Sunday, July 17, 2011
For northern people summers are special. As a boy I spent hot summer days by lakes in remote spruce and pine forests. As a young man my summers were spent in my hometown, days working outdoors, weekends and nights spent getting into mischief with a band of the finest brothers, drinking cold beer, chasing tail, riding the wave of being young and strong and perverted, as that beautiful woman once sang, accompanied by the roar of laughter. Then years wandering the streets of Toronto, dusty and poor, baking in the endless oppressive heat, stringing meager dollars together for the next night out with friends. And then a summer in PEI, a return to the glory days of my youth the year I turned thirty, a summer spent on the harbour and rivers and ocean, endless nights of drinking, the beach and Peake's Quay and a long legged girl with flashing green eyes and a tiny black puppy with white paws and a seven emblazoned on his narrow chest. The most glorious summer in a lifetime of them.
We lived in Florida where summer has no meaning and then we returned to the good country and set up shop here in Toronto. Our summers have been fine ones and since our return there has been a rhythm to them. The trip north, the trip east. Summer sports and weekends spent enjoying everything this town has to offer. Nights out on patios and a million festivals, ravines and islands and beaches. Cold bottles of beer sweating, bottles of wine, hot nights rolling in the sheets.
Last summer began with a death and what in many ways was a typically wonderful year for us had a pall over it. Old Ben passed the Friday before the May long weekend and my mom was ill with a mystery that began in the spring and progressively worsened until she was hospitalized in August. The fear hung over us even as we enjoyed what summer offered and when autumn brought three deaths in succession it punctuated a year of discontent.
Such is life as we age. It was two summers ago as we prepared for what would be a legendary night out that our discussions turned to this fact - our parents and their generation are getting older (as we all are) and so annually sad news arrives. Sometimes it strikes close to home, other times its a distant bell.
There is not a thing that can be done but to enjoy what we have and so this summer has begun and it has the makings of another legendary one. The cold wet spring has given way to endless days of sunshine. This week will mark our tenth anniversary and since our trip to the Dominican the year has had a festive feel. We have had the usual milestones (the boy can now ride a bike and last week went tubing for the first time). There is the preparation as Jenn works towards what will be her second half marathon. There was the U2 concert last week, which left us gasping for breath, and a trip to the Kawarthas and the usual trips to Gerrard for Indian and the beach for sunshine and just last Friday a wonderful night out on the back patio at the Cloak and Dagger, pints of Boneshaker IPA and into the warm night all boozy and buzzing and the rush home to sit on the back deck and then upstairs for some fun until the wee hours and here we are all of these years later and its probably never been better. And that is something to celebrate.
Once the free agent rush ends my thoughts tend to turn from the Oilers for a while. Threads tend to turn ugly and repetitive. There are only so many lineups to post, So many trade rumours to discuss before folks tend to turn to begin to argue about the arena, team management, Sam Gagner, Tom Gilbert and so on. The only way out of the mess is if you get traded and that's not really true. Folks argued about Ryan Smyth from the day he was traded to the day he returned.
Fan isn't derived from fanatic for nothing.
As usual there are the usual management blue skiers who say that THIS IS THE YEAR and ANY NEGATIVISM WILL HURT THE TEAM and MANAGEMENT IS NOT AT FAULT FOR ANYTHING and btw GIVE KATZ EVERYTHING HE WANTS BEFORE THE OILERS LEAVE TOWN and I guess sooner or later these guys will be right and the Oilers will return to the playoffs but its not going to be this year unless the stars align. I'm one of the most positive guys you will ever meet (that is how Vic Ferrari introduced me to the huddled masses over five years ago) but I am a realist too. The club has been terrible for five seasons now and nobody but management deserves the blame for that. Is there hope for the future? Sure there is. There are some terrific young players with the big club now and a lot of nice prospects on the way but these past few summers we have seen Schremp and Cogliano and Pouliot and Deslauriers and Jacques and O'Sullivan all fail to meet expectations and get sent down the road and for many of these former bright lights the dance is almost over. Young players don't develop in straight lines and sometimes they never develop at all. And then you're Atlanta or Florida or the Islanders and you suck forever.
I think the Oilers will likely be in the lottery next year if they are done with their moves. Too many issues from the blueline on back. Now having said that nothing is a sure thing. Nobody saw the Devils in the lottery last summer and two years ago nobody saw the Avs in the playoffs. Teams will collapse and the Oilers may rise above those clubs and because its sport and luck plays a role you never ever know what can happen. But for the Oilers to be a competitive club this season, for them to make the leap they will need, well, everything to go right.
They will need Dubnyk to become a very good goaltender or for Khabibulin to turn back the clock.
They will need Sutton to turn the clock back two years and for two or more of Petry, Peckham and Smid to take a big leap forward. Gagner too.
They will need Whitney and Horcoff and Hemsky to stay healthy. And pretty well anyone else of value.
They will have to fix the special teams especially the PK because they will likely be in the box a lot.
They need Hall and Eberle and Omark and Paajarvi to improve on their nice starts to their careers. No going sideways. No backsliding. Improvement across the board.
They will need a couple of other kids to step up. Maybe Lander.
They will need some luck on top of all that.
Is it possible? Of course. Anything is. Its unlikely, very unlikely really, but its possible.
I actually like the summer Tambo had. Sure Smyth fell into his lap but who cares. He added two quality top nine forwards for very little. Eager is a huge upgrade on JFJ (of course even I would be a slight upgrade there) and he gives the team that dick factor as well. So do Sutton and Hordichuk. Will that make a big difference? Maybe not but I think this club could use a bit of viciousness to it. They haven't been tough to play against since 2006.
They subtracted some shit and that's no big deal, I'd feel better if they recognized that JFJ and Deslauriers couldn't hack it before but oh well.
So ... that's my thoughts. I think the team is better. I think they need two more top four D and a number one goaltender before they are going anywhere and maybe those pieces are just waiting to emerge. Overall though I think they are staying on course which does not surprise me. They are incrementally better and if they stay healthy they will probably win quite a few more games if the goaltending holds up. Another top ten pick next summer and then Tambo will be on the clock methinks.
Posted by Black Dog at 5:00 PM