Friday, September 30, 2011

Be Careful Out There!


As you get older your shit starts to break down. My wife's fighting a hip problem as she trains for a half marathon and I have a bit of a bad back these days. A couple of weeks ago I slept a bit off and ended up with a sore shoulder for a few days. And with another season of Capsule hockey starting I look forward to those mornings when I get out of bed and hobble around like a little old man. Its the freakish stuff that is the most annoying though. A few winters ago my old man yanked at a shed door that was frozen shut. He ended up tearing his bicep up which ended his curling season early that year. He healed up okay only to find out that somehow while he had his bad arm he managed to damage his shoulders some way, probably to do with compensating for his arm. Ended up fighting that through the whole summer. He was not impressed.

I had my own freak accident last summer. I was upstairs and got a little worked up, as I tend to do, might have seen a pair of the wife's underwear in the hamper or something (it doesn't take much), and so with the entire family around and the actual opportunity to have sex then and there impossible I was forced to take manners into my own hands.

So to speak.

I can't remember why but what I did was lay on the bed with my legs over the edge, I think figuring that if I heard someone coming up the stairs I could stand up quickly after putting my Magic Johnson away. Like the Dunphys we don't have a lock on the old bedroom door.

It didn't come to that but a word to the unwise, not a good idea as I ended up pulling a muscle, well another one, in my upper back as I was playing the back nine.

Bastard hurt like crazy for two weeks.

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The Oilers have been a poor team for the last five years now, mostly because they have employed a lot of bad hockey players and because management has been screwing the pooch but there has been another contributing factor to this disaster - injuries.

Some of it has been attributed to the team not being tough enough and some of it has been freakish and some of it has been the result of the Oilers employing guys who tend to get injured.

Much has been made of the team 'getting their show run' and the Oilers have had their share of guys who have had their bells rung over the years by opponents who don't seem too concerned about retribution. So Stoll was driven into the boards head first and Hemsky takes an enormous amount of abuse every time he steps over the blueline and of course they have been a smaller team these last few years and so bigger clubs take some liberties. First team toughness was supposed to take care of this but of course we've seen Ethan Moreau, Sheldon Souray and Taylor Hall all get injured fighting so ... maybe not so good. They then hired the biggest baddest goon they could find because it was after Laraque left that this all began. Problem is the biggest goon couldn't play hockey and he didn't really act as a deterrent anyhow. Every year MacIntyre played with the club there were still the same situations. Guys getting picked on, gooned, concussed and so on.

So this year we see the third option, the addition of Eager and Hordichuk and Sutton to augment Peckham and Peckman, guys who can, mostly, play a bit and whose job will be to fight the other team's goons (see Hordichuk v Fedoruk the other night) and prevent guys like Mike Duco from going after the franchise kids. Oh wait, that didn't happen?

This is the problem with the whole deterrence argument. Sometimes it doesn't make a lot of sense when it runs into cold hard fact. And there's also the fact that the most successful team in the league these past number of years, the Red Wings, have not employed a goon in ages. They fight less than any team in the league. And when Chicago won it all they didn't employ a goon. Nor did Carolina.

So ... we'll see how Eager and Sutton are going to make this work. They're the guys who are going to be riding the range, looking for that ... chuckwagon, so lets hope their presence makes a difference. I do seem to remember that teams didn't generally fuck with the Oilers when Gator and Le GG and Moreau took regular shifts, so maybe there's something there.

The best way to stop the other team's goons is to fill the net on the power play but of course we know how that goes in Edmonton. Maybe this year it changes.

HAHAHAHAHHA

No ... seriously.

As for the other issues well when you employ guys like Sheldon Souray and Ethan Moreau and poor old Fernando Pisani then likely you're going to have holes in your lineup at times. And it looks like Horcoff (age and chronic issues), Hemsky (getting pounded and chronic issues) and Whitney (chronic issues), are becoming those guys, although Whitney came to Edmonton with a bit of a reputation as being brittle iirc. With all that said I remember Saku Koivu having a rep for being brittle for years and then suddenly he got healthy and stayed that way. Sometimes guys run into some bad luck and then they end up ok.

The ironic thing was one reason folks were against signing Smyth was that they figured he'd be hurt a lot. Except for one year he has been healthy for nearly the entire contract. I'm sure that will change this year though.

In any case when it comes to the Oilers they only have themselves to blame in a few of these cases. Everyone knew that Souray and Khabibulin had injury issues so its no surprise that they were and have been hurt a lot. And the fact that the ice at Rexall may be contributing to this as well, well if I had millions of dollars invested in hockey players I might want to make sure that working conditions are the best possible that they can be.

And of course there is just the plain old run of bad luck. Pubitis and broken hands and shoulders thrown out suddenly and Souray's spill into the boards and Gagner getting his hand sliced open - shit just happens and it seems to have been happening to the Oilers a lot. Hell Laddy Smid is a one man MASH unit out there, remember when he drove himself into the boards?

But sometimes this is the way it goes. I remember the Habs having a run of a number of years where they had tons of injuries and Vancouver's D has had a couple of years with the same situation. And remember how Les Sabres had their Cup run derailed by an unbelievable run of injuries and ailments that left their blue in their game seven staffed by Brian Campbell and a bunch of guys named Mo?

Sometimes shit happens and that's all there is.

Training camp is coming to a close pretty soon and Whitney, Gagner and Eager are the question marks. Looks like Gagner is out for a while so its possible Lander gets a look at 4C although more likely Brule gets that slot and keeps it warm until Gagner returns or Lander is a little more ready. Eager and Whitney remain question marks for opening night too.

Injuries.

If Whitney misses little time and he, Hemsky and Horcoff can stay healthy (along with everyone else of importance) then even with the shaky blue I'm thinking the club may actually be out of the lottery this year. Not far out but improved.

Crazy? No because there are other teams that are going to get ravaged by injuries also. It always happens and if other clubs get crazy bad luck on this front or even lose a couple of key guys then all the Oilers will need to do is stay healthy and they'll pass them by the side of the road.

Baby steps.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Getting There


Still no really hard choices made by the Oilers as another dozen cuts today. No real surprises at all.

Marincin back to junior as expected. Great first half last year and then he tailed off. I did not see him play in camp but reports describe a raw talent who needs seasoning..

Going to Oklahoma City - Roy, Lowery, Plante, Tulupov, Martindale, Pitlick, Hamilton, Cornet, House, Kytnar, Vandevelde.

Of note - Tulupov and Martindale both going to OKC. With the Oilers at 48 of 50 contracts with Marincin going back to junior they have just enough room to sign both men. Rumours of Martindale being signed have been floating about for a while now. I think we have to expect that there will be more roster moves so that they are not right against the limit. Lowetide has opined that Motin's time may be done. Perhaps another borderline prospect or two will get moved as well or maybe even the mythical quantity for quality trade for a top four defenceman.

I don't even know if I would call it a mild surprise but I did think that Vandevelde might get the call as an extra forward especially if Lander was ticketed for OKC but he doesn't make the cut.

The rest of the kids getting sent down include Pitlick who probably showed best of this list and Hamilton who we all expect to get the call some day. The biggest disappointment has to be Plante who had a lot of games in camp and looked dreadful for the most part. Like Rob Schremp was he is being passed by everyone and his dog.

Injuries have worked their way into the conversation with Whitney, Eager and now Gagner all out. No word on the severity of Gagner's injury yet. Eager was concussed so who knows with that. And Whitney sounds like a longterm issue.

So here is who is left, thirty five strong:

G - Dubnyk, Khabibulin, Denis - Dubnyk has been excellent. Khabibulin was much better last start although he let in a howler as is his wont. No surprises here, we just wait to see who starts the opener, has to be Dubnyk unless he falls apart this week I would guess.

D - Whitney, Gilbert, Smid, Barker, Sutton, Peckham, Chorney, Fedun, Petry, Potter, Teubert - Whitney's injury means there are two open spots. Teubert's injury has lost him camp so he's done. Fedun has been a nice surprise but needs seasoning so one would think its between Chorney, Petry and Potter. Petry struggled but was better last game. Potter has been solid. If I were a betting man I would say Chorney and Potter with Petry getting the first call. Long run Petry will be very good and he may make the club but I think his early stumbles give the club an easy out. They don't like waiving young guys who can be claimed and while I think Chorney is nothing but a tweener I think he makes the team.

C - Horcoff, Belanger, Gagner, Lander, Ted Nugent, O'Marra, Brule - with Gagner hurt the window opens slightly for Lander. I would still prefer to see him get sent to OKC to play on the first line there but this week may tell the tale. Nugent Hopkins is going to make this team. O'Marra may make it as the fourth line centre, believe it or not. Brule has been terrible and I wonder if they might release him outright. Seems like a nice kid but he's had a tough time. Maybe they keep him as the fourth if Gagner is hurt but his time as an Oiler is short.

Wing - Eager, Eberle, Hall, Hemsky, Smyth, Hordichuk, Paajarvi, Omark, Jones, Petrell, Tyrvainen, Green, Keller, Hartikainen - here is where things are interesting, Green and Keller are getting courtesy as vets I think so scratch them, that leaves a dozen players for ten spots if they only run four centres. If Eager is out then that leaves only one cut to make. Petrell has been excellent by all accounts. Hartikainen has also made an impact although one thinks he would be best served as a top nine guy. He can play on the fourth line but if it came to that I would prefer he gets big minutes in OKC. And then there is the other Finn Tyrvainen.

All three Finns bring something that this team has lacked these past few years. It appears that two may make it unless Eager is okay to start the season. In any case I don't think its long before all three are on the roster full time.

The tough choices still remain. Should be interesting to see how Gagner and Eager's status has an impact and whether or not Tambellini makes any moves.

Friday, September 23, 2011

In This Country - Terry Fox



The idea of heroes is one that has fallen into disrepute over the years. Today its almost impossible, with cellphones and the digital age, to remain above it all, removed from humanity, from your own humanity. There are cameras and a thousand television stations and the interweb and a million, ten million, one hundred million people around the world ready to tear you apart, whether you do wrong or not. Its not as if the world was ever black and white, it never was, but a century, two centuries, three centuries ago, there were mountains to be climbed and oceans to be sailed and lands to be discovered and nations to be founded. The men who raced to the Pole and discovered new worlds and threw off the yoke of tyrants were men and so they were flawed but their accomplishments were so grand or so courageous that they could not be ignored. And they didn't have some guy with a laptop and a website slinging mud at them or some teenager with a cellphone taking pictures of them out on a bender in the Latin Quarter. ;)

There are no new worlds to be discovered, no new oceans to traverse, hell we've even been to the moon and so today's heroes have accomplishments far less impressive than in the days of yore. In the ancient myths and legends of Ireland and Greece and Norway the world teems with monsters and gods and the men, the heroes, are larger than life themselves. If you have been to Newgrange in Ireland you could see why they would have thought as much. This enormous structure was built five thousand years ago with gigantic stones quarried from a hundred miles away, the best that they can tell is that they were brought to the hill north of Dublin up the ancient rivers in leather boats. The mind boggles.

So too these days the men who came before us are larger than the men of today and so our heroes, well who are our heroes? Our politics are too fractured, the churches too discredited, the population too cynical about our leaders for anyone to rise above it all and so our heroes are men (and women) who play children's games.

Its a dangerous game. These are men and women like us and, in the case of professionals, they live entitled lives from the moment that their talent to hit a ball or skate like the wind is recognized. In the old days the flaws of men like Mickey Mantle and Bobby Hull were hidden or unknown. Today men like Michael Vick and Kobe Bryant and Ben Roethlesberger, to name just a few, have been found wanting and while we would love to think that our heroes are great guys the reality is that some of these men are stupid and some are cruel and very many of them are simply unlikeable.

But the idea remains, even amongst the most cynical of us, that these guys are like us, like the gang of guys we play Friday night hockey with, like Ray and Cam and Higgs and Dave, terrific guys, a band of brothers, pals who we could go out for pints with after the game. Witness Ryan Smyth's return and the gushing emotions that accompanied it. This mulleted, skinny, goofy looking guy is a hero. Why? Because he is dogged. Because he is not gifted with a powerful shot or slick stickhandling but has been a great pro due to hard work and smarts and determination. Because even though he is a millionaire he seems like the guy next door. Because he's involved in the community and throws pucks to the kids at rinkside. Because he is courageous, even though that word is overused in sports, he is courageous.

And so he is a hero.

When it comes to heroes you tread on shaky ground and it gets shakier when the idea of a hero and the nation comes into play. Canada has its share of great men and women and in many ways they reflect our history and our nation. There are the rogues like John A MacDonald, certainly corrupt, who built the nation. There are the famous men who discovered the country and explored it. There are the soldiers and pilots and sailors who fought and often died for our country. There are those who stood up for the rights of others. And there are men and women who represented this country in sports. Many of their stories are part of the Canadian story, the true Canadian story, and many are part of whatever national myth we may have.

Its tenuous ground. Heroes can be used by others to get us to do what we otherwise would not do and often the reality and the myth collide. I'm not talking about the fact that, for example, John A was a bit of a madman (we tend to give short shrift to our politicians anyhow) or that some of our sporting heroes probably aren't the types that we want our kids looking to. I'm talking about trying to make the link between a man and woman and a nation.

It can be done. The men and women we honour every November 11th are honoured for their courage and their sacrifice and this resonates with us because they were us, they were the Canadian collective and from Fernie to Sudbury to Truro to Charlottetown and all points in between and beyond, the stone pillars and granite monuments and plaques on old wooden churches on red dusty roads list the names of the young men who went over there and never came back. They were the sons and brothers and fathers of those times. They were us then.

And less celebrated but again very much us, those people who came here (and come here) from far away places and built this country. We have talked about them in the past, imagining the hardships, the cold, the loneliness, the isolation of what must have been, at times at least, a tough existence. And again these people represent us, many of the commenters here chimed in with their stories, the immigrant as hero, an unpopular thought in these times (and others) with many but truth. Ordinary men and women who came here for a better life and achieved it through plain old hard work and perseverance.

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So then it is fitting that the greatest Canadian hero of all is an ordinary young man. I would love to say that Terry Fox reflects something about Canada that is unique but there is that tenuous ground again. Terry was quintessentially Canadian, there is no arguing that. He was a hockey fan, drank beer with his high school buddies, grew up playing road hockey and ball. We were watching Into The Wind the other night (really you must see it if you haven't) and he's talking away, tousled hair and sunburned face and bluest eyes and I turn to my wife and said that he was just a hoser through and through and I mean that in the most wonderful kind way imaginable. He was one of us. And he chose to run across our country, his actual being devoted to crossing the vast land. A Canadian boy running across Canada.

Terry Fox was a hero alright but as much as I'd like to say he reflected us, well honestly that would be giving us too much credit. He reflected the best of us, the us that settled here and built a nation and fought and died for this country, he was tough and stubborn and brave and, most impressively, he was an ordinary man. He had a temper and could be childish and sometimes that stubborness got in the way of where he was going.

But that of course is the beauty of Terry Fox. An ordinary boy stricken by an ordinary disease that every Canadian has been touched by. What he did was astounding, beyond comprehension really. Running a marathon every day would be impossible if you were healthy. Doing the same on one leg, with your body slowly turning on you as you ran through Newfoundland spruce and along the brilliant coast of Nova Scotia, past red fields of the Island and along the beautiful St John River and then the fields of Quebec and southern Ontario and finally into the Shield, granite and pine, a thousand cold lakes in the endless forest, until finally at the head of magnificent Superior the pain got to be too much and his journey ended.

An ordinary young man who did the most extraordinary thing in this country. The greatest Canadian really and I only wish I could be a better writer when I talk about him.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

When You Least Expect It


It was just after the turn of the year in 1997 that I parted ways with the Girl from Rawlins' Cross, almost exactly two years after the sparks first flew. Things had crashed to a halt the previous spring and then come alive again. We had a good summer but as the weather turned cooler it all began to splinter underneath and so a few days after New Years I put us out of our misery. It died with some sadness on both of our parts, some relief, mostly on her side but also on mine, and a good dose of bitterness that was mine alone. A couple of weeks later her uncle called me and asked if I wanted to go to PEI for a few months to work. It was a million miles away. I jumped at the chance.

Landed on the Island on a bitterly cold February Sunday and got to it. For a few weeks I was holed up in a suite at the Best Western and my life was working, followed by watching TV, smoking and drinking until the night was over. Its hard to keep a good man down though and so soon I was getting out and about and while there was a bit of a gaping oozing wound going on I did my best to stop the bleeding with some laughs, a lot of beer and cigarettes and soon, because I'm devilishly handsome and I have the libido of, well, something with a strong libido, some casual sex as well.

Winter bled out and then spring passed and what was supposed to be a three month stint was extended to six months and then six months became a year. Shortly after I had arrived I had begun to count the days until I'd escape but it wasn't long before I happily was signing up to stay longer. I'd made some tremendous friends and Prince Edward Island in the summer is beyond glorious and so I settled in, beer and smoke and cock in hand, hands?, for a longer haul.

Summer was just beginning when one of my new found pals told me that his girlfriend had a friend who might be right up my alley. Their reasoning was sketchy - I remember him saying that the fact that we both liked to play pool and smoke were the reasons behind the setup. Slim logic there for sure and neither of us did the setup game so I declined and she, unknown to me at this time, did as well. Besides I had a little something something going on with one of the local girls, one of those splendid arrangements where we were having the casual sex, and while I suspected it was going nowhere I also wanted to confirm that this was the case before I started running around with someone else.

It did end up going nowhere and so I became a free man and one night we lads were out on the lash and at some point your man Adam says to me that maybe we should take a run to Peakes' Quay.

Things have changed in Charlottetown. When I was there you had two bars in winter and twice that in the summer and nearly every summer night ended up at Peakes' Quay so I had no idea that the fix was in. (Nowadays you can crawl across Charlottetown and hit a pub around every corner.) We arrived and at about the same time his girl arrived from wherever they were at and so we were getting ready to play pool and suddenly in walk two girls including one with long lovely legs and flashing green eyes.

Her first thought? What's with his hair (big and bushy) and why isn't he wearing a belt (Belts, umbrellas, watches and cellphones never touched this person back in the day and even now I have only the last plus a belt I'll throw on if we're going out fancy like)?

Can't remember what I thought except that she was obviously a bit of a pistol.

Certainly there was no moment where time stopped and the heavenly hosts sang.

But it was the start of some love story.

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Last spring I wrote a little something about young Hartikainen, if you're too lazy to click on the link and read what I said the jist of it was that if the Oilers are ever going to be good again in our lifetime then they need the young Finn and others like him, that is, lower round picks, to shine.

Hall and Paajarvi and Ted Nugent and Gagner ... these top ten picks aren't shoo ins but there's a good chance that they will all have long careers in the NHL, hopefully very successful careers with Edmonton. The key for the Oilers are the Hartikainens, the Omarks, the Landers and the Martindales. Bunz is the key. Gernat is the key. Musil and Pitlick and Hamilton.

Its the guys without the pedigree or with less pedigree that are going to turn this thing around. Right now the Oilers have some nice things, especially up front. They have a lot of kids tracking nicely, as LT says, at every position. But its still wobbly. Injuries, bad moves, prospects failing, all of these things happen. I'm bullish about the kids but the kids are a long way away yet.

And preseason doesn't help. Some kids are going to shine against the other clubs' scrubs and kids and then we will see the Oiler fanbase's weird, almost creepy love of kids emerge again. Maybe its because the Boys on The Bus went from being kids to becoming the greatest club of all time and there is some of this in every fanbase (maybe because so many of the most pathological fans are kids themselves) but nobody beats Oiler fans for the belief that you can replace experienced NHL hockey players with teenagers right out of junior and win doing so. Actually scratch that ... the teenagers would win if it weren't for the remaining veterans HOLDING THEM BACK!!

Of course its not just the fans, I swear on twitter the other day after a rookie tournament game where Bunz shone, someone of adult age floated the idea that they should KEEP HIM IN THE NHL if he continues to do well. Help me out here, I swear I saw it. Anyone else? Fucking madness. Keep a 19 year old goaltender up as part of a three headed goaltending monster. Yeah that will work wonders for his development.

God fucking help us.

lolz as the kidz sayz

Right?

So if Pitlick pots a couple tonight then we will hear the calls to dump Horcoff, Gagner and Belanger (preferably all three at once and immediately!) and if Musil has a nice game then expect calls for the heads of Gilbert and Whitney and probably Smid too.

So there's that to look forward to ...

All kidding aside though how the franchise handles this next ten months or so will determine a lot and tell us if Tambellini is up to the job.

What do we know?

1/ Right now the Oilers have some depth up front, actually I think you could say they have three legitimate top nine players in each position.

2/ The defence is awful. They have two top four defencemen at this point. One has pretty serious injury issues.

3/ They don't have a legitimate number one goalie right now. Dubnyk may prove to be this guy but not now.

4/ Two of those top nine forwards are UFA at the end of the year and I would bet on both being traded by spring. In return the Oilers will get prospects and/or picks, just as they did for Penner. They are not going to get an NHL ready top four defenceman or starting goalie back because contenders don't trade these players
for rentals.

5/ The Oilers have some fine prospects on D and in net but they are mostly a long way away from the big leagues.

6/ They have some nice guys coming up front. A couple of those, specifically Teemu and Lander, may very well be ready.

7/ Having said they may not be ready and the best thing for them is probably a ton of icetime in OKC rather than fourth line duty with the big club.

8/ Unless the Oilers plan on being shitty for a long time sometime soon they are going to shore up their weaknesses. Most likely this will happen via trade rather than through free agency.

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Those all make sense, no? Now as we all know around here we believe in accumulating good players. Keep the ones you have, get more of them. Its a very simple concept that has escaped a management team that likes to shed good players of all types, all the while replacing them with callow kids, plugs, thugs, hasbeens and neverwillbes.

So right now the Oilers actually have found themselves in a nice position. They have some good players and it looks like they may have some more on the way. So ...

1/ Sign Hemsky and Smyth if the price is right. Even at his age Smyth is probably the third best forward on the club and Hemsky is still the best. Maybe not for long but he is a very good player. The injuries suck and the price has to be right but if you dump him then your RW depth chart suddenly has Eberle/Omark and some kid farmhands. Sign them if you can because you need to keep your good players.

2/ Until you see how situation number one plays out and you see what you have in Hartikainen and Ted Nugent you hold onto the guys whose names are bandied about as trade bait, that being Gagner and Omark first and foremost. Especially Omark. Those folks saying that he should be moved for a dman now are banking on, well I'm not sure what they're banking on.

We've been patient while management has bumbled and fumbled their way to this point.
Trading a kid RW when your #1 RW may be gone in six months and the only other options there have barely had a cup of coffee in the NHL is beyond impatient, its plain dumb.

We may have some real finds here with some of these guys and if we do then things are looking way way up and indeed in a year maybe young Teemu can slot in as a top nine guy and Lander shows that he can play too and if they do well glory be but we need to be patient and not put the cart before the horse.

Or something like that.

Right?

Right.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tradition


Each family has its own rhythm, its ways that make days, months, years similar to the others in passing, even as the kids graduate from diapers to two wheelers to all that will follow. Our family is the same and its in the fall of the year that the rituals and traditions and events that mark each year announce themselves loudest of all. A little of this is because its the opposite of the relative anarchy of summer which contains annual trips out east and up north and then not much else but a freedom from constants. Its always busy as hell but there is little that happens every summer except for our vacations and the birthday of our youngest.

September and October, on the other hand, see the calendar filled up once again. Hockey season starts for me and summer soccer turns into indoor for my wife. The kids start school and their activities, swimming and ballet for our oldest, swimming and skating for the boy, gymnastics for our youngest. We celebrate three birthdays in less than a month and there's Halloween which is a big deal and every autumn Jenn's parents come for one of their two annual visits. And there are family trips to pick apples at an orchard north of the city and to select pumpkins for carving for Halloween.

Those last two little traditions are dear to my wife's heart especially and we have a picture from every year we've been to the orchard, taken at the same spot, our family growing and growing up in a series of snapshots.

One day I am sure we will have to fight with teenagers to join us on these outings and I don't look forward to those days, not because of the arguments themselves (I can hear my daughter's laments already) but because when those days come it will mean that our little family will be closer to the day when we will be left alone and our kids will strike out on their own. Its a long time coming but our oldest will be eight next week. She's nearly halfway out the door already.

If this sounds melancholy its not meant to be. Its the way it goes and there's nothing that can be done about it. We talk about the future and I tell the kids that when the day comes they can go away to school and my wife gives me the stinkeye and they insist that they will all stay home when university comes. I smile and nod and know that when the time comes they will most likely be eager to get out and that's fine, its all a part of it and in my heart its what I want them to do, to get out and start their lives on their own and make their own way. When they do so I know we will have done a good job or so I hope.

So we are finding our own rhythm once again, each day is busy and most evenings we have something going on. On top of that Jenn and I try and continue our own little tradition we started about a year ago, each month we get the kids to bed and then one of us cooks a nice dinner, prepares dessert, the whole deal, and we stuff ourselves and drink a couple of bottles of wine and have some fun. It keeps us young and connected and gives us a break from the rush that our lives can be.

Tradition and rituals are important although some of my efforts to introduce new ones to the calendar have met with resistance, notably Oral Wednesdays, Lemon Gin Sunday Mornings and Hobo Wrestling on the third Thursday of every month.

Maybe some day .....

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

Speaking of tradition, training camp is opening and Ryan Whitney apparently didn't even finish off his first on ice session and while they are saying its just for precautionary reasons it looks like another tradition will also be renewed this season. Actually a couple if Whitney is unable to start the season - the loss of this club's most important players to injury, which has been going on for years now, and another terrible season for the Edmonton Oilers, which is likely anyhow and guaranteed if the big defenceman misses any significant time.

I've already said that I think this camp will have little drama, although this will change if the injuries begin to mount. The guys who might surprise, youngsters like Lander and Hartikainen, have their possible roster spots blocked by the plethora of forwards. I have no issue with this, I'd rather these guys make their bones in Oklahoma playing a ton of minutes than having them sit on the bench and play spot duty in Edmonton. Both will likely get their shot as players get hurt through the season anyhow.

Sounds like Nugent Hopkins is going to be flanked by Smyth and Eberle to start camp and that's a nice place for the rookie to be and a certain sign that he will be given every chance to make the club as expected. Gagner gets the golden opportunity between the best two players on the club and Horcoff will play shepherd to the Swedish kids to start. Meanwhile Belanger centres Eager and Jones. This could all change tomorrow but unless the kid centre crashes hard that's your starting lineup opening night, with Hordichuk and Brule in the pressbox. Its a young group but also the deepest forward corps since the 2006/2007 season. At least until Hemsky and Smyth go anyhow, continuing another Oiler tradition of trading away their best players. Been going on since those dynasty days and even now that they have the money they keep on keeping on with it. Its one tradition I would like to see end this season but I'm sure Hemsky will follow every other quality player the Oilers have had out the door.

As for the D well if Whitney is gone then there may be some drama. You have Barker and Gilbert and Smid, Peckham and Sutton. You have to think Petry getting a shot with Whitney to start camp is a tell as well. I think Petry should make the club over Chorney and Potter but I guess those two are in the mix and if someone like Teubert excels well then you never know. Remember Gilbert surprising everyone by making the club a few years back, passing a whole bunch of guys and getting his spot.

We'll see what happens. I don't see a Thoresen or Brodziak in this group, no underdog who will emerge as a feel good story. I think the roster is set. The main thing for this club is to stay healthy and after that the biggest story is Ted Nugent and whether he can be a legitimate player right out of the gate.

Here's hoping.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ahhhhh America Americano - Canada 4 USA 2



Watching the Canadians play the Americans I marvelled at how so much has changed in international hockey since 1976. And also how so little has changed.

Game two for Canada follows an 11-2 thrashing of the Finns in their tournament opener, a game infamously not on the DVD set. In 1976 international men's hockey is not at the present level of women's hockey but its closer to that than to the present day when you have nine or more teams that can compete with anyone. Sure the Swiss, Germans and Belarus have never won a medal but they are closer to the big boys (and have the scalps to prove it) than the Finns and Americans were thirty five years ago.

Both teams collect their own measure of respect in 1976. The Americans will tie the Czechs and the Finns will beat their arch rivals, the Swedes, but at this time its a three team competition with Sweden rising (the Swedes actually end up with the same record as the Russians). Its a long way from present day, that's for sure.

(As an aside, going back to Nagano the team with the most medals in the last five best on best tourneys? The Finns. Salt Lake City is the only tournament where they did not win at least a bronze. Third in Nagano and Vancouver, second in Turin and the World Cup. Pretty impressive. Second are Canada with three, all tournament victories, and the Czechs, with gold in Nagano and bronzes in 2004 and 2006. As for the once powerful Russians? Second in Nagano. Third in Salt Lake City. Not a damn thing since.)

Every time Canada plays a minnow we expect to thrash them. Actually every time we play anyone we expect to thrash them. Not the way it usually goes though. Vancouver was actually rare in that we whipped Norway and the Germans and the Russians. The shootout win against the Swiss is a pretty common (and frustrating) event.

So in 1976 in their first game the Canadians absolutely destroy the Finns, probably the last time that ever happened. Rick Martin scores a hattrick and adds two assists, Hull and Esposito score a pair each, Perreault, Orr and Lafleur all chip in with three points. The only sour note is an injury to captain Bobby Clarke. Its a slaughter and when the starting lineups are introduced for game two against the Americans the expectation is that we'll see more of the same.

The game is in Montreal and so Bowman starts five Habs, four who will be in the Hall of Fame one day - Shutt, Peter Mahovlich, Lafleur, Robinson and Serge Savard. Rogie Vachon is in net.

Starting for the Americans, Bill Nyrop and five guys you've never heard of. Actually its possible that you've never heard of Nyrop either, who played two seasons and a bit with the Habs' dynasty in the 70s and just over 200 games in the NHL in total. Gary Sargent, coming off his rookie year with the Kings, would play 400 games in the NHL. On the right wing - Fred Ahern, who played 146 games with three franchises that no longer exist, California, Cleveland and Colorado. On the left wing, Curt Bennett, who had scored 65 points (only 2 less than Esposito) the year before with the Atlanta Flames. Centring their staring line, Mike Polich, coming off a stellar season with the Nova Scotia Voyageurs. Polich would make the NHL in 1977 and get in just over two hundred games.

In goal, Pete LoPresti, who would start for Minnesota for just over four seasons before going to the minors in 1978. LoPresti would play two games for your Edmonton Oilers in the 1980 season.

The rest of the American roster has more of the same. Journeyman pros and college kids mostly. There are some relatively famous names, mostly for what they do after they retire. Lee Fogolin is coming off of his rookie season. There is Lou Nanne, who will run the North Stars for years after he retires, and Larry Pleau who will win a Cup in the front office of the Rangers and later run the Blues. Craig Patrick will help manage and coach the Miracle on Ice team in 1980 and later he will build a Pens franchise that wins two Cups in the early nineties. Mike Milbury will play for the Bruins for years, beat up a fan with a shoe, destroy a franchise and then torment us on Hockey Night in Canada. Coaching the club are Bob Pulford, whose destruction of Chicago makes Milbury's work in New York look like the second coming of Sam Pollack, and Harry Neale, who would become a funny old guy.

So an interesting cast of characters but certain to be overmatched, yes?

The Canadian lines are as follows:

Shutt-Mahovlich-Lafleur
Barber-Sittler-Leach
Hull-Esposito-Dionne
Martin-Perreault-Gare

On D:

Orr-Potvin
Savard-Robinson
Lapointe-Jimmy Watson

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The game starts a little scrambly. Shutt takes a penalty on the first shift and then Nanne and Potvin take coincidentals. In the following two minutes the Americans have a shot blocked by Orr and a long shot go wide. The shorthanded Canadians force LoPresti to make two saves and shoot wide on a third attempt. The Americans pick up a too many men penalty and Esposito's centring pass banks in off of a defender and in. Not even a scoring chance yet and the Americans trail. The Perreault line hasn't even had a shift yet. Reggie Leach too. And Sittler and the Mahovlich line have barely been out for half a minute each.

Its about to get worse for the US. The Perreault line hits the ice and runs rampant. First Perreault rushes into the zone, undresses a defenceman with a beautiful inside out move and forces LoPresti to make a great save. Moments later he dances in and sets up Gare who is robbed. The Lafleur line follows and they have three glorious chances and the following shift, this time by Sittler and the Flyers, results in Potvin missing the net on a golden opportunity. The Americans are being overrun. They are big but they are not that good with one exception.

Robbie Ftorek.

Ftorek won an Olympic silver medal in 1972 and had a cup of coffee with the Wings the following year. Getting only a dozen games the next season it became clear that he is considered too small to play in the NHL and so in 1974 he jumped to the WHA. He would end up being the sixth leading scorer in WHA history and would return to the NHL with the Nordiques, scoring 73 points in 1981, along with 104 PIM. Small, yes, but skilled, fast and feisty.

Its at this point of the game that he suddenly makes himself known, hard in on the Canadian D, a fumbled puck, he forces Vachon to make a save from close in. It will be the lone bright spot for his club this period but its also a sign of what is to come. When he gets his chance he is too close in but its an illustration of what we have seen ever since. A team can dominate but all it takes is one mistake for the underdog to get back into it and shit to turn sideways. It will happen later in this very same game.

One more point to make - there is little in the way of line matching or jockeying at this point. Each team rolls their lines regardless of the situation. The Canadians are in total control. At this point though Pulford sees something or so I assume. For the rest of the game whenever Esposito Hull and Dionne hit the ice its Ftorek's line that comes over the boards.

The rest of the period is a nightmare for the Americans. They manage one more shot at the Canadian net (they miss) while the Canadians rampage. Mahovlich scores on the power play and soon after Hull scores from the slot. Its three cob after one, the Canadians have outchanced the Americans 11-1 and the Corsi is 33-6 for Canada. Its a rout.

Perreault gets a penalty to start the second period. Its a penalty the Canadians kill off easily but here, I think, is a slight turning point. After the first unit (Barber, Sittler, Orr, Potvin) does their thing, Bowman sends out his remaining four defencemen out. They do the job easily (Savard and Robinson play up front) but its an odd move. Its a slap at the Americans, imo, and while their response would mean nothing if the Canadians stay on top of their game, one wonders if the move displays some complacency on the Canadian side.

Almost immediately afterwards the Canadians go on the power play and its a disaster for a good part of it. Its the first unit - Hull, Esposito, Dionne, Orr, Potvin - that shows a lack of urgency. They get sloppy and the disciplined style they played in the first period gives way. They end up hemmed in their zone until there's a faceoff. Bowman sends out Perreault and the Americans almost score off the draw. The penalty ends and then again the Sabres' line takes over. Three straight scoring chances and it looks like things are back to normal.

But the following shifts see a little more back and forth in the play and the next shift for Esposito his line again gives up a chance that Ftorek almost finished. On the shift after the Americans suddenly score. Its a seventies' special. One of those long hard shots that nobody scores on anymore but that we saw some of in 1972. The type of goal that Lafleur would score in a few years to break Don Cherry's heart. Ahern steps over the blueline on a two on one with Bennett, gets near the circle and fires. He beats Vachon cleanly. Potvin is the only man back but Orr is about to turn the two on one into a two on two so buddy figures he'll let it rip.

Now its three to one.

Another Canadian powerplay and again the first unit does nothing. Again Perreault comes out, this time with Lafleur in Gare's place. They tear it up but Lopresti stones Perreault and then both he and Rick Martin miss glorious chances. Next its back to evens and Sittler and his Flyer linemates come out. Barber almost scores and then so does Leach and the Americans are pinned down.

And then Ftorek comes out against Esposito, Hull and Dionne and moments later its a one goal game as 21 year old Steve Jensen picks off a poor pass by Hull and goes in alone. He makes no mistake.

A couple of interesting things happen next. Jimmy Watson blocks a shot with his coconut and as he is tended to the commentators was poetic about his role as the defensive defenceman and how having a guy like Watson out there calms things down when guys like Orr is out there.

Now I know that a good stay at home partner helps when you have a guy who likes to wheel but I'm thinking a guy like Watson is more in the way here. ;) Hockey commentators. Saying shit as long as they've been around.

A minute later Shutt dives and draws a penalty. Its obvious and the crew says so and good on them. Orr hits the post on a long shot and then the period ends.

Its a totally different period. Canada has slowed down and the Americans have taken heart and suddenly they have come on. The Corsi numbers favour Canada 22-15 and the scoring chances are 8 to 4 but only 5 to 3 at ES. So it goes. The Canadians dominate in the first and get three goals. They still hold the edge in period two but are on the wrong end of it and suddenly they are in a game where a break or two can lose it for them.

The third period starts and Canada gets penalized early again. The Americans have a shot deflected and another blocked and when it gets back to evens they get three more shots off, two that Vachon has to steer aside but nothing dangerous. Its at this point that Bowman shortens his bench. Watson is out so he has five blueliners left. Orr and Potvin play a ton while Robinson anchors the second pair, first playing with Savard, then with Lapointe. But mostly its about Orr and Potvin. Bowman rides them hard, a phrase that brings disturbing images to mind, yes.

Up front Lafleur has replaced Gare on Perreault's line with Martin. Shutt doesn't see the ice in the third and as the period moves along Bowman brings out the blender. Mahovlich replaces Sittler between Leach and Barber. After an early shift Gare joins Shutt on the bench as does Sittler for a long stretch.

Overall little is happening as the Canadians shut it down. Ftorek's line gets one more shot at Esposito and get the only American scoring chance of the period. Bowman rolls Perreault out and they get the puck moving the right way again. Sittler comes out between Barber and Leach for a short shift, the Esposito line comes out again and in their brief appearance the Americans get the puck into the Canadian end again at which point Perreault comes out AGAIN. They kill off most of what is left of the game until the Americans force a draw in the Canadian zone at which point Bowman looks down his bench and discovers that his best options left are Barber and Sittler with Mahovlich replcing Leach. The Americans don't threaten and Sittler finishes it off with an empty netter.

The third period is a typical period for one of these games. The Canadians shut the Americans down totally. They take no risks and their superiority carries the day but its a position they'd rather not be in. A bad break and its a tie game after all.

Low event period when it comes to scoring chances, 4-1 for Canada, Corsi is 26-12.

Overall Corsi - at ES 55-16, Canada PP 6-0, Canada SH 4-5, Total 65-21

Scoring chances - at ES 19-5, Canada PP 4-1, Canada SH 0-0, Total 23-6

Here's individual corsi:






Here's individual scoring chances:




The Canadians put up crooked numbers across the board. Its a difficult game to take anything away from. The Americans are severely outclassed. Nine out of the twelve Canadian forwards allow one scoring chance or less the entire game.

Crazy.

There's little to say about the Canadian back end. They're very good and can not be faulted for either American goal imo. Five Hall of Famers and a solid pro in Watson. We'll see what happens down the line but they barely break a sweat in game one.

Perreault is the best player on the ice. A bit player in 1972, he got two games in and showed well for the most part at the age of 21. Now in his prime he is unstoppable, at least this game. Bowman recognizes it and gets him out there any chance he can. The funny thing is his line is shut out despite threatening every time they hit the ice.

The Sittler line is very good and on this team it appears that they are the primary defensive option. Sittler and Barber are the first PK unit and at the end of the game they are sent out to take the final draw in their end. One thinks that when Gainey and Clarke get into the lineup that they will take over this role, although Barber and Sittler do just fine of course.

Lafleur shows more once he joins up with Perreault although he, Shutt and Mahovlich have their moments early in the game. While he is solid he isn't outstanding (although the crowd goes wild every time he touches the puck).

After the very good though there is some ugly. The Esposito line gets outplayed. While the other lines are plus 8, plus 5 and plus 4 at ES, this line ends up in the red, outplayed by Robbie Ftorek. They do end up at even with Hull's goal the eventual winner (and cancelling out his godawful giveaway that led to the breakaway goal) and on top of that they do score on the power play.

Maybe its just one game but Esposito and Hull look slow and old and while Dionne is slick they generate very little. Four years and the guy who drove the bus in 1972 may be a liability this time around. It will be interesting to see what happens as they move on and face tougher opposition. Unlike 1972 where it was eight games against one opponent the preliminary round features five games with five different opponents. With two wins against the two weakest clubs in the tournament Canada is in good shape but what can Bowman take from what has happened so far and will it matter when they meet the Czechs and the Soviets?

What I did notice is that the Canadian game has evolved since 1972. The team is disciplined. There are far fewer freelance efforts. When the Americans don't give them anything they are content to dump the puck in and chase after it rather than risk the turnover. Even against a weak opponent there is little breakdown, except for the notable Hull giveaway.

Again, hard to take a lot from this game but its clear that the team has a system and even loaded with mostly offensive minded players they don't sacrifice defence for offence.

Next up for Canada - Sweden.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

72 Finis, 76 Commence


As you may (or may not) have noticed, I have changed a few things on the sidebar, including tagging posts so they can be found a little easier. Still a ways to go but hopefully if you're hanging out one day and you're thinking, hmm, I need to get a vasectomy soon, where are those posts about the big snip snip de snip, then you can find them a little easier.

Aiming to please, aiming to please.

As I was tagging this and tagging that I realized that I never really came up with any conclusions after the big 72 writeup last fall. So before I begin my look at the 76 Canada Cup I wanted to quickly post this total scoring chance chart from the Summit Series and make a few comments before I segue into the 76 tournament:




Only one player who was part of the final roster, Parise, was a minus in scoring chances at ES. Other than old JP there were only a handful of bit players and the overmatched D pairing of Seiling and Awrey in the red.

This was Canada's series from start to finish. Only in game five, which Sinden would later call Canada's best game (?!), were the Canadians outchanced (and badly for that matter) at ES. Throw that game out and the ES numbers are even better looking for Canada.

A few final thoughts:

Yvan Cournoyer was in the black for scoring chances in every single game, the only Canadian to be so. Just a fantastic player and probably not a coincidence that Esposito's struggles in this regard in the middle of the series were related to the little winger not being on his line.

Having said that the biggest revelation for me in the series, other than the actual results, was Phil Esposito. Absolutely tremendous player.

The Esposito line and the Clarke line are the ones everyone remembers but the Ratelle/Gilbert/Hull line were absolutely dominant in games six through eight. We're talking blanking the Russians while running up fanatstic totals themselves. A huge part of the Canadian victory.

Sinden had a bloated roster and some of the choices early on were odd ones in retrospect but once he figured it out its hard to argue with most of his roster selections, except for putting Goldworthy in the lineup in game seven after Berenson did such a fantastic job in game six, especially on the PK. Peter Mahovlich certainly had an impact as one of the two spare forwards and of course stepped in when Parise was tossed in the last game, making a big difference.

Bad goaltending, poor discipline and some bad luck made this a much closer series but even with these factors Canada was the dominant team. Put together the roster that swept the last three games and play them in an eight game series against the Soviets one hundred times and Canada wins the series between seventy five to eighty five times. Seriously. I don't doubt that for a minute. And I never thought that would be the case.

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

Fast forward four years and the first thing that leaps out at you are the names on Tema Canada's roster. We can add one more thing to our thoughts on 1972. It was a team which was a transitional one when it came to Canadian hockey, similar to the 96 and 98 clubs. Eight of the men on the roster that finished that tournament were thirty or over in 1972 - Bergman, Stapleton, White, Esposito, Parise, Ratelle, Gilbert and Frank Mahovlich. Paul Henderson was twenty nine. So was Tony Esposito. Cournoyer and Dennis Hull were twenty eight. Amongst the spare parts Stan Mikita and Red Berenson were thirty two. Also interesting - a lot of spares who did not play or barely played were just kids, including three twenty one year olds - Marcel Dionne, Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin. And amongst those who played a big part in the tournament Bobby Clarke was twenty three. Brad Park was twenty four as was Guy Lapointe.

Not a lot of guys in the prime of their careers and come 1976 so many of the 1972 stalwarts are nearing the end of the line. None of the players mentioned above who would be in their thirties in 1976 are on the roster with the exception of Phil Esposito (although Jean Ratelle was sixth in scoring the previous year with 105 points). Ron Ellis, who was thirty one, was retired. Its a massive changing of the guard.

The only holdovers from 1972 - Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard on the blue as well as Bobby Orr, who did not play due to injury. Gone are the excellent pairings of Brad Park and Gary Bergman and Bill White and Pat Stapleton. Also on the blueline in 76 - Denis Potvin, Larry Robinson, Carol Vadnais and Jimmy Watson.

Yeah its a hell of a blueline.

In goal Tony Esposito is not back and Ken Dryden gets injured in training camp. The best goalie in the game at the time, Bernie Parent, is hurt as well. Rogie Vachon, Gerry Cheevers and Chico Resch will backstop the club.

Up front only Phil Esposito and Bobby Clarke are back from the top nine forwards. Peter Mahovlich is the only other returnee from those who played a major role as a forward in 1972. Joining them are Gilbert Perreault, who played two games in the Summit Series, and Marcel Dionne and Rick Martin, who did not play at all.

Filling out the roster up front - Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Bob Gainey, Bill Barber, Reggie Leach, Danny Gare, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and Bobby Hull and his hairpiece, who would have played in 1972 if WHA players had been a part of it.

So its a brand new team essentially. Its coached by Scott Bowman and loaded with Habs, seven of them coming off the first of four straight Cups. Also heavily represented are the Flyers (four players) and Sabres (three).

The roster is smaller than the 72 roster, twenty two skaters in all. An interesting thing to note here is that unlike 72 and so many Canadian clubs that follow there are no role players, except for Jimmy Watson, a prototypical defensive defenceman, and Bob Gainey, the mold for the defensive forward. There are no grinding wingers like Cashman, Goldsworthy and Parise, no defence first PK centres like Red Berenson, no aging veterans like Frank Mahovlich and Stan Mikita.

Against the Americans these are the lines that Scott Bowman rolls out with their goals and assists from the previous season:

Shutt (45/34), Pete Mahovlich (34/71), Lafleur (56/69)
Barber (50/62), Sittler (41/59), Leach (61/30)
Martin (49/37), Perreault (44/69), Gare (50/23)
Hull (53/70 - WHA), Esposito (29/38), Dionne (40/54)

Five players coming off one hundred point seasons. Every single player except Esposito with less than one hundred points (Shutt, Leach, Martin, Gare, Dionne) with forty or more goals.

As a matter of fact the one guy who looks to be the weak link? The hero from 72. Phil Esposito is coming off of a season where he scored twenty nine goals, only thirteen of them at ES. He is a minus thirty nine to boot.

And on the blue? Denis Potvin had thirty one goals and sixty seven assists.

So yeah the team is pretty damn good.

Next post, we'll take a look at the game against the Americans.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Looking Forward, Looking Back



I'd say something about the Russian plane crash but its all too sad. All of the families left with an absence in them. Its too horrible for words.

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Last August and September we did a little project here on the Summit Series in 1972. In the next week or so I am going to start posting a new series, a look back at the 1976 Canada Cup. The first Canada Cup was the first best on best tournament ever held and in the minds of many the Canadian team was the greatest hockey club ever assembled. This was the first of five Canada Cups, a tournament Canada won four out of five times. I always get a kick out of Canadian hockey angst, although I am a fullfledged participant in it. There have been a dozen best on best tournaments if you include the 1972 Summit Series. Canadian clubs have won eight of them. No other team has won more than one. That's excellent. Unlike the English, who groundlessly feel they are automatically favourites for every major soccer tourney they enter, we Canadians actually have reason to believe that we will emerge triumphant.

So how good was this club and who drove the bus for it is what I want to see. This is a different situation than last year's look at 1972. Unlike that club which had quite a few players who I did not see in their prime, including my boyhood idol Stan Mikita, by 1976 I was a big hockey fan and had been watching NHL hockey for a few years so I have memories of most of the Canadian players involved. I actually watched the tournament although I was eight at the time so I don't remember much about it other than Sittler's famous goal. I certainly don't remember Bobby Hull, who was gone to the WHA by the time I became a hockey fan, and so it will be interesting to see him play. Also this is Bobby Orr's swan song, even playing basically on one leg he was named tournament MVP, so I am curious to see him as well.

And unlike 1972 there is not a huge mythology around the 1976 team. Its been thirty five years and there was not the drama of 1987 or 2010 or even 2002. This club sits there with the 1991 and 2004 Team Canada clubs, superb, victorous, but anonymous in a way, partially because of the coldly efficient way in which they triumphed when all was said and done. This was a great team on paper and on the ice.

Without even cracking the DVD shrinkwrap yet, looking at the Canadian roster online there are two things that stand out. First of all the roster is compact unlike the bloated collection of players from 1972. There are twenty two skaters. Secondly is the astounding quality of the Canadian team with sixteen eventual hall of famers on the roster.

Anyways times have been busy as hell for me so I'm hoping to get the games watched and posted within the month. I hope you enjoy reading about this series as much as I hope to enjoy writing about it.

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Soon, very soon, Oilers' camp is going to open up and NHL hockey is going to return.

Its probably going to be another long year unless Tambellini addresses the defence and goaltending before the start of the season. I don't see that happening really so barring a miracle its going to be another long Greyhound ride although likely there will be many more anonymous handjobs than last season.

There are positives. There are four actual left wingers on the roster and three actual centres and three actual right wingers and when is the last time we could say that? Of course Hemsky and Smyth will likely be traded for futures come the spring but for now we can enjoy the deepest corps of forwards the Oilers have had since the 2006/2007 season, deep enough that a guy like Teemu Hartikainen will probably not make the team, despite showing that he could probably play in this league right now in his cup of coffee last season.

Just as Brian Burke said the other day that the Leafs' roster is pretty well set so too is the Oilers'. You could write a lot of names down in pen.

LW - Hall, Paajarvi, Smyth, Eager, Hordichuk
C - Horcoff, Gagner, Belanger
RW - Eberle, Omark, Hemsky, Jones
D - Whitney, Gilbert, Smid, Peckham, Sutton, Barker
G - Dubnyk. Khabibulin

So we're looking at probably two forward spots and one spot on the blue. Of course injuries will change all of that as well but for now this is what we are looking at.

So we have Petry and Chorney likely battling it out for the final D spot.

And if Brule is healthy (and he's skating so one assumes he is, although one assumes he will come down with an irritated labia or uncomfortable rectum soon enough) then there is one of the two forward spots gone.

So that's one spot left and Nugent Hopkins will get very chance to win it I would think and my guess is unless he is completely lost out there he will get at least nine games.

There's your roster folks, barring trade (unlikely) or injury (waiting for the first shoe to drop over here).