowe fired Tambellini and installed MacT as GM and then when the media began asking him some very pointed questions he went on his famous rant saying just that.
Like Rustin Cohle says 'Time is a flat circle of violence and degradation'. Or was it 'The thing I like about prospects is that I get older but they stay the same age.' Whichever one it is it fits the Oilers.
Edmonton Oilers 2007 - present
Length - 8 seasons and counting
Losing Seasons - 6 (take out OT and SO wins and losses and certainly its 8)
Bottom Five In the League - 4 (I'm including this season)
Last Overall - 2
Playoff Appearances - 0
Playoff Wins - 0
Weirdness - Unlike nearly every other team on the list the Oilers started from a position of strength, a team full of players in their prime that came within a goal of the Cup. In the ultimate house into a paperclip story management turned a pretty good team into junk very quickly. Everyone associated with the team from the owner to the trainers has changed since the summer of 2006 except the guy most responsible for this mess.
Remarkably paranoid and tone deaf, the Oilers have blocked a critical media member's car in with a Zamboni, clumsily threatened a move from one of the most lucrative markets in hockey to get public funding for an arena for their billionaire owner, publicly spoken of different tiers of fans and used the local media (they make Pravda and Tass look like Now Magazine under the Ford Administration) to deride players who are no longer in the organization's plans.
Have we mentioned that the man responsible for this mess went on a famous rant about how much he knows about winning?
The Good - Somehow in a thirty team league the Oilers have been so bad and so unlucky and so lucky that they finished last over all twice and won the lottery the year they finished 29th thus giving them three straight number one picks overall. They also have had three other top ten picks and will have a lottery pick this year.
The Bad - Much like the Islanders the Oilers have made good picks but have already traded one (after botching his development), have another one who looks totally lost at sea in Nail Yakupov and generally are making a mess of it. Despite all of these picks the team is worse.
The Good - Billionaire owner Daryl Katz continues to sell out his rink and is getting a new one built for him, mostly through public money which is good because the Oilers are already one of the most profitable franchises in the league despite no playoff appearances in eight years wait what were we talking about again?
The Bad - Scott Howson came back to rejoin this management team after a number of years with Columbus. Why is this bad? They are on this list too and haven't shown up yet and we're at number six.
The Bad - The Oilers have traded away a roster worth of good NHL players of all types and literally have nothing to show for it. Which explains why their roster is an inch deep and why they are garbage.
The Bad - Eight years into it it looks like the Oilers only need two top nine forwards (three if Yakupov continues to struggle), two top pairing D, a power play and a clue as to how to play in the NHL collectively, you know with the team play and the checking and consistent effort and the winning puck battles.
The Good - I think that's it so they should be ok.
The End Game - Still no idea. Its eight years out and the end is not in sight and it all depends on what you think of MacT. You look at Gordon and Scrivens and Perron and think he knows what he is doing and then you hear the Clarkson contract talk and you think about the Islanders and then you get really sad. Right now these guys are in sixth place but they are on the cusp of top five and if Taylor Hall were ever to ask out then the sky's the limit BABY!!
Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - Believe me I think they deserve it except ... well if you want to talk about degradation wait until you see the top five. The Oilers may very well get there but they have a few years to go yet. (In other words we'll revisit this in 2020 when they hit number one)
What We Have Learned - You would think that these truths are self evident but apparently not. If you move out NHL players of quality for nothing but picks that don't turn out and prospects who suck then your team will suck. Success as a player, no matter how much, does not qualify you to run an enormous business.
Posted by Black Dog at 2:58 PM
Monday, March 10, 2014
This next spot may be controversial.
This team had a dozen losing seasons and in eleven of those they finished in the bottom five of the league and this is in the Bettman league, not the 1970s. Amazingly terrible. Whenever anybody points to the Nordiques or Pens and says REBUILD GOOD this club is the automatic counterpoint as despite all of this losing they still suck.
Why aren't they ranked higher? Because the twelve seasons are actually two sets of season, one of seven and one of five and they are divided by a five season period in which they made the playoffs four times. They did not win a series (and in total only six games) but they were in the playoffs.
So why not run them as two separate groups? Because its the New York Islanders, the Mike Milbury and Garth Snow Islanders and while they could be divided into two separate entities the fact that this is the rebuild that never ends deserves to be treated as a full body of work.
New York Islanders (1995 - today) (lol)
Length - 19 seasons
Losing Seasons - 13 (including this one)
Bottom 5 in the League - 11 (probably 12 after this season)
Last Overall - 2
Playoff Appearances - 5
Playoff Wins - 8
Weirdness - Where to start. The team was sold to a guy who had less money in the bank than me (I have very little money in the bank). If you include John Spano (you really have to as its the most Mickey Mouse story in the Mickey Mouse history of the Mickey Mouse NHL) then the team has had four owners during this span and the latest is Charles Wang. Mike Milbury was the GM forever and his replacement is Garth Snow. Oh between them was Neil Smith, who was GM for a month. There was the Fishsticks logo. There were the thirteen coaches, including two stints by Milbury himself. The Rick DiPietro contract. Oh and apparently both Milbury and Snow each offered up all of their draft picks to a team in order to move up in the draft.
The Good - There were the drafts. In the first go round the Isles drafted Wade Redden, JP Dumont, Zdeno Chara, Roberto Luongo, Eric Brewer, Tim Connollly, Taylor Pyatt and Raffi Torres, all guys who went on to long NHL careers, a couple who will be in the Hall of Fame.
The Bad - They traded all of those guys plus Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe plus the second overall pick who would become Jason Spezza. ALL OF THEM!!
The Good - In their second stint in the basement they have drafted John Tavares, Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Strome, Travis Hamonic and a number of other promising youngsters.
The Bad - They have already traded Niederreiter after botching his development. They did get Cal Clutterbuck for him though. Lol.
The Good - Tavares is a kid and is one of the best players in the league already.
The Bad - They used their other number one pick overall on Rick Dipietro. And they gave him a fifteen year contract.
The Really Bad - THE ISLES HAVE HAD MORE TOP FIVE DRAFT PICKS THAN PLAYOFF WINS (11-8) AND LOOK TO ADD ANOTHER THIS YEAR. AND NOT ONE OF THOSE PICKS WAS A BUST. THEY ALL HAVE GONE ONTO LENGTHY CAREERS!!
The End Game - We don't know yet. The first seven years resulted in a grand total of six playoff wins. The next five years have resulted in two and the team is in the basement again this season. They are unreal bad.
Why They Aren't Ranked Higher - I can't ignore that playoff run in the middle of this shitshow, especially in a thirty team league.
What We Have Learned - When Mike Milbury opens his mouth on TV hit the mute button. He is the man most responsible for this disaster, nothing he says will help you understand anything about hockey or winning.
Posted by Black Dog at 8:41 PM
I originally thought going through the worst teams in the NHL post expansion would be a fun exercise. I wanted to see where the Oilers fit and where some of the other teams that come to mind when you think of bad teams slotted. Much like when I looked at the 72 Summit Series I found that things are a lot more complicated than I believed and that some of the teams that came to mind at first are rank amateurs when it come to being absolutely terrible. As a matter of fact when I first looked at this last week the Capitals were in my top three or four at worst. A little more research and they slid down the list.
Further making things difficult is the fact that you have two (or even three if you really want to drill down) eras. From 1967 to 1979 you have between a dozen to eighteen teams. From 1980 to the arrival of San Jose you have twenty one. And then the number rises to the present day bloat of thirty.
Does being bottom five in an eighteen team league as opposed to a thirty team league matter? How about playoff berths? Its far easier to beat out five teams than fourteen. This isn't as easy as I thought it would be.
And yet as I noted previously there was a clear demarcation between the two groups of eight I have found and there were three reasons for that.
The ones I have looked at so far tended to have shorter periods of being horrible. Three were ten seasons or more, one was nine, the rest were five or less. The shortest in the worst of the worst is eight seasons. Four are over ten seasons with a fifth closing on on that mark.
The ones I have looked at so far, buoyed by the Canucks and Leafs yes, had some playoff appearances and success. Nineteen appearances in seventy total seasons, forty six playoff games won, three of them won series, one went to the Cup Final. The ones to come have a total of four playoff appearances in eighty five seasons and this includes four teams that competed against the Leafs and Canucks if you're wondering why they didn't even make the top eight. Four appearances! And three total games won!
And finally there was the success that resulted from the suffering. Our first eight franchises included five that won a Stanley Cup within five years of their disastrous runs and three of those won a second with the core they built and Chicago may not be done yet. Eight Cups in total. In our next group we have a total of zero.
Washington Capitals 1975-1982
The one thing I have noted is that drafting is pretty well the end all and be all. Surprisingly a lot of top five picks for these clubs don't turn out at all but the clubs that find the real superstars are obviously the ones that do really well. The difference between a Cup (or two) and no Cups may be the pick that you use on Daigle rather than Pronger and all it takes to turn the corner in many cases is one truly elite talent.
The Capitals picked first overall in the 1974 draft. The Islanders picked up Bryan Trottier (who lasted until the second round) and Clark Gillies. The Bruins drafted Mark Howe. After these three there were a lot of solid NHL players selected, guys who played over a decade here and there including another Islander pick in Bob Bourne. The Caps selected Greg Joly.
Length - 8 Seasons
Losing Seasons -8
Bottom 5 of the League -7
Last Overall - 2
Worst Season - 1974/75 - 8 Wins in 80 games (!!!) for 21 points
Playoff Appearances - 0
Playoff Wins - 0
Weirdness - That the Caps survived at all especially considering what happened to the Scouts and the Seals
The good - Its not good but they were an expansion team and not only did they have to compete with the established NHL clubs for talent but also the WHA.
The bad - the above point holds true and three other of the 70s expansion clubs were also dreadful but two others became powerhouses relatively quickly.
As often happens the draft mattered most of all. Note the Islanders' draft mentioned above. With their first round picks the Caps drafted Greg Joly (1st overall), Alex Forsyth (18), Rick Green (1), Robert Picard (3), Ryan Walter (2), Mike Gartner (4), Darren Veitch (5), Bobby Carpenter (3) and Scott Stevens (5). So when they started drafting well then the team turned around (also when they traded for Rod Langway) but when four top three picks net you Joly, Green, Picard and Walter then you're not going very far.
The end game - the Caps would become a solid franchise in the 80s, starting a run of fourteen straight playoff appearances which included three straight seasons of 100 points or more. They never got over the hump though and close to forty years of existence have gotten them one Cup Final appearance and nothing more.
Why they don't rank higher - these teams were awful, their first season is probably the worst NHL season in history. The main reason they aren't higher on the list is the era they played in. There are three teams from the same time and all were worse than the Caps. Our other four contenders were worse for longer and/or posted worse/equivalent results in a bigger league. So for the Caps its eighth overall
What we learned - Not much that we didn't know already. Drafting is everything. Being an expansion team sucks. One thing we learned (that we will see time and again now) is that sometimes you can be terrible for a long time and not even become much of anything.
Also read this on former Sudbury junior Mike Marson, a member of a great junior team in the 70s and one of the original Capitals.
Posted by Black Dog at 2:36 PM
So we're halfway through our worst sixteen and we're about to hit the big boys of losing. I wanted to rank our bottom eight. This is a lot harder than I thought. These teams are truly terrible.
Your mileage may vary of course but here is what I looked at.
Length of time - the longer the better (or worse I guess). Being horrible for four years is awful but nothing compared to twice or three times that amount of time. Put it this way, would you rather be last place overall for four years and then really good or near the bottom of the league for a decade.
Degree of being bad - Was the team absolutely horrific or just mediocre? Were there playoff appearances? This is what really separates the bottom eight from the top eight by the way. The worst clubs were really really bad for a very long time and had no redeeming qualities at all. The teams we have looked at so far included some that were bad but not abysmal.
End results - What did the suffering result in? In a lot of cases the fans of these teams ended up with championship teams. In others there was an improvement in quality but nothing really great.
Here we go:
16th - 80s Pens - Three really bad years, improvement for three resulting in a playoff spot, then a regression when Lemieux was hurt that netted them Jagr. The tank job saved the franchise and resulted in two Stanley Cups. Not bad for what was really only three disastrous years.
15th - Turn of the century Tampa - Five really bad years which were essentially their expansion pains postponed. Last overall twice which netted them Vinny Lecavalier. Two years after it was over they won the Cup. Big deal.
14th - Oughts Pens - Four years of being really bad that got them Crosby and Malkin. Seriously? Any fanbase would go through that.
13th - 90s/Oughts Chicago - A decade which began with mediocrity and became worse and worse. The team wasn't truly terrible until the end of the run and when Bill Wirtz died they emerged as the best team in the league. Hawks' fans were long suffering but what has followed makes even that decade worth it.
12th - Expansion Sens - The worst four year stretch any team ever suffered through was terrible but they were an expansion team and they were a contender for a decade afterwards. If they'd had Toronto's goaltending they probably would have won a Cup or two and been ranked even lower but they didn't so here we are.
11th - 80s Nordiques - Five years is awfully short when compared with a decade amongst the best teams in the league and two Cups. They would be ranked way lower except the fans in Quebec City never saw the payoff. How cruel is that?
10th - 70s/80s Canucks - over two decades of being bad puts them near the top of this list. They rarely really bottomed out and they had a Cup run in there which separates them from the worst of the worst but the fact that 1994 was the highlight of the decade following means they belong here
9th - 80s Leafs - this club was terrible, absolutely brutal. The only reason they are ranked this low is that they had a bunch of playoff appearances which they ended up with because they were in the worst division in pro sports ever. Horrible, horrible, horrible. And the eight teams that are worse than them are way worse. Seriously.
Posted by Black Dog at 10:49 AM
Saturday, March 08, 2014
I've found that essentially there are two groups of eight and in my opinion there is a real difference between the two. The first four I looked at all had one thing in common, they were terrible but for a very brief period of time. What I am looking for here is true degradation and suffering and there were two things that separated the first group from the elite eight of losing. First of all they were lousy for four or five years only and secondly almost immediately after the nadir came the zenith with Cups won two, three and four years after they bottomed out for Tampa, Pittsburgh and The Nordiques/Avs and a decade as a contender for Ottawa.
I'm sorry but that doesn't cut it here.
Our next four teams also fall short and in this case we have one pair that have longevity on their side but in both of those cases they were more mediocre than terrible and they also won Cups shortly after they came back to the light. Our second pair actually are probably worse but, partially due to the era they played in, they really can't be considered amongst our worst of the worst. Their fans suffered but not enough although one would probably suggest that being a fan of the Leafs and Canucks is nothing but suffering ;)
The Mediocre But Not Truly Terrible
Both of these teams had longer runs of incompetence than our first four but while they were bad they weren't absolute garbage like that group. They actually each made the playoffs once and on top of that at the end of their awful runs they were both rewarded with Cups. They deserve inclusion on our list but they're near the bottom of it.
Pittsburgh, like a lot of the franchises added in the 1967 and the 70s expansions, was absolutely mediocre for years but it wasn't until the eighties that they truly sucked it. It worked out for them though as they went from being an afterthought to one of the more famous (and successful) NHL franchises.
Length - 8 years
Losing Seasons -7
Bottom 5 of the League -4
Last Overall - 2
Worst Season - 1983/1984 16 wins in 80 games for 38 points
Playoff Appearances - 1
Playoff Wins - 7
Weirdness - The Penguins were close to folding in 1984 and the feeling was that without Mario Lemieux the club would fold. So they tanked hard and literally with GM Eddie Johnston once berating the coach at the first intermission of a game they were winning. (They went on to lose that game.) The team they screwed? New Jersey lol.
The good - Well they drafted Lemieux, And the year after that they drafted Craig Simpson, who ended up bringing them Paul Coffey. And while they finally made the playoffs in 1989 Lemieux got hurt the following year and they ended up in the bottom five one more time. Nolan, Ricci, Nedved and Primeau all were drafted and so all they ended up with was Tim Duncan, er Jaromir Jagr.
The bad - in 1983 they finished dead last, same as the following year. While 84 netted them Lemieux in 83 they traded the first overall pick and George Ferguson (?) for Minnesota's first pick (15th overall, this got them Bob Errey) and Ron Meighan & Anders Hakansson (????????). Minnesota picked Brian Lawton (oops), both they and the Pens missed out on Steve Yzerman, Pat Lafontaine and Cam Neely.
From 86 to 88 they selected 4th, 5th and 4th overall and came away with Zarley Zalapski, Chris Joseph and Darrin Shannon.
The end game - A year after they drafted Jagr the Pens won the first of two consecutive Cups. Lemieux (and Jagr) are two of the alltime greats and the Pens would be legitimate contenders pretty well until their next rebuild.
Why they don't rank higher - The last overalls and bottom five finishes in a 21 team league are impressive as is the eight year term but a playoff appearance which includes a series win and the immediate Stanley Cups override it. Cut the term back by two years so the playoff appearance isn't included and its still not as horrifying as what's to come.
What we learned - tanking exists, Steve Tambellini learned at the feet of Eddie Johnston and Lou Angotti (the coach in 1984).
Chicago Blackhawks (1998-2008)
Under Bill Wirtz and Bob Pulford the great Chicago teams of the sixties had given way to mediocrity on the 70s and 80s. Mike Keenan came along and within a short time the club had finished first in the league in 1991 and made the Cup Finals in 1992. Then Pulford put a knife in Keenan's back and Wirtz refused to pay the core of an excellent club and fans watched Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, Ed Belfour and Chris Chelios leave through the nineties. All but Roenick would be major parts of Stanley Cup winning clubs. Meanwhile the Hawks ended up going into a death spiral.
Length - 10 seasons
Losing Seasons - 8
Bottom five of the league - 3
Last Overall - 0
Worst Season - 2003/2004 20 wins for 59 points
Playoff Appearances - 1
Playoff Wins - 1
Weirdness - There was GM Mike Smith and coach Alpo Suhonen. There was an endless parade of washed up former stars who Wirtz paid rather than the core of his last good club. There was Theo Fleury's stop as he descended further into madness.
The good - In 2006 they drafted Jonathan Toews and in 2007 they won the lottery and drafted Patrick Kane. Seabrook was picked in 2003 14th overall. On top of that their drafting in later rounds after 2002 brought in Keith, Crawford, Byfuglien, Bolland, Bickell, Brouwer and Hjalmarsson. Not bad.
The bad - In 2004 ESPN named them the worst franchise in all professional sports. Their third lottery pick, number three overall in 2004, was wasted on Cam Barker (not the reason ESPN named them worst franchise, I think) . In the years before that they were always bad but never bad enough to get into the lottery. On top of that their drafting was terrible, at least in the first round from 1998 to 2002 and despite having multiple picks two of those years - Mark Bell, Steve McCarthy, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev, Tuomo Ruutu, Adam Munro, Anton Babchuk. Also it took an actual death to turn this thing around. Its not a coincidence that when Bill Wirtz passed away (so despised was he that fans booed his eulogy) one of the first things his son Rocky did was get rid of Pulford. Things turned around quickly after that.
The end game - Chicago went from a laughing stock with the longest Stanley Cup drought to Cups in 2010 and 2013 and are basically considered the league's model franchise now
Why they aren't ranked higher - despite a decade of futility they did make the playoffs once and for the most part they were painfully mediocre rather than absolutely abysmal. And there's the whole best franchise in hockey thing they have going on now.
What we learned - Ownership matters. A bad owner can ruin a franchise. There was no worse owner than Bill Wirtz and if he were still alive I would bet they'd still have no Cups since 1961.
Playoffs Their Salvation
Both of these teams had extraordinary runs of being bad, as a matter of fact in terms of longevity, bottom five finishes and losing seasons they are worse than either the Pens or the Hawks. Its easier to finish bottom five in a league no bigger than 21 teams of course. Its also easy to make the playoffs.
So then why aren't these teams in the top eight? Well it may have been easier to make the playoffs but there are teams from this era that never did (!!!!!!) and lets face it we're talking suffering here. We're talking disaster. We're talking the loss of hope. If you make the playoffs at the same rate as you do not then you're not bad enough and your fans aren't hurting enough.
Toronto Maple Leafs (1981-1992)
Sandwiched in between the Sittler years and the Gilmour years were the Wendel years. Wonder why Clark is deified in Toronto? He was about the only good thing going on in Toronto for a decade.
Length - an even dozen years
Losing Seasons - 11 plus one season at exactly .500 with a -21 goal differential
Bottom 5 in the league - 8
Last Overall - 1
Worst Season - 1984/85 20 wins in 80 games, 48 points
Playoff Appearances - 6
Playoff wins - 17
Weirdness - I moved to Toronto in the middle of this streak. What a gong show this team was. Harold Ballard (proving what we learned with Bill Wirtz). John Brophy. Al Iafrate. The Leeman rumours. It goes on and on and on and on.
The good - The Leafs drafted Wendel Clark and Vincent Damphousse in 1985 and 1986. Because they played in the Norris division they made the playoffs six times despite not having a winning record in twelve seasons. Because the first two rounds of the playoffs were in the division and all of the other Norris teams were usually bad too the Leafs actually won two series and came with in a win of advancing to the conference finals in both 1986 and 1987
The bad - The Belleville Bulls' draft, the annual high pick spent on a guy who would become a mediocre NHLer, the goaltending, the D, the forwards. This team was horrible. I witnessed it. One time we were at an old hangout called the Morrissey (or Mo for short) and the Leafs were playing the Blues in the opening round. We agreed to have a drink every time there was a shot on net. After five minutes of play and no drinks we decided jokingly to have a drink every time someone touched the puck and one of the guys (it may have been me) said 'we're here to get hammered, Christ we'll barely even have a drink'
It was sad but true. Norris Division Hockey.
The End Game - Harold Ballard died, Cliff Fletcher came to town and fleeced the Flames and the Leafs went to the conference final two years in a row in what was the most successful stretch in Leafs' history between 1967 and present day. Its the Leafs so its both depressing and hilarious that this is the case.
Why they don't rank higher - one word - playoffs. You don't belong with the big boys when you make the playoffs that much, even if it was easy to do so. And only one last place finish? This team was awful. There are worse. Trust me.
What we learned - Again, ownership matters. And drafting really matters. Every team we've looked at had big draft misses but the best the Leafs came up with, Clark and Damphousse, were nice players. Chicago, both versions of the Pens and Quebec all drafted multiple hall of famers or probable hall of famers. Even when it comes to being terrible the Leafs can't do it right. Which is why 1967
Vancouver Canucks (1971-1991) !!!!!!!!!
Seriously. Over twenty years of junk hockey. What a franchise.
Length - 21 years (I can barely believe it)
Losing seasons- 19
Bottom five in the league - 13
Last overall - 1
Worst Season - 1971/1972 - 20 wins in 78 games for 48 points
Playoff appearances - 11
Playoff wins - 21
Weirdness - Twenty one years of terrible hockey, terrible jerseys, terrible terrible terrible. Franchise icons - Stan Smyl and Harold Snepsts. You can't make this shit up.
The good - despite a lot of losing they made the playoffs a lot. In 1982 they went to the Stanley Cup Finals, perhaps the most unlikely finalist ever. In 1989 they nearly upset the Flames in the first round. Roger Neilson. Orland Kurtenbach. That's all I've got.
The bad - I don't know who the hell they were drafting but it was nobody good (I'm not looking at over two decades of drafting, go to town if you're up for it). After the run in 82 they didn't win another playoff series, being lucky enough to be in the same division as the Oilers and the Flames.
The end game - Pat Quinn came to town and the Canucks had another burst of respectability that included a trip to the Finals in 1994. After a lean stretch in the late nineties the team became the 'Dys' due to their incredible dynasty of the early 21st century.
All kidding aside the last twenty years have been far better than the first twenty. Almost impossible not to be though.
Why they don't rank higher - all of those playoff appearances and if you make the Finals you don't belong in the worst of the worst no matter how fluky it was. Also while they have 13 bottom five finishes seven of those were in a league of eighteen teams or less. Bad? Yes. Absolutely. Worst of the worst? Not close.
What we learned - why Canucks' fans are so neurotic. What a history.
Friday, March 07, 2014
We've known for a long time that Ales Hemsky was a goner and so on Wednesday when he was finally moved there was some anger, sure, but mostly there was sadness and resignation.
We give, Oilers. We give. You've broken us.
Only Smytty remains from the last time the Oilers played a meaningful game. Someone asked me the other night how come my son was a stalwart Leafs' fan. Have I not tried to convince him to be an Oilers' fan? The answer to that is yes. He's watched some Oilers and he loves Ales Hemsky though as a 'bang it off the boards' solid Dman he's about the most opposite you can be to the departed genius.
You try and convince a kid to cheer for a team that is not only bad but absolutely abysmal, so much so that we're talking historically bad.
Because that's what they are now. They're going down in history. I was sitting around the other day having a rum watching a little True Detective and I thought to myself that following a bad NHL club is like living a circle of violence and degradation and it was about time I tied this off.
No wait that's not it.
What I actually thought was 'Wow my favourite NHL team is garbage. Total garbage. And things are probably going to be bad for a while now unless MacTavish can pull off a miracle this summer' And based on the fact that he apparently tried to sign David Clarkson last summer I have my doubts as to the man is up to it, it pains me to say.
AND THEN I THOUGHT 'HEY I WONDER WHERE THIS TEAM SITS IN TERMS OF BEING BAD IN A HISTORICAL CONTEXT. I MEAN THEY HAVE TO BE UP (or down in this case) THERE RIGHT?'
And so I began to look this shit up.
And so here is the first post telling you what I found.
I used 1967 as a starting point. I've not included pre expansion because its comparing apples and oranges as old Oilogosphere man Doogie noted the other night on Twitter. No draft and only six teams. That said it should be noted that the Rangers had one playoff appearance in a six team league between 1942-1955 and the Bruins had no playoff appearances from 1959 to 1966. In a six team league! (h/t @ursus_arctos59)
The NHL has changed so much since 1967, it was a twelve team league then and so a lot of what follows is subjective. Originally I had a half dozen teams in mind and then I threw the question out to the Twitter - who is the worst team ever - and I ended up with just under twenty suggestions. A few of these didn't make the cut at all. The early 80s Jets were bad and the Whalers were relentlessly mediocre and the expansion Sharks struggled mightily but here's the thing: there are a lot of terrible hockey clubs from the past half century. Clubs that make the teams that you think of as bad look pretty damn good in comparison.
In the end I came up with sixteen clubs that stood out and while I would have loved to have had a bottom ten just to make the numbers neat and tidy I couldn't do that. There were eight contenders for the throne when all was said and done and the same number of pretenders and in my mind the demarcation is pretty clear.
So here is the first set of losers of the loser bracket. These clubs were bad, really bad, but not bad enough to make our final cut. So I would rank these somewhere in the 9 to 16 range.
The Spectacular Flameouts
These four clubs were all absolutely horrible but none of them had the longevity necessary to be considered for the top spots. Three collapsed and one was an expansion team and all four bottomed out absolutely and completely but in two cases it lasted only four years and in the longest it was but five. When they were bad they were terrible but you have to have staying power damnit!
Tampa went the veteran route with their expansion draft and so they were relatively successful in their first few years and then it all went to hell.
Length - 5 years
Losing Seasons - 5
Bottom 5 of league - 5
Last Overall - 2
Worst Season - 97/98 17 wins in 82 games, 44 points
Playoff Appearances - 0
Playoff Wins - 0
Weirdness - I lived in Tampa at the time and the owner, briefly, was a good old boy, Art Williams, who proclaimed top pick in 1998, Vinny Lecavalier, the 'Michael Jordan of Hockey'. Williams' ownership was shortlived and he was a huge weirdo.
The good - The Lightning drafted Lecavalier
The bad - Despite finishing in the bottom five five times in five years Tampa ended up with Lecavalier, Svitov and Alexeev as their first rounders. In two years they didn't even pick in the first round!!
The end game - With that drafting you would think Tampa would never have gotten out of that funk but they picked Brad Richards later in the draft, added an unknown shrimp Marty St. Louis, made some smart trades and in 2004 they won the Stanley Cup.
Why they don't rank higher - five years is nothing, especially when they were basically an expansion team that postponed their expansion pain. Two years after being terrible they were Cup winners.
What we learned - not much except that you can totally tank and somehow get almost nothing out of the top end of the draft and then somehow still win. What the fuck.
The Senators came into the league and stunk out the joint. They probably had the worst four year stretch of any team in history. And then they were good.
Length - 4 years
Losing Seasons - 4
Bottom five of the league - 4
Last Overall - 4 (!)
Worst season - their first, 10 wins in 84 games for 24 points
Playoff Appearances - 0
Playoff Wins - 0
Weirdness - Mel Bridgeman was their first GM and lasted one season and their original owner didn't last much longer
The good - The Sens built the foundation of what would be a very good team in those early years, drafting Alexi Yashin (later traded for Zdeno Chara and Jason Spezza), Radek Bonk, Bryan Berard (flipped for Wade Redden) and Chris Phillips with their first picks
The bad - The picked Alexandre Daigle instead of Chris Pronger in 1993 and while Bonk and Phillips became good NHL players they weren't superstars.
The end game - The Sens suffered for four years and then reaped the benefits of excellent drafting, becoming one of the best teams to never win a Stanley Cup.
Why they don't rank higher - they were an expansion team and four years is nothing when you get a decade or more of being a contender out of it
What we learned - Not much. Drafting is a crapshoot even at the top but you knew that, right? I'd say drafting and developing a goalie is pretty important too but that's something they learned much later
The Pens are actually on this list twice. If there's any team that has figured out this tanking thing they might be it. This team was the result of the final teardown of the 90s club that won two Cups. They barely belong here to be honest but they fit in this group.
Length - 4 years
Losing seasons - 4
Bottom five of the league - 4
Last overall - 1
Worst season - 2003/04 - 23 wins for 58 points
Playoff Appearances - 0
Playoff wins - 0
Weirdness - Almost two decades after Mario Lemieux arrived and turned a joke franchise into a contender the Pens won a lottery and Sidney Crosby became the second coming, so to speak. As a matter of fact despite finishing last overall once they ended up with two number ones and two number twos.
The good - The Pens drafted Ryan Whitney, Marc Andre Fleury, Malkin, Crosby and Jordan Staal with their lottery picks. Whitney got moved but that's a pretty good starting point.
The bad - Fleury isn't very good but he's got a Cup ring and you don't. Also I've lost my pool because of that grinning little bucktoothed bastard the last two springs. NEVER AGAIN *Shakes fist*
The end game - they were in the playoffs in 2007, lost in the Cup final in 2008 and won the Cup in 2009. They have been a contender since but attrition has ruined their depth up front and their blue is meh as well. Still, a Cup. And if Shero ever fixes the back end they'll be in the mix forever essentially.
Why they don't rank higher - See Tampa and the Sens. Four years isn't really suffering, not when you end up with two generational players and a Cup almost immediately afterwards.
What we learned - it literally is sometimes better to be lucky than good
The Nordiques were pretty good in the eighties and then Peter Stastny got old. Then they sucked for five years. Then they were awesome. Then they left Quebec and won Cups. Oops!
Length - 5 years
Losing Seasons - 5
Bottom 5 in league - 5
Last Overall - 3
Worst Season 1989/1990 12 wins in 80 games for 31 points
Playoff Appearances - 0
Playoff wins - 0
Weirdness - The Nords drafted six players in the top five from 1988 to 1992. Curtis Leschyshyn was a solid defenceman for them. The other five players were either relative busts or were traded away before the club won a Cup
The good - Eric Lindros didn't want to play in Quebec but the bounty he brought from Philadelphia helped bring the Avs the Cup. Owen Nolan was traded for Sandis Ozolinsh who apparently is still playing (who knew!)
The bad - Todd Warriner and Daniel Dore didn't help at all. Mats Sundin brought over Sylvain Lefevbre and a broken down Wendel Clark. If they had kept him they might have managed more than two Cups.
Also the Nordiques left Quebec.
The End Game - the Nords went from being really bad to really good really quickly. They didn't win as quickly as the Pens or Tampa but they won in 96 and then again and were a powerhouse for a decade
Why they don't rank higher - pay attention
What we learned - same as Pittsburgh sometimes tanking works. It helps when you draft a guy who you can trade for good players to fill out half your roster though
Next - four other teams that didn't quite make the cut in our search for the worst of the worst.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:26 PM
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Every once in a while you'll see the phrase 'Get good players, keep good players' floating around this part of the interweb or on the twitters. Now its not the most original thought but I'm the guy who coined it around here. Do you want to have a good team? Acquire quality. Hold onto it or move it for other quality.
The Oilers don't do that. What they do, better than any other club in the NHL (or professional sports most likely) is turn good players into nothing. The opposite of the paper clip into a house guy.
I've compiled a list of players who were Oiler property for whom they have nothing on their NHL roster to show for. I have not included players who were out of the league within a year or two due to retirement or waivers or who have moved onto Europe (although I'm pretty sure Patrick Thoreson could play in the NHL he doesn't have a gig right now so he is not included). I have included a couple of players who by all accounts were willing to sign with Edmonton for cheap but for whatever reason were allowed to move on. I have also included players who were traded for picks and / or prospects who have not arrived yet. When Klefbom becomes a regular then Penner comes off the list. Until then, no dice especially seeing as nearly all of these guys were traded for picks or prospects who have never panned out.
I've also included Horcoff because face it if Larsen can't grab a spot on this blueline he is no NHL player. Finally I've made decisions as to value so I have included Lubo instead of Stoll and Greene and Cole over Pitkanen or Lupul although you could substitute any of these guys in over the other if you prefer. In the end all that remained was nothing. They had something and they ended up with nothing.
Of course there were circumstances and this and that but hilariously all of these guys went on to play for better teams (everybody is better than the Oilers of course). Give this team a goalie and they probably kick the Oilers' ass 99 out of 100 times even though they are a bit thin up the middle. Great on the wings and a solid blueline though.
Anyhow if you want to know why the Oilers are so bad check this list out.
Colin McDonald (thanks Bruce)
Am I missing anyone?
Posted by Black Dog at 11:32 AM
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
The goal pictured above is one of the great goals in Oilers' history and sits with the Marchant goal and the Pisani OT shortie in the holy trinity of Oiler goals post dynasty. And he scored it minutes after tying the game against the Wings and shortly after scoring the goal that put the Oilers in the playoffs and keyed that beautiful run.
Only Ryan Smyth in his second goround remains from the last good team the Oilers had. When he is gone (maybe later today) all we will have is a bunch of losing losers who lose. Hopefully this will change some day.
Good luck to Ales Hemsky. He deserved better and hopefully he will see success and good health over the remainder of his career. Thanks for the memories you beauty.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:34 PM
Monday, March 03, 2014
I wrote this two years ago, the last time Ales Hemsky looked to be a goner, along with two other posts, one on why I would extend him and one on why Oiler fans seemed indifferent to the idea of trading one of their franchise's all time greats for a pick or two.
This time Ales Hemsky is almost certainly about to become what all Oilers become, an ex Oiler. If it were me I would extend him if he wanted to stay, you can never have enough good hockey players and Ales Hemsky remains a good hockey player. My guess is that Ales Hemsky doesn't want anything more to do with this laughing stock franchise and who could blame him. Its the worst franchise in hockey, one of the worst in professional sports. He's done his time and like Andy Dufresne he is almost through the river of shit.
What I wrote below is dated (note the references to Iginla and Alfredsson) but it still holds true. Ales Hemsky was a great Oiler and deserves to be remembered as such. Life isn't fair of course but I hope that Ales lands in San Jose or St Louis or some such team and in June when they hand out the Cup he raises it over his head and takes it for a spin. I would cheer for that with all of my heart.
Thanks for the memories.
This is the last I will say about Ales Hemsky. What is about to happen is something we are used to as Oiler fans. A good player, in this case the best of the last decade, is about to be shipped out. The move is being met with indifference or, worse yet, happiness from the fans. The media is complicit in the move. So is the organization. The end result is a good player is going to be gone, the team will be worse and blame will fall on the player (not good enough, greedy, he was going to test UFA anyway, bad body language) and the city (nobody wants to play here).
Despite the fact that plenty of players have signed in Edmonton and Ales Hemsky, as well as others, has spoken about how much he enjoys playing in Edmonton and most likely if he were offered a fair deal he would sign it.
Its the way of professional sports and in Edmonton more than anywhere fans are used to waving goodbye to their players. In the old days players stayed with the same franchise forever except for maybe a last gasp cup of coffee in another city by guys desperate for money or the life or just unwilling to believe it was over. Look at a Chicago roster in the early 70s and you see a collection of guys who either played their entire career with the Blackhawks or stayed with them once they arrived early in their careers or stayed with them until that last cup of coffee elsewhere. And this was the same wherever you went.
Those days are no longer but some guys still play their entire careers with one club. Usually its the franchise icons - Yzerman, Sakic, probably Brodeur and Alfredsson and Iginla. Sometimes its a guy like Ken Daneyko. With the Oilers well the list of guys who should have been lifelong Oilers is a long one but only Randy Gregg and Fernando Pisani have come close.
(The irony is that the guy who finally may be a lifetime Oiler is a guy the fans despise, the captain, Shawn Horcoff, an honest workmanlike player doomed to be disliked because of a contract that he was offered and signed in good faith. Horcoff has suffered injuries and has been asked to do more than he is capable of, playing huge and difficult minutes on a team which has gotten progressively worse. He could do with a lesser workload and its likely that day is coming. Its also probable that at his age and with that contract that he cannot be moved and that he will retire an Oiler, the first of any note to go wire to wire in Edmonton.)
Of course that should have been Ryan Smyth who engineered his trade BACK TO EDMONTON last summer but that ship sailed long ago thanks to EIG and Kevin Lowe.
And now it could be Ales Hemsky. But as is the Oiler way it will not be.
Hemsky's departure is sparking little outrage in many quarters but there is some anger out there and its not the dull smouldering type but white hot, similar to (if not as intense as) what happened when Smyth was moved years ago.
Why is this? Well Ales Hemsky is, along with Horcoff and Smyth, the last connection to those little teams that could, that era that began with Todd Marchant blowing by a stumbling Ledyard and burying the Dallas Stars and ended on June 19th when they fell barely short of the Stanley Cup. Those clubs were nearly always short of talent and the best they could hope for was a first round loss to Dallas but they worked hard and laid a beating on their opponents and the cobbled together rosters always were greater than the sum of their parts. Most of them have hung them up now, showing how quickly time passes. Joseph and his glorious save on Nieuwendyk, Tommy Salo whose game sadly fell apart, Jussi Markannen who almost gave us glory and then suffered such tragic loss. Jason Smith, whose departure changed the club's identity for the worse. Janne 'Spaz' Niinimma who wept when he was dealt. Eric Brewer and Roman Hamrlik, still carrying on, and Tom Poti and poor Cory Cross, booed out of town and Igor Ulanov, one of the toughest men to ever wear copper and blue. And of course Steve Staios, an unwanted journeyman who became a hard rock top four dman through hard work and guts.
Dougie Weight and Bill Guerin and that fucking midget Mike Comrie, who was pretty accurate about Communism and the Oilers, it turns out. Anson Carter and speedy Marchant and Mike Grier and Rem Murray and Ethan Moreau before it turned sour for him. And of course enormous Georges Laraque and Jason Chimera and Mike York and Dan Cleary rediscovering his game and his career. And joyful Marty Reasoner and the underrated Radek Dvorak. And Smytty who defined the whole wonderful era and a team that usually fell short but always gave the fans their money's worth, playing with speed and passion and an elan that had always been the signature of a great franchise. And San Fernando Pisani and Shawn Horcoff, two lower round picks, unknowns who through hard work and determination became very good NHL players and key members of the 2006 squad that captured out hearts.
The heirs to this legacy were Stoll and Torres and Hemsky, the kids on that 2006 squad and all three were big parts of that club, none moreso than the young Czech. He led the club in scoring and was very good in the playoffs. He scored one of his virtuoso goals in G1 of the Finals to tie the game in the third after the Canes had roared back and of course against the Wings, well against the Wings he showed that he was special.
Game six a must win and the Oilers flat and down two going into the third, the Wings choking the life out of them, ready to haul them back to Detroit and finish them. Pisani scoring two (2!) to tie the game, the Wings coming right back to take the lead.
And then Hemsky in on top of the goalie, scoring the ugliest goal imaginable, the puck bouncing off his gut and in. And then the dagger that did the Wings in with time winding down, blowing by Steve Yzerman in what would be the last game of his career, heading to the net, making no mistake.
And from there through the years, the artisty, the magic, the stickhandling and passes that you'd want have sex with (hat tip Dave Berry). On a team that got progressively worse Hemsky became the only guy worth watching. Every night the other club only had to shut him down and he took a beating but he came back for more every time, most notably against Robin Reghyr. And he still produced year in and year out, never complaining, putting his head down and working.
He could be maddening with his preference to pass instead of shooting and his turnovers and his stubborn desire to play the game his way.
But damn his way has been worth the price of admission in itself for years. Perhaps he was born in the wrong time, the solo dashes and fantastic puckhandling more fitting for days of yore when players like Richard and Mikita and Perreault and those old Oilers played with flair and elan, the way the game was meant to be played, the way we play it on Wednesday nights on the outdoor rink beside the train tracks on Queen Street or on a lake north of Peterborough scraped off and turned into a shrine to the game. A boy playing a man's game, a genius of sorts.
Its a sad day coming and while I doubt it will happen when Ales Hemsky returns to Edmonton he deserves a long roaring ovation for the memories he gave us. He deserves nothing less than that, one of the best players the franchise has seen, certainly the best of this last decade.
And then I hope he fills the net behind Khabibulin and rides his stick to centre ice pointing at Tambellini and Lowe. ;)
Posted by Black Dog at 8:30 AM
Sunday, February 23, 2014
No you have to go back to 1991 to see such a dominant performance. No Ray Bourque or Patrick Roy or Mario Lemieux (though there was an 18 year old Eric Lindros) and no real challenge despite two ties, I was lucky enough to witness a few of those games live, including the semifinal. There was tension, of course, but when it came down to it there was no doubt.
And this year, these Olympics, the same.
Surely there were nervous moments early in the final and a 1-0 lead is not the most dangerous lead in hockey but its certainly unsettling, even more so when the opponent's roster includes Patrick Kane and Phil Kessel.
The reality though is that if this team had lost it would have been due to a serious miscarriage of hockey justice.
In 2010 we watched the gold medal game at the home of very good friends, really very dear friends who I have known for (gulp) over twenty five years. We suffered through the tension of a game in which Canada was the better team, were devastated by the Parise goal and then elated at Crosby's overtime winner, jumping up and down and hugging and roaring our approval, standing and singing the anthem with that great team after the gold medals were presented.
After the win over Latvia we exchanged texts and I wondered if Canada were to beat the Americans on Friday whether we should reconvene and the answer was 'FUCK YEAH' and so on Sunday morning at 6:25 am I dragged the kids from their beds (though honestly the boy was up and ready when he heard me stir), put on our Canada Best shirts (The boy and I wore ours for every game from Finland on) and we drove across town ahead of the sun's rise. As we drove down the Danforth we saw people in jerseys making their way to bars and out of Tim Hortons in preparation. Seriously. We arrived in the Annex with time to spare and sat us down. While last time around it was the dads and moms who sat and watched this time all of the kids did as well with the exception of our youngest who made mischief elsewhere.
The Swedes had their moments early and at first it seemed that this game might be a battle. Bergeron missed his early chance and then Hagelin hit the post and the game was even steven and then, well, then Canada rolled over Sweden just as they had rolled over everybody. Lundqvist and his posts were all that came between the Canadians reaching double figures. Toews' goal gave them the dreaded 1-0 lead but the dreaded Swedish power play was nullified and the Swedes never got a sniff really. When Crosby scored it was over. There was little tension and so we ate our pancakes and drank our coffee cheerfully and while my nerves kicked in briefly before the third started (it was for the gold medal for Christ Sakes!!) it became clear that the Swedes could not keep up. Lacking Zetterberg and Sedin and Backstrom did them in but then again Canada was missing Tavares and Stamkos and Subban was in the pressbox and Hall and Thornton and Seguin and Neal were all at home.
But of course as we know that is the depth that Canada has, its the advantage we have over everyone, the odd time a country will have a golden generation such as the Americans in the 90s or the Swedes in the oughts and then maybe we will see a team that can match the talent that Canada can run out there but decade after decade we do the same thing. We produce hockey players.
The only lull in my lifetime was the late nineties between the 'Oilers' generation and what followed when the offence seemed to dry up and even then, even then, it was Mike Richter in 1996 and Dominick Hasek in 1998 and without these two even that lull would have produced champions.
Watching this team and its perfection, for that was what it was, perfect, I began to muse, is this the greatest generation of players? For a moment I thought there is no doubt. I think of '87 and Crossman and Rochefort on the blue line and look at '91 with Corson, Dirk Graham, Tinordi and Russ Courtnall and I think that other than 1976 there may not be a better collection of talent than what we saw this time around. 76 will always be the gold standard for a team but they were a one off really.
Of course the tale is yet to be written. There is no doubt that we produce elite hockey players like no other country but the Gretzkys did win three of these tourneys in a row. I don't doubt that if the NHL goes to Korea or if its a World Cup that comes next that we will see Crosby and Toews and Doughty make it three in a row but until that time we must reserve judgement.
There have been thirteen of these best on best tournaments and Canada has now won nine of them. Since the Olympics became best on best Canada has won three of five and with this victory, in Europe and on the big ice, the last dragon has been slain. Results are results and its hard to argue with them. The Czechs are no longer the Czechs. The Russians haven't won since 1991. The Swedes have seen Sundin and Forsberg and Lidstrom go and soon the Sedins and Alfredsson and Lundqvist will follow. The Americans are coming but they lack the talent up the middle and on the blue line to be a serious threat right now.
Yzerman is done and his successor will have a tough act to follow. One could quibble with Yzerman's selections and with Babcock's deployment of these selections (Subban being the major question) and while the lazy amongst the media might say that a gold medal means there should be no questions I prefer to look to the process and think could this team have been better? I believe that probably the answer is yes. Chris Kunitz had a very good tournament from the Finland game on and good for him. He's an excellent player of course and he proved his worth but even with all of that said I think a better player might have been chosen over him. And I think Subban over Bouwmeester is a no brainer although I've always liked Bouwmeester who now has two golds in best on best. He's a guy who can play.
Canada's greatest strength is its depth of talent. Happily we are beyond bringing Rob Zamuner and Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby to these tournaments as we have learned (remembered) that if you bring Dale Hawerchuk and tell him to check that indeed he can check and on top of that he can provide offence as well and so Nash and Carter and Sharp and Marleau were brought along and played the roles that those who run the junior selection process still like to slot with actual junior role players.
It was a wonderful day today, one to celebrate. Its just a game of course, a distraction, but a wonderful one all the same. I'm a proud Canadian, I'm not afraid to say so. I think this is a great country. Some of this is due to luck and some is due to good policy and much of it is plain old geography which provides us with great wealth and a history of peace. Like all nations much of our history and national mythology is littered with shameful acts and lies. This is true. But it is a great country all the same and its wonderful to have a game which we do well at and which can bring us together on days like today.
Go Canada. Until next time!
Posted by Black Dog at 10:05 PM
Saturday, February 22, 2014
I've referred to Nick Hornby's outstanding book 'Fever Pitch' here many times. He makes the point that attending Arsenal matches was nothing enjoyable in any way, save the result when they triumphed. The gut wrenching tension, the stress, the frustration, all eating at you. Are you not entertained?
When Jenn and I were in London in 2006 we went to a Tottenham match at White Hart Lane. They were playing Portsmouth, an also ran, and as usual Spurs, while not a great side, were quite good. They tallied twice early on and controlled the match entirely from that point. It was fairly dull for quite a while though the spectacle itself was very enjoyable. I highly recommend it. It was a lovely autumn afternoon and the crowd was in full voice, cheering and singing and chanting. And then late in the first half a long ball against the run of play, a quick pass, a defensive blunder and the lead cut in half.
As the second half progressed the tension in the stadium mounted. The singing was no more and the fans worried as Portsmouth began to come on.
In the row in front of us was a man of about my age. His leather jacket was worth more than my entire wardrobe, his haircut certainly worth a decade worth of haircut's at Sam's Nice Haircuts. As the game wore on I noted that he became angrier and angrier, his face a knot of tense disappointment and worry. He muttered curses under his breath as Portsmouth slowly pushed and pushed and pushed into Tottenham's end. His fists clenched, his jaw spasmed, his face a mask of terrified disgust and finally with about ten minutes left, unable to take it anymore, he got up and tore out of there.
Spurs held on and when the final whistle blew the crowd exhaled as one and then sang with joy as we streamed out into the gloomy high road, back to the pubs and the tube station, flooding by the mounted riot police.
For us it was an exhilarating experience. I'm a Spurs' fan but a casual one. It was fun. For the hardcore supporters it was more of a relief. They were happy of course but there weren't a lot of smiles after Portsmouth drew within reach. It was agonizing.
And so it was Wednesday and Thursday and Friday. Canada triumphed three times but there was no 'gorillas from a cage' game, no blowout that allowed us to sit back, crack a beer and fully enjoy the spectacle. The hockey was great on Friday, the best game of these Games by far but despite Canada's dominant performance it was still one shot away from being a tie and despite Glenn Healy's assertion that a two goal lead would be insurmountable (Healy says a lot of things that are dumb but oh boy) it wasn't until the final whistle went that we could exhale and relax, at least until Sunday.
More thoughts on the men's team but first, Thursday's game.
I thought I saw it all four years ago when Parise tied it and then Crosby won it all and then the Bruins came back last spring from three down (and two down with barely a minute left) and I thought wow ok now that will never be topped and then just weeks after that Chicago turned the tables on Boston and tied it and then won it just like that. Won the Cup. Now I had seen it all.
And then Thursday. I expected the Americans to win. They were quicker. They had beaten the Canadian women handily in the leadup to the Games. Wickenheiser is no longer Wickenheiser and the new hope, Poulin, had been mostly invisible. The Americans were up by two as the game wound down it looked like a valiant effort was going to fall short.
Then a lucky break (its nearly always a lucky break) and it was a one goal game and then the linesman bumped Ward and the puck skittered down and thudded against the post and then another break and it was Poulin and it was overtime.
There were two keys. The goaltending of Szabados in the first two minutes of overtime saved the Canadians. And then with the Americans on a powerplay the slashing call on Lamoureux. Dreadful call? Yes. Except if you play hockey you know that if the ref gives your team a warning, as had happened earlier, then you heed that warning. And Lamoureux, being Lamoureux, couldn't help herself and gave Szabados a whack.
And then it was almost inevitable. Knight clipping Wickenheiser, taking her down on the break, the ensuing powerplay, the goal by Poulin. I'd say it will never be matched but we know that on Sunday it could be.
I don't think I've ever seen a 1-0 game that was a bigger blowout than the game on Friday. Now you can argue player selection and deployment even with the results. I'm always of the mind that you should push to be better and Hockey Canada's conservative approach has cost us, especially at the world juniors these past few years where there seems to be an obsession with pedigree (winning programs) and bringing role players. At the Olympic level we have such an embarrassment of riches its hard to believe. I've been around forever ;) and really since 76 I don't think I can remember so many great Canadian players. The teams that ran the table in 84, 87 and 91 had the most successful run in best on best play but in 87, for example, you had Doug Crossman and Normand Rochfort on defence. On this team PK Subban can't get into the lineup and Martin St Louis doesn't play a shift and Joe Thornton, Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin and James Neal (to mention a few) are at home, along with the injured Stamkos and Tavares.
Take those latter six players. No country can match that as a top six. Maybe the Swedes.
You could argue for different player selection for sure I think, even with the team where its at but I do appreciate Babcock's choices and gameplan. They have dominated and the fact is they have beaten two good teams and handily (despite the scores). I'd love to see what Babcock could do with this team given a month, find out if they can find a way to break out on the big ice. Watching the game on Friday you will note that when the Canadians had possession the Americans had all five players below the hashmarks. That's a difficult nut to crack regardless of how much skill you have on the ice And yet they had multiple chances in close. Benn's one timer. Sharp and Crosby and Kunitz all in close. In the other games Perry twice had the puck on the doorstep all alone and could not stuff it in.
The gold medal game could go one of three ways. I respect the Swedes but this is not the 2002 or 2006 team. They can be had and I could see a 'gorillas out of the cage' game for Canada. Unlikely but a bit of puck luck will make it happen. More likely it will be more of what we have seen. It will be close, Canada will deserve it but as we all know that means not a thing. The team has done well though and worse case I see a deal like 96 or 98 where we deserved it and got beaten by the better goaltender. It happens but I'm thinking a gold medal is in the offing. Canada is too loaded front to back. They're going to run the Swedes into the ice.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
The adaptation of Swiss tactics by nearly every team Canada has played so far has made it difficult. Luckily unless Canada meets the Finns in the final (a real possibility of course) they likely won't see this strategy again.
I heard that some dummy was on Toronto radio yesterday proclaiming that the Canadians were a disgrace and of course such talk is the sign of a weak mind or looking for ratings, most likely the former I would think.
Spoiled by a stretch of world junior results where Canada blew out everyone, including the Russians twice in consecutive finals, and with memories of the quarter final victory over Russia still fresh in everybody's mind Canadians think that this is the way hockey works. This idea is bolstered by video games where a team of all stars can score at will and by the dumbing down of the national discussion of hockey at all levels, a good part of which can be blamed on the CBC and its embrace of the fourth line thug as a more important part of a team than a skilled player, especially if the latter is European or French Canadian. The Cherryfication of hockey we'll call it, its gospel spread by its disciples, dummies like Healy and Stock and Spector, Doug MacLean and Kypreos and the rest of that lot, shouting and posturing and mocking all reason and intelligence, a collection of feces throwing, hooting, moronic apes.
We not only expect to win but we expect to win in a landslide, leaving our opponents bloodied, broken and humiliated, and if we do not then it is because we are not tough enough or aren't passionate enough and so the same mouth breathers who claim that the Edmonton Oilers would be better off if they waived Ales Hemsky right off the team, replacing him with nothing to maybe top sixer Ben Eager, are the ones who say that the biggest issue with Team Canada is Sid Crosby because best on best hockey is a video game and he should score five goals a game.
Now if you've played the game, even at a lower level like myself, and you have even a modicum of sense then you know that in hockey anything can happen. If the teams in this tournament formed a league and played an eighty two game schedule Canada would beat Latvia every time most likely and probably plenty of those games would be blowouts but Latvia might squeak a game out here or there, much like the perennial doormat Oilers did to Chicago a couple of times in past years. As a matter of fact the Oilers whipped Chicago. Anything can happen.
And in a tournament one game and your out format with teams thrown together ten days ago? Well take that 'anything can happen' and ramp it up a few notches and even more so when the opponents throw tactics at you that are almost impossible to unlock (so far).
Should Canadians be worried? Well their team has pretty well dominated every game in terms of possession, shots, scoring chances. Not much else can be done. If Kunitz beats Rask and Toews doesn't stumble and Carter pots that backhand then they blow the Finns out.
Now of course they didn't and while its nice to think that 'the goals will start to come' the reality is that they may not come at all. I would guess that playing a team that does not collapse around its net will help the Canadians open up their offence and most likely we will see a lot of goals tomorrow for the good guys but of course as we saw in Vancouver there is no guarantee. We were the better team there in both games and the end result was a loss and an overtime win.
My main concern Friday afternoon is that the Americans come out like the proverbial gorillas out of a cage and the Canadians end up on their heels, unused to the speed and quality of their opponent. Kessel and Kane are no longer callow kids but at the height of their powers but then again the same can be said about Toews and Doughty, amongst others on the Canadian side.
On paper the Canadians should win, their defence is especially superior, but the games aren't played on paper ARE THEY?
Here is what I wrote four years ago.
And specifically note this:
These are two good teams but if you were a betting man you would lay money on Canada who have outplayed and outchanced every opponent by a wide margin. Its likely that they will do so again tonight and that the only way that they will lose is if Ryan Miller is outstanding and the Americans are a little lucky.
And based on what has happened in this tournament before today and what we know about the game of hockey we know that this is entirely possible.
Four years later and not a thing has changed basically.
Posted by Black Dog at 2:28 PM
Monday, February 17, 2014
Both his winter league and spring league clubs won it all last year, making him two for two as a hockey player in seasons played and championships won and he has a really good chance of making it three for three in a few weeks which would give him three times as many hockey championships as a player as I have won in approximately thirty five attempts.
The little jerk.
Its been a great year for him. Last year on both of his clubs he was a spare part, one of the youngest and smallest players in a two year age division. This year his team has a trio of very strong players and then a handful more who form a good supporting cast and he is in that group. He's found his niche in two ways, first as a solid defensive defenceman who can move the puck decently and secondly as a pretty decent goalie.
His coach is a very good friend of mine. He's a terrific coach. He never loses sight of the fact that these are young kids and that fun and being fair is what its all about. With that said he wants to give his little guys and girls a chance to win everything and so, after a lot of thought, he has asked if my guy will be the goalie for the playoffs.
It was a while back that my son actually asked his coach for this chance. They have rotated goalies through the year and while there are two or three who are probably a bit better than him they are also more important to the team as skaters. The boy looked at this, thought about it (he's a thinker) and told me that it was best for the team if he was in net. He told his coach he wanted it and after some thought his coach agreed.
It is best for the team. They have lost two games and both had major extenuating circumstances. In other words if they have their team out they should run the table here. Should being the operative word. Its hockey. Anything can happen.
And this is the killer for Jenn and I. The boy is embracing what he is about to face. He has played in net a few times and is undefeated and he likes it to be honest. He's not a goal scorer and the team has players who will take care of that and while he knows that he is contributing doing what he does best back on the blueline he also likes the team coming out to congratulate him after a win and the hip hip hoorays in the dressing room. So he wants it and most likely the team will cruise through the round robin, there are three teams they are facing and they should handle two just fine.
But the third is a good team for sure and so if they face them in the big game his play is going to matter and mistakes he makes will end up behind him and man oh man its going to be awful. We won't be able to take it although he is fine with it and win or lose it will be a great experience for him.
But oh boy I'd start drinking now if I could.
As usual we've been following the Olympics here in the McLean household. Its not the same as Vancouver of course, I don't know if there will ever be another one like Vancouver, and the time difference means its a different deal altogether too. You wake up with a good part of the events past already and by early afternoon everything is finished. So its not as all consuming which is probably a good thing.
Its been a good Olympics for Canada. I have talked before how this is strange to me, I grew up when we would win two or three medals and call it a day and most Canadians finished in the fifties and sixties in cross country skiing and biathlon and would get slaughtered in the bobsled and the luge. Those days are long gone of course, we're a powerhouse now. Quite a bit of this is that there are so many more sports and we tend to do well in them but even in the traditional sports this time around we have medals in long track and the Super G and figure skating and we were oh so close in luge which I cannot get over at all. Its just weird is all as a relative oldtimer :) - as Canadians we expect to do well and generally we do and while there are the usual disappointments where favourites fail (the short track relay team and Hamelin in the 1000 come to mind) there are also the unexpected successes such as Hudec and Morrison and Dufour Lapointe beating an almost unbeatable American in the moguls.
Its a lot of fun except of course when these kids (and most of them are kids of course) crash or fail spectacularly and this is not made any easier when 'fans' come out of the woodwork and tear into them before heading to the kitchen for another coke and bowl of cheetos.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not afraid to criticize folks, the idea that someone is beyond rebuke because they are an NHL GM has been made to me a number of times over the last eight years because I am an Oilers' fan and there are a lot of dumb Oilers' fans out there who thought Lowe and then Tambo knew what they were doing. If you know anything then you know that history is littered with incompetent presidents and prime ministers who have destroyed economies and led their countries to ruin, CEOs who have destroyed companies, generals who have lost their armies and so on and so forth. The same principle applies to something as silly as your favourite sports team, for that matter it most likely applies in the place that you work.
I just have a hard time getting on these kids. I remember Steve Simmons in one Olympics tearing Joanne Malar to shreds because, well, because he's an awful person I guess. She didn't meet expectations and so it went and it made me wonder what people think sometimes, that of all the people in the world who felt worse than Patrick Chan the other night. Its one thing to get beat like Kingsbury got beat by Bilodeau or Virtue and Moir got beat by the two muppets, its another to have it in your grasp and then to let yourself down. Its something he will remember all of his life. Literally.
I don't get the piling on. Oh well.
The hockey tournament has been great so far, hasn't it? Now the real shit begins for sure though.
The reaction to the first week has been typically over the top especially here in Canada. Before I talk about our hometown heroes though I wanted to think a few thoughts out loud and here they are.
- I think that the funny thing about these tournaments is that every time they occur nearly everyone forgets what has happened in the past. We forget Belarus beating Sweden. We forget barely beating Germany in 2002 and getting shut out by the Swiss in 2006 and barely squeaking by the Swiss and Slovaks in 2010 and all of the other upsets and near upsets that happen in every tournament. What will happen in the qualifying knockout games? Well the Russians will win and other than that who knows. We know who should win (other than the Austria/Slovenia matchup) but while we worry about the Swiss in the quarters the reality is we may never face them.
Single game knockout. Anything can happen. Everyone thinking Canada/US and Sweden/Russia for sure in the semis hasn't been paying attention for the last twenty years or so.
- You know who has more medals in the last five best on bests than anyone? The Finns. They have four. Two silvers and two bronze.
- the quarters will be really interesting. The Russians have also struggled to score and they will face the Finns. The Americans will probably face the Czechs who have been hampered by some terrible lineup choices so far. I wonder if they're just playing possum because while they're nowhere near the quality of the Czech teams of old they still have a lot of good hockey players and if they put it together with some goaltending they could surprise. To me the USA is one of the top two teams (I figured them for top three but rate them higher than the Swedes now due to the latter's injuries) and they should go through to the semis but again ... single knockout
As for the Canadians well it will likely be the Swiss and so we will see a repeat of Sunday's game. The thing with a game like that is that if shit falls your way it can turn into a blowout. If Kunitz beats Rask, if Toews doesn't stumble on the wrap, if Carter tucks that backhand in then its no contest. They didn't, sometimes you don't but I really had little problem with how Canada played. The Finns are a decent club even with their injury issues and Canada totally controlled the game. Sure it would have been nice to have more finish but Rask is excellent and the Finns played a tactically perfect game. When it went to OT I turned to the boy and said Canada will end it now and they did, that extra bit of ice was all they needed.
So against the Swiss as I noted we will see more of the same and Canada will need to either create that extra ice somehow or get a little bit more luck. Maybe they fail in both respects and lose because hockey but my guess is they will go through. The team is too good I think, its so deep up front, they are fast and they own the puck and while it would be nice for a forward other than Carter to score I honestly can't see what more they can do but to keep at it. The good news is that if they get by the Swiss then unless they see the Finns again they should see a lot more open ice and I think that is a game that plays to the team's strengths.
Would I change anything? I thought Bergeron and Benn with Crosby were just fine. Carter has been one of their best forwards (did you see him catch Grabner? Amazing.) but he and Toews and Marleau have been very good so while part of me says move him to Crosby's flank another part of me says why bother? Crosby has been excellent and his line has generated chances and what more can you want? Other than goals of course lol. But really there is no magic bullet here. All four lines generated chances against the Finns and will do the same on Wednesday and they just need to cash some of them in.
Kunitz had his best game against the Finns and this is pretty funny because he is there because of Sid and yet he was terrible in the first two games and as soon as he got demoted he had a strong game. And the Swiss game is going to need a mule who can tap one in from the corner of the crease. That said he probably should come out for St. Louis. Honestly though while I love St Louis he did nothing in Torino and he did nothing against the Austrians either. That said if the big issue is scoring you want to have your best scorers in the lineup so to me its a no brainer.
And for the same reason I'd slot Subban in in Hamhuis' place. I understand why Hamhuis was the seventh man against the Finns, as Jon Willis noted, all of the question marks are on the left side and if Vlasic or Bouwmeester faltered you wanted an alternative. They were fine so you slot in PK. He adds that creativity and offensive acumen.
That's all I'd do. Canada has the best team I think. Its what I thought before the tournament and what I still believe. So they have probably a forty to fifty percent chance of winning it, maybe less, which is also what I thought before it got underway. Its not easy to win these things. That's just the way it is.
Posted by Black Dog at 8:12 PM
Monday, January 20, 2014
For the boy its been a wonderful year. Last year he won championships with both his winter and spring clubs but he was a passenger on both teams, a young seven on seven/eight teams, a lot of try and enthusiasm but he was just starting out. This year he is one of the older guys, he's bigger, he's stronger and he's improved by leaps and bounds.
He's found his niche on the blueline and game after game I find myself saying to him 'buddy that's the best game you've ever played'. Last game he began to suddenly step into the oncoming rush at times, breaking up the onslaught at the opposing blue or centre ice, turning the play the other way. The funny thing is that he is improving so fast that he is beginning to run into trouble at times as he suddenly finds himself in unfamiliar situations. As he has gotten better he has ended up with the puck on his stick a lot more often, quite often in traffic in his own zone. He's figuring it out (he's a smart little guy) but there have been a couple of instances where he's had the puck, hesitated, and suddenly not had the puck.
As well as playing on the blue he has strapped on the pads three times. He's three and oh, with all of his wins coming against the top echelon clubs, and he loves it. He loves the fact that he can make the big save and that after the game his teammates stream out onto the ice and congratulate him before handshakes and that back in the room the coaches and parents give three cheers for him. When you're in net you're a big part of it.
Saturday his team had a typical game, a 9-4 win, never in doubt. He got beat twice just fine and let in two others in the time honoured tradition of little goalies everywhere, as the puck slid along the ice towards him (once from the blueline) and rather then keep his stick on the ice he fell on the puck and watched in horror as it went under him and into the net.
Now I remember playing almost forty years ago and seeing goalies make the same mistake but of course I felt bad for him. He redeemed himself when twice he faced the other team's best shooter, in all alone, and did the superman dive to stop pucks labelled for the corner, saving the second one with his head of all things, leaving the sniper literally shaking his head and yelling 'YOU'RE KIDDING ME!'
Pretty good stuff.
And so the next day before Capsule hit the ice for our own big game (more on this later, we won a war and it was spectacular) I chatted with his coach and we talked about the playoffs for the boy and his team. The issue is they don't have a regular goalie and the boy has told Mark (his coach) that he would like to have the job for the playoffs. He's a good choice but the problem that Higgs is facing is that if he puts him in net then he loses a pretty good player on the blueline. So he's trying to figure it out and we're going to bounce some ideas around over pints in a couple of weeks and he'll talk to the other coaches and try and come to a decision as to what the best course of action is. I know he'll make a good decision based on what he has seen and that while one never knows how the chips may fall the team will be in its best position to win as a result of it. That is all you can ask the coach to do when it comes to that sort of stuff and while it sounds goofy to say so hockey is really the same when it comes down to it at whatever the level, even a squirt houseleague. Figure out what you have and then put the team in a position that maximizes their chance to win. Then you just hope that the hockey gods smile on you.
Its been a tough day in a tough week in a tough month in another tough season for the Oilers. Disaster. Fiasco. Gong show. Clusterfuck. Pick a word or phrase to describe it. What a mess.
The week that has just passed has really summed the last eight years up though with the only missing piece of the puzzle being the trade of a useful NHL player for a pick or never will be prospect. Other than that we had it all. Here come the Oilers!
We had the once decent NHLer, now identified as a problem, run out of town, confidence shattered.
We had the random injuries that decimated a shallow lineup.
We had a plug on the wrong side of thirty brought in for grit and character all for the low low price of nearly two million a year for four years.
We had losses, of course, because that is what the Oilers have been all about for eight years now, losing, and there were four of them, four in four games.
We had the young talent all going backwards.
And to cap it off the owner, tone deaf as always, publishes an open letter to the fans today which basically says they will not panic (good) but otherwise making laughable assertions as to Kevin Lowe's abilities and the fact that all's well that rebuilds well and that DON'T WORRY WE ALL KNOW WHAT WE ARE DOING AND NEVER MIND EIGHT YEARS OUT OF THE PLAYOFFS AND ... you get the picture.
Its amateur hour at Rexall, it has been for a while now, and people are starting to clue in although hilariously you still get fans who assert that if you are critical of the team then you are not a real fan or that the problem remains the fact that there are too many veterans, such as the moron who tweeted that they have to get rid of Ales Hemsky, get rid of him for nothing, because no Ales Hemsky is better than Ales Hemsky.
That's right, get rid of the ten year veteran who actually knows how to play in the NHL and will play any role the coach asks of him and who is not getting buried despite playing tough minutes in front of a porous blue and goaltender.
That's right you fucking moron. That's a good idea.
So as the old saying goes there are a number of fans who deserve a loser team run by stupid people because they are stupid losers themselves. The problem is the rest of us have to suffer.
When you get down to it the guys running the team, and sadly I believe MacT may be part of this based on this Hendricks move, have no clue. Lowe can bleat about winning all that he wants but the fact is this team was a very good team in June of 2006 and they (mostly he) managed to run it all into the sewer. They have turned the house into a paperclip, trading away veterans and useful youth away for nothing time and time again until they have a handful of kids they picked at the top of the draft and nothing besides. The two teams the Oilers like to refer to (they never mention the Islanders or Panthers or Thrashers) are the Pens and the Hawks. The Pens had two generational kids, a handful of other youngsters and then surrounded them with veterans. The Hawks had the top end guys in Toews and Kane and then a raft of youth all through the lineup. Troy Brouwer scored 23 goals and was on their fourth line in the 2010 playoffs! On top of that Keith and Seabrook and Sharp were in their mid twenties and were battle tested and the lot of them were supported by a future Hall of Famer in Hossa, another star in Brian Campbell and a smattering of other vets in support roles.
The Oilers? Well they traded away the useful youth who may have been support players (Brodziak and Cogliano) for picks and they moved out the veteran D they had just a few years ago (Souray, Lubo and Gilbert) for nothing but the shell of Nick Schultz. Lupul begat Pitkanen who begat Cole who begat ... Patrick O'Sullivan and the only common thread is that every single one of these guys is playing or has played a pretty big role for teams better than the Oilers. Except for O'Sullivan who is out of the league and Schultz who soon will be. Of course everyone is better than the Oilers ...
Dubnyk had been a pretty good goalie for a shitshow team for a few years. Yes he was awful this fall and yes goddamnit he lets in too many softies and Scrivens, well Scrivens, is probably the same as Dubnyk, maybe a bit better, maybe a bit worse, in my mind its pretty well a wash except you could bring Hasek in his prime onto this club and they'd still get filled night after night. Dubnyk had to go anyhow and I hope he does well wherever he ends up. He deserves better, all of the players pretty well do. I can't get too worked up about it.
Its the Hendricks thing, a small move the apologists say, they always say that, what does it matter, except guys like Hendricks are a dime a dozen and somehow MacT thought that picking up one with a four year contract was a good idea. There is a kid here in Toronto, Bodie, who could probably provide the same things Hendricks does at a fraction of the cost and for far shorter term. I respect Hendricks, I do, don't get me wrong. He's earned his scratch the hard way but picking him up shows that the Oilers still don't get it and should send chills down your spine.
Its a contest you see, you only have so much money you can spend and the small moves add up just ask the Leafs who won't be able to add any reinforcements for a playoff push without subtracting players because all of these 'small moves' added up. The latest rumour for the Oilers is a long term deal for Hiller this summer and based on the all but confirmed offer they made for Clarkson who has been an enormous bust for the Leafs (nobody saw that coming! And the Oilers apparently offered MORE FUCKING MONEY THAN TORONTO!!!) one can only think that shit is really going to get worse before it gets better. They don't understand how things work.
Everyone on the D is playing a couple of slots too high and so we get to see Petry's confidence get shattered now. Yakupov has been made the scapegoat while Eberle, Gagner and Hall get to float around and do as they please and the only players worth a damn are two veterans from other organizations in Gordon and Perron and two old Oilers who will be gone come summer in Hemsky and Smyth.
Which means another couple of holes to fill and yes Smytty is only a fourth liner now but he's the best they have by far.
Get good players and keep them.
The Oilers have done the opposite of this for years and no matter of spin from Katz and Laforge and their B team of flackeys and PR people can disguise the fact that the franchise is a disaster and the people running it are abject failures.
Six rings my ass.
To paraphrase an immortal 80s hair band:
Lowe don't go away mad, Lowe just go away.
Posted by Black Dog at 8:54 PM