Friday, January 29, 2010

Something Good


I'm a big Olympics guy. I know the IOC is horseshit and all that but I still love the whole show. I'll be glued to the TV for two weeks in two weeks.

Clara Hughes was named the flagbearer for Canada on Friday. Couldn't think of a better choice. A medallist in two sports. Imagine! And her work for Right To Play is admirable.

One of the local papers with a little bit of an interesting tale about Clara. Good stuff.
Lets hope that she and her teammates bring us a some good results; it would be a nice relief from the shitshow that is the Edmonton Oilers.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Story Of A Coach


I have had two lives in team sports, as a player and as a coach.

As a coach I had tremendous success. There were times that it was because I had very good players. In our neighbourhood back home the kids born in 76 and 77 included a flood of terrific athletes. I coached one or the other group for a number of years and we won a lot. A lot. But they won a lot when I wasn’t the coach too. Of the eight clubs that played together of these groups of kids they won six city championships in soccer. Five of those six clubs doubled by winning the league as well. The two that did not win the playoffs were also regular season champions and each lost their championship game in a shootout.

So yeah, they were good. And they had different coaches so I mostly stayed out of the way. I pushed and prodded and worked them and made sure they played as a team and that everyone had fun and they would not have won with a bad coach but I’m not fooling myself. Good players make the job of a coach easier.

I loved those Sudbury teams that won over and over again but there were two teams that were my favourites when it came to the soccer clubs. One team I really gloried in was a team I coached in Toronto, a bunch of neighbourhood kids in the neighbourhood league who started slowly and then came together over the season. A couple of very good players, some solid ones, some humps. Got them working hard and together and having fun. There were always girls on these teams and I was a master at putting them into positions to succeed and getting them to become major parts of the team’s success.

On this team I had a couple of tall blonde twins who were more interested in socializing than playing. Stereotypical princesses really, they were fourteen, all ponytails and makeup and trendy clothes. Pretty well useless on the field at the beginning of the year. I helped to change that.


In the final, one of the opposition’s stars roared up the sidelines and beside him all of the way was one of those girls, battling, all elbows jabbing, pushing, jersey tugging until the ball spun away from him and he turned, exhausted and discouraged (again) and trudged back up the sidelines. As the kids roared and I grinned her Mom began to give her the business about the elbows! I turned and told her to keep it down, that’s the way she was to play, tough as nails, and that was that. An hour later or so we had shut them down, just as we had shut down everyone we played in the playoffs and we were champions. We had clean sheets all through the playoffs and on each side at the back was a twin.

Man, I love winning.

I had a lot of success as a soccer coach, seven teams and five of those won either a playoff championship or a league championship or both and the sixth, another of my favourites, fell just short in the championship series (best of three) in the toughest most competitive league I ever coached in.

Only one mediocre team in the bunch.

As a hockey coach I was pretty successful as well. Ten clubs. Six of them won something and were quality squads, a seventh was also quite good. My favourite of the lot were The Missiles, the little squad that could and did.Of the remaining three clubs, two were okay and one was awful. The awful team was the only one I have ever had as a coach. We had been quality the year before and we had lost a handful of guys, guys who weren’t sexy but, well, you know, got things moving in the right direction when they were on the ice. Sound familiar? ;)

Still, we thought, even thought the quality was less, that we would be ok.

We were close but no cigar our first couple of games. A failure to finish our chances, a mistake or two that ended up in our net, a soft goal (sound familiar). A penalty at a bad time, a bad change, a missed assignment.

And after each game we bemoaned our bad luck.

And then a couple of games with bad luck became a half dozen. A couple of guys who had been terrific the year before were off. The replacements for the departures weren’t getting the job done. The goaltending was average.

And after each game we wondered what went wrong.

And after about a dozen games it became clear. We were a bad team. We weren’t getting much puck luck but mostly that was because we weren’t making anything happen. Our errors were glaring.

We had no margin for error. The other teams began to beat on us.

And from there the season went south. The replacements’ collective confidence was shaken but then again so were the holdovers. For that matter so was the coach’s.

We began to spiral and what had been close losses morphed into losses by three or four. Games where we had hung in with superior teams became one sided blowouts. Guys who had scored twenty five goals the year before in a forty four game schedule were hard pressed to hit double digits.

We were shattered.

As a coach it was my one bad experience out of nearly twenty seasons coaching. It was awful and when it ended we breathed a sigh of relief because if you are a bad team once the death spiral begins there’s no breaking out of it. Bag skates, enthusiastic speeches, yelling, pleading, threatening, cheering like a madman.

Its all for naught when you have a bad team in its death throes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Watch Your Back Strudwick!


We try and balance out things with our kids. We like to keep busy, my wife and I, but not too busy. I play hockey and write a little bit. She plays soccer and she runs. In terms of actual commitments we have the hockey and the soccer and that is all.

With the kids we try and do the same. We want them doing shit, we want them active but we believe that they should spend most of their time being kids. Going to the park, riding their bikes, colouring, playing games (the boy and I got a table hockey game for Christmas, our eldest got Perfection, which she has already mastered), pretending that they are pirates or dogs or whatever comes to mind, the little weirdos, watching movies and the TV (they're into the Roadrunner right now).

So for now they have two activities scheduled a week except for the summer when they play soccer until Canada Day and then they don't do a damn thing but hang out. We have them in swimming and will have them in swimming until they can swim and they can choose another. Since they were tots they both did gymnastics (and the baby just started that, btw I highly recommend it as a way to teach your kids balance, get them coordinated and aware of their physical abilities - I swear both of our older kids are daredevils but absolutely know their limitations because of gym) and our oldest has taken ballet and this winter they are taking skating lessons.

A buddy of mine asked me why I paid for lessons rather than do it myself and the answer quite simply is that while I have years of experience coaching and am entirely and absolutely a man of infinite patience I learned last winter that the one thing I cannot do, at this time anyhow, is teach my son how to skate. I haven't the patience.

Our oldest is tough as nails and persistent and driven. She hit the ice two years ago and had never really done so and within a minute she fired away the chair that was given to her and she was toddling around no problem. When her classes end Saturday morning she asks if we can go to the park to skate some more. She loves it but she also wants to get better and is willing to fall and get up and fall and get up to do it.

Now as for the boy. Well he's still pretty little and his lessons last winter were a disaster. Essentially he laid on the ice and bawled for the entire time, the poor little bastard. Learning to skate is hard and unfortunately for the boy this is the first time he's run into a roadblock. He has never really had to deal with adversity, other than his sister picking at him, he's a damn natural at everything, the little bugger, soccer, swinging a bat, playing the drums or a harmonica, whatever it is he gets it easy as pie.

But skating .... a different situation and his first reaction when pushed was not to push back but to have a seat.

So this year we got him the skate buddy and we steeled his will and I took him out for his first lesson two weeks ago and we listened to the coaches and then I watched him as he basically held onto his skate buddy and didn't move an inch. Still, it was progress.

The following week the wife was working so I had all three kids at the rink. I still managed to get on the ice and after five minutes one of the kid coaches comes over and says that's it we're dumping the skate buddy. Well, there was a look of panic but the boy handled it okay and by the end of the half hour he was able to stand without any help.

And so this week my wife takes them for the first time and I'm worrying I have to admit, because, well, he just hasn't pushed back yet.

Its silly I know. He's the sweetest little fellow and he breaks my heart he's so wonderful and don't get me wrong I'm not one of these guys who pushes his kids like a madman but you want your kids to overcome obstacles and most important, I think, you want them to learn that sometimes you have to put your back into it.

And so they get back and I ask how it went and my wife says that they told him to get rid of the skate buddy right away and he pushed it away without a second look and he was skating ten feet at a time, no problem.

Just like that.

So I guess the little bugger has some sticktoitofness after all.

He can skate.

I give him another week or two before he can teach Strudwick a thing or two.

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

For the second straight year Strudwick has the coach in his corner. He got plenty of icetime in crucial situations last year, I certainly remember being a little frustrated with his presence out on the ice during overtime a few times that predictably (slow as mid skater out in 4v4 against other club's best players) ended up with him in the box or the puck being fished out of the Oilers' net or both.

And Friday night, not for the first time, Strudwick was out in a crucial situation and, not for the first time, it ended in disaster for the Oilers.

Now by all accounts Strudwick is a terrific guy. He's a great teammate and the sort of guy who does whatever is asked of him. He fights, he plays hurt, he plays forward or defence.

The problem is that he is a pretty poor hockey player. The Oilers have a lot of poor hockey players but probably none worse. Maybe Jacques.

Why does Strudwick get the icetime that he does? Well on a team of floaters and head cases, of dummies and softies, Strudwick is one guy that the coaches know what they are going to get when he is out there.

He's shit you mean, you might ask, and while that is the truth, the fact is that they know that Strudwick is going to take care of his own end, he's going to clear the front of the net, he's going to take the man. In other words he's going to play defence.

Now he's terrible but I do believe that Quinn looks at him and figures well at the very least he's going to be in position and he's going to give it his best and that's more than he can expect from the majority of the players on his club.

I'm going to be on my own for a couple of weeks come February 5th so I hope to write a little more frequently and will be taking a look at next year. (Wait til next year!)

I have no faith in Tambellini at all so I think we're looking at more of the same next season. I think we're getting more kids (sell Hope!) and the contracts that need to be moved cannot be moved so we're not going to see many new faces who can play this game.

Ideally we'd see a guy or two who can play in his own end. Guys who take the body and play their position and clear the front of the net would help.

Guys better than Strudwick although if I were a betting man I would say he'll be back and we will be left wanting again.

Serious.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Hodge


I actually witnessed the famous Dave Hodge moment, the one that saw him exiled from the CBC and Hockey Night in Canada, the famous pencil flipped in disgust.

Once again I show my age. I remember Peter Puck (the original), Showdown, Howie Meeker, Brian MacFarlane and I remember Hodge, in his powder blue blazer.

I've always liked Dave Hodge. He's got a bit of an edge to him, as edgy as one gets in the sports media business anyhow. He tends to say what he thinks and maybe that's a function of landing on your feet after getting fired from a pretty good gig or maybe just a sign of age. I know that as I get older I give less and lees of a shit about what people think, much to my wife's chagrin, as I wander down the street to a neighbour's beer in hand, or walk the dog in my housecoat.

Of course wearing a housecoat may be another sign?

Anyways I can see why Hodge said what he said on Sunday - heck the same discussion has been going on in these parts for a while now. How can an Oilers' fan cheer against his club? How can he cheer for them to lose against anyone? They are not true fans. They are bandwagon fans, so called fans.

Now I have written a few times about the nature of being a fan and I find the whole concept interesting. I was once a Chicago Black Hawks' fan, lived and died with them for nearly thirty years. Leaving them was not a conscious decision. One day I was watching a young Oilers' club taking them on and I realized that I was cheering not for Chicago, but for Edmonton, and that was that.

In the end it wasn't the losing that did me in. Chicago lost plenty over the years. Ironically it was probably the success that they had in the early nineties that spelled the death knell for me. When Pulford forced Keenan out despite the fact that Iron Mike had accomplished more in three seasons than Pulford had in the fifteen previous, when that team was dismantled piece by piece, when Roenick and Belfour and Chelios and all the rest were sent packing then I realized that the contract between the tam and I had been broken. Success was not important to Bill Wirtz, if it was then why was Pulford back in charge?

And note that when Bill Wirtz died Pulford was immediately sent out to pasture. Good move Rocky.

Hodge can say what he wants, the old grump, although I would guess he'd be a lot grumpier if he were an Oilers' fan. Or Daryl Katz, who has poured over a hundred million dollars into payroll the last two seasons and has nothing but a laughingstock to show for it.

Four years wasted. When Pronger was sent away for futures and his minutes were not replaced and then when Smyth followed him they should have gone full out and blown it up real good, to quote the late great John Candy. Instead they hemmed and hawwed and threw away what would have been a top ten pick to sign Penner, who is now just over two years away from being unrestricted, same as Ales Hemsky.

If they were going to tread water for four years they may as well have signed Smyth. The club would have been better and his contract would have been up in a couple of years now too. Plus it would have been the right thing to do for the fans, the ones who pay the freight..

The last four seasons have been an unmitigated disaster, mostly because really very little progress has been made towards rebuilding at all. For all of the kids that have been accumulated there are few with the big club who impress in any way and who knows what will happen with those kids in Europe, the juniors and college. Its nice to think that they will all be stars but of course that's not the truth at all. So we have four years and we're no closer to anything of value plus we've had to watch a lot of shitty hockey.

So forgive us, Mr. Hodge, as we hope for the worst for our club. At least we will get a quality kid, maybe one we can build a team around, maybe a nice piece to the puzzle. At best we will see Lowe and Tambellini swept away with a lot of the mess that they have created.

True story, a buddy of mine, for some reason, I have no idea, used to call his ass sweat 'the hodge'. As in, 'fuck its hot, I'm just sitting here and I have serious hodge' or 'I thought she was pretty cute but when we left the dance floor I oculd see she had some hodge going on'.

I think hodge is a good way to describe the Edmonton Oilers' franchise right now. Ass sweat sounds about right.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Man Of Constant Sorrow

My Dad is a country music guy. Not what they call country music today, which is nothing but pop music with a twang, but old school country music. Hank Williams. Patsy Cline. Chet Atkins. Roy Acuff. Charlie Pride. Hank Snow. Johnny Cash. Jim Reeves. Bare bones music with the singer telling a story or bemoaning loss.

One of my indelible memories of being a kid is falling asleep in the top bunk up at camp in our little bedroom. The walls stopped a couple of feet from the ceiling and so the soft glow of the lone lamp crept over the top logs, the crackle of the wood stove if it was a cool night, my parents talking quietly while Hank Williams sang about another broken heart from the eight track player, powered somehow by a car battery.

And then waking up hours later, the smell of coffee and bacon, the wind in the pines, the woodpeckers at work, an obnoxious crow, now the radio, again turned to the country station, Dad listening for the weather.

I was never a country music guy as a young man but over the years I’ve listened to some of the old school country and I have a few Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline CDs laying around. Like my father I have no use for what they call country music today. Like nearly everything on the radio its garbage (and yes, there I am showing my age). ;)

When we returned to Toronto from the States we had just over two years between our arrival and the arrival of our first child. I spent a lot of that time wandering about a city which I had been nearly five years away from, rediscovering many lost haunts but mostly finding new ones. One of those was a little hole in the wall joint called Graffiti’s, down in the Market. I’d head down there on a Saturday and meet my old pal and we’d drink pints and watch bluegrass. In the summer they would open the front of the restaurant to the heat and the music would roll out into the crazy old streets with their tumble down tenements and shops and crowds of hipsters and punks and beautiful girls in skirts and sandals and we’d drink our cold beer slowly in the heat, the buzz seeping through us as a singer in a cowboy hat and black shirt would wail about a girl he knew long ago.

It was oh so good. May have to head back there some day soon.

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

There’s not much that can be said about the Oilers these days. The signing that the GM hung his hat on last summer is having back surgery, out for twelve weeks, as Tyler Dellow tweeted to Khabi’s agent, he’ll be back for the playoffs. ;)

Ty has been all over the Khabibulin move since it happened. If there was a blogger Pullitzer he would deserve it. Loser move by a loser franchise indeed.

Horcoff haters have all of the ammo they need with his anemic offence and clubhouse leading minus twenty one. The kids are pretty well all stagnating, the veterans look like they would rather be any place else but with those contracts where the hell will they go?

Presently it looks like the race to the bottom will be between the Oilers and the Leafs as Carolina has come on hard since Staal and Ward’s return (hard being all relative, I guess, but they have made up a seven point deficit in a matter of days).

The Oilers have terrible goaltending and the fact that they have only a few legitimate NHL forwards on their club is in their corner but the Leafs can move a lot of their guys at the deadline, unlike the Oilers, so that may be the tipping point. Of course if the Leafs do finish last overall then they don’t even get their pick so it will be interesting to see if Burke will actually take someone on and spin it as part of the rebuild, send expiring contracts to a club for a big salaried player, maybe, or take on a big salary after dumping guys like Stajan.

These days have been coming for a long time now, ever since the summer of 2006, as Lowe dithered and tried to have his cake and eat it too and more than anything that is what is frustrating. The last three years this club could have really really sucked and picked up more top young prospects or it could have replaced outgoing quality with more quality and not tried to break in scads of prospects all at once and they might have been competitive. Instead they have sucked but not completely. The three picks they might have had for Penner would have helped, especially considering that the big guy is only two years out from being a UFA now. Those and a few more top five picks and things would look better.

Wasted years. No wonder there’s a tear in my beer.

Monday, January 11, 2010

In This Frozen Country


The pretty young woman is my great grandmother, born Mary Ann Whelan, known as Polly. The fellow with the Lanny McDonald is my great grandfather Neil McLean, youngest of eight children, namesake to our first McLean to come over to Canada. His father had settled up by Barrie, married and farmed there and then, over twenty years and those eight children later, moved to the Bruce peninsula. Almost immediately after that one of the older brothers, Malcolm (Uncle Mac), sailed across Huron and into Superior, heading just west of the Soo to a brand new settlement at the mouth of the Goulais River. Soon after his parents and at least two brothers followed. When the younger Neil passed in 1929 he was survived by Malcolm as well as two sisters and a brother who lived on the Prairies. Another brother, John, drowned in Lake Superior. His body was never recovered. One other brother and one other sister are mysteries, at least to me, although the story becomes clearer every passing year.

The younger Neil died at 54 which is young for a McLean. My grandfather passed in an accident just short of seventy but his brothers and sisters were all long lived and tough. His youngest brother fought in the second world war, fathered eight children of his own and made his living as a trapper. He lived into his late eighties. The remaining four made it into their nineties, including my great aunt Dora, who lived to be ninety nine, and my great aunt Gladys who was at the reunion in June, looking spry and drinking a beer.

Neil's own brother Malcolm lived into his nineties in a small house on the family property on the Goulais, Uncle Mac was a kind and gentle man and is actually remembered by the youngest of my own father's siblings.

Some crazy shit.

For some reason when winter comes my thoughts turn to these people and the lives they made for their family a century ago. Winter in most of Canada is awfully tough even now and all of those years ago it must have really been something. I have an uncle who was born on a train in a snowstorm as my grandmother hurried to the Soo from Franz. When they reached town her and her newborn were pulled on a sleigh to the hospital, the roads were impassable due to the storm. As for Goulais, well its a half hour on the Transcanada today and then another twenty minutes down the old road to where my great grandparents farmed, right at the mouth of the river. One hundred years ago in the dead of winter they may as well have been on the moon.

And yet one thinks that they made the best of it. There is a short history of the town that I read this past summer and it was a close knit community. Polly's table was known to always have food and drink on it and the farmhouse was a centre of the social fabric of the town as folks would make their way to the mouth of the river for cards and some music and some food and probably, knowing my family, a few drinks. The river was there and one guesses that there was skating and hockey games there and sledding in the surrounding hills.

This past weekend on the cold Friday night neighbours tramped up the street and came into our home with a bottle of wine. As the kids played we ate and drank while the wind roared outside. Saturday morning I was up at the crack of crow's piss and took the two oldest to skating lessons in a rink that was nearly as cold inside as it was outside. Saturday night I played hockey myself and had a couple of pints at our tiny local, surrounded by muttering Irishmen plotting their own nights. And then Sunday it was to the park and back on the rink as neighbours tore down the hill in the sunshine.

In short, it was glory and all that winter can be and except for the Thai food, the Australian wine and Irish beer and the Japanese car it really was probably not all that different from live on the river a century ago. Or so I'd like to think anyhow. ;)

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

Haven't given up on the Oilers or on writing about them. There's just so very little to say. MacKinnon writes in the Journal about how the club has a big decision looming. What the hell is the decision? They're terrible and Carolina is coming up hard. Hemsky is gone and so is Khabibulin and Comrie is still in the iron lung. The opposition is keying on Penner and whoever lines up with him and the results are as expected. And when it comes down to it even if Tambellini wanted to start dumping contracts the guys he would want to move are immovable. So his decision is either to stand pat or to start trying to move guys that would likely help the club win a little, like Souray. Some decision.

It remains a fucking disgrace.

Naw what I wanted to talk about a little are a couple of pieces of old news.

The WJC ended with a bang last week with an exciting final. Of course the media is trying to find an angle and right now it seems to be that the Americans are coming and that they are going to dominate hockey in a few years from now. Every time the Americans win anything this is what the media comes up with and forgive me for suppressing a yawn, considering that they now have three medals in the last thirteen years at the WJCs. This isn't to say that the Americans aren't quality, indeed with the Russians and Czechs and Slovaks struggling more and more I would guess that they may be our primary rival in the years to come. Considering that this Canadian team was a poor one in my estimation and that they still only lost in overtime I would not worry too much.

Overall the tourney was a dull one. Nearly every game lacked drama and if the American goaltender Lee had not been so shaky the final may have been a blowout. The Americans looked terrific, fast and hard charging, while the Canadians were no great shakes from their goaltending all the way out. Allen was awful, the blueliners were slow (I don't rate Pietrangelo at all, other than the big goal on NYE I thought he was pretty poor actually) and up front they had Eberle, Hall and a good showing by the Luke Adam line and then a bunch of meh. Kadri left me cold, especially with the ridiculous throat slashing gestures, and the rest of the forwards just seemed to get very little done. I was left wondering why Seguin was not kept as a thirteenth forward.

Oh well, you can't win them all.

The other big news was the Canadian Olympic team selection. Unlike 2006 which was an absolute mess (Bertuzzi? McCabe? No Crosby or Staal!) this went pretty well according to form. You can certainly quibble over individuals here and there through the roster but I don't really see any that are out and out terrible. Bergeron was slightly controversial but the guy is serious quality at both ends of the ice, imo. he's no Rob Zamuner. The San Jose guys are always going to get questioned until they actually do something but its pretty well impossible to ignore them and I do remember a time a few years back, BJT, when Patrick Marleau had a great playoff, the year before the lockout. I would have guessed that if Ryan Smyth had stayed healthy that he would have made the team but as I said I have few quibbles with the forwards.

On the back end I worry a bit about Niedermeyer. Everyone assumes that he wil get it together. Lets hope so. Green was the big omission in many eyes but I think it was Bob MacKenzie who expressed my biggest reservation about him. I liked him as a seventh man to run the PP but my biggest fear is that an injury would move him up to the top six and I don't think he can handle that.

The biggest surprise to me was Bouwmeester's omission I guess. What do I know though? I haven't followed much of the league outside of the Oilers this season. I presumed he was a shoo in and would have taken him in place of Niedermeyer or Boyle I think but I guess with either of those you get the puck moving and the experience in the big games.

A lot more speed on this club, a lot more offence from the back end and a lot more talent than 2006 so here's hoping that they can get it together and bring some life to what has been a dreary winter, hockey wise anyhow.

Friday, January 08, 2010

They Took The Last Can Of Who Hash - Stink, Stank, Stunk


After Ryan Smyth was traded the Oilers went on a twenty game death march which netted them Sam Gagner. It was the worst stretch in Oiler history, I would opine. Smyth was gone and with his departure went the Oilers' heart (still MIA all of these years later). The injuries mounted until the blue line consisted of Jason Smith and a brigade of rookies and minor leaguers. So bad was it for the blue that even the replacements, like youngster Tom Gilbert, were knocked out of the lineup almost immediately after entering it. And up front was not much better. The vaunt, down Smyth and Stoll and Moreau, with other players playing hurt (Hemsky iirc), being wildly inconsistent (Torres) or completely useless (Lupul), went down without a whimper.

It was awful. Awful.

You know what? As I get older I realize that you have to enjoy yourself every day because no matter how bad things are, they can always get worse. Its true. Trust me. Well, you knew that.

So here we are, almost three years after Smyth hit the highway, with a team against the cap, probably next year as well, and we have a club that is giving us an entire season of joy. Hemsky, a guy who makes this dullard team fun to watch, is long gone. Visnovsky, in the same class, is out. The D, supposedly a strength, has fallen apart. The goaltending is a joke, as many predicted (hey Tyler!) it would be. Their big money keeper is out with a bad back and the kid goalies have been thrown to the wolves, with JDD looking to be found wanting, imo.
And I won't even bother with the rumour about Biron. If true and this comes to pass then Lowe and Tambellini should be fired immediately.

And up front the lack of experienced players, as expected, has been a death knell, just as it has been (the lack of experience) for the past four seasons, four seasons spent out of the playoffs.
All while spending to the cap. Did I mention that?
And the guys who were supposed to lead the next cluster, the guys who have kept this club from being a disaster the past couple of seasons, as opposed to just plain bad, Hemsky and Penner, well their contracts are up in just over two years now. How quickly do you think they will extend with a loser franchise?

Like last season the number of guys having good seasons can pretty well be counted on one hand. Penner. Gagner (maybe). Brule. Stone. Smid.

A once proud franchise, a club that stood for something even in the years we thought were lean (96/97-05/06), has become a joke, irrelevant, porridge, the Panthers or Islanders of the north.

Nobody cares and we are left to 'cheer' for them to bottom out, although its hard to see it getting worse than it is right now.

Oh right, I already addressed that.

The problem is that clubs that they are not chasing, like the Leafs, have guys that they can move in order to get worse. The Oilers cannot even do that.

I am left without words to describe this sack of shit that Lowe and Tambellini have delivered to Oiler fans and the city of Edmonton.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

In This Country


The last day of the past year and the first couple days of this new one were spent in Sudbury.

I'm forty two now. I have lived in four different cities. I lived in Clearwater Florida for just under four years. I lived in Charlottetown for one year. I lived in Sudbury for eighteen years plus about a half dozen summers on top of that. So I have now spent the majority or all of nineteen years here in Toronto. And this will likely be the city where I spend the rest of my days.

Its weird. I will never consider myself a Torontonian I think, although my kids certainly are. Its like the old story they tell on PEI about the fellow whose family moved to the Island when he was a babe in arms. He grows up on the Island, goes to school there, marries an Island girl, raises a family there, works there his entire life, retires there and finally dies there. At his wake a neighbour remarks how he was such a terrific fellow for someone who was from away.

I have plenty of friends born and raised here although the majority of folks I know are like me, immigrants to this city. Like Florida it seems that the majority of people who live here are not actually from here and so you have varying sensibilities, which is a good things. Whether it be Thai, Ethiopian, Irish, Italian, Indian, Tunisian, Moroccan or Chinese, all restaurants and pubs within a fifteen minute walk of my house or Maritimer, French Canadian, Western Canadian or Northerner, all neighbours and friends of mine who live here, I think that what makes this city great is that its communities are made up of so many different voices.

Of course all of Canada is becoming like this more and more. In Charlottetown and in Sudbury and, I would guess, in communities across this country the faces and faiths and languages are many now, certainly not the same as when I was a boy. In my travels I was struck by how Dublin Ireland reflected the world, much more so than, say, Edinburgh, not on the scale of London, of course, but still, an interesting city that way. And Canadian cities are becoming more like Dublin in this way, I believe.

Anyhow, this is Toronto. Its a great city but, in my opinion, the least Canadian of cities, if that makes any sense. Its hard to explain, I guess New York would be comparable. I lived in the States and travelled about it quite a bit and I would say that New York is, in many ways, an island. New Yorkers are Americans just as Torontonians are Canadians but there is something about them that is separate from the usual American experience. Based on my travels you would find the true America in Columbus or Clearwater, Raleigh or Houston. Of course all of these places are different but they are also far more similar to each other than New York is to any of them.

And so it is in Canada. Again this is not to say that Toronto is not Canadian, its just that so much of the Canadian experience is either not found here or just is part of a bigger picture. Talk to someone from Halifax or St. Johns or Edmonton or Fernie or Winnipeg or Saskatoon or Sudbury and chances are you're going to get experiences far more similar than those for someone from Queen and Bathurst.
Some of it is simple geography. We have a bit of a storm here today but winters in Toronto, once pretty hairy (I remember every winter in my first stint here, from eighty six to ninety six being both cold and snowy), are now absolutely mild. Last year I don't know if we had a really cold day. Two winters ago we had absolutely madness in terms of storms starting in November. By Christmas we had been dumped on a half dozen times, nice ones too, fifteen to twenty centimetres or more. And on Christmas Eve there wasn't a bit of snow on the ground, all of it melted away. Three years ago, I counted three cold days.

You get the picture. Now picture this.

New Year's Eve we're at the Sudbury Curling Club. Every small Canadian town has an arena, a curling club and a war memorial in my experience.

My folks, my uncle and aunt from Timmins, my wife and I. My wife and I curled six ends with my Dad, my Mom banging on the glass and miming instructions (I kid you not), my aunt taking pictures, my uncle smirking into his rye and water. Afterwards we sat and talked and ate and drank while the hockey game played in the background. As the game ramped up so did our interest and my aunt talked about the tournament (under 17s?) being held in Timmins. She and my mom were the most enthusiastic in their cheering while my uncle grumbled about deciding a hockey game with a shootout and my Dad and I discussed your man Jordan Eberle.

After the game ended dinner was served - porketta and lasagna, cabbage rolls and meatballs.

Dandy.

We rang in the new year and then drove home through the snow, which had been falling steadily all day.

The next day at about noon the temperature began to drop and when we woke up on the 2nd it was twenty five below, thirty seven below with the wind.

Last year we never saw twenty five below with the wind.

It was cold.

My Dad and his brother grew up in Franz and they have both lived all of their lives in Northern Ontario. My Dad spent one winter in Uranium City in northern Saskatchewan and describes it as being so cold that your face would freeze if it were exposed for more than a minute. My uncle was a bush pilot in Moose Factory for six years (all three of my cousins were born there) and those years and many more flying supplies into the Arctic have left him with brutal arthritis.

They know your Canadian winters, these fellows.

So my uncle snickered when the wind chill was mentioned (that wind chill is just a bunch of bullshit, how cold is it? never mind the wind chill) and when my Dad asked me if they could plug our new van in I had to admit that I had no idea. We've never had to and besides we don't even have a driveway.

So the two oldtimers pulled on their caps (!) and wandered out to take a look, my uncle remarking that it being a newer vehicle and it not really being that cold, there should be no problem. He was right, it started up first try and we headed back down the 400, through rock cuts with water frozen in sheets and torrents on their faces, past silent snow covered pine and spruce forests, lakes and creeks icecovered, still. Arrived back here in the big city and after we had the kids in bed I headed out to the arena for a game, followed by a couple of beers. Today Canada's victory over the Swiss. Tomorrow night out to the neighbourhood rink to help with the flooding.

A good New Year's, reminders of where I am from and how I grew up and then, back here, more of the same.

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Was out of the loop over the holidays. I was off for pretty well all of it and devoted most of the time to hanging out with the family, staying away from the computer as much as possible. Forgot that the Oilers were playing the Leafs until I stumbled upon the game up at my folks' place and totally forgot about the game against the Flames the next night until I read yesterday that JDD had had a terrific game that night. PVR'd the game last night but saw the third period when we had our post game pints and saw enough in that to hit delete when I got home. Joe Thornton said it all, we got up two and knew then that it was our game to lose.

Yep its that bad.

The problem that the organization has is twofold. They have so few players with any value right now that its unlikely that they can move many and get equal value for them. Guys like Grebeshkov, Gilbert, O'Sullivan and Cogliano aren't likely to bring in any impact guys now. One guy who would have likely brought a nice return, even with his big contract, Sheldon Souray, is also having an off year.

And the guys who they would probably like to move - Staios, Moreau, O'Sullivan, Nilsson - all have contracts that don't expire until next season, a season where the cap will likely either drop or remain stagnant.

So unless Katz is willing to eat some contracts or Tambellini can work some magic what we see is what we might get next year as well.

I'm still of the mind that this thing can be fixed sooner rather than later. Jonathan Willis has a nice look at some of the work that Maloney did in Phoenix last summer to fill holes, picking up cheap veterans to address problems like penalty killing, faceoffs and lack of experience on the roster. The concept is riveting - pick up good solid cheap NHL veterans to fill the holes aorund your young talent. Amazing!

I haven't any confidence that Tambellini will do that next summer even if the clears the cap space. I am sure that Stone will go to the Flames like Glencross did while the Oilers try and sign Kovalchuk or offer the store to the Leafs for Jason Blake; in the end they will sign Brule and Oli Jokinen to lifetime deals, losing Gagner to an offer sheet and trading Hemsky to get under the cap. ;)

Its apparent that Eberle and MPS are legitimate quality prospects and I would guess that they may have stolen a couple others in guys like Lander and Hartkinen. And this club is probably going to be battling Carolina for last overall. My guess - the Oilers 'win', which means that they will have their pick of the talent at the draft next summer.

The question is whether or not management, the same management that has butchered the franchise these past four seasons, can get this club back on its feet sooner rather than later.

I would guess that the answer to that question is no but here's hoping that I am wrong.