Saturday, February 05, 2011

City Lights


City Lights was the bar we frequented back in the day in all of those salad summers. Thursday and Saturday nights. Those Saturdays were epic. We'd head up to Frank Kuznik's place early in the afternoon and sit on his folks' back deck and drink beer. Folks would wander in and out through the day, the music would be playing and we'd enjoy being young. Around dinner we'd throw whatever we brought to eat on the barbeque and then we'd traipse through the Donovan towards downtown. We'd go to the Steelworkers union hall and play pool and shuffleboard while the old fellow in charge brought trays of small glasses of eighty cent draughts. As the night wore on we'd pack up and walk up the street to City Lights, a Loblaws once, and complete our night there. You'd walk into the vast space and like the scene in Dazed and Confused you'd feel yourself in slow motion, nods and handshakes as you entered the dark cavern, music blaring, heading to the bar. You'd have over a thousand people there and you'd be at least nodding acquaintances with a couple of hundred of them, folks from high school or your neighbourhood, old girlfriends and past hockey teammates, revellers who you knew from nights out like this one. We'd usually camp out at the top of the steps leading to the dance floor, leaning against the rail, a couple dozen of us, the group changing constantly as we drifted away for beer or for a walk around the bar or to hit the dance floor to display quality Northern Ontario dance moves, replaced by newcomers and old pals.

Great times.

City Lights is long gone now. The Steelworkers Hall burned to the ground some years back, torched by a couple of kids if I recall correctly, a new one has risen in its place. Many of the old gang are still back in my hometown while many of us have moved on, making our lives elsewhere. If we could do it all over again, get together at the Kuzniks and spend a summer afternoon drinking cold beer, listening to Van Morrison, good natured insults flying, I'd do it a minute. And if by some miracle City Lights still existed and for old times' sake someone suggested wandering through the Donovan's winding streets, passing the small bungalows, brick and wood siding in the heat, heading into downtown for one last night at that vast bar, I'd turn, smile and shake my head. No thanks to that I'd say.

Times change. The perfect bar when I was 22 would make me mental today. Music's too loud! Plus its crappy! Generic beer! Bah!

These days I like my bars quiet and intimate. A wide selection of good beers and failing that, then a good pint of Guinness. My favourite pub is McCarthy's, its not much bigger than my living room. The Victory Cafe, Bar Volo, The Only, Dora Keough's, McVeighs (in the afternoon, not the evening when a band may be there), The Cloak and Dagger (when there's no band).

Perfection. Twenty years ago you wouldn't have found me at any of them or at least it would be unlikely. Today if I were to win the lottery, a difficult proposition for a guy who doesn't buy lottery tickets, I'd start with the aforementioned and go from there when designing my dream bar.

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An awesome discussion over at Tyler Dellow's this week as it evolved into a spirited argument over the merits of Zack Stortini and Tanner Glass. Only in Canada as Ty noted. It got me to thinking about fourth lines and how to build them and what the Oilers' fourth line should (and may) look like next season.

Of course the fourth line is what it it. It doesn't matter who the Pens roll out there, they are still fucked now that Malkin is done for the season. A fourth line isn't going to make you a Cup contender if your top six are brutal but I would argue that they can make you a markedly better team if you have the right mix there.

But what is the right mix and is it important? I would argue that it is. You may have a top nine that eats up the vast majority of icetime but if your fourth line can contribute then its going to make you a better club. Looking at the recent Cup winners here are the players who made up their fourth lines in the playoffs for the most part, this is by memory so throw out any names or correct me if you can.

Carolina - Kevyn Adams, Craig Adams, Chad Larose
Anaheim - Todd Marchant, Brad May, Shawn Thornton, Ryan Shannon
Detroit - Darren Helm, Dallas Drake, Darren McCarty
Pittsburgh - Craig Adams, Maxime Talbot, Matt Cooke
Chicago - Ben Eager, Troy Brouwer, John Madden

I'm fairly sure that's pretty accurate, I am leery about the Penguins but looking at their roster I'm not sure who slotted in on the fourth line if not Cooke. Maybe it was Pascal Dupuis. They had a nice deep roster up front.

So what do we see here? Well there are no Zack Stortinis or JF Jacques or Steve MacIntyres. Not to say that there are many great players here but there are a lot of useful guys. A lot of veterans. Marchant, May, Drake, McCarty, Madden. Two of these guys could win draws and kill penalties. Carolina barely played their fourth line, iirc, but both Adamses were big PK guys, a role Craig reprised for Pittsburgh.

What I see are guys that are going to hold their own against the other club's dregs, probably outplay them. And most of them can skate and / or are veterans which means that if they get caught in a bad matchup they have a reasonable chance of surviving it. Look at their numbers and most of them were around even, a few were even plus players. So they weren't getting murdered.

And very few kids. Helm stands out. Talbot. Brouwer although as a 22 goal scorer he wasn't the prototypical fourth liner (man was that Hawks' team deep?!).

Does this mean anything for the Oilers? Well they have only had one decent fourth line in the years since the 2006 run, the Glencross/Brodziak/Stortini trio. They have had other quality guys there - Thoresen and Reasoner come to mind.

But right now its an awful mess.

My guess is we're going to see kids aplenty there next season. I'd bet on O'Marra or Lander. Maybe Hamilton or Pitlick if they have very good camps. Reddox if he's still around. And Renney likes his designated fighter so MacIntyre will be around to play his thirty three seconds a game.

Pointless, huh?

For me we would see the new kids playing big minutes in the minors rather than six minutes a game in the show. Like everything I think the idea is to bring in the best players possible. Duh, right? So having JFJ there is pointless. He's big but there's no use if that size is useless. Same as MacIntyre.

You want guys who are going to help win games and that means guys who can PK and a centre who can win faceoffs. You'd start there. If O'Marra is not going to get a shot then you have to look at these models and bring in a Madden or Marchant type. On one wing I would bring in another veteran. We'll call him Mike Grier or Radek Dvorak. A guy who can PK, again. And a vet who can hold his own out there. The idea of a fourth line creating energy is a goofy one - nothing sucks energy out of a team that a unit that bleeds goals against and spends their shifts hemmed in their own zone. For every time JFJ lays someone out he spends five minutes chasing the puck in his own end. Pointless.

Throw in Liam Reddox and there is your fourth line. Sign Colin MacDonald and see if he can provide anything at this level.

Straight forward. Unless you are going to give your fourth line serious minutes there is no reason to have Hamilton, Lander and Hartikainen sitting on the bench night after night. These guys are all earmarked for top nine minutes in the future. Play the shit out of them in the minors until someone gets hurt and then they can get a shot.

Build a fourth line that addresses two of this club's weaknesses (PK and draws) and that won't get destroyed every time they hit the ice. Start there. It won't win you the Cup but it will make you a better club.

Better players. Get them.

10 comments:

uni said...

Everything you said there makes a helluva lot of sense. In fact it's downright logical; therefore the Oiler's won't do it.

Oilers need the GM equivalent of Stu.

Coach pb9617 said...

Until they shitcan that puke of a goaltender, they might as well just run around like a bunch of monkeys fucking a football

Bruce said...

I almost get the impression that Coath PB is dissatisfied with the state of our goaltending.

But he won the Stanley Cup!!!!1!!1!!one!

Vic Ferrari said...

Nice post, Pat. I think when weak fourth liners really kill you is when you hit injuries, and every team does. They move up the chart and really start hurting you.

The Oilers had some really good 4th lines pre-lockout, that was back when they believed that the NHL wasn't a development league.

I remember Babcock being interviewed after the Oilers beat the Wings in the '06 playoffs (And yeah, the Wings outchanced them I know ... that team was stacked). A reporter asked them about losing to a weak opponent. Babcock's words, by memory "I don't know about that. They had Moreau and Dvorak on their fourth line. Their FOURTH LINE. Those are good hockey players. A lot of speed there."

Around 03 the Sharks had a kickass 4th line, often both Sturm and Cheechoo were playing on it, almost always at least one of them. Mark Smith as well iirc, in the role of Colin Fraser as a Hawk. I bet Mark put up huge scoring chance numbers playing with those guys and vs the other team's bottom six. They ended up with a ridiculous +/-, and usually fourth lines get murdered. Of course the only reason they were that far down the depth chart was because they were just breaking into the league, and mostly because S.J had a raft of forwards that were better than them.

It would be great if Lowe and Tambellini would put away the freaking alchemy kit, channel Al Arbour and just start getting good players. That seems unlikely to me, though.

Black Dog said...

Bruce - 1! Do you think Derek is dissatisfied with the goaltending? I don't get that impression. ;)

uni - yeah its pretty straightforward I think, maybe its harder then we think? I don't think so though.

Vic - thanks. Yeah good players, which is why all of this talk of trading Hemsky and Penner makes no sense to me. The Oilers have so few. Why you'd want to get rid of two of your best makes no sense to me. The fanbase has a fascination with shiny objects I guess. A few years ago they wanted everyone gone when Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson came along. Now Nilsson is gone and the fans are calling for the other two to go away. No patience.

In 2006 I seem to remember the 4th line being pretty shitty against Detroit because Dvorak and Moreau were hurt so they had Winchester playing with 10 and 94 and then Peterson and Laraque and Harvey playing with Rem. They got owned but then Moreau and Dvorak came back and they kept poor old Rem afloat.

Plus they could kill penalties and slide up the lineup when needed. I remember more than one game when Moreau was out at the end protecting the lead.

A nice deep lineup. And of course your note about injuries is correct as well. They always come and having guys like Glencross and Brodziak who could play top nine minutes sure would help. Surely more than MacIntyre who did not even leave the bench yesterday. Hell I could do that! ;)

I suspect if a lot of these kids come along then in a couple of years we will be a lot deeper up front. But right now its just another hole on this club.

David S said...

The hole is so obvious, I'm tempted to think it was made that way on purpose. I completely agree this would be an easy way to make the team better. It's not like you're looking for that whale of an RFA, just a few solid, competent players. Those guys can't possibly be that hard to come by, especially with the huge cap space we're running with.

speeds said...

BD - re: shiny objects

I have a friend who, maybe a year or two ago, told me his theory on Oilers management was they seemed to be obsessed with appearing to put together a good team, more so than actually putting together a good team.

PDO said...

Speeds: Damn... that might be bloody brilliant.

BDHS:

The forwards is actually the easiest part of this mess to clean up.

The real problem is the drunk in net and a need for at least 1 more top 4 D, if not two...

Black Dog said...

PDO - agreed on your assessment, up front they need two thirds of a fourth line (assuming Reddox is part of it) and probably a centre who can play tough minutes if we accept Gagner playing soft minutes with the Swedes.

Shore up the D and goaltending and its a far better club.

As David points out, should be an easy task, these guys are a dime a dozen. (The fourth liners I mean)

Nice one speeds

David S said...

It's been mentioned a few times in the past few days, but line-matching would sure help things out too. I start to drool thinking about the POG line going out against soft opposition.