Friday, April 29, 2011

Modern Family







You ever watch that show Modern Family? We absolutely love it. Favourite episodes? When the kids walk in on Phil and Claire having a little early morning ee-ee ee-ee (Luke, the son: whatever they were doing it looks like Dad was winning). Also when Mitchell suspects that his high school beard has had a kid by him and, thinking he is the father, brings him a "Little Slugger" baseball mitt. Turns out your man is actually the woman's husband and a midget, er, dwarf, er, little person. You know, a munchin like.



Had to pick me up off the floor after that one.



Thing is we see a lot of ourselves in Claire and Phil. I am relentlessly positive like Phil though I suffer from a far milder case of ADD. And Jenn, like Claire, has a propensity to worry and label things. I'm sure some day I will wake up with a sticky on my forehead that says Husband. She got a labeller for Christmas and loved it.



We had a fun Easter weekend and by fun I mean it was mental. Some snippets from a few days with the McLeans.



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For once we left town early and looked to arrive at my folks' place for lunch just after 1. Fifteen minutes from home our youngest threw up all over herself repeatedly. Arrival in Sudbury? 4 pm



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Saturday Jenn and my sister were out running errands and my folks and I were home with the kids. The kids are seven, five and two. The two oldest are pretty self sufficient. They'll get up and get themselves breakfast, for example. The oldest can swim. They can read.



The two year old drinks bottles of contact solution, paints her hair pink and is generally a danger to herself and others.



After a while Dad suggests that we make a beer and wine run. We'll leave the kids with Mom, he says.



What is the baby goes downstairs? I say, due to the very pertinent fact that Mom is in a wheelchair.



Dad thinks for a second.



Right, he says. We'll wait for Jenn then.



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After cooking a lovely Easter dinner Jenn was suddenly laid low. Call it a flu, call it a virus, it resulted in her shivering under a heap of blankets and rushing back and forth to the bathroom for four hours. She lost three pounds really fast and I made numerous trips upstairs from where Dad and I were drinking wine and watching the Canucks lose in order to check on her and empty the puke bucket.



Good times.



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Our inlaws arrived yesterday. Jenn and I are off to the Dominicano this weekend, just us, for a week, to celebrate our tenth anniversary which is coming in July. Crazy huh? It seems like we've been married forever.



Er, I mean, um.



I keed, I keed.



Anyhow a week of drinking eating and another of my favourite things (whatever they are doing it looks like Daddy is winning).



Looking forward to it? You bet.



So our inlaws are in charge of the asylum. Amongst the dinner conversation:



Our youngest, after running upstairs, comes down with an enormous smile:



I peeded in the toilettt.



Our oldest:



I don't like when the closet door is open at night. Its black and I think things are in there.



Me:



Remember not to worry about any monsters. Ben is watching over you and he'll take care of them.



Her:



I know that.



To the boy, eating dinner in his underwear:



We don't play with our nipples at the table son.



I love it, I really do. When the dog was still alive dinner time was bedlam what with him lurking and rushing in periodically, Jenn's angry response, the kids' laughter and antics. Things have toned down slightly but its a great life. Still, next week? Beautiful.


Everyone have a great week. As for me, no TV, no interweb, no hockey playoffs (!), no election. Weird but damn its going to be good.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Everybody Into The Pool




Well six and two this first round although an overtime loss here and there and a Penguins' win and it would have been three and five. Everything according to Hoyle this round, top three seeds through and the only upsets in the four/five matchups but this was perhaps the most dramatic first round ever. Four game sevens, including two that went to overtime because of tying goals in the dying minutes. Big comebacks, great rivalries, overtime drama.



The game always astounds, surviving and thriving despite those who are its caretakers, the aimless PA, the dullard media, the disgraceful stinking league office which fails to get anything right at almost any time.



Personally the first two rounds worked out perfectly. I am in two pools this year, a regular one and an under fifty pool (pick players who have under fifty points). In both cases I went pretty heavy on Boston and Vancouver and losses by either would have sunk me. I'm a long haul pool guy. I pick the teams I think will go deep and load up, figuring that three or four series of Mason Raymond will outdo one round of Brian Gionta. Of course I have to make the right picks when it comes to the series.


One year I won it all (this was over twenty years ago, 1989) I went Habs, picking guys like McPhee and Skrudland, they went to the final and I took home the pot based on their contributions.


So right now I'm down the standings in both but I have all my guys left so we'll see if I can make up that ground.


To the east!



Caps v. Tampa



I loved Roli as an Oiler but I have to admit I am surprised that he keeps on trucking. He wanted more than one year and there were doubts as to his ability to play well with others and as a result I was happy to say adieu at the time. Doesn't mean I don't wish him the very best though, I just think he may have not been the best option for the Oilers. Of course he was a hundred times the option that Khabi was.



So its Caps and Tampa and I'm not sold on the Caps. I figured the Rangers to beat them but New York's pop gun offence barely showed. Still they did get two games to OT and one wonders what might have been. The Caps have not proven anything to me yet but I'm not sold on Tampa either. Penguins and their popgun offence pushed them to seven and I'm thinking Washington brings a lot more heat. I love the job that Yzerman has done in Florida - this club is full of old pros up and down the roster - but I think Washington will be too much and will take it in six or seven.



Flyers v Bruins



A replay of last year in what should be an interesting matchup. Pronger's return makes the Flyers dangerous again although I find it hard to take any club who has now used three goalies in the playoffs any amount of serious. Still they almost rode what they had last year to the Cup so who's to say? Deep up front and on the blueline and as everyone who comes by here knows that's what I believe in.



Thing is the Bruins are built the same way. Last year injuries did them in and this year they added Peverley and Kelly in a couple of small moves that paid off in a big way this past round. Boston is built to last and I think that the winner of this series is the club that reps the East in the final, although I reserve the right to change my mind of course. ;)



I am going to say that this one goes seven and while I think I am going to regret it I am going with the Bruins. Goaltending goaltending goaltending.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

West, Round Two, and Thoughts On Round One



Four and Oh in my western predictions although before I crow I'll note that I may be an Ofer in the east, pending tonight's game sevens.



A tremendous first round, really terrific, other than the Wings sweeping Phoenix every series has had plenty of drama.



So to the conference semifinals in the Campbell.



Canucks v. Predators



Few series I have witnessed can match the drama of the Canucks/Hawks matchup that just finished. The defending champions coming off of a desultory year facing the Cup favourites, two teams with a history, one franchise that erased a long history of losing last spring facing a franchise that has only a history of losing.



Game seven showed me why the Canucks still should be considered favourites or at least co-favourites. They used their size and speed to absolutely shut down Chicago for the most part. The Hawks had little room to move and while a few spoke of Luongo being redeemed I honestly thought he had to make few difficult saves, although the one on Sharp in OT was brilliant. Amazing stuff. The Canucks deserved the win last night but were inches away from losing it. That's hockey, as they say.



And imagine the fallout if they had lost? No matter now, they are through and we will see if, as has happened in the past with other champions, they will look back at the close call as how they made their bones to start their run. Or perhaps, as Toews noted, they are not who everyone thinks they are and they will be exposed as such in the next round or two.



The Hawks will be back next year I suspect. They have a new wave of kids coming and a long summer to recuperate and I would guess that next fall they come out of the gate strong. In Crawford they look to have a solid number one goalie (imo he's a better goalie than Niemi), they have a nice top four on the back end and of course they still have quite a bit of strength up front. They will be back. Probably for years to come.



As for the Canucks I know that a lot of folks figure they are going down now based on this epic speed wobble but my only concern if I were a Canucks' fan is the lack of production from the Sedins. Kesler sawed off Toews and that was well and good but the twins' failure to slap around Bolland, Frolik (a very good player btw) and Travis Bickell, bothers me a bit. I don't think it will be a big deal this round but in the conference final it will be either the Wings or Sharks and both clubs are deep up front. The twins have to be better. If they are I think the Canucks remain the team to beat.



For the Canucks it has played out quite well though when it comes to their second round matchup. While the Sharks and Wings pound each other Vancouver gets Nashville. The Preds are a solid club and they beat the Ducks which I expected but I don't think they have the talent to take down the Canucks. Depth goes a long long way and the Canucks have a ton of it. Rinne will make it difficult and it will be no walkover at all but I say Canucks in six.



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



Wings v. Sharks



Detroit looked like the class of the league in round one as they swept the Coyotes out of the playoffs and perhaps out of existence. And they did so without Zetterberg.



Pretty scary but not surprising. This is a club that would have won two straight cups prior to last year if it were not for injuries hobbling Datsyuk, Lidstrom and Hossa in 2009. They still came within a break or two of beating the Pens despite that.



They are deep and they are led by probably the best player in the game right now in Pavel Datsyuk. In San Jose they face a club that swept them aside last season, a four game blanking that was a lot closer than the scoreline.



San Jose did not impress in the first round but of course they rarely do come the spring. Facing a Kings' team whose number one centre was Jarret Stoll the Sharks needed three overtime victories, including one that finished off an epic collapse, to ease by LA. And Detroit is not LA.



Never mind the Sharks' history which everyone focuses on and surely will again if they fall short this round. Their goaltending is shaky, their D does not inspire confidence and too many of their forwards don't seem to score enough when faced with quality teams and tighter checking.



Wings in six but I can see it going even less.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Charlie Don't Surf!



Watched Apocalypse Now the other night. What a movie.


My favourite scene and perhaps my favourite scene from any movie is when the First Cavalry (now in choppers rather than on horses) attacks the Vietnamese village, coming in out of the rising sun, Ride of the Valkyries screaming, its just absolutely fantastic. The movie itself is a great movie, although not one of my alltime favourites, but its hard to think of a scene from any movie that is as unforgettable as this one. Its just fabulous.

And of course part of the reason is Robert Duvall. Duvall is one of my favourite actors, always has been. Now he's made bad movies, every actor had, but while DeNiro makes Meet The Fockers over and over again (get it? its funny because Fockers sounds like fuckers, hahahahaha) and Pacino has never been the same since Scent of a Woman when he DECIDED THAT HE HAD TO SUDDENLY SHOUT for no real reason in the middle of ordinary dialogue, Duvall has, like the late great Paul Newman, aged wonderfully.

And it helps that like Bill Murray he sounds like a very very cool guy. (Would have liked to have been on the set of Get Low, which starred Duvall and Murray). And of course he's Robert Duvall. Robert Frickin Duvall.

Charlie Don't Surf!

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Just as Charlie Don't Surf, I don't scout nor do I draft and as far as I know nobody else who comes to these parts does either.

So I tend to find it pretty funny when folks who, for the most part, have barely even seen any of the teenagers that will be up for the Oilers in June, have such strong opinions about these same players. I read a comment somewhere the other day from some clown that the Oilers had better not pick Larsson because he couldn't fight.

Nice.

I have learned my lesson after figuring last year that Seguin, sight unseen by me, was the better choice that Hall, based on, well I can't even remember what now.

And of course with that said its entirely possible that Seguin has the better career. One season does not the whole tale tell.

But I've learned my lesson and I'm just going to stay out of it. My gut says Larsson but my gut also told me to go home with that chick with the shaved head back in 94.

Actually my gut was right that time.

Alright it was my gut that told me that that last glass of wine last night was a good idea. It was not.

This draft is wide open and many of us are lamenting that there is no Crosby at the top of the board, forgetting that Jagr was not the top pick his draft year. Sakic was not. Forsberg was not. Datsyuk was not. Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Toews, Doughty, Pronger, Keith, well I can go on and on. Impact players can be found almost anywhere and I seem to remember that Stamkos wasn't highly rated compared to other years. For that matter neither was Hall really. The thought was that last year was a good but not great draft and this year we are hearing more of the same. No great players this year folks are saying as if the ability to play hockey skipped an entire annum's worth of youngsters. I would bet that five years from now a few of these top guys are terrific NHL players and probably every one of the top six or seven has a career.

Of course the problem is getting one of those guys who ends up terrific.

What do I think? Well first of all I have seen barely anything of any of these kids. A tiny bit of Landeskog and Larsson at the Juniors and a little bit more of Courturier. So nothing really. And nothing of Nugent Hopkins or Strome or Hamilton or the kid from New Brunswick.

So really I have very little to say except that I would think that the scouts have seen them all a thousand times, have done their due diligence and hopefully they will make the right pick. Who do I prefer? No idea. Always take the best player available I say even if Landeskog is it regardless of the fact that the one place the Oilers look set is on the wing. the knock on Landeskog is that he may not be an elite level offensive talent so he may be out anyhow. Courturier seems to be dropping like a stone. To me his skating is the biggest red flag and I can't see him being a fit on a club that looks to be building around the idea of pace but his skating has been what is it for a while so one thinks that scouts are seeing something else. He is getting knocked for not using his size and one thinks maybe the idea is there that he does not compete hard enough. Why else the plummet? He could be this year's Fowler, falling into someone's lap.

I think its between Nugent Hopkins and Larsson myself. The latter does not seem to have the offensive numbers that would point to a number one pick overall but as I said my gut likes him. He impressed me in limited viewing and when I hear Lidstrom's name mentioned with his then the ears perk up as they must.

As for RNH well his size does not concern me, he will bulk up, its the fact that his numbers tend to be skewed towards the power play more than would seem healthy.

Now I do know one guy who has actually seen a lot of Nugent Hopkins and this guy, Bruce McCurdy, has seen more hockey than I ever will. Bruce is a pretty astute observer and he, unless I misunderstand him, thinks the kid is the real deal.

Now Bruce, like myself, doesn't surf either. But he's seen the kid firsthand and he speaks glowingly about him.

That says a lot.

If I were a betting man I would lay money on Nugent Hopkins being the choice right now.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thanks A Million Boston, You Chokers


Early days, early days but fuck you Boston you jerks.


There go both of my pools. I figured the Bruins to at least go to the conference finals and here we are two games in and other than Chicago nobody is in worse shape. Skunked at home and Zdeno Chara suffering from karma if you believe in that sort of thing. I don't but the Bruins are in a daze and their margin for error is gone.


I always find the opening round of the playoffs to be the most interesting. This is where the upsets happen, where supposed heavyweights are often exposed or, quite simply, beaten by a lot of bad luck or a hot goalie. And the hysteria that accompanies the first few games, especially that first game, when a result is held up as an example of a trend. A heavy favourite loses and they are done for. A club wins one game and they are on their way. Narratives spring up, storylines that will be turned on their head two nights later.


What do they say in baseball? Its not momentum that matters but rather starting pitching? Something like that. Win that big extra inning game but face Cliff Lee next game and all of that rah rah stuff and emotion isn't going to help you hit him if he's got his stuff. Now I do think that you can talk about momentum in hockey to a certain extent. Call it momentum or confidence or whatever you want. If a club runs into a hot goalie and they struggle to beat him for a couple of games or as a club they have a tough time over a couple of games then I think that their confidence will waver. Not sure if you call that momentum. With all of that said every year its proven to us that a two game lead does not a series make so while we can look at what has happened so far and guess as to what come next you really can't write anyone off. Except for Chicago.


Here are my deep thoughts so far.


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I picked the Canucks in six but this one is over, maybe is a sweep. The Hawks deserve better but not much really. Its similar to the Wings/Sharks and Hawks/Sharks series from last season. A break or two here or there and Chicago could be up but the reality is they deserve to be down. Last season's club had a great top nine and Madden, Brouwer and Eager as their fourth line. On this year's club the third and fourth lines are interchangeable and the majority of their forwards would fit in with the Oilers. They're running out a bunch of kids = Ben Smith, Bickell, Dowell, Kruger - and while some of these guys may be part of the next wave of Hawks' kids who will supplement their stars they are ntot there yet. They certainly can't beat this veteran Canucks' team running out these guys, Fernando Pisani and John Scott. The Hawks came out of the gate slowly and have been fighting for a playoff spot pretty well all year. With Kopecky and Bolland out the holdovers from last season, Hossa, Toews, Kane and Sharp, look gassed. And Keith and Seabrook look exhausted as well.


This sounds like I am taking away from the Canucks. I am not. When the playoffs began I thought they were the team to beat and I still do. Knocking the Hawks off quickly will give them some rest and their next opponent will either be LA or Anaheim or Nashville. Can you see any of these clubs giving Vancouver a run? Not me. They are deep at every position and unless they have a serious run of injuries I think they are good to go all the way. First serious challenge looks to be in round three by my eye


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San Jose sure looked like San Jose on Saturday night huh? One wonders if last year may have been their best chance before their window closes. Seriously though, they could be down two to nothing to a club whose number one centre is, who? Handzus? Lewis? And they can't fall back on the fact that they are dominating their opponent. This isn't Craig Anderson and a ton of luck. This is a big club loaded with a lot of veterans guys who know how to play. Drew Doughty looked like Drew Doughty on Saturday night while Heatley, Thornton and Marleau looked like, well themselves but not in a good way. Now the Sharks could come back and win the next three but these guys never make it easy on themselves and the Kings' special teams are very good and they have enough guys who can play at evens as well. Its early to call an upset here but LA certainly looks up to the task.


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The Wings are cheering for the Kings, you can bet on that. If LA wins then like the Canucks their second round matchup will be a relatively easy one. The Yotes aren't dead yet but they're pretty damn close to it. Detroit just needs a split in Phoenix really and I would not be surprised if they swept this thing. Phoenix is a good club but they are not good enough. And this is a Wings' club without Henrik Z. They're a machine. And Pavel Datsyuk may very well be the best player in the league.


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I called Nashville to beat the Ducks and I still think its going to happen. These clubs are pretty evenly matched. The Ducks have the high end talent up front, the Preds have it on the back end but the difference, as I said, is goaltending. Rinne is going to outplay whomever the Ducks throw in there now and that will be the difference. The Preds remind me so much of the Oilers' little teams that could and its easy to cheer for these guys. They're going to be fodder in the second round most likely but it looks like finally they are going to see some playoff success. Good on them.


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The Rangers could be in better shape (it would help if Gaborik did something) and the reality is that Washington is probably going to move along but they are not out of the woods yet, the Caps that is. They have looked pretty good though and if they get the goaltending its easy to see them going to the final. Philadelphia has issues and Boston is dead in the water and I can't really see anybody else staying with the Caps. Early days though. A win in game four and they can probably move on quickly which will be a big help.


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The Flyers are dangerous because of all of that depth up front and on the blue but with Pronger out they're vulnerable. At best this series is going to go a long way and at worst they could be gone in the first round, which I called. Even if they do get out of round one does anybody really take them seriously with that goaltending? Of course they almost went all the way last season with similar tending so we'll see.


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Oh Boston you stupid fuckers. If Chara is out then they could very well be done already and even if he returns its hard to like their chances. Montreal, well I never would have figured it with the injuries but fair play to them. And this isn't like last year, they're sticking with Boston, its not all Price. Funny thing I read though - folks falling over themselves giving credit to Jack Martin, the same guy who coached all of those Ottawa clubs who failed so miserably. Goaltending can make a coach look damn good or damn bad eh?


Its not over for Boston but Claude Julien is a dead man walking and you have to figure this club gets dismantled if this does not end well for them.


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Finally I watched some of the Penguins and Tampa the other night and I forgot half of Tampa's roster. They have a long list of veteran guys who have been through the wars, haven't they? A lot of solid players up and down the roster, in a lot of ways they mirror Pittsburgh. The problem for the Pens is that with Crosby and Malkin out they are short on the high end guys to play with Kunitz and Dupuis and Kennedy and Talbot. Meanwhile while Stamkos struggles the Bolts can always turn to St. Louis. I see no reason to think that Tampa won't win this unless Fleury wins it on his own. He may but I doubt it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Soupy Campbell - This Is It


You never know what is going to happen but I do think that this year's Cup champion will be from the West. Again. Indeed if it were not for the Wings being severely hobbled two years back (Lidstrom, Hossa, Datsyuk) we'd be looking at four straight years of western champions coming into this spring. I think we'll see the same again this year. The best team and perhaps the best three teams reside out that way.


Vancouver v Chicago


Chicago is dangerous and they are probably the best team outside of the top three in the west. Certainly not the ideal opponent for Vancouver, especially in the first round where often giants fall. Could Chicago win? Absolutely but I don't think its very likely. Besides the fact that their depth took a hit last summer, Dave Bolland is hurt and Duncan Keith never really seems to have found his game this season. He's still good but he has not been great.


This may actually be a boon to the Canucks. They will not take the Hawks lightly at all nor should they. Chicago has throw two superior lines out there, one with Toews and Hossa that can basically take it to anybody in the league, one with Sharp and Kane to kill the soft. Their top four is quality and Crawford is quite good.


But ... after those top four forwards are a bunch of kids who have not been able to find their way this season. The Hawks have been inconsistent from day one. And the Canucks are the best team in the league. By a lot. Best in goals for and goals against. Excellent special teams. Deep at every position.


I think the Canucks have a battle on their hands but superior depth nearly always wins out. Canucks in six.


San Jose v LA


The Kings were everyone's darling before the season began but they never really seemed to hit their stride. The biggest reason is it seems that Drew Doughty had an average season after being absolutely terrific last year. Without that dominant guy on the back end the Kings never really got it going. They picked up Dustin Penner at the deadline and he has done very little and of course the injuries to Williams and Kopitar have really hurt them. In fact its killed them. They're dangerous (everyone is dangerous) but they are having an awful time scoring goals and that will probably do them in. At which point Terry Murray will probably get canned.


San Jose has kind of snuck under the radar this season. They had a slow start but they turned it around and as usual they are a favourite and maybe one of these years they will get somewhere. Deep up front, not so much on the blue. They have enough to beat the Kings but not sure what follows for them.


Sharks in 6, just because they never get out of the first round without a fight.


Wings v Coyotes


The Wings are the Wings and the Yotes are the Yotes and while Detroit is going to need Henrik Z. if they plan on another Finals' appearance, Pavel Datsyuk is probably the best player in the league and this club is, again, deep everywhere except for in net where there may be an issue. Phoenix is a good solid club but I don't think a good solid club beats the Wings. Lidstrom is only going to be around for a while longer. Detroit is going to be ready and they're going to win a tough slog.


Wings in 6.


Ducks v Nashville


Somehow Anaheim went from being on the bubble to having home ice advantage. Crazy race this year.


Nashville always makes the playoffs and they always lose the first round. Last year they had it made, on a PP with seconds to go against Chicago and then Kane tied it up and then Hossa won it OT and they were down instead of up and that was all for them.


This year though, is their year. I think they may be a better club than the Ducks anyhow but Anaheim's netminding is a mess and I don't think Dan Ellis has what it takes to win a round.


Preds in 6.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Prince of Wales - A Handsome Man Enters


Remember the year that TSN had the monkey picking playoff winners and it outperformed the panellists? Did that happen? I think it did.


I was going to do that with the big fellow a couple of years back and then I got too busy plus he wasn't really keen on the idea. Felt that him picking a cookie to determine a series winner was too random and ignored his knowledge of historical trends and special teams goal differential. Plus he thought it was going to cut into his drinking. Buddy loved his gin and tonics.


Bob MacKenzie tweeted yesterday that he was not going to make any picks this year. Its become a real mug's game and last year when the eastern underdogs ran the table, similar to the west in 2006, was not predicted by anybody.


With all that said I'm in two hockey pools this year and I do this every year and so lets do it again. I usually end up picking eleven out of fifteen series correctly, except for a few years ago when I tried to prove my cleverness and ended up getting nine right or some such thing. Even last year I think I got eleven or twelve. So yeah I have the fever. Or something. I don't know.


So, starting with the Prince of Wales, lets see what we have for the first round. I think it fairly wide open this year but if I were to pick one team (and I did in my pool) I would pick the Bruins. And after Chicago won last season I'm hoping that Boston goes all the way. Old school. If I were king I'd contract the fuck out of the NHL.


And I'm going to go against my own advice here and totally totally am going to outsmart myself and set myself up to fail. Oh well, have to go with the gut.



Washington v Rangers


Here's the thing I don't get about the Capitals. Its not like they were getting beaten 7-6 last spring. Their issue wasn't stopping the puck, it was scoring. And as a response they tighten up their system, start trapping some, basically cut down on their own offence.


I don't get it. They ran into a hot hot goalie and had a lot of bad luck and their response is to move away from their strengths.


I like Boudreau a lot but I think this is it for him. I like the Rangers here. If they had Callahan healthy I think they would be all set but even now I like their chances enough to pick them in seven. They had a better goal differential than the Caps despite playing in, imo, a tougher division. They have the better goaltender and looking at their lineup I see a whole lot of big, fast men who are hard to play against. I don't think the Caps are going to find any space to work and I think that Ovechkin, who gets a little to up and down for my taste, is going to start to press too much.


Rangers in 7


Flyers v Les Sabres


One of the things I really enjoyed about last season was the fact that most of the clubs involved were your established franchises. By round two it was, with the exception of San Jose and the Canucks, all original six or 1967 clubs, and of course the Canucks have been around forever as well. This year there are way too many of these newbies for my liking. Give me a matchup like this one where the cities actually give a damn.


And yes I would love to see a Sabres miracle run.


Now that's not likely to happen but I like their chances here for three reasons. First of all the Sabres have been a very good team for quite a while after a slow start and the Flyers have been not so hot since a great start. I'm not talking the last few weeks. There's enough history to prove that how you finish the season matters not a whit. I'm talking months where Buffalo has been playing great and the Flyers have not. Secondly, goaltending. Its always iffy in Philly and there's no change this year. And the Sabres have Ryan Miller. And finally Chris Pronger's status is in doubt. He was supposed to be back a while ago and then by the end of the season and now he is out for at least game one. Without his thirty minutes a game the Flyers are going nowhere at all.


Sabres in 6.


Bruins v Habs


I grew up on a steady diet of the Habs beating the Bruins in almost every conceivable way. As the overwhelming favourites and as the underdogs. In a rout or in a nailbiter. Didn't matter. I can't remember the actual year that Boston finally beat Montreal but I do recall thinking that Ray Bourque's play that series was the best I had ever seen by any player up to that point of my life and I cannot recall a similar feeling since. He singlehandedly beat the Habs that spring.


Of course Montreal are the guys who went on the magic run last season so maybe the injuries to Markov and Gorges and Max P. don't matter but the reality is this club is so so thin and the Bruins are so so deep that I can't see this being much of a contest. Depth means everything in the playoffs. That's why Chicago won last year and why Philadelphia almost did. That's why Boston collapsed last year. They ran out of guys and so this year they added Peverley and Kelly. Those guys are going to make a difference.


BTW when did Scott Gomez become so shitty? Seven goals and a minus fifteen at that price? And he played nearly every game. People hate Horcoff's contract. His looks like a bargain compared to this little fathead.


Bruins in six. Maybe less. Their GD is the best in the East, second best in the league iirc. This is a good club and they are going to make a long run, probably to the finals.


Pens v Tampa


Penguins have a hell of a coach, don't they? Crosby is still the leading scorer here despite missing months and of course Big Ugly is out too. Just a bunch of hard working professional veteran players. You know, the type of guys that the Oilers can't be bothered to pick up to augment their kids. The fucking dummies.


I do think that this is it for Pittsburgh though. It will be tight but Tampa has a solid team themselves and once Roloson squared away the goaltending they were fine. I know a lot of people hate the whole Yzerman love the media gets into but I do believe that buddy is one smart guy. He makes those nice low cost bets and he has himself a pretty good club here.


Tampa in 6.


Next, the Brian Campbells.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Where's The Indian?! An Evening in Dublin



The second time I was in Dublin was for both business and pleasure. I had meetings but my evenings were free and I had a weekend to myself as well. That trip was when I really came to know that old town.


The Friday we finished up early in the afternoon and they called me a cab and I headed downtown. I was meeting my friend Cathal Byrne for pints after dinner at an old pub called McDaid's but I had a few hours to kill beforehand so I did a little wander. I went to the Stag's Head,a beautiful old pub, all wood and brass, hidden down an alley. A pint and then out into the street and on to The Old Stand another old beauty, the men behind the marble bar in white jackets, the low hum of conversation. Another pint and then out again and I began to notice that the streets and alleys were becoming lively with song and shouts as kilted Scotsmen began to appear, like me, moving from pub to pub. It was the Six Nations rugby and the next afternoon the Scots were meeting the Irish at Croke Park and with Edinburgh and Glasgow less than an hour flight away it turns out that many Scots make the trip, some with tickets, some just to party in old Dublin. The next pub I entered, Dawson's Lounge, is called the smallest pub in Dublin, and when I came down the stairs to the tiny room I was immediately plunged into a kilted mess, pints clinking, the thick accented roar, the sour smell of many drunken men. Another pint and then, feeling myself drifting already, a belly of Guinness spreading through me, I figured I had better grab myself a bite or it would be an early night.


A little later I made my way to McDaid's (all of these pubs are within minutes of each other). I looked in but Cathal had not found his way there yet and so I stepped back out into the warm Dublin evening to catch my breath. I was minding my business when all of a sudden a group of lads came up to me and one says, in a thick Scottish burr:


Where's the Indian?


I was a bit confused and I'm sure I looked a bit stunned for he says again, now shouting


Hey there, where's the Indian? We're looking for the Indian! Can you help us?


Erm, what do you mean? I said, thinking I was about to be plunged into some drama involving a case of mistaken identity with a pack of mumbling gangsters, whisked away to Corsica and buried in the hills there.


Wha? I said where's the Indian? There's supposed to be a great Indian restaurant around here and we trying to find it, he says.


Well, I said, I'm from Canada so I'm afraid you've asked the wrong guy. (Although my third time there I think I found the place they were looking for, it was just around the corner. Next time I'll be ready).


He began to laugh and his pals ribbed him about asking for directions from the one guy in a thousand on the street who was not from Dublin and then they headed into McDaid's.


Shortly thereafter I got thirsty and figured I'd head in myself. I opened the door and entered the roar and as I made my way to the bar for a pint a familiar song rang out.


My new acquaintances were singing Oh Canada, glasses raised in my direction.


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


Five shitty years and oh my its tiresome. Makes one wonder if the Oilers do the hiring for management by walking up to random guys on the street as well. Your friend and mine, Pat LaForge telling Eric Francis that the Oilers didn't blow it up, the team imploded, as if, somehow, management was not responsible. Much like 'Holy Cow we have a lot of defencemen' it was suddenly 'Holy Cow we're a terrible team. How did that happen?!'


Of course it was sadly close to that I suspect. A team that lurched back and forth from picking up kids to selling them off for veterans over the past few years thought their team was so terrible two summers ago that they gave Khabibulin a big contract in order to take this club to the promised land. Eight months later they realized they were sadly mistaken.


Sigh.


Now having said all of that while this year was another awful one to suffer through as a fan it also gave us a glimpse of what may be a bright future. If the kids stay healthy and if management gets a clue, the first being, well, up to the hockey gods, and the second, being, really unlikely, seriously, based on the stylings of Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini thus far, then we may have something going on here.


I'm being a prick here and seeing that the Oilers are not in the playoffs again, I think its warranted. But ... I have to be fair. The Oilers are loaded with prospects and with OKC making the playoffs tonight, Tambellini has to get some credit. He wanted to rebuild the organization and the performance of the AHL club has been impressive considering the disaster the affiliates have been for years. So, credit where its due to the dummies. ;)


Now, about those kids.


Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle held their own and quite often outchanced the opposition and the opposition's best at times. Two kids who can do that? Seriously?


Paajarvi did not get the opportunity that Hall did and until Penner was sent away he was third on the the depth chart at LW. Look at the Oilers' lineup and you know he wasn't getting much in the way of linemates and as a result he struggled somewhat, especially playing with noted hockey geniuses Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule. The nineteen year old was the best player on that line and when Penner was moved he got more icetime and the goals started coming and guess what? Looks like we have another player on our hands.


These three were expected but Linus Omark finally got the call and yeah he can play too. He may never get trusted playing the toughs but the little guy will make hay on the PP and my guess is he could kill the soft for this club. A dynamic player who wins puck battles, something the Oilers have been unable to do for years.


Teemu Hartikainen was a sixth round pick. He's covered the bet already. He is big and he plays big and he's got nice hands and he wins puck battles and he's green but he's earned himself a spot on next year's roster already with his play since he got called up.


Theo Peckham looked like he might be in trouble coming into camp but he earned his spot and had a pretty good year. He may be no more than a third pairing guy but he's that at the very least and there is a chance he is more. And he's a tough customer and a lot of fun to watch.


Jeff Petry can play. Smooth and a good skater and again, he's a hockey player, like every guy mentioned so far. He steps on the ice and he's green but he can play. He'll be on the roster next year and I would bet that he's partnered with Whitney to start the year.


Dubnyk has had a very good year. Again, he may be no more than a very good backup but the potential is there. He may be a starter, he may be an actual number one. Crazy stuff for a franchise that hasn't drafted a good goaltender since before I started high school. That is a long long time ago.


And finally our friend Jean Vandevelde. As a golfer, well he's a choker. And in his rookie season as a pro he struggled terribly until the new year and now, in his cup of coffee, he has looked, well, not so bad. He can win faceoffs (wha, wha dat?) and he's a big man and if he can hold his own then things get more interesting still.


So here is the question. What happens this summer?


There are two ways this can happen and I think we all know which one its going to be. The Oilers can stay the course and go with the kids or they can actually augment the youngsters with some veterans who can play.


Here is the depth chart going into the summer - this includes UFAs.


LW - Hall, Paajarvi, Jones, Hartikainen, Reddox, Jacques, Hamilton


C - Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano, Fraser, Vandevelde, O'Marra, Lander, Kytnar, Martindale

RW - Hemsky, Eberle, Omark, Brule, Stortini, MacIntyre, McDonald, Pitlick

D - Whitney, Gilbert, Smid, Peckham, Petry, Vandermeer, Foster, Strudwick, Chorney, Plante, Teubert, Motin, Marincin, Davidson

G - Dubnyk, Khabibulin, Roy


Thoughts on this:


Hall, Paajarvi, Eberle, Peckham, Dubnyk are obviously going nowhere. They are established in the NHL.


Based on what we have seen can we say the same about Omark, Petry and Hartikainen? I would say yes absolutely. The Oilers are not sending these guys down next fall.


Its doubtful that the Oilers can move Ales Hemsky this summer because of his injury. If Sam Gagner were on the block I would say the same for him.


Khabibulin's contract is not moveable and I can't see Katz agreeing to pay more money to a guy not playing in Edmonton so he will be back.


Based on all of this we can probably predict the roster the Oilers are going to break camp with next fall.


LW - Hall, Paajarvi, Hartikainen

C - Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano

RW - Hemsky, Eberle, Omark

D - Whitney, Petry, Smid, Gilbert, Peckham

G - Dubnyk, Khabibulin


Not a lot of room left there to bring in the guys that this club has needed for years, that is, some veterans to help win some games. As a matter of fact I would propose that the number of questions facing management is a pretty short one.


1/ Do they sign Ryan Jones? He's probably going to command a decent salary, probably far more than he is worth. This isn't Curtis Glencross, this is more like Gilbert Brule. They will have the cap room though and I'm thinking they may give him two years. If they do then they are set at LW if they bring Reddox back to PK and bring energy.


2/ What of Foster and Fraser? These guys were cheap gambles that did not work out so much this year. I don't see anyone taking them and I don't really see Katz paying them to play in the minors. Foster would be the sixth defenceman so there is room for another veteran to replace Vandermeer if they choose to go that way or a kid like Plante or Teubert if they figure either is ready. (Or for Larsson if they pick him and bring him over). As for Fraser well if they go with a centre first overall and he makes the club then Fraser is your fifth centre. If they do not then he slots in fourth, same as this year, unless he gets passed by Vandevelde or O'Marra, which is possible,


3/ What about Brule? Well there is something going on here and I wonder if its a chronic illness. Too much mystery here. I see no reason to bring him back but if Katz does not want to pay him to play in the minors then he slots in on the fourth line.


4/ As for Jacques, Stortini, MacIntrye? Gone.


We know what the plan is. Its to lose until the kids become the Boys on the Bus or Chicago or Pittsburgh. Now if they become Florida or Atlanta or the Islanders then I'm not sure what the next step will be other than heavier drinking but this is what they are doing and so next year is going to be more of the same for us. If the kids all take a step forward and the club stays healthy then they may move out of lottery territory but looking at that roster they just need everything to go right to do so. Probably not a great bet. In other words, lottery territory next season, once again.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Its Over, Not A Moment Too Soon


Back in October I thought things would look like this.


Now usually I do alright in these types of things when it comes to the West but not so much for the East. Two years ago I predicted seven out of eight playoff clubs that came out of the Campbells but out East I think I only got four. Something like that.


This year though, I've pretty well nailed it, if not the order of finish at least those clubs who will play after this weekend.


And for all the talk of parity and how the salary cap brings clubs back to the pack (hello Chicago) and how the three point game keeps teams in the race longer I think that this predictability is a good reflection of what has really been a forgettable year.


Now this may all change with the playoffs but the year has been a dull one, lets face it. This is often typical for a league whose season runs probably twenty games too long, imo, and which is so poorly run that fans end up talking about what is going on off the ice more often than what is going on on the ice. And so this year we had the Colin Campbell fiasco, the Phoenix situation and the whole headshots' debate. What goes on off the ice overshadows what happens in the games and when the one story that had folks talking this fall, that is, the incredible play of Crosby, is derailed by a concussion then this is what we get.


To be fair to the NHL its a hard act to follow, what has happened these past few years. Coming out of the lockout the game has become far more pleasing to watch although the increased speed has led to the current injury issue that is so troubling. Players are bigger and they are not being impeded anymore and while this has made games fun to watch it has also led to the awful results from more violent collisions. Anyhow the game has gotten better and coming off of three seasons where the Stanley Cup ended up being decided by marquee matchups, each year ramping up the drama, it makes it difficult for the NHL to become more interesting. First a Cup for the premier franchise in sports, a victory over the genius that is Crosby. Then a rematch where revenge was achieved. And then two of the premier clubs in the league, ending with a victory for a franchise that had not tasted victory since 1961.


Only a Leafs' victory could outdo that of the young Chicago club in terms of pure historical cachet and we all know that is not happening, again. A championship for Washington or San Jose or a return to glory by Detroit or Pittsburgh won't have the same impact as last year's return to glory by the franchise of Mikita and Hull.


This is not to say that all is lost. The storylines are there and even a Caps or Penguins' championship would be a dramatic result. A long and successful Canucks' run (I know, I know) or a miracle for the long suffering Sabres would be engaging. Really though, if we want to see a truly magical moment, how about a return of the Cup to the Boston Bruins? I'm kind of hoping that is what we see this spring.


As for this season which is winding down there were a few surprises.


If the Hawks make it then the only mistake I will have made out west will have been to select the Flames to make it rather than the Ducks. I said that at least two teams would have to make it from the NW but apparently I was wrong. The Flames would have made it but for that awful start but their decline is going to continue I think. They are against the cap and that is going to cost them Glencross as well as a few other useful veterans. Their farm system is bankrupt and the problem they have (not uncommon) is that they are caught in a tough spot. Many players have no value. Move those who do and you're destroying your team's competitiveness. Its going to be a long decline for the Flames I think.


I did not think Vancouver would be this good. Quality club and I think that barring injuries they have to be the heavy favourite to win it all. They are just so deep and so good at every position. They are going to probably get Chicago or Anaheim in the first round and while I know there is a lot of talk that they welcome the challenge of Chicago in particular I think that facing a Blackhawks team (if they make it!) that probably should be seeded higher is not really their first choice.


I really did think the Hawks would be better this season but they were poor early in the season, Kane and Keith and Hjarmalsson especially, and their goaltending was below average until Crawford earned the job. The biggest killer though was that even after their veterans got it together the kids who I expected to pick up the ball from those who had departed were not able to do so. Brouwer and Stallberg and Skille were inconsistent or not up to the task and I guess while that might have been expected, that, in the end, is what has made it a difficult year for the champions. I suspect that they will bounce back next year in a big way.


Out east the Devils' collapse was unexpected by everyone and I also had the Sens in there and in their place we have the Habs and either the Rangers or Canes. The Devils' poor showing was, strangely enough, laid at the feet of pretty well everyone but poor John MacLean, who like Wayne Cashman, waited and waited and when he finally got his shot, was found wanting. MacLean, like Craig Hartsburg, must be a great guy, as media blamed Kovalchuk most of all. Thing is, its probably as simple as MacLean was out of his depth. Its funny though. I remember when Hartsburg failed in Ottawa how the blame was laid on the players and all I could think of was how Hartsburg, an excellent junior coach, had failed miserably three times in the NHL. Oh well.


To me the East looks like it did last year, top heavy, but we know how that turned out in the playoffs. It should be a great spring in the Prince of Wales though, with the Flyers ripe for upset after sagging badly, the Bruins trying to forget last year's ghosts (staying healthy should do it), the Caps trying to get over the hump and the Penguins lurking in the weeds, somehow staying near the top without Crosby and Malkin. Dan Bylsma is some coach, huh?


Eugene Melnyk showed that apparently he is cut from the same cloth as Daryl Katz, giving the man who destroyed a perennial contender a three year extension. Its going to be a long road for Sens fans one has to think.


And finally a few thoughts about the local team. I'm not a big fan of Brian Burke or at least his public persona but he's a good hockey man I would say. He got a bit lucky being unable to unload Grabovski last summer and yes the Leafs have again fallen short of the playoffs, a streak longer than the Oilers, but this club is a lot better than last year's and one would think that they have a good shot at the playoff spot next year. If they stay reasonably healthy and get good goaltending I think its a sure bet.


What Burke has done is turn an aging team with plenty of bad contracts into a young one with a lot of promise and only Mike Komisarek as a truly awful deal on the books. They have a lot of room under the cap. They have four young defencemen in Phaneuf, Aulie, Schenn and Gunnarsson and up front they have Kulemin, Grabovski, MacArthur and Kessel. Lupul is playing his best hockey since his first tour in Anaheim and Kadri, brought along slowly, looks like he may be a player.


I'm not saying the Leafs are all the way back but Burke has a team that is young and it is cheap and if Reimer is the real deal then its a team on the way up and that is far better than the mess he inherited. There are holes but the holes are fewer than they were and they can be filled with the proper moves.


Proper moves, imagine that?


And of course, being an Oilers' fan you might understand the lack of enthusiasm from this corner for the season just past. Some hope, yes, but another terrible year, the fifth in a row. Hard to stay engaged as a fan. And a little hard to hear Cogliano say the other day, in the wake of another disaster, that the players want to win, unlike the fans (I am paraphrasing). Matheson tweeted this and I replied almost immediately that he might tell Cogliano that the fans want to win pretty badly too. Its management and ownership that need to figure it out, the stupid fuckers.


Next, a little writeup on the Oilers and then, playoff predictions.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Random


It was over twenty five years ago that a young man walked up to a door in Toronto and knocked on it and in doing so determined where I am today. At that time I was a high school kid in Sudbury. I did not know Jeff Charbonneau. I did not know that in a couple of years I would move to Toronto and go to school. I didn't know that his choice that evening would start a chain of events that would result in me, the present me, I mean.


Jeff was a first year student at the University of Toronto, the oldest of three brothers from Windsor. He was looking for something a little different and so one evening he went walking up St. George Street, looking at the assorted fraternity houses arrayed there. He walked up to one for no other reason that at the point he got his nerve up. He knocked on the door and walked in.


(Before I go on a quick word because I know that frats get a bad rap and in some cases for good reason. In this case we're talking about a bunch of the most regular guys you could ever meet, the sons of teachers and TTC workers, salesmen and middle managers. We had some weirdos but it was really just a rollicking good time with some terrific fellows. Guys like me. ;) )


So here's the story in a nutshell. Jeff ended up joining the fraternity. Two years later I arrived in Toronto and moved into a residence at St. Mike's. There were nine of us on our floor in our old stone house. One of the guys was from Windsor. Jeff's youngest brother. We used to tag along with him to parties and we had quite a bit of fun. I also found out that the rent in the house was dirt cheap and that they had spaces available the following fall.


(This almost fell through but that's a story for another day by the riverbank).


I ended up joining the fraternity. The following year one of my housemates was partying at Vic College and he met some guy there, can't remember the exact circumstance, maybe they were in a class together. Anyhow they became friends and soon after Paul also became a member of the fraternity and we became great friends and still are today.


A few years after that Paul got the nerve up to ask a girl out from one of his classes who he used to see quite a bit at a dungy coffee shop where they both happened to study in between coffee and cigarettes.


After we graduated (this was in the early 90s) times were a little tough. Looking for a job I was hired on at the video store that Lana was managing.


When I was working at the video store I met a woman and we became friends. She introduced me to her sister, the girl from Rawlins Cross.


We started dating and after a while I met her uncle, who owned a software company. He offered me some work and ironically, when the girl from Rawlins Cross and I broke up he hired me on full time, sending me to PEI as my first assignment. I was supposed to go for three months. I stayed a year.


And I met a girl from PEI.


And the rest, as they say, is history.


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


Now this isn't earthshattering stuff. Its not like I was storming Juno and a bullet meant for me never found me while boys all around me fell. Its pretty banal. I roomed with a guy's brother. There was a cheap room in a house. One guy became friends with another guy who would later meet a girl. I was able to get a job. I met a girl and then another girl. And so on.


But if Jeff Charbonneau had knocked on another door (perhaps they'd have no room or the guys would have been jerks and he would have walked away) or his brother and I had not become friends or there had been no available room or ... or ... or ...


Well who knows where I would be. There'd be no me, as I am. No us, as we are.


One thing changes and it all does.


I've always believed in life as being random. Now some might call it fate and you might talk about predetermination or free will or all that but I'm no deep thinker as you all know. Things happen and you take that path and what you do on that path determines what happens next. I got my chance because I was sleeping with the girl from Rawlins Cross but if I had not taken that opportunity well then things take another turn again.


I believe in luck but I believe you make your own as well. I've played on and coached and watched enough sports and lived enough of life to know that sometimes you lose your job because you're a fool, not because of bad luck, and your hockey team wins more often than it loses not because it gets the bounces, although sometimes that is the case, but because your team is in proper position more often than not and the players are skilled enough that they pick off the errant passes and make fewer of their own.


And now having said that I'll say another, that usually deserve hasn't a thing to do with it. We like to think we earn what we get but we've had an awful run of luck in our house lately, for about a year now. Nothing has changed in the past year as compared to years previous when things fell on the right side of the ledger other than time marching on. Time marching on did in my old fellow and it did not help my mom who battled illness most of last year and it left friends of ours without parents. Growing older means that these things are starting to happen on a regular basis.


But the appearance of lice, the leak in a gas pipe, other irritating fiascos and bumps in the road (because really, compared to the health of family and friends, these things, while stressful, are nothing but minor irritants), these things that seemed to pop up regularly over this past year, well, they had nothing to do with anything, much less deserving or not deserving.


Just random and crazy. Life.


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


On the other hand there are times when you do get what you deserve and the Edmonton Oilers, dead last for the second straight year, out of the playoffs for five straight years, are getting theirs. Well, management is. Steve Tambellini has proven that he can build a last place team on purpose, a year after doing so by accident (read, incompetence). Of course if they truly got what they deserved they'd be unemployed.


There has been an awful run of injuries but a club so shallowly constructed could not even survive the loss of one defenceman. When Whitney went down the season, not that there was much going on, went with him and so here we are again.


And yet on the other hand there is more than H.O.P.E. now, so again deserve has little to do with it when it comes to Oilers' management, for this season has not only brought Hall Omark Paajarvi Eberle, players all, but Peckham, Petry, Dubnyk and now Hartikainen.


A rookie crop like one we have never seen. Eight players who can contribute. At worst Dubnyk looks to be a solid back up and the two Dmen a third pair and only time will tell if we are selling them short. Eight graduates, not officially (if there is such a thing) if you use Lowetide's rule of fifty games for skaters but surely the Finn will break camp with the big club next fall unless he trains with me this summer.


And still the cupboard is not bare with Marcinin, Hamilton, Pitlick, Lander, Davidson, Blaine, Martindale all on the way not to mention the take from this summer's draft yet to come.


So perhaps deserve has nothing to do with it. Of course the kids have done nothing yet and may never will. And maybe management blows it and then certainly they must get sacked once and for all.


Here is hoping that the hockey gods look upon Oiler fans and figure that when it comes to deserving, we certainly do.


Although deserving really has nothing to do with it, sadly for us.