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.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Kris Russell, A Molehill.

 Remember when the boy started his hockey career? Four straight seasons and four straight championships. It was amazing. After that he played goal for a team that rode a hot start to a regular season championship but collapsed the last three months of the year, including the playoffs. Then he played for a thoroughly mediocre group and then last year he played for a very good team that could have won it all but lost to another very good team that did win it all.

 He's had a decent run but this winter ... hoo boy.

 His team started a solid oh and twelve. Yep you read that correctly. And with only two exceptions they had not been in any game. They had one game where they were down four after three minutes. Just before Christmas they were up by two with six minutes left. The boy had hurt his back so we were watching the end of the game together and he said it looks like we might win and I said son this lead is nothing and the other team suddenly seemed to realize the score and three minutes later THEY were up by two. There were some tears after that one.

 Four times in fifteen games they have given up 10 or more goals. Five more times they have given up nine. They can't score, they can't defend and their goalie can't stop a damn thing. Other than that things are going great!

 Three weeks ago they played a team that had beaten them 9-4, 9-3 and 9-4 (the other four teams in the division are all bunched together and competitive with each other). There was some balancing and the good guys did add two pretty good players just after Christmas, they had still lost both games since but only by four goals each time, so IMPROVEMENT! And this Saturday was their day. Their regular goalie wasn't there and his stand in played very well and there was no collapse and they held a kid who scored 7 on them a few weeks previous (!!!) to one goal and when the buzzer sounded they were 4-2 winners!

 There was much rejoicing!

 They then lost 10-1 and 10-3 but hey, a win!



 The reason the boy's team is terrible is a simple one, the usual one that plagues bad teams at any level. Not enough good players. It is why the Oilers have been terrible for a decade. It has nothing to do with chemistry or leadership or intangibles of any sort. They have not had enough good players for years and now that they have added a lot of good players over the past few years suddenly they are a much better team.

 The fact that they are a better team has nothing to do with trading Taylor Hall. Hall is gone, the team is better, therefore Hall was the problem is ... well, go sit in the corner and think for a while if that is your line of thinking on that.

 They are a better team because their most important players have been healthy, Cam Talbot has been very good, they have a fourth line that can bring some offence and their D is not Jeff Petry and a bunch of rookies and minor leaguers.

 They are a better team because, wait for it, they have added three NHL calibre defencemen to last year's roster.

And Kris Russell is one of those defencemen.

 Here's the thing about Kris Russell. I don't get him. Or maybe more accurately I don't get it, it being the idea of Kris Russell and why it is such a big deal.

 There is a guy online that I admire ( @ukranianplug ), we don't always agree on everything but he is a straight shooter and level headed and the other night he tweeted:

Is Russell great at blocking shots? Yes.

Does Russell tend to fall out of position & bleed chances against? Yes.

It's not one or the other.

 A (imagine!) measured and rational view.

 Russell has become the lightning rod this season. Part of this is because stats people don't like him and when stats people take a stand you invariably get the polar opposite fans staking out the opposite opinion and planting their flag there. But it goes deeper than that.

 After years of this (this being talking hockey on the interweb) I have learned one thing. People get an opinion and they can't be argued out of it. No amount of statistics, reasoning or evidence of any sort will make them change their mind. I have seen years of arguments that go simply like this: the Oilers would be a better team if they remove player A (a useful and in some cases excellent NHL hockey player) from the roster and replace him with anybody. (This is not just an Oilers' thing by the way).

 Think about that argument and how foolish it is. Remove their best player, best centre, best defenceman and put a minor leaguer in their place and the Oilers will be better. How do you come to this conclusion?

  It's because you don't like the player. You don't like him and you never will. I work with a guy who despises Phil Kessel and still will not acknowledge that he had a positive impact on the Pens or anything to do with their title last season. You can argue until you are blue in the face and he will always come back to 'cancer in the room, bad teammate' and so on. He has no evidence against overwhelming odds but he does not care. He hates Kessel and nothing will convince him that Kessel is a good NHL player. Seriously!

 And so it is with Russell. Hey I cheer for Russell, he plays for my team and I want him to do well because if he does well then the team does well. I just don't think he is very good. He skates very well. He works hard. He blocks shots, sure. And he is the team's fifth best defenceman and in a year both Nurse and Davidson will likely be better than him. He doesn't bring any offence and he is chaos in his own end too much for my liking. And the thing is, never mind the stats. Ask Falmes' fans or Dallas fans about the guy. Nice guy, works hard, good in the room. And that's about it. Eminently replaceable.

 And yet you have Elliotte Friedman, who I like a lot, mentioning him along with McDavid and Draisaitl as a guy the Oilers need to sign.

 Why is this? What is the attraction?

 I think we have to go back to the idea that the team is winning now and one difference between last year's team and this year's team is Kris Russell and so folks look at A and B and say that B has caused A whereas if the Oilers had added any other veteran Dman the same would have also been true. Why are the Oilers better this year:

McDavid healthy, Klefbom healthy, Talbot excellent, emergence of Draisitl, emergence of Maroon, having seven top nine NHL forwards, Sekera's excellence, addition of Larsson, addition of Benning, quality fourth line, addition of Russell.

That is how I would rank it, your mileage might vary, but I don't see adding Russell being that big a deal and he can be replaced easily.

But Russell is beloved, even though he is basically Steve Staios, (god I loved Steve Staios so maybe there you go!) only not as good as Steve Staios. Why is he beloved? The stats guys hate him, the Oilers are winning and also he goes to my pet theory about fans. Fans don't love Ales Hemsky or Oscar Klefbom or Phil Kessel because they can't relate to them. Fans didn't love Tom Gilbert even though he was amongst the tops in the league for shot blocking for years because he made the game look simple. Very good skater, smooth passer, smart player. But he made it look easy and so ironically despite being an excellent and prolific shot blocker he was derided as soft while Russell is lauded as Alberta grit personified. Maybe it was Gilbert's hair. (I actually guarantee that some dudes did not like him because of that hair.)

Russell is like so many players of that type, he is beloved because he works hard but also because fans identify with him. Unless you have been a top nine F/top 4 D in the NHL or grew up as a big fish in a small pond then you have known what it's like to be the guy who is too small, too slow, not good enough. And how do you hang in there? You work hard, check your ass off, block shots, dig for pucks in the corner, keep your teammates laughing. You watch Jordan Eberle stick handle and you can't relate to that talent. You see Kris Russell battle some guy bigger than him, fall down, get back up, block a shot and ring it around the boards and you think 'hmm that looks familiar ...'

Kris Russell is fine with me because he is an NHL defenceman and he is better than eighty percent of the guys who have played D for the Oilers this last decade. If come July and they need a guy to shore up the bottom pair and there is nobody better out there then give him a one year deal. Otherwise let him walk. Seriously. Who cares about Kris Russell.

 Although I will say if Chia gives him a longterm deal and the Oilers have to give up any sort of asset to keep a guy who was basically waived through the league last summer, well then we have a problem.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Keep On Keepin' On or Why Pat Maroon is Chia's Most Important Acquisition

 Maroon reenacting the Orr shot.


 My daughter is going to high school in the fall, just over four years from now she will graduate high school and may be gone soon after. Sure if she goes away to school she will come back for holidays and the summer but really that will be it. I am not looking forward to it.

 She's a teenager now and she can be a challenge at times. She is strong willed and independent and somewhat selfish, same as we are, and so we buttheads often butt heads. She is also smart and kind and hilarious and thank dog she has finally learned how to tell a story. About a year ago we were at dinner and I interrupted her as she tried to tell an anecdote, it was agonizing, all like this and like that and pauses and her voice trailing off. (She was just a typical kid, I have never met anyone under the age of 12 who can tell a story worth a damn).

 Be concise with your words I said. When you digress, which is allowed (and encouraged, I go off on tangents all of the time), you have to keep it relevant and it has to be very good. Build to the ending and then let them have the punchline. Don't speak in a monotone. Don't mumble. GODDAMNIT!

 Just kidding on the last, I would never say that to my kids. I would think it though.

 Well glory be she can tell a story now, man can she nail it, the other night she had us in stitches, just had us reeled in, wait for it, wait for it, and then let us have it. We rolled about the place and the great thing was it was just some little bullshit story about something mundane that had happened to her, nothing really, and she hit it out of the park, turned it into a work of art. Great stuff, as you might guess I put a high premium on the ability to spin a good yarn.

 She is applying for a couple of arts high schools, dance is her passion, she is at the studio nearly every day and I have taken to doing pirouettes and flying leaps around the house in imitation of her own high flying ways, she literally dances from room to room at times. Really no surprise that she is an excellent dancer as after a number of drinks I will cut the rug like nobody's business. She got that talent from me as well as, unfortunately for her, the monobrow and hairy back. :(

Last week she went to one of these schools, she had to audition and write an essay and interview with a panel. It would be nerve wracking I would think although Jenn was far more nervous than she. Afterwards we talked about it and she said that she had been a little nervous but had done well she thought except for one thing in the interview.

 What happened I asked. Well, she said, they asked me if I could explain the difference between dancing on my own and dancing as part of the performance team and I had a brain cramp and said that when I was dancing as part of the team there were other people there.

 Fuck we laughed and I will tell you that I was pretty proud of her at that moment because even though she had goofed she was not worried about it and was able to laugh at her mistake. It was a pretty cool moment. She is amazing.


 Another guy who can probably laugh at his mistakes right now is Peter Chiarelli. He has made some big ones but the Oilers are sitting pretty right now. After years of discarding Real NHL Players for nothing, literally, this leading to the Oilers having a historically terrible run, Chiarelli has, in 18 months added a bunch of Real NHL Players, many for nothing but cash. Amazingly this has resulted in success. WHO KNEW?!?!??! (Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish didn't and um, fuck those guys). Besides Connor McDavid the Oilers added Sekera, Letestu, Kassian, Caggiula, Benning, Talbot, Russell and Lucic, not to mention the arrival of Davidson, Nurse, Hang on Slepy Hang On and Khaira.

 For. Basically. Nothing.

 Now a couple of the kids won't cut the mustard longterm and that Lucic contract is just waiting for the next lockout to get cut loose but even disregarding falling into McDavid I count eight actual NHL players there, not counting the kids who have come up through the system.

 Talbot has been great this year, Sekera is the best defenceman on the team, Letestu and Kassian and a rotating cast of kids and Matt Hendricks have given the team a quality fourth line for the first time since Glencross, Brodziak and Stortini. Benning is beautiful and Russell, well I have no complaints about Russell as what he presently is, a stopgap 4/5 guy on a one year deal.

 Remember when the Oilers' D was basically Jeff Petry and a bunch of third pairing or minor league guys (and before that Tom Gilbert and a bunch of third pairing or minor league guys) and how some wondered why the Oilers were so terrible? Well now they have a real NHL D and Kris Russell is an actual real NHL Dman and he is part of that.

 If they lose Davidson in the expansion draft then they can bring him back for another year but otherwise they are set on the blue for a while. They are young and mobile, the prototypical modern blue, and they are going to get better.

 But the most important guy Chiarelli has added for nothing, another one of these small deals, was Pat Maroon.

(He seems to have a handle on the little deals and midrange UFA stuff doesn't he? And I can forgive him Lucic, sort of. We all knew it was an overpay at the time but Lucic has been a 1LW for a long time.

 Reinhart was a fiasco and while I like Larsson quite a bit ... on no planet was he worth Taylor Hall. Chia panicked there, dealing from a position of weakness, and he blew it. Luckily for us I don't see a need for another big deal, he seems to have a tendency to lose those. And for the first time in a decade the Oilers are dealing from strength. It may be a matter of tweaking now, holy hell I hope so.)

 Anyhow back to Maroon. Everyone loved the deal right away or at least as far as I remember it. Cost nothing, they bought low on a guy who was at worst a proven top nine guy. Now, Anaheim didn't know they were giving up PAT MAROON and Chiarelli didn't know he was acquiring PAT MAROON and still didn't know this after the big guy has some success with the Oilers last spring. If he had known then likely Lucic is not an Oiler and Hall is and they would have brought in Demers or another Dman for cash to shore up that blueline.

 Because Maroon is what they were hoping for when they signed Lucic. Big, rough and tumble (ooh baby rough and tumble, rawrrrrr) and he can keep up with McDavid (as well as anyone can, nobody really can but he's not two zones back like Milan) and he can produce - I mean he won't keep this rate up but he's already almost at 20 goals. He has been fantastic and because he has been so great he has had a ripple effect down the lineup and through the organization.

 Maroon's success has allowed the Oilers to move Lucic down the lineup. He has outplayed Milan and the latter has struggled but having him on the third line means a legitmate third line for starters. They need a real centre for that line and my guess is that will be the target at the deadline and for the offseason, I like Caggiula but he's not the answer, certainly not right now. In any case Maroon sliding up the lineup means the possibility of a real top nine, not just a top six and hang on.

 More importantly long term Maroon has forced the Oilers' hand. A lot of the verbal last summer regarding the expansion draft pointed to the Oilers going four and four in the expansion draft. So:

Lucic, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle

Sekera, Larsson, Klefbom, Davidson or Reinhart (I kid you not, he was in the mix here) or Russell (once the season started and talk of an extension began to be talked about)

Now I like Davidson a lot but to me exposing a top 6 LW in Pouliot didn't make a lot of sense in the above scenario, regardless of who the fourth defenceman was.

 And now Maroon has essentially forced the Oilers' hand to go with seven and three:

Lucic, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Maroon, player X, player Y

Sekera, Larsson Klefbom

Now there are a few ways the Oilers could go here. For starters they could run with Pouliot and Letestu as their sixth and seventh guys. We know that won't happen, Pouliot doesn't look like he has a future with the team although to me, well I have always said 'Get good players, keep good players' and despite Benoit's stumble out of the gate this season he has had two good years with the Oilers and is a legitimate top six guy. Keep him and you have a pretty nice LW depth chart. As for Letestu, well he has proven his value this year, he is a really versatile player and right now their third best centre. Lose either guy and you have to replace them. Protect them and you have to replace a fourth line winger. The Oilers would basically hit the summer with this year's roster minus maybe Davidson and Kassian. Pretty damn good spot to be in (and while we assume Davidson would be picked he has struggled to get back up to speed since returning from injury.).

 And then there is another option and here is where things get really good. With Leon on the wing and young Puljujarvi coming and Benning's emergence there is one obvious gaping whole in this lineup. Sure another top four RH D would be great to give Benning some cushion but right now that hole is at 3C. The Oilers need one. A quality centre who can score fifteen goals and check would make what looks like a pretty good team that much better. Plus give Lucic someone other than a rook at C and I think we see more offence there as well.

 Now if I am Chiarelli and Pouliot isn't in my plans or I am thinking of exposing Letestu I am doing one of two things. I'm looking for someone at the deadline who still has term to fill that 3C role. Or when the season is over I am looking at teams who have expansion draft problems and who are looking to get anything for guys that they are going to lose for nothing.

 If you want to replace Pouliot and you want to add that 3C then make your moves then and those are your sixth and seventh forwards you protect.

 Just make sure to thank Pat Maroon for forcing their hand on this. ;)

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Oilers Have Risen and So Have I (not a boner reference)

Oh hello. I know, it's been a long time since we rock and rolled here, not a reference to my own rocking and rolling, not dead yet thank Christ.

It is slightly ironic, not in the Alanis Morrisette sense of purchasing 10000 spoons, that's mental illness, not irony, that other than the opening salvos of this blog, back in the spring of ought six, nearly it's entirety, all of those posts, over a thousand of them, were written when the Oilers were garbage, one of the worst stretches in NHL history and now, when they are actually good, I have written not a one.

 Well I am here to change that, let me tell you.

 Above is a picture of the boy the last time the Oilers made the playoffs. Below that is a picture of him now. He is 11 and finishing grade 6. He plays hockey and soccer, is a hell of a student, a hilarious dude who has been to France and will be going to Italy in April and yeah ... he has had a damn good run so far.

 When Pronger and Smytty and Horc and Ales Hemsky and Gator and Roli and the rest of that beautiful team were just falling short to that bullshit Carolina team (thanks Craig Simpson for that fucking power play that cost us the Stanley Cup) my son could not walk or talk and was still shitting his pants two or three times a day.

 It's been too long.

 This morning we wake up to the Oilers a hair out of first in their division, fourth in the conference and two points out of being alone in second, and twelve points up on the ninth place team.

 Their goal differential is second best in the conference and seventh best in the league.


 I am without speech.

 Miles still to go before we sleep and injuries could derail everything but this just in (to steal a phrase from Jeff Veillette), the Oilers are 'actually good'. This isn't a team riding ridiculous luck or hanging on to a playoff spot for dear life after a charge through October and November. The one place they have been lucky is in the injury department. Dwayne Roloson going down in G1 of the Final in 2006 was a harbinger of what was to come as increasingly talent thin teams invariably lost what little talent they had to injuries, many of the freakish variety. While this year had been very gratifying the fact is that last year's team, healthy, would have likely finished around 20th or 21st in the standings. The leap this season has been a big one but not as huge as we think.

 The injury bug has hit this club too but it has been third pairing D and fourth line wingers who have taken a beating. While poor Pitlick might disagree, guys like him and Khaira and Hendricks, Davidson and Fayne, Gryba and even Nurse, can be replaced pretty easily. Draisatl or Sekera or Talbot, not so much.

 So fingers crossed there.

 Playoffs? PLAYOFFS!?!?!??!

 Looks like.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Once We Had Hope, Now We Have ... E?

 Remember when the first cluster was beginning to crash and burn - Schremp, Pouliot, Peckham, DesLauriers, Plante, O'Marra all unable to make the grade, Lupul, Glencross, Brodziak, Stoll, Nash, Torres and Pitkanen found wanting and shipped out of town, Nilsson a bust, Gagner, Cogliano, Smid and Gilbert all we could hold onto? Lowe and his media toadies wouldn't call it a rebuild but when you ship your two best players out of town for nothing but futures and let Spacek and Peca and Samsonov walk for nothing, well you need to call a spade a spade, right? Of course Lowe tried to have his cake and eat it too so while all of the signs pointed to rebuild he and his successor splashed big money at free agents like Souray and Khabibulin, blew a wad of picks to sign Dustin Penner and sent two young forwards to LA for Lubo Visnovsky. Lowe spent to the cap bless his heart and finished dead last. But remember he was a GM and you are not so you could do no better even though there is literally nothing worse than that accomplishment.

 Then the rebuild began in earnest and while we had been four years in the wilderness our hearts were cheered, somewhat, as the team admitted what we fans had known for years. They weren't going anywhere. And so they tanked. And tank battling was something that the Oilers showed that they were quite good at, actually peerless at. Kursk good. Tambo was Heinz Guderian. As a matter of fact they were too good at it as they shipped nearly every veteran with a pulse out the door in pursuit of those high picks. It was the Chicago model (people forgot Chicago went over 15 years with garbage teams before it paid off), the Pittsburgh model (over a decade) but it also forgot small details like drafting quality after the first round, developing your youth properly, quality pro scouting and so on.

 The plan was draft high picks and BAM Stanley Cup!

 But despite the failure of the first cluster we had HOPE - Hall, Omark, Paajarvi, Eberle. And then we had the Nuge and then we had Yak. And then we signed JUSTIN SCHULTZ, future Norris winner! And we had some kids coming up - Lander, Pitlick, Hamilton - all were solid consensus picks - and there was Dubnyk and there was Petry and Ryan Whitney and how about those sleepers Tobias Rieder, Marty Marincin and Teemu Hartikainen and then the pick of Oscar Klefbom? Sure the Oilers blew a pick on Mitch Moroz and was it true what they said about the footspeed of David Musil and Colton Teubert?

 No mind, we had hope!

 No longer though. Omark was the first to go and then Magnus, after a nice rookie season in which he scored 15 goals and showed he could find his own end of the rink without a map, was discovered to have sideburns that were much too long.

 And we will just try and forget the rest, shall we ...

 The season starts today and the last four or five days have been extremely disappointing. Late last week the Oilers' depth at C and RW was as follows:

C - McDavid, Ted, Draisaitl, Letestu, Lander

RW - Eberle, Versteeg (PTO), Yakupov, Kassian, Caligula (rookie), Pujujarvi (rookie)

Notice how I have the two rookies who are rookies at the bottom of the depth chart. You could make a case that Caligula earned a job. You could not make the same case for the young Finn. And they are rookies.

Then Chia traded Yak for nothing. Fair enough, that was his value. And the good news is that they had Versteeg ready to sign and then the waiver wire spit up not one but two possible solutions, one was a young Finn who the fancy stats love, Teemu Pulkkinen, the other was a veteran, P.A. Parenteau.

 Now here is the thing with the NHL. It's a tough league. You cannot have enough depth. Guys get hurt all the time. So even if you believe in your heart of hearts that the guys that you have on your roster are better than the guys out there, it behooves you to add talent when you can because sure as shit you are going to need bodies to survive the grind.

 Peter Chiarelli hasn't covered himself in glory these past two years. From the Reinhart deal (both guys picked by the Isles with that return are starting with the big club while Reinhart is back in the AHL) to the Korpikoski move (at least he nutted up and bought him out) to the Hall capitulation (the Oilers could have had a better Dman for less return by the way) to this latest mess, well Chia may have won a Cup but either Bob Nicholson has too big a voice in the room or Chia was lucky in Boston or maybe he just doesn't have what it takes to handle the pressure of a Canadian market. My guess is it's a little of everything sprinkled with some 'Conor McDavid is going to drag us to the Promised Land'.

 Because this could have been the depth chart:

C - McDavid, Ted, Draisaitl, Letestu, Lander

RW - Eberle, Versteeg, Parenteau, Kassian, Caligula (rookie), Pujujarvi (rookie)

What made me laugh yesterday is the folks who sneered about Versteeg and Parenteau. Who cares they said? It's Kris Versteeg they said. Well Versteeg was 15-23-38 last year and Parenteau was 20-21-41.

 That's second line production and in Parenteau's case that is first line goal production.

 On last year's club P.A. would have been third in goals (although of course McDavid was hurt) and now Taylor Hall is gone. On last year's club Kris Versteeg would have been 5th in goals scored.

 And now Taylor Hall is gone.

 Now they have added Milan Lucic who popped 20 and Benoit Pouliot will score 20 if he is healthy and Maroon scored at a terrific pace when he came in from California.

 But with the Oilers it is always half measures. You could add 35 goals for nothing. Literally. Send the young Finn down for seasoning and bring him up when he is ready. Let Caligula cut his teeth on the fourth line and move him up when the inevitable injuries come.

 But no ... half measures and a RW and C depth chart which is now a mess and includes two rookies in the top 9.

 So for Chia to say with a straight face that what he has is better than anything out there, well if he believes that then ... I don't even know what to say. But then again he threw out some random data about Kris Russell that is contradicted by every piece of data out there so ... either he is really dishonest or he has been taken to the cleaners by someone who sold him a monorail.

 The Oilers are going to need McDavid to go supernova (possible), perfect health (improbable) and a whole lot of luck to get anywhere near the playoffs this year.

 I'm not getting any younger goddamnit.

 Where we once had HOPE all we have now is hope and I can understand why Oiler fans refuse to believe that Chiarelli is a dud just as we refused to believe that Lowe and Tambo and MacT were duds. Because if he is then it means more wandering the wilderness and Nuge and Pouliot gone next and all of a sudden it isn't the Chicago model but rather the Islanders or Columbus model and then some day Conor McDavid will take his talents elsewhere as well because let's be honest who wants to spend their career playing for the worst franchise in sports? (Taylor Hall wanted to but he was a 'problem' - see how that PR spin works?)

 Anyways HOPE is gone but hope springs eternal and here we go, another season coming. Let's hope that Kris Russell is all that and more because Mark Fayne is next out the door and for all his struggles he is an actual RD and he is a better player than Mr Shotblocker.


 A few other random predictions, I usually try to do a preview of the season and will attempt to do this in the next few days.

 The East has finally caught the West and imo the Cup champion will be Tampa. I think they will win a couple in the next five years unless they have an awful run of luck. Other true Cup contenders, I always try and separate the league as such - the Pens, the Caps, the Blues, the Sharks.

 The Kings may move into that group but man they have lost so much talent over the years. And I like Dallas except for that blueline and that goaltending. Lol. Other than that they look great!

 And what about Chicago? Well I won't go so far as to say no playoffs but that lineup is thin. The bottom six is worse than Edmonton (!!!!!!!) and the D runs four deep which is one deeper than last year but all of those years of slashing for the cap and trading kids and picks for reinforcements - well it's coming home to roost. It was worth it of course for the Chicagos but now they pay the piper.

 I expect Anaheim to step into the elevator shaft as well. Let's just call it the Carlyle Effect.

Out east you have that top tier and then a whole lot of mediocrity although I expect Florida will separate themselves from the pack. But the Isles are going to take a step back, jeez they lost some quality, and the Rangers are withering and Boston, Detroit, Ottawa oh man.

 It's awful and I expect Tampa will run away with the division if they are healthy and ride an easy first two rounds to a win in the conference final and then a Cup win.

 More to come.