Monday, November 18, 2013

Losing Losers Who Lose


When I was a boy, heck when I was a young man, I didn't really understand the concept of change. I wasn't one to ask questions and my folks, as wonderful as they are, weren't ones to offer much up unless asked (although the old man has become more of a chatterbox as he's gotten older) and so my kids and especially the boy, are far more worldly than I was at their age. For that matter they are probably more worldly than I was when I was a young man. They ask, and I answer, questions about economics and personal finance and history and politics and puck possession and relationships and whatever else they can think up. A good part of our time in Paris was spent explaining to the boy the French Revolution and the concept of a monarchy and the Napoleonic Wars and European power politics and yeah you get the picture.

 So I was and really have always been slightly naive. I grew up lucky and so news of a divorce always astounded me, for example. In my world things just trucked along when I was a boy and of course that is not the reality of the world, it never has been and it never will be. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the erosion of the American empire, the collapse into irrelevancy of the federal Liberal party, the end of the PC dynasty in Ontario, the emergence of Canada as an Olympic power (at least in the Winter Games), the Internet and smart phones, these events and inventions, some hugely important, some not so much, I could never have envisioned as a boy or even as a young man. NEVER.

 And yet here we are and who knows what will happen in the next decades? We don't know. We can guess at possibilities but we don't know what the future brings.

 When I was a boy the sporting landscape was vastly different. I became aware of the NHL in 1973 and in the sixteen years that followed only four teams won the Stanley Cup - Montreal, Philadelphia, the Islanders and Edmonton. The Original Six were garbage, Detroit was terrible, Chicago and Toronto and Rangers were mediocre with the odd gust to being pretty good, the Bruins usually pretty good with a few years as contenders. Philly was always solid but the rest of the '67 expansion was junk - the Blues, Kings, Pens and Stars all terrible or mediocre, the following expansion squads nearly all terrible as well. Philly was replaced by the Habs who were supplanted by the Islanders who then saw the OIlers rise to power. Nobody else really mattered.

 In the CFL you had Edmonton and Montreal and nobody else.

 In baseball you had the Big Red Machine and then the Yankees and then a dozen different champions in thirteen years.

 In the NFL you had the Steelers and the Raiders and then sixteen years where the NFC pounded the NFC for fifteen Super Bowl wins, the 49ers and Cowboys and Giants and Redskins destroying the Bills and Broncos and various other pretenders with Chicago and Green Bay also picking up wins over another patsy, the New England Patriots.

 Nobody knew who Manchester United or Real Madrid were.

 Boxing mattered. So did horse racing and the Indy 500.

 I'm old. OLD!

 You know who was the baseball club that everyone wanted to emulate when I was a youth? Kansas City. George Brett and speed and defence and pitching and they were in the mix every year. After that it was the Blue Jays. Every year the Jays were competitive and finally in 92 and 93 they won it all.

 Times have changed.

 In 86 I was at the Cameron House with a buddy from Sudbury, we were in our first year of university and 18 years old and we had found one of many places you could get a beer without getting ID'd. We skipped out of class to drink beer (a common theme of my university days) and watch the Red Sox beat the Mets or so we hoped. And the Mets were down to their last strike and then suddenly Carter, I think it was, stroked a single and then the next batter went down two strikes and did the same and then on and on and the ball through Buckner's legs and game six was over and we knew what was coming before game seven even started.

 That was the Red Sox. They were cursed. Losers. 1918.

 A couple of weeks ago I watched them win their third World Series in a decade. The other champions in that time? The White Sox. I remember a couple of years before the White Sox won reading that the odds of both the Cubs and White Sox going as long as they did without winning were something like 5000 to one. In 2010 the Giants won for the first time on over fifty years. Two years later they won again.

 Losers no more.

 In 1994 the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup (1940! 1940!) and three years later the Detroit Red Wings ended forty one years of frustration. In 2011 the Bruins went all the way for the first time in nearly forty years. The Wings have been the gold standard for the league for over twenty years. The Bruins have been to the final twice in three years, losing last year to the saddest of sad NHL sacks, the Chicago Blackhawks.

 The Blackhawks were the biggest losers in the NHL forever. Forever. Under Bill Wirtz and Bob Pulford they wandered into the desert. They didn't return until Wirtz died. When Dale Tallon tried to eulogize him before a game the United Center crown booed.

 In the third season after his death Chicago won their first Cup since 1961. Three years later they won again.

 They're the new gold standard.

  What happened to Chicago?

 After 1961 they went just over a decade where they were a very good club but did not win another Cup despite trips to the Final in 1971 and 1973. They faded in the seventies and early eighties and then built a decent club around Savard Larmer and Doug Wilson in the eighties. They were pretty good but no match for the Oilers. Often they were no match for the junk in their division even (Murray Bannerman!). Mike Keenan came to town in the late eighties.

 In 1991 they won the President's Trophy. The next year they went to the Stanley Cup. Then Pulford stepped in and Keenan was a goner and that was it.

 There was a stretch of around fifteen years or so where the Blackhawks drafted two players who scored over twenty goals or more in a season, Roenick and Daze. Something like that. Isn't that amazing? How imcompetent were those scouts?

 They traded Hasek and then they dismantled that early 90s' team piece by piece. Roenick, Chelios, Belfour, all gone for futures. They got Tony Amonte for Noonan and Matteau and then years later they let him go too. Each move was rationalized, some were correct at the time (Hasek was not Hasek yet and they had Belfour of course, Amonte wasn't worth it anymore imo)

 The Hawks turned a house into a paperclip and then went a decade with one playoff game win. One playoff win in ten years. One game.

 Their best players were Kyle Calder and Mark Bell and Tyler Arnason. In one five year stretch they had six (6!) coaches.

 Here are their first round picks from 1991 to 2000 on: Dean McAmmond, Sergei Krivokrasov, Eric Lecompte, Ethan Moreau, Dmitri Nabokov, Daniel Cleary, Ty Jones, Mark Bell, Steve McCarthy, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev.

 Could you imagine.

 Bad management. Bad drafting, bad trades, bad decision upon bad decision. Good players traded for a wing and a prayer. Draft picks spent poorly. Team is bad. Young players brought up and placed in a bad position. They fail. No free agents will come to a garbage team. And so the spiral goes.

 They had bad luck. Eric Daze's back giving out was a big one. But you know what? Everyone has bad luck.  The Detroit Red Wings won three Stanley Cups after Vlad Konstantinov's car accident. Of course the Wings could draft and develop and they had good management.

 It took the Hawks pretty well fifteen years to climb out of the hole Pulford dug for them.

 Fucking losers in the biggest way. Everything they touched turned to shit.

 Like the Toronto Raptors. The LA Clippers. The Buffalo Bills.  You know the teams. In some cases they used to be good, in others they have never been good. The only way out for them is to get the proper management, to draft properly and develop properly and build that house from scratch. Get good scouts and good coaches and add to the foundation by making proper moves.

 Then you are no longer the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or New Orleans Saints or Chicago White Sox.

 Chicago's draft record speaks for itself. They had some misses in the 'oughts but they also had great success in the later rounds. They added young players like Versteeg and Sharp for nothing. They picked up veteran stars like Hossa and Campbell and support players like Madden and Kopecky as free agents and moved Ruutu for Ladd and Barker for Leddy. They hired a veteran coach and when the GM botched the contract situation with the RFAs they cut him loose (though of course politics were involved) because you can't afford to have a manager who fucks shit up that badly.

 There were missteps and after their first Cup they had to gut their supporting cast but the return for those players stocked their prospect cupboard once again and now they have another Cup and look to be perennial contenders for years to come.

 No longer losers.

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

 The past few weeks have led people to say that the Oilers have hit rock bottom and of course that is far from the truth. They still have a lot of young talent in the NHL and some promising prospects. They're far from rock bottom but this fall has been a pretty good rebuttal to all of the fans and media shills who proclaimed that the Oilers were on the right track.

 The problem with tearing a team down is that if you leave nothing left, if you turn that house into a paper clip, as Lowe and Tambo did, just as Pulford did after 1992, then you leave a mountain to climb. Keep getting rid of NHL players and suddenly you don't have an NHL team which means that you might have three number one picks but you don't have a supporting cast and so the team continues to lose and your leverage is gone because everyone looks worse than they are.

 You can move Cam Barker for Nick Leddy because Barker might be garbage but he's surrounded but a tremendous team and so he doesn't look as bad as he is. If you wanted to move Nail Yakupov right now, which would be dumb of course, you'd get fifty cents on the dollar. Yakupov has been rotten but a lot of that has to do with circumstance. You might say (and you would be right) that he has to become a more complete player but you also need to put him in a position to succeed. He's the talent. Figure it out.

 I liked MacT's summer, I like his fall a lot less, but RiversQ made a point that I have repeated here a few times, the hill was too big to climb this summer. The D was in shambles as was the bottom six and the prospects who you would hope would be ready to step in and fill some holes based on their age and pedigree - Lander, Pitlick, Hamilton, Martindale, Plante, Teubert - have all either completely busted or are on that path (although Pitlick seems to have turned things around possibly and reports on Lander have been good too, it may not be too late). Rajala and Hartikainen flew the coop and suddenly the fourth line is garbage once again, the idea of a puck possession team out the window for more facepunchers who can't make or take a pass.

 The goaltending has righted itself but put them in a hole early when they deserved better but the bigger issue is what has come to pass since the team basically got healthy and Dubnyk found his game. They've been worse. They've been dismal. They have sunk to the bottom of the league again and barely squeaked by Calgary, thanks only to the Flames' own goaltending issues. They can't score and they can't defend and the shiny new coach looks to be at a loss.

 Its an absolute mess.

 And they are dealing from an absolute position of weakness. Perron has looked good for the most part as has Ales Hemsky by my eye and Gordon has done what he can although I am sure he and Horcoff could have a few beers and talk about playing tough minutes while dragging a couple of boat anchors around with them. In any case they can't move Perron or Gordon and Hemsky, likely a goner, is a UFA and thus will bring only more fucking futures which is exactly what this club does not need.

 What does MacT do? Well he cannot panic but he has to fix this somehow. He has to find the teams that have guys to move who can play. Florida and Buffalo fit the bill obviously and maybe they can find a contender that needs scoring but doesn't have the cap space to acquire Hemsky without sending a player back.

 I know when the Hemsky/Simmonds rumour was flying around a few weeks ago people were up in arms but if they're not keeping Ales (and I would have to guess he is tired of the losing and the circus and may be ready to go) then getting an honest to goodness NHLer would be huge and certainly preferable to more picks.

 I can't speak to what is going on on the ice except as usual the team needs D and a couple of guys who can win puck battles and check and PK and so MacT needs to fill those holes somehow and he has to win the deals he makes because the problem now is that its eight years out and while Smid and Hemsky were happy to extend to stay here we're getting to the point where guys might want out while under contract.

 And that, folks, is where we're going to hit rock bottom. I have talked about this for years, the problem with the scorched earth build/rebuild is that the danger is that it does not work, like it didn't in Florida and Columbus and Long Island and Chicago for a decade and in Atlanta which had five straight years of top two picks and saw it all frittered away as guys either did nto pan out or opted out as soon as the opportunity arose.

 The next few months are critical. MacT and Eakins have to right this. Its obvious that there is something rotten and its rotten at the core right now. Its not the veterans, its the kids. Yakupov is unhappy and Hall and Eberle and Ted are underperforming and Gagner and Schultz Younger have been horrible.

 There are sixty games left. If they are as awful as the first quarter of the season people might start asking out and we all know that dealing from a position of weakness is a good way to get ten cents on the dollar and this club doesn't have enough dollars to afford that.

 We're going to see the cut of MacT now that's for sure. If he fails, and he may, we're just at the beginning of a long dismal winter that will make these past few years look like a walk in the park.

 Fingers crossed.

2 comments:

Calgarysux said...

Good blog.

IMO, the primary problem with our forwards is we have the wrong mix of players. We have too many scorers and not enough plumbers. The scorers are forced to play where plumbers should be and then surprise surprise it doesn't work out. The 3rd line needs to be remade into a tough minutes, physical, secondary offense line. Boyd Gordon is a good start but he needs some help. Right now the wunderkids are getting a trial by fire in terms of tough minutes play, if they can watch some experienced guys who can get it done and can shelter them a little, it'll help immensely in that area.

This means Hemsky is likely gone at the trade deadline, but IMO we should be able to get a legit 3rd line guy for him plus a pick or prospect. That's a reasonable trade IMO - there are some teams who have a spot in the top 6 for him game in game out, which the Oilers don't.

Sam Gagner as well could be gone IMO - Mark Arcobello has been a better and more complete version of him this year. He has a 1 year NTC that starts I'm assuming July 1 2014 so at the trade deadline is the ideal time to deal him - again for a tough minutes guy and a pick or prospect.

Our 2014 1st round draft pick as well, IMO needs to go even if it's a high one. The last thing this team needs is another 18 year old forward they have to worry about developing and paying. They can package the pick up with Hemsky or Gagner if they want to make a bold move, we could get some good things back for those guys.

Jesse Joensuu could be a player but he should probably start out on the 4th line next year, he seemed to have done well in limited time this year IMO he should be resigned assuming we can get him for a reasonable cost.

Find a more offensively talented version of Wil Acton to center the 4th line.

Ryan Smyth and Ryan Jones they need to have a tough conversation with, tell them their time here is done unless they absolutely can't find anyone else. Smyth could take another job in the organization, but IMO he's done as a player whether he wants to acknowledge it or not. Age has caught up with him, and he can still so an OK job in the bottom 6 but we can do better there.

Get rid of the deadweight: Potter, Garbagekov and Smackintyre (the latter 2 should never have been signed in the 1st place). Ben Eager I'd include in that list as well.

On D, we'll already have our Pronger in waiting in Darnell Nurse. Bring him on when he's ready. Klefbom too.

If Nurse is ready, or they find a younger version of Andy Sutton, then we can afford to part with Nick Schultz as well.

In goal, Bachmann needs a longer look. Before he was injured, he did pretty well in the nets in limited sample size and maybe even this season could prove that he belongs as the Oilers' backup next year.

I can't believe we traded Smid for magic beans just for cap space we didn't need to empty in exchange for 1 year of Bryzgalov. That was stupid. No more trades like that, MacT. Please. We need to reverse the trend and send away draft picks and prospect for proven players.

Unknown said...

Last night's game builds on the 3rd period that the Oilers took a step forward and not only sustained but moved another step in the right direction. The start of the second period looked as if the fragile Oilers were going to let it start to unravel but Eakins called a time out and yelled enough sense to refocus the young men towards the task. A win like this should do wonders for their confidence plus with performances like Yakity-Yaks (wow he was flying) others can step up or even just follow ing the wake. There is so much offensive talent if this starts the fire then MacT will have more than enough bullets to make the deals needed to climb over the garbage heap.