Saturday, October 31, 2009

Its Scary Out There


Work this past week was brutal and vicious and I’d stagger in the door exhausted and worn down to a useless nub. I’m pretty good at leaving the work at work but this week was tougher than most when it came to that. It was Wednesday night though that it all turned for the better as the boy dragged me downstairs to play some hockey. I cracked open a Guinness (and let me just express my delight at the Guinness ads now on the site) and he took some shots on me and I took some shots on him and then he exclaimed that it was time for a game.

And I’ll be the Oilers and you’ll be the Oilers. We’ll be the Oilers and you will pass it to me and I will shoot.

He already wants the damn puck.

So we did a little bit of this and then I told him to try and put one top corner and he had no idea what I was talking about so I grabbed the ball and began to fire it at the net.

A couple of weeks ago I scored the prettiest goal of my life but last week was more the McLean signature game. I’ve always been more of a playmaker. I was covering for our Dman and the puck got chipped into our zone and I skated back, gathered it up and then hit the same Dman I was covering for, in full stride, at the opposing blueline from our slot. He skated in and scored and we were on our way. A while later we were scrambling around their net and the puck squirted behind the icing line. I gathered it and backhanded it into the mess in front and it bounced off of their goalie’s skate and in. As a guy who once scored in two consecutive games from behind the net it was same old same old.

Just don’t ask me to raise the puck.

So here we go, top corner, and I miss the net, bottom corner, hit the post, middle of the net, bottom corner, opposite bottom corner. Finally I figure I’m holding back and so I fire one and the ball whistles across the room, hitting my liquor cabinet, missing shattering all of my pint glasses by six inches.

Whereupon the boy retrieves the ball, steps back about ten feet from the net and rifles it under the crossbar, right at the right post.

Some have it. Some don’t.

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

Dustin Penner has it and he has it good right now. Derek Zona was the guy last year who would post Penner’s underlying numbers constantly, showing that wherever he was in the lineup became an immediately stronger place. I understood what Derek was saying but I looked at the big man and, like everyone, saw a guy who was only scratching the surface. He might have nice underlying numbers but to me it was an anomoly.

I’m not a full out numbers guy. I look at them to help me gain a better understanding of the game but I don’t swear by them. Of course even the guys who the ‘watch the game’ crowd sneer at, the real math guys, generally see a lot more when they watch the game than your man who calls for Tom Gilbert or Shawn Horcoff to be traded after every shift. I've watched games with Tyler Dellow and have conversed enough with guys like Vic and RiversQ and Derek and Bruce McCurdy to recognize that they know a hell of a lot about hockey. They pick up on a lot more shit than all of your guys who figure Dion Phaneuf for a Norris trophy candidate or Rob Schremp for a fifty goal man in waiting.

Penner is an interesting case though. When he was hired by the Oilers there were a lot who thought it was a poor move, given the cost. What I found interesting and always find difficult are the observers who do not believe that a player can get better. They look at the past and ignore the fact that in some cases the indicators are not always right. In Penner's case the past numbers were not really promising.

Now I did not like the Penner move. I liked the Vanek attempt but I did not think much of the Penner sheet. In my first view of Penner in the 2006 playoffs he awed and terrified me, a huge man with great hands who gave the Oilers fits whenever he was cycling deep in their zone. His following season though he left me indifferent, despite his twenty nine goals.

A lot of folks point to the coaching change and of course it didn’t hurt, I guess, but its not like Penner walked into camp, Quinn told him a story about going over the top at Vimy and the light suddenly went on. Quinn had an open mind, for sure, but Penner’s improvement is almost all Penner, one hundred percent. He came into camp in excellent shape and he got off to a good start and he is playing with confidence and enthusiasm. I’d like to say that I am still not convinced and that we’ll look again at Christmas and talk then before we pronounce that he has arrived but the fact is that he is dominating games. He is charging the net and defencemen are bouncing off of him and he is dunking in those three footers. Whichever line he plays with suddenly takes off. He was the cure for Hemsky and now it looks like he may be jump starting Horcoff.

Of course the Oilers’ problem is one we figured all along. The wave of injuries and illness on the blue has hurt badly of course but in the end the lack of depth up front is killing them. If Pisani is Pisani then things will get better but it’s a tell that we need Ryan Stone back to add a guy who knows where to go when the good guys don’t have the puck. The kids got filled against the Wings, hell it was a gong show whenever the big line wasn’t out there.

They might get by if Pisani is OK and if Stone is OK and when the D get back. They’ll probably win a few more than they lose, I think. There’s some quality on this club. But the Detroits and Chicagos expose them badly.

They don't have enough guys who have it, at least not yet. Guys like Gagner and Cogliano and maybe even Jacques will someday be able to do the job at this level but they're not ready yet.

They still need help up front. In a big way.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jesus Murphy


So much for skyrockets in flight and afternoon delights, huh?

Back in a far happier time, that is, Saturday afternoon, we were hanging about the house, the junior clansmen and I, the wife being at work for the weekend (two twelve hour shifts - she doesn't even see the kids).

I was prepping for my one connection to sanity, the weekly Capsule game.

(As an aside after this summer's debacle its been a fine start to the season for old Capsule, emphasis on old, after an opening loss there have been five straight wins between the two leagues. I've played four games, have two goals, three assists and have not been on the ice for a single goal against. Put me in coach, I'm ready to play. Add a little veteran crust to that fourth line. Hell I'll sit on the bench, get beat up by McGrattan and spend my three or four minutes of icetime scrambling around. You bet. And I'll do it for half of what MacIntyre gets paid too.)

Anyhow, I was a couple of hours away from gametime and I was doing my usual pregame routine, visualizing not pulling anything, doing some lunges in the kitchen, when the baby wandered by.

Now I rarely talk about our youngest because frankly babies are boring. I enjoy them but until they start to motor around they don't have a lot of cachet with me. My wife is the opposite, she LOVES babies. I love making them. Then I can do without until they are ten months old or so.

So the baby is no longer a baby. Fifteen months old and she is the most mental of the three (mentallest???) and that is saying a lot. Follow her around and we're talking climbing on the furniture, including the dining room table, emptying the TV cabinet of DVDs, dismantling the shoe rack, dumping the dog's water dish, exploring the garbage, abusing her older siblings, demanding (and I do mean demanding) food and drink ... you get the picture.

So she saunters by with a smirk and I pause and then keep on with my pregame workout and about a half minute later I hear a roar.

JESUS MURPHY!

Its the boy. He's picked up some language from his old man. That's my phrase of choice when I'm frustrated with my loyal subjects, its not that bad, right? Not as bad as a few weeks ago when some fucker on a bike ran a red light and almost mowed us down as we crossed the Danforth. I'm a paranoid when it comes to red lights so when it goes red I always wait until everyone stops before I step out or pull out into the intersection. So here I am with my three kids and I look and I look and I step out and then buddy rips through, right in front of us.

I stop, count the kids and say, quite clearly, dazed by your man's complete and utter stupidity.

Fucking cocksucker.

So we'll know where they picked that up from the first time they say it.

So I walk into the living room and my oldest is laughing her head off (she is trouble, big trouble that one), the baby is cackling and the boy is staring in horror at the diaper, completely full of stinky yellow shit, that has been deposited in his lap.

Good times.

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

Oh what a difference four days makes, Saturday evening the Oilers were on top of the world, having dispatched the BJS on Thursday with such elan that we were breaking out the Bananarama and Dexy's Midnight Runners, oh baby the 80s are back! And the flu ridden lot of them came back from their little trip oh and two and then last night they stumbled and now Detroit and Boston are on the horizon and folks are talking about trading the whole lot of the sorry bums, again.

Brownlee was right.

Lets put it this way - this club, we will all agree, has holes in it. Now it had a good start to the season, some folks pointed at some luck to it but the fact is that they played nine games where the results were good and the team basically played well. Now as those nine games wore on the injury list grew from Pisani and Pouliot to include Souray and Staios and then Stone.

So you have Strudwick and Chorney playing. A lot. Anyone think this is good? And your depth chart at LW is Penner and then a bunch of schmucks. Of course some might say that's the case even if they are healthy.

And then Hemsky, Brule, Comrie, Gilbert, Lubo, Smid, Jacques and Penner, that we know of, contracted the flu.

And apparently there are at least four other players with it (source TSN).

Ever have the flu? Even a twenty four hour variety? How about one that laid you up for days? How well do you think you would be able to play sports while suffering from it?

I'm not worried yet. The players dropped a big stinky one in our lap these last few days and part of me thinks management did the same to us this summer but I won't worry about this club until everyone is up and at them.

When they are if the mess remains then I might want to drop a stinky turd somewhere but until then me no worry!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Skyrockets In Flight


NHL network is having a free preview this month and so I've gotten the opportunity to watch a lot of Oilers' hockey. Its been a lot of fun and its also become quite clear that its a good thing that I'm not subscribing to CI. Oilers' hockey at my fingertips every night would be a hard pill for the wife to swallow and likely it would be a gateway drug; soon I'd be checking out the rest of the NW, the Pens, the Wings, the Hawks, the Caps ... I'd end up watching TV in a ravine somewhere inside my very large cardboard box. Me and Winters. In the winter.

I have to say that I haven't enjoyed an Oilers' game as much as Thursday's night game since June 17th 2006. What a terrific show they put on, rallying from three goals down against a seriously quality club in the BJs. Just fantastic stuff. After that game they were tied for first in goals per game in the league. Hard to believe.

Easier to believe that they give up goals pretty easily too.

Now I am generally a glass half full and then fill it up again please type guy but three years of losing and management follies had left me pretty sour come this season. I've said all along that I'll be happy to eat crow if I am wrong and while it is early and there are some underlying trends that are a little worrisome at the same time I think I'm probably a little more positive about the Oilers than a lot in the Sphere.

The two points that many are bringing up about the Oilers' start are that they are being outshot (outcorsi'd as it were) and that their shooting percentage is not going to hold up.

Now the latter point is correct of course but I think it is important to note that the Oilers are getting into the places where it is a lot easier to score. You can have your Jason Blakes of the world lofting thirty five foot wrist shots and then your percentage will drop as your shot totals rise but the Oilers for the most part are scoring their goals from right on the doorstep.

What am I arguing? Well, this % will likely drop but the way the Oilers go to the net I'm thinking that they are going to continue to score a lot of goals. Its not like Penner has been scoring Moreaus, caroming pucks in from sixty feet out. He's slamming them in from a few feet out.

As for the whole outshooting issue, well yes its been happening but by my eye only the Chicago game was one that the Oilers truly deserved to lose. More importantly they have been getting outchanced but for the most part the discrepancy has been pretty reasonable. Using Dennis' work we can see that in nine games so far the Oilers have outchanced the opposition at EVs three times, been outchanced five times and have been even once. And one of the games they were outchanced by one. Getting outchanced by small margins (once per period say) means that you are in the game.

Now Tyler has just argued that the shots are the thing and he may be right (I think that this week may be a tough one for sure) but he admits that he hasn't seen many games (he has been on trial in K/W and now has been deported apparently ;) ) and I think that being outshot is one thing but being outchanced and outplayed is another.

By my eye the Oilers have not been particularly lucky and actually had quite a bit of bad luck early on.

Now I am certainly not over the moon yet and I think come the spring it will be the usual battle for a playoff spot. There are still too many holes up front but ....

For all of the naysayers there should also be some consideration that this club has been pounded by injuries and illness. Pisani has not played yet. Souray and Staios have been out and Chorney and Strudwick playing in their place. Stone, who has proven a fairly useful role player has gone down. Flu has knocked Brule from the lineup and Hemsky too. Horcoff is clearly not 100%.

Now how different does this club look with a few more of those guys at one hundred percent?

Oh well we will see how things go. As I said I am thinking that this week might be a bad one and all of the enthusiasm from Thursday will degenerate into the usual stupidity where wholesale trades and demotions are demanded. The positives that I will be looking for this week are as follows:

Will the PK continue to provide pretty solid work?

Will the new first line, if not as dominant as Thursday, still prove to have some staying power?

Can Smid keep it up? (This is fairly straight forward - I say yes)

Can Stortini continue to contribute the solid quality that he has been providing? (Again I would say absolutely yes)

Will Khabibulin continue to provide good work in goal?

As for further questions.

Can the kids on the backend (Chorney/Peckham) hang in there or will they be exposed?

Can Horcoff and wingers X and Y provide opposition as a tough minutes line and provide some offence as well? Who will X and Y be?

Presently the lineup looks as follows:

27/89/83
X/10/Y (with X=O'Sullivan and Y=Pisani I guess?)
18/13/46
And then still a bit of a mess.

I gather that this year will have plenty of ups and downs and I think planning the parade at this point would be foolish but I also think that burying this club as a product of luck doesn't really jive with what I have seen so far.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Dublin Man Hits The Ice or How Kevin Dodd Found The Core of The Canadian Onion




In June of 2006 just as the Oilers were getting ready to take on the Hurricanes, three young men from Dublin came to Toronto to have training with our company. For two weeks they worked and then for the final week of their stay they hung out in the city.

Two of them were in their early twenties, the third about five years older. Terrific guys, all three of them, and they spent their time in Canada with the enthusiasm particular to young folks. Every night and weekend was spent doing something.

Of course I misspeak because when I was in Dublin in February of last year every moment not at work was also spent out and about. So never mind that earlier comment.

They did some touristy stuff and they did a lot of things that I have not done here in twenty years, kayaking in Lake Ontario, for example. They went out nearly every night and they went to the Falls and they did hot yoga. They came to my place for supper twice and afterwards we went to The Communist Bar for pints. On June 17th they arrived at Paupers (by the time they arrived the Oilers had the game well in hand) and when the joyous crowd roared they roared with us and afterwards we poured out into the warm night and down to the Cloak and Dagger and later into Parkdale until there wasn’t much left to us but sweaty grins after all the pints we drank.

They got to experience Toronto the way any city should be experienced, hand in hand with the locals. I was talking to a neighbour a few months ago about travelling and I compared it to an onion. The first time you go somewhere you’re seeing the outer layer. When you return a second time then you delve a little deeper and so it goes, you peel back a layer and each time you find something new and a little more interesting.

Certainly my trips to Dublin have followed this pattern. My first trip my wife and I went to the museums and the art galleries and the historical places of note. We walked about the southern side of the Liffey and we went to the Brazen Head and a few other famous pubs. We had a fine time but of course we had just scratched the surface. My second time there I stayed with one of the lads and saw fair Dublin from another side. Old dark pubs and a trip to Howth, dinners and roaming back streets and crooked alleys and drunken nights out with the Irish and a packed pub cheering on the national side in a Six Nations match at Croke Park and many hours on both sides of the Liffey just doing a wander.

A trip to remember.

Once again though I need to apologize because the whole onion comparison really makes no sense. Its not like once you have peeled back each layer of an onion, once you find the core, that you will find something delightful, like Liz Phair or a sandwich or a clitoris or a pint of stout.

You’re just going to find more onion.

Yet one of the lads found that core, the Canadian experience, something that he likely shares with, I would say, maybe a dozen of his countrymen, if that.

The men from Dublin got right into the Oilers’ run, most nights out they saw the games on TV and of course they knew that I was right into it. One of the guys had played roller hockey back home and had been ‘ice skating’ a few times in Dublin. At the time Capsule’s summer season had been in swing for a little while and actually the third day they were in country I hobbled in, recovering from the game the night before. We got to talking and he asked if it would be possible for him to get a game in with us.

Now I was skeptical given his pedigree and I certainly did not want his blood on my hands but I told him that I would check and the guy who runs our team said that he would be fine if he came out and dressed and skated around with us in the warmup. If he could actually skate then he might get a shift or two but he’d likely be parked on the bench.

Kev said he was alright with this and so I arranged for one of the guys who was going to be out of town to get me his equipment and we were all set.

We went to Bill Bolton on the Tuesday evening, this is a tiny little arena surrounded by a neighbourhood just north of Bloor Street, you park on the street, its tucked away amongst the century old brick homes and the gigantic trees. The arena is generally the temperature that it is outside and that night it was warm, as it was most of that June. The Irishman opened the bag in the tiny dressing room and stared for he had not the foggiest idea as to where he should start and so we instructed him on how to dress himself. As gametime approached it soon became clear that we were going to be short guys, that with the Dubliner we would have nine skaters, enough for two lines and three blueliners. As we heard the Zamboni rumble on its rounds our captain looked over.

Well, he said, if you can skate at all then you’re going to get to play half the game.

And when we got onto the ice it became clear that he could skate a little. And so away he went.

Luckily the team we were playing was quality but not over the top. It was a reasonable game, we lost five to two I believe, something like that and Kev did alright once he figured out where to line up on faceoffs (his first draw he was out for he was on the wrong side of the dot) and what an offside was (the first time one of our guys headed up ice with the puck he charged ahead of him excitedly, making a beeline for the net). We were killing ourselves laughing but the refs and the opposing squad were trying to figure out where we got the grown man who was playing like he had just joined the local Tykes team.

In the end he survived and he even got an assist, pushing the puck to one of our lads who stepped over the blueline and fired a shot that their goalie badly misplayed. Afterwards, as we peeled off our gear, he thanked all of us and remarked on how incredibly fit we were, that he was dying on his feet. Considering that he was 22 and was one of the fittest people I have ever seen and that we were who we were we all got a kick out of that.

And over pints afterwards in the pub around the corner from the rink he thanked me for one of the best times that he had ever had and what was, for him, the highlight of his trip here.

He'd found the heart of the onion.

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

Patrick O'Sullivan tore up the AHL a few years back and put up a pretty reasonable season for the Kings two years back but missing training camp last season seemed to send him off the rails and when he came to the Oilers at the deadline the early rejoicing at a slick deal for twenty games of Erik Cole was soon replaced by a 'here we go again' sinking feeling as O'Sullivan, like so many before him, arrived in Edmonton with pedigree but never got untracked. He looked lost for every one of his games as an Oiler and so his season, like most of his new teammates, ended in disappointment. In the summer whenever the future of the Oilers was discussed he was an afterthought, future tradebait more or less.

Along with Penner, Smid and Brule, O'Sullivan has been one of the early surprises for the Oilers this season and he seems to be getting better game after game, by my eye. He is what I like to call a player, like Gilbert, he just knows his way around the ice by my eye. He's not perfect, of course, but with a little bit more luck (at least two posts so far) he'd have four goals and he's just under a point a game. He has helped shore up what was a miserable PK. He can skate and he can win the puck battles and he's a playmaker and he doesn't stay on the perimeter and both his setup of Penner against No Longer Wild on Jack Lemaire and his goal against the Canucks came after getting up after getting knocked about a little so he's showing something in that department as well.

Its early early still but he's playing with quite a bit of confidence and one expects that he will either find his way to Hemsky's line or he will form the basis of a nice line to do some damage to the soft minutes, maybe along with Penner and Gagner.

Good stuff and good for the little man who had a pretty tough go of it as a kid.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Watery Grave


We had been back in Canada for a few weeks back in 2001 when I got invited to an old university pal’s place for some drinks. One of the old gang was back in town from BC for a couple of weeks and so a half dozen of us got together for some Thai takeout and some beers. A few of the guys had been out to my wedding on the Island just two months before but I had not seen our host or the guest of honour in years and years. The fellow whose house we got together at was the first of us to get established. Except for one other guy the rest of us had all just gotten married in the previous year. We were all still renters. None of us had kids. Your man had a daughter almost a year old, a beautiful big semi detached home in an expensive part of town, a very lucrative career and he was almost completely bald. So while the rest of us, now in our early thirties, were on the cusp of adulthood (mortgage, kids, job with responsibility) he was already long on his way, right down to the look.

It was a Thursday night and I had to work the next day, as did the rest of us, but just like old times (and this being PK – PreKids) we roared through our beers pretty quick. While the wiser amongst us were sated our buddy from away and myself were not and our host, recognizing an opportunity, decided that now was a good time to get rid of a couple of bottles of homemade white wine that his father had gifted to him. Even in our state we recognized pretty quickly that we were drinking something somewhere between battery acid and high octane gasoline (leaded) but being pretty senseless, as noted before, we managed to help a brother and clean him out.

Jumped on the subway and swayed back and forth as it zoomed south a few stops, hit St. Clair station and stumbled out into the pouring rain for the short walk back to our apartment. It was maybe a ten minute walk, if that, right through a very tony neighbourhood but like JF Jacques trying to score his first NHL goal I soon began to find what seemed inevitable (walk west for ten minutes, fumble with key, fall into bed) was actually quite impossible. I was soaked to the skin in a moment and as I tried to plant one foot before the other in the fog before my eyes and in my mind, I decided that what I might need to do is to take a short nap.

And so I laid down right on someone’s front lawn, right beside the sidewalk, a house worth millions of dollars I am sure, laying back, mouth agape, likely I would have drowned like the proverbial turkey staring up into the storm or more likely, ended up in a cell overnight, drying out. Luckily for me I wasn’t there long when someone shook me gently and asked me if I was alright.

Now I am not the sharpest dresser. In fact one time whilst sitting against a wall on Bloor Street waiting for a pal to come by and pick me up a passerby actually flipped me a loonie. Having said that I’m pretty obviously not homeless on most days and so I must have looked not like a guy down on his luck but really what I was, a young guy who was pretty full. So I staggered to my feet and said I was walking home and when he found out where I lived he walked me to my apartment building (even shielding me under his umbrella, one thing I never carry, along with a cell phone and a wristwatch) and made sure I got in the door ok.

Nice fellow, that.
---------------

Now its pretty clear that if Dustin Penner were walking home in a rainstorm and found Craig MacTavish passed out he would probably roll him into a ditch and hold him down and we all know that the feeling is most definitely mutual.

There have been many pleasant surprises so far this season. Ladislav Smid has been wonderful and while the coaching change (and just plain old experience) may have been a factor for him, isn’t it interesting to note that this is the second straight year that a young defenceman has taken a leap while getting major minutes with Lubo Visnovsky. This is a simplification of course as Grebeshkov had come on pretty well near the end of his first season with the Oilers and Smid has not been exclusively partnered with Lubo but if and when Theo Peckham or Taylor Chorney get full time employment in the NHL it might be an idea to partner them with the little Slovak waterbug.

And there is Gilbert Brule who is now at a PPG pace and who scored two goals and hit a post on Friday night, all while playing with Jacques and Stone. Of course they were also on for a GA where they were all running around like Matt Greene and Marc Andre Bergeron in spring 2006 but I think that would be expected at times. In any case Brule has had a pretty positive impact and I am pretty sure that nobody saw that coming. I certainly did not.

And Taylor Chorney has looked pretty reasonable by my eye as a fillin for the injured veterans on top of everything.

But nobody has looked as good or has been as big of a surprise as Dustin Penner.

Now it is only seven games in and seven games doesn’t suddenly make this an amazing signing as someone commented over one the game day thread on Friday night (where are all of those guys who slagged the Penner signing now was the question). Penner has always left us wanting more and even his defenders who pointed out his good underlying numbers could not defend his conditioning, his lack of urgency, his, well, laziness. If you’re making truckloads of money then showing up at camp fat and getting pushed off the puck by smaller men and essentially being a disinterested spectator for two years is completely unacceptable and the fact is that if this type of player was able to impact the underlying numbers in a positive manner as demonstrated by Derek Zona repeatedly then its all the more maddening.

I don’t think anyone expects Penner to be a vicious killer, its not in his nature, although a few more throwdowns like what he laid on Regher on opening night would certainly be welcome. But the expectation is that he should drive the net and be impossible to handle down low and that a man his size with those hands should be a guy who can be a gamebreaker, much like he was Friday night. The goal on the O’Sullivan pass was a gimme (and speaking of players little O’Sullivan is a beauty) but the play on his second goal was sublime, the rush out of his own end and the hard crossice pass to Gagner and then roaring to the net, pass his check (who could not have handled him anyway) and then the finish on the return pass (note that he roofed it too – the guy knows what to do in close) had me off the couch, cock in hand, shouting with delight.

Penner obviously came into camp determined to prove something which is wonderful but disappointing at the same time – he obviously had it in him these past two years and for whatever reason chose not to tap it. The tendency is to blame MacTavish for all of this mess and while I was no fan of the old coach last season I don’t think that relationship would have gone south if the big man had shown up from day one in the condition he is in now. MacT was always of the mind that Penner could and should be a bigger factor and it must really grate his tit to see the early returns under the new regime for his old nemesis.

Penner’s role is up in the air now, one wonders if he will be asked to kickstart the struggling duo on the top line or whether he will be expected to carry a soft minutes trio with a couple of the kids. Hard to say but he has the coach’s confidence and if he can keep it up then this club is going to look a lot better as it hits the dog days of the season, much more so than if he were a bored and listless passenger as he was so many times over the last two years. Still a long way to go but a big winger who can put the puck in the net is what this club needs more than anything, I would say, and who knew that the guy that they were looking for would be under their nose all of this time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A State Of Bliss


My beautiful boy turned four on Tuesday.

Like most who are young he is in a hurry to grow up much of the time. For some reason his frame of reference is being nine years old. When he is nine years old he will be tall. When he is nine years old he will be able to stay up. When he is nine years old he can drink coffee and beer.

Last year he wanted a pirate party and so I took the bull by the horns. I made personalized invites with little maps and messages, along the likes of "Come to the parrrrrty or ye'll be made to walk the plank", rubbing them with teabags so they got that parchment look.

The little ones came and got their faces painted and then we adjourned to the basement where I told them a tale of scurvy dogs and storm seas and pieces of eight. They boarded a merchant ship and made the crew (their dads) walk the plank and obtained a treasure map which led them on a merry hunt through the house to find their treasure.

Good times. Quality.

This year the boy took another tact. Unlike his sister who planned her party and designed her cake, he stated that he would have no party this year. Instead he wanted nobody in the house but his family and we would eat waffles and open his presents and that would be the end of it.

Which was fine with us. He's definitely his own man.
The only complication was the cake. My wife makes every birthday cake in our house from scratch. For my fortieth she made an Oilers' crest. She has made cartoon characters, a train, a treasure chest.

She asked me what I wanted this year but its unlikely to happen, she only does G rated work. Damn!

So the boy wanted Spiderman. This one was very detailed, her biggest challenge yet. We did the usual cake making dance that we always do every time she makes one of these. Early in the night:

I hope he likes it.

I'm sure he will.

If I screw it up then he will be so upset.

It will be fine. He will love it.

Late in the night she throws down the piping tool in dismay.

I can't do this. Oh my God I have ruined his birthday. Its not going to work at all.

It will be fine, you've barely even started. Its going to be great.

And of course it turned out terrific.

She slept in on Monday and the boy was up first. I was getting breakfast ready and he was loitering beside the fridge like a teenager outside a Mac's Milk before they start with the opera music.

Don't you look in that fridge, I warned him.

And so he paced back and forth, periodically requesting a look at the cake, me denying him until his mother got up. And when she finally traipsed down the stairs he rushed over and she told him to stand back and lifted the cake out of the fridge and he took a look and hugged her fiercely and repeated over and over again.

ITS GOT WORDS! ITS GOT WORDS!

For Spiderman was wishing him a happy birthday.

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

Oiler fans viewed the game against Chicago with a mixture of fear and levity. The team has been better than expected so far and Minnesota and Calgary have struggled somewhat while Vancouver has run into injuries and the expectation is that Colorado will fall back to earth.

They have been outshot and outchanced but even the shot margin in Nashville belied the game, I think. They have played fairly well and have actually had some awful luck and while the club has plenty of holes they have played a pleasing style and the results so far have probably been pretty fair.

Nearly every team has holes. Chicago really does not have many. And so here was a test against an elite club. And we fans kind of expected the worst, all the while hoping that the unexpected would happen.

The good news for the Oilers so far is that they have done reasonably well despite injuries (Souray, Pisani, Staios) and a lack of offensive production from many of their big guns (Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert, Horcoff). Plus Hemsky has really been no hell so far either.

The goaltending has been getting better. Grebeshkov has been scoring. Smid has been really quite good (there I've said it). They have had scoring from up and down the lineup, seven players with two goals or more, six players with five points or more, including a scrub (Brule), a fourth liner (Cogliano) and an afterthought (Comrie).

And so far Quinn has been able to hide the scrubeenies throughout the lineup.

Until last night.

Read the game day threads and you get the impression that this team is awfully shitty. Of course read the game day threads when this team is winning and you get the impression that this team is awfully shitty anyways. A part of me would like to think that all fans are like this but its not really the case. I've read the threads at AtoY, for example, and you certainly don't come away with the viewpoint that the majority of the club should be a) traded b) demoted c) executed in the street. Even when they win.

I made the point over at LT's last night that Chicago is a far far better club. That's just the way it is. There's no Strudwick or Chorney on the back end, although to be fair to Chorney he has done ok so far. And if Ethan Moreau belongs on the fourth line, as we all agree, then ask yourself who on the Oilers is a poorer player right now. Jacques. Stone. Brule. Probably Stortini although the kid keeps rising in my estimation.

Now apply that same test to the Hawks. Big, fast, young. Is there anyone in their forwards who is a weaker player than Moreau? Maybe Colin Fraser or Jack Skille? And as you go up the depth chart they overmatch the Oilers all the way I would say. Or close to it.They have quality right through that lineup, up and down it and so its no surprise that while the Oilers hung with them for about ten minutes it would have been a rout except for Khabibulin after that.

So its disappointing. No "ITS GOT WORDS" for us Oiler fans but no reason to slink off into the night muttering dark imprecations against anyone wearing copper and blue.

Khabibulin had a terrific game again and it looks like, so far, the goaltending might be a strength now that he has his early seaosn yips out of the way.

Smid looks to be the real deal. Think about that. The strength of this club is their D and it looks like they now have five quality blueliners, three who are still kids.

Chorney wasn't completely overmatched. Another win for procurement perhaps?

Penner is now averaging over a point per game and it may be very soon that he ends up with Horcoff and Hemsky. When Pisani returns then that will mean one more NHL player and one less scrub to hide. Its becoming pretty clear that Penner might be turning the corner in terms of results; playing him with 10 and 83 is probably what this club needs.

The problem then is that they are still short of quality forwards and they have to rejig the lines but Jacques is an anchor for the first line. It has to be done.

And one last thing. The Oilers stuck it out and nearly stole a point or two at the end and they do deserve credit for that. They did not fold up the tents when it became apparent that they were overmatched. They hung around, thanks to Khabibulin, and they came on in the end and nearly pulled the upset. Good stuff and fair play to them for that.

Chicago is quality, serious quality. And Hossa has not even suited up for them yet. I always hesitate to bury the Wings but I saw them get waxed by Buffalo the other night. Lidstrom looks to me to have lost a step and they were no match for the speedy Sabres. Its just one game but this Chicago team looks to be ready to make that leap.

So losing to them, considering? Not that big a deal really. They are going to run over most clubs on most nights I think. Better to worry about the Minnesotas and Colorados of the world right now.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

After Monday Bruce's Love Has To Be As Deep As An Ocean

Its true. Bruce did come to Stortini on a summer's breeze. I believe that he touched Zorg in a raging blizzard though, not the falling rain. I wasn't there but I heard about it one time when I was at this bar. Or did I read about it in Hello!

Can't remember.

Anyhow, congrats to Bruce, we know how proud you must be. A fine moment for Bruce Jr. Here's hoping for many more.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A La King, Larry, Not Dennis


Thanksgiving Monday and the house is quiet, everyone is asleep. Except the three kids, the dog and me.

Tomorrow is going to be awful at work so chances of banging something out (banging, heh) are slim to none, so in the style of Larry King, Mike Lupica, Steve Simmons and Bruce Garrioch here is a quick list of thoughts for you to read with your morning coffee before you go back to bed with your girlfriends, you goddamn punks.

Keeping in mind that it is, as we know, still early.

I hate his contract still (although apparently there is an out) but if Khabibulin plays like he did on Saturday for sixty games then the Oilers will be fine for sixty games. Guy just always seems to be in position, he makes it look easy. And his demeanour inspires confidence...Still that minor question of his backup though, I guess we'll get to see JDD pretty soon, not really looking forward to that...With Hemsky's performance Saturday I think we can say that he has woken up finally...I love Shawn Horcoff, always have, but he does need to produce some offence at some point, he just does...With JFJ its all confidence, me thinks, and if he gets rolling I believe that he could be a surprise, I know I'm in the minority here, he did produce in the minors though, its not like he's coming out of nowhere, I think when he's on the ice, btw, the other clubs is quite aware, my God the size of him...O'Sullivan's goal on Saturday was all Ryan Stone, the kid knows what he is doing out there and while he may slide down the depth chart at some point I think he could be a solid guy to fill out the bottom six for a while, he's smart, always in position, puck comes up his wing and its out of the zone everytime...Comrie is reborn, good health and your career on the line might do these things...Looks like Sam Gagner might be becoming an NHLer in every way...Cogliano, on the other hand, could use some linemates with a little more offensive skill I think...Lady Smid has emerged, not a moment too soon...Brule is a little sizzle but not much else, if they waive him he'll get picked up for sure but colour me unimpressed really...Arrows pointing the right way so far for a lot of the Oilers' prospects - Eberle, Cornet, MPS and the Finn all having nice starts, the college guys to come...Springfield apparently has issues however...O'Sullivan's game on Saturday hasn't changed my mind about the guy, good skater and playmaker, hard on the puck...Dustin Penner was meh again, second game in a row, but I'd like to see him with Cogliano, good for both I'd say...I like Grebs but would prefer if he were a little less of a gambler, that goal at the end of the second started with Brule but where was Grebs - I mean 2 on 1?, now does that happen?...Steve Staios has always had a lot of try, unfortunately that's about all he has left, I think he and Moreau may get the Gator treatment next summer...When Pouliot returns MacIntyre is a goner but what happens when Fernando comes back? That's when a tough decision will have to be made...Oiler PK actually shut the door on Saturday but it may have just been the Habs' ineptitude...actually all of Saturday may have been.

That's all I've got for now folks, have to go, I smell gasoline, the dog is whimpering and the baby just walked by with a lighter. Enjoy the rest of the long weekend!

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Girl From The Valley, Bob Rae and The Road Trip


Come September of 1990 I had long settled in to my academic routine. I was an awful student in University, the scholastic Daniel Cleary, pulling extraordinary marks in high school all the while doing little hard work to get them. When I got to Toronto it soon became clear, to me, that I lacked discipline. I soon fell into a routine very early on, skipping classes, putting off the work I had to do, spending my days and nights wandering the city, checking out record and book shops, eating at cheap diners, chasing women and drinking. Always always drinking.

Despite this I still managed to eke out cees, sometimes sneaking up into the bees when a course engaged my interest a little bit.

Terrible student. My God I pray my kids are like my wife and not like me when it comes to that.
So that September I rolled on out of Sudbury Labour Day weekend after another glorious summer, lean and brown and flush with cash, down the narrow winding highway, through the little towns with long French names, past the reserves, surrounded by granite and spruce and cold water, down past Parry Sound, Georgian Bay somewhere to my right, unseen, looming, and then four lanes finally, give her the gas down past Barrie and through the Holland Marsh, black stinking soil, through farmers’ fields now swallowed up by the suburbs and into the vast engulfing city. One night later I was drinking beer and getting high underneath a black black sky with a girl from the Catholic college, blue blue eyes, long brown hair, black surrounding us, in the distance the raucous party we were escaping, lights and laughter and later, warm sweetness in a dark room, my God.

The next day one of my best friends came down from Sudbury. Late in the summer we had decided to road trip into western Ontario for this week, visiting friends wherever said road might take us. So this night, a Wednesday (how I remember this will become clear in a moment), we kicked things off by getting ploughed in the big city with my gang. The next morning we rose early and unaffected, for the most part, by our previous night. Ah, to be young again! We hit the highway and pulled into Waterloo where we met up with two friends from the Valley who were going to school there. Can’t remember exactly if they were at Waterloo or Laurier or one at each – it’s a little hazy. We began drinking early and had a good one going as we watched in stunned disbelief as Bob Rae, against all odds, became premier of a majority government. Bemused we listened to one of the guys rant that this was it for Ontario and as soon as he finished school the next spring he was out of here. (he kept his word, moving to Thailand and then ending up in the States, where he still remains, even the elevation of Mike Harris and then Stephen Harper failing to budge him from his high dudgeon)

I don’t remember much about that night or the following two nights for that matter except that our little band of merry wanderers included at least two others. My best friend, who was at Laurier, met us that night and then came with us the next day to London and then back to Waterloo on the Saturday. And joining us in London for the last leg was a girl.

She was a tiny perfect French Canadian girl from the Valley, as the area north of Sudbury was called. Her long brown hair was curly and she had a brilliant smile and sparkling eyes and a gymnast’s body, tight and sweet. She was a student in London and joined us there to hang out with her buddies and take part in the festivities, the feminine in a beer drinking, farting, cock comparing, loud boisterous crew of young perverted men, arrogant and on top of the world. There were hints of a relationship just ended and a broken heart but she was joyful and laughing and she filled out our gang and made it perfect. That night in London we started out at another Sudbury house with a bunch of friends and we hit it hard, ending up in some bar somewhere, closing the place, staggering back to crash, reeking of booze and cigarettes and the stale stink of roadtrip.

The next morning we arose from our sleeping bags and couches and tramped down to our cars, us three old friends in one, the folks from the Valley in another and as we wound our way back east along old concession roads (why we did this instead of the 401 I don’t recall) I found that I was falling hard for the girl from the Valley, as I was wont to do in those days. We stopped for breakfast or coffee or some damn thing and I remember ducking my head in the window to catch a glimpse and laughing with her as she sat crosslegged barefoot on the back seat and as we pulled out and followed them I could see her in through the back window of the car in front of us and I had it bad.

That night we stayed in, having a good old fashioned house party, stumbling about drunkenly, raving and roaring and at some point late in the evening we found ourselves alone, an evening of flrting behind us and it became clear that the feelings were mutual and so when all had quieted down we found a dark and silent room and locked the door and shared a sleeping bag, keeping each other warm.

The following three weekends I made the pilgrimage up to London on Friday afternoon, coming back to Toronto on the Sunday. It was nice and easy and the days together laughing and the nights so wonderful and I was over the top and then she was coming to visit me and the night before she was coming she called and that was it. Mysterious but blunt. It was over.

Later I found out that the old flame had returned and had seen the error of his ways and she took up with him again, I certainly don’t blame him and I didn’t blame her either. I was sad but it was a beautiful month, I’ll tell you. It could have been worse. I could have been my buddy who went back to Sudbury, not feeling well, going to the doctor to find that he was suffering from alcohol poisoning after a week of drinking.

Or I could have been Bob Rae. Or, some wags would say, his subjects.

-----------------------------
Last night’s game was a fun trip, just like the game last Saturday and the game on Tuesday and like Saturday’s game it ended badly after a wonderful ride.

No wonder Pat Quinn is steamed, they could be in first place in the division at 2-0-1 or 3-0 and instead they have coughed up at least two points and on top of that have given those points to Calgary, who might be 3-1 or 2-1-1 instead of that nice 4-0 they are currently sporting. Even more galling is that it has been the veterans who have made the killer mistakes at the end of each game. Last night they got the guys they wanted out there and they still kacked it up.

We knew there were going to be days like these and at the very least the club is playing an entertaining, no holds barred type of game. A commenter at Lowetide’s said yesterday that the club is playing like those pre 2006 clubs. The bad news is that those clubs always fell short. The good news is that they never left us feeling cheated.

So its going to be one of those years I think. There are going to be times where we’re going to be feel like we’re getting kissed all over by the sweetest most beautiful girl we’ve ever met, outside the world dark and silent, that lovely moment of grace.

But in the end its going to end in heartbreak.
So lets just enjoy the ride, shall we?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Miracles Never Seize Or Something About How I'm Enjoying The Moment


Sunday afternoon and we're playing a team from Guelph in an old arena in Parkdale. Its Exclaim hockey so music blares during stoppages and they have a P.A. announcer.

Attendance has been spotty so far this season and again we have eight skaters out. Poor greying bastards. One of our vets has three kids, just like me. Both of our families are here, they equal Capsule in numbers.

But for once the opponent looked less than imposing.

And so this was the case. Their goaltender was quite good. They had a couple of big defencemen who excelled at the last minute lunge or just getting enough of you to throw you off. And they collapsed into the slot so that it was difficult to get shit going down low.

But overall it was a breeze, a rare event for us. They scored on their first shift on a classic giveaway by one of our Dman and then it was all ours. Three goals in about three minutes and then we were on cruise for the rest of the game, a nice Sunday afternoon lazy skate. They weren't good enough to push us at all, we were too old/nice/hungover to run the score up.

Midway through the second the puck bounced past me into the neutral zone and as it trickled past the redline I charged after it, what passes for charging by me anyhow. And their Dman made that fatal athletic mistake, the hesitation. Like the centre fielder who takes a couple of steps forward only to see the ball soar over his head or the defensive back who takes too long to turn with the receiver blowing by him, the defenceman facing me stood still for a second, unsure of himself. He then compounded his mistake by stepping forward. It was too late because now I was moving and I chipped the puck past him and poured into their zone.

When I imagine myself scoring the big goal its always charging down the side and then cutting to the net hard, beating the goalie from right in close.

And here it was.

I scooped up the puck in the faceoff circle and drove the net, nobody near me, and, drawing the puck to my backhand, took the goalie with me across the crease, no thoughts, no hesitations, a flex of the stick, faking upstairs, where that came from I'll never know, waiting waiting, waiting and he's flailing, sliding, done and I softly, easily, sweetly, push the puck into the side of the net left wide open by his commitment.

And even though a nothing game and a nothing goal, the slightest fist pump, barely noticeable, for the nicest goal I will ever score, my teammates grinning as they congratulate me.

I'm good until Easter now.

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

Early returns on the Oilers suggest good news and bad news, as expected in most cases.

Two games in the effort and commitment has been there. A good number of goals scored from close in, a little more grit, as they say.

Goal scoring seems like it may not be a problem. Considering that Hemsky and Horcoff have done little, Souray has not scored and Visnovsky is easing his way back, seven goals over two games is decent output I would say.

Good starts for a couple of important guys for this club, Gagner and Penner. Penner driving the net on Turco is the type of play I remember about him from when he burst onto the scene in the spring of 2006. That and his demolition of Regehr give one hope. I'll believe it if he is still interested, say, at Christmas, but he has been a new player right from the beginning of camp.

A lot more physical play across the board. Stortini has shown the way, Souray's 'fight' was phenomenal and Jacques and Stone have been helpful there.

Smid has looked good. If he has turned the corner then they'll move a Dman.

O'Sullivan is an NHL player and a quality one, imo. He's a work in progress but he can play, that OT setup to Gilbert last night was a thing of beauty. He's a guy who I think can and will score in bunches, if only he would shoot a little more.

On the flip side Khabibulin hasn't looked like he's worth the money yet but he has calm feet as LT would say. If he remains healthy I think he'll hold up his end of the bargain this year and provide good goaltending. There's that optimism. Can't help myself.

The PK still stinks and Traktor brought up a nice point in a thread the other night, one has to look at the D as part of the problem here. Staios has never been much hell as a PK man and he's not getting any better.

Speaking of Staios one has to believe that he will get the Gator treatment next summer, if there is such a thing. Guy leaves it all out there and should be admired for that. Problem is I think he has left it all out there. Moreau too.

The rubadubs or scrubs or whatever you want to call them aren't hiding much, especially Jacques, who looks like a deer in the headlights. Again. And Stone is effective when he gets there, problem is he is rarely getting there. So with Pisani and Moreau and Pouliot out I'd have to think that the problem remains the same for these guys. Not enough quality up front. Not enough spots to hide guys. But we knew that already, didn't we?

Oh well, we will see after all. Its nice to have hockey again and at the very least this club will be competitive. A win is a win and when its over Dallas its that much better. A good showing against Calgary too. They are playing with heart and they are skating and after last year's dismal showing I will take that, thank you very much.

Still a million miles to go but its been a fun start.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Death Of An Optimist, By A Thousand Cuts




I left work today and I took a longcut, which I often do, through the Eatons' Centre. I can get to the subway in about a minute from my work but I like to unwind a little some days and so I walk up to Queen Street and then I cut through the mall up to Dundas station, through the crowds of teenagers and tourists.

Its the only time I spend in a mall.

This afternoon I was making my way and I ran into my friend S. I have known her for over twenty years now, her and her husband, ever since second year of university. She's brilliant.

When I saw her I had to do a double take. I have seen her in our house and theirs, at parties and bars and restaurants, in hockey arenas and on soccer fields, in parks and at the beach and in a thousand places. But never in a mall. Its just not a place that either of us frequent.

It was a strange moment and very striking, the incongruity of it all. Like seeing Dion Phaneuf with a book in his hand or the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs.

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

Frequent commenter Darren, in a recent thread, pointed out that while I claim to be an optimist, which I am, dyed in the wool, I haven't said much good about the Oilers lately. I plead guilty as charged.

Strangely enough, for a guy who writes about the Edmonton Oilers as much as he can and who reads everything he can about them each and every day, I don't take the whole thing that seriously. Really. I'm a fan of the club and when I watch or listen to a game I am happy when they do well and if I miss a game I feel a little drop in my gut when I find out that they lose or I put on a grin when I hear that they have won. Its not the end all and be all. To me its entertainment but I do love it, sure I do.

So I will cheer the club on this winter and I hope that they do well. I have my favourites, just like everyone. I hope that Horcoff has a terrific year and scores like he did two years ago but stays healthy all season this time. I hope that Tom Gilbert has a tremendous year and that the kids make leaps ahead and that Souray and Visnovsky, such different players, stay healthy and are successful. I hope that Fernando Pisani comes back and has a nice year and that he either signs an extension or decides to hang them up come next summer.

I think the Oilers have a shot at the playoffs, of course they do, nearly everyone but Colorado and Phoenix do, but I think they are going to finish out of the money again. I'm not going to beat a dead horse; myself and others have been going on since last season about what this club needs and management has done nothing to address it. I certainly cannot put it any better than Brownlee does here. And we naysayers do not know what will happen, of course. Maybe youthful elan will carry the day and Jacques and Stone and Brule will be the real deal. Maybe the kids will all step it up and Khabibulin will remain healthy and maybe the Oilers won't get a single penalty this season. That would help.

The problem is that once again management has put together a club full of holes and while its fine to believe that hockey is a video game or what you see on the highlights on Sportscentre, you know, the ones that get Dion Phaneuf a nod as a Norris finalist, the truth is that for each of those highlights of the goals and big hits there are plenty of pictures of Kiprusoff fishing the puck out of his net and Phaneuf gliding out of the picture, head down, while the Flames' opponents celebrate. Because he's fucked up in his own end. You know, where the puck ends up sometimes.

The Oilers were in a position of strength on June 19th, 2006. They had just lost the Cup but they had a roster full of good NHL players, many of them entering the primes of their careers. And since then they have thrown nearly every man one of them overboard. That's a problem. The bigger problem is that they have not replaced them.

And the kids that they have replaced them with are one dimensional at this point in their careers. Chicago has a pile of kids and so does St. Louis and Columbus but some of their kids can check and some have size and each team has a vet here and there to do some heavy lifting as well.

Every summer there are those who say that this is the year that the Oilers quell the naysayers and the kids will score and the problem with this club is that there are too many veterans. (!) They scorn those who wonder who will win faceoffs and who will kill penalties and who will hold the lead. And sometimes I think, hell it can happen. Tom Gilbert made the leap from the AHL to holding his own playing tough minutes in the NHL. He did more than hold his own, in fact. So why can't it happen again? The Chicago Black Hawks didn't spring fully formed from junior but damn near close, no? But ....

I like Gagner and Cogliano and the rest but who are they going to outplay on a club like Chicago or Detroit or San Jose, clubs that run three lines deep. If they are out against Iginla they will get eaten alive. Do you think they stand a chance against Langkow? And the Flames can run a third line out that at the very least can stop them dead in their tracks.

I like the kids and I think its going to be a lot of fun this season. I also think the Oilers are going to lose a lot of 5-4 games.

In 2006 I believed in the Vaunt. Mostly I believed that Kevin Lowe would shore up the D, even before Tjarnqvist and Staios went down. The team had lost Spacek and Samsonov but they were late additions and Peca had done little in the regular season and sure they had lost Pronger but they had Roloson for the whole season and the additions of Sykora and Lupul. I picked them for the middle of the conference and figured if they added the right guys they could make another run. I did. You can look it up.

Instead they traded Smyth for a guy barely hanging on now, a guy buried in the minors and a pick and in the summer Sykora was gone and Smith and Hejda, a real gem, too. In came Penner and Souray and Pitkanen and Tarnstrom at least so four guys who could play out and four in but there were still holes. That summer I didn't pick them to make the playoffs.

And they didn't and by last year Stoll and Reasoner and Torres and Pitkanen and Tarnstrom and Glencross were gone and Cole and Visnovsky were in. Again more NHL players going out than coming in, just like 2006, but I figured they would be in the mix for a playoff spot (they were) and that they would make it. Because I can't help myself. I figured that Tambellini would bring in somebody up front to make a difference where the club needed it.

He did not. And they did not. Make. The. Playoffs. Again.

And this summer they moved their second best faceoff guy and a fellow who tore it up pretty well as a rookie on a pretty solid fourth line. And no replacement for him either.

Its fucking death by a thousand cuts here. I'm surprised that they didn't buy out Pisani and Moreau and bring in Schremp and Reddox.

So I've been fooled two years out of the last three, three of three really, waiting for management to address roster problems. And we're going through it again this season. Posters over at LTs snidely say that anyone can armchair GM and that if it was that easy to pick up guys to PK and win draws then the team would have done so. I say well it seems that other teams, the ones that, you know, make the playoffs, seem to be able to address needs. The Flames dumped a lot of shit salary and added Jay Bouwmeester so I think that maybe someone there isn't talking about the cap being a problem and is actually trying TO MAKE THEIR TEAM BETTER!

Say what you will about the Flames, be snarky about their one Cup, but they have made the playoffs five years in a row and every year their GM actually does something to try and get the team to the next level. Sometimes he is wrong but at least he gives his club a chance to win the Cup.

Because they make the fucking playoffs, you know. Its hard to win the Cup when you are golfing in April.

I ask why you can have faith in franchise that spends to the cap every season and has been out of the playoffs three years in a row. I liked it better when the club wouldn't spend a goddamn dime but would find guys everywhere who could play. Guys like Hejda and Glencross would have been signed in those days because management knew a bargain. Instead they are playing for two teams that the Oilers are trying to catch.

I'll be cheering for the Oilers this season and they will be in the mix, I am sure. Hell you look at Montreal and how things can go south in a hurry. One game and their season is probably done. The Oilers might sneak into the playoffs but I doubt it.

Remember that those teams from 1997 to 2006 made the playoffs seven out of nine seasons, winning at least one round three times, going to the Finals and just missing out in 2006. For four years before that run they missed the playoffs. They were awful.

A miss this year and this franchise will have matched that record of futility. While Patrick LaForge grins and makes an ass out of himself, as usual, talking about the need for a new arena and the club losing money, the hockey team, whose business it is to win hockey games, plays second fiddle.

Hard to believe that we'd be looking at those little clubs that almost could with wistful glances but those are the glory years compared to this sorry stretch.

Prove me wrong, you Oilers.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Going To Bed With An Itchy Bum


Sitting around the dinner table the other night.

My wife is an excellent cook. Rack of lamb with roasted root vegetables. Pork tenderloin with maple squash. Pasta with asparagus, chicken and zucchini.

You get the picture.

So imagine sitting down to a wonderful meal, tablecloth, good beer or wine.

Now add in a six year old and an almost four year old who live in their own little world. A world where the words bum and penis are the most hilarious words ever. (Yes yes, apple falling from the tree, I know) Throw in a fourteen month old who is as wild as her siblings, if not wilder. Her idea of a good time is to climb onto the furniture and jump up and down, laughing as her panicked mother flies across the room. She also wants to make sure that the dog, always lurking outside of the doorway to the dining room, enjoys his golden years and gets to savour different morsels off of her plate. As these go overboard the dog sneaks in, thinking (more likely not caring) that we won’t recognize his smelly massiveness in our midst. My wife goes mental, I laugh my head off, followed by the kids and the baby.

Madness.

So the other night my eldest, just turned six, smart as a whip this one, was looking uncomfortable, shifting about in her chair. I asked her what was wrong and she said her bum was itchy. When she and her brother stopped laughing their heads off, I told her that she had better take care of that before bed.

You know what they say, go to bed with itchy bum, wake up with smelly finger.

Even the wife thought that one was funny.

So last night the kids are all in bed and my wife goes in to cuddle with her and as they lay there she immediately catches an unpleasant whiff.

What’s that? Did you just fart?

My daughter holds her finger up to my wife’s face.

I went to bed with an itchy bum.

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

The Oilers are my itchy bum. While management stumbles along year after year, a study in hopelessness, I keep coming back for more, scratching that itch, ending up smelling like poop.

Anyways, Western Conference predictions. I’m generally pretty good with these, seven out of eight playoff teams last year, the only miss, your Edmonton Oilers.

1/ San Jose – Everyone keeps talking about Heatley being the missing piece to put these guys over the top in the playoffs. He had a great playoff until the Finals when he was with the Sens so he has done it before but I think its simplistic to say that he is the answer there. In any case I think the Sharks will roll in the regular season again.

2/ Chicago – Huet is considered by most to be the weak link here but he’s always been pretty solid, imo. Its difficult to bet against the Wings but sooner or later someone has to overtake them and I think that this is the year the Hawks to do just that. Too much speed, too much talent, just a nice well rounded club.

3/ Calgary – Going against the grain here with nearly everyone picking the Canucks. I don’t think the Flames have what it takes to get it done in the playoffs but Sutter has done a decent job adding pieces here and there, as well as shedding salaries, and of course they added Bouwmeester who is going to be a difference maker. They can score goals and Jokinen will replace Cammelleri’s production just fine.

4/ Detroit – Its hard to pick against the Wings but I think they may finally slide a little this year. Losing Hossa is going to hurt them a lot and they have also lost Samuellson, Hudler and Kopecky. That’s a big chunk of forward depth and Draper, Maltby and Holmstrom are all getting older to boot. On top of that I think Lidstrom is starting to slowly decline and Osgood, while he had a fine playoff until that Talbot wrister, isn’t a guy I’d want to ride, especially on a club which likely will be chasing the puck a little more than they are used to. I might be saying all of this again next year but I think that this may be the year we see cracks in the armour.

5/ Vancouver – Someone somewhere wrote that Erhloff can replace Ohlund. All I have heard about the new guy is that he is pretty shit at even strength and that’s playing weak competition. I may be wrong but I can’t see him replacing Ohlund, even if the Swede is not what he once was. Having said that, the Canucks will be fine and I would bet that they will augment their lineup later in the season if need be. They have some nice young players but I think Calgary edges them out for the division which means they get a brutal first round matchup.

6/ St. Louis – The Blues look very good to me. They are young and they have talent and they have some nice vets in their lineup. Plus Andy Murray is a great coach. I think they are a shoo in for the playoffs.
---------------------

At this point I think it becomes a bit of a crapshoot.

7/ Dallas – Everyone thinks Dallas is not only a playoff sure thing but also that they are a contender. I don’t think so. I think that Tippett is a terrific coach and I think that Crawford is not at his level and that his philosophy will not fit with this club’s personnel. I still think they sneak into the playoffs but there’s no guarantee here.

8/ Columbus – Again there will be four teams from the Central division. The BJS are a solid club with a good collection of vets and young players and a demanding coach. They’ll make it.

9/ L.A. – Adding Smyth and Williams were nice moves by Lombardi. Again a nice mix of kids with a few vets in there. Goaltending might hold them back.

10/ Minnesota – I’ve always trusted in Jack Lemaire and a part of me thinks that, like Dallas, a change in system might hurt these guys but they, like Columbus, look good to me. They will be in the playoff mix. The key will be Havlat’s health.

11/ Anaheim – A lot of folks have these guys in the playoffs, I can’t see how. Pronger and Beauchemin are gone and that is going to hurt. A big drop in quality on the blue is going to sink them.

12/ Edmonton – I’ll have a full look at the Oilers up tomorrow. With rumours that Moreau might be unable to go on Saturday apparently the Oilers will have one forward over 27 in the lineup. And its not like any of the kids are known to be quality two way players who can handle, say, the Sedins. I hope I’m wrong but I don't think so.

13/ Nashville – All that promise of a few years back gone away. They just keep shedding nice players. Too bad. This might be Barry Trotz’s last year. Someone has to take the fall.

14/ Phoenix – Nobody cares anymore. They’ll hit their stride in a hockey hotbed like Kansas City or Las Vegas.

15/ Colorado – The rebuilding begins.