Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Perhaps It Doesn't Matter Or Does It?


Two more games in the preseason and very little left to decide, it seems.

Seven defencemen will make the team. Theo Peckham has had a good enough camp that Dean Millard says that someone in the organization told him that Peckham's push has impressed enough to become a factor. Fact is though that Gilbert, Grebeshkov, Staios, Souray and Visnovsky are the top five and Strudwick was brought in to be the number seven. Smid was the only wildcard and he has had a good camp, by all accounts. Unless they are going to move him for a veteran then he is a given and considering his age, his upside and the fact that Grebs is RFA next summer, it would make very little sense for the Oilers to move him. A poor season and he will get moved, just like Greene did. A good year and he will probably get a nice longterm deal.


Peckham and Chorney have had nice camps and will play big minutes in Springfield and that is great.


In the net the talk is still three goalies. Its dumb as far as I am concerned but fact is the Oilers are caught a little bit here. Roli is the best bet if you want a guy who is going to help win you games but JDD's time has come. Is JDD the real deal? Likely not but sending him down risks giving him away for nothing or taking away minutes from Dubnyk. On the other hand send away Roli, Garon pulls his groin and there's the year.


And of course the goalie situation impacts the forwards which also includes the biggest logjam. There are two or maybe even three spots left and the following players remain in the mix - Pouliot, Schremp, Brule, Spurgeon, Trukhno, Potulny and the real longshot, Lefebvre.


With it looking like Brodziak will get the first look between Penner and Pisani that leaves a spot between Moreau and Stortini plus one or two guys to sit in the pressbox.


Potulny has really shown nothing and is not playing tonight which leads me to believe he is heading down or getting dumped. Or they may keep him as the designated sitter rather then a guy they want to get minutes in Springfield.


Do you see Schremp centring Moreau and Stortini? I don't. I think he is heading down and will be up for a shot if one of the top six guys goes down (although Penner would likely get that shot and Moreau get the bump to the Pisani line, so maybe it will take two to go down?). He is playing tonight - he needs to make an impression.


Trukhno has established himself as part of this team's future and Spurgeon may have too (Spurgeon is playing with Moreau tonight - a tell?) with a terrific camp. I think they both may be going to Springfield to get some big minutes although Spurgeon starting the season would be a terrific tale.


I'm thinking it susses out as follows:


Pouliot as the twelfth man. He has had a decent camp and he has experience as an NHLer. I can't see the Oilers waiving him. Is he a flawed player? Yes. But at this point he is a better man for the bottom six role then any of the guys he is competing with. Twelve of the first fifteen games are on the road. Do you want your fourth line centre to be guy who has a track record of being at the very least, a tough guy to score against, or do you want Brule who got beaten up by weak opposition? I think this early schedule works in Pouliot's favour.


Brule as number thirteen - he has had a nice camp and his speed and aggression will fit nicely on the fourth line.


If they go with fourteen forwards its Potulny or Lefebvre (seriously) as the man to sit in the PB longer term. Potulny's career is hanging by a thread here and Lefevbre has a specific role and is just happy to be here. Ireland says they brought in Ogletorp in for Springfield muscle - I am thinking he may be replacing Lefevbre in that role.


The wildcard? Spurgeon.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Superstar

Long ago, it seems so far away
My moves made the fanboys squee squee squee,

They said to trade Horcoff and let me play with Hemsky
But now things have changed
And it really blows

Don't you remember how they said they loved me MacT
Play me on the first line and the first unit PP
MacT MacT MacT MacT , oh MacT, can't you see what they see in me?

Slickest moves that you ever did see
But couldn't check my hat at all, part of my downfall

Plus I cannot skate and have no compete
What do you think MacT?
Should I just pack my bags and leave?

First Lowe had to go and trade for Kent Nilsson's baby
Then he went and drafted Cogliano and Sam Gagner
Gagner, Gagner, Gagner, Gagner, oh Gagner, I hate you I really do.

Next thing I know Brodziak takes another roster spot, MacT
And now Trukhno looks like he is also about to pass me
And Brule Brule Brule, oh Brule, I guess this will mean Atlanta for me

-------------------------------------------

Three games in three nights and a fourth tonight and things are starting to work themselves out. O'Marra never got out of the blocks and Lerg and McDonald have really had no followup to the nice starts that they had. Liam Reddox scored last night but he has done nothing to separate himself from the pack.

Potulny's career is at risk here as he has not been noticeable at all.

So that leaves four players fighting for two or three spots, depending on whether they go with thirteen or fourteen forwards. (I know LT has Moreau as a guy who may go down with an injury and based on recent history of course its a matter of when rather then if but presently he does have a spot sewn up).

The Pisani as centre experiment is key to all of this. If it is a failure then Brodziak gets a look on that line I would say and then the fourth line needs a pivot to play between Moreau and Stortini. If Pisani works out then its winger unless they move Brodziak to the left side of the fourth line.

Despite what Karen Carpenter sang about Schremp, LT is probably right - he still has a pretty good shot at making this club. Politics may play a role as they want to reward him for putting in the work although that reward will likely be a cup of coffee and then a trip back to Springfield. As much as he has improved other aspects of his game the fourth line worked last season as a line that brought energy and verve, going through the opposition in a hard straight line to the net. They had some mojo and the guy who looks best able to recreate that appears to me to be Gilbert Brule.

If Trukhno shows some sustain then he makes the choice difficult but that is the challenge for him. So far he has certainly played the Thoresen/Brodziak role but with a deep roster up front it may not be enough.

And then there is Pouliot who faded badly at camp last year. He did a decent job last spring and by all accounts he has shown up so far - its still his job to lose, imo.

I'm with everyone in that I find this shit fascinating despite the fact that its all bottom of the roster stuff and probably whoever does not make it will be up for a game or two by Halloween.

Whatever.

One last note. I know the whole idea of intangibles and clutch and all that jazz often doesn't go down with a lot of the Sphere crew but I believe that the turning point of last season was the Flames' game when Moreau went after Ugly after Phaneuf had taken a shot at Cogliano, I believe it was. The week previous (and my memory is pretty awful so correct me if I am wrong but I think they played then) Phaneuf, Regehr and pretty well half of the Flames' roster had spent a good part of the game taking shots at Hemsky and the kids and nothing happened as a result.

I remember Moreau came flying in and Phaneuf voided the old bowels as he tried to save himself. It was about then that the Oilers took off and I think some of that was a result of this action - maybe its BS but I think it bore itself out in other games, for example the Canucks game where there was fight after fight. The team began to stand up for each other. They looked like the Oilers again rather then the crew that had wandered the wilderness for about a year, soft, hopeless and without a clue.

That attitude has carried over to the fall. I think that the reactions of players in the exhibition season (and I know in a lot of cases these are kids trying to make an impression, natch) are a good sign. I agree with Vic that the veterans staying healthy is the most important part of camp but I also think that Sheldon Souray going mental on Keith Ballard and Peckham and other kids pounding on everyone who takes a shot at anybody wearing copper and blue is a damn good thing. I appreciate Regehr as a player and I wish he were an Oiler but the first time he takes a shot at Hemsky this season he needs someone to give him a beating and if I were a betting man I would put money on it happening.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Camping


You see the chain of islands in the picture here that looks like the Royal Navy steaming towards Jutland? If you look very closely you will see a fifth island to the right of the northernmost one. And just to the right of that is our family camp.
In Northern Ontario we call them camps. Down here in Toronto they are called cottages. I went to a cottage in the Muskokas once. Drove up to the house that was in a row of houses. People dropped by constantly, including a couple who were looking for another couple to play tennis with. On the Saturday night we watched Donovan Bailey win the 100 metres in Atlanta. The whole experience was mental, based on my own experience of what camp was. On the other hand, if it were my Dad he would have driven up and then turned the car around and left. Or he would have burned everything down.
My dad's style is in the picture above. Water access only. No electricity, no running water, no phone. Nothing but peace and quiet.
And still it wasn't always enough when we were kids. We would spend every weekend and a good part of the summer up at camp (and we would sled up once or twice during the winter) and Dad would still get antsy. Too many people. Dad isn't a misanthrope but there is something bred into him and all of his family that leads them to seek out isolation. Its the Goulias factor.
The first McLean (in our line) to come to Canada, Neil, born in Scotland in 1834, settled in the Nottawasaga area (Simcoe/Barrie). He married a Bell, Margaret, who was born in Ontario. The area was likely heavily Scottish. The Scots stuck together. And there were Bells and McLeans from the Islay area of Scotland so its likely there was a connection between the families. although we are not certain. We don't know a lot about Neil. One of my uncles thinks he may have actually lived in Edinburgh before he emigrated.
That would explain a lot - a young man jammed into one of the filthy tenements that leaned over the High Street of Edinburgh would have certainly craved space and the freedom to be alone. After fathering eight children, Neil took Margaret and at least two sons to the Bruce peninsula, a fairly typical migration in the late 1800s for many Scots. Things get murky here - we lose track of six of the eight children for a while - but soon after they got to the Bruce they were on the move again, following a man called Frederick Tilley across Lake Huron to just west of the Soo, to a place called Goulais River. So Neil and Margaret and their youngest son, also named Neil, and one other son, Malcolm, arrived in the middle of nowhere.
They are all buried in the Goulais River cemetery, a long way from Edinburgh and Simcoe and from pretty well everywhere else. The Soo would have been nothing more then a village then and Goulais is a half hour away from there on the Trans Canada today. Over a hundred years ago it may as well have been on the moon, especially in winter. But there they are, not far from the land they homesteaded near the mouth of the river. And they are surrounded by their kin, sleeping under those red pine trees. Neil and Maggie lay right at the edge of the cemetery, just on the edge of the woods, as if even now he is taking her by the hand, leading her away from the madding crowd. His sons are not far away and their grandchildren all about. Neil Jr., my great grandfather, like his own father, had a large family, as did many of his children. You can't throw a stone in Northern Ontario without hitting a McLean, especially up by the Soo. My Dad and his generation still remember Uncle Mac who lived into his nineties; their own grandfather, Neil, passed on in 1929, barely into his fifties. His wife's letter to family and friends, a copy of which I have, reflects her grief and the shock at losing someone who died before his time.
But the men and women who sailed across Lake Huron into the middle of nowhere live on in their grandchildren. When I was a boy my Dad's idea of a good time was to bundle us all up and drive as far as the roads would allow. We would then pack up the boat and head out onto a lake which he had selected from a map and finding a secluded beach with shelter from the wind, we would camp.
For weeks. Because our own camp wasn't isolated enough.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Camp has finally opened with a vengeance for the Edmonton Oilers. Already the first cuts have been made and it is becoming clear what this autumn is going to be about - Jeff Drouin Deslauriers and two or three forward spots at the end of the roster.
There are a few things I believe about training camp. A poor showing early does not help but it won't bury you. I remember last fall and how few people were impressed by Cogliano's first showings. As long as you get stronger you can erase that poor first impression.
A strong early showing, on the other hand, can go a long way to getting you a spot on the team, if you can build on it. Two years ago Patrick Thoresen came out of nowhere to get a roster spot when he hit the ground running on day one. Last year it was Kyle Brodziak. Good news for the Oilers is that the kids looking for those final roster spots have impressed for the most part (by what I have read and heard) - the question is who has the staying power?
I think the D is set. Good news is that accounts have Chorney, Peckham and even Plante looking like reasonable prospects. This is great news but the fact that it sounds like already none have stood out as head above everyone else tells me that Smid and Strudwick round out the top seven.
Going with three goalies is stupid so its up to Deslauriers to prove that he can play in the league now. He has to outplay Roli by a wide margin, imo - I really can't see the Oilers putting the season one Garon groin tweak away from it resting entirely on JDD's shoulders.
Right now, all of the drama, as it were, is up front. Eleven spots are set and two or three are open. Jacques' surgery removes one possibility. Here are the rest:
Pouliot - a good start yesterday for a guy who usually starts slowly - should have the inside track but playing on the wing will hurt rather then help - last chance with the organization
Potulny - Potulny is where Nilsson was last season and where Pouliot may be next season but he's not getting the push Robert did - he has a shot but this could be his last one
Brule - good first impression and I get the feeling that they are going to do everything to make this work - MacT comparing him to Peca right off the bat - he may be heading down but he'd be on the short list to come back up
Schremp - like Pouliot this may be his last shot with the Oilers and it sounds like he may get a fourth line role - worse case he's an early callup
Trukhno - apparently a great showing yesterday - could he be this year's surprise?
Lerg - solid camp so far; likely headed down but add him to the list of possible early callups
Six guys. Two or three spots. History tells us that one or two of the last cuts will likely be up within weeks but at least its going to keep the next couple of weeks interesting.
EDIT - Jesus, stupid brain, how much longer can I blame this on having three kids - I wanted to add two more to the list
McDonald - good start to camp and he's guy who might fit a checking role down the road, which is needed - nice words from the organization which means a lot
O'Marra - injuries or what is responsible for this guy's fall from grace? A long way to come back and so far just sounds like a whole lot of meh - like McDonald though the fact that he has size might mean he fits into a checking role if he can perform

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Surprise!



Do you like surprises? I do.


When I was twenty nine I moved to PEI. I spent a year there. It was one of the best years of my life. In a lot of ways I relived my youth. Weekends and evenings during the week were spent on a boat in the harbour or at the beach. Nights were spent in the pubs or at parties, drinking ridiculous amounts of alcohol and chasing women. That year I turned thirty. I launched my career. I met many great friends and the woman who would become my wife.


Most importantly, I bought a dog. A black lab border collie cross with floppy ears, white paws and tail tip and a big white 7 on his chest.


It was the end of August and I got it in my head that I wanted a dog. Jenn and I had been dating for a couple of months. She objected to my plan and in a harbinger of things to come I ignored her. She came home one night to find us cavorting on the lawn. A boy and his dog.


Surprise honey!


The saint is not a dog person and to this day she often bitterly complains. She doesn't like the barking, the farting, the ass smelling, the licking, the constant affection (she's a Philistine, yes). Most of all she hates the fur. Tumbleweeds roam our hallways. One carried the boy away the other day. We haven't seen him since.


Once in a while she muses about making me choose. Its an oldie but a goodie, of course, but the kids and I and the dog would surely miss her.


I remember laying down my one hundred Canadian dollars and your man behind the counter, obviously a good judge of character (or lack thereof), remarking that the first year with a puppy was hell on wheels. I smirked. What did he know?


When I moved out of my apartment four months later I had to replace the carpet, destroyed by the little monster. He ate a package of Halls and had projectile diarrhea against the wall. While we were watching a movie, he stood in front of us and had a gigantic pee to make sure that we knew that he was present and accounted for. Every night I came home from work to find my apartment trashed. Whenever we retired to the bedroom (my girlfriend and I, you smartasses) discarded clothing and underwear would be hauled out into the kitchen to be played with. This culminated one afternoon with me chasing the little rat down the hallway, stark naked, as he sped away, very recently used condom between his teeth. And yes, he did swallow it.


The next morning I came into my kitchen to discover my condom, encased in poo, as if a demented Santa had arrived the night before, leaving me the thing that I least desired.


Surprise dickhead!


Of course things can always get worse. For those complainers out there, this is a fact. So best not to complain. In this case, it got worse although it wasn't really all that serious. Of course my sister and her husband may have disagreed. For it was they who came home one evening to find that the dog who I left in their charge as I moved across North America had registered his displeasure with them by taking a big shit in their bed.


Surprise assholes! Quit your jobs and never leave me alone again!
-----------------------------------------------------------------------


So, camp finally opens and it looks to be a duller affair then last year.

This is a good thing.

The number of players who surprise coming out of camp to make the team is usually inverse to the success the team will have. We're not going to see some kid or washed up vet suddenly show up in the top four on the blueline for the Wings. Nobody is going to come out of the ether to play beside Henrik and Pavel.

Remember the Oilers three autumns ago? That club was pretty much set going into camp and very little changed. Veterans up and down the lineup and the results reflected this.

The following year the real surprise was that Lowe did not shore up the blueline at all. Once that was established then the lineup looked pretty set. Patrick Thoresen was the only guy who came out of nowhere. Now the year was a total failure of course but if Hejda had gotten his crack earlier and Staios and Tjarnqvist had stayed healthy things may have been a little better.

Now last season pretty well everything got turned on its head but after the collapse that followed the Smyth trade there was a lot up for grabs and rightly so. Some organizations say it but they do not follow through. Last year the Oilers did both. Gagner, Cogliano and Brodziak all made the club at the expense of guys like Pouliot and Carter and on the blueline Tom Gilbert got his reward for a strong camp and Smid was sent down. These guys came in, had an opportunity and took advantage.

Good for them because going into this season last fall's surprises are this year's shoo-ins and this team has a distinctly 2005 feel to it. Not in terms of being a possible contender (they are not) but for the fact that there are few spots open for the taking and the ones that are happen to be on the back end of the roster.

Write in ink the following for roster spots up front - Horcoff, Hemsky, Cole, Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Penner, Pisani, Brodziak, Moreau, Stortini

On the back end - Visnovsky, Gilbert, Staios, Souray, Grebeshkov, Strudwick

Two guys who should make it are Pouliot and Smid, as long as they perform up to expectations and nobody passes them by. If they do that leaves an extra forward spot or two, depending on the goaltending.

And even those guys competing for that extra spot or two seem to be pretty clearcut - Potulny, Schremp and Brule are the frontrunners now that Jacques looks to be done. All three of these guys certainly have to be motivated and I would think we will see excellent camps from all of them.

So is there anyone out there who might sneak in there if someone falters or injuries hit? Here's a short list - Liam Reddox, Bryan Lerg, who showed well in the rookie games, Theo Peckham, who has Smid's job in his sights, and my darkhorse, coming from a long long way back, Ryan O'Marra. Likely an injury on the backend means Peckham gets a shot if he shows well in camp. Up front Reddox is the guy whose skillset fits that bottom end energy role.

Boring but boring is okay this year. If Eberle or Chorney were to come out of nowhere the reality is that that would mean that this team is lousy.

We don't want another season that is the equivalent of coming home and finding a giant turd in our collective beds.

Right? Right. No surprise is good.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bucket List


This is the big fellow looking for raccoons. Seriously. He spends a good part of his day and night obsessing about them.
A lot of the big old trees on our street have been cut down over the past few years because of disease. Its a crying shame because from our house you can see the canopy that starts at the foot of the street and spreads out over the neighbourhood. Its beautiful. The grandaddy of them all happens to be in our neighbour's back yard. From the park one street over you can see it towering over the near century old homes. It makes for a lot of raking in the fall. And right near the base of it raccoons love to rest, day and night.
Toronto raccoons have nothing to do with their tiny little wild brothers. They are monstrous waddling obscenities. I may as well take my compost and dump it in the alley beside my house for all the good the city issued bin does in keeping them out. Geniuses distributed tens and tens of thousands of these things - they stop raccoons like the Polish cavalry stopped the Panzers. Not very effectively.
Now while I may dislike these scavengers the big fellow hates them. The title of this blog refers to skunks and truth be told its a misnomer. He has had run ins with skunks, four in total, and the first three ended badly for him and for me, but for skunks he has respect and likely a little fear. The fourth time he saw one he noted his presence about fifteen feet away and veered hard left after his opening move. Good thing because I had no tomato juice in the house at the time.
But raccoons? He hates the fuckers. He will sense that they are beside our house and pace the length of it snarling. He hears them fighting in the trees and prays to his canine God for wings to join the fray. If he could talk he would utter the following five sentences immediately:
1/ Cut off my nuts, will ya? Tit for tat - give me those garden shears.
2/ Jesus all these years and you never had the courtesy to give me a beer! Come on!
3/ Woof. Woof.
4/ I'm going to go find myself a snoodle. Don't wait up wanker.
5/ Enough of this chicken flavoured cereal. Give me some raccoon stew, you little prick.
Unlike the skunks he's had better luck with the coons. After a year of going mental as coons climbed trees, walked on the hydro wires and slept about fifteen feet from him overlooking our yard, we were walking in a nearby ravine in February and there happened to be a little bugger sleeping in a tree. Problem for the coon is that the snow was deep and he was only about four feet above the ground. So the big guy goes bounding through the snow, gets to the base of the tree, jumps up and bites the coon in the ass. A rude awakening.
He then comes up out of the ravine with a big shit eating grin, whips out a little notebook and crosses out "Bite raccoon" on his 'Things to Do Before I Die' list.
Before you say anything, its a fairly extensive list, and he has managed to do most of it. Getting into the garbage. Check. Taking a big crap on owner's sister's bed. Check. Humping owner's leg. Check.
And since then he has two more successes with his foes, a lot more involved ones at that. He has caught two of the buggers - knocked one off of a fence by slamming into it - and has torn them up pretty good. If he were to pass on tomorrow he would be a pretty happy pooch. He's had a good life.
Personally I haven't a bucket list. I have a beautiful family, which is really all a man can ask for. When I was young I sowed my wild oats, as they say, no regrets there. I have travelled, not to everywhere that I want to go, but I have been across Canada and to Ireland, Scotland and England. Spent some time in Dublin and London. A lot more to see and hopefully I will get to see it.
And when it comes to sports I have been pretty lucky. I remember a few years back before the White Sox won the Series reading that the odds of neither the Cubs or Sox winning all of those years was five thousand to one. Imagine! Of course the White Sox have won it all now. And the Red Sox too. But for Cubs and Indian fans the suffering continues. And imagine being a fan of the Canucks or the Kings? Jesus, not even past glories to hitch your wagon to.
As for me I have seen all I have wanted to see with only one exception. Ironically the sport that I care about the least has been most successful for me, with six Bulls' titles in the 90s. The Bears won in '85. In baseball there were back to back wins for the Jays. Even Tottenham Spurs won honours last year, after only a few years of being my team. And in hockey, 2002 was the pinnacle for me as Canada won gold in Salt Lake City. I wept tears of joy, I kid you not. Add in the other international successes, the World Juniors, the Canada and World Cups (I saw a whack of the '91 Canada Cup, including the semifinal win over Sweden, live) and everything I have ever wanted in sports has come true for me.
With one exception. Of course, its only the biggest one. Stanley.
I loved the Oilers' dynasty but they were my second team. I loved the way that they played. The genius of Gretzky, the brutish snarling Messier, the sublime sniper Kurri, the pest Tikkanen and the weird stickman Anderson, the underrated D and the cool Fuhr. A terrific team, by my estimation the greatest ever. Each year I cheered for them to take it all. Once Chicago was out.
Wirtz killed my love for the Hawks but it was nine years after the Oilers' last Cup that I changed my stripes, so to speak, nine years too late to claim a Cup as my own.
Forty years and my team has never won the Stanley.
God, if you love me, and all that is holy, you will get this done. And soon.
Thank you.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Happy New Year!


Reading Fever Pitch again. I have a decent little library and I do my best to reread what I have when I can but as a general rule its a few years between reads for most of it. A few exceptions - a couple of hockey antholgies (Riding On The Roar of The Crowd), short story collections, especially the Hemingway stuff, a Michael Collins biography ...
Fever Pitch I read every year. Brilliant stuff and as I have become more of a soccer fan over the years I have come to enjoy it even more. Today on the subway read a section where Hornby talks about how a year to him is not January 1st to December 31st but rather from August (season begins) to May (season ends).
Until I left home to come to Toronto for school I had the traditional view of what constituted a year. University changed that. Life began to revolve around two times - September and April. Other then the long beautiful summers these were my two favourite times of year.
September marked the end of summer and the return to school and Toronto. Hockey training camps opened and the NFL season began. Baseball pennant races came to a head and then the playoffs and World Series followed. Summer flings ended and new possibilities arose. And I was a terrible student so September generally began eight months of heavy drinking, spending the money I earned the previous summer (I had a terrific summer job and put myself through five years of university on the back of it) and finding different ways to avoid going to class.
April, on the other hand, was welcomed for different reasons. School, such as it was, was ending and the annual scramble to write papers and exams and try to eke out a C in course after course barely attended would always test ones ingenuity. Hockey season ended and the playoffs began. And it began to get warm. Opening day would arrive and the promise of summer with it. I remember many days spent on patios putting off the inevitable paying of the piper.
I spent a number of years after school putting off the reality of adulthood but the rhythm of school never really left me. In my life the Tuesday after Labour Day is New Year's Day and as I get older I find this impulse has become stronger rather then weaker. I take the majority of my vacation over the summer and the pace at work and in the city slows through July and August. My oldest daughter started her second year of school this year and so of course the cycle has begun again. My own winter hockey season is starting this weekend after a month off of the ice. And while baseball no longer holds as much sway over me as it once did I still follow the pennant races and watch the playoffs when I can. The NFL bores me now but soccer has replaced it and September marks the beginning of the season and tournaments in England and in Europe.
And of course there is hockey. While I have read terrific posts like this, this and this and of course LT and Jonathan Willis have provided their usual quality shit I frankly wish they'd just get on with it and drop the fucking puck already. I'm ready for some hockey. I like the stats and what they tell me but every thread this summer seems to turn into a schoolyard brawl with the lack of respect, name calling and snotty noses one might expect from a bunch of five year olds.
Similar stuff going on over at Lowetide's where any post he makes brings on a tide of mockery and negativity, as commenters slag the blogger and each other with an astounding lack of civility.
Truly amazing. Things have changed and not for the better I am afraid.
So bring on the New Year and with it the Oilers. I can't wait to see if the kids can pick up where they left off, if Penner's improved conditioning helps him become the player we hope he can be. I want to see Horcoff back in uniform, doing the things that have established him as a top centre int his league. I want to see Hemsky continue to grow into a star, to see Gilbert play the game so beautifully, with smarts and skill. I look forward to Cole's and Visnovsky's debuts and the grit of Staios and the underrated, forever underrated, Fernando Pisani who plays hockey the way it is meant to be played. Will Brodziak take a bigger role? Will Pouliot or Jacques or *gasp* both establish themselves as bonafide NHLers? Can Souray and Moreau make it out of camp in one piece?
New Year's Day is funny. Its all about expectations really. Two years ago we were on a high and the ensuing disaster was crushing. A year ago we expected the worst and the modest successes of our club brought everyone to their feet. This year expectations are mixed.
I think a healthy Oilers' team will be in the mix but it will be the years to follow which will be our years. I can't wait though. I can't wait to watch some goddamn hockey.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Oh So Brady!


One game into the American Foozball season and everything rests on an MRI - if it comes out badly for Mr. Bundchen then its wide open and all hell is going to break loose. In today's Globe Stephen Brunt summed it up as he explained how the Buffalo Bills, once resigned to fighting for a wildcard, suddenly see a wide open horizon.

Imagine what New England fans are feeling today.

Meh, fuck them. They can't complain after the run they've had.

The cap in the NHL has changed things drastically as well. I remember Detroit running out a power play with more salary then some entire payrolls. There was the year that they had Joseph, Hasek and Legace on their roster. And of course they and others would load up on veterans at the trading deadline to stave off the inevitable injuries that would come in the playoffs. I recognize that the success that the Wings had all of those years started with excellent drafting and development (if spending bought you Cups then the Leafs and Rangers would have a lot more to show for the prelockout years then absolutely nothing) it certainly helped that they had the wherewithal to pay those players when they had to.

Nowadays one or two injuries can break your season. The Oilers have had quite the run in that department the last two years and here's hoping this year is not a repeat. Strangely enough the Oilers are actually in better shape then most of their rivals when it comes to weathering a possible injury storm. Actually after two years of poor results (much of it self inflicted), the Oilers must look around the Northwest and realize that opportunity is coming just at a time when the Oilers youth may be peaking.

May be being the operative phrase. A concussion here, a blown knee there and all of this youth movement will go to naught but lets try and stay positive here. The Oilers' kids certainly make it easy to do so. Look at the youth in place and in the pipeline and compare it with the Flames or the Canucks. Hard times are coming over our most hated foes.

With the departure of the last two veteran centres on the roster Shawn Horcoff becomes far more valuable and if he or Hemsky were to go down for any period of time this team would take a hit. Compare this possibility to what would happen to Calgary if Iginla were hurt or Vancouver if Luongo went down. Truth is that would be it for either team. The Canucks are one case but the Flames are another - a lack of depth up front or on the back end is going to hurt them. The year they went to the final they had effective cheap players up and down the roster - some young, some not, but much like the Blues did at the beginning of the decade they replaced some of those younsters with some big names and big salaries. Tanguay was a good move but then they soured him on the club last season. As for some of the other players who have been moved out you would have to ask a Flames' fan what his or her thoughts are. Taken one by one the moves may have merit or appear reasonable but as a whole its a recipe for disaster.
Indeed as an Oilers' fan its difficult to not look around the division and conference and hope that the stars may be aligning for a run shortly. In Vancouver there are questions about Luongo's happiness and the agent for the Sedins is making noise about gigantic contracts for the twins and apparent unhappiness with the removal of Nonis. In Calgary a dearth of young talent and the possible decline of Kiprusoff are talking points. The Avs are going to See Joe Sakic move on soon and the Wild may see Gaborik do the same. Add to that the aging of Ducks' Selanne, Niedermeyer and Pronger and the eventual retirement of Nick Lidstrom and a fan of the Copper and Blue can see that smart moves and some luck could propel Edmonton into the position of a contender quickly.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Like A Drink By The Fire On A Winter's Night


Here's Fernando scoring against Calgary.


Last winter in December my folks were storm stayed for a day during one of our many 'Storms of The Century' last winter here in Toronto.

Weather and illness - the new Communism!

Now Dad brings just enough beer to last whenever they come down so Sunday afternoon all that we had in the old 50s beer fridge was a load of Guinness as well as a few other stouts. Dad's not a fan of the good stuff - tastes like wood he says.

So midafternoon and we're antsy so we decide to head out on a little beer run. My Mom didn't pay us any mind, she's used to this, but my wife of course figured us to be mental. Its was actually a pretty decent storm - there'd be no driving down the Danforth - but we're Northerners. Dad was born in the Soo and raised mostly in Franz where he spent most winter days skating on the lake. He and his brothers also used to hop trains and jump off them into snowbanks. True story. And I'm Sudbury through and through.

Little snow and ice isn't going to stop us from drinking damnit!

We headed out and slogged for about a half hour on what is normally a fifteen minute walk. Got to the beer store. Across from the beer store - The Hargrave pub.

Needing a breather and a little warmth we headed in and had a couple of pints by the fire. We weren't the only people there - one fellow at the end of the bar fell off his stool he was so loaded. The bartender called a cab and hustled your man into it. No harm done.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Fernando Pisani is that pint I drank last December. He comes to me and comforts me in the dead of winter.

San Fernando, the hometown boy, the hero from 2006, impregnator of Andy Grabia, patron saint of lost causes, the Oilers' Everyman, a guy who showed true courage (not the phony stuff we get inundated with) battling health issues last year, is back and healthy this season. And this is important. Matt Fenwick, terrific guy and closet Oilers' fan, has been (weakly) arguing the Flames' case, saying that there's no way the Oilers can make up the gap in the standings between the two teams. Now the Flames have lost Tanguay and Huselius and Nolan and replaced them with Cammelleri and Bertuzzi while the Oilers have added Cole and Visnovsky and have a bunch of kids who logically will be better then last year. The Flames will be worse. The Oilers will be better. Plus they have their trump card.

They have Pisani and a healthy Pisani is going to make this team a whole lot better. Its no coincidence that two years ago Stoll played his best hockey with Pisani on his wing or that his arrival last season kickstarted the kids. He is the guy who does the little things that win hockey games and he is back.

Guy is an outscorer at ES while playing the opposition's heavies, a top notch penalty killer and seven less PP goals total then Todd Bertuzzi over the last three years ( at a third of the price).

I remember listening to one of his first games back last season (it may have been his first) and how, as the Oilers protected a third period lead, his name came up over and over again, killing penalties, breaking up plays, getting the puck out, doing the little things right. It was late in the third when the announcer paused after another great play by Fernando, chuckled and then remarked how great it was to have him back.

A true mastabatory moment for Oiler fans everywhere.

Now, Matt may be right and the Flames may finish ahead of the Oilers one last time but the second half of the season was a different story for the Oilers last year from the first half when it was Bettman points or nothing. Kiprusoff may rebound and Keenan may finally give Lombardi a chance (that I have never ever gotten) and the Flames may get lucky with injuries once again but is it just me or has half of the Flames roster passed through waivers this summer?

People speak about Lowe getting a pass but what about Sutter?

Should be fun.