Monday, June 22, 2015

Life's What You Make It

 


Two things about this summer. Six of my next nine weeks are short for work. And we are booked solid until the last weekend of August. Which follows endless booked weekends going back to ... March? Something like that. Short work weeks aren't the norm. Booked weekends are.

 It's quite the life.

 Now a number of years back I used to bemoan this a bit. I'd look at the calendar and say 'man a weekend of leisure would be good now and then' but the reality is these weekends past and present have been all about it. We've had family visiting and Jenn was in Cambodia and then Ottawa for a run. We had a ballet recital and my hockey tournament and the boy wrapped up spring hockey and this weekend I am off to a northern cabin to drink and laugh with old friends and the rest of the summer will be spent on lakes and beaches and when we are in town and Jenn is working I will take the kids to wander, like I once did when I was younger, hitting the streets dusty footed, looking for food and drink and the city. I have to admit though, the short weeks are coming at a good time.

 This past weekend, well this past weekend was pretty killer.

 Friday Night

 A long time teacher at our school is retiring, we have been lucky enough to have excellent teachers all the way so far and she was the best, teaching our two oldest. Loving and creative and strict as hell, she was perfect and so Friday we went to the legion and celebrated. You want to talk about cognitive dissonance, imagine watching the teachers and staff at your kids' school having some drinks and dancing up a storm. Weird man, weird. And Jenn and I danced and it was wonderful and the night went slowly and surely off the rails, in a good way. You had to be there. Mental.

 Saturday

 When the kids were younger Jenn and I would take turns having dates with them. So one afternoon I would take my daughter down to Kensington and we would hang out, just the two of us, and then another day Jenn would take the boy to lunch and the museum. So Saturday I took our youngest out for the day to the Annex, just west of Bathurst for a community music festival called Open Tuning. It was amazing and I highly recommend it. I'm biased because one of my buddies is a driving force behind it and his old tumble down garage is one of the venues scattered about the neighbourhood where you can see musicians, professional and not so much, play tunes. We went for ice cream and bought some books at Seekers, my favourite book store in Toronto and then we headed over. We hung out in a back alley for the day watching great music and when they had an open mic session my daughter walked up and belted out a song that had the crowd roaring and cheering. She's got guts, that one. One of my favourite days in a long long time ...

 Sunday

 Sunday was Father's Day and I'm not sure I've had one better. A sleep in cuddled right in with my love, we dozed in and out as the sun wafted through the blinds. A big breakfast and then down to College to take in the Italian Festival. After we got home a massive Cherry Chocolate stout on my porch, taking in the late afternoon quiet, then a barbeque and finally the World Cup. I am a lucky man no doubt.

 Before I went to bed the boy gave me his gift, it was a little paper bag with a tie drawn on it. He told me to open it and inside were four little notes. Excuse me while I tear up a little here because quite frankly when they scatter my ashes wherever they scatter them these notes will be part of what's left of me. To have your nine year old say, quite clearly, why he loves you and what he loves doing with you and why he things that you are a good person ....

 Unreal.

The Future
 
And so that was my weekend. And the upcoming one is going to be mental, my pal Frank, who I have talked about a number of times here, has made calls and god help us we are going to be drinking in some backwoods tavern and Saturday night we have some guy named Uncle Leo picking us up in his truck so we can go watch Canada hopefully win the quarters. And this is for starters. Whatever I can remember I will pass along here at some point although my guess is there will just be a blank piece of cyberwhat when that is all said and done.

 Welcome summer.

Fire Them All

 I don't think anybody can be surprised by the purge going on, once LaForge got the axe and Lowe got moved over you knew anything was possible. There are two thing surprising to me. One is how like the end of the first season of Boardwalk Empire the executioner is chopping off heads a couple at a time. There is no lining up of Oilers' staff against the garage wall. Instead you have a couple gunned down in the bar, another knifed in the alley over there, a few more mowed down by a driveby. The carnage just keeps on going and the streets of Edmonton run with the blood of years of failure, as they should, but one wonders why they don't just say 'everyone's gone'.

 The second thing that I am waiting on is the fate of Howson and MacT. The latter may have been given a stay and swallowed his pride to accept a lesser role but Howson's fingerprints are all over the Nikitin move and one has to believe that he's hiding in a dingy motel on the edge of town, watching his phone buzz, weeping as he wonders why Kelsey Grammar ever stepped away from their TV show, he was making a shit load playing Niles Crane with a lot less pressure than this gig.

Easy There Big Fella

 I trust Chiarelli, I do, but this apparent bidding war over Cam Talbot makes me nervous. Remember that goalies are literally a dime a dozen once you get past Carey Price. I could likely name a dozen available goalies who I would prefer to Talbot. I have nothing against him, people who know a lot more than me and or are smarter than me speak highly of him but how a 27 year old with 57 games played who is a year away from UFA is suddenly a hot ticket with a 'great contract' (Dreger carrying water for Sather) is beyond me. Ben Scrivens was a 27 year old with 70 games played a year away from UFA when the Oilers acquired him and his .931 save percentage with the Kings was better than Talbot's numbers this year. Both in small sample sizes of course but if Chiarelli gives up a first round pick or young NHLer under control for this guy I will not be impressed. The Oilers got the pick for an established top six forward, would you trade David Perron for an unproven backup a year away from UFA? If your answer to that question is yes then you, like Semenko, Gare and all the rest, are fired.

Blue on Blue

 Let's get one thing straight, a goalie (or two) has to be had but more important imo is the need for a couple of top four D, same as the Oilers have needed for years now. But it's impossible you say! And I say New York Islanders. Boychuk for two 2nds and a conditional 3rd. Leddy for middling prospects. So don't say it can't be done. Sure the Oilers have to outbid other suitors and they likely need to dump Nikita Nikitin's immobile corpse off the pier as well but remember how we keep being told how everyone is in salary cap hell? Well now is the time to make hay unless you think going into next year with Klefbom and Fayne as your top pairing is going to take the Oilers to the promised land. Find a team or two that needs to clear salary to get under the cap or so they can make their own moves and then pop the question, if Garth Snow can do it .... well I will leave it at that.

The Window Is Closing

 The Oilers aren't Indiana Jones quite yet, just rolling under the wall before it crushes them but once they select Conor McDavid that clock starts ticking. They have three years where they have the surest thing since Sidney Crosby (or maybe even prior) under an entry level deal. If they waste a moment of that then they're doing it all wrong. They need to compete for the Stanley Cup as soon as possible because as soon as he starts getting paid then they need to start moving guys. Don't believe me? Ask the Penguins. Get on it Peter.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Old Man Down The Road



 Monday night I came home from beer league and sat down and checked my phone and saw that Patrick Kane had just scored and so I told Jenn to go to the PVR and rewind it a couple of minutes and then I went upstairs and woke up the boy and brought him down to watch his team win the Stanley Cup.

 We had a ritual though the final, he stayed up and watched the first period on school nights and as long as he could stay awake for the Saturday games. When the Hawks won I would write the score and goal scorers as well as the series score on a post it and put it on whatever book he happened to have beside his bed. He put each one on his dresser and I actually wrote one up after he went back to bed on Monday as well. I was just upstairs and they are all lined up there still.

 The boy is a pretty serious little dude and so when Kane scored there was no eruption of joy, he sat there, taking it all in, maybe he is already knows as a fan that you always expect the worst but after the Hawks killed the last ditch Tampa PP (the Lightning never even really threatened in that last five minutes) and the United Center erupted in a joyous countdown he sat calmly, smiling now and then during the celebration and replying to Jenn's queries 'are you excited? are you happy?' with a quiet 'yes' and all the emotion of, well, Jonathan Toews usually.

 Me, well I was very pleased. As the Cup was passed around I thought of two men. I thought of Stan Mikita and I thought of my old man.

 Mikita was my favourite player growing up although by the time I tweaked to hockey he was past his prime, an aging superstar on a mediocre team. The best centre of his era, which is saying something, Mikita retired as the third highest scorer of all time but like Toews he did everything well. I'm not big into hero worship, especially when it comes to men and women who play games for a living but I admit that I had a big thrill a couple of years back when my friend Ellen, of Theory of Ice fame, a Chicago native, told me stories about her uncles, the diner they used to frequent and Stan Mikita, who apparently was a better man than he was a hockey player, a genuine, kind, humble man with a sense of humour, a man who would, when this diner got crazy, grab the coffee pot and help out the waitresses, a guy who hung out with the other regulars, eating and shooting the breeze.

 I thought of Stan Mikita because it was on Monday that a story was published about his failing health. Stricken with dementia he is now a shadow man, unaware of who he or his loved ones are. He may live like this for years, otherwise he is hearty and happy but I have a good friend whose mom went away when she was in early fifties and who only passed last year, nearly two decades later. She was long gone, no longer her and I think of my Dad's sister whose husband, my uncle Bill, a former fighter pilot, a good man with a sense of humour and a good heart, is now struggling with this disease and my Dad's brother Raymond, a former pilot as well, who is also no longer himself. As my grandmother once said, in her soft French Canadian accent 'ooever call it the Golden Year, well I would like to ave a word with him, 'e was not too smart that man'.

 And I thought of my Dad who was a terrific hockey player himself growing up in Franz. He was one of six and each of them had their team, for Dad, the oldest, it was Chicago. He was a Max Bentley fan and later on he was a Mikita man, he was a smallish speedy skilled centre and so he liked their games. When the Hawks won the Cup in 1961, led by a young Mikita and Bobby Hull, Dad was just married, not yet thirty and had not started what would be his career for nearly thirty years yet. When they beat the Flyers in 2010 he had been married nearly fifty years, had four grandchildren and had been retired for over fifteen years. That's a long time between Cups.

 Mom and Dad came down two weeks ago to visit for the first time in five years, ever since Mom got sick and was told she would never walk again they have not been down, we're fifteen steps up from the street and our old house is two stories with the bathroom and bedrooms upstairs. Last fall she said they were coming, she was strong enough to make it now and so they came down with my sister. They got to see my oldest's ballet recital and the boy play in goal and we went to the pub for dinner one night and we had a good time, as we always do. They're getting old, Mom and Dad, and it's hard to see sometimes let em tell you. They're still in good shape considering but by the end of three days they were worn down and sore and Mom had to lean on Dad to head out for dinner, luckily just  up the street and a few doors away, they left before us, hobbling up our little street arm in arm.

 Dad turns 83 tomorrow and I will call him and we will talk about the Hawks, he was certainly watching Monday night, he has followed them through the playoffs, Mom too, and I know they was smiling when Toews lifted the Cup. After years in the desert it's been a great run.

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 You can go on and on and try and parse what makes the Hawks so great and of course nowadays they are what passes for a dynasty, yes. The days of teams winning three or four in a row are long gone with the salary cap and thirty teams and so you can call it a dynasty or not but this last seven years has to rank up there with one of the greatest runs in hockey history. Three Cups and a bounce or two away from what certainly would have been a fourth last year as well as a fifth conference final appearance. And now for their reward they get to tear it all down again.

 I read Duhatschek today and I have always liked The Hat, I have, but like a lot of the old timey writers he tends to fall back on the old saws, turning a game into a lesson on courage and character and so he said that that the difference between the Hawks and everyone else is Toews' leadership and like Messier it looks like Toews will probably be able to dine out on that forever. Don't get me wrong, I am sure that whatever the ideal captain is, Toews is it, but I think if you want to talk about what separates the Hawks from everyone else it's a core of generational players surrounded by a team that is four lines deep (the Hawks were running four lines of NHLers when other dummies were still dressing two goons on their third line - hello Leafs, hello Oilers - I wonder what the Hawks brass would think when they saw that, probably they giggled) and led by a great coach.

 Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith. Four guaranteed Hall of Famers. Sharp, Saad, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Oduya.

 Throw in a good, if not great goaltender, an absolutely outstanding player in Marcus Kruger and then that depth and ... well, you can only shake your head and try and remember that for decades this team was run into the ground by Wirtz and Pulford. The Hawks as the flagship franchise of the league? The closest equivalent woud be the Red Sox and Giants recent successes after years in the desert but there is no real match in sports. It's amazing.

 And now for his greatest trick Stan Bowman has to break up the gang and yet ... and yet ... this cannot be like 2010. He has to keep the window open somewhat if only because while Toews and Kane are still relatively young and Hjalmarsson too and Saad and Teuvo are babies yet and coming on strong and Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa are robots or something the reality is that Keith and Seabrook and Hossa are on the wrong side of thirty, Hossa is closer to forty than thirty which can of course not be believed, other than Saad was there a better Hawks' forward in the Final, and Seabrook will be unrestricted in a year.

 Vermette and Desjardins and Richards will be gone. And Roscival. And biggest of all, probably Oduya. Bigger than Sharp. Bigger than Bickell, scratched for most of the Final. Bigger than anyone. Johnny Oduya.

 The reality is that this is like 2010 because it's really looking like a two year project and in two years Hossa will be 38 and Seabrook may be gone and then you're talking the window closing unless they manage to land another Saad and Tuevo lower in the draft.

 Sharp and Bickell will be gone along with the aforementioned and so you are talking five of your top thirteen forwards and two of your top five D and that's an awful hit to take. Bowman has made mistakes, of course, he is human, but man ohh man it's a tough league now, you can barely make a mistake at all. He will get out from under Bickell but the real albatross is Crawford or rather that contract.

 Don't get me wrong, I like Crawford. He's a good goalie, even though he lets in goals like that Johnson one, he's no Carey Price but nobody is. But he's not worth that money and if Bowman were braver than I suspect he is he would move Crawford and replace him with someone who can do the job for a half or two thirds of the price. A second Cup in three years, there are teams who would take him but of course Bowman and Q probably look at him and say a second Cup in three years. He was great in the Final and who's to say that someone else is as good.

 I guess I do but you know what I mean.

 I think Bowman can go one of two ways here. He can play it safe and try and cobble together depth next year with kids and cheap vets and somehow figure out a way to replace Oduya who will be the key loss back there and then extend Seabrook at some point and go from there.

 The second option is bold and I don't think he takes it but he could go big and move Bickell and Sharp and Crawford and Seabrook now and use that cap space to fill in the holes. The return for Seabrook in particular would be massive and with those picks and prospects and cheap players and cap space Bowman could probably add the top two D that he might need in a year anyhow if Seabrook leaves. Replace Crawford with a cheaper option and then go from there.

 I don't think it happens and I don't blame Bowman if he goes steady as he goes but the window closes fast and there's no place for sentiment.

 They're a team for the ages already though.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Bullfighting

 I'm a big reader, I always have been and all three kids have followed in my footsteps, Jenn will come home and we will be sprawled about the house, noses in books. She is not a reader at all. She is what used to be called a Philistine. Actually if I see her walking down the Danforth and I am in a pub having a cold beer I will pay a hobo five Canadian dollars to follow behind her at twenty paces and shout at her that she is a Philistine. I kid you not.

 Ever since we have been together which is closing in on twenty years which is completely absurd I have asked for books for Christmas. I put together a list and so on Christmas Day I eagerly open up around a dozen books while she grumbles that I am boring and of course I respond that this is what I want so lay it on me. You can't put a trip to Prague under the tree and we have a limit on what we spend besides and it's what I want. Book me. So now 17 Christmases spent together later I have a couple of bookshelves full of books and I have decided to read them all, one by one. I have read a number of them many times but we have limited space and so before we end up like those brothers in New York ( I have a book about them!) who perished in their hoarders' dream of a brownstone, buried (literally) under piles of newspapers, or in this case books, then I figure I need to cull the herd. It won't be easy because most of them are very good and I will reread them again. But anyhow that is what I am doing right now at the pace of about one or two books a week. At this rate I will be ... well I will be very old when I finish and the cops will find me when the neighbours complain about a sour odour and I will be found, expired, under an avalanche of Hornby and Hemingway, Joyce, McEwan and Boyden, Johnston, MacDonald and Toibin, to name a few.

 One of my favourite authors and one well represented in my little library is Roddy Doyle. I like his writing quite a bit and I have an affinity for the Irish and Dublin, having been there a few times and having good friends there. Last week I read Bullfighting and, like The Guts, it reflects Doyle's own life and the fact that he is getting on. The Guts is about Jimmy Rabbite, who is the guy who put together The Commitments and who appears in many of Doyle's stories that take part in and around Barrytown but he is no longer a young man but now a man in his forties. Bullfighting is a collection of stories and the jist of it is the same, each is about a man in his forties or early fifties. Their children are mostly gone, their marriages are sometimes good, sometimes stale but they are far different from the early days. They have their mates and their nights at the pub but they also have their health issues creeping up on them or their friends. It's a good read and I found it ... well I guess the easiest thing to say is that it spoke to me.

A few weeks ago I went for beers on a Friday night after work with two old friends, in one case he is one of my oldest friends. We don't see each other that much any more, I am in the city and they are in Oakville and up by Newmarket and we are all busy. Their kids are older. One fellow has three and one is in uni and another is graduating high school this month, his third is just turned 16. The other has two teenagers. We're all doing well, we're comfortable and happy and we haven't changed much, the old jokes came as easily as they ever have. At the end of June we're getting together, a gang of us, maybe a dozen of the old crew, up at a camp up by Sudbury. We're going to drink too much and tease each other about getting fat and bald and about the old days and it is going to be amazing.

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So here's the thing. Work has been mental. Mental. I love my job, I enjoy it, I work for and with great people and the last six weeks have been nuts. Haven't been sleeping and have been pounding back the old Budweisers as Joe Schultz would say, those and the cheeseburgers. (Note - I don't drink Budweiser because it's shit although if you offer me one I will drink it, anyhow that is a Ball Four reference, basically I have been drinking a lot of beer is what I am saying). Two weekends ago I was supposed to be off the hook and we got a last minute surprise and so the whole weekend itself just ramped everything up.

 And then Monday morning I was in the office and bam, chest pain and tingling and numbness all the way down my arm and so off to emerg I went even though I knew it wasn't classic heart attack symptoms, there was enough going on that I wasn't taking any chances. Spent the afternoon in the hospital while they ran a battery of tests, missed beer league (so you know it was serious!) and the end result was that it was almost certainly not cardiac although we're doing some follow up tests to be sure.

 Crazy huh? As I lay on a gurney, reading, what came to mind was if this is a heart attack it's going to put some serious obstacles into a lot of plans I have - the travel and the eating and the drinking and such. Talked to Jenn and I'm off this fall again, not sure where yet but man oh man it's going to be hard to drink and smoke and eat schnitzel or goulash or chips if I am dragging around an oxygen tent with me.

 So it ended up being a wake up call and really the gentlest one you could have, like someone waking you up by touching your genitals (NOTHING BETTER!). I have to eat better and exercise and I most of all I need to leave work at the office. First thing I did Tuesday was tell my bosses that I was stepping back from the overtime for a while. And I have to get my head together because the most ridiculous thing is that the stress was self induced. Nobody else cares! HAH!

 So I hit the ice on Monday for the first time in two months and it was a beautiful thing, we won which is one more win than I expected this summer, we are seriously overmatched, and so the rest is gravy from here on in, only three games into the season. I played fairly well, the legs and wind aren't great but I did fine and of course I couldn't ask for a better group of fellows to play with. I walked in the room and there were cheers and laughter and one fellow, the guy who coined Patty Sandpaper, reassured me that he could work the defib just fine and we roared (including the guy who did have a heart attack after a game about eight years ago). I've been sleeping just fine too since last Monday so thanks very much, I am fine :) just getting older and there isn't a goddamned thing I can do about it but ride that wave.

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 I was four and 0 in the quarters and while I didn't write up the conference finals I picked the Hawks and Rags (YOU CAN LOOK IT UP ON THE TWITTER) in what I figured correctly were two pick em series so I am 10 and 4 for this year which I will take because parity is coming to the NHL and this summer should do a good job of evening out the playing field even more with Chicago, Boston, LA and the Rangers getting dragged back even more. Nothing like punishing success and the league has come to the point where a GM cannot afford to make even one mistake (Crawford), much less two (Bickell).

 The playoffs usually start strong and then peter out but if anything this year it has seen the opposite. The opening round was pedestrian, the second round no better and then the conference finals were terrific. I expect the same from the final.

 This is the first time in a while (Boston/Chicago?) and one of the few times over the last decade where I expect that the eastern representative has a real legitimate shot at winning it all. I like Chicago unless one of their top four D gets hurt or Crawford falls apart and of course both of these are possible and even if neither comes to pass I think Tampa is legit and that a Cup is in their future, if not this year. Two great lines, Hedman and Stralman and guys who can play in the bottom part of the lineup and Bishop is fine, if not great, just like his counterpart. Chicago though, well they're Chicago. I love the Triplets and Stamkos and Killorn but they aren't Toews and Kane and Hossa and Saad and while their D is only four deep it's an unreal four and the bottom six includes Patrick Sharp (!!!) and Marcus Kruger and Vermette and the young Finn and I think they carry the day to be honest. There's too much there. Tampa is quality but they needed seven to beat a meh Wings' club and were outplayed by a Montreal club that is pretty average and got filled a couple of times by a Rangers' team that doesn't scare anybody with that offence. The Hawks are on a different level and while it won't be easy I think they win and establish themselves as one of the all time great clubs.

Hawks in 6.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Even Steven





 So the first round wasn't a complete bust for me, I went five and three, let down by the Jets, the Sens and the Canucks. Way to go jerks. So all time 58 and 22 in the first round, not bad.


 On to round two where I am eighteen and eighteen since I started doing these things. I tend to go with hunches here and this has forever been my downfall and so I am going to go with head rather than heart this time around except for maybe one series cause I'm a dummy!

 First though a couple of thoughts on the first round which was pretty meh if you ask me. A couple of series over quickly and not a lot of drama in a lot of others. Few overtimes and few goals and a couple of series devolving to dead puck garbage with skilled players hogtied, the only penalties called for the most part being the puck over the glass (which I don't mind, honestly, back in the day there was an endless stream of pucks fired into the crowd to relieve pressure), two many men and even once, a faceoff violation. So the NHL is basically the petty bureaucrat who fines you because even though your paperwork is entirely in order, an 'i' is not dotted, meanwhile your suitcase is full of heroin and rare spiders and prostitutes. Gary Bettman has one job and that is to make the owners as much money as possible and he is good at that and really nothing else. What an absolute failure he is, a smarmy puppet with a tin ear and really if you get down to it if his job is to make the owners as much money as possible, to maximize profit for this collection of shameless grifters, he is a failure at that, his attachment to the money pit in Glendale being example one. So it goes though.

 As soon as McDavid came up copper and blue the call went out on the interwebs to trade Hall, trade Ted, trade them all!!!!! I exaggerate slightly and let's get one thing straight, anybody can be traded, absolutely, but you don't trade Hall or Ted or Eberle for anything less than young top pairing D who are established and under team control for years. No trades for pending UFAs like that quack from Boston suggested. No second pairing D. No goalies holy christ unless his name is Carey Price. No once wases or may be somedays. If you are going to trade quality young talent you need the real deal coming back, no ifs or maybes or gambles.

 The Oilers need D and what they need is Chiarelli to pull a Garth Snow and poach guys from teams in cap trouble, of which there are many. Is it easy? No. Can it be done without selling the farm? Absolutely. Do you remember who Snow traded to get Boychuk and Leddy? Of course not because the price was minimal.

 As for goaltending if anything these playoffs have proven what we have known all along, there is a glut of goaltending out there and there is no need to pay a premium for it unless you're a dummy. Other than Price and Lundqvist who amongst the remaining guys would you consider elite? None, that's who. You have a few inexperienced up and comers in Anderson, Bishop and Holtby, a solid old hand in Hiller, a guy who was out of the league a year ago in Dubnyk and a guy who was benched, deservedly so, for part of the first round. Goalies are voodoo. Don't overpay.

 Anyhow on to the picks!!!

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Anaheim v Calgary

We'll start with the one gimme. The Falmes took out the fading Canucks in a series highlighted by Bob 'Artley's old school goonery lol, what a throwback. They keep on trucking these Falmes and certainly they've proven a lot of naysayers wrong although let's be clear their first round matchup wasn't really battle of the titans yeah? Meanwhile the Ducks had the closest sweep you will ever see, breaking a battered Jets' team's hearts time and time again. Some ascribe the Ducks' late game success to clutchiness and character and while there is a lot to be said about a team's low panic threshold in those situations, it does count, a lot more might be said about the Jets' poor defensive zone coverage. Pavelec is Pavelec but when guys are getting uncovered one timers from the slot I don't think you can blame the goaltending or wax erotic about the leadership qualities on the Ducks. PICK UP YOUR MAN!

The Falmes have some nice pieces, starting with a real live top pairing D and some great kids and it will be interesting to see if they sell some guys high this summer or, like the Avs, double down on what was a lot of luck. (Don't get me wrong, fair play to them for making the playoffs and winning a round and smart moves this summer could build on this. Also spare me the 'analytics don't matter' on the one season in hundreds that beats the house, think man think!).

 The Ducks, however, may not be the team to beat out west (I think it is whoever wins the Central) but they are big and fast and skilled and deep and anyone who watched their series or those in the central would be in cloud cuckoo land to believe that the Falmes or for that matter anyone out east can keep up with the big boys. Maybe the east will challenge, the Falmes will not. Ducks in 5.

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 Chicago and Minnesota

 Oh boy. This may be the Cup Final right here. Now my first instinct was that the Blues/Wild series was but the way Chicago did in a very good Preds team while their goalies took turns imploding makes me think that this may be similar to the 2010 club which was just too good for everyone else even with goaltending that could blow up now and then.

 Now ... that said I look at the Wild and remember that they gave the Hawks fits last spring and that was with Bryz in net. They are fast as hell and there are times that the Hawks have looked vulnerable on the back end and Crawford has struggled and so a big big part of me thinks that the Wild may actually be the favourites.

 Fack.

 OK I am going with Chicago although more than any series this may bite me in the ass. But Sharp and Oduya look like Sharp and Oduya again and while the Wild are a nice team they don't have Toews and Hossa and Kane and Keith, basically four future hall of famers who know that this may be their last shot for a while. The old gang is getting broken up this summer and you only need to look at the Pens to see how hard it is to win when you are paying two guys a shed load of your cap.And I think that while Dubie Dubie Doo had been awesome and I am very happy for him the Hawks are not the Blues. These guys can shoot the lights out.

 Hawks in 7.

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Rangers and Caps

I figured Rags and Tampa for the conference final and while New York New York were not that impressive in beating Sid, a hobbled Malkin and a D that included me, my 82 year old old man and the ghost of my dear departed dog, they are still going to beat the Caps imo. I like Washington and love Ovi but they barely beat an Isles team whose D was almost as thin as the Pens beyond their beauty first pair. The Rangers have the edge in goal and AV may be one of the top five coaches in the league and this team is, if anything, faster and deeper than last year's club. (!!) They're going to roll.

Rags in 6

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Habs and Bolts

Montreal has the decided edge in net but that's about it and Therrien makes Randy Carlyle look like Toe Blake as he has shackled the skill the Habs have and has them playing a chip it off the glass style that is both dull and doomed to failure. Try and score one and hold on for dear life.

Ottawa gave them all they could handle and if they had gone with Anderson earlier they probably would have won it although that said I don't blame Cameron for riding Hammond. Buddy got them there and that's not just sentimentality (although I don't rate Hammond at all - he's an AHL goalie who got hot basically) - he was that good and after one bad game do you pull the plug on that? You may do so of course but I don't blame Cameron.

 Anyhow Tampa remains a great bet here. Deep quality D led by Hedman and the probably no longer underrated Stralman. The Habs can't match it even with Petry killing it in support of Subban. And up front the Habs have some nice things but the Bolts beat Tampa with Stamkos not scoring a goal. That's not going to last GOOD CANADIAN BOY you can bet the house on that. That shrimp line us unreal and are going to eat Emelin, amongst others, alive.

 Tampa in 6.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Is ... Is This Happiness?

What a day. What a day.

Six or seven years ago or so, I can't even remember really, some dude posted, I think on Dellow's site, about how he couldn't wait for Ty and Dennis King and Cam and I and all the other nay sayers to eat crow about Kevin Lowe. My response was that I hoped I was wrong, I would be happy as hell to be wrong, all I want is for my team to win, I don't care who is in charge.

We never got to eat that crow,

 Year after year, especially when I posted a lot back in the day, guys would take their shots. Why are you such a pessimist? Why don't you believe? Blah blah blah.

 Now of course the thing about me that you know, if you know me at all, is that I am a dyed in the wool optimist, just like my old man. Absolute glass half full until I drink it and fill it up again, sunny side of the street, dumb, grinning, to hell with it let's live it up and drink, smoke, fuck, laugh and eat dude going. Even after this week, a mentally and physically grinding bastard of a week at work that has left me wrecked, I am smiling. It's been a great week never mind the work and the Oilers' news. Had some beers with an old friend last Saturday, a little eee ee oo oo Sunday night with my lovely wife, volunteered for an afternoon in my youngest's classroom, planning my autumn trip (Iceland the leader with the Azores or Lisbon rising), ate some wonderful Chinese Wednesday for lunch. You get it. Life's what you make it. (Turns on a little Talk Talk, feathers hair, pops collar).

 The one grey cloud in my worldview this last nine years is the Edmonton Oilers. They've been junk. Forever. Nine years of being an enormous mess. I ranked the NHL's saddest sacks last year, the worst franchises over a long period of time and this Oilers' era was top five and rising and if I revisited my list I think they've likely moved up a notch or two.

 Total garbage.

 The turnover during this time has been unreal. Taylor Hall is now the longest serving Oiler at 23 years old. Todd Nelson is the sixth coach (and likely out the door now.) Assistant coaches, minor league coaches, scouts, equipment managers. MacT was the third GM. Hell even the owner changed.

 Over the years the constant was Kevin Lowe and of course this is what everyone harped on. Lowe was the GM when it all went to hell and then when he brought Tambo and then MacT in he was still in the picture. Whether he was involved heavily or not his presence was a sore spot, because of what he represented. First that for all the preaching about accountability here was a guy who always skated. And secondly the fact that this team, like many many teams let's face it, was an old boys' club. The Leafs were too. Nonis and Loiselle and Poulin and so on and it's telling that when Shanahan came in and Loiselle and Poulin got canned they remain unemployed a year later. The NHL is changing, slowly. Sure you get the old boys, you see it a lot, the old star returning to run the joint, or at least distract the braying masses. Yzerman was one of the first. Then Nieuwendyk, Hull, Robitaille, LaFontaine, Sakic, Linden, Shanahan, Neely and have you noticed Alfredsson hanging around Ottawa a lot more lately? A couple of these guys came and went, a couple have less prominent roles and those in prominent positions have been pretty bad at it with the exception of Yzerman (and the jury is out on a few to be fair).

 Anyhow I digress but the reality is that more and more owners have decided that entrusting huge multimillionaire companies to guys with high school educations whose main qualification is 'I played the game' may not be the best move. And so we are seeing guys who have a hockey background, sure, but who followed up their college or minor league careers with extensive education and apprenticeship.

 But in Edmonton there was Lowe. And guys like Semenko and Musil scouting. And Buchberger coaching despite being by all accounts useless. And Messier hanging around, my god that was terrifying. And MacT leaving and coming back and Howson leaving and coming back and after a while we were all wondering what does a guy have to do to get fired around here. Apparently finishing in the basement year after year wasn't enough.

 And on top of that there was the arrogance. Even Lowe, by all accounts a prince of a man, made the ridiculous comment that he knew a little something about winning when he was finally challenged by the spineless simple minded collection of media that let the clowns pile out of the clown car year after year without a peep. The not so veiled threats by LaForge to move the team to a better market (there are no open markets better than Edmonton and few that are not open for that matter), the joke that the ice at Rexall has become, the thin skinned reaction to criticism, the Oil Change series, longest running other than Corrie Street, the comments, again from Laforge, that empty seats were because of a little cold weather. It went on and on. These weren't the Cubs, loveable losers, or the old Oilers, the little team that could, despite a tight budget. Nope, these guys were absolutely incompetents and on top of that they were, in public at least, arrogant and unlikeable to boot.

 Arrogant and unlikeable I could stand if the team was winning. Christ those adjectives describe a large number of NHL players and executives. Don't care. Win.

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

 When they brought in Nicholson we said so what. Hockey Canada is like running the Yankees back in the day. Pick the best 25 players and sit back and watch the rivers run with gold. An empty suit. You can forgive us our cynicism, it has been bought and paid for. When the team sagged out of the gate (again) and the announcement was made that there would be a full audit of the Oilers' operations we snickered and jeered and the snark flew and again we had earned that right. Back in September I wrote about the Oilers and I said that until the Oilers actually do something they didn't deserve the benefit of anything and of course they don't, nine years of shit should bring repercussions if you aren't going to get fired. The audit was a PR move we said, nothing more.

 And so the season ended in shit again, nine years on and we noted with jealousy that Boston, like Vancouver last summer, had cleaned house almost immediately despite years of success. One hiccough after a decade of success and the axe fell. And we wondered what the fuck was going on. Even Toronto fired massive failure Dave Nonis and everyone realized that this was the right thing to do except for toadies like Steve Simmons who judge a man as a hockey man not by his acumen but by the fact that he is a 'good guy'. And in Edmonton business as usual.

 And then last Saturday there was the luckiest of lucky draws and then Monday suddenly there was Nicholson with his Alexander Haig moment except he was actually in charge and still we sneered at generalities about change coming maybe and then two days later Chiarelli in town and Thursday night after the pc had been announced and Bob McKenzie said that Ch-ch-ch-chiarelli was only coming in if he had full autonomy and we knew it was true because Bob is two things, he is a mensch and he is reliable. He doesn't throw shit against the wall and if he's not sure he says he is not sure.

 And so we knew that Lowe was out and that this was a blood letting most likely.

 And so this morning the news came fast and furious and it is just the beginning.

 Lowe is out.

 LaForge, in a move nobody saw coming, is out.

 And there is no doubt that this is just the beginning. MacT will be offered a job probably and he may or may not take it. It will be a step down but the thing is a whole lot of these guys aren't going to be finding work that easily. 'What have you been doing Craig?' 'Well I've been a big part of the worst franchise in hockey' 'Ok then, we will call you'

 So he may stick around but Howson will be gone and the scouts will be purged as well. Todd Nelson is a bit of unfortunate collateral damage here. Is he a good coach? Maybe? Like every Oiler coach since 06 he had to make chicken salad out of chicken shit and that's no easy task. He did alright but these guys aren't fucking around and they don't want to gas Nelson next year, they want a real big boy coach right from the get go, so McLellan or Bylsma or Babcock or maybe Julien or Hitchcock if things go sideways for those gentlemen. Is it fair to Nelson? No but I am guessing that he will either stick as an assistant or go elsewhere. He didn't hurt himself with his work this spring and he will get his shot one day I have no doubt.

 I will post something about Chairelli but let me just say that my overall impression is a good one. There are people who will tear down anyone and so today I saw a lot of  'all his good moves were luck' and 'look at all of these bad moves' and all I can say is that I look at one of the three best teams of this era along with Chicago and the Kings and he had a huge part in it so yeah I think the Oilers did ok here. He probably had some luck both bad and good and there was politics bad and good but this isn't Brian Burke walking into Anaheim and having Pronger fall into his lap and bam Stanley Cup. This was longterm repeated success in a thirty team cap league. That's good.

 The reality here is that this day has been a long time coming and should have happened in 2010 when they signed Khabi to make the playoffs and capped out and finished dead fucking last. Maybe even earlier than that. What happened in Boston this spring was politically motivated in large part but it also is the opposite of a mentality that has permeated the Oilers for nearly a decade. Boston, hugely successful, barely out of the playoffs for the first time in a decade, axes their GM.

 In Edmonton year after year winning never happened. The seasons invariably ended by Remembrance Day. The concern was with the new arena and getting as much public money as possible to finance that. The majority of the media, either cowed or bought off by 'inside information' or simple minded or all three, stood idly by or were vacuous cheerleaders. And the old boys' club mugged for the cameras and carried on, untouchable.

 Imagine being Jeff Petry, lowballed while Norris Schultz made the money and got praise, a guy who couldn't hold your jockstrap. Or Shawn Horcoff or Jason Smith, teaching kids how to be pros or dragging anchors around the ice with you, getting jeered while management sat on their hands. Or Ales Hemsky, coming halfway around the room as a boy to a different country, no English, busting your ass, giving your all year after year, getting your ass kicked by Reghyr and going back for more and then some dummy questions your character and your bosses never step up in your defence.

 And imagine being Taylor Hall, always a winner, losing and losing and losing because of shit management and now somehow you are the problem. Or Devan Dubnyk, called out by your boss in public before the season starts (!!!) and then shit falls apart and your career ends up in the toilet.

 Imagine being a player who lives to play and to win and that is all that you want to do and the guys who are in charge of your team are incredible failures.

 And imagine being a fan watching this mess year after year and then Patrick LaForge says the team may move to a better market (EDMONTON AGAIN A REMINDER THAT THERE ARE ONLY MAYBE A HALF DOZEN BETTER AND MORE PROFITABLE MARKETS IN THE LEAGUE!!!!) and you look around a full rink and look at your visa bill for your season's tickets.

 And now tell me that this isn't the most glorious day in a long time.

 Unreal.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Sp-Sp-Sp-Sp-Sp-Sp-Sp-Sp-Spadina Bus





Hey, check it out

I went down to the station
I didn't scream or fuss
I didn't have lots of patience
Waiting for that bus
Dug deep down in my pockets
To try and find some coin
But much to my chagrin
All I found was my groin

Hey!









I've never been a big New Year's guy, same as St Patrick's Day you know, amateur hour. I had a few monster benders back in the day on NYE and the St Patrick's Day I spent in PEI was riotous but generally I keep a low profile.

 It was probably about twenty five years ago or so, a year or two after we finished school that a group of us went to the Pilot Tavern, a fine old place here in Toronto, for New Year's Eve. We had plenty of drinks beforehand and at some point we smoked up as well and so by the time we got there we were feeling pretty fine, just that nice buzzing you know. And around, oh Christ I don't know what time it was, they announced the headliner and The Shuffle Demons came out of the kitchen or bathroom or somewhere, playing their saxamophones, they danced through the crowd, right by our table and oh man I was freaking out, crazy crazy shit to see when you're high man, I highly recommend.

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

 Someone must have slipped me some peyote this week because I am in a fevered dream, no? Oilers win the lottery and then Bob Nicholson is named head of state and spoke about change in general terms, no promises, and we cynics, damn we're cynics after nearly a decade of shit, we sneer and shrug and then suddenly Peter Chiarelli is in town and on Friday it seems that he will be named POHO, which happens to be Kevin Lowe's job.

 What.

 Now Chiarelli is like anyone who has ever run a team. He has made missteps, most notably the Seguin deal of course although that one may be Neely's handiwork. As Cam said tonight the thing with these bloated front offices is that it's hard to say who is responsible for what, Christ look at the Oilers - Katz, Nicholson, Lowe, MacT, Howson and so on.

 In any case Chiarelli is a guy who built one of the three most successful teams of this decade. A Cup, a trip to the Final which could have easily resulted in a Cup and a President's Trophy. Pretty great, only Chicago and the Kings have been better.

 And he's not one of the guys on the bus.

 So what we have awaited for years is here unless this is all Katz taking the piss and adding another layer to this mess but according to Bob McKenzie who doesn't throw shit against the wall to see what sticks Chiarelli will get full autonomy.

 Did he make mistakes in Boston? Yes. Were the Bruins nine years out of the playoffs, worst team in the league? No. He's a vast improvement, make no bones about it.

 So Christmas has come early or is it Ukranian Christmas now? Whatever. Lowe is going to become VP of Remembering the 80s and Pancake Breakfasts. All the old boy scouts, pro and amateur, gone. MacT and Howson, gone, or on thin ice.


 Huzzah.

 HUZZAH!

I can hardly believe it.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Candygram For Mister Mongo!


 Saturday evening an old friend of mind from up north came over for dinner and he had a candygram for Mr Mongo, meaning he brought me some beer from the microbrewery up there, a whole lot of big cans of good beer. We had the first barbeque of the year and shot the shit and it was a very good evening. We were heading out to the new pub that opened up about a sixty second walk from my house (I will never live anywhere where I need to drive to get a good beer man, let me tell you) and realized that the lottery was coming on and so we turned on the teevee and of course you know what happened next.

 My pal is a Bruins' fan so we had joked about either them or the Kings getting McDavid but when Daly smirked and revealed the golden ticket we laughed and laughed. Unreal.

 I didn't think the Oilers would win the lottery, I knew it was possible of course, but the odds were the odds. I wanted McDavid but like many I never considered that they would have a chance to draft him. And here we are. Some thoughts:

 - the NHL is run by a collection of billionaire sociopathic grifters so the idea that someone was more or less deserving of a franchise player makes me laugh as does the comment that certain fans are more deserving than others. They pulled a name out of a hat. It has nothing to do with karma. The teams with the best shot at your man were the worst of the worst, choosing to sewer their year while keeping a hand in their fans' and / or local governments' wallets or better yet, so hilariously incompetent that they stumbled into the race despite their best efforts to win win win. Nobody will ever beat the Oilers who signed Khabibulin and made move after move to cap out and return to the playoffs and still finished dead last. And in true Oiler tradition everyone kept their jobs. Oh it is to laugh.

 Anyhow spare me the sobbing that it is Edmonton or the cheers that somehow Edmonton are deserving. Deserve has nothing to do with it whether the Oilers got it or not or whether anyone else got it. The Oilers are run by incompetents. The Sabres tanked completely. The Coyotes did the same all while bleeding Glendale. And the Leafs charge over five hundred dollars for each of their best seats and nearly twenty bucks for a terrible beer despite not winning the Cup in nearly fifty years.

 What this league needs is a relegation system. I could get behind that.

Until they abolish the draft altogether it will always be a roll of the dice weighted towards the worst the league can offer. From the people in Toronto moaning that Edmonton will ruin McDavid to the usual suspects in Edmonton bleating about the eastern media here's a tip for you, same as I tell my kids when they act up.

 Stop your crying.

- Positives? Other than the obvious fact that the kid is going to be a star I also think that one effect of this is that management is about to be on a short leash, finally. I may be wrong but I cannot see Katz sitting idly aside much longer. What excuse do MacT and Lowe and company have now? The club needs D and goaltending still but Garth Snow showed last summer that this can be done without giving up roster assets. And with the cap flat this summer there are going to be teams dumping salary and UFAs who will be left without a spot when the music stops.

 So it's time. Personally I would still fire them all now anyways, except for my pal Dellow, christ he'd do a better job than these fucking monkeys, and I'd start with the guy who thought Nikitin was a top four D man and the guy who thought he should be paid as such. I don't think it's going to happen this summer but I think these guys are on thin ice. If you can't fill in the blanks now then get out.

- As noted they need D and a goaltender. So what do you do? I think you can trade anyone if the return is right but it has to be right. No trading sure things for picks or prospects or gambles. People are talking about trading Hall. Now Hall took a step back, sure, and last season he was in the top ten in scoring as a 22 year old. So do I trade him? If I get a number one Dman under contract for a long time then I do but I am talking Subban, Doughty, that type of guy. My friend Olivier Bouchard said he's not worth that and he is  right and so I don't trade him then. Not for some top four D man or a guy like Phaneuf or any of that shit. Real value on the blueline or don't trade any of these guys.

 That's the way the Oilers need to roll. The market is perfect if you're a buyer. Pick up what you need for cheap. See how these kids roll with a couple of real NHL Dmen back there and an honest to goodness goalie and then go from there. Will they need to move a guy or two from the core? Most likely but right now your top six is Hall/McDavid/Yakupov Pouliot/Ted/Eberle. Unless you get an absolute stud young D back why would you break that up? Right? RIGHT?!??!!

- And there has to be some urgency here. They have three years before McDavid gets paid. Once he starts getting paid then they have real troubles, just ask the Penguins about that. Then you need to start moving guys and not more value, just to move them. Look at Chicago's roster and try and figure out what they will do this summer. They need to win this year because if not then it's a few years down the road to reload and then Hossa and Keith may be done.

 So they need to get on their horse right away. Two (or three) D. Dump Nikitin. Dump Ference if you can. A real guaranteed goalie (although I think if you fix the D then the goaltending will follow even if you don't add a big name). Get in the mix for the playoffs. And then go from there.

- the scary thing of course is that even with McDavid there are no guarantees even if he stays healthy and is all that. Look at Crosby, even with Malkin as his running mate he has one Cup and the only reason he got that one is because Lidstrom almost lost a nut and Datsyuk and Hossa were hobbled and Fleury played like Georges Vezina and Osgood played like Osgood and they still barely eked one out. It's not easy winning a Cup, not with thirty teams and a cap system so after all of this we may end up with nothing.

 It's the lot of a fan eh? Like Mongo we are just pawn in game of life.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Heart Wants What It Wants


 I love this picture of Daryl Wirtz. Anyhow ....


 It was a couple of years after it ended between the girl from Rawlins' Cross and I when her sister and I (we were friends before and after the whole relationship) were talking and she asked me what I ever saw in her sister.


 They never did get along very well.

 I replied truthfully that I was in love, head over heels in fact, and even now, twenty years later I would say the same thing, I was crazy about her. I was lucky it didn't work out of course, a bullet dodged in the end, that's not a slag on her, it's just the truth it would not have worked out and so it goes.

 As an aside thinking about those long ago times reminded me about a couple of funny stories, you can read them here and here if you so desire, it's some pretty funny shit if I do say so. In any case the jist of it all is that my folks were never really a fan of her but they bit their tongue because they're live and let live and they hoped it would all crash and burn and had the confidence that I would crawl out of the wreckage and survive. We broke up once about eight months before the end really came and this conversation with my old man is one that I will never forget:

A few days after the breakup my parents called to check up on me. They were each on a phone, calling to lend me support. The conversation went something like this:

Mom : How are you? Are you better? We’re just calling to check in on you.

Me: (Barely choking it out) Oh, I’m ok.
Dad: You do realize that there are plenty of fish in the sea right, son? You have heard of that expression? I think it applies here.
Mom: Jesus Murphy Jack, that’s not helping.

Me: But … but, I love her. I …
Dad: Son, do you know when you’re walking on a beach do you realize that there are millions and millions of grains of sand under your feet. Millions of them. Do you get my drift here?
Me: Gah.
Dad: Or say the beach is up by Goulais. You look out and you see the north shore and there are trees stretching as far as the eye can see. Millions of trees all of the way up to the tundra.
Mom: Jesus Murphy, Jack.
Me: Irk.

Dad: Son, have you ever kicked over an anthill? And all of the ants come streaming out of the hill into the hot hot sunlight ….

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

 A week or so after that conversation we were back together, no matter what my old man was hinting at there.

 The funny thing is all of these years later I know where my folks were coming from when they kept it all quiet because as I get older I realize more and more that I don't know a damn thing about a lot of things and most of all I don't know nor should I care about people's business. I went through a stretch of a few years where I was a pretty smug little dude, I knew it all and would sit in judgement quite easily. There's right and there's wrong and all that.

 But as I have gotten older I don't know if it's the fact that I have kids or if I am just getting smarter or if this is wisdom (are you there Gord, it's me Margaret?) but I have discovered, mostly through a few divorces of folks we know, that behind closed doors things go on that are far more complicated than we can guess at. Pretty basic yeah? (I never claimed to be that bright). We're complex apes, we are, and to think that we know better or that we can tell people how to act or behave, as long as they aren't hurting others, well, that's something I don't want any part of because quite frankly life is short and if you're spending any part of it worrying about what your friends and neighbours are doing then you probably should get over yourself and try and take in what you can before it's all over.

 Know what I'm saying?

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

 The thing that really fascinated me about the whole situation with the Oilers is Daryl Wirtz because let's face it he has been the man behind all of this and in the end the buck, as they say, stops with him. I remember when he became the owner how we huzzahed because for a long time there was a danger that the club would move and I remember writing at the time how happy I was because I basically knew that I would never have to worry about that again.

 Years later and the Katz ownership has been a disaster for the franchise and this has been one of the ugliest times for any club in NHL history. The team is garbage but even off ice they display an unerring tin ear to what is going on. The clumsy threat of Seattle in arena negotiations, the smirking foolishness of Patrick Laforge, the ridiculous letters to the public, the deterioration of the ice at Rexall, it goes on and on. We all know that if the team began winning the outside stuff would be forgiven for the most part but it's all part and parcel of what seems to be a very very unlikeable bunch of people. Arrogant, greedy, dishonest, incompetent, this group has it all or so it seems.





 I remember reading a story from a few years back about Bill Wirtz. Wirtz killed hockey in Chicago, him and Bob Pulford, annd it was not a coincidence that when the old man died Pulford was exiled and the team almost immediately became one of the best in the league. Anyhow the story went something like this, there was a Hawks' fan working somewhere and an old man came in, they began talking hockey and the young man began to rant in the harshest language about how the Hawks had been ruined by Wirtz and of course the old man was Wirtz. The thing about it was that Wirtz did not get angry or stomp off, if anything he was stunned and saddened by the reaction. He had no idea that anyone would think that of him and of course remember how the fans booed the eulogy Dale Tallon tried to give him. Man what a legacy and imagine what his family thought.

 Now honestly I don't know if that tale is true or not although I read it on the interweb so it probably was but the point of it or rather what it got me thinking about was what Darren Katz thinks about all this. Is he, like Wirtz was, completely oblivious to what is going on? Is the whole thing just a play for the arena, as some have surmised? If not, if he really wants to win the Cup with this club (and as a young man he was a fervent fan by all accounts), then how is he putting up with this disaster?

 We know very little about young Darryl Wirtz. Hugely successful businessman and all that we would guess that this means (ie he is ruthless, driven and hugely competitive - I think those are reasonable assumptions). But otherwise we know very little. It really is fascinating.

 So what to think then? I was watching some video from the Sloan Conference the other day and on one panel were my friends Dellow and Mirtle as well as Kyle Dubas and Dallas Eakins. It was very interesting stuff but one thing that tweaked my interest and led to this post was a comment that Tyler made. Paraphrasing here, he basically said that people outside have no idea about the relationships, the personalities and what is going on inside. He was just making a matter of fact comment, that's all, just saying that for example, people say that a coach is stupid because of a move he makes when the reality is there is a process that has led to this decision, a lot of thought and reasoning.

 To digress for a moment I have always found this part of the industry infuriating. Media members with an agenda or a lack of talent comment on a player's 'lack of character' constantly and fans eat it up and feed the monster. People like Dreger and Simmons echo their sources and so we see the folks who have absolutely destroyed the Leafs defended to the hilt. Guys like Poulin and Loiselle were supposed to get jobs right away, remember? Teams and players work hard (they all work hard for the most part let's get serious) and get a few lucky breaks and they are paragons of character even though they lock the man who guided them to their titles (and made a lot of them richer in the process) out of the dressing room. Shane Doan cheapshots yet another player and because he is a 'good guy' he gets lauded on HNIC as a standup guy while European players by the boatload, guys who came to another country as teenagers to pursue their dreams despite not speaking the language, get derided constantly for their lack of character.

 Anyhow you get the picture. It's all conjecture, often guided by a self serving agenda, presented by 'insiders' and 'experts' who value plugs more than the best players in the league because they are mostly drawn from the ranks of the backup goalies and benchwarmers themselves. I don't think that it's coincidence that the best ex players commenting on the game nowadays are Ray Ferraro and Mike Johnson, two guys who were decent players in their time. I have no answer for Jeff O'Neill though.

 So what is the point of all of this rambling? I don't really have one other than to wonder what Katz thinks. We have no idea. He makes a ton of money on this club, less now with the dollar tanking, but he'd make more if they were a playoff club. That's a ton of revenue flushed right there and it's not like he runs the team on a shoestring, They spend the money, which of course makes the failure that more galling. So the people who say that he only cares about the money, well he could be making a lot more money so where does that leave us.

 Is it loyalty to his hockey men? Friendship? There are rumours that Lowe offered to resign and Darryl Wirtz refused. We have to think that this has a lot to do with it in any case. The results speak for themselves. The team is a howling embarassment and yet while the axe falls in Vancouver, Toronto, potentially in Boston, in Edmonton there is not a whisper of discontent. There is talk of audits and accountability but nothing happens and so we can say that loyalty plays a part, one certainly cannot see Katz nodding his head in agreement as MacT explains away another disastrous season.

 But when it comes down to it we don't really know what the hell is going on!

 What I'm saying here is that we have to face it, Oil Change is getting stale, only Coronation Street and Big Brother have had longer runs. So Mr Kirtz, if you are reading this, what I'm saying is bring in Baba Wawa and have a sitdown with her. It would be a nice change of pace, it would answer our questions (as long as it's not the Edmonton sports 'journos' asking the questions god help us) and maybe we could find out what makes you tick and why you are standing by while hockey fans everywhere laugh at what your employees have wrought.

 I'd buy that for a dollar, maybe more. Think of it as a way to recoup some of that lost playoff revenue.


East Rising

 For the first time in a long time, maybe 2009, maybe even longer than that I look at the eastern conference and think that one of these teams could actually win this thing fair and square. I mean sure in the past there was always a shot, anything can happen in seven games, but for the past while it has been a case of five or six or more teams coming out of the West being better than anyone the east could send out there with maybe a lone exception.

The collapse of San Jose and the bad luck of LA (if they go 500 in OT/shootouts the rest of the league is shitting its' collective cooperalls) and the apparent slide of Chicago have contributed to thsisparity. The big boys have come back to the pack, at least for a season, but as a whole the west is weaker. The two worst teams in the playoffs are in the west and while I rate the Rangers and Lightning as best in the east there are other teams on their heels. The east, for one year at least, looks legit.

 Like the west the east is a gong show this spring. I am always confident of picking five or more series correctly and I think maybe once I went 4-4. If I went 0 and 8 this round I would not be surprised. Unreal.

Rangers/Pens

 I haven't liked the Pens in years. Every spring columnists fall over themselves proclaiming them to at least win the East, every year since 2009 their goaltending and shoddy D and lack of depth up front does them in. Truth be told the only reason Crosby and Malkin have a Cup is because the Wings were wracked by injury and had Chris Osgood in net. This season their underlying numbers are good but their D is a disaster thanks to injury and Fleury is still the man between the pipes. If I had a dollar for every time that grinning buck toothed bastard cost me a pool I'd have a few dollars.

 The Rangers have eight players with over 45 points which basically makes them the 1977 Habs in this league. They have a deep quality D, speed and depth and one of the few reliable proven goalies in the league.

 Rangers in 5

Islanders/Caps

 For me the Caps are just in that group below the big boys. I like them a lot. I like the Islanders too for that matter. Both teams have a ton of depth up front. I like their D as well. I have to give the Caps the slight edge because of Holtby and because I like Ovie and Backstrom a little more than Tavares and Okposo. This may be the best series in the first round though.

Caps in 7

Habs/Sens

 This one reminds me of Blues and the Wild a bit and I went with Minnesota there (which I am already regretting) so I think I need to go with the Sens here. As much as I expect Hammond to implode at some point the truth is the Sens have been lights out for months and they have some serious quality up front plus Karlsson. I don't like their D a ton but I don't really like the Habs, they have some great players but without Price they would be decidely below average. Adding Petry was a big get for them but with Pacioretty apparently hurt and Therrien being awful I think the Sens' roll continues. This will be a lot of fun I think and obviously there is no reason that Price can't win this on his own but I think the Habs have the odour of a first round exit around them. *sniffs air*

Sens in 7

Lightning/Wings

 The Lightning are stacked with kids eh? Unreal. They could be very good for years and Yzerman has done a terrific job. The deal for St. Louis. Wow.

 Listen, the Wings are always dangerous but their goaltending is a big question mark here and for that matter their D is iffy as well imo. They have quality up front but nothing compared to Tampa and Hedman and Stralman are fantastic on the back end for Tampa as well. Some injury issues on the blue for the Lightning will make this a bit closer but I can't see the Wings going anywhere, probably the weakest team in the eastern picture.

(By the way if you are ever down south go to a game in Tampa. Great atmosphere outside the arena pregame and in game presentation is very very good. Crowd is loud and smart and you're not getting bombarded by Tshirts and other white noise constantly. I prefer games there to anywhere else in the league, not that I am well travelled that way.)

Tampa in 6

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fire Them All

Craig MacTavish stood up before the cameras and said that the one positive this year was that the team has even more room to grow, in other words the Oilers have that over the Lightning and Blues of the world who, because they are good teams, have very little room to get better. Also those teams don't have a lot of free time in the spring, unlike our Edmonton Oilers, so lol to them right? MacT must have been killing himself laughing in the past two Junes at Stan Bowman and Dean Lombardi whose clubs, two Cups each in five years, had nowhere to grow at all. Losers!

MacTavish also called his buddy Scott Howson an ace talent evaluator and said that next year is going to be another development year and with those two comments he has made up my mind.

 Fire him. Fire them all. Every last one of them. Open every orifice at Rexall and divert the river through it to clean the shit out because until this happens we fans will never see improvement.

 The first kids from the dismantling of the team that almost won a Cup have all been moved along, retired or off to Europe or greener pastures. The Hall cluster are now the longest serving Oilers and are getting into their mid twenties which is about when the management team likes to cut them loose. Willing to wait for Nurse, Draisatl and whichever new hope emerges this summer? By the time they are ready the last group's contracts will be up or, more likely, they will have asked out, sick of wasting their careers without even the sniff of a playoff race.

 We can't fire Daryl Wirtz sadly though it looks more and more like we are going to have to wait for his kid to clean up this mess. I always wondered what happened to Bob Pulford and await forty years from now when the Kevin Lowe mask gets ripped away to reveal that franchise destroyer.

 Bob Nicholson talked about an audit as to what is going wrong and all we get is more of the same and so he also has to go. We need a Shanahan, a guy who is going to come in and get rid of everyone from top to bottom.

 In Vancouver after a successful run that included a run to the Finals, one bad year meant everyone got gassed. In Boston the architect of one of the best three franchises of this era is apparently on very thin ice after their first stumble.

 In Edmonton the song remains the same. Nine years out.

 Fire them all.


Sunday, April 12, 2015

I've Got Nothing

I have referred to this year's post season as reminding me of 1993 when the two time defending champs went out early as did every other presumed contender and the Habs ended up coming out of the remaining riff raff to win another Cup but the reality is that there has never been a year like this ever. Sixteen points separate the highest seed from the lowest. Of the five teams I tabbed as heavy weights last spring the Kings, Bruins and Sharks all missed the playoffs entirely and Chicago is wobbling. The Blues are the last of those big boys to look like the real deal and they are in a first round series that is a coin flip.

 Two other division winners are paper tigers, the Pens barely squeaked in and to add to the confusion for the first time in nearly a decade the Eastern Conference has a couple of clubs that match up with anyone from out west straight up. Goaltending matters but with the influx of new blood and failure of the old guard one could say that with the vast majority of playoff clubs their goaltending is iffy. I love Devan Dubnyk and this year is more like him than last year (though still not 'really' him imo) but I could see him falling apart in the first round easily. Same as whoever starts for the Blues, Falmes or Ducks and do you really trust Eddie Lack or Pavelec? And Corey Crawford has had his hiccoughs over the years and Rinne has been decidedly average for months and you get the picture right? And Fleury has cost me more money than I remember, Andrew Hammond was a disaster in the minors just short months ago, Jimmy Howard has gone to hell and so you are left with Bishop, Price, Holtby and Lundqvist and then you say hmmm maybe this is an Eastern team's year.

 In the past I have divided clubs up as follows - true heavyweights (so last year that was the aforementioned five teams), good teams with a shot (iirc that was Anaheim and the Rangers last season) and darkhorse clubs with a slim chance (I'm thinking Dallas from last year but don't quote me on that. I certainly didn't rate anyone from the East as having a real shot other than Boston and New York).

 This year, well I have no 'true heavyweight' clubs if I am being honest but I have to pick someone so if you are asking me which teams have the best shot to win it all I'd say St. Louis, Minnesota Wild on Jack Lemaire and the Rangers. I think the Blues or Wild come out of the west and the Rags come out of the East but there is no doubt in mind that this could all be blown to hell very quickly. As for the next tier I'm going with Chicago, who have been rotten since Christmas or so, but with Oduya and probably Kane healthy if they get rolling they might run the table. So them, Winnipeg, who have a sweet draw, and Tampa. But really other than Vancouver, Calgary and Pittsburgh (assuming their D don't get healthy) I can see anyone winning it and that is absolutely nuts.

 Nuts I tell you.

 So here goes nothing. 53 and 19 in the first round over the years but I could see myself easily going oh fer with these picks. Oh well here are my Soupy Campbell Conference selections.

Blues/Wild

 God help me. I honestly believe that whoever wins this series is going to win the Cup unless Chicago finds their mojo in which case it's all over. Just two years ago a green Wild team pushed the eventual champs from Chicago to the limit with their speed and they are a better team now, never mind the upgrade in goaltending. For St. Louis this is their year, their chance to avoid being the next Ottawa or San Jose. They had Chicago dead to rights last season, up in the series and Seabrook suspended and they promptly dropped three straight.

 The big issue for St. Louis these past few years is the game breaker. The Hawks had Kane and Toews and Hossa and Sharp and LA for all of their defensive stylings had Kopitar and Carter and then Gaborik. The Blues had a bunch of 23 goal scorers which is great and all but when things tighten up you need a guy or two who can make something out of nothing.

 And now the Blues have Tarasenko and Schwartz and a team so deep that for some reason Paul Stastny is apparently down way further on the depth chart than he should be. So yeah I think they may be ready for prime time.


 Only four teams had more goals than the Blues and only Dallas in the West. And only two teams had a better goal differential.

 But .... the Wild had the same amount of regulation wins as St Louis and their GD over the past few months blows everyone away. If the season goes another few weeks or if they pick Dubnyk up earlier then they likely win the division. I like their depth at F more than the Blues although remember that whole 'bunch of 23 goal scorers' thing - yeah that's the Wild. And the Blues' D is unreal, it's so deep.

 This is a coin flip and if you had asked me a few weeks ago I would have picked the Wild no doubt. I think the Blues are better up front and on the blue and while the Wild have the edge in net I think St. Louis has enough to win a bunch of 2-1 games. That said I am going to go with the team that has been the best in the league over the past few months, that and my gut, which is dumb because rule one is never pick with your gut.  It's a pick em though and so here goes.

Wild in 7

Hawks/Preds

 Two teams that roared out of the gate, Chicago's start was reminiscent of their 2010 season but at some point things went off the rails for them. Was it boredom? Are they just no longer that good? On paper they're as stacked as they ever were but Sharp and Oduya, to name two, had off years and if it weren't for Crawford they may have ended up as a wild card or worse. Brad Richards was never the answer at 2C, anyone who saw him play the last two years could have told you that, but then again he was an upgrade over Michael Handzus and the trade for Vermette gives them a guy to play in his place anyhow. The question for Chicago (other than will Kane be back and word is he may be back for G1) is whether or not they can find their game. I'm not a big believer in the whole idea of a team 'being able to turn it on', things don't work that way, but Chicago is the same team as last year, if anything on paper they may be better and for me Nashville is the perfect matchup for them in the first round. The Hawks have a slightly better GD and I think the goaltending is a wash but in the end I think Chicago is the better team, plain and simple. Josi and Weber are a great top pairing but the Preds' forwards are pretty pedestrian for the most part (Mike Ribiero, really? He had a very good year but does anyone think he's not going to get eaten alive by Toews.) and I don't think their D is as good either after that top pairing.

 Hawks in 6

Ducks/Jets

 Everybody hates the Ducks. Well not really but certainly nobody respects them. They, like the Sharks and Hawks, went seven with the Kings last year but still nobody looks back and says 'oh for a bounce or two here or there the Ducks would have advanced'.

 Why? Because this year, like last year, there is the odour of smoke and mirrors, if mirrors had an odour, about this club. 109 points and they have a GD of 10. 10! 16 teams have a better GD than that. 16!

And that's playing in a junk division!!!!

 The Ducks have a solid blue but lack the big stopper and up front they are top heavy, which frightens me as well but when it comes down to it I think they are just not that good a team.

 The Jets have been quality most of the year, they had brutal luck with injuries which ravaged their blue and then their centres in turn and yet they held it together. They are big and fast and deep up front and on the back end. Ten players with 14 goals or more and a blue with Byfuglien, Enstrom, Trouba and Meyers which outshines that of the Ducks. For me it comes down to Pavelec who is either unbelievably lights out or just the worst of the worst. I think he is enough to get the Jets by a team which I frankly think is inferior to them by quite a bit.

Jets in 6.

Canucks/Falmes

 This is a real dog's breakfast of a series with two teams that somehow made it in. The Canucks are on their way down but bounced back from the Tortorella fiasco of last year, thanks mostly to Eddie Lack who they probably should have run with from day one. Note to GMs out there (especially St Louis and Vancouver) Ryan Miller has been more famous than good now for a long time. Anyhow no matter because Lack picked up the sLack (AHAHAHHAHAH) and to be fair with the Sharks imploding and the Falmes this year's version of the Avs from last year and the Leafs from the year before that and the Oilers and Yotes also being in the division it's possible that the Canucks might have playoff berths until the Sedins get taken out to the back forty. These aren't the Dys of old though. Sure the Sedins are still freaks and Vrbata was terrific but the drop off from those guys to the next echelon of forwards is huge. Bonino, Matthias, Burrows, Hansen and Higgins are all decent foot soldiers though but man their depth is not what it once was up front or on the back end.

 As for the Falmes well a lot has been said about how lucky they were and they have been, there is no doubt about it at all. They've laid the foundation for a nice future, helped along by an actual legitimate top pairing D but Giordano's absence is going to kill them here and much like Vancouver the drop off from their big three up front is enormous. They get a ton of offence from the back end which is a good thing because after that top line there isn't anybody scoring, you have a pile of guys barely breaking double figures in goals.

 In a lot of ways this is a pick em. The Falmes are lucky but the Canucks are no hell either. Nobody works 'arder than the Falmes work for their coach Bob 'Artley but while they have an enormous amount of gumption and character and leadership and all that, unlike the Canucks who have a bunch of Euros and Frenchmen on their roster, I still like the Canucks barely.

Canucks in 7


Friday, April 10, 2015

This Bad Boy

 One of my favourite things about the past year is the fact that our youngest has become an avid reader. When she started grade one in September she would read a bit but not much. She had no interest in it unlike her brother and sister and me. Well she loves it now. She often proclaims 'I LOVE READING' in the middle of what is really an endless soliloquy she carries on and it's true, she does. She reads chapter books now and it is pretty common for Jenn to come home and find the four of us, faces buried in books. We're a family of readers except for Jenn who sadly cannot read. It is a dirty family secret yet somehow she has overcome this deficiency to become pretty successful, I can smell an after school special coming. We'll call it Jenn Can't Read.

Anyhow so the other day we were heading out the door to go to the big tournament semifinal where I scored a sniper's goal for the first time in my life (more on this another time) and after proclaiming HOW MUCH SHE LOVES READING she then explained to her brother why she was bringing her book on dolphins and sharks, called Dolphins and Sharks, for the ride to the arena:

 My favourite books are non fiction books because that is how I learn and I love to learn about new things and so I like to read non fiction because that is how I learn. I like to read non fiction books like this bad boy right here (raises book about dolphins and sharks called Dolphins and Sharks) because then I learn about things.

 This bad boy right here.

 Dying.

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Here is what I wrote before the playoffs last year:

I don't think I've ever had less of a handle on the playoffs than I do this year. Mostly this is because of the way the west finished. If you want to talk about true contenders I have five - San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis and Boston.

Now we are a year later and I have no clue for the first time in forever. I mean none. We have come to a year where the traditional powers have suddenly taken a huge step back - LA and San Jose are out before the tournament even begins, Boston may be and Chicago don't look great at all - and the possible up and comers - Minnesota, Winnipeg, the Islanders - aren't powerhouses yet (although Minnesota may be, I guess we will see). So we have a bunch of very good teams but are any really head and shoulders above the rest of the field? I don't see it which means we are looking at 1993 again.

 Much like Jaromir Jagr and his teenage linemates I watched Marty McSorely end up in the box with an illegal stick while most of you were still eating your own poop or at least smearing it all over the walls because you're animals. Me I was long past that stage and was living cheque to cheque, working for peanuts, running on empty, busting a move, wandering the streets of Toronto all dusty and plaid and underfed like a modern day I don't know what. Anyhow I was there when the Leafs had their high water mark of the last half century by making the conference finals and yeah that is exactly as pathetic as it sounds. The Jays were champs though. And dinosaurs roamed the earth. So those of you who believe in creationism there you go I was there and it was mental.

 But I digress as I am wont to do. First round predictions right? I'm 53 and 19 in the first round in the nine years I have written these bad boys down so that's pretty good right? RIGHT!??!!??!!

 Here is what I look at when I'm making my picks. This is also from last year, I am too lazy to rewrite it and nothing has changed really in how I go about things:

 First of all I do not look at how a team finished the season or at the head to head matchups. To me they don't mean a thing. Sometimes a team will finish strongly and go all the way and sometimes they will not and they will win the Cup. Every year people say 'oh they finished such and such a way' and it really doesn't matter. Same for head to head, a game in November or January doesn't tell me anything now.

 The huge thing for me is depth. Obviously injuries play a huge part in the playoffs but also year after year we see that clubs with deep rosters go farther. If you can roll four lines, as Chicago and Boston did last year for example, then you're going to go a long way. For example if Toronto had dressed an actual hockey player rather than Colton Orr last spring I believe they may have survived game seven. Certainly having someone you could throw out there who could play a reliable shift would have helped. In a similar vein as the Bruins began to get banged up their depth suffered and as the series wore on against Chicago the Hawks were able to use their superior depth to push the pace. As a result they had the puck more, Chara especially was forced to defend more and by the end of the series the Bruins were done. To me I always look for teams that run four lines deep and six defencemen as well.

 When I look at records the big thing for me is goal differential. A team that is even or maybe even in the red is a team that I always avoid. The real heavyweights are the clubs that have a big goal differential. This may seem like common sense but I look at that even more than I look at a club's win loss record.

 I don't put a lot of stock in your usual narratives, teams that 'know how to win' and all of that. Nearly every year since the end of that stretch where the Cup was always won by the Wings, Avs, Stars or Devils has had a different starting goalie lead his team to the Cup (except for when the Wings won in '08 I think) as an example. So I don't look at the Blues and think that they can't win because Miller has never won the Cup for example or at San Jose and think that they are going to fail because they're San Jose. Intangibles like this are just a lot of noise imo.

 Of course as an out I always say that anything can happen (because it can) - injuries, hot goalie, bad luck. Its hockey so sometimes that's the way it goes but generally I feel pretty good about how I make my picks.


 So there you go, if you care. Still waiting on the final day to suss out what is going to happen in terms of matchups and as I said I have no idea for the most part. Out east I think you can say Rangers and Lightning with the Caps rising. Out west ... well I think it's the Blues and the Wild in the top tier with the Hawks a possibility if they can ever get their shit together. I think if they end up with the Preds in the first round and can get some traction they might come on but right now I'm saying the Cup is coming out of one of those four - Rags, Tampa, Blues or Wild but the gap between them and everyone else is a very small one. Almost anything can happen. It's going  to be mental.