Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Another Day Older and Closer To Death


lol

Well I wrote a eulogy for Ales Hemsky and then they went and signed him. I guess I should have written one for Tom Gilbert as well. Maybe they would not have traded him.

I liked Tom Gilbert from day one. I went out to Edmonton in November of 2007 as part of my fortieth birthday year and Andy Grabia and I checked out a game between the Oilers and another bottom feeder (though by design), the Blackhawks. The Oilers dressed a bunch of hotshot kids - Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson - and the Hawks countered with Toews, Kanes and a bunch of unknowns (at that point in time). Oilers won in a shootout, thanks to Shawn Horcoff who flew in and buried it, nice and easy.

Tom Gilbert snuck onto the roster that fall, thanks partially to injuries and partially to his own outstanding play in camp. He got the opportunity and never looked back. From day one he was a player. That's the way I described him. Like Hall or Ted or Petry or Eberle he just looked like a hockey player. He made mistakes, because all hockey players do, and a puck carrying and puck moving defenceman is going to make a lot more than a bang it off the glass and out guy, but he could skate and he was smooth and he never looked like, say, Matt Greene or Theo Peckham, at sea amongst the men who play in the NHL.

He was durable as hell and played through injuries and while he wasn't a thumper and as a result was never a fan favourite, he was a good defenceman from day one and this year was finally recognized for what he has been for a while now, a quality top pairing guy, taking on the toughs, starting in his own zone, and basically sawing off game after game. With Ladi Smid he gave the Oilers a true top pairing for the first time in years.

When Stauffer started floating the idea that Petry's emergence made Gilbert expendable we should have known something was up, no matter how dumb the idea was. As I said last week you have to keep your good players and the idea that a kid (who I like a lot by the way) with a handful of games under his belt suddenly makes your best defenceman expendable, well, that's dumb. Especially when you throw in Whitney's health issues.

Keep your good players, right? Should be the name of this blog.

Nick Schultz isn't magic beans so I guess that's a step forward from the usual return the Oilers get for their experienced quality players. Where he is right now varies on who you talk to, its possible he is a top pairing shutdown guy, its possible he is a 4 and slipping. He can play the right side so I presume he will slip in with Whitney and Smid will carry the mail for young Petry for now. I don't hate hate hate the trade but its still not a good trade.

If Whitney is healthy and if Petry does not regress then the Oilers have a legit top four. I would have preferred keeping Gilbert and acquiring a Schultz type for magic beans, more depth is better than less you know, but oh well.

I'll miss Tom Gilbert but more important the trade is another loss on a club that is so thin that it can't afford a loss. Gilbert is a better Dman than Schultz, no matter what Marc Crawford or the other talking heads think. Oh and when is Terry Jones going to retire anyhow?

So if you trade a Dman who is a top pairing guy who can also add offence and on top of that blocks more shots and hits more (if you believe those stats matter) than the guy you're bringing in then, sadly its a loss which means the club is weaker than it was before.

And the whole idea is to get better, right?

lol

Welcome to Nick Schultz. Oilers got themselves a good player, just not as good as the guy heading the other way.

Good luck Tom Gilbert. Enjoyed watching you these past years, certainly one of the few bright spots on this dismal franchise. A guy who came in and did his job and did it well, night in and night out. A very good hockey player.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Deadline

5:00 Going to have to check in later, time to feed the kids. A weird deadline, a few bigger type deals than the usual depth guy for a fifth. Boston and Vancouver appear to have done well, same as they did last year. Not a surprise to me that so many clubs stood pat. Few sellers really.

The Canucks/Sabres trade - big deal. Might be good for both clubs. Typical Canucks, deal from strength, you know that with Kesler and Sedin up the middle there is no room for Hodgson so they moved him to shore up other areas. Very similar to the Oilers' move where they added a quality top four Dman by moving ... their best top four Dman.

Unclear as to why one of these clubs is a bottom feeder and the other is a Cup contender again.

lol

3:09 Well ... lamest deadline ever? Nashville added Gaustad. Bruins have added Motteau and Rolston? Sharks deal pending? Still waiting. And nothing from the Oilers except moving their best defenceman.

Shitty all round.

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2:19PM Vancouver, like they did last year, adds a guy who will help in Pahlsson and do so for very little. They really have to be considered favourites in the West again I would think. And Chicago picks up Oduya? Erm, he's going to hurt more than help. Lame.

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1:46 Schultz isn't magic beans but Minnesota gets better player. Gilbert plays tough opposition, more minutes, has more offence, blocks shots, even hits more, if those stats float your boat. Not a horrific trade but a step backward.

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1:15 Willis says Schultz is a quality shutdown guy, I trust Jonathan's opinion a lot but Tom Gilbert has been the Oilers' best defenceman. Seems to me its a loss. Not a complete disaster but still a loss. And on this club management takes too many steps backward. All the time. Fuck.

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12:59 Oh man seriously. Seriously? Our best defenceman, gone? So fucking brutal. So fucking terrible.
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12:33 Having hot dogs for lunch. Last year I had a salami sandwich you can look it up.

Jets pick up Clitsome, good move I think. Why Columbus would waive him is beyond me other than to save a few hundred grand.

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12:03 I don't follow Terry Jones on Twitter anymore because I get more hockey insight from the banana peel in my compost bin but love the retweets today. Someone is bitter that Hemsky didn't get moved and I think he's pouting, poor guy. Somebody get that man a sandwich or two!! You can tell, as Darren Versteeg noted to me, that Hemsky doesn't give some of these losers the time of day. As a result, quality objective reporting!!

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11:19 My three year old is sick. She says when she talks her teeth hurt.

She also says anyone who trades for Khabby has rocks in their heads but looking at some of the NHL GMs out there that she figures Tambo gets a sweet deal somehow.

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11:14 And by Bernier I essentially mean any young goalie with a realistic upside as a number one.

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11:10 Fuck this TV had better be fixed. Basically the PVR had ten episodes of Dora and four of The Wire. Son of a bitch. Might have to rent the dvds although who knows where the hell you can do that these days?

Serious chatter about Khabby. If Tambo can move him and pick up Bernier I think I'd be happy with this day.

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10:47 Nashville reunites the Kostitsyn brothers. I guess Andrei will help? He can score. Figured they might be looking for bigger game.

In another example of how the whole Elmer Ferguson thing is kind of a joke Matheson is touting Khabibulin because he won a Cup. And this is a guy who watches the Oilers! So if he is saying this you can bet there are folks out east who probably think the same way. I think Khabby gets moved, against all odds.

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10:20 Crisis - TV guy is here and he's replacing our receiver. There goes four episodes of The Wire we haven't seen yet. Fuck.

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10:15am If the Habs really do have Plekanec in play then they may as well just blow it all up. Seriously? What the hell is going on there?

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9:30am OK so the boy has been sick for a week which is very unusual for him, he rarely gets ill. And its a real bastard too. Anyhow he's over it and now the youngest has it.

So looks like I am following deadline day on the Interweb because Dora is on the TV.

Here's an update. Dora and that ratty fucking monkey are wandering around, butting in as usual. The map gives them directions. At some point they grab something out of the backpack. The fox comes and tries to swipe their stuff. They stop him from doing so. They finish their mission. They dance.

Repeat this ten times.

I shoot myself.

More to come.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Deadline


The signing of Ales Hemsky has eliminated pretty well any drama surrounding the Oilers tomorrow and its quite possible that we will see a day where absolutely nothing happens in Edmonton. The only UFAs are Hordichuk and Petrell and everyone presumes Barker will get cut loose so he could probably be had but I cannot really see anyone having any interest in any of these guys. I guess you can never have enough defencemen, just ask the 2006 Sabres, but we're talking seventh round picks and 25 year old ECHL 'prospects' in return here.

There are three scenarios that stand out as possibilities for Edmonton imo.

1/ A swap along the lines of the Blues/Avs trade from last year, a two for two deal of some sort where the Oilers send a couple of guys to another team for a couple of guys in an attempt by each team to become a little more skilled/rugged etc. I would suspect in a year or two or three we see something like this once the Oilers see what they have in Petry, Gagner, Lander, Paajarvi and some of the other kids and decide they need more size, skill, etc. But while it is possible tomorrow I don't see it.

2/ Khabibulin. I really cannot see a team taking a flyer on him but there are a few teams with serious goaltending issues and the Cup ring and early season success would impress some GMs. Seriously. Hey you just need to look at all of the talking heads who think Hemsky is a bum or who think that the BJs won the Carter deal to see how part of the hockey hive mind works. The writers and TV talking heads are often tied in and what they say is a reflection of what some management guys think. Seriously how many Oiler games does Damien Cox see? Here is a guy who said Tom Gilbert plus a high pick would garner no return last season. Well he's talking to someone to get these ideas.

In other words as mental as it seems to us Khabibulin might be in play.

3/ Omark for a young goalie. Now I wouldn't move Omark personally but one wonders if there is a spot for him on this club. Somewhere you'd think there is a club whose scouts like him and if there's a fit then this is something we might see.

The deadline comes with an absurd amount of hype (thanks TSN!) but even if you cannot stand the ridiculous commercials and the actual day when you have a dozen talking heads on each network discussing the relative merits of Dominic Moore for a second, again!!!!, once you wade through all of the rumours and foolishness the day still holds a lot of interest.

First of all if your club is involved it can be a crusher of dreams (see 2007 when Ryan Smyth was rumoured signed and then was dealt at the last moment) in a number of ways. The quality player unsigned and moved, the throwing in of the towel on another season. On the other hand it could be that your manager stands pat, feeling that the relatively meagre bounty of second round picks and failed prospects isn't worth telling your players and fans that six points, while an unlikely mathematical hurdle to the playoffs, is not insurmountable. Or you might be a fan of the contender whose management hits a home run.

Secondly while the 'Butch Goring' deal rarely happens the truth is that quite often contenders pick up guys who help, either on deadline day or in the days before. Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley didn't win the Cup for the Bruins but they were two excellent pickups, quality bottom six guys who certainly helped Boston become a better team. In 2006 the Canes picked up Mark Recchi and the Oilers picked up Roloson and Samsonov. In 2008 the Wings traded for Brad Stuart. In 2009 the Pens got Bill Guerin.

Then again the biggest name the Ducks picked in 2007 up was Brad May and Chicago stood pat in 2010 despite goaltending issues rivalling what they are facing today.

I have no idea what will happen tomorrow. There are more contenders for the Cup than in past seasons it seems and there are very few sellers on top of this (with one of those, the Oilers, having nothing to sell apparently) so we could see absurd prices for the usual collection of depth guys who get moved or the possibility of a team or two on the bubble deciding to throw in the towel when the vultures start calling.

Should be interesting. Seriously. The teams I am most interested in? The Leafs, who have collapsed, have an unsigned Grabovski, problems on the blue and in net and a fanbase that I think is getting, erm, disgruntled. Chicago, who could be serious contenders if they could get some goaltending and another Dman imo. And LA and Nashville, who will both try and add more scoring one has to think.

Am working from home so should be able to try and live blog it for another year so if you're interested in finding out what kind of sandwich I have for lunch and my thoughts on the huge Bryan Allen deal then drop by and hang out for a bit.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Importance of Signing Ales


Was getting dressed after my Capsule game last night and picked up the Blackberry and everything was lit up like crazy with those little red asteriks, the email, the twitter, the BBM, hit the last first and a pal who is an Oilers' fan gave me the news.

Anyone who has dropped by here in the last week knows where I stood on the Hemsky situation and also that my expectations were that he would be a goner, why else the eulogy?

And instead not only is he signed but he is signed to a fantastic deal, basically a no lose deal with the only caveat that if Hemsky is healthy and tears it up the next two years then obviously he's going to get paid. Considering his injury history though I really don't have any qualms about this at all. Being a GM is about making bets and this is a fantastic bet by Tambellini.

Much like Tyler Dellow I'm just going to throw out random thoughts on this.

- as I said last night this deal is not on the horizon until Hall speaks up about it. Hemsky was a goner until that point, even with Horcoff, Whitney and Gilbert all speaking up in favour of the signing but as soon as the kid spoke up you can bet management took notice.

- I really have very little to say about the dopes in the media and fanbase who think this is a bad deal. You know who matters? Those guys I mentioned above as well as Paajarvi who tweeted his excitement about the deal as well. Who knows his value more than his teammates, seriously? If you take the word of some mope like Marty McSorley or Cox or Terry Jones, who has embarassed himself beyond all repair these past few weeks, over the guy's own teammates, then, as I said on Twitter, you're a dummy, plain and simple, just like those guys.

- the money and cap hit is negligible and leaves the Oilers with tons of flexibility. Considering the money coming off the books this summer (4 million for Souray, Nilsson, Brule and whatever cut Smyth takes) and next (Khabi) its just a drop in the bucket.

- two years, seriously? I would have taken four or five. Two is incredible. If, worse case, he falls apart or gets hurt, well two years is gone in the blink of an eye

- anyone want to talk about how folks don't want to play in Edmonton anymore? Hemsky left a ton of money on the table and don't give me that 5 goal bullshit. He gets paid on his body of work and he's almost a PPG player over nearly a decade of playing mostly with shitty players against the other team's best. He is coming off of major surgery and just now looking like the player of old. He was going to get paid and yet he took a lot less term to STAY IN EDMONTON. So stop with the line that people don't want to play in Edmonton and also that Ales Hemsky is some sort of selfish malcontent (a narrative that was dropped very suddenly once contract talks heated up, notice that?).

- the whole media handling of this was very instructive, as Lowetide says it was very much a tell. Watching guys like Spector and Tencer and Van Diest and Stauffer go from taking potshots at Ales at every turn to defending him like a mother bear defends her cubs was hilarious and shows that every one of them is bought and paid for. Just ridiculous. Kudos to Jason Gregor who was the one guy who made the obvious point that good teams don't trade away proven players for futures, loser teams do that. Gregor pushed the point and defended Hemsky against the tide of naysayers and he deserves credit for that. Other than Tychowski nobody else in the media came forward with any sort of objectivity on the issue. As for Terry Jones well here's a guy who is ready for the glue farm. Any guy who says that any six WJC dmen are better than the Oilers D (read that for just a second, let it sink in) demonstrates that he knows nothing about hockey and that this Ferguson Award that he won seems to be based on (like much of hockey it seems) who is a funny guy and has the greatest stories from the road. His 'reporting' on the Hemsky story was disgraceful.

- as I have said over and over again, you need to keep your good players to become a good team. Ales Hemsky is not having a good year. Same as Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Ryan Miller, Dubinsky, Penner, Derek Roy, Ryan Whitney ... the list goes on and on. Sometimes good players have off years, especially if they are coming off of major surgery. Ales Hemsky is a good player. He was not bringing in a top four Dman, he was bringing back a prospect or a pick that might never help and certainly not for years. Keeping him means the team is better, simple as that. Oilers have nobody who can replace him. If Omark or Hartikainen turn out then great you have a surplus of wingers and can move one.

But don't argue, like Jones did, that the Oilers need D (they do) and therefore should not have paid Ales Hemsky.

You fucking dummy how about having good players at all positions? Its like the Stauffer idea that they should trade Tom Gilbert because of Petry's emergence.

You know what would be even better than Petry and magic beans? Petry and Gilbert, two proven RH defenders.

Stupid.

lol, enough ranting, eh?

- finally as I explained to my teammates on Capsule why I was (and am) ecstatic about the deal. Put everything aside and in the end its a lovely day for Oiler fans - for once, we did not dump a guy at the deadline. Forever its been the Oiler way. Dump good players for futures. For once it didn't happen. Its a wonderful feeling.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

An Ode To Ales Hemsky








This is the last I will say about Ales Hemsky. What is about to happen is something we are used to as Oiler fans. A good player, in this case the best of the last decade, is about to be shipped out. The move is being met with indifference or, worse yet, happiness from the fans. The media is complicit in the move. So is the organization. The end result is a good player is going to be gone, the team will be worse and blame will fall on the player (not good enough, greedy, he was going to test UFA anyway, bad body language) and the city (nobody wants to play here).

Despite the fact that plenty of players have signed in Edmonton and Ales Hemsky, as well as others, has spoken about how much he enjoys playing in Edmonton and most likely if he were offered a fair deal he would sign it.

Its the way of professional sports and in Edmonton more than anywhere fans are used to waving goodbye to their players. In the old days players stayed with the same franchise forever except for maybe a last gasp cup of coffee in another city by guys desperate for money or the life or just unwilling to believe it was over. Look at a Chicago roster in the early 70s and you see a collection of guys who either played their entire career with the Blackhawks or stayed with them once they arrived early in their careers or stayed with them until that last cup of coffee elsewhere. And this was the same wherever you went.

Those days are no longer but some guys still play their entire careers with one club. Usually its the franchise icons - Yzerman, Sakic, probably Brodeur and Alfredsson and Iginla. Sometimes its a guy like Ken Daneyko. With the Oilers well the list of guys who should have been lifelong Oilers is a long one but only Randy Gregg and Fernando Pisani have come close.

(The irony is that the guy who finally may be a lifetime Oiler is a guy the fans despise, the captain, Shawn Horcoff, an honest workmanlike player doomed to be disliked because of a contract that he was offered and signed in good faith. Horcoff has suffered injuries and has been asked to do more than he is capable of, playing huge and difficult minutes on a team which has gotten progressively worse. He could do with a lesser workload and its likely that day is coming. Its also probable that at his age and with that contract that he cannot be moved and that he will retire an Oiler, the first of any note to go wire to wire in Edmonton.)

Of course that should have been Ryan Smyth who engineered his trade BACK TO EDMONTON last summer but that ship sailed long ago thanks to EIG and Kevin Lowe.

And now it could be Ales Hemsky. But as is the Oiler way it will not be.

Hemsky's departure is sparking little outrage in many quarters but there is some anger out there and its not the dull smouldering type but white hot, similar to (if not as intense as) what happened when Smyth was moved years ago.

Why is this? Well Ales Hemsky is, along with Horcoff and Smyth, the last connection to those little teams that could, that era that began with Todd Marchant blowing by a stumbling Ledyard and burying the Dallas Stars and ended on June 19th when they fell barely short of the Stanley Cup. Those clubs were nearly always short of talent and the best they could hope for was a first round loss to Dallas but they worked hard and laid a beating on their opponents and the cobbled together rosters always were greater than the sum of their parts. Most of them have hung them up now, showing how quickly time passes. Joseph and his glorious save on Nieuwendyk, Tommy Salo whose game sadly fell apart, Jussi Markannen who almost gave us glory and then suffered such tragic loss. Jason Smith, whose departure changed the club's identity for the worse. Janne 'Spaz' Niinimma who wept when he was dealt. Eric Brewer and Roman Hamrlik, still carrying on, and Tom Poti and poor Cory Cross, booed out of town and Igor Ulanov, one of the toughest men to ever wear copper and blue. And of course Steve Staios, an unwanted journeyman who became a hard rock top four dman through hard work and guts.

Dougie Weight and Bill Guerin and that fucking midget Mike Comrie, who was pretty accurate about Communism and the Oilers, it turns out. Anson Carter and speedy Marchant and Mike Grier and Rem Murray and Ethan Moreau before it turned sour for him. And of course enormous Georges Laraque and Jason Chimera and Mike York and Dan Cleary rediscovering his game and his career. And joyful Marty Reasoner and the underrated Radek Dvorak. And Smytty who defined the whole wonderful era and a team that usually fell short but always gave the fans their money's worth, playing with speed and passion and an elan that had always been the signature of a great franchise. And San Fernando Pisani and Shawn Horcoff, two lower round picks, unknowns who through hard work and determination became very good NHL players and key members of the 2006 squad that captured out hearts.

The heirs to this legacy were Stoll and Torres and Hemsky, the kids on that 2006 squad and all three were big parts of that club, none moreso than the young Czech. He led the club in scoring and was very good in the playoffs. He scored one of his virtuoso goals in G1 of the Finals to tie the game in the third after the Canes had roared back and of course against the Wings, well against the Wings he showed that he was special.

Game six a must win and the Oilers flat and down two going into the third, the Wings choking the life out of them, ready to haul them back to Detroit and finish them. Pisani scoring two (2!) to tie the game, the Wings coming right back to take the lead.

And then Hemsky in on top of the goalie, scoring the ugliest goal imaginable, the puck bouncing off his gut and in. And then the dagger that did the Wings in with time winding down, blowing by Steve Yzerman in what would be the last game of his career, heading to the net, making no mistake.

Glory.

And from there through the years, the artisty, the magic, the stickhandling and passes that you'd want have sex with (hat tip Dave Berry). On a team that got progressively worse Hemsky became the only guy worth watching. Every night the other club only had to shut him down and he took a beating but he came back for more every time, most notably against Robin Reghyr. And he still produced year in and year out, never complaining, putting his head down and working.

He could be maddening with his preference to pass instead of shooting and his turnovers and his stubborn desire to play the game his way.

But damn his way has been worth the price of admission in itself for years. Perhaps he was born in the wrong time, the solo dashes and fantastic puckhandling more fitting for days of yore when players like Richard and Mikita and Perreault and those old Oilers played with flair and elan, the way the game was meant to be played, the way we play it on Wednesday nights on the outdoor rink beside the train tracks on Queen Street or on a lake north of Peterborough scraped off and turned into a shrine to the game. A boy playing a man's game, a genius of sorts.

Its a sad day coming and while I doubt it will happen when Ales Hemsky returns to Edmonton he deserves a long roaring ovation for the memories he gave us. He deserves nothing less than that, one of the best players the franchise has seen, certainly the best of this last decade.

And then I hope he fills the net behind Khabibulin and rides his stick to centre ice pointing at Tambellini and Lowe. ;)

Monday, February 20, 2012

Trading Ales


Now Dennis King probably said this better than me but I'm going to take a crack at it anyhow.

I'm against trading Ales Hemsky with two provisions. If a doctor tells me that he is at a high risk of recurring shoulder injuries then I'm going to walk. And if he is asking for a contract that is absolutely absurd then I do the same.

Now I am no doctor so I cannot comment on the first point but I reject the argument from fans who say that he has to be traded because he has missed a lot of games over the last two years without any proof that the injury will recur. He is on pace to play almost 70 games this year after some complications from his surgery.

Spezza. Koivu. Gaborik. Havlat. There are four names of quality players who missed a lot of time or had recurring issues who have bounced back. To say that Hemsky is done based on his injuries the last two seasons is the best argument against signing him. Telling me that he is not going to be able to stay healthy when you are not an actual doctor familiar with his injury? Sorry but I am going to go to an expert and if the word is good then that argument does not hold water.

I don't have an issue with the folks who make that argument, its a legitimate concern. Hemsky is going to get paid a lot of money and even though Katz has shown an amazing willingness to pay NHL contracts to guys in the minors, the KHL or now playing for other clubs, the reality is the money has to be spent wisely even though no other team spends money quite as poorly as this club. Amusing to see management and fans suddenly get religion about the cap suddenly but its a real argument, at least. I don't think its an issue myself. If Hemsky gets 5.5 lets say its a raise of 1.4 over what he makes now. How much are the Oilers paying to Souray, Nilsson and Brule alone? Just under four million folks. Barker is making 2 and a quarter. Smyth is going to take a salary haircut of a couple million at least And after next year Khabibulin and Whitney come off for nearly another eight million.

So don't tell me that they need to have space to give the kids raises. Who's going to play with the kids, a bunch of minimum wagers? You need to have talent around them, real talent, and you have to pay it.

Still at least the salary cap argument is a legitimate one, somewhat.

Where I have an issue is the idea, fanned by the usual culprits in the media, that Hemsky is a bad apple.

I've had the arguments on Twitter and seen the comments. Bad body language. Enigmatic. Lazy. First off the ice at practice.

The last is of course the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Like Hemsky sprints to the bench as soon as the last drill is over, shoving guys out of the way like the episode of Seinfeld where George thinks there is a fire and makes a beeline for the door, trampling kids and an old lady.

Consider the source when it comes to the guys slagging Hemsky in print and over the airwaves though. First of all many of them cash cheques with an Oiler logo on them so its in their best interest to make sure that their employers don't look like dummies. Luckily for them Hemsky is having a bad year, the first after six in a row where he averaged just under a point a game, this despite usually being the only guy the other club had to stop and playing with, for the most part, a bunch of slugs.

You knew the fix was in though as soon as you heard guys like Stauffer and Spector running Ales down, just as we know that Renney is a goner now that Dan Tencer, little lad still in short pants, has started to run him down. Nice knowing you Tom. Never mind the lack of sense from either guy (Stauffer believing that Petry's emergence means the club can now trade their best Dman, Tom Gilbert, Spector stating just weeks ago that Cam Barker is a top three defenceman in the league), its their job to sell the Oilers' plan and because the plan does not include Hemsky they have to do their part. (And what does it say about the organization that they undercut a good soldier like Hemsky like that by the way? Typical garbage from these clowns.)

And of course this is where my point from the last post comes to light because rather than an uproar over the fact that the best Oiler since Doug Weight, the best Oiler of the last decade, a 28 year old who averaged nearly a point per game playing for a bad team against the other team's best night after night, never complaining, getting absolutely pounded by Reghyr and others, the guy who scored the biggest goal for the franchise since Todd Marchant, well instead of this we get a collective shrug and worse still, comments about, you guessed it, his body language.

No cutting of slack for a guy who has played his heart out for the club, who was the only worth you'd get for the price of a ticket for years.

None at all.

You get a nice comment from Robert Tychowski in the Sun the other day, perhaps the most clearheaded succinct statement on the situation and you have Jason Gregor stumping on the obvious fact that trading a top 6 forward is gutting your depth on a team shallow at every position and is a guaranteed way to make your team worse now and for the next few years unless the dice you roll on the return, likely a low end first round pick, comes up sevens, a most unlikely proposition.

But from the rest and from the grinning glazed over visage of Tambellini you get either crickets or worse yet, howls to push him off the ledge, the idea being that this is best for everyone concerned.

Oiler fans are used to this act and they always give management and their media giants (Terry Jones, being one, opined in the WJC that any six Dmen from that tournament would be better than the current Oilers' D. Your Elmer Ferguson award winner, folks. A guy who knows absolutely nothing about hockey apparently) the benefit of the doubt. Add to this the idea amongst Oiler fans which is pushed by the organization and supported by geniuses like Pierre Maguire (who said at the WJC in 2010 that Paajarvi would be the best Oilers winger AT THAT TIME and that Taylor Hall would be their BEST PLAYER AT THAT TIME) that any random teenager is better than a veteran professional hockey player of quality and well, there's that deferring to authority again, even though the authority is by any evidence incompetent and foolish.

The reality is this move is good for nobody except for the one person that it concerns more than anyone else. Ales Hemsky, who will get to play for a quality organization and in the playoffs for the first time in years. I hope that he is a star in this league for another decade and I hope that every time he comes back to Edmonton he puts on a glorious show, just as he has done for us for nearly a decade.

I believe that is what he has earned and that he deserves better than what he has gotten from the organization and many fans and that is a sad thing to see.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ales Hemsky and The Fans


Ales Hemsky's time as an Oiler is almost done. He will be traded any day now and the reaction from most fans, the media and the organization that drafted him ranges from a collective shrug to happiness that he will soon be out the door.

I don't live in Edmonton so I can only guess at the mindset there. Every fanbase is the same for the most part. The idea that Oiler fans are smarter or nicer or more knowledgeable about hockey than other groups of fans is untrue of course. As an Oilers' fan its nice to think so, to think that the collective that we belong to is something special but one only has to check the comments' page in any online newspaper or TSN or go on Twitter or any other social media site or, for that matter, attend a game or watch one in a sports' bar to find out the truth. There are smart Oiler fans and there are stupid ones. Ones who you'd gladly sit down with and have a pint or six, who you might become friends with and ones who you would never want anything to do with. Read any comments session as I said (I don't anymore, whether its sports or not, its too depressing to see the hatred and stupidity there) and you will see what I mean.

Now there are a few things that make the Oilers different. There are generic franchises in the NHL as there are in any league but the Oilers have a rich and, at times, tortured, history, and I think that this informs what we see in fans' reactions to various situations.

What separates the Oilers from other franchises?

1/ For just over a decade they were the greatest team the sport has ever known. Five Cups in seven years despite shedding talent along the way and playing in a far larger league than any of the great teams of old. If the Oilers had existed in a time where players were tied to the same club for their entire careers they would have won double the amount of Cups they did, of that I have no doubt.

2/ Starting with Andy Moog and Paul Coffey the Oilers have always moved out their quality players, quite often in their prime. Despite their rich history the closest the Oilers have come to having players spend their entire careers in Edmonton are Randy Gregg and Fernando Pisani.

3/ Probably no other city has been threatened with the loss of their franchise as much as Edmonton. Despite external and objective sources showing the club to be one of the top money makers in the NHL billionaire Daryl Katz's henchmen as well as his mouthpieces in the media made veiled threats to this same possibility in the recent arena debate. One of the best markets in the league and still the threat is there. Gary Bettman referred to it recently. And people believe it.

I think these are all truths about the Edmonton Oilers, right? I'm not making crazy leaps of logic in this.

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So if the Edmonton Oilers' fanbase is impacted by this history then what does it mean when it comes to Ales Hemsky?

First of all Oiler fans are tough on their players, tougher than most fanbases. A lot of this is fuelled by the media, the Sun being particularly ridiculous with the narrative that the fan base is blue collar and the millionaire players are soft and lazy. A lot of it also comes from the fact that when your club used to have Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson and Paul Coffey on it then the present collection of players is always going to fall short. Thus Ryan Smyth who made three best on best collections of talent for Team Canada, winning Olympic and WOrld Cup gold, is not a true first line winger. Every player is flawed of course but Oiler fans seem to have a tougher time accepting this than most. I think it was Bruce McCurdy who said a few weeks ago that Doug Weight, a fantastic player who had a great career, had a bit of a rough ride beacue fans could not help but compare him to the two guys who played centre in the eighties.

Secondly Oiler fans are used to seeing guys moved down the road. When Wayne Gretzky can be traded then anyone can be traded and of course every star from the dynasty was moved and then the guys brought in for them were moved and so it continued. For many years money was the issue and so when guys got too expensive they were moved and then suddenly there was a cap and the Oilers became the buyers. They had a beautiful run in 2006 and while Pronger left along with the hired guns like Spacek and Samsonov and Peca Edmonton was able to pay the core of that 2006 club. Hemsky and Horcoff and Pisani and Moreau and Staios and Stoll and Torres and Roloson all got new contracts, for better or worse, and as an Edmonton fan it was wonderful to see ownership spending money to keep an Oilers' club together.

But there was one exception to this and that was Ryan Smyth. Smyth was the face of the franchise, the blue collar guy who was a star, the best comparable I can think of is Wendel Clark, not in terms of how he played but in how he was regarded by the fanbase. Smyth was the guy who was going to be the guy, the first Oiler to go wire to wire in Edmonton.

And then he didn't.

And this bring us to our third point. And this would be a touchy one with a lot of fans but I believe it to be true. We saw it in the arena debate and we see it in the acceptance of this rebuild and in the sold out games despite the poor product and in the online defence of the worst management in the NHL.

A lot of Oiler fans, should we say, defer to authority quite easily. We saw it with Smyth. A franchise icon unsigned but as that season wore on the whispers from the media and the club and so when Smyth was dealt the majority of fans were BEHIND the move. Smyth was not that good. He was greedy. Good riddance to him. Never mind that he would have left not 500000 on the table if he had signed the Oilers' offer but actually over four million dollars based on what he got as a UFA. Never mind that Lowe, in one of his typical weird public self immolations that summer, admitted that he had screwed up with Smyth, that he should have signed him.

The narrative had been written and so it had been accepted and so the heart and soul of the franchise was gone. For some there was rage and bitterness and sorrow and that in itself tells you how beloved Smyth was. But for many these was indifference and from many more there was applause for the move.

And that was telling.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Great Day Or Greatest Day


We're riding out what passes for winter these days pretty well thank you very much. Its been about the last five years I think that things have started getting a lot easier. I remember it was around four years ago that we had about a half dozen fantastic storms even before Christmas, we're talking serious snow and wind no matter where you are from. Funny thing was it took a dusting on Christmas Eve to give us a white Christmas. In between storms the rain and warmth washed everything away.

Since then there's been little in the way of good winter storms and you could count the cold days on one hand each year. Part of me doesn't mind it I have to be honest but its pretty sad when the kids have been sledding once all winter. My favourite winter memories (lately anyhow) usually involved emerging from the Communist Bar, belly full of beer and the odd whiskey, feeling that fine warm four pint night feeling, saying goodbye to my good friend and wandering home through the blizzard, the flakes enormous, the night muffled and slightly out of focus from a combination of light diffused by the falling snow and the pints just enjoyed.

Get home and the big fellow waiting eagerly for me despite midnight having passed and taking him out and down the street to the park where we romped in the newly fallen deep snow, him plowing through the drifts and knocking me over like he did when he was a puppy on the Island many years before.

Grand memories those ones.

Instead we have grey and rainy and mud.

These days are hectic, I used to have plenty of time for writing but home is busy, in a good way, and so is work. I used to be able to steal a few minutes here and there but business is good and while I certainly can't complain about that sometimes it would be nice to breath, you know? And unlike LT I can only come up with so many stories on another shitty year for the Oilers, even though there are a few more bright spots this year and the team has been more fun to watch.

So last week was a bit more heavy duty than usual, even for us. Jenn came home Tuesday evening from work a wreck and was laid low by the flu for the remainder of the week. Now with three kids there's more than enough work for both of us and when one part of the team is down well things can go off the rails pretty easily. The two older kids did their part and from the moment I got up to late in the evening I was going hard. I always am really but now before I went to work I was preparing breakfasts and school snacks and packing bags and when I got home it was making dinner and cleaning up the after school mess and doing laundry and then getting the three of them to bed.

So when Friday rolled around and she was on the mend and we decided to go through with our dinner plans (she worked Valentines Day so this was our dinner out) we had one of us coming off a drag em out flu and the other (that be me) pretty well done. Dinner was good but not too lively and soon after we got home I dragged myself to bed.

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Weekend mornings when we are off we take turns getting up with the kids. Our oldest two are self sufficient but the youngest is a pistol, in the past few weeks she has cut her own hair, played in the toilet numerous times, locked the cat in her room just before we went out for the day, you get the picture. She is not to be trusted. So one of us will generally get up when she does or a few minutes after. Jenn had said that she would get up this day and I told her that if she still felt under the weather I would do so.

Well our youngest woke up and my wife called to her to head downstairs and then as we laid there she turned and reached for me and we had my favourite type of sex, the sex which I have perhaps once or twice a year, and never initiated by her, that is, the morning sex.

God how I love the morning sex. Glorious. And to have it sprung upon me unawares. Seriously ....

As a wise man said I could have stayed in bed then and it would have been a fantastic day.

As we lay there afterwards, flushed and satisfied, she laughed and said that perhaps we should get a lock, reminding me of the Modern Family episode where the kids walk in on their folks and after they have raced downstairs the boy exclaims that 'whatever they were doing it looks like Dad was winning'.

Correct son.

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From there the day unfolded, well, perfectly. Spurs are in position for a Champions' League spot next season but after a fairly easy stretch of their schedule that they murdered they've hit a tougher patch. Survive this and they're likely in like Flynn, barring a monumental collapse. They started with a draw against Liverpool and then Saturday they faced a Newcastle squad that's pretty good and they destroyed them. The goals came fast and furious and by the half it was 4-0 and nothing left to do but run it out - 5-0 the final. And soon after the Oilers played the Sens and it was an entertaining game as the Oilers' games often are these days. Lovely Ales Hemsky gaveth and then he tooketh away and then he gaveth again and Horcoff scored and Hall finished it in overtime and so it was a fine result and a good way to end their roadtrip.

And immediately after that my best friend arrived and we went down to the ACC for our annual pilgrimage. We had a fine dinner and some pints and then down to the rink. We've happened to be there for Wendel Clark night and a night honouring the 67 Leafs (also known as the Marc Pouliot penalty shot game and the 'Good Indian' game) and so tonight it was Mats Sundin night. I always liked Sundin and thought he rarely got his due - as an example I work with a guy who always complained that Sundin wasn't that great because he never lifted the Leafs to a Cup. Me I thought he played for a lot of good teams that just weren't good enough. The list of greats, even all time greats, who played for clubs that did not win it all is a lengthy one and you can start with Ray Bourque with the Bruins and go to the 60s Hawks who had both Hull and Mikita, two of the best ever, and yet only won the Cup once.

So it goes.

Sundin gave a nice speech, hitting the right notes, but most impressive to me - the reception he got was overwhelming. It blew away the cheers for Wendel imo, which I never thought I would see, perhaps its that Mats is of more recent vintage? Anyhow it was a nice night.

And then the Leafs got cranked. Now my feelings towards the Leafs have mellowed over the years. I found in the 80s that their fans were insufferable considering the mediocrity of those squads and I disliked the Quinn clubs based on their personnel - Tucker, Corson, Green, McCabe, Domi - all of these guys and others, the incessant ref baiting by Quinn and whining by the players, it was just such an unlikable group and every year they fell short I enjoyed quite a bit.

But the present group is easier to cheer for - guys like Grabovski and Kulemin are fantastic players and there are comeback stories like Lombardi and some old pros mixed in there and its not a bad group, despite the presence of Phaneuf and Kessel. And after years of suffering with the Oilers I think I feel a bit of sympathy for Leafs' fans. I mean after all, 1967? How shitty is that.

Still I have to admit old habits die hard. Pete and I laughed when the Habs weathered the early storm. He turned to me and said I can see this ending badly if Toronto doesn't score soon and sure enough Reimer whiffed on Cole's shot and then it turned ugly and by the time Eller undressed Phaneuf the crowd was unhappy and we chortled into our massive overpriced cups of beer.

Yes it was a great day, perhaps one of the greatest of days.

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Oh you Oilers.

Its never dull.

Spent some time on twitter arguing with fans who feel that Hemsky is done or that he is a bad apple (body language!) and while I can understand those who worry about his ability to stay healthy I really have no time for those who feel that he is done or who have bought the garbage being spewed by Spector (Cam Barker is a top 3 NHL defenceman) or Stauffer (can't wait for Petry to mature so they can move Gilbert) or the majority of the 'journalists' in Edmonton who don't like Hemsky because he's not quick with the bon mot. He is 'enigmatic' (European), right?

He's a goner of course. Just like everyone who was every going to get paid under EIG, same boss as the old boss, except now he doesn't fit the rebuild because he's over 21 I guess. I'm not sure why this franchise (and many of its fans) don't get the idea that having lots of good players is a good thing and that having a top six of Hall, Eberle, Ted, Gagner, Hemsky and either the newest kid or Smyth or Paajarvi or whomever, a top six with five legitimate top six players, is not a better idea than having a top six without Ales Hemsky who, recovering from major surgery, is starting to get his game back. I think it was the wonderful Loxy who remarked the other night that she hoped that the Oilers trade him and that he then went on to win multiple Cups. I don't want to cheer against the Oilers but I will surely cheer against their management and for Ales Hemsky who was been quite often the only thing worth cheering for on this sad sack club before the arrival of Hall and Eberle.

Tambellini is out of his depth and Tyler Dellow showed why again with his look at the Sutton deal. Healthy scratch one night, paid almost twice what he'd get anywhere else the next. And as always the fans who think everything is just peachy say hey man its nothing, just another little deal, what's the big deal anyhow but of course its just another little deal in a long long list of them going back six years. You could justify nearly every one of them if you were in a vacuum but outside of the vacuum is the worst franchise in the NHL and that lies on management, nobody else.

This year's scapegoats are Hemsky, the best player on this club for a decade, and Renney, who they are greasing the skids for already with all of the talk of the team being better than its record. And when the Oilers' own greasy little mouthpiece, Dan 'I have a mortgage and a passport' Tencer starts grousing about Renney you know the fix is in and come spring he'll be taken into the woods, just like MacT and Quinn before him. From on high the word has come and little Milhouse, who is as independent as a baby squalling in its shitty diaper, is doing what he always does, act the shill for those who pay his way.

Can't blame a guy though, he's set until the revolution and hell by the time that comes (if it ever comes) he may be able to retire.

With all of that said a bit of positivity please. If management only had a brain things really could look up a bit. Paajarvi appears to have woken up and Gagner is playing his best hockey in years and of course Hall and Eberle are two beauties, never mind Ted. I'm a cynic when it comes to this club but those who compare these kids to Cogliano and Nilsson are barking up the wrong tree, imo. Only time will tell what these guys become (likely Cup winners in some other jersey after getting run out of town) but Cogliano and Nilsson couldn't hold their jocks.

And Gilbert is back playing sweet music and by my eye Whitney is improving and Petry looks like he may be ready to take the leap. And of course Smid has been wonderful.

So while I don't hold out much hope for the future, I really don't, at the very least this club is entertaining and the building blocks are there if they would only flush Lowe and Tambellini. I'm afraid it will be a couple of more years for the latter and likely five or six for his likely successor Mr. Lowe, but the batch of kids who replace the current group will likely be wonderful as well. ;)

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Luck


I've been watching this new HBO show, Luck, and I highly recommend it. Its by the fellow who did Deadwood and as soon as I saw that I figured it would be a gooder and it has not been disappointing one bit two episodes in. Just absolutely fantastic.

If you were to go back over the years and read this blog and others on this corner of the internet you would find that luck is a recurring theme. I, and we, talk about it a lot. I talk about it when I am going on my rambles about life, how a chance occurence literally led me to where I am today, and how a sudden turn for the worse can bring it all crashing down. You can control chance to a degree. If you drive carefully and, in my case, rarely, you are less likely to end up in a bad car accident but all it takes is one patch of black ice, one moment of indecision, one 'other guy' who is drunk or reckless, to end everything in a moment.

Sorry for the dramatic example but its one that immediately springs to mind. Now go hug your kids and have sex with your significant other. ;)

I have had a strange couple of days. On Sunday morning I hit the ice with Capsule. Its been a bit of a rotten year for us. We've sunk to last place and while we are competitive it appears relegation looms. Not enough good players and our slowing down with age is taking its toll. Ironically I've had my best year in a long time. I'm fit and replacing my old beater skates with a decent pair has made a big difference, which pisses me off a bit, and with my legs going I've relied on my wits and the results have been good. I've scored a bit and set up quite a few, which is more my game anyway, and I don't leave anything when I'm out there. Overall I've been really happy with my game. Would trade some of that for some wins though.

So its late in the game and I hop over the boards for my last shift and in the ebb and flow of the game the puck ends up in the opposite corner in our end. We have a Dman and he's a fine fellow but lord he has a ten cent head and so for some reason he goes for a wander Bryan McCabe style over in that general direction and his man is all alone in the high slot. And they come out of the scrum with the puck. I'm already sliding down from the point because I see the danger and so when the puck gets to him I'm moving quickly and on top of him and he doesn't know it so when he takes a couple of more strides to get right in there I lean into him slightly and knock the puck into the corner. And as I do my right leg, the one on the inside of him, gives a bit of a wobble for a lack of a better word, in other words it kind of waves out to the right, like a slight tree in a strong breeze and my knee kind of bends gently with it.

There was no pop, no sudden shooting pain and I turned easily and continued my shift but as I headed to the bench at the whistle it suddenly began to hurt like a bastard. The game ended a minute later and I had to be helped off the ice. Couldn't put any weight on it unless I arched my foot so I was standing on my toes.

Got changed and showered and home alright and as Sunday went on it wavered from good to bad and while I could get around it was with discomfort and sometimes, pain. And yeah I was worried. Being a one legged man in a house with stairs and with three kids, not so good.

Yesterday was not too bad, I kept off of it and today it looks like I'm homefree, there's a bit of a twinge but it looks like rest will do the trick. Which is a good thing but damn it was a scary moment. Looked like, as Taylor Hall said after his scare, that I had some bad luck but it could have been much worse.

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And then to top it all off I was checking in on Twitter yesterday afternoon when Oilogosphere regular 'dawgbone' tweeted that he had an extra ticket for last night's Oilers/Leafs game. On nine out of ten Mondays I would have been unable to make it due to Jenn's work but this happened to be the one and once I made the arrangements I let Derek know that I could make it and so I was very lucky and got to see a pretty entertaining game in good company.

I see a lot of Leafs' hockey and so I figured we would see a few goals - the Leafs are a decent team and with Reimer in net they can be quite good. They've ironed out their PK (I heard, I am sure, that they actually were 100% on the PK in January and despite that still 30th in the league. I may have misheard that? Anyone?) and they can score and they have depth up front and on the back end that the Oilers could only dream about and last night showed exactly that. Say what you will about Kessel and Lupul but they can play some and I might take Grabovski and Kulemin over them. So there you go.

The problem for the Oilers for years has been the fact that they only have a handful of players who can handle the other club's better players and this was on full display on Monday. It didn't help that Gilbert has just returned from injury and that Whitney is not 100% either nor did it help when Ted's injury forced Kreuger to play a fourth liner on his third line, effectively hogtying it. It also didn't help that Kreuger, on a couple of occasions, chose to run the fourth line out against either Kessel or Grabovski.

The results in those cases were as to be expected except for one shift where Lander had a decent chance against the Kessel line.

The good news? There was some. The Eberle line was excellent for the most part. Hall panicked on the Lupul goal and threw it up the middle of the ice (he is a bit of a turnover machine actually, although he will figure it out I think). Eberle, on the other hand? Fantastic. No news here but most impressive to me is his work along the boards and in the corners. He invariably comes away with the puck despite giving away size in nearly every case.

Derek and I were talking about the 10-20-28 line's offensive struggles and then of course they got one. I liked that line a lot. They had the better of the play for the most part and if they can chip in a goal here and there then the Oilers might have something. Belanger skated well and I think a lot of his struggles have been due to an injury. He looked good. Horcoff had a strong game but you could see where his confidence is when he stole the puck and got right in on Reimer on his backhand and then inexplicably dished it to the point.

The Ted line also scored one, we had the perfect view for it, the Smyth goal, but the line looked disjointed. Hemsky, I thought, had a good game and it was funny to hear the Leaf fans rave about him when so many Oiler fans want to run him out of town. Oh well. Anyhow its clear that the club lacks depth up front still. Ideally you'd run 10/94/28 as a line and then have 89 or 93 centre 83 and another quality winger but with Hemsky out the door it forces 94 and 10 to play more minutes than they can handle. I guess Omark will get his chance?

On the blue well you saw the game. Barker was as bad as he looked on the TV. Just fucking garbage and while you can't judge a player on one game good (8 points!) or bad, it was just more of what we have seen all year. Can't skate and a ten cent head. Poor Tom Gilbert, saddled with this clown. Interested to see if Sutton draws in for him, you have to think so, and if not, well, I just don't get it.

Whitney is a sublime passer, first fo all, my God. As for his mobility there were a couple of times where I thought he was in trouble but his acceleration and straight ahead speed were fine, its the tight pivots and turns that gave him trouble.

And you could see the difference between Gilbert and a lesser guy in the second when someone beat him outside, can't remember who it was, and Tom turned quickly and managed to catch the guy enough to knock the puck away just as he cut to the net. Big time play.

And Smid? A man. Wow was he ever good. Skated the puck out under pressure a number of times. Tight turns and spins behind the net and in the corner with a man on. A little hesitation move he used at least twice that I saw, opening up a lane for a nice headman pass. He's just fantastic and proof that you have to be careful of giving up on those young Dman. Keep that in mind when looking at Petry, who can skate for miles. Kid is going to be a player.

The last time I saw this club was two years ago and it was maybe the worst game I have ever seen live, wow they were bad. They've come a long way. Sadly they have a long way to go still.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Ultimate Handjob On A Greyhound


The last six years (!) have been the worst era in Oilers' history. Coming on six years out of the playoffs after what looked like the start of a new era in 2006. Quality players shuttled out the door, including the peculiar Oiler tradition of moving every veteran of any quality out of town. It started in the 80s, was supposed to stop with Smyth, continued last year with Penner and is about to happen again with Hemsky.

Its hard to take. There is a nice collection of kids now but for this fan anyhow the overwhelming feeling is one of dread that management will make a mess of this. They've earned this contempt of course.

And I'm an optimist!!!

Haha.

Last year I coined the term 'handjob on a Greyhound' to describe the odd joyful experience we Oiler fans have during these brutal seasons, suffering through dull, poor hockey, our favourites traded or injured in freak accidents, all in the hope that things will get better.

The 9-2 victory over Chicago, the Ted hattrick, many of the quality games this year (they are increasing), there have been some good times this year.

But last night, well last night was historic. Literally.

And it was fun.

*Heavens open, light bathes me in warming glow, tears run down my face as angels sing, over and over again: FUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNNN! FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!! FUNFUNFUNFUNFUN!*