Monday, February 09, 2015
I wonder what happened one day. Did an eight year old boy tell his parents that he was going to head over to his buddy's a couple of streets over and they said no and then that buddy's parents caught wind of this idea and thought that is a good idea and next thing you know the entire neighbourhood went silent and every kid under twelve was being ferried from playdate to activity to school by his parents.
When I was a kid if I walked out of my driveway and turned left I would walk a couple of short blocks and get to school. I walked by myself right from Grade One. Along the way I could turn left and one of my buddies lived a short jog that way. If I went a bit further and crossed a fairly busy street I would be in a wooded rocky area that abutted the community college. We would go there quite often, in the summer and spring and fall we would explore and play games and hide our porn, in the winter we would go sliding.
If I turned right from my folks' place and went to the end of our street and crossed the street there and cut through a yard I would be in the bush, plain and simple. It was mostly scrub, not as wooded as the other area but it went for miles and miles, forever really, you could walk north until forever and here on the edge of town it was scrub brush and marsh and a few small ponds and rugged rocks. We would roam the hills for hours and the blueberry picking was pretty damn good.
Or I would turn left before I hit the edge of town, which was just a dozen houses north of my parents' house and if I did this in winter I could see the lights of the outdoor rink a couple of streets away and hear the thud of pucks against the boards. I had a few pals who lived this way and sometimes we met at the rink and sometimes we met at their place to play road hockey or hang out in their basements, one of the guys had an older brother, he smelled of cigarettes and had a muscle car he bought with money he made bagging groceries at the A&P and sometimes he would let us hang out downstairs listening to the latest album he had, he was into Kiss and Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and all that good stuff.
My parents were (and are) lovely people, caring and concerned and strict when it came to rules and curfews and yet once homework was done I was out the door and expected to make my own fun and take care of myself. When I was 6 or 7 years old!
Our oldest turned eleven in the fall and we have been loosening the reins, so to speak. We'll leave her home alone for an hour at a time, she walks to and from school with a friend and has been allowed to go for lunch with her pals as well. And suddenly this past couple of weeks we have gone full Hemingway (Hemingway and his first wife would leave their baby alone in their apartment while they went out in the evenings and got sauced. Well okay, not full Hemingway.).
It has been snowing here for a couple of weeks. Not like they have gotten out east where they have four feet on the roofs in PEI but just steady daily flurries. The park one street over has a couple feet of snow and the hill there (the park has a lip on it, the edge of an ancient river valley apparently, the water has gone underground now though when it rains heavily the area turns into a swampy morass) has been perfect for sledding, considering that two winters ago the kids got out once (!) it has been pretty great for them.
Our oldest goes over with her friends daily, much to the boy and our youngest's chagrin. And then last week one of the neighbour kids, he's twelve, came knocking to see if the kids wanted to have a snowball fight. I gave it some thought, I can't believe that I even had to do this, and gave it the ok and the kids whooped and piled out the door to make snow forts and play with other kids, not an adult to be found. The next night he came back and asked if they wanted to go sledding. We said no to our youngest (she was pissed) and yes to the boy who gave an actual fist pump and stormed out the door with his sister and their friend. He got to the hill to find it swarming with other kids he knew, when he came back, grinning like a madman, I asked him if he enjoyed traveling back to 1979.
I have no idea what to say. We walk or drive our youngest two kids to school and the schoolyard is flooded with parents. When I was a kid parents were nowhere to be seen.
I know it's crazy. I do. Seriously. And Jenn does too, though she is loathe to admit it. And we are probably more permissive with this stuff than a lot of people we know (though there are others who are more old school for sure).
Why are we like this? What happened? Of course it's media and the internet and all of that, a child disappears in Montreal and everybody with a phone is aware of it immediately and the coverage is overwhelming, back in the day we had a local paper and two TV stations that ran news at dinner and then again at 10pm or so. We are inundated with 'news' now and while it is irrational we have become frightened, just as now any snowstorm is a major disaster that will wipe us off of the face of the planet and jihadists lurk in every dingy suburban apartment.
We're irrational. We know that we are more likely to meet our end at the hands of, well anything, than a terrorist bomb, but we let governments suction up our rights left right and centre because we are afraid. (How many people were killed by guns in the US last year? And I don't mean this as a political statement. Hundreds? Thousands? How many by terrorist bombs? It's mental.)
Sorry, I rarely delve into politics here, if ever, but it's crazy right? As the boy says sometimes to my wife and his sisters, we're just animals that can talk. Ever try and reason with a Boston Terrier? I have this week and it's going nowhere. Right now he is burrowed under the blankets on our bed, same as every night.
He's a smart one. The boy, not the dog. We're crazy, even the most rational of us has a tinge of madness to us. How else would you explain us locking our kids away?
And how else would you explain MacTavish's latest 'plan'? Petry is a goner, the best defenceman the Oilers have and like Perron right in his prime. Apparently the Oilers offered him multiple years last year but how long and at how much we don't now though based on how they have always undervalued him I would bet LOWBALL would be accurate and even if not who would blame Petry deciding to see how the grass is on the other side because in this case it's definitely greener.
Christ even in the franchise bumfight I watched Saturday night the Leafs have been head and shoulders above the Oilers for the last decade and believe me living in Toronto I can tell you there is no bigger bunch of sad sack losers than the Leafs. Except for Edmonton.
So of course Perron and Petry want out and Ales Hemsky finally said enough is enough. The Oilers are LOSERS, just look at the last decade. Why would you play there if you didn't have to?
And so what is MacT's plan for next year, nine years out and counting. Petry will be gone. Klefbom, who looks like a beauty but has only a handful of games under his belt (ask Marincin how quickly things can go off the rails) will apparently play with Norris who is definitely maybe going to have a career as a soft minutes third pair guy. Mark Fayne will get to drag Nikita Nikita around with him and will probably cry himself to sleep every night wondering where he went wrong (hint - you signed in Edmonton buddy). And Andrew Ference will get to break in a rookie.
So take this year's D, an absolute gong show, remove the best man on the unit and replace him with a rookie.
Now one has to think MacT is just taking the piss here. We know that Seabrook and Oduya will be available, the former as a salary dump (bye Marincin) and that's just for starters, with the cap barely going anywhere and team after team strapped there are going to be quality Dmen available.
He knows that right?
Posted by Black Dog at 5:05 PM
Sunday, February 08, 2015
I have a friend who I have known since I was five years old, my oldest and closest friend. We see each other maybe twice a year now, we have seven kids between us and all of the chaos that this entails. Once a year we go to a hockey game here in Toronto. He drives in from the Shwa, we hop on the subway and usually have enough time to grab a dinner and a couple of pints at The Irish Embassy. Then we head down to the ACC.
I went to the old Gardens a number of times, back when the most expensive seats were fifty bucks. This means that I am old, obviously, and also that over the years Leaf ownership has discovered that the fans' wallets are a well that can never be gone to too often, because let's face it, I'm not that old and the tickets we had last night, first row, ran 505.00 each, as if the Leafs were a South American banana republic faced with hyper inflation.
They're corporate seats of course, which is a big part of the answer to the question. Believe me, I would not pay 500.00 to see an NHL hockey game.
Over the years we've seen some quality clubs. We saw Chicago the year they won their first Cup. They had flown in late the night before after waxing someone and the Leafs took advantage and jumped out to a three or four goal lead. About halfway through the game it was as if some vengeful god had picked up the rink and tilted it, the remainder of the game was played in Toronto's end. Only amazing goaltending got it to overtime and the Hawks ended it seconds in. Best team we have seen in all of the years we have been going.
We've seen the Pens a couple of times although both times Crosby was hurt. We saw Dan Cleary break his face, Mats Sundin get honored, some anniversary that brought the 1967 team out, maybe a couple of those. We've seen the Habs and the Wings a couple of times and we saw Ryan Smyth in the Marc Pouliot penalty shot game, a game where Pouliot looked like a bona fide top six NHLer, although the Oilers lost and Smyth was shipped away just a few days later.
A few years after that we discussed which game to go to and I pushed the Oilers hard. My buddy agreed and we went to a dog of a game, this was before Hall so maybe 2008 or 2009 I guess? It was an awful affair, the Oilers were garbage, same as they've been forever now. Literally nothing sticks with me about that game other than afterwards my pal was peeved and I agreed that never again would I foist the Oil on him, ruining our traditional evening out.
And then this fall he emailed me and said alright - February 7th. Oilers. I replied that I didn't think this was necessary or a good idea but as it turns out the alternates before us were generally bad faceless teams themselves, the likes of Arizona and Miami and Carolina, so Oilers it was.
We went downtown earlier than usual and met his father and youngest brother who had driven down from up north to see the game. His brother is an Oilers' fan as well and was proudly sporting his jersey. It was good to see his Dad, who I haven't seen in a while. They lost their Mom just over a year ago so I am sure it has been a difficult time for him but he was cheerful and joking with us, talking about taking another brother's youngest to hockey, tying his skates and getting him out on the ice, same as he did over forty years ago with my buddy and then afterwards with his brothers. We were early enough to eat at a leisurely pace and had enough time for me to fire back three pints of Guinness so I was pretty pleased.
We got down to the ACC and well the game lived down to the billing. In one corner a team that had lost a franchise record number of games in a row, a franchise that hadn't won the Cup, never mind that they haven't even made the Finals, in nearly fifty years despite having an endless supply of cash. The flagship franchise of the NHL an owner famously said, true that if the NHL was the Cunard Line. I could make a million jokes about the Leafs but the franchise, truth be told, is a punchline although the joke is on their long suffering fans. There are empty seats in Edmonton these days as fans vote with their feet but last night the place was jammed to the rafters and the cash registers were singing and this was with the Oilers in town.
And so in the other corner were those Oilers, a team with a rich history themselves, first as a dynasty and then as a little team that could. Now they are nine years out of the playoffs, a joke run by a group of old boys who are putting in the grave the old lie that playing the game has any correlation with being a smart hockey man. In a few weeks they will trade their best defenceman, he will follow another top player in his prime who was moved out a few weeks ago and so the wheels will keep on turning. Fans say 'well Perron and Petry don't want to be here' and strangely enough few are asking if the problem might be not the players but maybe finding out why they have no desire to stay here. The answer of course is a simple one. Edmonton has become a place where careers go to die. Highly touted draft picks are jerked around and their development ruined. The golden boys have no accountability. The owner is a louse and his mouthpiece opines that there are empty seats at Rexall because it is winter. They are a sad disgrace run by unlikeable know it alls and the news that Kevin Lowe may be given a bigger role at Hockey Canada makes me wonder what the hell is wrong with Hockey Canada and also when will we play Israel in the C pool, because it's coming people.
The game was, well it was terrible, the Leafs on a double digit losing streak, having played last night, a broken group, their poor coach looking like he was on the verge of a stroke the entire game, his dream of being an NHL head coach in tatters. They should have been easy pickings but the Oilers, lacking Hall and Pouliot, basically mailed it in with few exceptions. Nugent Hopkins was a fierce puckhound and Petry was emotional and engaged physically and mentally (though he didn't play great) and the Old Contemptibles, Gordon and Hendricks and Klinkhammer, came to work as they always do. But Fasth was a disaster and Reimer was on the way to his easiest shutout ever, catching fifty foot lob after fifty foot lob while the Leafs raced behind the Oil 'defence' time and time again. The highlight of the game was Morgan Reilly undressing Ference and putting it topshelf, not so much the goal itself which was a beauty but for the reaction of his teammates, a bunch of 'holy shit did you see that grins' which made us laugh.
The one bright spot was Reimer, a young man who seems like a very good person, getting the shutout but even that was ruined as one of the last of the goons in the league, probably one of the least likely players to score, broke it with two seconds left. It was an ending that was oh so very Leafs.
As tank battles go it was the tankiest but the Leafs have nothing on the Oilers who have mastered this. Wait until Petry and others get moved out. They're just getting started.
I see the Sabres finishing last overall and then in the Leafiest, Oiliest lottery ever, some darkhorse winning the lottery, so let's say the Kings or Dallas or Ottawa and thus neither of these sad sacks getting McDavid or Eichel. It would be what is right and just, no doubt about it.
All that said it was a great night, friendship and family and laughter running through it. And aside from that the highlight (other than the very seventies Boogie Nights vibe couple that were sitting a few rows up from us, he with leathery face and feathered dyed blonde hair, her absolutely spilling out of an outfit that looked like something you would see at the Dong and Balls or whatever the porn awards are called) was meeting Scott Oake. We were lounging in the lounge and there he was, just steps away, holding court. Having had a few I excused myself and shook his hand (he has a firm excellent handshake and is a very handsome man) and told him truthfully that I missed After Hours and it was the best part of the old Hockey Night in Canada (truth be told other than the production values the only good part) and he thanked me, said he didn't know why they cut it and encouraged me to write my MP and to ask my friends to do the same.
And so as is only right when talking about Scott Oake, I had an awkward conversation with him.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:00 PM
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Tomorrow morning the kids will be up early but they aren't allowed downstairs until 8am. We like to build the suspense. :) Plus Jenn is working today so a couple of extra hours sleep will be welcome. We will go downstairs and open our stockings and then Jenn will put the turkey in and we will have breakfast. My oldest has a homemade cocoa recipe so we will have that, probably with a bit of Carolans in it, and then once we have eaten we will open the presents. This is a tradition from Jenn's house and it's a great one, the kids go a bit mental waiting but it also draws out the morning and makes it last.
We visited my folks last weekend and we saw friends in Sudbury as well and we had company Monday night and are having people over next week and we will see a lot of friends over the holidays. It's my favourite part of Christmas other than Christmas morning itself.
With three kids in the house Christmas is a big deal, of course, a really big deal. Our oldest is now eleven and her enthusiasm has not waned one bit. She loves receiving gifts but she has also become immersed in the idea of the whole holiday, not the baby Jesus part, we are not church goers, but in the joy and the excitement and the pleasure that it can bring, the giving of gifts, the feasting, the parties with family and friends. She has spent weeks making gifts, homemade treats and hot chocolates and handmade soaps and scrubs. Seriously. She has become ... challenging over the last few months, asserting herself and pushing Jenn's buttons and after being told this she retorted that Jenn pushes her buttons so yeah there you go, it's going to be a fun ride. She's a wonderful kid, smart and funny and generous and she is growing up and it's breaking our hearts.
The boy is facing some adversity in between the pipes. His last game his team, previously undefeated, was shelled 9-2. He didn't get an ounce of help and afterwards he was choking back some tears. I hate being the father of a goalie but he enjoys it and now he has to work hard and try and bounce back. I'm going to be taking a lot of shots on him over the next few days I think. He's the rock of the family though, a golden boy. He works hard and never complains and he is a brilliant boy and curious about the world around him. He is all me, Jenn says, but the truth is he is all of the best of me, with none of the bullshit and we could not have a better son.
Our youngest is a bright shining star. When she laughs it is a roaring rolling series of giggles and chortles and howls and it makes everyone around her smile. She is in grade one now and still at the stage where she makes great leaps in the space of weeks, at one point in September she learned how to read, swim and tie her shoes in a matter of weeks. Unreal. She has always been a bit wild, certainly less serious than her siblings, and so we were surprised, happily, when we found out that she is killing it in school. She is the heart and soul of the family.
Jenn turned forty this year and celebrated by going to Vegas where she ran her first and only full marathon. She remains the love of my life, brilliant and hilarious and beautiful, and we make a damn good team. I'm a lucky man.
As for me things are great, mostly because of what I have just told you. We have been very fortunate this year after the great sorrow from last year. Mom and Dad keep on trucking, at 82 and 81, and I am fully aware that some day this will no longer be the case. They are active and they are enjoying themselves and they are teaching us how it's done. I have my health too, just turned 47, can you believe it? And I have a good job that I enjoy and we were lucky enough to travel this year, New York with Jenn and Germany with a dear old friend. We are very very fortunate. Some of that good fortune we have earned. Most of it is the luck of the draw. Jenn works Christmas Eve day and Boxing Day this year and she is caring for children who have not been so lucky and I could not imagine what it would be like to be the father of one of those kids.
I've been writing here for nearly nine years now. Isn't that mental? I don't write so much anymore, it's hard to say the Oilers suck in a different manner. The team is a disgrace but through this blog I have met so many good people and have been part of a fun community for nearly a decade. I have a rich and wonderful life and this has been a good part of it and I am lucky beyond measure.
Best wishes for a Merry Christmas to you and yours and a safe and healthy and happy 2015.
Posted by Black Dog at 11:41 AM
Tuesday, December 02, 2014
Part of this is I'm a bit of a savant when it comes to remembering numbers and events but mostly it's because I'm a beer league geek, if there's such a thing.
I love it.
I'll be 47 in a few weeks and I hope, well I hope like one of my uncles I play into my seventies. I've slowed down slightly but I'm skating a few times a week on my own this winter, partially to stay (get back into) shape and partially to try and improve myself as a skater.
As for Capsule, well we are on the run of our lives right now. Eleven wins and two ties in thirteen games so far. Unreal. We're enjoying it but there is some trepidation, last year we had a terrific start, hit the skids at Christmas, roared back by sweeping all of our main rivals aside and then fell apart down the stretch, finishing our year by losing six straight games, bombing out of the playoffs.
So we'll see. It has been fun though.
I finished last season on the bench, watching as we went down with a whimper, my MCL strained earlier in the game in a weird nothing moment. Missed summer hockey. Skated well right off the hop this season with nothing to show for it and then in the last five games I have found my stride, four goals and four assists. I don't score a lot of goals so it has been nice.
Last week we had a rotten game and so were tied at ones with a couple of minutes left. We hit the ice for a draw in their end, our centre won it back to the point. A nice low hard shot, the goalie went down, screened by my linemates, puck popped right to me, open net. Winner. That was exciting.
This weekend we faced our nemesis, they've knocked us out the last two years. They are a solid club, play hard, good goaltender and they have a big centreman who is probably the best player in the league, just a monster of a guy who can skate, shoot and pass the puck. We were doing a good job of checking him but with him the problem is you have to play a perfect game and it's beer league so there's no such thing. Sure enough he pounced on two turnovers, blew everyone away and scored twice. Game was winding down and they had a 3 to 1 lead.
Then with six minutes left we got one and our line went over the boards and we had them hemmed in and our leading scorer (leading scorer in the league actually, he's a hell of a player and maybe he is the best player in the league, think Hossa for a player type) picked up a rebound on a wide point shot and flipped it in. Tie game.
And with less than a minute left we hopped over the boards again for a draw in our own end. We won it and a D to D pass and then our Dman put it on the tape of our aforementioned main man just inside our blue line.
Little things eh? If our D rings it then Ben has to pick it up and their D man probably pinches. Instead he gets it on his tape and their D fall back right away because they have to, he'll kill them, he steps over our blue and hits me going full bore up the opposite side. Their D are flat footed, I'm by them, all alone, full flight, go backhand. Their goalie, who has killed us for years and who has had my number in particular, goes with me but the puck is behind him and I'm whooping and hollering.
Winner. 34 seconds left.
I always joke with the boys that one day I'm going to skate right off the ice after scoring, right to the room, hang them up right then and there and this would have been the time to do it. Of course I'm lying. They'll have to drag me away.
What is there to say about the Oilers? Anything? Anything positive? Anything constructive?
We can talk about grand gestures and master plans and the process outweighing the results right now but what it comes down to is that while this is the strongest Oilers' team on paper in years on the ice it is hot garbage.
They could fire the coach but Scott Bowman couldn't get an ounce more out of these mopes I suspect, although Norris would be sitting in the pressbox so that might be a start right there.
The majority of players either have no value or are going to bring back less in a trade than is reasonable. There is certainly a market for Jordan Eberle, as an example, but MacTavish is going to be dealing from a position of weakness.
With first Perron and now Ference speaking up it's pretty clear that this is becoming a team divided. You can hack on Ference all you want for his play, though I think he's been better this year, but what he says is true.
Petry is a goner. Much like Ales Hemsky there is no way he is going to stay even if the Oilers want him to stay. This franchise is poison. And what that means is another player gone for nothing which means another spot to fill by trading someone else or by overpaying a UFA.
So what can be done? Everyone except Lowe has been fired. The entire roster has turned over. They've brought in veterans. The roster is unbalanced but ten losses in a row unbalanced? Two shorthanded goals at home in one pp against a bad team unbalanced?
The team is rotten to the core. Literally. The Rieder shorties were both hilarious and devastating because in that minute nine years of incompetence was summed up brilliantly. The prospect discarded for a never will be goon showing that management has no idea when it comes to player evaluation. The rookie fourth rounder playing on the PK and having more goals than Yakupov and one less than Eberle and RNH displaying that the Oilers cannot develop worth a damn, screwing up even the sure things. The terrible power play. The horrible giveaway by Hall showing that even basic mistakes keep happening again and again, partially due to the lack of accountability for the organization's chosen few. The defensive gong show on the second Rieder goal, with Nikitin the goat again, either too hurt to play effective defence or just not good enough (see management's inability to evaluate talent again).
What should happen in the short term? Honestly? Well first of all Katz and Lowe and MacTavish should get up in front of the press and explain themselves but that is unlikely to happen and so it is left to Eakins to take the brunt of it.
What do we want to happen? Lowe's head on a pike, if only to show that there is some sort of accountability. More than anyone he is the reason for the last nine years. Such a record of failure would have resulted in dismissal a long time ago. I don't think it will happen and other than the thrill it would give us I don;t think it would make a big difference really.
What would be the best thing for the franchise? Really? A full house cleaning. Or at the least something akin to what is happening in Toronto with Shanahan. And maybe that is what Nicholson is going to do. Certainly his remarks about scouting the other day sound ominous for that group. Maybe he is reviewing everyone and everything and come the spring Rexall will run red from the bloodletting. Maybe it will be a full purge and that purge will tear apart the roster itself.
Based on what we've seen this year would we blame Nicholson? The Oilers are the Islanders. A once proud franchise wandering the wilderness, only worse. A laughing stock. It's a horrible disgrace. It is ruining reputations and destroying careers. What a meat grinder. Unreal.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:47 PM
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Craig MacTavish is an articulate guy and, in my opinion, a pretty smart guy. The statement above may have been spin but it's a statement that is haunting him now and will haunt him until Justin Schultz figures out how to play NHL defence.
So it may haunt him forever.
Norris, as he is now called, has done something that very few Oiler players can do. He has united the fan base. Those who think that Tom Gilbert was marshmallow soft and those who think that Gilbert was a legitimate top pairing NHL defenceman. Those who loved Ryan Jones as a heart and soul guy and those who thought his act was all fly the zone and fake hustle. The fans who thought Ales Hemsky was a perimeter playing coward and those who remembered him playing six weeks with a broken foot in a faint hope playoff drive and the countless times he was mugged by Robyn Reghyr and kept coming back at him.
The fans who hate Petry and those who love him. The fans who think Eberle is Mr Clutch, on a par with Hall and Ted and those who think he's an overrated complimentary player who should have been traded a couple of years back at his peak value. Those who think Luke Gazdic is useful and those who think he is wasting a roster spot. The see em gooders and the fancy statters and everyone in between.
Everyone may love Raymond but like poor Chris, everyone hates Norris.
Well Justin Schultz personifies everything that is wrong with an Oilers' team that is hitting rock bottom, again. Then again the reality is the team has bottomed out so many times since they traded Ryan Smyth away that this particular stretch is probably only in the top ten of awful death marches. The coach awaiting execution, the players, blank faced and frustrated, the bad goaltending, the popgun offence, the massive defensive breakdowns, the angry fans, the silent owner and, as has been the case since the beginning of this historic awfulness, the one constant, Kevin Lowe in management. We've seen it so many times before. The only difference this time is that the team is so much better, on paper at least, than all of the earlier versions and the possession stats tell us that progress is being made, finally, but the results are not there and after all of these years everyone is sick of the losing. Hell, we were sick of it in 2009.
Back to Schultz. If you were to take everything that is wrong with the Edmonton Oilers, everything that has gone wrong over the last near decade (!!!!!!), and were to mold that clay into a player, that player would be young Norris himself.
Management is the reason why the Oilers are where they are. The entire roster has turned over. Eakins is the fifth coach to oversee this mess. The team has changed owners, general managers, assistant general managers, directors of scouting, scouts, assistant coaches, minor league coaches, even the training staff (remember that!). When you are awful for nine years you can say it's on the players or the coaching but management puts the team together. The fact that Craig MacTavish was willing to give Norris the contract that he did, the fact that they see him as part of the core, the fact that they even mention his name as a Norris winner. That speaks to a lack of judgement when it comes to talent. And the fact that Norris is playing more than any other defenceman, well I have no doubt that this is management's call too. And it's going to cost Dallas Eakins his job.
Losing Losers Who Lose
Losing losers who lose go through coaches every year or so and so soon the Oilers will be on their sixth head coach in seven years. I don't think Eakins gets canned until the end of this awful stretch in front of them although I am not as sure as I once was of this. I figured the Oilers would not want a new coach to come in and get his ass handed to him right away but the crowd is starting to look for blood.
And so there will be another coach and it will be Nelson or Messier I think. Dan Bylsma is out there but he will have his pick and if I were him I would be looking for a contender looking for a change after an early playoff exit - San Jose, Anaheim, Montreal - rather than a perennial doormat. No, it will be another rookie NHLer or a desperate retread and so another new system, another new voice for the players and have you ever noticed that good organizations don't swap out their coaches annually? As the old joke goes though Scotty Bowman and the ghost of Toe Blake wouldn't be able to make a winner out of this club.
Is Eakins a good NHL coach? I don't know. His record is shit as his detractors point out but the record of every Oilers' coach since 2006 has been awful and like every Oilers' coach since Chris Pronger hit the road he has been given an incomplete roster to work with. I do know that he is a smart hockey man and a good man and it's a shame that his first NHL job is going to end up like this. Results matter and they aren't there but I don't see a new man coming in and things being any different unless the new man is allowed to play Justin Schultz behind Mark Fayne and Jeff Petry. The fact that Norris, like last year, leads the D in TOI is absolutely unacceptable and I have no doubt at all that this is a directive from management. I am not a betting man, never have been. I would lay a lot of money that Schultz's icetime is a MacT mandate. The results have been as expected and so we will see a new coach.
Potential and Development
When Norris was snatched up by the Oilers we were excited and we had good reason to be. He was a prize UFA and he had the numbers to back him up. Since then we have seen no progression, no progression at all. Whereas Tom Gilbert and Jeff Petry and Martin Marincin stepped into the NHL and showed immediately that they got it, Schultz shows no idea at all that he can play defence in this league. He makes glaring errors time and time again, jumping into the play at the worst times, making ridiculous pinches (the one the other night was the absolute worst play I have seen by an Oiler defender ever) and letting opposing forwards get behind him constantly. Throw in his lollygagging and that he gets outmuscled constantly and you wonder how he is playing at all because based on his defensive play he is probably about ninth or tenth on the club's depth chart. Which leads us to accountability.
The Golden Boys
Eakins loves to talk accountability but when David Perron spoke up the other night (and now suddenly he is being shopped pretty actively - these guys are unreal) it was pretty clear that he was calling out the coach and some of his teammates and that Norris was one of those teammates. There are always different rules for the stars, that's the way it is, but the Oilers have taken it to a different level. Marincin gets sent down and then when he comes up he sits in the pressbox. Jeff Petry gets scratched. Nail Yakupov gets scratched and sees his icetime cut constantly. Magnus Paajarvi could never get his sideburns right either. Meanwhile Hall, Ted and Eberle skate whatever happens and you can add Norris to that group.
I remember that years ago there were rumours of a rift between the Oiler veterans and the kids. Back then the kids were Gagner and Nilsson and Cogliano and I surmised that guys like Moreau and Staios, who had busted their asses forever, were pissed that these kids came in, had a couple of good years (or in Nilsson's case a few good weeks) and then got paid more money than they ever saw. Back then Gagner was the golden boy. The result was a guy who last year, after seven years in the league, still was making the same mistakes he was as a rookie. Defence takes some smarts and a lot of effort. Gagner, a smart player, never figured it out and I would bet one of the main reasons is that he never got called on it.
What do you think Mark Fayne and Jeff Petry and Martin Marincin think when they see Schultz get beat time and time again and get sent over the boards regardless? What do you think Benoit Pouliot and Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks think? And Ryan Nugent Hopkins?
We know what David Perron thinks. And he's the guy getting traded apparently.
So thank you Justin Schultz. You demonstrate for us management's falings and the franchise's inability to develop young players and to hold them accountable. You, more than anyone, are going to be responsible for another coach coming into this mess and the reality is it is very likely that Jeff Petry, supplanted by you despite being a better defenceman than you will ever be, will also be gone by the spring.
Bravo Norris. Bravo.
Posted by Black Dog at 5:46 PM
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Thursday, November 06, 2014
Oh hi! How are you? It's been a while. Sorry about that.
I wrote my last post and thought 'here we go! Back on the horse! Going to be churning them out now'.
Life is busy.
My kids are growing up.
My youngest is in grade one and she is becoming a big kid, relatively speaking of course. I enjoy the kids getting older but the one thing that I miss about the younger years (I've touched on this before) are the accomplishments! In the space of days they suddenly can do something big! And so in September, in the space of a few weeks, our youngest learned how to read, how to swim and how to tie her shoes. Isn't that unreal? Just amazing. That disappears as they get older, the milestones I mean. They become fewer and far between and in a lot of cases just not as exciting, at least for us parents. We're not going to be celebrating their first drink or first sexual experience with as much enthusiasm.
The boy is trucking along. He has started his first season as a full time goaltender and he is on a quality club again. So far so good although I have to admit the drinking helps Jenn and I get through it, even if it means taking the subway home afterwards. He's a solid dude though, for sure. He is taking swimming as well. We require all of the kids to do so until a certain level and then they are allowed to do a second activity in its' place. The lessons are brutal, the coaches work them like dogs, when our oldest finished it she was all Andy Dufresne on us. So the boy started this fall and we figured he'd have two more sessions to finish up but we met with his coach yesterday for midterms and if he masters two techniques, easily within his reach, he'll be a graduate. His coach, a real hardass, was all cherry pies and unicorns talking about the boy. 'Hardest worker' and 'most focused' in the class, despite the fact that for the most part, he despises it, which the coach knows. Very proud of my son. Sometimes shit isn't fun. If you can put that aside and still grind it out, you've got some real character.
As to my oldest, well she is 11 now and how the hell did that happen? SERIOUSLY!!!
She went out for Halloween with her friends, that is, without her parents and siblings, for the first time. She was ten minutes late coming home but called to let us know which was great. She is growing up and it's wonderful and amazing and heartbreaking. She disappears into her room to listen to music and the other day she told Jenn 'YOU ARE RUINING MY LIFE' and according to my father in law if Jenn was any indication we only have about, six, no eight, no, wait ... eleven more years before she comes out of it.
And then he smirked while Jenn glared at him. I wasn't smiling though.
This is why I drink people!
As for your handsome hero and the prettiest girl in the room, well we're doing alright. Good health this year and it's been busy and fun and a good time had by all. These few weeks mark the big one for the year though, Jenn turned forty a few weeks back and next week she goes to Vegas with some pals to run her first ever marathon and then if she can walk she will be partying some.
Now I have to pull over to nap if I am driving over twenty miles so when it comes to runners my opinion is basically they are mentally deficient so I have no idea what she is thinking. (I keed I keed). Seriously though. Crazy shit. She has trained her ass off. She is as fit as she has ever been. The only worry is she has to finish it within a certain time. She could totally just do it but the time limit is a worry. I hope she does it. Oh man.
My own tastes are less about the running and more about the drinking and so last year Jenn, who has been traveling some for work and some not for work, said you should go on a trip and you don't have to say those words to me twice. After my family and friends and the basics - eating and drinking and the sex - I love nothing more than travel. The only caveats were I could not go to a few places that she wanted to experience with me - Italy, Spain, Prague, Helsinki (seriously!) - and I could not go by myself, this more out of concern that if I hurt myself there be someone there with me than any fear of me getting into, ahem, trouble.
I have a pal in Ireland and had never been to Galway and so that was a possibility but I have been three times to Ireland and we are now owned by a company based in Dublin so more trips there await me. And then in discussions with one of my oldest friends it turned out that his annual conference this year was going to be in Germany, Frankfurt to be precise.
The plans took twists and turns. First we figured on Budapest, then I was thinking the south of Germany, then it turned out the conference was going to be in Hamburg and so it became Hamburg and Berlin.
It was mental.
You haven't lived until you've done karaoke in a St. Pauli dive called Thai Oasis at 5 in the morning after fourteen hours of groses biers. And never mind Hamburg, which was a riot, I'd been told that Berlin was amazing and we were not disappointed. As my pal noted as we wandered through Kreuzberg 'it's like they took all of my favourite bars in the world and put them in one neighbourhood'.
It was grand. To travel and share that experience with an old friend, there are few things better. There are few things to recommend about getting older but the one is that as you get along in the journey your give a shit meter ends up in the garbage or at least mine has. I say and do what I want as long as I'm not hurting anyone. I still have a long way to go (knock on wood) but there is certainly no use in waiting around for tomorrow's glory to come. Drink it in. It's short.
As for the Oilers. Oh those Oilers.
The roster is the best it has been since 2006/2007. Veterans sprinkled throughout to augment the kids, this is what MacT has done. Fayne, Nikita Nikita, Purcell, Pouliot, Gordon, Hendricks, Ference, Perron.
That's a lot of quality.
And yet. And yet.
LT, the most positive guy out there, opined in his post today that the idea is still not about winning and it's hard to disagree. As he notes, if this team was serious about competing they wouldn't have left the gate with Arcobello and Draisatl as two of their top four centres.
Yet they did.
And so here we are. Staring down the barrel of nine years out of the playoffs.
But what I want to talk about is the coach and the number one defenceman.
I'm an Eakins guy. Have been since the beginning. Not a popular position today I know. Not popular at all.
Here's the thing. Eakins is a smart guy. Eakins is a thinker. He is a guy who asks questions. He is not an arrogant guy. These are things I know about Eakins from people who know Eakins.
That's what I know. Here's what I think.
I think that there are politics being played and that management has given Eakins some mandates that don't necessarily coincide with winning and that this is being played out first and foremost on the blueline.
A coach wants to win and a coach can look at the numbers past and present and watch tape from past and present and any coach, anybody really, can see that if you are doling out ice time to the Oilers' blueline that you would start with Petry, Fayne and Marincin, move on to Nikitin and Ference and then go from there.
And yet the number one defenceman on the Oilers in terms of icetime, same as last year, is one Justin Schultz. Last year he averaged the most icetime on the blueline, nearly two minutes over Petry in total, and over one minute over Ference (!) and Petry at even strength.
This year he is averaging over 22 minutes a game, over a minute more than Nikitin, over three minutes more a game than Petry, over five minutes a game more than Fayne. You know who else averaged more ice time than Petry and Fayne? Brad Hunt.
And this again carries over to even strength, though Petry is less than a minute less there.
Now you tell me this. You watch the games. Schultz not only plays a ton but he is getting a serious push in terms of where he starts. He is getting put into a position to succeed. And yet when he is on the ice the rink ends up getting tilted into Edmonton's end.
Because Justin Schultz is not a very good NHL defenceman.
Now here's the thing. Schultz had played a total of 134 games in the NHL up until now. So we are not talking about the finished product or at least probably not. He might be Andy Delmore, as many believe, but we don't know that yet. Defencemen can develop in many ways.
Your Bobby Orrs and Ray Bourques and Nick Lidstroms happen. Drew Doughty was a year and a half in the league and playing for Team Canada and playing well at the Vancouver Olympics.
Chris Pronger struggled famously his first few years in the league. Larry Robinson played for a year and a half in the minors, Duncan Keith played two. Zdeno Chara spent time in the minors too, though less than a season.
And on and on it goes.
Will Justin Schultz become a Norris trophy winner? Probably not. We don't know yet what he will be. The worrisome thing is that he doesn't look like Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marincin or Jeff Petry. He doesn't look like he gets it. Those guys had (and have) their ups and downs but they looked like they had an idea from the moment they stepped onto the ice in the NHL.
When Tom Gilbert came up for his first cup of coffee in the death march of the spring of 2007 before he got injured he looked like he belonged. Right away. The next fall he came into camp without a spot and he out played nearly everyone and stepped right into the top four. Right off the hop. He knew what he was doing right away. Bam!
Schultz, well he reminds me of Ladi Smid. Love Ladi Smid. Love him. And he became a decent NHL top four defenceman for about two years before he went off the rails. But it took forever for him to get there. And Schultz, well, he may be a guy who just needs seasoning to become a star. Or to become a reasonable top four guy. Or maybe he's Andy Delmore. We don't know yet.
And yet the coach plays him more than anyone else.
The coach wants to win. This isn't kids' sports. It's the pros. Dallas Eakins wants to win because that is the goal and the more he wins the better it is for him.
And yet he plays Schultz (and Brad Hunt) more than Petry and Fayne and Marincin and everyone else and Petry and Marincin sit in the press box for various reasons (not enough intensity seems to be the latest for the big Slovak) and by the way when is the last time anyone accused Justin Schultz of showing a modicum of intensity?
Don't get me wrong. I like Schultz. He has talent. I want him to do well because if he does well then it stands to reason that the Oilers will do well.
But he should be playing a lot on the power play and after that he should be playing third pairing minutes at ES, sheltered as best as they can, until he masters that. Play Fayne and Petry and Marincin and Nikitin and give the team a chance to win.
But that is not the plan. The Oilers' management are tying their fates to Justin Schultz, he is the hill that they are going to die on and Eakins is the guy that is going to be the first to pay the price.
I don't agree with everything Eakins has done. I don't know that he will be a good NHL coach. But management has tied his hands behind his back. Just as they did to Ralph Kreuger and Tom Renney and vem old Pat Quinn and ironically Craig MacTavish himself.
If you don't give your coach the tools to win. Or even worse you give him a decent roster and still instruct him to play guys a certain way, then your sending him to a knife fight with a spork. And that's a damn shame.
Dallas Eakins isn't blameless for the Oilers' woes but if he had the last say here I would bet a lot of money that playing Schultz more than anybody else is not his idea. And I don't bet. Ever.
Posted by Black Dog at 7:24 PM
Thursday, October 09, 2014
There were a dozen boys in our grade six class. Six of us got around all of the time and five of our little group were on all of the teams along with a couple of Italian kids, Dean Prelazzi and Felix Cerelli, and a kid from the nearby government housing projects who captained our city championship hockey team a couple of years later. It's funny when you look back and you realize what was going on. This guy never had gloves or a warm winter hat and came to school in the dead of winter in a leather jacket. No money, just a poor kid. He wasn't a great student but he was a terrific guy. I wrote about him years ago and Dennis King asked me if I knew what became of him and I don't know.
Anyhow it was this group and a handful of the strongest grade five athletes (one who would go on to a scholarship, fifteen years in the minors and Europe and one game in the NHL) who made up the core of the St. Andrew's Thunderbirds. Also rans in our sports of choice - hockey, soccer and ball, we tore through the city to become the unlikeliest of city champions in handball. We had some decent athletes but we were carried by the kid from the projects. He was a bit bigger than normal but the key was that he had a gun for an arm and big hands so he could palm the ball. He knocked at least one goalie out that I can remember and by the end of the tournament when he got the ball our opponents would hit the floor when he wound up. The rest of the team provided enough support and we got good goaltending and we won it all. I played quite a bit until the championship when we faced a big team from the other side of the city (many of them had moustaches coming on) and my size, lack of size that is, became a factor. So one of my buddies and I sat on the bench for most of the big game. He, a fellow shrimp, was pissed. I cheered on my pals. I was so happy to win.
Anyhow at this assembly buddy gives out the ribbons or certificate or whatever it was, there were no trophies, it wasn't like it is today that's for sure, maybe we each got a pebble or something picked up from the schoolyard and if I recall correctly (this was nearly thirty five years ago so cut me some slack) he named each kid who was on a team or teams and then gave them their piece of gravel. Well he goes through everybody, I mean everybody, and I get no mention and then he looks at me and calls me up, the last guy.
Now I was a bit of a smart aleck and I didn't really like the teacher much so I didn't really appreciate it at the time, certainly not as much as I should have. He gave a nice speech about having heart and trying hard and made the point that despite being a little guy (and honestly not that athletic on top of everything) I had made all four school teams plus the track team and that showed you what you could do with some heart and guts and all that good stuff.
A try hard. That's what I was. That's what I am today. I'm a decent hockey player but I'm a try hard with hands of stone.
And the boy, well he's a chip off the old block.
He's a bit bigger than I was. I was a shrimp. A real shrimp. Like in grade 10 I had barely broken a hundred pounds. (I went out for football in grade 11 and was cut. Couldn't believe it. In retrospect the coach probably saved my life). So the boy can't help but be bigger. Impossible not to be.
He's a smart player, which I was as well but he is has more guts and while I like to say I was a try hard the reality is that I wasn't one of those little guys whose motor is always running. Now I am but when I was a kid I could coast a bit. Not the boy.
He just finished his fourth year of cross country and it was a resounding success. Last year was tough. Two years ago there was a work to rule deal going on with the teachers here thanks to that stupid asshole Dalton McGuinty (I never talk politics - sorry about this - but I despised that guy. Worst premier in Ontario's history and there have been some awful awful ones) and so a lot of schools didn't send teams to the meet so the boy finished pretty well compared to his first year. Are you keeping up?
So he is feeling pretty good about himself last year and he puts in the work. Monday to Thursday he gets up early and goes to practice and runs his laps even while a bunch of his buddies ran one lap of the school and then goofed off. And then on race day he finishes nearly a hundred places lower than the year before and to rub salt in the wound his buddies, the goof offs, all finish higher than him because essentially they are far better athletes.
He was devastated.
This year we talked about the process and he did his work again. I timed him when I took him to practice, to give him an idea of how each lap was going so that he could work on being consistent. Jenn is training for her first marathon (she's mental - she ran a half the other night. Just went out and ran it. Crazy.) and so she talked to him about some different ideas and took him to the practice run last weekend.
On race day I told him that he had put in the work and should be proud of it and that my only advice would be to try and stay with the pack. Last year there were the rabbits and then the lead group and then the pack and then the stragglers, of which he was one. I told him to stay with the pack as best as he could and then sprint when he was ready to sprint.
How did he do? Hilariously Jenn did not have the camera ready because she was not expecting him to be where he was. He was with the pack and finished in the middle of it and improved his placing by eighty over last year. He had nothing left when they came to the homestretch and so was passed by a few but there was no doubt that he had left it all out there. He's ready for next year and his goal, certainly attainable, is to cut 15 seconds off each 500 metres (it's a 2K). Do that and he will move up another fifty places or so at least, the pack is that closely bunched together.
Very proud of our son today. More importantly he is proud of himself.
After the contenders and second tier clubs I wrote about yesterday come the rest of the playoff teams. It's pretty touch and go at this point. For the upper echelon clubs only total disaster is going to knock them out of the playoffs, a raft of injuries, bad luck and off years for everyone. For the following clubs, well, for a few of them the playoffs are a sure thing but for others a couple of bad breaks (or another team suddenly taking off or getting tons of luck) will mean they are out.
I don't think any of these clubs have a shot at winning or even playing for the Cup. They might win a series, sure, but they are all too flawed to go very far.
Playoff Shoo Ins
Wild on Jack Lemaire - Minnesota beat the Avs and gave Chicago fits in the second round. Fast, deep and a lot of kids on the way. Plus Vanek added to the mix. A good club.
Pittsburgh - The Pens have Crosby and Malkin and they will make the playoffs but to me they are still top heavy up front, though not as much as last year. Ehrhoff is a star but I rate Bylsma highly and think replacing him was a mistake and their D and goaltending are still suspect. As usual there are those who think they are the class of the east. I don't get that at all. Too good to not make the playoffs though.
Rangers - Love Alain Vigneault and like this team a lot but their depth took way too many hits for them to be considered a contender.
Islanders - This feels weird. Still, the Isles added a real goalie, two real defencemen and two real forwards. Plus Tavares is healthy. I think they make it with room to spare.
That's seven teams out west and six in the east. Now for the bubble teams.
Now For The Bubble Teams (Like I Just Said)
Honestly any of these teams could have a regular amount of luck and stay healthy and still bomb out. Bad luck and injuries and they are doomed. We're getting into dicey territory now. *rolls dice*
That last spot is probably between the Avs and the Canucks. The former are on their way up and the latter are on their way down and I would not be greatly surprised if neither make it but they are the best of the rest. The Avs were very very lucky last year and had amazing goaltending and then they moved out Stastny and Parenteau. Relying on out of this world goaltending does not a contender make and while their youth up front is amazing, I mean just unbelievable, that D stinks. On the other hand the Canucks, well they are no longer the Canucks. The D is great but Miller is a step down from Luongo and Schneider and now Kesler is gone too? This team is just a shadow of themselves but Tortorella is horrible and they had pretty well everything go wrong last year. The abyss is near but they might sneak into the playoffs one last time.
What a goddamned mess this conference is. I honestly don't even know who might make the playoffs once you get past those first six teams. I'm going to go with Jersey who actually gave Martin Brodeur starts last year and didn't get one shootout win. A few of those and some decent goaltending in those Brodeur starts should be enough to get them in. After that though, um ..... I could see one of a half dozen teams getting in. So let's save them for one last post because honestly I don't know. And I don't really care that much.
Posted by Black Dog at 2:30 PM
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
I've always taken pride in being a Dad. Whenever I get the news that people are expecting their first baby my immediate response is to tell the new father to make sure that he is all in. Except for breastfeeding do everything. Diapers. Up at night. Take that baby out first thing in the morning so your wife can get some sleep. Get your wife out for nights out, dinner, drinks, whatever she needs, while you stay home with baby. She will thank you but more importantly you will get a start on being the best father you can be and you will never have a more important job, ever. It goes by fast. Get in there and do it!
I remember being on Twitter once and some guy was boasting to me about how he, a bigshot lawyer (or so he said, maybe he was a Belgian goalie, who knows), never changed a diaper, never got up with a baby in the middle of the night, never washed a dish, never did a load of laundry. He was proud of this. Now obviously he was a huge asshole with a tiny cock but I also felt sorry for the guy. Your ego is so tied up in your life as a lawyer that you can't be bothered to get in there and do the down and dirty work of being a parent and a husband? Pretty sad really. Way to go buddy.
I've known a couple of guys who either are not involved through their choice (and their wife's ceding this to them - it's their fault too for allowing this to go on) or, amazingly, through their wife's choice. I knew a guy whose wife harped on him about everything he did with the kids because it wasn't 'right' (that is it wasn't the same way she did it) and finally he stopped trying.So everybody lost. She was overwhelmed and he and the kids lost out.
Before we started having babies I told Jenn that she was going to parent one way and I was going to parent another. Don't get me wrong, we have established goals and are on the same page when it comes to discipline and general beliefs as to what we are working towards but we are different people. When the boy does something I am not going to check with her to see what she wants done, I am going to act according to how I feel is right. And it works the other way too.
And while I believe and have always believed in what I am doing as a parent I have also gotten better as I have gotten older. I have made mistakes and learned from them. I am calmer now, I can't remember the last time I raised my voice or lost my temper. I've had to work at it. I'm a better father for it.
Interesting times for the clan. They are always interesting times but these days are even more so. Our oldest just turned 11 (HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?!) and the roller coaster has begun. One moment she is sweetness and light, the next she is an angry grunting troll. Every second sentence out of her mouth is 'I've got this under control, you don't have to worry about it'. (The alternate sentence is '...... is not fair').
We'll be okay, most of the time when she is being difficult a calm response will get through to her. Fun times ahead for sure though!
As for our youngest, el pistola, well she has come into her own all of a sudden. Reading and swimming and tying her shoes, all conquered within weeks. Suddenly there is no chasing her to do her chores, no threats falling on deaf ears. The spark remains the same but she has, at six, suddenly grown up quite a bit and while it is gratifying and lovely and it makes our lives a lot easier there is also the realization that time is passing us by and we no longer have truly young children and that is sad and it makes those requests for piggy back rides and cuddles all the sweeter when they come now.
It goes quick though. You young dads, take it from me, enjoy it, even when the sleep deprivation knocks you on your ass, which it will. It's funny, I look back and when we had one kid it was so easy but we were so overwhelmed by being new parents and so crushed by the newness of having no sleep that we never realized it. Anyhow, take it all in stride, do your best and make sure you're right in there and you will never regret it, ever!
New NHL season! Are you excited? I am ... pleased. More excited about Capsule's hot start to this year, five and oh so far. We need to find a league that plays September to November I think, last year we were undefeated in our first nine games and then had a five game losing streak, bounced back to sweep all of the other contenders in our division aside and then never won another game. Crazy collapse. Hopefully this year will see a happier ending. First two games for me since hurting my knee in March were meh but over the weekend I played very well and the knee feels great so I'm feeling pretty good about it all. Not dead yet!
Anyhow on to the NHL! Last year I figured on there being five honest to goodness Stanley Cup contenders - LA, Chicago, San Jose, St. Louis and Boston, in no particular order. Then I had the Ducks and then after them the pretenders. This year is going to take some time to suss out as there will be injuries, trades, collapses and meteoric rises but for now here is how I see it, for what it's worth. (Reminder not to put any money on anything based on these predictions, I know parenting better than I do hockey ;) )
These are the clubs that, barring disaster, will produce the Cup winner next spring. Again in no particular order.
LA - the defending champs aren't unbeatable, Vlasic staying healthy or a bounce here or there and they go home early last spring, but they will be in the mix again. Quality depth up and down the lineup, elite forwards, Drew Doughty, a couple of kids in Toffoli and Pearson who could break out ... they have an embarrassment of riches. I think losing Willie Mitchell hurts slightly and if they get bad Quick then they have problems but they are a great great team.
Chicago - if not for a bad bounce the Hawks would have gone on to the finals and repeated as champs, they and LA were a coin flip. Unreal forwards, especially on the wings with Kane, Hossa, Sharp and Saad. Unbelievable. Depth up front not as great as either of their Cup teams but if Versteeg bounces back and Ben Smith and Morin step in, not to mention Teuvo Teravainen, then they could be close to the 2013 club. I think Brad Richards is done but he could help an anemic PP and is still an upgrade over Handzus. And of course they have a great top four D. They will be there at the end as well, there's a good chance it will be them and the Kings again, the possibility of bad Crawford and their lack of cap space to augment the lineup if needed could be issues
San Jose - pretty sure if Vlasic stays healthy they beat the Kings but the Sharks, well the Sharks are going to Shark regardless it seems and seem doomed to join the Sens as the greatest club to never win the Cup. Loaded up front, quality youngsters coming up at forward and on the blueline. I would never bet on them after all of these failures but they will be there this year, again. Winning their division might be key, get an easier matchup in the first round, not that there are many easy matchups in the West, but better a wild card than the Kings or Ducks.
Blues - St Louis had Chicago where they wanted them, up two to nil and Seabrook suspended and they coughed it up. Part of me thinks they don't belong in this group but they are a very good team and adding Stastny to the mix up front may be what they need to put them over the top finally, that and the maturation of a couple of kids who can actually score a bit in Tarasenko and Schwartz. Carl Gunnarsson is a great addition too, especially if that surgery puts his hip issues behind him.
The Next Level
It's early (it gets no earlier) so these clubs might jump to the next level (or slide as well). The top eastern teams are here and of course in a seven game series anything can happen so we might see a champ from the junior circuit but in all of these cases I think we're not talking about the same level as the big boys.
Anaheim - Adding Kesler is going to help and of course Getzlaf and Perry are awesome and they have nice depth up front. I look at that blueline and goaltending though and I don't buy it. I kept waiting for it to all go to shit last year and it didn't but yeah I don't buy it.
Dallas - The blueline is a concern for this sexy pick but if they can add a piece there (hi Jeff Petry) then I think they could make the jump to the next level. They were pretty damn good last year and have added Spezza and Hemsky and ah yeah, this team could be killer especially if Nichushkin makes the leap which I expect he will. A few question marks but the forwards are unreal.
Boston - the Bruins fell out of that elite pack this summer imo though they could return if their collection of kids - Hamilton, Smith, Krug - take the next step. Losing Boychuk means two of their top four Dman from the finalist team are gone and Seidenberg is a question mark and Chara, well Chara is getting older and more than anything this is what is scary for Boston. Their window is closing and there are other eastern teams catching up. That said Rask is great, they have wonderful forwards and old Chara is better than nearly every defenceman in the league. Not the team they once were though (funny to say about the President's Trophy winner, huh?)
Tampa - like Dallas, a sexy pick, like Dallas they are deserving of the designation. Yzerman has added depth up front and on the blue every year and they have some great kids coming up. I really really like their D. Biggest issue is outside of Stamkos their forward group doesn't have the elite talent that the other teams at this level and above, except St Louis, have. They have enough to get out of the conference though which means they have enough to win it all.
Habs - I really rate the Habs though I don't trust Therrien not to blow it. Really though they were a solid club last year and they have Mike Weaver for a full year plus a terrific add in Tom Gilbert plus a kid who I think is going to tear it up this year in Galchenyuk. Elite players in Price and Subban and again a lot of depth up and down the lineup. Pacioretty, Gallagher, Plekanec, Eller, Desharnais, Paranteau, Bourque, Emelin, Markov. Not a western conference quality lineup but definitely amongst the best in the east.
In the next day or two I will look at my guesses for the remaining playoff teams plus the also rans.
Posted by Black Dog at 3:03 PM
Monday, October 06, 2014
Once you get to a certain age (old, like me), the flood of weddings slows to a trickle. A couple of years ago we had two, both people who work for me, but otherwise we've had none for ages. Until this year.
Four! Four! Can you believe it? Our babysitter, Jenn's sister, a close friend (he's family really) and in two weeks one of Jenn's coworkers, this one might be a harbinger of things to come as Jenn is a nurse and there is a constant stream of youngsters starting at the hospital, every year, so chances are there will be a few more of these.
A few weeks back we went up to Sudbury for the third of these. I really enjoy weddings, I do, and was looking forward to this one all year. I've know the groom since he was seven (!) when I helped his dad coach the neighbourhood squirt team for two winters before I went off to university and as I noted, he and his family are family to us. Wonderful generous people who have done so much for us (and for me since I was just a kid) over the years.
We left our loinfruit with my folks (everyone survived!) and headed over to the other side of town. We had woken up to pouring rain but by late afternoon it was gone, though gusts of wind rattled the tent overlooking the lake. The ceremony was short (best kind) and we stood and cheered and as they went off for pictures things got a bit surreal.
I coached the groom off and on for years, even after I came to Toronto for school I would head home for the summer and coach soccer. He was a terrific soccer player, probably a little better than hockey and he was a hell of a hockey player, and so many of his friendships began on the soccer field or at the rink and so everywhere I turned at this wedding I saw someone who I had not seen in nearly twenty five years. A few I had seen a little more recently but there were quite a few, now in their late thirties, married with kids, who I had last seen when they were thirteen or fourteen years old. I was talking to one of them, a young man named Pete, as we did the reception line thing and he said oh yeah a bunch of the old gang is here and I said oh yeah like who and he turned to the couple behind us and said well for starters here's Watson, who had been the goalkeeper on a couple of the clubs.
The evening started with two kegs from the local microbrewery (Stack Brewery - if you're up north pick some up, I highly recommend it) and wine from the vinyard where they got engaged. On our own trip to Niagara this spring we got them a case of wine from there for a wedding gift. Around 5:30 I was in the little northerners' room (Proud To Be A Northerner! as the slogan on the old Northern Ale bottles once said) and overheard a couple of young dudes wondering how the hell they were going to make it past dinner at this rate.
Pace your self lads and drink lots of water! Now get back up to the bar!
A great meal and more wine and at our table was Pete from the soccer days and many wonderful things were said about me by him and it was damn fine and the best man gave a speech that, well, it was either the best or worst speech ever given depending on who you talked to, I leaned to the former, he managed to somehow offend everyone in the room, it was raucous and profane and I'm still laughing about it, you had to see it to believe it you really did. And then dancing and out into the cool beautiful night it turned into and then beer and more dancing and outside again and catching up with old friends and it was a night that I was sad to see end although I got to go home with the prettiest girl there as I always do.
I've always been one to enjoy myself and to embrace life and all that it has to offer and this night was about as good as it gets, truly. When Spencer passed last summer it was a heartbreaker, I will never get over it, but it was a reminder to me to not sweat the small stuff. I've always been good at that, I'm a champ now, let me tell you.
Yesterday was a weird day. I didn't like the Marincin move and I didn't like that they kept Acton. I'm not freaking out about it because in two weeks someone will get hurt and Marincin will be back and likely Pitlick or Lander will be too.
I understand people getting really pissed off though (and boy were some people pissed off) and here's the thing. I like MacT. I like Eakins. But the organization has been a clown car for nearly a decade now and so they have to earn back the benefit of the doubt that nobody will give them. Eight years out of the playoffs and a roster of current NHL players given away for nothing will make a guy a little antsy, you know. I think MacT is a better than average GM and I think Eakins is going to be a good coach but you know, win some games.
Marincin played over forty games last year in a top four role as a rookie and he did well by any measure. The organization asked him to put some pounds on and he came to camp fifteen pounds heavier. Sounds like he's all in, right.
Now he didn't have a great camp and some say Klefbom outplayed him, others disagree. And yet he goes down. Why? Politics.
The Oilers have their golden boys, same as most organizations really. Klefbom and Nurse are part of the club, same as Hall, Ted, Eberle and Schultz. Marincin, Yakupov, Petry ... not part of the club.
Is it a big deal longterm? I don't think so really. Marincin will be back soon. I don't like the fact that a small sample size (arguably better camp for Klefbom) outweighs what Marincin did last year and I don't like that the club is going Ference, Klefbom and Nurse at LD to start the season when last year's disastrous start sewered the club by Remembrance Day. Points in October count and wanting to get a look at Nurse ( I do not believe at all that he is ready for a fulltime job, does anyone at all) doesn't lend itself to winning.
As for Acton, well Lander was awful but by all accounts Pitlick and Pinizzotto were better in camp. So ... what gives here? Acton is a better PK man and I guess that is the key to it and as long as he is in the pressbox it's fine I guess but if Eakins yanks Arcobello for him after a loss I won't be too pleased. Play Pitlick. Give him a shot.
Again though Joensuu will be out within a week so my guess is we'll see Pitlick before the ink is dry on this here interweb thing I am doing.
Don't like the moves. Not going to die on that hill.
As for the Oilers, well, they're getting there. They really are. For the first time in a long time I feel positive about this club.
I don't think they're making the playoffs. An injury to Ted and they're in the lottery again actually. To which you might say what the hell!?!?!?! But you just said you're positive!
You know my old saw, the one that everyone uses now. Get good players. Keep them. (I should have trademarked that and #BecauseOilers, I really should have.) Not an original thought really but the reason the Oilers have been terrible is because for eight years they turned the house into a paperclip. A full NHL roster of actual NHL players out the door for nothing. Literally. Although Penner can come off that list now that Klefbom has arrived.
Well in the last year MacT has started to reverse the trend. Scrivens. Fasth. Ference. Nikitin. Fayne. Gordon. Pouliot. Actual NHL players for nothing more than money or picks. And when guys leave other guys come in return. Paajarvi for Perron. Gagner for Purcell. Even Dubnyk brought in Hendricks.
So now the club has two NHL goalies who are decent. And depth, real depth on the wings. Six actual NHL wingers. When is the last time we could say that? (2007 spring, that's when). And while the D is green and Petry getting traded is going to be a step back again there are actual NHL defencemen back there, not Belov and Grebeshkov and Nick Schultz. (I didn't mind the gamble on the two Russians. Didn't work out. That's okay.)
Forget about centre though yeah? Yikes!
So the team is better. And there are a ton of kids on the way and no not all of them will work out but so many of them have good arrows that some of them will and the reality is that this team is going to be a good team quite soon barring a run of career ending injuries or Taylor Hall asking out. Maybe not a Cup contender. But yeah a good team. Soon.
Hard to believe and this year could be an absolute gong show but it's coming.
Posted by Black Dog at 2:44 PM
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
Our oldest two kids are absolutely wonderful, smart and funny and good hearted and they will find trouble along the way I am sure but they are like Jenn and I through and through, they will be the ones who like to party but do it on the sly, they will get good grades and do well and their wildness will be private.
Our youngest? She has already pronounced how so so much she loves boys and she cuts holes in the blinds to let the sunshine in and she teaches the neighbourhood toddlers how to unlock baby gates set up to prevent them from coming to harm.
We're in trouble here do you get this? Threats to cajole proper behaviour do not work nor does reasoning nor any other sort of carrot or stick if it is not in her interest to agree. Tried and true practices used on the other two - identify what matters and take it away to punish, keep them off balance, set reasonable goals and boundaries with them and make sure they understand the why and how - these do not work or not at as much as we hope.
So it's work, a lot of work and likely down the road some worries. But of course it is more than worth it. Everyone we know loves her, quite often conversations go like this 'We love all of your kids of course but there is just something about her' and we get that. She is the life of the party, a cheerful, energetic little imp whose smile lights up every room and whose giggling makes everyone laugh. She's enthusiastic and spirited and her head is in the clouds. She is a unique little soul and we happily remember that night we threw caution and planned parenthood to the wind and got down to business time.
Last summer we were up at the lake and while we were out on the paddle boat our youngest announced that she wanted to swim to shore. She had not yet started taking swimming lessons but of course she had her life jacket on and we're I don't know, forty or fifty feet from shore (I'm terrible with that sort of thing. It was less than a mile anyhow.) and so we said sure get on in, we'll follow you in the boat and so she slips into the water and starts dog paddling in and we laugh and say how cute and we begin to paddle to follow her and discover that the paddle thingy on the boat, I don't know what you call it, anyhow it has jammed.
The rope has gotten into it and gotten wrapped around it and just at this moment it has tightened so we aren't going anywhere. And of course now the wind picks up and begins to push us across the bay toward the neighbour's.
Now everything is fine except my eldest, the vegetarian (she is now a full blown vegetarian, yes, read my last post for the cause of this) begins to panic about her younger sister. There are tears and yowling and our youngest, now standing on shore, turns and says of course that she will come and save us.
And so we call to her telling her to stay put as we blow across the bay and Jenn turns to me and says that one if us has to go into the water to make sure the little one a) does not come into the lake after us or b) wander into the woods and she isn't wearing her swimsuit and so off comes my shorts and shirt and into the water I go in my boxers.
Now I don't like the water and did I mention that like Martin Short I am not that strong a swimmer? I dabble. Basically I splash in the shallow end. I mean I can dog paddle but come on. So into the water I go and I'm thinking who the hell is going to rescue me.
Of course I get to shore just fine and then into the woods in my gitch like some sasquatch who has just killed a camper and put on his fruit of the looms for a gag to show the other sasquatches and after I towel off and put on another shirt and shorts our youngest and I wander down the path to find Jenn at the neighbours having a drink laughing it up.
Starting to suspect I know where part of this impish behaviour comes from.
Hockey. Right. I remember it. And the Oilers. It's been a while.
My own hockey starts Sunday. I had to take the summer off after I hurt my MCL in our last playoff game last season. Knee felt fine during the Kostka Kup and so I am ready to go. The boy starts two weeks after, full time as a goalie this year, holy shit. So I am excited about both of those seasons starting definitely.
As for the Oilers I am cautiously optimistic. I think MacT has had a pretty good two years. The whole goon squad pursuit after Gagner went down didn't make me happy and I didn't like the Smid deal at the time but it sounds like our man Ladi struggled mightily in southern Alberta.
The Hemsky move was a killer too. More of the old 'good players out for nothing' deal that turned the house into a paper clip in the first place. The reality is that Ales was probably not signing here again and who would blame him of course. Not sure why they thought playing him with Gordon as a checker was a good idea when it came to pumping up his value. Oh well. And I suspect Petry is next to go and I don't like that either.
On the other hand what MacT has done is the opposite of what Lowe and especially Tambo did. He has brought in veteran players, mostly for nothing. Scrivens and Fasth. Ference, Nikitin Nikitin. Fayne. Boyd Gordon. Pouliot. Hendricks. All in for picks or cash. And when he shipped Gagner out he got Purcell in return. So imagine that, guys who can play. Some of them make too much money but damn it I'm not one to quibble after years of watching Ryan Jones fall down while 'hustling'*
*(whereas hustling means blowing the zone looking for the breakaway pass and other wise doing little but looking busy)
So for the first time in years the Oilers actually look like an NHL team up and down the lineup.
Two reasonable options in goal. (I didn't mind the Dubnyk/LaBarbera tandem to start last year, both had been decent in those roles but wow what a disaster.)
On the blue you have Fayne, Petry, Marincin, Nikitin Nicotine, Ference and Schultz younger and Klefbom, Nurse and Gernat on the way. Is it a Cup calibre D corps? Lol. It's not even a playoff quality D corps. But you have four guys with experience and a kid who looked great last year and then the golden boy Schultz who maybe Ramsey can get through to.
Forgot about Ramsey. Nice hire.
Up front there are more men to help the boys and Hall is all world. The team looks pretty deep on the wings but oh man they are thin up the middle unless the kid Draisaitl or Arcobello can step up. I suspect not but ... but here is the thing. Every year since, well since 2005/2006, the club has gone into October hoping and wishing and not just here or there but almost everywhere. They NEED everyone to stay healthy and they NEED kids to step in right away and they NEED guys to bounce back from awful years and if all of that falls into place and they get some luck then maybe they will be in the range come spring.
If Ladi Smid and Shaggy can play top four D they will be ok.
If Khabibulin can provide true number one netminding they will be fine.
If Nilsson and O'Sullivan can play in the top six and Schremp can make it and Cam Barker can bounce back and Sam Gagner can play some D and so on and so on and so on then the team might be mediocre. Maybe.
Things are better.
They need either Draisatl or Arcobello to handle a top six C role and that is probably the deal breaker right there.
They need Nicotine Nikitin or Ference or Schultz younger to handle top four minutes with Fayne. Or Klefbom to make the leap and do the same. I think the odds are that one of them may be able to do this. Maybe not. But we're not talking Cam Barker here. These guys are NHL defencemen.
They probably need Yakupov to get it together and become an NHLer.
Now what will all of this get them? Probably nothing yet, even if all the chips fall their way unless they explode I don't see this team making the playoffs. But they need to take a step forward and I think they can do that. I am cautiously optimistic.
Have I said that? I am cautiously optimistic.
To me they need four things to come out of this year. Your mileage may vary but if it is all about winning the Cup and that is exactly what it is all about then the following has to happen.
Hall has to feel that the franchise is on the move. He is the franchise. He hates losing. Taylor Hall has to, in April, look back and say 'We're on our way I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. If he asks out then the club is looking at becoming the Islanders. This is the most important thing, bar none. The talent has to be happy.
Yakupov has to be salvaged. I think this kid is an all world talent and I think that he can become an NHL superstar. They need to figure him out and he has to figure them out.
Marincin and Klefbom have to establish themselves or get on the road to being proven top four Dmen. I honestly am not worried about this in the least. The weakness of this team is on the blue line. Not for long.
I know Eakins is not everyone's favourite guy but I think it is paramount that he establish himself as an NHL coach with the Edmonton Oilers. The constant turnover is Mickey Mouse but then again so is the franchise or lately anyhow. I think he can coach. He needs to prove it this year.
I think if they stay reasonably healthy that they are in the race until mid March and by in the race I mean they are one of those teams that doesn't really have a shot but the way the NHL points' system works they hang around within striking distance until they lose two or three games and fall eight points out on St Patrick's Day. Not really in it but better than they have been.
Excited for camp and cheering for Tyler Pitlick and Anton Lander to make the team and become regular NHLers.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:56 PM
Saturday, August 09, 2014
Hi, how are you? I'm well, thanks for asking. Summer good? It's been a grand one here in McLeanville, population of five. We took our annual trip to PEI and made good time for the most part. Jenn's sister was married and we ate and drank and caught up with friends and family and when the weather didn't cooperate we did what we do and made the best of it. On the way back to Tranna we stopped in Quebec City and introduced it to the kids, as much as we could anyways before a deluge of rain flooded the streets and drove us inside. They enjoyed what they saw and took the bad luck with a shrug and decided that we would come back. Back home for five days, barely enough to catch our breath, though long enough to sneak a night out with two of my oldest friends in there and then up north for a week in the bush with my folks.
Dad is 82 now and Mom is 81 and while they are slowing down they still have that elan boy do they ever. They're smart enough to know that they're getting up there and smart enough to not worry about it. They've been in the woods for six weeks now and will stay up there as long as the weather allows. The camp has been their getaway for 45 years now and it will remain so until they are no longer able to make it up there. Here's hoping for many more years, right? For them a week with their grandkids in their hidden paradise is about as good as it gets.
I enjoy it, Jenn less so though she grins and bears it for my sake (she claims drinking helps, this is silly because drinking helps everything of course) but while she struggles with the bugs (there are a lot of bugs) and the lack of electricity and plumbing, she enjoys the campfires and canoe rides and paddle boating and all that. As for the kids well my oldest learned how to play crib (I taught the boy when we were up in June) and they tried to catch frogs and they swam and roasted marshmallows and basically ran wild for a week and what kid doesn't love that?
We went fishing one night, fully expecting not to catch a damn thing. My buddy and I used to fish years ago in the lake and the running joke was that Ministic was Ojibwa for 'no fish here'. The boy has caught bass in the lake before, always releasing them as they have been too small. This time we motored out to an island in the bay where we had seen a lot of boats over the week. We let ourselves drift with the wind and then came back and the second time around I got a bite and a solid one at that and so I hauled in a pickerel, about two pounds or so, the biggest fish I have caught in probably twenty five years. I hauled him in, took the hook out and tossed him into the bottom of the boat.
At which point all hell broke loose. Our oldest began to cry and shake and shouted that we had to let the poor fish go and soon THE BOY joined in. We explained that we were going to eat him and this caused the angst level to shoot through the roof. Cries of 'What would you do if something picked you up and ate you?' and 'I never knew that you would kill it' echoed over the lake, as you know sound carries over water and when we told the boy that maybe he shouldn't fish anymore as what did he expect would happen he cried out 'BUT I LOVE FISHING!'. So I guess I need to but him some hooks that have corks on the end of them, I don't know.
So we went back to the dock with breakfast (it was fantastic) and two traumatized kids, one who is seriously considering vegetarianism (my wife, exasperated, exclaimed, WHERE DO YOU THINK BACON AND BURGERS COME FROM ANYHOW!?!??!). On top of everything our youngest, who was not fazed by the whole event came upon her grandfather later that evening, up to his elbows in fish guts as he filleted it in the kitchen. She may have said oh shit as she fled the room.
On our final night we stumbled upstairs to the cabin after one last campfire and after putting the kids to bed we retired to the porch where our bed is and commenced fooling around. Things were going pretty well when all of a sudden a light shone in the doorway. We managed to get reasonably arranged and found our eldest, a worried look on her face. I heard noises she said. Not a howling like a wolf but like a dog yelping. Stifling laughter I brought her back to bed, assuring her that there were no wild dogs in the bush and that she was safe. Returning to our business we were doing fine and as we lay in the cool we saw a light bobbing our way again. I heard another noise she said and we asked what was it and she said I don't know it wasn't like the last but it was a steady thumping noise.
We fell about the room laughing. Some day we'll tell her I guess.
Last night we pulled in worn out for sure, a suitcase full of dirty clothes, smelling of campfire, bug spray, pickerel, sunscreen, filth, charred meat, camp sex and outboard motor. The yard is a jungle of weeds, the fridge is empty, the laundry is a mountain and Monday awaits with awful teeth and claws but the past month was fine indeed, so fine.
Out of the woods and oh the news! Elliotte Friedman found Vic Ferrari and I've said it before but if you have the time check out Vic's old blog and read him and Cam Thomson and Dennis King. When I came to this corner of the internet there were five established Oiler blogs, Vic and Battle of Alberta, Covered in Oil, Mc79Hockey and Lowetide. All but the last are gone now, inactive for years or, in Tyler Dellow's case, shut down just this past week. Wonderful stuff, all of them, the community back then was smaller and while I sound like an old fogey, it was a better time, imo. I've learned so much about hockey and writing from that old gang and most importantly I have made some good friends.
Of course the biggest news from this past week was that Tyler was hired by the Oilers. I've known Tyler for years now, he is a friend of mine. I know he is a divisive person for many but he and Amanda have always been kind and generous in my experience. If you don't like him a few words from me aren't going to convince you otherwise of course but that's the truth.
He's a very smart man, is Tyler, and his addition to the Oilers would make me happy even if I didn't have a personal relationship with the guy. His work over the years and especially this past year where he has married video analysis with his statistical work on the blog is just top notch. If you are a fan of a team you want that team to do everything in it's power to win the Stanley Cup and Tyler will add something to the Oilers that brings them closer to that goal than they were before they hired him.
Arguments against the hire seem to be of two kinds. One is from people who don't like him. Whatever. The other is from people who somehow think that there is no value in analytics. Part of me thinks that these are trolls but reading what some of them have to say (think Steve Simmons) actually reveals them to be wilfully ignorant and those people are essentially the worst type of people.
It has been clear for years that many (most?) NHL teams use analytics, including the most successful teams of this generation, Chicago and Los Angeles. This is a known fact, acknowledged throughout the industry. (Read up on the Dallas Stars and Jim Nill and the articles written about them this summer.) Teams use analytics and marry it with scouting and video and try and build a better mousetrap. It's a tool, a useful tool and Tyler Dellow is a guy who was in on the ground floor and has helped shape the conversation. He is smart and passionate and while he may fail, as some hope, my guess is this is only the beginning for him. I'm happy for him, as his friend and as an Edmonton Oilers' fan.
Posted by Black Dog at 5:17 PM