Friday, September 08, 2017

This Is Not Goodbye

As people who have been coming around these parts know my posts have been far and few between over the past few years, our lives have been growing busier and to be honest after a decade of horrible results I was suffering from a bit of Oiler fatigue. Even the resurgence of the club last year, while welcome, didn't get the creative juices flowing.

 A few days ago James Mirtle contacted me and asked me if I was interested in doing more writing and I jumped at the chance. I am excited and grateful to James for the opportunity to be writing for The Athletic. I have been a subscriber since almost the beginning and the writers and content cannot be beat and the fact that he has asked me to be a part of it, well, I don't even know what to say, I am very thankful. I am really excited for the chance to reach a larger audience and to be part of such a great team, both of the Oilers' group of writers, and of the larger group employed by The Athletic.

 So for the short term at least, this site will be shuttered and there will be no new content. (So no different some wags might say). It will remain up and I am sure that some day in the future it may live again. For all of you who have come by over the years I say thank you. I have always loved writing and finding an outlet for it was always something I dreamed of. I hope that you have enjoyed my tales and I hope that some of you follow me to The Athletic.

 Take care.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Process and Results or Wing and a Prayer?

OK so yesterday I talked about the boy's game on Monday and how the team were playing just unreal but that the score wasn't reflecting this. We have a big game this upcoming Monday against the team to beat and it will be a real test to see if in the last few weeks we have improved at all. I suspect that we will lose but that it will be much closer than our first game in which we got throttled.

Here's the problem we are facing. This is a recreational league through and through. We play once a week, no practices, and after next week school ends and the kids will scatter. We will play through August but will be missing many players every game. And then in September we play a tournament to determine the championship.

 So we play Monday and then won't have our full team back for 10 weeks at which point we will finish our season.

 Our opponent is better than us. They are bigger, faster, older and they have played together for years. So it's a tall order. We are strong up front and in the midfield, mostly small quick players, with a few senior guys who are big and talented. On the back end, well we are in a bit of a tough spot. We're big but not fast and not especially, um, good.

 Now against the other teams in the league we have been able to make this work. We generally control the ball and when we are on offence we give them fits. When the other teams gain possession our midfield is quick and talented enough to track back and harry the other team into giving the ball back to us. The problem comes when they attack quickly or we get outnumbered deep in our end, then it gets hairy.

So here is the conundrum, as I see it I have four options:

1/ Give it a whirl as is and hope. The problem I see already (and saw in our first game against these guys) is that this team is big and fast, our smaller players don't have a lot of time, they tend to get overpowered and so while it is easy to say 'hold onto the ball' it's easier said than done.

2/ Adjust our lineup. I could strengthen our D at the expense of other parts of the formation. The problem here is that in game one the only respite we ever got was when the ball was forward and our guys were running rampant up there. Remove a midfielder and forward from that mix and the ball is going to be in our end even more.

3/ Adjust our tactics slightly. The boy and his counterpart on the wings of our midfield are tenacious defenders and can run for miles. Dropping them back means maybe we can blunt their attacks early and turn the ball the other way. Gives us less support up front though.

4/ Park the bus. Play everyone back, clog it up and hope for a goal on a counterattack.

 Number one is not going to work, they are better than us. Just play and basically we are going on a wing and a prayer, hoping for a miracle, like Mike and the Mechanics but without those dulcet harmonies.

 Two, three or four may work but we have no way to practice to get guys comfortable with new roles or tactics.

 Monday is going to be a real testing ground. A wing and a prayer isn't going to do it so it's going to be the blender.


 I haven't really talked about the Oilers' season yet but now, a couple of hours after Jordan Eberle has been traded, is a good start.

 The Oilers had a good year and I was pleased with it. A bounce or two and they were in the conference final and after years of misery that was a good start. This year was really gravy in a lot of ways, there were no expectations and so while I was disappointed in the final results I was not destroyed like back in 2006.

 Now, we have discussed this before here - the end goal is to win the Stanley Cup. Nothing else matters. Literally nothing else.

 So when folks discuss the Oilers and their moves (and the summers are always agonizing after the second week of July, six weeks rehashing everything, gord help us) you really get two camps. We really saw this after last June but it has been going on for over a decade now. On one side you get folks who believe in the process the team is following and on the other side you have those who do not.

 Now for a decade it was obvious that the team hadn't a clue. The proof was in the results. The process was rotten and the team turned their house into a paperclip and no amount of blind trust in authority, hoping against hope or media cheerleading for the organization was going to change the fact that the Oilers had one of the worst runs in NHL history, nearly all self inflicted.

 (As an aside I love looking back at summer posts going back to 2006 and comments saying that I AM WRONG and the Oilers are going all the way and how dare I question Lowe, Tambo, MacT etc etc. Good fucking times.)

 Easy fix this year, Twitter break in July and August. The same arguments every year. Pass.

 Anyhow everything changed when the Oilers won the golden ticket. Bob Nicholson (what a glad handing weasel he is) saw his chance at glory and took charge quickly, slipping the knife into the old crew and bringing in Peter Chiarelli.

 Now when Chia came in a whole new variable was thrown into the old back and forth because suddenly instead of some old boys' club jokers you had an authentic STANLEY CUP WINNING GM.

 But ... just a second. We were willing to trust in CHIA (and that single fact, that Cup, is why) while we spat vitriol at Lowe, who, if his team had gotten a bounce or two, would have won a Cup.

 And to add to the irony, Chia, like nearly every other GM, inherited a good part of his Cup winning team whereas Lowe's team was really his team. I mean he pretty well built that baby from scratch. So then who is the better GM? ;)

 But anyhow Chia came in and he got a few bounces and won in a couple of seven game series and Lowe did not and that is the way it goes I guess. The point is that suddenly you had a guy in charge of the process who was cast as, if not infallible, certainly as a guy who knew better, let's say.

 A guy who knew a little something about winning, let's call him.

 So, you want to win a Stanley Cup. What is the process? Well there is no template. For decades you needed a star goalie but for over a decade now the winners have been a mishmash of very good, good, rookies and mediocre who got lucky. You needed star power up the middle until Chicago won with a winger, Michael Handzus and Brad Richards as their second line centres. You needed a stud Dman unless you were Carolina or the Pens this year. You needed depth everywhere unless, in this age of parity, you could get by with four or even less quality Dmen.

 So how do you build a team? Well you need stars. Carolina was the only team you could say that has won the Cup in the modern era with no stars but Eric Staal would argue that, probably accurately, and that team (they were a good team don't get me wrong) had a nice run of luck that spring. But really you need star power, elite players, whatever you want to call them. It is why Pittsburgh wins and Chicago won and LA and even Boston. Elite players.

 And the Oilers have one, maybe two of them. (Maybe three or four if Oscar and Talbot continue to rise but let's not get too horny. Or perhaps ... hornier ...).

 SHAFT (horns blare some electric booglaoo)

 So then what.

 Well it's not super intuitive or earth shattering and it's not even that original but many years ago in this section of the interweb I said and I quote 'Get good players, keep good players' was the key to building a good hockey team. For nearly a decade the Oilers traded or lost players for less value, in many cases for no value at all. And so they were garbage. I am going to miss some players but here is a list of NHL players that have been added under Chia's watch before today's move:

Talbot, Sekera, Larsson, Benning, Russell, Maroon, Lucic, Kassian, Letestu, Gryba, Caligula, Desharnais

 The cost in actual NHL players? Taylor Hall and Brandon Davidson.

 We won't start in on Hall Larsson again and some of these guys are bottom of the roster guys but the fact is Chia has added a bunch of players and most of them cost only money or picks or middling prospects.

 So it is a start.

 The draft is the way to build of course, there is no acquisition cost. Other than McDavid nobody has begun to contribute yet. I expect (hope) that Puljujarvi will be a player and a lot of the other picks are trending well. Of course there is no guarantee but right now the drafting looks okay and it may be good.

 So here we are, we have a bunch of homegrown kids and we have our free agent signings and the guys we traded for and we have gone lottery---->lottery----> +100 point team, game 7 loss Round2.

 So the first year was a bust, the team went sideways. Why was that?

 Well Conor McDavid missed 37 games. Leon Draisaitl missed 10. Eberle missed 13. RNH missed 27 and so did Pouliot. So the top six forwards missed 114 games.

 The top seven D were Sekera, Klefbom, Fayne, Schultz, Nurse, Davidson and Gryba. Two were rookies and Klefbom who was one of their top two D, missed 52 games.

 Cam Talbot struggled enough that Anders Nilsson got 26 appearances in before being traded.

So look at that and evaluate the problems, what are they?

1/ Injuries. Five of your six top forwards miss ten games or more (Leon was in the minors of course), three of them miss at least a third of the season. One of your top two defenceman misses nearly two thirds of a season.

 What do you do to fix it? Fire the trainers? I don't know, a lot of freaky shit going on, not much you can do.

2/ That D. You have two rookies and a guy who is a 7, really (Gryba). Fayne never fit under McLellan and Schultz has had his confidence destroyed playing over his head for years while at the same time having no accountability for his game. An offensive defenceman who can't play defence and produces no offence.

 What do you do to fix it? Well you need to upgrade it. Klefbom being healthy will help but Schultz is gone, Davidson and Nurse are green, Fayne needs to shave his sideburns and Gryba is now and always be a useful 7. 7. 7. 7. 77777777777777 (that one is for the ladies, boys always remember to roll those 7s and ring Satan's doorbell.

 *lights cigarette*

 3/ The goaltending isn't great. Talbot struggles so badly that Nilsson wins the job briefly, only to quickly show why he is a backup. Talbot gets back, rights his season but there are doubts.

 What do you do to fix it? Talbot has a good second half but can he be trusted? Best to find a quality backup. Hard to do because longtime quality backups can fall to pieces suddenly. Enroth. And remember Jason Hanna LaBarbera. Dude was a great backup for years. Came to Edmonton and that was it for him. Come to think of it that happened to a lot of guys.


 Anyhow that prognosis is fair right? Chia has already added Maroon and Letestu and Kassian and there are a few kids bubbling under a bit for those bottom six roles. The bottom six is no hell but it has been a lot worse and at least there are now actual NHL players there.

 So next, what does Chia do to resolve his two problems that he can resolve? Well let's work backwards. First he signs the Monster. Now this one had disaster written all over it from day one and that is exactly what happened. Why they went with this guy is beyond me unless he was meant to be training camp fodder for LB (didn't happen) or the idea was that Talbot would play nearly 90 games and do so very well. And ... yeah. Door number two it was.


 And now the D. We won't do over Hall Larsson again. The deal was made, Larsson was added as was Kris Russell and Matt Benning was signed as a college free agent. We had no idea about Benning but in the end Chia added three NHL defenceman. They're no Pittsburgh Penguins D, well actually they kind of are, they may actually be better than that hodgepodge minus Letang.

 Anyhow the point is that they are a real NHL D for the first time in years, since the days of Souray, Gilbert, Smid, Staios and Lubo. An actual real D.


So what happened this season? The team finished second in the division, fourth in the conference. They went up 77 goals in goal differential (!!!!!) and 33 points in the standings. Best of all they were not doing it with smoke and mirrors. Although when 97 wasn't on the ice there was a bit of smoke and mirrors lol.

 Let's look at our problems from the year before.

 Injuries - The top six forwards missed a total of one game. The top three defencemen missed a total of five. So 113 less games missed due to injury up front. And Klefbom, Sekera and Larsson missed 47 less games total than Oscar lost alone last season.

 I don't really need to say much more than that but let's look at what Chia could control and we can see that they allowed 33 goals less than last season and most of that is due to the additions on D and Klefbom's good health. Talbot was very good but the team was lucky in that he survived, for lack of a better phrase.

 So we may not agree on how he got there but he certainly made headway. The results are there and while his process may be flawed at times he is attacking areas of weakness and having success.


 Now, where do we go from here?

 There are opportunities and there are problems. The division is a weak one. The Canucks and Coyotes are garbage. The Kings and Sharks are aging fast and Anaheim isn't far behind. The Falmes are rising but are pinning their hopes on a 35 year old goalie and a seven game series would be a barn burner and I don't think I bet against Edmonton. The Central sees the Blues at a crossroads, Chicago dealing with their usual cap issues and an aging roster and other than Nashville no other apparent threats. For the Oilers this is the year.

 And this is a problem because THIS IS THE YEAR. Leon is getting paid and they can handle that this season but next year Conor gets paid and that is when things are going to start getting pulled apart. The shit thing for the Oilers is that they have one go at it and then things will start getting tight and they will have to start rolling in the kids to try and replace the veterans.

 The good thing is that as I wrote yesterday there are no great teams anymore. Chicago in 2013 maybe was the last? In 2015 they had a third pair that made Bergeron and Greene look like Bill White and Whitey Stapleton and their second line centre was retired a year later. The Pens are something to behold up front and Murray/Fleury was a hell of a tandem but Justin Schultz their number one Dman?

 So the Oilers could win this with the right moves. I mean the margin is razor thin, you need health and luck but if you're in the mix ... that is all you can ask for, right?

 Address the problems and load up while you can because the cap is going nowhere unless the Canadian dollar gets back to par, there's no way the clowns who run the NHL have a clue about getting that revenue up.

 Back to process and results again, do you see it? Bettman pointing to a rising cap and all that time it was nothing to do with process, nothing happening except the currency markets giving a boost to their strongest markets. What a bunch of fucking dummies.


 So if you are Chia and look at the aftermath of the Ducks what do you see?

1/ Secondary scoring was an issue. This is what killed them. A lot of folks say small sample size and they would be right looking at the playoffs but for the most part the team had 18 million dollars invested in three guys who did not get a lot done in terms of driving play or even strength offence. Lucic, RNH, Eberle, not to mention Pouliot. Were these blips, just off years, or were they the start of a downward spiral. (Please note however that Eberle, with his shooting percentage way below normal for him still ranked as a first line forward in the NHL in goals and points. Terrible playoff? Absolutely but the guys who have had terrible playoffs over the years include pretty well everyone, including Toews, Datsyuk, well the list goes on forever. Shit happens.) Anyhow, a big problem.

2/ You give up Taylor Hall and you expect your D to be fixed and looking at two RHD thriving elsewhere who were given away for nothing is galling (Schultz had to go but it's obvious that in the end he is a talent and they blew it with him) but the reality is this D is still not ready for primetime. The Ducks' forwards were slow and old and they still gave them fits at times. They had no answer for Getzlaf (who the Preds shut down) and the husk of Corey Perry even contributed. What happens against a Pittsburgh or a Tampa or a Toronto? They need to add a real RHD to play top four and either run Nurse out there until Sekera returns or find a stopgap for that spot as well, someone on a one year deal. Longterm you have Klefbom, Sekera, Nurse. Adding an older LHD with term would be a waste of cap space. Just an aside, I am not referring to anyone in particular.

3/ Get Talbot a rest for gord's sakes.

4/ Add some guys to the bottom six who can get play moving the right way. Do something!


And here we are, Jordan Eberle gone and Ryan Strome in. Eberle is the better player, his 'terrible' year still better than anything Strome has done, still good enough to be a first line forward in the league in both goals and assists (top ninety forward), 2 goals more and 3 points less than Radulov who everyone adores and is expected to cash in.

 You know how it goes though. With any move comes the media, their shoulders massive from carrying water for a management team that has not made a bad move in 27 years and yet despite this gold standard have not won a thing. Some awful luck there.

 But most of the Edmonton media carry enough water for the Oilers to make one of those man made lakes at Disney. Compared to them poor Darren Dreger can only carry enough to flood his beloved backyard rink. And he carries water for the whole league! And the junior owners too!

 I kid, I kid. But it is funny how it goes, the media begin to sharpen their knives and beat the drums and next thing the fans would be happy if a guy were cut loose for nothing more than a roll of tape.

 Nuge is next, he steals from widows and orphans fund and drowns kittens in a sack in the miller's pond. Bet on it. These guys make it personal and it's creepy and sad.

 Oh well.

 Anyhow as always my thing is that anyone can be traded as long as you get that value back. And I am not talking about the foolishness 'Hall is gone and the team made the playoffs ergo it was a good trade and besides he was the problem and reason they didn't make the playoffs'. That isn't any more logical than the Oilers having a poor season and crashing in the first round and saying that it was because they traded Jordan Eberle although I will certainly pull that out if Leon breaks a hand in camp and Talbot blows out a knee and the team suddenly somehow struggles.

 Because it is just as fucking logical.


 Get good players, keep good players.

 Chia's process so far has shown that he is about that. Sometimes he makes mistakes (overpay for Larsson, the Reinhart fiasco) but he is about bringing in NHL players and Strome is that.

 I don't hate the deal. I don't love it because I don't want conditions when I trade good players. Sometimes you get lucky and you get Oscar Klebom. Other times you get Robert Nilsson, Ryan O'Marra and Alex Plante. But this can work and it is not a stretch and heere is how this deal works:

1/ Strome thrives on McDavid's wing and allows Leon to carve up the softs. Listen, Pat Maroon (and I love Maroon don't get me wrong) - PAT MAROON scored 27 goals this season and has 35 in 96 games in Edmonton. That is one less than he had in over 200 games in California and he played some top six there too. So don't tell me that Strome can't pot 20 or 25 or more if he is a fit with 97 and apparently he can skate and has hands.

2/ Chia uses the savings from this deal (and that is what we have been saying right? Find those cheap guys to play with 97) and uses them to shore up that D or the secondary scoring.

 If these happen then he wins this deal and the team is closer to winning the Cup.

And then he has to spend remaining non Eberle cap space on more of number two. And he has to do all of this while keeping an eye on next season.

 This is the Oilers' best shot but it will not be their only shot. If Chia hamstrings this team by giving long term money to older support players then basically what he is saying is that he has no plan. He is hoping that rolling the dice every year with Conor McDavid will one day work out, much like a season for the ages for Tim Thomas did for him.

 And if that is the 'plan' then what it means is that Chiarelli has no process, no idea of what he is doing really, because while you need luck to win the Cup, relying on luck to do so is setting yourself up for failure and destroying a massive opportunity for this franchise.

 And if that happens then you need to go because even Kevin Lowe had a plan in 2006.

 Fin. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Process, Results, the champs and Hossa

 It's been a long time since I rock and rolled, no?

 I am coaching the boy's soccer team this year. Our first game we got massacred, there is one team of boys in their second year, apparently they have been together for years, it is a recreational league but they allow player requests to play with other players and between those and requests for a coach and from the coach they have managed to create a chain where basically they put together their team.

 It's our second year in the league and last year I coached my daughter's team so we don't really know anybody and as a result we have a hodgepodge of some second years, some first years, some good, some not so much and from this we need to reach our goal, after having an awesome time, learning how to play properly and how to act properly on the field, which is to beat said team.

 I don't think any sport lends itself to massive upsets more than soccer, except for maybe baseball with the variable of pitching. American football and basketball will almost always see a clear favourite win and even in hockey with all of it's randomness you will very rarely see a Miracle on Ice. (I am not talking about a 90 point team beating a 100 point team) It happens in hockey, the minnow coming out on top, but in soccer you get miracles on the pitch all of the time. Park the bus, hope for a bit of luck, counterattack once or twice and bingo, you get Iceland advancing.

 In soccer you can be out of your league but with good tactics and a bit of luck you can slay the giant. It happens all of the time, in international play, in the top leagues, in tournaments. To me one of my favourite tournaments is the FA Cup, where you can get a bunch of part timers playing a top professional team from the Premier League, and, sometimes, coming out on top. Defend defend defend and one counter attack and boom. So we will see. The odds are long but after the first game (we lost 7-2) I said 'we're going to beat those guys'. There were some eyerolls and startled looks and I am no Mark Messier but we will see.

 Since our original defeat we have run through the league once. We had a tie suspended by lightening where we played the other team even. We had a tie that we deserved to win but could have lost. And we had a win that we deserved to win but could have lost. Soccer!

 The last game we were dominant in the first half, just dominant. The boys owned the ball, passing it amongst themselves, probing for opportunities and then attacking. They played with confidence and style and elan and they were fantastic. And after a half they were down 2-1. Twice the other team counterattacked, twice they scored.

 (Our back line is our Achilles heel but I believe that I can teach them how to play defence and that we can figure out a way tactically to assist them without sacrificing offence. Stay tuned!)

 Now they are a terrific bunch of lads, no doubt. For the most part they don't know each other but there is a good camaraderie amongst them. So they were not downhearted at the half but we talked about process and results and about the fact that they were doing everything right and they just had to stay the course and not panic. They did so and shortly into the second half the other team cracked and we scored and then we scored again. The last ten minutes were a gong show (we had no subs and the boys were wrecked) but we held on and got the deserved three points.

 Next week we get our second shot at the team to beat. We will see how far we come in a month, if at all.


The NHL is a funny league and by that I don't mean they are terribly run and always have been although that is the case but rather that no matter the era there are always multiple teams that dominate. Now it's not like the 23 years after expansion when you had six teams split up the championships, those days of true dynasties are gone. But of the 26 Cups awarded since 1990 there have been 13 winners and four teams have taken home 13 Stanley Cups. Even more interesting (well I mean it's not interesting but you know what I mean) only seven teams have won in the cap era and three teams have taken home eight of the 12 Cups awarded during that time.

 With the cap enforcing parity, a thirty team league and the nature of the sport which makes it harder to win every year the achievements of Pittsburgh, Chicago and LA are that much more impressive although the teams themselves are less and less imposing. I could hardly believe that the Pens won with their D last year. With Letang out this spring I figured them for a second round loss and I also thought the Preds speed would expose them as well. But Rinne Rinned and the Caps were the Caps and really that Pens' D has to get some credit I guess (although they were in luck that Johansson went down, talk about ugly, let's look at the Preds' depth chart at C). Other than Washington their road was fairly easy and if Ottawa gets a bounce or the Preds get some goaltending they don't repeat. But then again with the cap every team has weaknesses now.

 Credit where credit is due and really would you bet against them next year? You might but it's wide open and if they are healthy .....


 Speaking of health it's sadly au revoir to Marian Hossa. Hossa and Chara were my two favourite players once Smytty hung them up. It's funny because while I always took to Chara because he is a very interesting and unique dude with Hossa, he was always kind of a guy that I admired but never loved. I know when the Oilers were pursuing him I wasn't over the moon about it. It may have been the pursuit of the Cup that led him to Chicago or the fact that I grew to appreciate his game that much more once he had more exposure than when he was exiled in Atlanta or just the continued excellence as he aged but he became my favourite player and I am sad to see him go.

 I play beer league with a guy who reminds me of Hossa in a lot of ways. Big, strong, smart, skilled but most impressive, just relentless in his pursuit of the puck at both ends of the rink. In a true elite Hall of Fame Hossa would not belong (nor would 75% of those in the HHOF now) but he belongs in the one that exists. Best two way player of his generation, consistent offensive force in a dead puck era and a major part of the best team (well I guess shared with the Pens) of this generation, Hossa is apparently a totally great guy off the ice as well, like my boyhood idol Stan Mikita, which is cool with me. And who will ever forget his mocking of Steve Ott or when he steamrolled David Backes. Good times.

 Imagine playing against Hossa, Saad and Toews, could there be anything more difficult in the world? Just absolutely, completely relentless.

 And Jonathan Toews should send a bottle of slivovica to his long time running mate. I am not a Toews hater, as seems to have become more and more common, but I would say that the centre owes a lot of his success to the fact that he played with one of the premier right wings of this generation. Toews is no longer a youngster himself but it will be interesting to see how he fares without your man at his side.

 As for the whole contractual thing, Sean Gentille put it best ( I am paraphrasing here) - as questionable as the timing of this is, it can't top the NHL making up a rule and retroactively applying it. The long tail contracts were within the rules at the time, if Gary didn't like them he should have vetoed them, like he did Kovalchuk's. Letting them happen and then penalizing clubs afterwards? Truly bush league which is no surprise at all because NHL.

 (and I am really starting to think that these long tails will all end the same. All of these guys have played 20 years. Hossa's circumstance is odd but finding a joint or disk that is degenerating and would preclude a guy playing? Pretty damn simple.)

 Anyhow here is to Marian Hossa and a wonderful career. All the best for a long, healthy and happy retirement.

Monday, May 29, 2017

For Many, If Not All, Of The Marbles

Well here we are and it has been a mediocre year for me picking, 8 and 6 right now, if I fail this round then I will be at my lowest ever,, I haven't checked back but suspect I may have had a 9 and 6 or two back there. And in the Cup Finals I am a pretty sad 6 and 5, without going back I can tell you that five of those on the plus side were Chicago and LA so if you take them out of the equation I am awful. (My other hit was Detroit in 2008 although to be fair they would have won in 2009 if they had not been devastated by injuries, oh well, c'est la vie.) The real problem is I tend to go with my heart so for example I picked San Jose last year and believe it or not the Sens back in 07. I can't help myself and I think I am going to make the same mistake right now. I know better but talk myself into the team that I want to win and then blow it.

 What is funny about this season is that I would have a much better record except I underestimated Nashville and Ottawa, in the series that they won I only picked Nashville over the Blues. So there is an 0 for 4 right there. Nice job.

So here we are and this to me is as close to a pick em as you will ever see. And my record in these close series - 2006, 2009, 2011, 2016 - is the shits. Oh well, here goes.

 I literally am going back and forth on this. I think they both have great coaches. I like Pittsburgh's goaltending but of course Nashville's D is miles beyond anything the Pens have faced yet. Up front the Pens have the edge, especially up the middle. Huge advantage with Crosby and Malkin there.

 I like the Nashville bottom six more than Pittsburgh's, I guess you can't really question Sullivan, they have gotten this far, but the fact that they had three lines going last year made them so hard to beat. It's easier to stop two lines than to stop three.

 And the Preds have the wherewithal to stop two lines with those top four D. And while the whole 'they have four Erik Karlssons' is of course silly, there is only one Erik Karlsson and he is sublime, I do get what they are saying, they have four D who can skate and move the puck and counterattack and the Pens have not faced that yet.

Oh boy, lol.

 I think the Preds have the speed to disrupt the Pens and to get at that D and tear it apart and I think Laviolette is a very good coach and that he is going to come up with a gameplan to make things miserable for Pittsburgh. Nashville can trap and counter and we saw how Pittsburgh struggled with that at times against Ottawa (Ottawa!) and they can also attack and run a team ragged, we saw that against Anaheim, who had a far better D than the Pens do.

 I think the problem for the Preds is they may not score much.

 Can I pass on this? Lol.

 My heart says Nashville because of PK.

 My head says it's a coin flip and that I should really defer to Crosby and Malkin in that case.

 But because I am a dummy, I am going Nashville in 7. I think that D shuts the Pens down enough and their speed plays enough havoc with the Pens D that they can score just enough to come out on top. They beat three teams with better D than Pittsburgh and all three of those teams had quality up front too. Not Crosby and Malkin no but still they all had quality. Getzlaf was having a Conn Smythe campaign and then he was gone. I think they do just enough to take it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Dog's Breakfast

A little late here but you can check the tweeter for what I said before this round started, I am sticking with it, more in a moment.

 3 and 1 in round two, so 7 and 5 now and a chance for redemption on my picks. The conference finals is where I do good work, 16 and 6 overall since I started doing this.

 Gary Bettman has his NHL now and it's ugly as sin. Any team can win it when you get down to it, Ottawa scored less goals than they allowed this season and here they are in the conference finals and it's not like they have been riding a hot goalie, although Anderson has been good, they have been actually better than their opponents. It's parity. Parity and the league throwing away the rulebook in the playoffs to further even things out. Faceoff battles like Malkin and Turris had at the end of last night's game? I don't really have any issues with dick measuring contests like that. But the Ducks were allowed to turn their second round series into a rodeo at times and they are doing the same against the Preds.

 Johansson is letting Kesler get to him but the fact that Kesler and Perry and Getzlaf are allowed too basically do what they want because ... they're vets? Carlyle is a good guy? you have to 'play through it'? ... well this is just reason number 3,784,637 why the NHL has always been and always will be a junior circuit compared to other pro sports' leagues. It's a league run by amateurs who are enabled by a primary rights' holder that employs a bunch of ex scrubs who, surprise surprise, tear down the stars at every turn, all the while pushing the narrative that guys like Tanner Glass and Chris Neil are the reason that their clubs win.

 Would you rather see Crosby and Malkin and Kessel in full flight or Kesler wrestling a top player to the ice after every draw? The latter is not hockey, except in the NHL.

 Joke league.

 Anyhow on to the predictions:

Pens v Sens

The Caps are the new Sharks/Sens/Wings (that's going way back, 25 years, before they broke through). They always always always find a way to lose. And yes they outshot and outplayed the Pens just as they always seem to outshoot and outplay whomever they lose to but like Boudreau's Caps/Ducks/Wild one has to start to wonder what gives? Fleury was very good, sure, and yes if that Ovechkin shot doesn't hit the shaft of Fleury's stick (!!!!) then we may not be having this conversation but .....

 You can say what you will about the Oilers (I thought they were outplayed but if they had not collapsed in G5 they probably win that series) but at least in game seven in the third period they came on and had their chances. The Caps never even got a sniff. Trotz? Personnel? Tactics? Sullivan's tactics?

 (A quick digression. You know what I would like too know? What is Sullivan's system? How do the Pens play that won them a Cup last year with a D that was Kris Letang and five guys named Moe and how are they three wins from another final with six guys named Moe back there. Maybe HNIC could stop talking about how Tanner Glass and Chris Neil are the most important guys on their teams and how Russians are terrible people and actual FUCKING ANALYZE SOME FUCKING HOCKEY!)

 So here we are Pens against the Sens and I got the impression that the Ottawas barely broke a sweat against the Rangers. And when did the latter become such a nondescript generic team of nobodies anyhow? A good team, sure never good enough of course, but they are basically Columbus in New York at this point.

 They don't have Erik frigging Karlsson that's for sure. What a player. What a player. Amazing.

 The problem for Ottawa is the Pens have Crosby and Malkin and Kessel. Three game breakers to the Sens' one. And the Sens' gameplan, trap trap trap, isn't going to exploit the Pens' weakness, that D.

 Pens in 6.

Ducks v Preds

 I despised the Ducks before they beat the Oilers - Kesler, Bieksa, Perry, Carlyle - and I would hate to see Kesler win the Cup (which means he is probably going to win the Cup) but I think they beat the Preds for two reasons.

 The Preds are a bit top heavy up front and the Ducks can run two lines out there that can shut their top line down.

 And Pekke Rinne is, at some point, going to be Pekke Rinne.

 Gord, this is actually going to happen isn't it?

 Ducks in 7.

 It's funny, the NHL, in the last ten years six teams have won the Cup, three have won seven of those and Detroit was coming off a run where they had been the top team in the league for nearly twenty years. The only 'random' winners were Anaheim and Boston and here we are, a decade after the Ducks won and they might win another.

 At some point some new blood will come in and we might get like we see in the NFL or ball, where except for the Patriots, Red Sox and Giants you basically get a new champion every year. I don't know how much I like that personally, I grew up with the dynasties and now that every team is jst another team, well, it's dull.

 Oh well. Go Preds!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Oh Boy!

Well that was a crazy first round. I went a mediocre 4 and 4 and based on my pools I am not the only one who got bamboozled. The admin of our one said that in 23 years he has never seen so many people go into the ditch after one round and in my other pool I lost four of ten players, which was about par for the course.

 While nobody I know went so hilariously out there as professional blowhard troll Steve Simmons who said THERE WAS NO WAY CHICAGO COULD BE STOPPED nearly everyone felt that while Nashville might have a shot there was no way anyone predicted a sweep. Boston was a darling and most folks picked the Habs and the Wild even though both were definitely flawed. Anyhow here we are.

  So first round 'all time' (12 years) I am 67 and 29 even with this junk performance. The second round is always the one I struggle in the most, 25 and 19. The first round survivors include the real deal and the second tier contenders and those that rode hot goaltending or luck past their first round opponent. In some cases the ride ends abruptly, in others Cinderella may go another round. I have never had a lot of success and I wish I knew the answer as to why this is the case.

 So here goes nothing, I think there are two tossups and two clearer picks. Much like last year we are down to one survivor from the short list of recent Cup winners.  A new champion? I am beginning to think that we may have a repeat Cup winner for the first time in twenty years.

Rags v Sens

I picked both of these teams to lose their first round matchups. The Rangers are one of those teams – they are good but never good enough – and I certainly don’t think this year is any different. They handled the Habs relatively easily though but then again Daneault somehow ended up first on the Hab’s depth chart up the middle and no team has ever won a Cup with such weakness up the middle.

 The Sens have a lot of guys that are easy to cheer for – Karlsson and Anderson and Clark MacArthur most of all - they also have Alex Burrows and a gross owner who is, well, he is like pretty well every other NHL owner, hell my team is owned by a grifter with a Napoleon complex as big as the chip on Theo Fleury’s shoulder. The Rags have Lundqvist who one suspects will join Price and Luongo as great goaltenders who will always be compared unfavourably to the slightly above average who had the good fortune to land on powerhouses. The last run of Cup winners – Khabibulin, Cam Ward (*spits*), Giguere, Osnotthatgood, Fleury, Niemi (!!!), Thomas, Quick, Crawford and Matt Murray – includes a handful of pretty good goalies and some very average names and yet there are those who will tell you that Carey Price is not a winner based on his resume playing on a decidedly average club. Put him on Chicago and he has four Cups.
 (Reminds me of the guy who told me that Toews was a better player than Stan Mikita because, you guessed it, Cupzzzz. Never mind that Mikita was the premier centre in the NHL for close to a decade and that he, like Toews, was an excellent defensive player. The difference with Stan is that he could actually score a bit too, four scoring titles worth, and was one of the actual best players of all time. Again, put him in his prime on Chicago now and they have four Cups and it’s not even close.  Oh well.)


 Anderson is a good goalie but Lundqvist is better and while the Rags’ D is iffy, the Sens after Karlsson are iffier. The winner of this series is going to be mulch for the winner out of the Patrick. Looks like Lundqvist will be falling short again. Rags in 6.

 Pens v Caps

Man oh man I want to pick the Caps. This is their year, it has to be it, right? There is nothing out there that frightening and then Chicago crashed and on top of that the Pens are without Letang and have that bucktoothed grinning little bastard between the pipes. All those years I picked the Pens in my pool and Fleury folded, Marc Andre if you are reading this you owe me at least 80 bucks!!!! 
 And I want to pick them, I do, so bad. But then I watched the Leafs, with a blueline that consisted of Gardiner and Reilly, both terrific, and then flotsam after that, push the Caps to the brink. Five overtimes in six games and a bounce here or there and Washington was done. They looked slow and here’s the thing, the Pens are fast. And while the Leafs are deep up front the Pens are deeper. Malkin is killing it and Crosby is playing the best hockey of his career I think, which is really saying something, and Kessel is going to go off at some point and win a game or two on his own, you just know it. Columbus was not as great as their record said but they were a good team and the Pens ran roughshod over them and made Bobrovsky look average.

 They can get Niskanen out against someone and he may do the job but who does Orpik get? Oh man.

 And while I don’t believe in a lot of the mumbo jumbo intangibles’ crap that goes on out there I do think that the Pens are in Washington’s collective head. Pens in 6.

 Blues v Preds

The Blues beat the Wild the old fashioned Steve Penney way. Got outplayed bigtime and survived due to a hot goalie and there goes Bruce Boudreau shaking his head, again. The Preds, on the other hand, laid a beatdown on the best team in the Conference. I picked the Hawks but could see the Preds pushing them and maybe, maybe, upsetting them if everything fell their way. Instead they wiped the floor with the best team of this generation. The Hawks looked old and slow and were left muttering about tactics. (Well that was noted man of character Patrick Kane. Jonathan Toews was gracious and accurate with his assessment, they just got beaten badly by a team firing on all cylinders.)

 Do the Blues have a shot? Sure they do, everyone left does I think. We are talking about 1993 or close to it unless the Pens or Caps prevail. (Still what I feel will come to pass). But at some point if you are getting pounded the wall starts to crack and then things tend to fall apart pretty quickly. I STILL don’t trust Rinne but the Preds have a beautiful blueline and depth up front and Laviolette who is a terrific coach and the class of the remaining field out west.
 Preds in 6, maybe 5.

Ducks v Oilers

 This one is the real tossup. The Ducks are on one of those streaks, like Columbus and Minnesota and the Falmes had. Getzlaf has the eye of the tiger about him, he probably looks at what's left and figures this is his last best shot. And he has a good team around him too. Perry is not what he once was but the Ducks still run three lines deep, have a good deep D and a good tandem in net. I don't think a lot of Carlyle, it's a lot harder to win a Cup when you don't just have to rotate three Dman out there shift in shift out and so I think McLellan. who did nice work in round one, gives the Oilers the edge behind the bench.

 As for YERRRRRR EDMONTON OILERS well that was a fun round eh? Other than game four, the last period of game six and after period one in game one they were the better team and by quite a bit in my opinion. (So basically in four of six games derrrrrrrr) And this is with the flu running rampant, Draisatl and Klefbom were victims and based on their play I would say Lucic and McDavid were hurting later in the series too. (Of course the Sharks had their share of injury woes, not to diminish them or their effort)

 Discipline was a problem although they seemed to get a handle on it as the series wore on and while Nurse and Benning had their moments where they wobbled they never went full Matt Greene on us (I love Matt Greene but not playing Tarnstrom over him in 06, unless the latter was hurt, man that was a dumb move).

 And scoring through the lineup except for the Nuge line which didn't score but did saw off with the Sharks' big boys. Good yeoman work although there will be some goals needed this round from that group.

 Talbot ... the man.

 This is a tough one to call. My heart says Oilers and if the Ducks' D are as hobbled as they may be then the good guys have a shot. Hell even if they are healthy the Oilers have a shot. 97 ran rampant over Kesler and Getzlaf this season so I am not too worried about that matchup.

 And the Ducks are unlikeable. Kesler is the worst and Perry is garbage and I am sure we will see Bieksa pick Desharnais off in a scrum and start throwing the, especially since Magnus Paajarvi is not available. Just the worst.

 All that said my head says Ducks. I know, I know. I hope I am wrong and it's a coin flip but they are deeper everywhere I think. Ducks in 7. :(

 Over a decade between playoff series and the day after game one I am off to Rome for a week lol. Figures. Here's hoping that I am wrong about my prediction and that I make it back to see the Oilers clinch!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Koo Koo Bananas

Just a week ago I bemoaned the fact that the first round looked like a dud. No big rivalries, nothing to see here.

 And yet, and yet, *adjusts monocle*, this has been a great first week, perhaps the best I remember in many moons. And believe me I have seen many many moons.

 Of course if you are a fan of Chicago, Minnesota (is there such a thing) , the BJs (lol) or the Falmes, you might disagree with the comment on how great it has been. The boy asked me to PVR the second Chicago game, when he got up I told him not to bother, he is young but he still should not be wasting any precious hours. And this morning when I told him that Chicago had lost in overtime his face fell and he muttered something angrily. Balancing out his disappointment is the fact that Steve Simmons pronounced that THERE IS NO WAY THE HAWKS CAN LOSE and man oh man seeing that blowhard on a losing streak like no other ... ahhhh, let me just crack open another beer.

 Now I do have a rant about narratives, you know, same as every year, but I will hold off until next post. You guys are like my kids, sure the boy gets to stay up late and watch playoff hockey and kid around with his old man, who is a totally great guy, but it means fetching me a beer now and then and listening to me drone on about when I was 12 and out with my buddies Steve and Pete and Doug and Gord and Dwayne and Norm and Dennis and Pete and Steve and Jeff and we were trying to find the ravine porn that Pete stole from Steve's Dad's huge collection and then it was given to me for safekeeping because a) when they did find my porn my parents didn't really care and b) I was excellent at the storage and the hiding (only got caught once!) and c) I liked looking at naked women with huge 70s bushes more than any of them and so DEMANDED the responsibility.

 So yeah old man yells at clouds next post. You've been warned.

 There's a guy named Tyler, he goes by Rosscreeknation online, he has been around forever, anyhow he's a great guy for a Falmes' fan and pretty astute when it comes to the hockey and a few days ago he was lamenting his pool and how he had gone heavily with, I think it was the Wild, and why did he do that in a pick em series and, well, I did the same in one pool (them and the Caps) and in the other I went Hawks and Caps and I am pooched unless the Caps come back. Funnily enough though I looked at the first pool and everyone is in the same boat. Basically we are all going to lose half our rosters.

 Why? Well because it seems that in the end we have eight pick em series, yes even with the four that may end as sweeps (and this after years where every single series went at least six and it was proclaimed that NOBODY GETS SWEPT ANYMORE).

 24 games, 11 OT, 17 decided by one goal, another 5 by two goals. We are talking bounces folks. The Wild score 3 more and allow 3 less and they are up 3 to 0. Chicago could be up 2-1, the Leafs and Caps could be up 3 or down 3.

 You get the picture.

 Anyhow first round thoughts so far .... (please note that most of these hot taeks will be obsolete by Thurday morning)

Trotz and Boudreau

What is the story here anyhow? Is there even a story? A week ago I said that Boudreau was awfully unlucky. Is his system something that is easy to take apart? Can he not adjust on the fly, which is needed in the playoffs? Is it a 'shot quality' thing? I know that for a lot of smart people shot quality is to be sneered at. I believe in it although I sure don't know how to measure it. Dennis King did scoring chances for a couple of years and while subjective I saw a lot of value in it. And we know that teams work to keep shots to the outside, they have done so for years and I suspect some would be better at it than others. But it is as simple as Boudreau and Trotz's teams shoot from the outside? I haven't seen any of the Wild/Blues but I know the Caps have had some terrific looks and just haven't buried them. Is it personnel? The problem seems to be transferrable from team to team. Or in the end is it just bad luck? (And it being the playoffs in a few days Trotz may have advanced. Boudreau though ... done again).


I figured the Pens to beat the BJs (lol) but not like this. Losing Werenski hurt of course but this one is barely even close. And Kessel hasn't even done anything yet. And without Letang.

What the hell.

Anyone betting against the Pens to repeat now? Especially if the Caps fall short. Amazing.

And I am a McDavid man through and through but nobody is better than Crosby. I don't know if he has ever been better. The King.


 They look good and could be up by 3. I love Vigneault but Julien is one of the best. I think they win this division fairly easily, not sure if they can handle the Pens. So same as everyone else. Price though. (As an aside I play hockey with a French Canadian guy, terrific guy. He missed our pool so had to pick from the dregs, it is a small pool so eighty players were gone. He went all Habs. Every single last one. ;) )


I haven't seen any of this series. I know a few data guys liked Nashville and while I leaned to the Hawks I figured the Preds for a tough out. Not like this though. Chicago has fallen apart (as much as losing two games by a goal could be considered a collapse) and this would have to be considered a huge disappointment for them. They had a great season though so maybe it is just a case of Nashville having a great week and the Hawks a poor one and it's nothing more than a blip but it has to be worrisome to Bowman to see that it's the core that is failing here. Well, everyone is but one goal from all of those stars ...

 2011 and 2012 and 2016 were about rising from the wreckage of post Stanley purges and 2014 was a bounce away from being the second of a threepeat but this year, well, are they about to join the Kings on the slide downhill? It will be interesting to see how Bowman reacts. (I would guess that based on the fact that they have invested in these guys heavily that he chalks it up to a bad week, they did win the conference after all.)


We may see Ducks/Preds in the conference final, no? Anyhow looking forward to breaking out Cryan Kesler, it never gets old and it will happen, he's a perennial bridesmaid, that dickhead.


 I cannot remember a more fun series to watch in a long time. I have been saying this for a while, barring catastrophic injury the Leafs will be legitimate contenders next season and the one following before they need to find a way to pay all these kids. They are just loaded up front and of course Babcock is being Babcock, he is such a tremendous coach.
 I figured they would maybe maybe take the Caps to six but that this would be pushing it. Shows what I know. The keys - Gardiner and Reilly. They have been absolutely fabulous. I think the Caps will come back and win this but the Leafs belong, they are certainly not ahead on a wing and prayer. Of course this fast turnaround (spring of 2015 was when they started jettisoning guys for a true tank job) only makes me that much more bitter about Kevin Lowe and the rest of his crew. Fucccccccccckkkkkk.


 Much like the Leafs it's all kind of gravy right now and even if the Oilers get swept the next three games while disappointing the season would be a relative success. That said they are in good shape right now and if they can do what they did on Sunday night tonight (ie survive the first ten minutes) then I think they may go back to Edmonton up 3 to 1.

 Talbot has been excellent but really the team as a whole has been very very good in front of him for the most part. Klefbom has been outstanding, the other three veterans have been very good (Russell's speed has really had an impact I think, he gets to loose pucks and closes to his man so quickly), and the two kids have had their moments but compared to the Matt Greene Experience of 2006 it's been smooth sailing. (I remember that run, every time Greene was on the ice it was either a penalty, an icing, Roli making a 5 bell save or our starting goalie getting murdered because Greene couldn't FUCKING STAY WITH HIS MAN!!!!!!)

 Seriously though the two kids are doing pretty well. It's a great sign. As someone noted to me the other day (Matt Watt?) Nurse is letting the game come to him now. I think he's going to be a player. And Benning seems to be recovered from the concussion and he has a nice edge to his game as well.

 With these two, Caggiula and Slepyshev all contributing, well this is what the Oilers are going to need, especially when they start having to cut salary. Cheap quality kids help win you Cups.

 It's been a real grind of a series and the only guy who looked out of his depth, Desharnais, finally seemed to realize last game that his career may be on the line and he had a pretty nice game.

 To me though the revelations to me have been Ted and to a lesser extent Eberle. Eberle because he has this reputation and yet this series he has been grinding it out and doing the little things and backchecking his ass off. He is paid to score goals but right now only three forwards have goals so him not scoring isn't a big deal. I mean we want some ;) but he is helping the team.

 And he was out there at the end of game three. I never thought I would see that.

 But Ted? Little Ted. Money in the bank. I don't know that he has ever played better. He may be gone because he makes a lot of money but he is a hell of a player and this has been his coming out party, outplaying the big guns on the Sharks, penalty killing, just doing everything. So great.

 It is exciting. Here's hoping they come out of this round because really it is looking so wide open right now. Unreal.

 Oh and that Karlsson/Hoffman play? I have been watching hockey for over 40 years, that ranks top ten for me, amazing, just unreal.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


And let's get friendship right
Get life day to day
In the forget yer skates dream
Full of countervailing woes

In diverse as ever scenes
Proceeding on a need to know
In a face so full of meaning
As to almost make it glow

For for a good life
We just might have to weaken
And find somewhere to go

Go somewhere we're needed
Find somewhere to grow
Go somewhere we're needed
Find somewhere to go
Let's go somewhere we're needed
Find somewhere to grow
Go where we're needed

'Cause in the forget-yer-skates dream
You can hang your head in woe
And this diverse as ever scene
Know which way to go

 The boy had his first of what will certainly be many forget yer skate dreams this past season. I still have them, all these years gone past, I get to the rink, it's always a big game, playoffs or tournament or my shot in the NHL and I have no skates or in other twists, my stick is a junior stick or the wrong hand or something else is wrong with my gear that ruins the day, no gloves, no helmet. I had a buddy once, best player on our team too, he forgot his skates for a playoff game. In real life I have forgotten my pants and had to make due with these enormous arena pants, I felt like I was dragging Lauri Korpikoski around with me out there.

 (I wear a pair of thin cotton hockey pants, they were my old man's. A cardboard pad slipped into a pouch in each thigh for protection. Light as hell and pretty snug, they make my ass look fantastic. Jenn hates them, my teammates love them because they love looking at my fantastic ass. They are so light that when I wear regular bulky pants I slow down from very very slow to almost immobile out there).

 And once I forgot my helmet, that's a bad one. Went into the room of the guys who had just played and asked to borrow one, they all looked at me like I was nuts except one dude who cheerfully agreed. Brought it back to him in Cabbagetown along with a six pack, his girlfriend said the same thing had happened to him the year before.

 When I coached a million years ago we used to tell the kids that before every game they needed to make their little man, get their gear out, lay it out in order, make sure. They were good but our number one goalie forgot something key once, I can't remember, it may have been a goddamn pad or something. It was a must win and so I turned to the backup goalie and he and his dad looked pretty hopeful and I said 'give him your gear'. The poor kid, the look on him. He was pretty happy in the picture from when we won the tournament though.

 Actually lived the dream just last week, got to shinny, was half dressed and no skates to be found. Texted Jenn, I knew where they were, was home and back in ten minutes and didn't miss a shift.

 Exclaim for Capsule this weekend. I'll be making my little man tomorrow night in preparation.

 Make your little man!

 Now the forget yer skates dream is a universal one for those of us who play but if you want to get to a universal truth then let's talk about singing. Right? Who of us does not dream of belting it out, not in the shower, but in front of 20000 screaming fans or in a smokey bar somewhere? Right! This is why the karaoke is so popular. Well, lately in our house we have been binge watching Glee on Netflix. Oh yeah. And suddenly at any moment someone is bursting into song or dance. Personally I am a huge believer in the idea of a spontaneous song and dance number breaking out on the streetcar or at the bakery but we can't seem to get it right even in our house goddamnit.

 I love the thought of it though, it makes me happy. And that daydream makes me a lot less anxious than when I wake up in a cold sweat, wondering where my goddamn skates are.


 You know what makes me happy? The Oilers in the playoffs. Hard to believe it's been this long and this had better become a regular occurrence.

 Our team had a terrific year for sure. Lots of luck with injuries, last year's top six plus Sekera, Klefbom and Talbot missed 167 games with injuries. This year that same group and Larsson missed six in total.

 A huge reason, maybe the main reason the club made the leap they did.

 So here we are and it's San Jose in the first round. A tough out for sure but I think there are no easy touches in the west.

 If all things were equal I would be going with San Jose. They have the stars up front and of course Burns as well. Vlasic is outstanding. Martin Jones is good enough to win games on his own. And we know that the NHL won't be calling a lot and so they will be getting away with murder on McDavid.

 (A quick aside, the NHL doesn't need any assistance looking like asses, you can expect that if there is something smart the league will do the exact opposite. It has always been thus. Short sighted. While every other league does what it can to make sure it's stars are protected and are allowed to shine, the NHL still allows it's best players to be mugged at every turn. It really is amazing but then again it is already a fait accompli that there will be another lockout so it can only be expected from the grifters and sociopaths who run the league).

 Ok back to point. So a healthy San Jose? Yeah I would be betting on them. But ... they are not healthy and so it seems to be lining up nicely for the good guys. Thornton sounds like he may not be ready at all and Couture is not fully healthy either. Put it this way, if Draisatl and Klefbom were out or hurting badly what would you give the Oilers' chances?

 They're getting a break. And the second line is heating up at the right time. It isn't going to be easy and anything can happen but the injuries tip the scale. Oilers in six.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Soupy Campbell Conference

The time of the West being the home of the six or seven best teams in the league has passed, the balance of power is shifting east with the California teams and Chicago aging and St. Louis in transition and Dallas falling apart. With Kris Letang hurt though I think we have one team that is head and shoulders above the rest in the Caps, then Chicago and then the rest of the pack. If Washington and the Hawks fall then I think the tournament is wide open. That's parity for you and based on the last few years the days of 'great' champions may be at an end. The Pens won last year with a D that consisted of Kris Letang and five guys named Moe as well as a rookie goalie. The Hawks were once very high quality (that 2010 team - wow!) but they basically won the 2015 Cup with four D and then three when Oduya went down briefly. Gone are the days where to win the Cup you needed the proven star goaltender, the deep quality D, led by a man who could play thirty minutes in a pinch and run both ends of the rink, the incomparable depth up the middle. Not so much any more.

Hawks v Preds

I had the Preds as my preseason Cup runnerup (to Tampa!) so while everyone (in the MSM at least) is picking the Hawks to win this, and in many cases, to go all the way, I think the chances are there for an upset. Of course the Preds, like the Wild and the Blues, (until last year anyhow) have a sad playoff history facing the Hawks over the past while. It's always the same script, Preds jump out to a series' lead, have the Hawks reeling and then get run out of the rink.

 Will this year be any different? The Preds have a great top four on the blue and a nice set of forwards including a couple of game breakers. The problem is Rinne is not a guy I believe in, certainly not against Chicago. I thought Chicago was going to be like the Kings, with last year being the start of the fade but kudos to Bowman and their drafting, suddenly the lineup is sprinkled with kids, cheap and quality. The D is a bit grey but better than last year and probably better then 2015. And while Crawford isn't elite he is very good and his backup is ready to step in if he falters. (Some say the Preds might be better served by starting their own backup).

 Early this year the Hawks got by on percentages and a hot goalie but as the year wore on they were the real deal and they began to look like the team of old. That said the GD for these teams is pretty close.

 I think the Preds get closer this year and that next year we see them take that final step but I can't bet against Chicago. Too much depth up front, again. They take it in 7.

Wild v Blues

Is it just me or is this year's playoffs blah to start? There is the excitement of the return of the Oilers and the Leafs, sure, but the matchups in the first round really lack oomph and the injury to Letang even takes the shine off a possible Caps/Pens showdown. A Caps' run to that elusive Cup might cure the blahs or maybe a run by a real underdog but a Habs/Leafs showdown or Battle of Alberta or Battle of Ontario or Pens/Flyers would have gone a long way to adding some excitement. Instead we have eight generic series. Oh well.

 Minnesota had that big run mid season and so, like the BJs lol, I am a bit loathe to give them credit. They are better than the Blues though. What happened to the Blues? Well they were right to not give big money to Backes and Brouwer but losing two top nine Fs and then moving Shattenkirk out as well ... it hurt them.

 Yeo, well, I don't know a lot about him but he's not a guy who I worry about outcoaching Boudreau.

 (I love the little fat man but there has to be something there, no? Year after year his teams fall short and while a lot of that comes down to luck man oh man at some point that luck would run the other way, no? Sure the dice have no memory but come on. Anyhow that is my theory, I don't know if it's true or not but maybe he's not so good at those little adjustments over a series.)

 In any case the Wild have eight forwards at 42 points or more and a ninth, Handzal, at 39 and he played for the Coyotes most of the season. In other words these guys are loaded for bear and I don't see the Blues stopping them. Dubnyk is one of those guys that is a bit worrisome for me in the playoffs until the point he is not but Jake Allen isn't a guy I see stealing a series so whatever, I think it's a wash in net.

That goal differential though. Wow.

 Wild in 6, maybe 5.

Ducks (spits) v Falmes (spits)

 This one may actually be the most fun first round series, the bad blood is already there and one suspects that at the end of it whoever survives may be easy pickings in the second round.

 The Falmes got really really hot but that GD is pretty poor. Of course Anaheim's isn't much to look at either.

 But here is a fun fact. From January on the Falmes had a total of 4, count them, 4, regulation wins against playoff teams.

 In 43 games.

 So chew on that for a bit.

(Actually it's pretty amazing, I went through the Oilers for comparison, they had 9 over the same stretch. Chicago, 13. Washington? Well Washington had as many regulation wins over playoff teams last week as the Falmes did in 43 games. But even they only had 15 total in 43 games.)

 Anyhow ... 4.

As always the Ducks have nice depth up front and one suspects they can do some damage with their bottom six or at least their third line. Fowler being out hurts them and I certainly like the Falmes' D or at least their top 3 who bring a lot of offence as well.

 It's going to come down to goaltending I think and I like Gibson a bit more. Ducks in 6.


Tomorrow ... yer Oilers.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Playoffs Playoffs! Are Great! Playoffs Playoffs! Can't Wait!


 'oo is it ......?

 It's me!

 Every few months I write a post and think to myself  'that was great, I have to do that more often' and then nothing happens. Anyhow here we are! Playoffs! And the Edmonton Oilers are in the playoffs! (Although I expect we are all in a large van, sleeping, while the little guy from Third Rock, he's all grown up now, bounces and sways beside us. It's all a fevered dream!)

 I will write something in depth on the Oilers probably tomorrow, definitely before the series starts, hey they make it once a decade so I can probably put in the time.

 But first, the rest! I have been doing this since the blog started, so spring of 2006, the last time the Oilers made it. Me do alright in predictions, after last year in the first round I am a tidy 63 and 25, so just over 70%. Pretty good but honestly a lot of luck. Here is what I look at when I make my picks, this is a few years old but nothing has changed so here you go, if you give a damn:

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.

**** Addendum 2017 - and another thing! ;) when in doubt, all things considered, if it's a coin flip, go with the team with the offensive star power. The playoffs often come down to a bounce and the team with the guys who can create something out of nothing - Chicago, Pittsburgh and such - because often there is nothing, well those teams are a better bet than the team of good solid 20 goal scorers, no matter how deep they run ****

 So there you go, maybe next year I will rewrite it, some of these references are getting dated! (this note is also regurgitated so let's just nod and smile and move on, shall we? ;) )


Prince Of Hartford Wales Conference

Caps v Leafs

It's all gravy for the Leafs now, it really is, I know a few people don't feel that way and I can see why but this was a terrible team last year and now they are in the playoffs and if they play their cards right they will be real live contenders the next two years before they have to pay these kids. Their management group makes mistakes just like everybody else but they are onto something and I would trust them over most of what you would find out there. Up front they are just stacked, it's that blue that is an issue but add a couple of good pieces and man oh man ...

Not this year though, not even before Zaitsev and Andersen got dinged and Polak came up lame(r). I was at the game last week and the Leafs barely got a sniff. The Caps are that good and this has to be their year, right? Every year we say it but it rally has to be. They're loaded up and down the lineup, they are pretty healthy, they have probably the easiest possible opponent first round, their arch nemesis is already banged up and about to go to war with a heavy duty club that is going to pound them some more, the other side of the East and the entire West isn't really scaring anybody ...

This is it, barring injury they should finally do it. A plus 81 GD? Jesus.

Caps in 5 because sweeps don't happen anymore and the Leafs have enough juice up front that one game at least they will break through. But yeah, this could be it for Washington, finally.

Pens v BJs (lol)

BJs lol. I would never bet on them to win anything, same as Minnesota or Nashville but at some point one of them has to win something you would think. Anyhow this series really intrigues me a lot. That big win streak really skews Ohio's record, I mean it is part of their season so obviously it is part of the record (I sound like people who say the Oilers would be nothing without McDavid. But um ... he is on the team) but you know what I mean? They are not going to rattle off 15 games in a row, they ahd a hot streak and they rode it but without it they are fighting for a wild card.

 That said ... they are going to give the Pens a hard time here I think and Bobrovsky gives them a chance at an upset. Werenski being out hurts them a lot but the Pens are without Letang, which will probably cost them the Cup, as well as Hagelin and Kunitz. Plus Malkin isn't 100% The problem for Columbus is they have a bunch of really good players, they really do, but so do the Pens and the latter have Crosby and Malkin and Kessel. Pens in 6, maybe 7, and they're going to be a mess once they meet the Caps.

Habs v Rags

Could there be a more boring series? Maybe if Boucher was involved. I love Vigneault and I love Julien and you think an original 6 matchup would be sexier but man this one leaves me cold. It's a coin flip though pretty well despite the people who will point at the Patrick Division and say that the Rangers deserve SO MUCH MORE respect for coming out of there. The Rags had a slightly higher GD and one more win but the Habs had to drag Mike Therrien around with them for most of these season. Now that they have an actual professional NHL coach I think they have the edge. Plus their higher end guys are better than the higher end Rangers. Plus Carey Price.

Habs in 7 in a barnburner and by that I mean you will be so bored that you will fall asleep in the barn, knocking over the oil lamp, burning you and all of the family livestock to death in a horrible inferno. I can still hear the cattle screaming, they sounded human I kid you not they haunt my dreams. You got what you deserved though for watching this series.

Bruins v Sens

OK this series might be worse than the Habs Rangers. I expect 6 2-1 games, if shit gets crazy. The Sens have a pretty nice top line but after that, yeesh. And what happened to Bobby Ryan? On the other hand, the Bruins aren't much better. And you wonder why I'm bullish on the Leafs for next season?

 All joking aside the Sens actually had a negative GD and yet somehow made the playoffs, nobidy knows how, well they were in a pretty bad division and the teams that should have finished ahead of them, the ones from Florida, were derailed by injuries, bad luck and incompetence. I think Guy Boucher is quality but he channels Wild on Jack Lemaire too much for my taste, plus the Sens are awful.

Bruins in 6 deathly boring games.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

What Is ... Playoff?

A great thread on Twitter a couple of weeks ago with folks describing where their lives were the last time the Oilers were in the playoffs, back in the spring of 2006. For me, I was pushing forty, I am now just months short of fifty. I had a two year old and a baby, pictured above. Now I have three kids, the youngest is almost nine, the oldest is starting high school in the fall and the boy is, as I write this, playing D on his peewee team, probably no worse than about two dozen Oiler defenders from this past lost decade. The other night at the table, his voice deepening and cracking a bit, he explained how he was hitting puberty and was growing hair on his legs and 'in other places'.

With the Oilers' win last night they are eleven points up on the 9th place Blues, 10 up on the 8th place Kings and in second in the division. Heady days and the playoffs are, well I will just say it, the playoffs are going to happen. We Oiler fans have been traumatized and I know many of us won't believe we will see playoff hockey until the buzzer goes in game 82 and we realize this has not been some fevered dream, brought on by a bottle of Pernod, those funny smelling brownies your unkempt coworker gifted you and years of watching Jason Strudwick and Taylor Chorney trying to clear the zone on an endless loop.

 It reminds me of when any long suffering teams have won in the past for me. Not the Blackhawks whose victory came suddenly in overtime or strangely enough the Cubs, who seemed determined to extend their drought in that roller coaster game seven, no, I am thinking of the Red Sox and White Sox. Up three games to none and blowing out their opponents in game four, I waited for it all to fall to pieces even with two outs in the ninth and was mildly surprised when the final outs were recorded in both cases. I remember watching the Red Sox cough up game six back in 86 (everyone remembers Bill Buckner but the true goats that day were Bob Stanley and Calvin Schiraldi, both failing to get that third strike on the third out multiple times), sitting stunned in the lovely old Cameron with my pal Jeff Noonan, having blown off my classes that afternoon (a pattern that would repeat itself daily throughout my university career). We didn't care much about the Red Sox but both hated the Mets and so on a sunny autumn afternoon, the best afternoons in Toronto, we drank cheap draft in that dive bar, one of many places back in the day that would serve you underage without a second look or ask for any ID. Simpler times. When it was all over we stumbled out into the cold sunshine, buzzing but stunned at what we had witnessed.

 A book I have spoken about many times here, Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, describes the feeling of being a fan perfectly. The expectation of disaster is always there, it looms like the monster down in the basement, the one you heard in every furnace rumble when you were a kid. And today in the thirty team league you have almost twenty nine disappointed fanbases. I would not say twenty nine because there are teams that never had a shot and others that are on the rise for whom any improvement is acceptable. I have always said that the end goal is one thing only, to win the Cup, but a playoff spot this season would mark a successful campaign. I figured the Oilers as a team that might compete for a spot this season, I certainly did not expect them to be firmly in possession of a playoff berth with six weeks to go. Now the expectations are higher, I think winning a round is in the cards but while they could beat the Ducks or Falmes I also think they are close enough to those teams in terms of talent that not getting out of the first round would not be a disaster either. So this spring to me is like that time I went to the bar with nothing on the go and woke up the next morning in some stranger's bed, warm and spent and sated. I have had no expectations for years really. Playoffs this spring? A nice bonus.

 But next year ... next year is when we hear that monster rumble. The problem with having a thirty team cap league is that nothing is guaranteed. In two seasons the Oilers are going to be paying McDavid and Draisatl and some of the depth they have is going to have to be sent down the road and so really next season the Oilers have to be all in. The good news is that with the cap the number of elite teams is dwindling and the teams at the top are all flawed in so many ways, except for perhaps the Caps. The news that Kris Letang might have something going on that could take him out off the lineup longterm is that monster in the basement for Pens' fans. If he is out then that team goes from co favourite to also ran pretty quickly. So it is for everyone these days. It's pretty razor thin, that line, and you can go from a great team to the Kings, just struggling to make the playoffs, pretty quickly. The fact that the Hawks may actually be in the mix again, despite losing an all star team's worth of talent this past seven years, is truly amazing.

 Sidney Crosby won a Cup when he was still a boy and then had to wait almost a decade to repeat. Alex Ovechkin, one of the all time greats, may see his best chance this spring. Thornton, Iginla, Lundqvist. Stamkos ... it is not like the old days when great players nearly always won Cups, now they may get one shot, if they are lucky.

 Next year ... oh man next year. That's the year. This year ... well, of course some would argue, quite correctly, that this year should also be 'the year' and that Chia should have gone all in, trying his best to win it all not once but twice when 97 and 29 come cheaply. It's not some crazy idea, you look at Chicago and how they had to gut their club after that first Cup. Nothing is guaranteed.

 But for now I am enjoying this season and look forward to ... playoff.