Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Raffi Being Raffi - Oilers V. Hawks II


Other impressions from Saturday's game, notably up front. The key here is that they were playing the Hawks and as a result they looked better because of it.
While Horcoff and Hemsky were on the ice for the first Hawks' goal, they were money the entire game, meaning that when they were on the ice the puck was almost always in the Hawks' end and their own net was rarely in danger. On the GA Hemsky was actually in deep in the left corner, not the only time in the game, I might add. He chipped it up the boards on his backhand but Nilsson was not there. He was on the right point (Hemsky's point). Nilsson was then caught in no-man's land as he hurried to his point. The puck went to the spot he had vacated and it was in the net. After that I don't know if he saw the ice again although it wasn't like he had done anything before that. Then Penner and Sanderson rotated on the Horcoff line with Torres getting the odd shift as well.
Hemsky shoots from everywhere now. Everywhere. He has eight goals after a slow slow start - with the amount of shots he's taking I could see him hit thirty. Horcoff is just a terrific player as we all know. On the shootout he went in top speed, the best way to do it I think, and it was a no doubter. Funny how a guy who often hits the goalie or has the puck bounce over his stick on scoring chances has suddenly been revealed as a shootout wizard. Has to be good for his confidence.
The Oilers' forward lines are really a black hole though. Penner looked like Penner. Huge, slow, not super aggressive but like Pitkanen you can see he may have "it". Had at least one good chance. Not a defensive liability on this night.
The Reasoner line was great and they are likely one of the best fourth lines in the league. Unfortunately on this team they are the second best line right now. Solid in their own end, great puck pursuit. Reasoner's goal was nice. Sanderson is just a beautiful skater. And Brodziak is just a solid kid.
The kids weren't really noticeable. MacT did have them out there a bit against Kane and Toews but for the most part they got some nobodies. Didn't do too much with it but they didn't get eaten alive at any point either. They certainly weren't trapped in their end for any length of time. As for Gagner's move on the shootout - just amazing. He was going pretty quick too.
Finally, Torres, Stortini and Stoll. Stortini, as has been pointed out, adds little. He had a little hug (although I don't blame him - guy he was fighting was a monster) - other then that he was ... well, there. Didn't hurt. Didn't help.
Torres was totally Torres. He went after the guy who knocked out Tarnstrom and I think freaked him out a bit but other then that he did little. Disappointing because it looked like after the first ten games he finally had gotten it - instead he's the same old Raffi - the odd little plays that killed momentum, the lack of intensity. Raffi being Raffi. When Pisani returns I would plug him in with Torres and Stoll and if nothing is doing then I would bump Torres up to Horcoff and Hemsky duty. Guy is being wasted playing where he is now. Its a black hole.
Which leads us to the sad case of Jarret Stoll. Goddam concussion. He looked awful. People are talking about Reasoner and Sanderson being done - Stoll looked worse. I know MacT is feeding him the icetime, hoping that he gets going, but nothing is doing yet. Not a factor at all. And that may be the difference between 10 and 13 and 13 and 10. I feel for the guy - a concussion can take a long time to shake off. He's brutal right now.
Other then that not much else to report (brain is a little fuzzy) - the PP looked good its first two times out there - players and puck were moving. The third one did not get untracked at all.
On last thing - a player who gets a penalty in OT and does not serve it out before time expires should not be allowed in the shootout. Kane served three seconds in the box and then was the Hawks' first shooter. Kind of bullshit, no?
Loved how they went after him though and man, did he get booed.
Next - off ice hijinks. There was a little. But unfortunately it also served to remind me why I was there - I'm turning 40 Goddamnit!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Two Men Pining For Gilbert Gilbert - Oilers v Hawks


Goodgamegoodgamegoodgamegoodgame.
Off-ice report to follow but here's what I thought of the game Saturday, my first ever trip to see an Oilers' home game.
Um, where I'm from, that arena is basically downtown already. A quick ride on the LRT away anyhow. You can see how its presence has certainly created a bustling neighbourhood around it though. There was the strip club and um, yeah .... not so much else.
All kidding aside I am not from Alberta so I have little invested in the whole debate. Its a nice rink though. I've been to Wrigley, White Hart Lane and the old Chicago Stadium so trying to sell me on the fact that this place is falling down and has to be replaced makes very little sense to me.
The Oilers put on a good show. Impressive. The lighting, the music, all that stuff. Far better then the Leafs. The whole Tickets for Troops deal was pulled off extremely well. There was the usual background noise stuff, which I don't like much, but it was not as bad as, say, the Leafs again.
The weird beginning where the players are goofing around against a white background - very very strange. Reminded me of 90210? The beginning I mean. Smid does a posedown like Hulk Hogan - if you blink you miss it - and as a result I like him a hundred times more.
They also had a little Q and A during a timeout where they ask guys what they would be if they were not in the NHL. This was a riot. Mathieu Roy grins and says he's be working construction or pumping gas or something. Gagner says he's be in school (no shit-grade 6 by the look of him). Pouliot says "Rock Star!" - he looks like a real fucking weirdo. And then Stortini. Zach, what would you be if you weren't in the NHL?
"Well, I'd really hope I was in the NHL, you know. Because its my dream. So I really would think I'd want to be in the NHL, playing hockey." Ok then.
As for the crowd - not as noisy as I thought it would be although far noiser then the ACC. And during the shootout and at some other points during the game it was great. Also a lot less prompting for crowd noise from the scoreboard - a couple of times but that's all. Good.
So Andy and I had good seats, row 12 in section 108, right behind the Oilers' net for the first and the third. Andy screamed like a little girl a few times when pucks hurtled at us, only to be stopped by the glass. Of course I shat myself so I'm one to talk..
Yeah we're idiots.
Of course as usual its amazing to see how big and fast these guys are live. The new jerseys do have a slimming effect though. Torres especially doesn't really look that big. Staios either.
Chicago is pretty crappy. they really are. So are the Oilers. It was a great game in that the Oilers won (yay) and the game was close (obviously) but there were times it was a bit of a snooze, especially in the first. Of course I was pretty exhausted at this point from trying to fend off Grabia's advances. He sure likes to play grabass. Then again, who doesn't. Anyways while the Oilers didn't play terrific I think even their best game would result in very little against the Detroits of the world. There's not much on this roster. I thought they deserved to win this one though. The Hawks had more shots but the Oilers had more chances.
Observations. Roloson is a whack job, which we all knew. He played well but had few five bell saves. The Hawks had forty shots but the majority were from outside. The Oilers did a good job of keeping them out there and the Hawks really created very little off of the rush. Toews was a complete nonfactor. Kane not much more. Pitkanen was out a lot against Kane and spent a lot of time working him over.
On the D everything was status quo. Tarnstrom was fine until he got whacked which was pretty close to us. He was a bit of a mess. Smid actually played quite well. No glaring errors and he certainly has an edge to him. He likes to mix it up out there. Grebeshkov will not shoot the puck. The play to Hemsky turned out great but it really looked like he had blown it before Khabibulin kind of got turned around. He wasn't terrible but when he has time he gets into trouble. Twice late in the third he had the puck with time as Chicago were on a change or clearing the zone and he fanned on the puck for no apparent reason. He also had a couple of times where he could have chipped it out easily but hesitated and ended up getting the Oilers hemmed in. Staios did the exact same thing on the second goal. Pitkanen got him the puck. He had time and could have just flipped it high and out. Instead he hesitated, ate it and the next time the Oilers got the puck they were fishing it out of the net. This was about five minutes after Andy and I had discussed how Staios had really changed his game - no more gambling, play it safe - and how we felt that while he was less fun, he was certainly a better player for it. He then made about three gaffes in a row. He's pretty damn solid though.
As for Joni Pitkanen, this is a guy you have to see live. He is an unbelievable specimen. Only one game but based on what I saw this guy would be the best player on the Oilers in terms of the tools he possesses. He is huge. He can skate like the wind. He is beautiful to watch. Now of course the idea is that there is a good Joni and a bad Joni but if they can harness good Joni then I would say sign him right now, longterm. Of course, harnessing good Joni has been the problem, now, hasn't it?
Terrific skill though. Of course he also likes to wander, lets say. At one point he was behind the Hawks' net and I thought he was Penner because of his size and because, well, he was behind their net. When he wheeled out to get back there was no doubt who he was though.
As for Gilbert Gilbert, well he is all that he is cracked up to be. Just a hell of a hockey player. Everytime he did something Andy and I would look at each other and smile like a couple of schoolgirls with a crush, which essentially we were. They did a giveaway where a fan had to guess who had the Santa disguise on. Andy and I both fairly shrieked his name. We could not have been any gayer if we were wearing skirts and had our hair in pigtails.
I was hoping to get down there and maybe get a little makeout time with G.G. but it would have ended our budding friendship as Andy was of the same mind I think. So we ignored our loinal urges and did some manly drinking instead.
Next - more impressions.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

In Andy I Trust, Unless He's Sneaking Up Behind Me To Give Me The Edmonton "How Do You Do!"

In twenty four hours Andy Grabia and I wil be driving around Edmonton.

And things will never ever be the same again.

I suspect that this may be too much fun for me to bear.

Worse case we will spend tomorrow afternoon in embarrassed silence, realizing that sometimes these internet blind dates aren't all that they are cracked up to be. We will attend the game Saturday night and then part ways gladly, slinking out into the night much as someone who wakes up the next morning with the result of far too many drinks the night previous laying beside them will recoil in horror and then try to tiptoe out the door. If caught, we might mumble a false phone number and then dash into the street. However, seeing as I have met Chris!, mike w., sacamano and mudcrutch and they are all terrific fellows whose company I enjoy very much, I suspect that this weekend will hold more of the same.

Here we go but first an old joke, nothing to do with this weekend but if I do get stabbed on Whyte Avenue let it be my requieum :

Buddy moves into the country into an old farmhouse. He enjoys the privacy and the peace and quiet. His nearest neighbour is a couple of miles up the road. After a few weeks however he begins to wish for a little human contact. He's sitting out on the porch when a pickup rolls up - its his neighbour, a fellow about his age. After introducing himself and some small talk about the weather and the barley, his neighbour says: "Well now, why don't you come up to my place Saturday night. Fellow gets a little lonely out here. I'm having a party and it should be terrific - lots of drinking and fighting and fucking."

Well, buddy is a little lonely indeed and he thinks this sounds great. He agrees and waves to his neighbour as he heads up the road.

On Saturday night he showers up and puts on his best blue jeans, combs his hair and puts on a little bit of his eau de cologne. Thinking of healthy ruddy faced farmgirls, he heads up the road to his neighbour's place. He knocks on the door and his neighbour lets him in.

Taking off his coat, he says "So, when does everyone else get here?" for nobody else has arrived as of yet.

Buddy looks at him, a little surprised. "Ain't nobody else coming. Here, have a beer."

Yuk yuk yuk.

EDIT - Andy has our itinerary ready.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Deepest of Thoughts - Three Days and Counting


Stately, plump Andy Grabia came from the stairhead, bearing a pint for each of us. Oh, I should say so. Black Dog at the Black Dog? Confusion. Purple Onion. Donairs? Talk about your mystery meat. Wife loves them though. Of course she's out of her head. Look who she married.

Must remember, I'm from Sudbury. Not Toronto. Sudbury. Born and bred. Must count for something. Toronto sucks us dry as well. From Sudbury. Just like American backpackers with their Canadian flag patches until they say something stupid and give it all away. Then the European beauties laugh at them. Better yet they get pounded by some yobs whose grampies slaughtered the Jerries. Tough pricks, the Brits.

I'm from Sudbury.

Don't say anything stupid. Likely to get dropped off at the edge of town. Let the Eastern bastard freeze. Indeed. Must be nice to Grabia. In the news and all. Bow and scrape if I must.

Is it true if your dog runs away you can watch him do so for three days? Hmm. Should test it out. Or is that Saskatchewan? If the Riders win will I see Regina in flames from 30000 feet on Sunday night? What if they lose?

I love Gilbert Gilbert. Wonder if I can get his autograph Saturday night? Maybe I'll sneak into the dressing room. Nobody will notice. Hide behind the moustache.

Poor Paddy Dignam. Poor Oilers. Three-three now. Another long night. Grabia likely in a rage now.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Here I Am Coming, Edmonton



Woke up this morning, foggy in the brain, lying out in the backyard, an empty bottle of Bushmills beside me, head resting on a tattered copy of Ulysses. Damn good night despite the hangover and the onset of pneumonia. Realized, niney niney nondoors, flying to Edmonton on Friday morning. Good on ya. Never been. Should be fun. Have to pack. Going to Whyte Avenue? Can't bring a knife on the plane. Thats ok, buy one at Edmonton Airport. Be prepared, just like the Boy Scouts. Not Lowe though. Lowe though. Heh.


Scritch scritch scritch. Fleas? No. Maybe crabs. Unfortunate. How to explain to Molly? Come up with something. Must get gift for Grabia. Famous now. Maybe too big a wig? We'll see. Porn is always nice. Gladheateher. Splendour In The Ass. Schindler's Fist. His birthday too. Maybe a hooker? Booze. Cigarettes. Too easy. No mention from Staples. Maybe good. No danger of lawsuits if nobody reads. Get back to the roots - gay porn, nonsensical ramblings. My niche. Masturbation and so on. Can't beat it.
Heh. Funny guy. Gift for Grabia. What to do? Cosh said he needs a pair. I haven't any to give ever since that vet appointment. Didn't see that coming. Have to remember - revenge against the guy with the mustache. See how he likes it. No balls. Prime of life. That's no fair. Smother him with a pillow maybe. No thumbs though. Maybe a problem. Still not fair. Hard to lick balls when there are no balls. Phantom pleasure I think.
Gift gift gift. Coat made from sacamano's back hair? Big. Warm. Red. Maybe itchy? Don't know. Think on it.
Drink before the flight. Hate flying. Remember not to shit myself from fear of flying. Andy won't let me into his car.
Hope people in Edmonton have heard the saying "Give The Dog A Bone"; if so might not come back. Probably will - not too good to leave it all behind. No midlife crisis here. No sir. Nope.
Um, no.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kurvers


This is Tom Kurvers. Kurvers won the Hobey Baker after scoring 76 points in 43 games for the University of Minnesota Duluth. He was drafted by the Habs and was a part of the 86 Cup winning team. That team had Bob Gainey up front as well as 110 point scorer Mats Naslund and Bobby Smith - the rest of the forwards were a kiddie corps of very good young two way hockey players including Mike McPhee, Brian Skrudland, Guy Carbonneau and two annoying rookies - Shayne Corson and Claude Lemieux. The back end was led by the legendary Larry Robinson and there were a number of excellent young defencemen - Chris Chelios, Craig Ludwig and Petr Svoboda. Kurvers scored thirty points in 62 games in what was his second season. He had scored forty five as a rookie. He was injured for the entire playoffs but the Habs went all the way, helped by the fact that the Oilers had lost to the Flames on the Steve Smith own goal. Facing a Flames team which probably felt like they had already won the Cup, the Habs won in five games. Montreal was led by Lemieux who scored big goal after big goal and would have won the Conn Smythe for his Pisani like performance if it weren't for their rookie goaltender, ah, what was his name? Oh yeah, Patrick Roy.

Seriously, Tyler just posted about teams denying all statstical probabilities. Few teams did so like those '86 Habs. They got every single break going.

So Kurvers got his ring and then he began to bounce around. He could put up points but he didn't know how to play defence. So he went to les Sabres and then to the Devils, who were just slowly beginning to emerge from the mire. In 89-90 Kurvers scored 66 points in 74 games for NJ. He was no slouch. A game into the next season the Maple Leafs traded their first round pick for 91-92 to the Devils for the guy they felt they needed to QB their PP.

The Leafs had been mired in mediocrity along with the rest of the Norris through the 80s. Back in those days four of the five teams in the division made the playoffs and one was guaranteed to be cannon fodder for the Oilers or Flames in the conference final. With Ballard and Wirtz and weak ownership in St. Louis plus the Wings dragging themselves out of a disastrous run in the 70s there was no real reason to improve. I was a Hawks' fan in those days and had just started school in Toronto and believe me, it was almost as if there was a gentleman's agreement amongst those teams. 80 points was good enough to win the division a couple of years but who needed to improve as long as they were guaranteed playoff money? Its not like they would beat the Oilers anyways.

And then Mike Ilitch and Mike Keenan happened. Driven to win, Ilitch bought the Wings and changed the culture. In Chicago Keenan supplanted Pulford temporarily (Rocky Wirtz's first two acts as owner after his father's death were to televise home games and move Pulford out of hockey operations - smart guy) - in his brief stay the Hawks became a hard driving team that won the President's Trophy on year and went to the Cup finals the next. Couple these two squads with an improving team in Minnesota and the Leafs and Kurvers ran into a perfect storm of circumstance that would make Kurvers infamous.

Kurvers scored 52 points in 70 games in 89-90 and the Leafs made the playoffs. The following year disaster struck. At the end of the season the Leafs were in second last and Kurvers was gone - after 19 games he had been shipped to the Canucks.

So the Leafs ended up with the third pick overall as the Nordiques selected first overall and the San Jose Sharks were given the second pick as an expansion team. Of course the only problem was the Leafs didn't have that pick. The Devils did. They picked some guy named Scott Niedermeyer.

Niedermeyer is going to be in the Hall of Fame. He won three Cups with the Devils as they were one of the dominant franchises in the league for a decade. When he moved to the Ducks he won another Cup there last year, captaining them through a dominant playoff run. He is one of the premier defenceman of his time. It can be argued pretty easily that without him the Devils would have no Cups. After he left and Scott Stevens retired the Devils began to sink into mediocrity.

As for the Leafs its been forty years and counting since they won the Stanley Cup and one would think its a good bet that having Scott Niedermeyer in their lineup for over a decade would have ended that drought.

Now there is no guarantee in the draft - the top six in that draft were Eric Lindros, Pat Falloon, Niedermeyer, Scott Lachance, Aaron Ward and Peter Forsberg. Probably three of those guys end up in the Hall of Fame. Ward has had a long career as a solid Dman and has won three Stanley Cups. LaChance was a disappointment, comsidering he went fourth overall. Falloon was a disaster.

With the Oilers having three regulation wins in their first twenty games, they are looking like a lottery team, especially considering the improvement of perennial doormats Columbus and Chicago. Actually they are looking quite a bit like a good bet to get that last spot overall. Now I can get behind a rebuild, even when its completely self inflicted, which this one is, but if Brian Burke gets up to that podium with a pick in the top five next June, Kevin Lowe had better hope that he picks Pat Falloon rather then Scott Niedermeyer.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Fans To Lowe - Things Look Ugly


Wasn't too long ago that the Oilers had played just ten games, back in the days when I was clean shaven and not looking like John C. Reilly in Boogie Nights.
John C. Reilly is very cool and also very, um, lumpy. My neighbour said I looked a lot like Reilly tonight. I had to push her down the stairs.
Its truly a painful season. Many of the pluses of the first ten games - Greene's slow steady progress, Torres' solid play, Gagner looking at least reasonable as a player - have been lost due to injury, poor play (no points in nine games for Torres?) or youth. Jacques and Pouliot are tearing up the A but unable to accomplish anything in the Show. Roloson is now possibly supplanted as the number one. Souray is out indefinitely. Penner is no Lupul but its looking like a lottery pick for his services more and more.
If the Oilers win tonight they will have garnered one more point then they did in their first ten games when they were 4 and 6. An improvement of a point over each ten game segment would get them to 92 points after 80 games but we all know that this is not going to happen. It is looking to be an ugly ugly year. Yeah, we're talking 70 points and Brian Burke picking first or second overall. And Lowe with a four year extension.
My aching head.
Positives? Gilbert Gilbert is Bieksa. Cogliano is a rook but at 20 years old he is on pace for nearly fifty points and remains a plus player despite his struggles. Brodziak is fine. Garon has done a great job lately. Umm ... Hemsky has been great although sometimes he reminds me too much of Afinogenov - so much flash but not as much in terms of results at times. I'm being nit picky though. Kid has been terrific.
And then there is Horcoff.
Other then that, Tarnstrom has looked good. Staios has been solid. Nilsson had four good games in a row.
Yeah I'm fucking reaching here.
Could be worse. Wonder what JFJ is thinking today. Could have had Bryzgalov for a low round pick after trading all of those picks and Rask for Raycroft and Toskela. Nothing against Toskela or Raycroft for that matter but I would say the Russian is their equal, if not better.
Love the Leafs. Always make me feel better.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hanging In There



A four game trip through the division results in five points and with the cavalry possibly coming soon, the Oilers have shown a nice resilience this fall so far. Heading onto the road down four defencemen and still without an appearance from Moreau or Pisani, things were looking pretty lousy, sort of like lottery pick lousy.

But contributions from the usual suspects, Horcoff and Hemsky, and the unexpected, Nilsson and Garon, helped make the trip a success. Garon, more then anyone, deserves applause as a guy who matched Luongo last night and outplayed Kiprusoff on HNIC. Great goaltending can help cover up a rookie laden defence corps and zero goals from your teammates apparently.

Of course with the Wild in town tonight the Oilers will likely look awful, as they always do against Jack Lemaire, but for now we'll bask in the sunshine of the Oilers little run. Enjoy it while we can although if they can hang on for a few more weeks and maybe win a few of these home games the big picture might begin to look a little brighter.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Horcoff


A big win last night for the Oilers and now three out of a possible six points on this trip - not bag at all, especially considering the state of the blueline and how it started.
And the man in the middle of it all, with two goals, your man Horcoff.
The debate that underlies the future of this team is Horcoff v. Stoll. Horcoff is a UFA at the end of next season and Stoll was pegged to be in line for a big raise and a possible offer sheet at the end of this. That fear has subsided quite a bit as Stoll is definitely not right - his struggles have been Lupul like. Very little at either end of the rink and how much do you give a guy who is good on the draw, a decent man on the PK and likely a good guy in the room. What's Reasoner making?
I wish no ill to Stoll. He's a decent player who looked to be really getting on track last winter. Playing with Torres and Pisani he had a nice run where he was playing some tougher opposition, outscoring that opposition and looking like a guy who might be a contributor. Then the concussion.
I was concussed once when I was around 22 and it takes a lot out of you. Mine was minor, really, but I was goofy for a couple of weeks before I recovered. Some might say, however that a) I was goofy before and b) I haven't recovered. Anyhow he's definitely not back and if I was MacT I would get him out there between Torres and Fernando when Pisani returns - that will likely be the cure for what ails him.
Regardless of this possible return to form this one really is a nobrainer. You've got a guy who plays the tough minutes every night, who is dynamite doing the little things, can win you the big draw, can play the PK and the PP, can play 20 minutes plus because he is extraordinarily fit, will block a shot with his face, will score you big goal after big goal in the playoffs, will outplay the league MVP over a six game series. If Horcoff had better hands he would be among the league's elite but as Matheson pointed out today:
For all you Shawn Horcoff knockers, as of Nov. 2, he had 12 even-strength points, tied with Pavel
Datsyuk, Eric Staal and Rod Brind'Amour. Only Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov, as NHL centres, had more.
What more can be said? With Cogliano likely to take on tough minutes and Gagner the softer stuff for years to come and plenty of candidates for the fourth line role - O'Marra, Brodziak, Thoresen, Almtorp - you have one more spot to fill.
Its in the Oilers best interest that Stoll comes back strong and then, as long as Gagner is pegged to be a centre, to move him along.
Yes, Horcoff is that good.

Remember


Friday, November 09, 2007

Movember Is The Cruelest Month (Except For The Arrival of Gilbert Gilbert)


The Oiler player procurement department (amateur division) has done a nice job this decade. Plenty of regulars have arrived and the future looks bright indeed. There's been no home runs but some doubles and if Hemsky keeps it up, we're looking at a standup triple I think. After a start where he looked terrific with little to show for it, he has five goals in seven games and has been the most dangerous player on the ice in most games I have watched this fall. He's shooting more and he looks like he is taking the fabled "next step".
Alas, other then Hemsky, Horcoff and Torres most of the Oiler vets have been spotty and the results can be seen in the standings. Not enough vets and not a lot of production from the ones out there.
The result has been kids thrown to the wolves. Some have been on the Springfield shuttle. Some have been overmatched and badly. Some have had growing pains. Four have stood out. Gagner, who is overmatched but at barely eighteen has also had flashes of brilliance. Cogliano, who has held his own for the most part at both ends of the rink. Brodziak, who has done a pretty good job playing some tough minutes and being a primary guy on the PK.
And Gilbert.
My complaint the last couple of years is the Oilers' lack of rookies who have made any sort of impact. While San Jose (for example) has seen Vlasic, Carle, Preissing, Bernier, Michalek and Clowe and a seemingly neverending stream of kids who contributed over the past few years, the Oilers have had no such luck. Until this year. Now some of this Oiler "failure" has been by design I believe. MacT likes his vets and when you are trying to get that last playoff spot year after year you're going to go with the guys who can make the simple play rather then the kid who may show flash and dash one minute and then cough it up in the slot the next.
And some of this failure can be attributed to the lack of kids who have seized the opportunity. Well, this year Cogliano and Gagner and Brodziak passed a few guys with more experience (Pouliot, Jacques, Schremp all passed by) - they came to camp and seized the day.
And Gilbert, despite having a contract that was made for demotion did the same, forcing the team to demote Laddy Smid. And then, unlike a lot of kids who fade after a half dozen games, he has taken on more responsibility, partially because of injuries, partially because he has earned it.
Gilbert has offensive skill but he makes the safe play on the back end. When caught up ice he recovers easily. A number of times against the Avs (I remember three at least) he was caught for a moment at the offensive blueline. Each time he got back into the play easily, once breaking up a three on one. He also covered his partner, who was caught once similarly that I can recall. A few long and effortless strides (the guy has the big man's look of barely trying when he skates but he eats up the ice) and he had come back to break up the rush.
Gilbert has always played with poise and I would say the guy is a pretty confident kid. Unlike Grebeshkov who plays nervous (he looks like I did a few years back when I played in a league above my weight class), fanning on the puck, hurrying passes or not being quick enough, or Smid, who has the deer in headlights look, Gilbert always looks like he knows what he is doing.
Sweet.
Hey, this season I think we'll have to take our positives where we can get them. And Gilbert is about as positive as it gets. Playing tough minutes and doing this well - no better compliment can a rookie defenceman earn.
On a personal note, the stash is coming along - I would call it "tawny" in colour, surprisingly. It is noticeable and I can say this because of the looks of pity, disgust or mockery that I am now getting (and this is just at home). I am thinking this baby is going to take off - its been nine days and with three weeks left I think it may look quite Goulet like by December 1st.
Check it out at this site. Enter 60191 in the log link and take a look. It is cheesy, creepy and truly awful. I am debasing myself to raise money for prostate cancer research so if you have a few bucks to spare please donate. Don't make my wife's suffering be in vain.
Thank you. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Long And The Short Of It


There's a terrific thread over at Lowetide's and in it one of the themes touched on is the rebuild. One of the commenters, Lowe apologist Mike, claims that he's prefer the peaks and valleys of the Oilers' recent history to what Ottawa, Buffalo or Calgary have done. Basically in his mind, making the playoffs year after year but not winning it all is pointless - he'd rather tear it down and start over.
Of course this ignores a number of facts. Since 1991, say, the peaks have been few and far between for the Oilers. Indeed the peaks were two first round victories in the late 1990s and the beauty run of 2006. In between the peaks were more molehills then mountains - making the playoffs and putting up a good fight against Dallas before bowing out was considered a good year.
Also, while Mike somehow refers to the 2006 team as Pronger and nobody, the fact is that was a pretty good club and one that was underestimated because it was an eighth seed, a placing the Oilers fell into because atrocious goaltending that undermined their efforts until Roloson was acquired. So when Pronger asked out its not like Lowe was left with a bunch of pylons out there. If he played his cards right he could have augmented his veteran lineup until kids like Cogliano and Gilbert arrived and would these guys ahve not benefitted from easing into a winning lineup rather then being thrown to the wolves as they are this season.
You see, Lowe did a terrific job in 2006 and one of the most impressive things that he did was improve the team dramatically without giving up very much in the way of prospects or picks. Now, I'm sure Ranger fans don't regret trading Doug Weight and Tony Amonte for the veterans who helped win the Cup for them in '94. If I were a Flames' fan I could live with moving Hull for Ramage and Wamsley in '89. They weren't huge parts of that Cup win but they provided depth and showed the team and fans that the organization was going for it. Moving Kobasew and Ference last year didn't work out so well but you have to admire Sutter for giving it a whirl.
These examples make Lowe's job in 2006 that much more astounding. He added Samsonov, Spacek, Roloson and Tarnstrom for very little - Reasoner and Cross off his roster, some picks, two prospects now in Europe. He was terrific - he balanced present and future perfectly. He kept his kids and set himself up for what should have been a nice run for the Oilers. Maybe not in the Final every year but in the mix. What more could you want?
And this is what makes the present state of the Oilers and Mike's statement so frustrating. Sorry, I'd rather be Calgary or Ottawa, who both have made the finals within the last three seasons and, on top of that, are not bottom feeders right now. I'd rather be the Sabres, conference finallists two years running and likely in the playoffs this season once they adjust to losing Drury and Briere. Because you cannot win the Cup if you don't make the playoffs! And there is no guarantee that the kids will turn out or not be derailed by injury (see Stoll, Jarret).
So here's a thought Mike - the Oilers' disaster last year did net them Gagner, which is nice, but this year's travesty isn't going to get the Oilers a lottery pick although I'm sure Brian Burke is chortling in some pub somewhere. So all of these brutal losses - they're for nothing.
Next time you wax poetic about Lowe's six Cups and how Oiler fans should just give him a break you might ask why he blew the budget on Souray and Penner while not signing a first line left winger who, along with "nobody" Horcoff outscored MVP Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo head to head in '06. You know the guy? He may have helped this team stay competitive for the next few years. Or why Jan Hejda, playing on the top pair for a Columbus team with five shutouts already, was allowed to walk when he makes a fifth of what Souray makes (-28 against mutts last year remember?). Do you think Smyth and Hejda and, say, Danny Markov signed for two years, might not have been better options? Maybe you don't and that's fair. But don't tell me that as a fan I can't have my cake and eat it too. Detroit, Colorado, Jersey and yes, even Ottawa and Calgary belie that you have to tear everything up to get to the mountain. Smart drafting and player development and good management can keep you in the mix year after year. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Folly - It Didn't Have to Be This Way And Its Getting Worse


A couple of great items out there, here from Vic Ferrari and here from Dennis. Dennis is looking at Journal blogger Staples whilst reviewing some of Lowe's errors over the past sixteen months while Vic looks at a guy who was a nice coup for Lowe, Jan Hejda, a guy who is now plying his trade for the Ohio BJs.
What is killing me about this season is the fact that it did NOT have to be this way and both of these guys bring up some good points.
Lets for a moment disregard the return in the Pronger and Smyth deals - lets give Lowe the benefit of the doubt there. Seriously. We don't know what was out there in either case. We think that he may have gotten better but lets suspend disbelief and not speculate that he may have gotten, say, Pitkanen, Richards and a first or Bouwmeester, Weiss and same. We don't know what was out there.
So, you're coming off a trip to the finals and you can't keep the team together and on top of that Pronger walks. So the reality is you're likely not getting back to the SCF right away - you can't replace Pronger and Peca, Spacek and Dvorak are gone as well. However you have a solid corps of veterans and younger guys coming off a run to the SCF. You should be competitive as long as you fill those holes and you can ease your youngsters into the lineup.
Instead of signing a guy like Markov or picking up an equivalent you go with the interesting choice of playing twenty year old Laddy Smid in the top four, at the expense of Jan Hejda. So three of your top six are Smid, Greene and Bergeron. The result is predictable.
If Lowe had added Markov or an equivalent, lets say, and given Hejda a spot immediately in place of Smid then their D could have looked like this:
Shaggy-Smith
Markov-Staios
Hejda-Bergeron
Throw them out there anyway you want. Everyone knew this team needed a veteran Dman last season from July on but Lowe sat on his hands.
When the team went down the tubes Lowe moved Smyth. Of course, Lowe's apologists are quick to point out that Smyth was not an elite player etc etc. Of course he happened to be the Oilers' best player and one they have not replaced. What kills me is that while I love Smyth I could get on board with the trade for the reason that to me the way of the league now is to spend the big money on the younger guys. Just as I hated moving Smith but could see the reasoning behind it, I thought that moving Smyth made sense - I would rather that money go to pay guys like Hemsky.
Of course this all went to hell when Lowe signed a surprised Souray who said that the Oilers' offer came out of nowhere (just after Katz's big offer - coincidence?). Why you would pay an injury prone, aging Dman the money you would not pay Smyth is beyond me and puts the lie to everything the organization said about why they would not sign Smyth. You can argue about Smyth being an elite player - it depends on where you draw the line at elite - but Souray surely does not pass that sniff test. He is nowhere near the player Smyth is. And that contract had better not handcuff this club down the line but it likely will.
But some fans say things like "its a rebuild" and "be patient - its short term pain" and the media go along with it - its a rebuild they say, failing to mention that its a rebuild that didn't have to be, that a rebuilding team has no business spending huge coin on Sheldon Souray and that looking at Columbus and St. Louis might lead one to believe that an elite level coach can do a lot to turn around fading fortunes.
Instead we get Terry Jones talking about how this team lacks toughness (the same Terry Jones who made an impassioned plea that Edmonton get behind EIG in its battle with the devil (ie/ Katz) and how Dustin Penner is a big fatty. Pot, meet kettle, this guy is like Johnny Pavorotti in the old SCTV skit, telling Joe Flaherty he'll do anything for him and then refusing to give him any of his gigantic provolone. "Its Johnny Pavorotti - My God - he's making a beeline for the lasagna!"
Its quality journalism like this that sees Lowe and MacT get a free ride as they ride this franchise into the ground. Mistakes like pissing away last season for want of a move or two, signing big Souray to a ridiculous contract, playing Smid over Hejda last season and then Roy over Tarnstrom this season, letting Hejda go this past summer.
3-0 Minnesota at the end of the first. Can't wait to hear about the injury bug again tomorrow. This team is sliding fast - we're not talking lottery territory anymore, we're talking first pick overall. Only problem is its no longer the Oilers' pick, in case anyone out there forgot.
Will anyone call Lowe on this disaster?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Diversions



With the injuries piling up and a lottery pick in the offing (oh wait, goddamnit!), its time for a diversion.
Pics to come.