Tuesday, May 14, 2013
But in the first round you get wars and major surprises and hockey hockey hockey every night all night. Its the best.
What can we learn from the first round? Not much really. Narratives are written based on a team's performance over a two week period and what happens two weeks later means a new narrative is written. So a player who does not score in the playoffs is soft and a choker until he scores some and then when he doesn't then he is labelled again. Unless the media likes him.
Anyway here are some thoughts, series by series.
Chicago - Minnesota
Colby Cosh wrote about how a short season meant that some pretty shitty teams would make the post season. The Wild were one. I've never been a fan of the Wild. Jack Lemaire put in that passive Devils type of hockey into place and years later nothing has changed. I'm not even talking about trapping, I'm just talking about a style which has no style. The Wild barely hit, they didn't attack, they didn't do a damn thing and any chance they had at all went down when Backstrom did. No sorrow from this quarter, especially with Leipold being a driving force behind the lockout apparently. The Hawks barely broke a sweat and except for the first goal Crawford allowed he was fine, which may put to bed their biggest worry. They are so deep on the back end that its difficult to figure out which is their top pair and which is their third and their bottom six scored seven of seventeen goals in their series. They're the real deal, which we knew, and as I noted in my thoughts on round two, things are working out nicely for them in terms of the draw they have.
Anaheim - Detroit
I watched very little of this one but Pavel Datsyuk provided everyone with some more magic moments on his way to the Hall of Fame. I figured the Wings had a good chance in this one and they proved me right. They're not the team they once were but they're still solid. As for the Ducks well they were riding the percentages all year and these failed them (and especially Corey Perry) when it mattered most. One revelation? Old friend Andrew Cogliano playing tough minutes and doing so quite well. The playoffs - always a source of embarassment for Oiler fans somehow.
Vancouver - San Jose
What happened here is probably the most interesting result from the first round and one from which a few possible serious conclusions might be drawn. It looks like Vancouver's window is closing and the question is what now? Vigneault will likely take the gaspipe although really I don't know if they will find a better coach out there. Luongo will finally be traded but the return will be very little unless Gillis finds a couple of desperate teams this season, which is possible. And then Gillis needs to figure out if he needs to tinker (like San Jose has done for the most part these past few years) or if he needs to tear it down. His core is getting older for the most part and the worry for him has to be whether his club is a contender anymore or if they are just reaping the reward of playing in a garbage division. Even if it is the latter though can he bring in enough to make the team a contender once again in the twilight of the Sedins?
Its one thing to lose because of some bad bounces, quite often a team will get swept undeservedly (I think of San Jose in 2010 for one) but the Canucks were full value for this loss for the most part. Where do they go from here and can they rejig it around the Sedins, Kesler, Bieksa et al? Should make for a very interesting summer.
St. Louis - Los Angeles
This one was a war as expected and in the end it went to the defending champions. For the Blues, to me, it comes down to the fact that they lack those pure offensive gamebreakers. They have some great players, no doubt, but unlike the Kings who have guys like Kopitar, Doughty, Williams, Carter and so on, they tend to be more grinders than snipers. I thought this would be the difference and in the end they managed ten goals in six games. Not enough. My guess is they will stay the course although probably a blueliner or two will shake loose from that fantastic top six, hopefully the Oilers will get in on that action.
Los Angeles? Well I'm picking against them in round two, which is dumb, for they look like a true contender again. For them the big question is will they be healthy enough to finish San Jose and then Chicago. I think not.
Pittsburgh - Islanders
This one proved what a lot of people already figured out (although reading some of Derek Zona's Retweets it seems there are some dopes out there still) - Marc Andre Fleury is a major part of the problem in Pittsburgh. Last year the cheery grinning little bastard (he cost me both of my pools last years, he owes me THIRTY DOLLARS!!!) skated despite a performance that was so abysmal that he got outgoaltended by Ilya Bryzgalov. Instead the blame fell on the D (rightfully in some cases) and Crosby and Malkin, amongst others (!). Indeed many were still pronouncing Fleury as a candidate for Sochi next winter for Canada.
Shero though, well Shero went out and got Vokuon and it was Vokuon who shut the door on a very game Isles club after the laugher Fleury turned in in game four. Is Vokuon and this D enough to take this club all the way, as I would bet the vast majority of predictions figured they would win it all? Very very unlikely. And Fleury is now being mentioned by some as a candidate to be bought out this summer. Like the band that has toured for a decade and is labelled an 'overnight sensation' so too is Fleury's fall from grace 'sudden', no matter how surprised some might be.
Montreal - Ottawa
The only series I picked incorrectly although I hemmed and hawwed on it. When it came down to it things weren't even close as ALL of the bad luck happened to Montreal at once. Ottawa had been ruined by injuries to key players all season, scratch that, should have been ruined, but now only Giggly Spezza was out. The Habs? Well in the space of a game they lost three of their top six forwards and then, to add salt to the wound, lost Price to a freak accident while they were somehow still making a battle of it. An overtime goal by Turris on Budaj and then a blowout and that was it. For the Habs though I think the future is bright, they have some great young players. For the Sens, well, its odd, for a franchise that used to be known as the worst possible club come playoff time they won with a bunch of unknowns and, when the Habs tried to goon it up, kicked the shit out of them. Strange but entertaining days.
Washington - New York
I didn't watch a minute of this.
Boston - Toronto
Probably the most entertaining series of the first round. This one was a war and its probable that Boston won't get past round two because of the toll taken on their D. The Leafs need at least one top four D (ideally two) and a better centre than Tyler Bozak in the top nine, which shouldn't be hard to find, and, well, I know they rode the percentages most of the year but add that to the mix and I think they're back in the playoffs next year.
Now this depends, of course, on Carlyle playing his best lineup, funny how with Gardiner, Frattin and MacArthur in the lineup and Grabovski getting better linemates and more icetime that suddenly the Leafs looked the Bruins' equal and could have (should have) won the series. And while Carlyle will be bulletproof for this season one would be safe in saying that better lineup choices all season probably means a division title and better first round matchup for Toronto.
Boston, well for the Bruins that one was one for the ages. Rask saved them for much of the series and they got little offence outside of the Krejci line until there was less than a minute left in game seven and really I think they are done now unless Seidenberg is not really that badly hurt. But regardless of all of this you can add it to the franchise lore. What a series.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:31 PM
Checking back on round two over the years I was surprised (just as surprised to see how well I had done in round one) to see that in round two I actually have a losing record at thirteen and fifteen.
So here goes nothing, I'll probably write up some further thoughts on the first round later as well.
Chicago v Detroit
For the Hawks, like the Pens in the other bracket, things could not have gone more swimmingly for them unless you rate the Wings highly, which I do not. Five games to roll over Minnesota in a series that was pretty well a no hitter on top of being short. Bolland back from injury now too. Meanwhile the Wings went the distance against a Ducks' team that fell back to earth, as many expected.
I'm not saying the Wings are garbage, they're not, but imo there were five teams in the West to watch, the top six minus Anaheim (and apparently the Canucks too, oops). The Wings are a good veteran club but they don't have the horses that Chicago does and they don't play the heavy game that LA and St. Louis do that might (might) be Chicago's undoing. Of course there are Datsyuk and Zetterberg and both are amazing but Chicago can roll four lines and three pairs of D and as a result I think this is done in five, maybe six. The games will be close but Chicago will prevail.
LA v San Jose
There really is very very little to separate these two clubs. LA still doesn't score a lot although Penner waking up from his annual hibernation is helping them. I rate Niemi higher than I do Elliott but then again St Louis' D is probably the best in the league. Hm.
I think San Jose is a bit deeper up front. And I think they are a bit deeper on D and that the goaltending edge goes to them or at the very least is a wash. I also think the Kings took a beating in round one and that this is going to catch up with them. I can't believe I'm going to say this but I'm going Sharks in six.
(I think I tend to go with my gut more in this round which is probably why I am a LOSER in it)
Pittsburgh v Ottawa
A lot of people, I mean almost everyone, was picking Pens to go all the way but I had my doubts. I figured the east was theirs for the taking unless Boston was healthy but the Islanders proved that they can be had. Lucky for the Pens though the draw is a bit easier for them with the Sens beating Montreal. Ottawa won't be a pushover, they have a big D and Anderson is very good but I don't think they score enough. The Pens D and goaltending can be had but its going to have to wait at least a round. Pens in five or six.
Boston v Rangers
The Bruins had a comeback for the ages last night and if they were healthy I'd consider them the favourites here but with Seidenberg and Ference on the shelf they're not going to be able to handle the Rangers. Chara looked mortal at times against the Leafs and at his age I can't see him handling a half hour of icetime a night against a Rangers' team that's going to hit him every chance they get. The Rangers don't score a ton but they have a deep enough lineup up front to match the Bruins and in the end the decimated Boston D is going to cost them the Series. Rangers in six.
Posted by Black Dog at 1:06 PM
Monday, April 29, 2013
I always picture my old man walking by a bunch of pens, stopping at mine and saying that he liked the look of me and that he'd 'take this one'.
Of course things were different then. Dad bought our house when he was looking at the house next door. That one didn't work out but the owner said the neighbours, an elderly French couple, were selling and moving back to Timmins. He went over, knocked on the door and a couple of hours later came home and told my mom he had bought a house. No for sale sign, no real estate agent, nothing.
But that's the way it was back then. You could buy a house without a bunch of bureaucrats and hagners on making money off of you. And healthy perfectly fine (and very handsome) babies apparently abounded.
So I came home to a young couple and it turned out that I was the lucky one. I grew up in a house and in an extended family where love and patience and fun were the main things and so I got the grounding to become who I am today.
Luck? I could go on and on. Nearly everything in my life after 1986 has been determined by a choice made by a guy named Jeff Charbonneau. Its a long story but basically my path in school was determined by him and by his brother whom I lived with first year. And from there I got a job after school working in a video store and from there I met a girl whose sister became my love for two years. That fling with the girl from Rawlins Cross died but her uncle gave me an opportunity and 15 years later that opportunity became my career. As part of that opportunity I moved to PEI for a year and there I met a girl named Jenn and a dog named Ben and now here we are. All because this guy knocked on a door.
Last year the Oilers won the lottery for the third year in a row and were actually lucky, moving up a slot to do it. They did what you have to do when you get lucky. They capitalized on it and picked the consensus number one. Nail Yakupov did nothing to show that they made a mistake in any way. He can score goals, which is the toughest thing to do in the NHL, and I would bet that he, like Hall, will be a superstar. (BTW I think Nugent Hopkins explodes next year just as Hall did this year.)
This year the odds were pretty long and they ended up with the seventh pick overall. Its an interesting spot to be. The feeling is that that is where the dropoff is and the reality is that (read Gare Joyce's book if you haven't) teams have their own boards. That's why Grigorenko and Fowler fell and Hickey got picked fourth overall. Which means that probably the Oilers will, if they choose to do so, be able to pick between a couple of those top seven guys.
So what do they do?
The mandate for MacTavish is to put together a playoff team. I don't think there is any doubt about it. He has a ton of work ahead of him to make this happen. The Oilers have finished out of the playoffs seven years in a row for good reason. They're terrible. And as a result they have a bunch of guys who have little value on the trade market.
How do I see it? Untouchables are Hall, Nugent Hopkins, Yakupov, Schultz, Klefbom. That's it.
But I have a long list of guys who I don't move unless they get a clear upgrade to replace them. Paajarvi, Gagner, Eberle, Horcoff, Hemsky, Smid, Petry, Dubnyk. Compliance buying out Horcoff or trading Hemsky for picks is a no go for me unless they have real replacements coming in to take their place. For years this club has moved out good NHL players for nothing or for less value and this is why they are where they are.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not married to anyone on that list (although I admit I am a sentimentallist and would love to see Horcoff and Hemsky hang them up as Oilers) but I'm happy to move them if I see a clear upgrade coming in. The goal is to win after all. But this club is so thin that they can't afford any more trades of the Gilbert/Nick Schultz ilk. If you move Petry or buy out Horcoff you need a guy who can step in and at least provide the same, if not better.
Now the good news for MacTavish. Last summer you could get a top four Dman (Michalek/Lubo) for a second round pick and this year the cap is coming down. When he had his first press conference and it became clear that there may be few sacred cows on his roster many got nervous but its probable that he can fill out a lot of his roster cheaply by trading picks or prospects to teams looking to move salary or by picking up compliance buyouts.
What does he need?
Two top four D.
One or two top nine forwards. (Or three if they are moving a guy like Hemsky, Gagner or Paajarvi for another piece).
A couple of fourth liners who can play the game. Think guys like McClement.
A 1B goalie.
That's a lot. But its doable. And imo, as I said, it can be done without dipping into the core of the team.
And this brings us back to the pick.
Seventh overall. Looking at guys like Nurse or Zadorov I think its probable, as I said, that they could have a choice between two of the consensus top seven because someone takes one of those guys.
So what do you do? Well, four of the top seven are centres and I think they don't see Gagner as a top two C longterm. And Horcoff is getting older. And there are no kids on the horizon. So if one of those Cs is there (although Lindholm's size may scare them away) I think they have to take him unless the BPA is a W or a Dman.
A lot of folks are saying the Oilers covet Lazar. True or not that's a pretty big reach and considering that they passed on Parise once to trade down and drafted Niinimaki another time they may be a bit gunshy about going off the board. (Although Pouliot was rated in 2003. People don't remember that though).
But if that's the case and the Oilers are willing to trade down what am I looking at? Those teams between eight and fourteen who might have something to give up. Buffalo. Jersey. Dallas. Philadelphia. Phoenix. Winnipeg. Columbus. Non playoff teams that might want to move someone out that the Oilers can use whether that be to shake up their roster, shed cap space or shed payroll.
What we don't know is what is going to be available on the market. MacT might find that he can get what he wants for very little and decide to keep the pick but if he finds prices too high or the available players not to his liking then I would bet that the pick comes into play.
Me? I keep it unless I get a sweet sweet deal. I don't see that happening but maybe I'm wrong.
But luck. Luck is going to play a part. Then its up to MacTavish to make it happen.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:58 PM
And I sit here wondering if I am missing something. Does nobody remember last spring?
Anyhow, the East.
Pittsburgh v Islanders
OK so for starters I think the Pens are the favourites in the East. After all I'm the guy who keeps going on about depth and they added Jokinen, Morrow and Iginla so that their fourth line is what, Kennedy, Cooke and Adams? Holy shit. The problem for the Pens, however, remains the back end. They got filled in the first round by the Flyers last year, just absolutely filled, and I see a blueline which is still unimpressive plus in net they have that grinning bucktoothed bastard Fleury (I went heavy Pens in my pool last year so yeah I'm bitter) who has to be the most overrated goaltender in the league.
With that said I can't see them having much issue with the Islanders. Much like Chicago they have a pretty easy matchup. The Isles were even in GD, the Pens plus 46. Pittsburgh won 13 more in regulation or overtime too. The Isles have a nice team, no doubt, and Snow deserves credit for getting them here but Nabokov isn't stealing this series and the Isles don't have the horses to keep up. I think its Pens in five, maybe even a sweep.
Montreal v Ottawa
This one is pretty well a pick em imo and I think Ottawa might pull the upset here. Habs had five more ROW and their GD is eleven better but as we all know the Sens were ravaged by injury and now have both Anderson and Karlsson back. The Sens have problems scoring goals (look at their roster, what the hell?!) but the Habs have a hard time stopping them and for some reason Price has gone off the rails. Goddamnit!!
Ugh. OK going with the Habs even though my gut says Ottawa. Even though Anderson is the better goaltender I just don't see Ottawa scoring enough. Habs in seven.
Washington v Rangers
Another pick em, very very little to choose between them in terms of wins/GD. Caps have to get dinged for being in that division though and while the Rangers still don't score enough to make me believe they are a true contender (ninth in the conference, although top half of the league at least) I am going to err on the side of Henrik Lundqvist. If Staal was in the lineup I'd feel really good about it but as it is I am still pretty confident. Rangers in 6.
Boston v Toronto
I saw the Leafs play the Bruins live just over a month ago. The Leafs won 3-2 because of James Reimer and a lot of luck. So basically a snapshot of their season. They were actually outshot 39-13 iirc.
And while I'm not one to put much stock in past records and so on the Bruins have owned the Leafs and Phil Kessel for a while now. Where the Leafs might have gotten either Washington or the Habs this is probably the worst possible matchup for them.
Is it an impossible task? No. The Leafs actually have more ROW than the Bruins. Again, a lot of this can be attributed to luck but its not like Boston finished thirty points ahead of them.
But ... the Bruins are, as they were in 2011, a deep team, especially up front. No facepunchers on their fourth line except for Thornton and he can actually play. And they have Chara to shut down Kessel and I think that if they can shut down Kessel then they win pretty handily.
If Reimer plays out of his mind, which he might, then the Leafs might pull it off but when I look at that Leafs' D, well, they aren't up to snuff. Like the Oilers they only have two actual top four guys. Therein lies the problem.
The shitty thing for the Leaf fans that I know is that when the Bruins win (in six) invariably it will be blamed on Phaneuf, Kessel and Reimer. And that's just plain dumb.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:42 PM
Sunday, April 28, 2013
The first thing is that, as anybody who knows me will attest, I tend to repeat myself. In real life I tend to start stories with 'tell me if you've heard this before' because I love to tell stories and I constantly forget who I've told them to. On this blog it looks like I basically say the same thing every year when it comes to playoff picks, starting with 'its a crapshoot'.
Which of course is true, especially in the first round.
Also it seems that every year I complain about sleep deprivation usually a combination of staying up late to watch playoff hockey and the fact that we quite often had a baby in the house because we like to have the sex and have babies.
Now with all that said my record for the first round over the past seven years?
40 and 16.
So on average I go about six and two.
I was pretty shocked by that. Seriously. I figured it would be almost even.
So now that I feel pretty good about myself I'm sure I will go 0 and 8 this year. :) Actually looking at the west I am only really confident in one pick and I think I will feel as leery when the eastern matchups are decided.
I usually look at four things when I am picking, none of these are earth shattering. I look at total wins, schedule, goal differential and a club's depth.
Anyhow for starters, the west.
The past number of years out west the number of contenders in the playoffs has often run eight deep. Its a brutal conference. In 2006 the bottom four seeds all won the first round matchups, the Ducks and Sharks had both gotten rolling near the end of 2005 and were two of the best clubs in the league in the second half and the Oilers were sabotaged by poor goaltending all season. With Roloson on board they were probably the best eighth seed until Chicago in 2011 and then of course we had the Kings last year. Even those years where you had, as an example, a team like Calgary in the eighth spot you often had a solid veteran club which could pull an upset.
This season though things don't run so deep. I'm not sold on Anaheim really and neither of the bottom two clubs strikes me as being anything dangerous to the real contenders at all. As usual anything can happen but I picture a bloodbath in two first round series which will probably make Chicago's life a little easier and if Anaheim flops then the Hawks will have a pretty decent road right to the conference final.
Chicago v Minnesota
The Hawks had a magnificent season and their reward is a pretty good matchup in the first round. Chicago only lost seven games in regulation (!) and nobody comes close to their goal differential except for the Penguins. The Wild actually allowed more goals than they scored and this is with having bonus games with Calgary, Colorado and the Oilers. So basically they're pretty shit, definitely the worst team in the playoffs.
Minnesota does have some nice pieces but they're not that deep up front or on the back end and on top of everything Pominville is questionable for game one. Meanwhile the Hawks can send out a line with Toews and Hossa and rookie Brandon Saad and then another line with Kane and Sharp and then follow that with a wave of useful forwards who can check and chip in offence - Shaw, Bickell, Stallberg, Frolik and Kruger amongst them. Throw in the fact that Duncan Keith's minutes were reasonable this year meaning he's not worn down and that behind him Chicago has a deep blueline that features a THIRD pairing of Michal Rozsival and Nick Leddy and good goaltending and its not really a fair fight. Hawks in five, maybe six if the Wild get all of the breaks and standout goaltending.
Anaheim v Detroit
I'm not a big fancy stat guy but a lot of people I know and respect suggest that the Ducks have been doing it with mirrors this season. Even if you don't take Corwick and Fensi into account the Wings and Ducks are a lot closer than one would think when one sees a 2 v 7 matchup. Anaheim has a GD of +22, the Wings are +9. The Ducks had two more ROWs than Detroit and while I may be wrong I sense that the Wings have been a club that has been hit pretty hard by injuries besides.
I look at both rosters and I'm not really that impressed with either to be honest, not up front and not on the back end. There just doesn't seem to be a lot of depth in both cases. On paper I guess the Ducks would be considered the better club but I just have a gut feeling (these usually betray me by the way) that its Detroit that will come out on top in seven. I have no good reason for this pick and I know this. It may just be that I don't like betting against Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Babcock.
Vancouver v San Jose
Pick em pick em pick em pick em.
Canucks finished with two more points than the Sharks, Sharks GD was two better. Canucks were in a weak division, had more injuries to key players. Sharks did have four less ROW wins as well. If either club went all the way I honestly would not be surprised but for both clubs this may be it as their windows close with no Cups and aging cores.
Usually when a team starts to slide its noticeable in its depth and so you can see it with Vancouver's top six D. I like their top four a lot but Tanev is out and so its a bit if a mess in them thar parts. With that said the top four is very good imo and up front they have some really nice depth, they go nine deep even without David Booth in the lineup. One wildcard is Schneider possibly being out. While the drop off to Luongo is not as massive as it would be for many teams going to their backups there still is a drop off.
I look at San Jose and the problem there is they are a bit top heavy. Great top six, probably slightly better than Vancouver but I would love their third line if it were their fourth line. Similarily their blue doesn't impress me much, now in truth that is more my problem than theirs, I just don't know a lot of these guys. Where the Sharks look very good is in net, with Niemi having a great season.
So ... oh man. While the goaltending matchup favours San Jose I think the Canucks are the better team. Of course then again San Jose has only lost two games in regulation at home and swept the season series against Vancouver.
Flip a coin. San Jose in six.
St Louis v Los Angeles
Now you want a pick em? This one is ridiculous. One point between them in the standings. LA had one more ROW and were one better in GD. And both clubs are big and strong and tough. Its going to be a war and while LA is (reasonably) picked by many to be a serious contender I wonder how beaten up they might be after this series.
Both teams scored more than they did last year (LA is 3rd in WC in GF, the Blues 5th) although of course LA's GF was a bit of a mirage last year imo. In any case I didn't think the Blues scored enough last year to go very far but this year they look better and I would consider both teams true contenders.
With that said ... I look at both teams' rosters and its a wash. Love the Blues' D but while they have a deep forwards corps its more of a bunch of 15 to 20 goal scorers. Meanwhile LA's D looks a bit weaker but up front they have the depth (again) but also have the gamebreakers that the Blues lack.
It will probably come down to goaltending and in both cases last year's heroes have struggled for most of the year, though apparently Elliott and Quick have turned the corner recently.
Seeing as I can't tell if either of those guys will fall off a cliff (they both may) I will go with the Kings based on their elite offensive talent. They will take it in seven.
Man I'm going one and three aren't I?
Posted by Black Dog at 8:54 PM
Monday, April 15, 2013
Two months ago I saw the Hip at the ACC. It was the fifth time I've seen them, first time in a decade. It was a great show. They always put on a great show.
At one point they kicked off some obscure gem and the crowd burst into song, Downie grinned and he wandered about the stage, letting us take it away, after every line he'd raise the mic and say 'Yes, yes, that's it' 'You're right, yes that's it' 'Very good, very good' and so on.
So it was today as the news came out that Tambo had been fired and replaced by MacTavish until ... until ...
'Yes, yes, that's it' 'You're right, yes that's it' 'Very good, very good, Holy shit its a big fucking bear!!!!!'
To throw in a quote from another of his famous in concert solioquoys.
Any dummy could have seen today coming and I say that because I'm one dummy that did. At the beginning of the season I said that with a bit of luck the Oilers could make the playoffs. I also said that if they didn't make the playoffs that it would probably be a win for Oiler fans because it would mean that Tambellini would get the gaspipe. It wouldn't be Kreuger, not when he was the fourth coach in five years. The players have all been turned over. The scouts, the minor league organization, the equipment guys and trainers.
It would have to be Tambo.
He deserved it. He carried on Lowe's work in sending out good players for bad players or less. The players he acquired through trade or in signings demonstrated his inability to evaluate talent. He traded picks for waiver wire fodder and time and again his own signings passed through waivers themselves, to be paid NHL salaries to play in the minors. And last summer, with a possible playoff spot a handful of moves away, he stood pat, other than adding two more rookies to the mix, talented rookies to be sure but not the guys to turn a perennial also ran into a playoff team. Instead he gambled that two of Justin Schultz, Nick Schultz and Ryan Whitney would be able to provide top four minutes.
None were able to do this.
And still the team muddled through.
And then when Horcoff, Belanger and Lander all went down, all while Nugent Hopkins struggled, he failed to add a centre. Typical Tambo and with everything that passed this season that was the stretch that doomed their shot at the playoffs and lost him his job. Rather than finding a veteran fill in Tambo forced Kreuger to ice lineups that included Ryan Smyth and Vandevelde as two of the four centres.
And so seven years without playoffs. And he's a goner.
As for his replacement, well a month ago this is what I wrote.
Tyler Dellow put together a pretty interesting article last night (timing!!) where he argued, pretty convincingly, that Tambo probably had more of a hand in what has passed these last few years than we thought.
Was Tambo in charge or was it Lowe? Well if it was Lowe then not much is going to change and as I have said hey it is the Chicago model and there's Bob Pulford and we're all going to die without seeing another playoff spot, never mind a Cup.
If it was Tambo then things can certainly be no worse. Am I on board with MacT? Yes I am. He's an ex player and an ex Oiler, yes, but, like Howson, he's actually an educated man and yes that matters. What he said at the press conference made perfect sense, mostly because a lot of it is what I have been saying for years ;) but seriously. Get good players. Acquire depth. Gritty players without skill are useless (no more facepunchers).
In other words build a deep quality club, like the 2006 club. Like every club that has won the Stanley Cup since 2006.
The 'I'm impatient' side of it made me a bit nervous but that may just be part of being an Oiler fan. We've been getting burned since June 17th 2006. Nothing has gone right. So while I trust MacT as a guy who coached good teams and bad teams in the NHL and thus recognizes that a guy like, say, Jack Johnson, may be famous but really isn't very good, there is a part of me that expects we will see him coming to Edmonton this summer while Paajarvi and Klefbom (or as Spector calls them 'tradebait') head the other way.
But mostly I trust him to do the right thing. The hard part is over after all. The elite talent is in Edmonton. Fill in around it and you've got at least a playoff team.
So Tambo and MacT we could predict pretty easily. What we could not predict was how the press conference played out. There was an inkling of what was coming when shortly after it was leaked that Tambo was gone and that MacT was coming in Mark Spector and Robert Tychkowski both tweeted that the Oilers hadn't gone far enough. Tychkowski:
Firing Tambellini is fair. Ignoring Kevin Lowe's culpability in this mess is laughable
OK fair enough, there are certain Oiler media members who talk tough on the tweeter but, as we know, the Edmonton media has been beyond soft on the Oilers for years. Its one of the reasons we are where we are.
And then, well, then, it was wonderful theatre. MacTavish was great, especially after years of Tambo mumbling and stumbling, He was excited, almost too excited, he misspoke a couple of times, but as I noted above, he said all of the things I wanted to hear.
The entertainment was elsewhere though. It started when Lowe made a fairly lame joke and those assembled didn't react. 'That was a joke' said Lowe and they laughed and I said 'there go the monkeys' and then the floor was opened for questions and the first one came and oh boy.
It was my favourite whipping boy Mark Spector and then later on it was MacKinnon and they got to the point and good. Lowe was responsible for this mess and yet still he was here. MacT and Howson had been around when it all started going off the rails and now they were in charge? And Lowe was still here? Basically, what the fuck?
Lowe, after years of not being questioned, was not expecting it and he lost his temper and it made for a terrific scene. His comments about two different strata of fans and about his Stanley Cup rings were awful and embarassing and its clear from the press conference and the response of the majority of fans that whatever cachet Lowe had before is long gone. Some have said that today proved that Lowe is bulletproof but I really believe that today is the beginning of the end for him. He is in the crosshairs now and if MacTavish fails then Lowe will fall on his sword rather than put up with the abuse that will come his way. Don't think so? The media is after him and the view outside of Edmonton is that the Oilers are a joke. If this doesn't get turned around its over for Lowe.
So either the club turns a corner or longterm the one guy who has been around for the whole disaster will be gone. Win-win.
But damn I hope MacT succeeds.
Posted by Black Dog at 10:48 PM
Saturday, April 13, 2013
The loss of Dan Barnes was a deathblow to what was already a wasteland, mostly devoid of sense or critical thought. Strong words? Sure, deservedly so. These guys get it consistently wrong. There was Jones writing that any six D at the WJC would be better than the Oilers D and Matheson musing on a three year extension for Whitney at ~ 3 million per. And there are none worse than Spector who felt that Ben Eager, waived through the league, should play in the Oilers' top six and that Cam Barker was a top three defenceman last winter.
With Spector one often thinks he is trolling with such comments or his assertions that Europeans can't be trusted in a third line/checking/grinding role on a contender (Sami Pahlsson, Tomas Kopecky, Sergei Brylin, Radek Dvorak all come to mind immediately as players who did just that) but its pretty clear that he's just that out of touch.
One suspects that last spring he was probably one of the many who was bashing Ilya Kovalchuk as someone who didn't care about winning. This despite Kovalchuk playing like a man possessed until his bad back finally felled him. Instead of pointing this out though dummies like Stock and Hughson and Cherry and Healy pushed the narrative that Kovalchuk did not care. Sure he was amazing for the first three rounds but once the Finals came he stopped caring. Yes. Exactly.
Hilariously there were only minutes left in the final game and Hughson put down Kovalchuk again and was admonished by Healy with an acknowledgement of something that everyone watching the games knew: he was badly hurt.
Hughson's response? 'Well he shouldn't be playing then'
The absurdity of the double standard to which Europeans are held cannot be overstated. The Swedes, Russians and Czechs have all won best on best competitions and I doubt anybody would question the competitiveness of the Finns. Pretty well every Stanley Cup champion since the eighties has had Europeans play prominent roles. Europeans have captained Cup champs and contenders. And yet the myth lives on. Euros don't care.
If a Canadian or American plays hurt he is gutting it out (remember how Yzerman was deified?) but when Kovalchuk tried to do the same? He gets pilloried. He should not be playing! Imagine if he had not played the Finals the shitstorm that would have rained down on him?
Its a sad joke. If a European player slumps then he doesn't care. If a team loses the prominent Euros (Malkin last spring) don't care about winning while the prominent Canadians (Fleury) get little if no blame.
A dirty Euro breaks the mythical code or is a diver or does not belong in the league. A dirty Canadian is doing everything he can to win. And going back through the greatest Canadian players? Howe was dirty, Richard too. When provoked both Harvey and Orr would try to hurt their opponents, Orr in a sociopathic cold rage. Mikita was a vicious stickman early in his career, much like Anderson and (sneakily) Yzerman. Watch the 72 series and see what our heroes did on the road to victory. And that's without mentioning Mark Messier.
Anyway the reason for this rant? On Twitter the other day and someone mentioned that Spector again had the knives out for his favourite target, Ales Hemsky. Here is what that idiot Spector had to say:
But who on the team takes responsibility for Ales Hemsky, the epitome of poor leadership and professional indifference, who stands as an awful example for an impressionable core.
When you talk about changing a losing culture, you talk about moving out Hemsky – a player seemingly satisfied with an April exit, season after season.
Hemsky doesn’t work on his game post-practice; he doesn’t produce during games; he is eternally injured; he is overpaid for his production. If he had signed a five-year deal instead of a two-year contract, and cared a bit more, he’d be Mikhail Grabovski.
When it’s all over, and the 19th game has passed in which Hemsky has delivered but a single goal for his $5-million salary, he didn’t even have the stones to stand in front of a media microphone Wednesday. Again he refused to talk post-game, leaving his coach Ralph Krueger to trot out the litany of excuses that this organization has collectively proffered for No. 83 for years now.
“It’s been a month on a foot injury…,” said Ralph Krueger. “He’s not at 100 per cent … You know he’s limited with the injury he has… That’s been a factor in his lack of production….”
My fucking blog is tainted just by having these words on it but I sure as shit am not going to link to where he wrote this garbage.
So much to say. Where to start?
Grabovski hasn't produced this year because while Bozak and Kadri get to start in the offensive zone against the other club's softies, Grabovski gets to do the heavy lifting. You know, defensive zone draws against the other team's stars. All the while while playing with an illness. But 'hockey journalist' Mark Spector doesn't recognize Grabovski's role (JUST WATCH THE GAMES) or know that the little centre is ill. Nice work pal.
Hemsky is a bad influence. Yes of course. His coach has basically excused him from practice for weeks because he is injured. I once had a cracked bone in my foot. I could barely walk, never mind play hockey. The injury that Ales Hemsky has would probably put keyboard warrior Mark Spector on the couch for weeks but Hemsky has played with it for a month. Spector calls this an excuse and calls Hemsky out for not producing. JOURNALIZM! Not only that Hemsky is setting a bad example, playing hurt as the team tries to make the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Right.
Also on Hemsky's resume as a bad teammate? The fact that Taylor Hall said they had better well sign him last spring and the fact that he helps younger teammates with their games in practice. I know this and I am not a superstar journalist with access< I don't even live in Edmonton. But who do you believe? The dummy? Or Ales Hemsky's own teammates?
The cherry on top of this joke? The fact that almost immediately after 'writing' that garbage Spector published a long whine about how unfair it is to him and to us that he doesn't get proper access to players. This is self important garbage, please turn your head so you don't vomit on your keyboard or smart phone.
You probably didn’t know this, but there are actual written rules in place — “NHL MEDIA ACCESS POLICY,” as agreed upon by the league and the NHL Players’ Association — in place to guarantee access to players so that you, the reader and the viewer, can hear from your favorite players.
So that when a player becomes the focal point of a game, or ‘The Story’ on an off day, you, the reader or viewer, can learn more about it through your friendly neighbourhood journalist.
Now think about how laughable that is for a second. In a world where we all have access to information at the click of a button we need Mark Spector to have access to players so he can ask his canned questions so he can get his canned answers. Because that's what his precious access brings us. Tyler Dellow (who Spector called an idiot on the radio the other day - class), LT, Willis and McCurdy all give us better analysis than 'Eager belongs in the top six' Spector and when is the last time you learned anything from a Spector column, from his amazing access?
What a joke.
And then the topper:
Every team has their Henrik or Daniel, and every team has an Ales Hemsky or Dustin Byfuglien — two guys who wouldn’t pour their beer on a burning hockey writer.
So on top of the fact that Spector ignores basic facts when talking about Hemsky (not to mention how this guy who 'doesn't care' hurt his foot blocking a shot or that the reason he has chronically bad shoulders is because over the years he has taken a beating from huge nasty men like Regher going into the corners and to the front of the net) but he then admits that Hemsky despises hockey writers. Or at least one specific hockey writer I would guess.
I'm sure that a standup guy like Mark Spector doesn't let that fact colour his writing though, right?
Good job, good effort.
Posted by Black Dog at 3:41 PM
Thursday, April 11, 2013
Of course the other side of that is at four they are really coming into their own, they're making those leaps and bounds when it comes to learning, real learning, in the past few months our youngest has learned how to skate, she has started swimming lessons, her drawing has taken a huge leap forward as has her counting and we're starting to see that maybe, just maybe, she will be reading soon as well. (She's behind both older siblings in that case, third child and all, poor kid, she's really on her own).
But with all that there is still the innocence, even with this one, who with the influence of an older brother and sister comes out with remarks loaded with snark and pop culture references already. The other day she went on a school trip down to the university to see a play which was based on the three little pigs. I picked her up at school and she said that she enjoyed it very much but that she was disappointed that neither the pigs nor the wolf were played by pigs and a wolf but by people.
Now on the flip side of that it was later that night that she threw a massive tantrum, mostly due to tiredness. We're talking lying on the floor kicking and screaming over something ridiculous. I kept my cool admirably throughout, came up with a nuclear option to end it all and dropped that bad boy, leaving her picking up the pieces, acknowledging that for one night at least, I was her better. I asked her to make a choice and she stubbornly refused and so after repeated requests I told her that I would make the choice for her and then I did so. At which point she told me that she was not happy with my choice which I followed up by calling her 'a little knob'.
Quality parenting there folks. You can use that any time.
And so in a week the Oilers have gone from having a shot at the playoffs to having that faint hope strangled, chopped up and buried. Seven years out, are we having fun yet?
I think that after 2006/2007 this is probably the most exasperating season of all. That one was awful, mostly because the Oilers were essentially the same team as they had been the autumn before. Peca and Dvorak were gone but Roloson was there and it was obvious that losing Pronger was a massive blow but it was also very clear that bringing in one or two capable top four NHL defencemen would not replace CFP but it would probably mean playoffs again. That was a good team. But Lowe did not do that and so when the patchwork D corps (Smid in the top four my God) fell apart when Tjarnqvist and Staios went down the season went south and then Smyth was shipped out and so began the first of many death marches we would endure as Oiler fans.
That summer Gator was shipped out as well and it was pretty clear what needed doing. The best two defencemen, the best forward plus Peca and Dvorak were gone. It was time to rebuild with the three first round picks, the second round pick, Smid, Pitkanen, Gagner, Nilsson and O'Marra. (I know I know lol) But really the writing was on the wall. Time to start over. Except Lowe signed Souray and offer sheeted Penner. One step forward, one step back and so it was. Both moves were overpays although I ended up liking both players but the bigger issue was that the Penner move cost three picks, including a first, and by adding both players and not shipping out other vets while they had value Lowe delayed the formal rebuild and doomed us to a couple more seasons of terrible hockey with lineups pieced together with too many kids, too many plugs but just enough vets to make the team just a bit too good, if you know what I mean. And so it went until they finally blew it up.
We've known for years that this club's management is garbage. Lowe is our Pulford and like Chicago our club is going to be garbage as long as he's around. It took Bill Wirtz DYING to resolve that issue in Chicago. We're doomed.
Because here we are, seven years out of the playoffs, with three #1 overall picks plus three more top tens in Smid, Gagner and Paajarvi plus Eberle, Dubnyk, Justin Schultz, Petry and Hemsky and still management has shown that they have no idea how to build a team.
Not a single clue.
That is an awful lot of talent right there and yet this season has gone to waste, another one thrown on the scrapheap and no help coming from the farm except probably Teemu but who would know considering his roster spot this year was taken by useless facepunchers like Hordichuk and Eager and Brown and never will bes like Jones and Petrell. And maybe maybe Anton Lander, who sits in the pressbox in the NHL rather than playing somewhere, anywhere.
What an absolute disgrace.
The thing with Tambo and Lowe is its their body of work, it is so absolutely damning. You can argue piece by piece why this guy had to go or that guy had to go but the proof is in the standings. Over the last seven years there has been no worse team in the NHL. And still Kevin Lowe is employed.
Two legitimate top four NHL defencemen. After Smid and Petry they gambled that a raw rookie, a fading veteran and a guy who can't turn anymore could fill the other two slots. And like nearly every other bet they have made it didn't work out.
Every GM has bets that don't work, even the best ones. This club's management has almost none that do work.
Picks traded for waiver wire garbage - Smithson, Brown, Fistric
Absolutely nothing done when the team was devastated with injuries at centre.
Contracts doles out like candy to players who pass through waivers with no takers.
But worst of all is the theme of this past seven years, the overwhelming issue, that is management's inability to recognize good players and, in turn, their predisposition to remove good players from the roster without replacing them. Every team makes mistakes but the Oilers literally have a half of a roster of them, players who have been sent away for nothing or for returns so rapidly diminishing that the mind boggles. Indeed they have sent so many good players that there would not be enough room on the present club for all of them.
Imagine an Oilers' roster with the following players on it. So the present roster plus these players:
Tom Gilbert, Joni Pitkanen, Sheldon Souray, Jan Hejda, Matt Greene, Kyle Brodziak, Curtis Glencross, Andrew Cogliano, Jarret Stoll, Raffi Torres.
What do all of these players have in common?
They were all let go for nothing or for what turned out to be almost immediately less value. They were all, with the exceptions of Glencross and Hejda, under contract to the Oilers when they were sent away and in those two cases the players, from anecdotal evidence (and the fact that neither signed for a king's ransom elsewhere) could have easily been had. They all play for teams much better than the Oilers with the exceptions being Glencross and Hejda this year. Greene and Stoll won a Stanley Cup. Torres was a bottom sixer on a Cup finallist. Cogliano and Souray play for one of the top teams in the league this year. And on and on it goes. The only guys sent away for anything worthwhile were Stoll and Greene but Lubo Visnovsky, now playing for another playoff team, was turned into Ryan Whitney, who, like Brule and O'Sullivan and so many other Oilers of recent vintage will soon be out of hockey altogether. Oh you know who one of Lubo's teammates is? Colin McDonald. Remember him, cast away. He's played 37 games, has 7 goals and nine assists.
Going to the playoffs. Way to go Colin.
And yes on Twitter the other day when I brought this up someone replied 'Well its only Colin McDonald, what does it matter, how could they have known' and of course he was right, Colin McDonald on his own, who cares, except Colin McDonald has turned into a useful NHL player and he is one of a long list of them. Colin McDonald by himself doesn't matter. Raffi Torres, on his own, had to go. But when they are two of many who have been shipped out for NOTHING then yes they matter. Body of work.
You can excuse one of these, you can make a case here and there but that's a damning list, a half roster of players let go for nothing. So many players that even if you quibble about a couple of them we could still fill out the Oilers roster:
That's amazing. Its absolutely unreal. And yes maybe this guy had to go or that guy was not a fit but the real issue, the jist of this, is that all of these players were let go for nothing. Its the opposite of the guy who turned a paper clip into a house. Lowe and Tambellini have turned the house into a sack of garbage that has been ripped open and spilled into the road, stinking and useless.
Posted by Black Dog at 2:00 PM
Thursday, April 04, 2013
We got smoked and it was a total disgrace.
On the positive side we had our annual team party on the Friday night and a wonderful time was had by all. We took advantage of the lovely weather to take the annual family trip to a maple sugar bush. And we celebrated the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ by having a fantastic roast lamb dinner. We're athiests. Or at least the kids and I are. Well they're undecided I guess. We don't discourage it. You don't care about that. Also we had the sex and I drank some good beer. So hooray for our side. Oh also Saturday night the Oilers smoked the Canucks. So that also helped the general mood.
The biggest news though, the best of it all, was that Jenn finally caved in. On Friday night, unprompted, she announced that we could get a new dog. I believe her words were 'Everyone but me wants one and I can't be the bitch who denies it anymore' or something to that effect.
Now there are conditions. She doesn't want a puppy. It has to be smaller (~30 pounds or less) and it can't shed (or at most very very little).
So this makes it a little bit difficult but not impossible. Looking at Cairn Terriers and Scotties, preferably around a year old. So yeah. Amazing.
What's almost as amazing is that I woke up this morning and the Oilers are in 8th place. Tough tough row to hoe the next three games but right now the Oilers are in a playoff spot. Crazy.
Back in January I figured with some luck the Oilers would be here and they, for the most part, have been pretty lucky. They have a few guys, notably Hemsky, battling nagging injuries but for the most part they have been healthy for the first time since 2005/2006. Only the Horcoff injury has been a longterm problem they have faced. Almost killed the season but they're still in it warts and all, God knows they have warts but then again so does everyone else.
Will they make it? Who the hell knows? Right now everything is going in just as two months ago nothing was and so if this keeps going for another three weeks then they probably will. Tough schedule and all but sometimes shit just happens. It is right now.
I'm enjoying it. It takes time for kids to develop. We saw it with Smid and then this year Gagner came of age in his fifth year in the league and now we are literally seeing Taylor Hall become the man, all in the space of a few weeks. He is one of the best players in the game right now, the underlying numbers have been there forever, he's got the hot hand for sure but as LT says he's been pushing the river since last year. He's unreal. And it looks like Ted may finally be healthy and I would bet on his turn coming next season if he is healthy. He's not the same player as Hall but honestly I could see him top twenty in scoring next season as well.
Its really something.
I sure wish Tambo had made a move last summer though, they might be home and cooled right now, this is not the Oilers' way though, they're just waiting and waiting. Patience is good, it is, hell we saw Milbury trade enough good young players out of Long Island to know that a dummy can ruin a team pretty easily but man a top four Dman and top nine LW (and maybe a C when Horcoff was down) would have meant a guaranteed spot rather than a possible spot.
Oh well. I'll enjoy it for now. It could be over in a week, literally, but its in their hands and what more could we ask for. Especially seeing as the core of the team are just kids.
Posted by Black Dog at 1:59 PM
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
If I had a nickel for every time I saw, heard or was told that GMs or sports reporters know better than someone because, you know, authority, I would be a wealthy man and at the deadline I would basically be able to earn enough to buy a home somewhere, maybe Spain, which would be nice. The deadline brings out the crazy in people. Pierre Maguire calls Ales Hemsky a centre and a grunt like Douglas Murray suddenly has value and hey whoa not only should a team with good goaltending acquire someone like Kipper but they should also EXTEND HIM. And meanwhile Mark Spector, he who has no use for Euros or any skill, who would replace Paajarvi with Ben Eager, wonders why San Jose is dumping their 'good players'. Haha.
It was interesting watching Sportsnet's table of failed GMs last night, mostly because they confirmed what I and many of you certainly believe. Some of what happens at the deadline (and at other times) is the result of an owner stepping in and saying 'DO THIS!' often with horrible results. Some of what happens is all smoke and mirrors, as Doug MacLean explained. Teams don't really want to do anything but they have to appear to be trying to do something to appease the fans. Oiler fans will recognize this gambit from draft day every year. (Oilers really worked at moving up to get so and so but just couldn't do it). Of course with the Oilers when they like a guy in junior they just wait a decade and then trade a good player for that guy and use that as part of the reasoning. Because they're dummies.
Thankfully the Oilers are a point out of the playoffs right now so there's no way anybody of value heads out the door. Could you imagine Tambellini trying to sell moving Ales Hemsky for magic beans to the fans? Could you imagine him trying to sell that to the team? Not going to happen. I expect minor moves, if any.
And here is the other thing we have learned from these past two days as the cream of the crop of guys on the market get picked up. Despite deadline prices usually being high guys are being picked up for nothing more than picks and middling prospects and this isn't just the UFAs but a guy like Bouwmeester who the Blues have under contract for another year. Bouwmeester is no Pronger in his prime but a guy who logs all of those minutes is pretty valuable and he cost the Blues no more than Penner did a couple of years back. Unreal.
And this speaks to a point that I have been making for a while. Come the summer when the Oilers need to make some moves to finally balance out this team they can add what they need and not give up a Paajarvi or a Hemsky or a Gagner. They can pick up that top four Dman (or ideally two) and that top nine winger without paying a mediocre free agent the world or gutting their still shallow depth chart or dealing a Klefbom or Marancin. Of course if their target is a #1 Dman of the Subban or Pietrangelo family then they'll have to deal off serious assets but if we're looking at the Streits and Michaleks and Visnovskys of the world, you know the guys, solid top four guys, then this can be done and it can be done on the cheap.
That's what last night tells us. Hopefully it tells Oilers' management the same thing.
Posted by Black Dog at 6:13 PM
Monday, April 01, 2013
Both Jenn and I have our crazier sides and we are outgoing but when we were young we were both pretty reticent (so she says, I certainly was) and both of our oldest kids are the same. They have a lot of personality and great senses of humour but both also have a quiet reserved side.
Not this one. Life of the party wherever she goes, bold, quick with the smart remark.
Saturday we went out to get a birthday present for her little friend and she insisted on wearing her little rabbit mask. Everywhere we went she was greeted with smiles and upon entering a shop one of the staff said:
Oh look there's a little bunny in our store.
My daughter turned to me and said in a whisper:
See, I told you people would think I was a real bunny.
We have very good friends and every couple of months we get over to their place in the Annex. I believe it was last year we discovered that she had 'fed the fish' and she did this in a subsequent visit as well, dumping an entire package of fish food into the water. Recently we were visiting again and the kids were charmed by the latest addition to their family, a little lovebird named Basie. Basie hangs around with the family (literally, my pal has described being in the shower and the bird holding onto him for dear life) and so the kids enjoyed this but after a while he was brought downstairs while we ate brunch. After she was done our youngest excused herself and disappeared and it wasn't but a minute that Basie reappeared, followed soon by our daughter who exclaimed that Basie wanted to come and see us again.
So yeah. This was her in a snapshot.
This time of the season is generally a terrifying one for Oiler fans. Except for
2006 when Lowe brought in Roloson to FINALLY solve our goaltending woes as well as Samsonov to augment the roster (not to mention earlier acquisitions Spacek and Tarnstrom) the deadline has almost always meant favourites going out the door for futures. The worst ever was the Smytty kick in the nuts in 2007 but we have also seen Erik Cole, Lubo, Penner, Grebeshkov and Gilbert dealt in the past few years. Add up the return for a half dozen actual NHL players and you get Klefbom, who looks promising, Nick Schultz, who is fading, and Whitney, who is pretty well done.
There's a reason this team has been in the basement forever.
Last year brought us the fear of losing Ales Hemsky for futures, somehow they figured out that depth at RW (or any position) might actually be a positive and so they signed him and so RW may be the Oilers' deepest position today. Of course they immediately turned around and traded Gilbert so even that joy was shortlived.
What will this year bring? Well they signed Smid this morning to a very nice deal and so that is no longer a concern. When having very few experienced quality defencemen is your biggest problem its a good idea to keep one of the few that you have.
So very happy about that.
And if the Oilers beat Calgary tonight then they will have a playoff spot if everything else falls right for them on the OOT scoreboard and even if they don't they are only a few points out and with that being the case I cannot see the Oilers subtracting. They might stand pat, they might add but I can't see them sell being a seller to either the players or the fans.
Having signed Smid I would look for the following moves but I don't think we see them until this summer.
1/ Add another actual top four D. Really ideally they would add two and have the Schultzes play bottom pair next year (plus you know ... depth!!!) but I think they definitely add one. Good news is come summer guys like this can be had for a pick. Best way to go, more likely they trade Hemsky for one which leads me to
2/ Keep Hemsky. A RW depth chart of Hemsky, Eberle, Yakupov is outstanding, take Hemsky out of the mix and its not so hot.
3/ Add a LW. I've mentioned MacArthur and Stallberg. Your might have someone else in mind.
4/ Keep Horcoff. I am starting to think they aren't going to buy him out unless his game falls off a cliff next season. His return has made a big difference in the lineup. Even with the cap coming down he fits and the following year its sure to rise again. Can't see Katz paying a useful player to go away and then paying someone else to replace him.
5/ Clear out the deadwood. This we might see at the deadline if the Oilers can find replacements/takers for the likes of Whitney, Khabibulin and so on. Then again there are rumours those two might be extended. Anyhow we will see guys get culled between now and Wednesday as well as this summer.
That's all. Nothing too sexy. Don't give up your good players unless the return is other good players. No magic beans. The team is past that. I figured with luck the Oilers would be where they are now, in the race, and the reality is their shooting % was dreadful for most of the year. Suddenly guys are starting to get hot and maybe, just maybe, they can make it into the second season.
This year playoffs would be gravy. Next year its expected. Keep your good players, like Smid. Add more of them. Its pretty straight forward.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:00 PM
Monday, March 25, 2013
When my son started playing hockey this past fall I was happy that he wanted to give it a whirl and hopeful that he would enjoy my favourite sport. And he did, falling head over heels for the game, this despite being, um, well, not very good. He was the smallest player on the team and the weakest skater and he would touch the puck once or twice a game. Jenn hated it, hated seeing him struggle so obviously. It was like watching one of those shows like The Office where you cringe at what is going on but can't pull yourself away from it.
The boy is laconic, one word answers are his forte, if he were ever to make the pros he'd be the perfect interview, no Crash Davis training needed there, so when I asked him if he had fun and he said 'yes' and what he thought about hockey he would say 'good' but he would say both with a stone face that would make Dion Phaneuf jealous and I worried that he was just going along for the ride, just trying to please me.
Except it became clear that he did love the game and that he was having fun and soon he was asking me to sign him up for next season and hockey camp and summer hockey and the whole deal. And when winter came to Toronto and they put ice down at the park one street over we started going over to skate and play some shinny and then all of a sudden when the Sharks hit the ice every Saturday morning the boy was in the play more and more, getting to the puck, going to the net, banging along the boards.
And he wasn't alone. For most of his teammates it was their first crack at organized hockey. There is a three goal rule in the league so each player is allowed a maximum of a hattrick in the game and in the fall one player, a fantastic skater and stickhandler who could put the puck top corner, would invariably score three goals by the second period and then the team would get reeled in and lose 4-3 or 5-4. Their goalie struggled, the D was a bit of a mishmash and up front there was a lot of try but no finish.
And then one by one they began to get it. They learned their positions and the simple truths about the game - keep skating, stick on the ice, go to the net - and suddenly they began to tear through the league. They won their last five games and while the team's star was still scoring his three goals his teammates were also scoring. Whereas players once put their head down and went solo and stuffed it into the opposing goalies' pads now their were passes and rebounds and accurate shots from the slot. The only weakness was a goaltender whose confidence was clearly shot. While his teammates would score seven or eight he would allow four or five and usually the majority of those were, erm, not so great.
And then just before playoffs started a practice and the coaches (who were fantastic) worked with everyone on defending and with the young keeper on some basics (and some encouragement) and so when the round robin came they kept on rolling and other than one stinker in the first game the young goalie was solid and so there were three more wins to make it eight in a row and to clinch a trip to the championship. The last of these wins was over their main rival and eliminated them and so the final was to be against an opponent who they had beaten every time, a team that had managed to score a lot against them but who had also allowed a ton. So things were looking good.
Except in the round robin game against that same team there had been times where it had been the goalie and good luck that had stood between them and a poor result and so when my son smiled when he heard the opponent I reminded him that that same team had beaten their rival to get in and that in one game anything can happen.
The morning of the game the boy was calm and I told him what I tell him before every game - do your best, go to the net, stick on the ice, have fun - and he just nodded and said 'I know' and then he got his helmet on and went out with his teammates. The coach, a good friend of mine, was a wreck and once they dropped the puck I wasn't much better.
It was a funny game, a typical hockey game really. The boy's team played a perfect game basically and yet the game was in doubt. Everyone contributed from the top of the roster to the bottom, as it should be and, on this day, as was necessary because their opponent, while overmatched, was tenacious. While the Sharks' superstar scored early on the rest of the game he was shut down and while his line's forechecking (that's my boy!) kept the other team bottled up on every shift that was all he would get on this day.
But the coach's son (and my son's buddy) scored in the first to make it 2-0 and then again in the second to make it 3-0 and it looked like they were home and cooled finally after that one. The defence shut down the other team almost completely and when they did break through the little goalie turned everything aside.
But its hockey. When it was 2-0 a puck squirted out front to their winger who had the whole open net only to see it bounce over his stick and away from harm. So while the boy said later that on the bench that after the third goal he began to think that they could do it behind the bench and in the stands the nerves were still jangling and when they scored with seven minutes left to make it 3-1, well, I was a bit of a wreck and on the bench my son said that his nerves returned as well. (As an aside he said after the game that he was nervous before the game but once it started he just played and forgot about it - just like a pro ;) )
They have a buzzer system, its a three minute shift at a time and so the boy and his linemates were on the bench for the last six minutes. The other team barely got over the red line and then there were three minutes left and they pulled their goalie and the Sharks got a penalty and so it was six players to four for the last two minutes and so we waited and waited and waited and watched as three boys and one girl cleared the zone and then cleared it again and then pushed their last attack to the boards, stops and starts, no lazy looping turns, and pursuit until the buzzer went and gloves and sticks flew into the air and they poured off the bench to hug and chase their laughing goalie around as they tried to pull him down to pile on top of him.
And so my son, in his first year of hockey, is a champion, the same number of times as I have won in ~ 30 seasons or so of playing. The little bugger. ;)
But all kidding aside what an introduction to the wonderful game of hockey. Tremendous coaches, a team on which every player got better and learned and had a great time and finally a championship of which every player could say, honestly, I was a part of it.
It will be tough to top based on the smile on my son's face which has been there since Saturday morning. But he'll try.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:01 PM
Monday, March 18, 2013
As an older team Capsule has always run into trouble in the playoffs because our league runs over March Break and unlike some of the teams of youngsters we face this actually means something to us. We have been prolific breeders, as one of my teammates remarked last year as we surveyed a basement teeming with Capsule progeny
Well there's one area Capsule has no problem scoring in.
The result is that when March Break rolls around and playoffs with them we are often short. And this year it may have cost us one game and with that game, our year.
We had a great year, we really did. Five real defencemen for the first time in years and years and no coincidence that that was the last season we had like this where we were actually true contenders. We finished tied for second in a ten team league (seeded third on GD) and were one of four teams that ran the division essentially.
First round we got a nice draw and swept both games although the second game was a bit dicey and we got a taste of upcoming issues as the other club ran three lines out and we faded on the big ice.
The second series we faced the fourth placed club, a tough matchup for us. They're a solid three line team and had both the top scorer in the league, a massive centreman, and the best goalie as well. In our three games in the season we had tied them, beaten them 2-1 with both goals coming in the last minute and beaten them with eight skaters with the winner coming in the last minute.
So about as evenly matched as can be.
And so game one, last weekend, ended in a 2-2 tie.
Game two came Friday and we had nine skaters and only two regular D and they had three full lines and the results, well the results were expected. Another regular D might have saved us. We fell behind 2-0 and then it was 3-1 but we clawed our way back and with nine minutes left we had tied it up. It wasn't to be though, they kept coming and we couldn't hold it as we ran out of gas and so they got one and then another quickly after and finally an empty netter to seal it.
What this all meant is that Sunday we had to win just to survive. And if we did then we would go to a 5 minute OT to decide the series and if that did not then a shootout. Shootouts are stupid. My son agrees. Any other opinion is invalid.
Sunday we had four D and eight forwards and basically we ran their show. We scored early and kept coming and scored another and then we poured it on. Two more and they got one and we came right back with another and with ten minutes left we were looking home and cooled.
Except ... except lol. We took our foot off the gas a bit. We got a penalty, one of four (4!) we would take in the last ten minutes. They scored. We killed the next penalty and then one of our D made an awful play and they got another goal. And then with just over a minute left and one of our guys in the box they pulled within one.
Its funny. When I was a boy I was small and quiet and when it came to sports I could lack confidence. I played and I loved it but I was the type of kid who would not push back. And two weeks ago when we were at the rink the game before us went to a shootout and I turned to our captain and joked that if it came down to that for us I would probably best go after Dale. Dale is our goalie.
But here we were with the season on the line and our two best forwards (both centres) on the ice and a third was needed and the question was who and I said 'I'm going' and I hopped over the boards no hesitation. I wanted to be out there.
They got the puck into our end but no clear chance although I iced it with about seven seconds left (not enough English ha) but we scrambled the draw and so were alive.
Overtime went by in a flash but not before their goalie saved their season. Buddy let in five goals in the game but the total distance the puck travelled on those, maybe 15 feet if that. We crowded him and went to the net and so with a few minutes left we did it again and the rebound came to one of our wingers and the top of the net was gaping, same as it was a few months ago when the same guy scored the winner for us with seconds left. He was close in and he got it up but somehow a limb flailed and the puck skittered wide. Luck eh? Would have traded that earlier shot for this one at this point.
And so a shootout. You can't get traffic to the net on a shootout.
In our league the shooters go at the same time. I hate it. So three guys. First two were saves. Second round our guy was stopped, their guy scored. Third shooter for them was stopped, our guy scored. And then it went sudden death.
What might have been? Two of our three guys who were still awol with their families on vacation because they're selfish ;) are two of our best pure shooters, the sort of guys who have good hands in close. They wouldn't have been in the top three but probably would have been four and five. Would it have mattered? Maybe not. Maybe so.
As the fourth guys wound up our captain looked to my opposite winger and said 'You?' and the response was noncommital and then I said I'll do it, I wanted the chance and so when the fourth shooters both missed I jumped on the ice.
I know in this case you're supposed to let instinct take over but my general instinct is to stuff it into the goalie's crest so before the whistle blew I knew what I as going to do, I was going to go in hard, open my stick up as if I was going to shoot and then go backhand deke, hopefully up top.
And I did and he opened up and came with me and I didn't see myself getting it up and so I went for the opening. I turned and saw they had missed and I wanted that chance to sprint up the ice and leap into my teammates' arms but I was sure he had stopped it. He lay there not moving and part of him was in the net and the ref crept in and then the goalie got up and the puck was there in the crease for all to see.
And then the next two shooters and their man shot it and it squeaked between arm and body and in and our guy rang it off the post could you imagine. An inch this way for them, an inch that way for us and we win.
Disappointment but that's the hockey gods for you. Also shootouts are a mockery of the sport, fuck the shootout.
On the other side of the coin the boy played Saturday morning in the final game of their round robin. If everything had gone according to Hoyle the game would have been meaningless as these were the top two teams in the division by far and they should have both been home and cooled out. But while the boy's team had won both of their games their opposition had been upset and so while we figured we were through we didn't know the vagaries of the tiebreaker and so the thought was that a win probably would be the best idea. And missing three of the Sharks' stronger players was going to make this a taller order.
I've probably played about thirty seasons of hockey all told and in all of that time I have made a championship game or series twice. Here the boy, like Tyler Seguin, had a chance to make it as a true rookie.
And they played beautifully. Our little goalie, who had a tough stretch, has come into his own and so he held the fort. The rest of the team checked like demons and my son, who would get one or two touches a game at the beginning of the year, had a shot on net (it was blocked) and otherwise did his best (insert favourite checker - I'm going to go with Fernando Pisani) Fernando Pisani impression. He battled for the puck all game, taking it from bigger guys (they're all bigger than him), crashing into guys, fighting for it while lying on the ice, clearing the zone like a veteran. ;) And so when the buzzer went to end a 4-3 win and seal a trip to the big game, my son, who would make the perfect NHL player in that he makes Dion Phaneuf look like the life of the party when you're talking to him about the games, pumped his fist in the air and had a grin a mile wide that you could see across the ice even behind his cage, a grin that was still on his face all the way into the dressing room.
I congratulated him and told him that this coming Saturday he just has to do his best and enjoy himself.
Because I'll be worrying enough for all of us.
A lot of people figured that with the three point games and short schedule that the playoff race might involve more teams that usual and it looks like they were right. Despite the doom and gloom surrounding the Oilers a week ago they are now in tenth place. They are two points out of a playoff spot, four points from the division lead and four points out of last place in the conference. Haha. Chicago could probably win three more of their remaining twenty games and make the playoffs (!) but other than them and the California Boudreaus, everyone else is in the race. I would bet on LA and St Louis on making the grade and probably ending up in a first round war and I really really can't see Vancouver not making it. But the rest of it is up for grabs. Crazy. Only Florida is out of it in the entire league really.
And boy I wonder if the dummies who run the Oilers ever regret not picking up a top four Dman and a top nine LW who could check some last summer. Man oh man. And now everyone is going to start getting paid too. Oh well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it and I will do so as I cross every bridge, in the fetal position. (Its true you can ask my wife, bridges terrify me)
I figured the Oilers for a possible playoff team with some luck and so far with the exception of the Horcoff injury they have had some including last night when they were outchanced and still won. It happens though. Can they make it? Sure. They need some breaks and at least two points against either SJ or St Louis would help, preferably against the former.
What I have really enjoyed these past two weeks or so is the emergence of Magnus Paajarvi. While I never saw him as an offensive talent on par with Hall or Eberle I found it surprising that so many folks chose to write him off considering he scored fifteen goals as a rookie, most of those after he was placed into a more offensive role later in the year.
Context matters. I remember Erik Cole getting dumped on for lack of offence despite playing with Ethan Moreau and Kyle Brodziak against tough opposition, all the while starting in the defensive zone most of the time. What do people expect? We see it in Toronto right now with fans and apparently the coach down on Grabovski and Kulemin. When you're doing the tough sledding the offence is a little hard to come by and Paajarvi was either doing that or playing with fourth line plugs.
I thought, especially with Yakupov struggling on his off wing, that Paajarvi should get a top six shot and not one of those 'you'll get two periods and if there's nothing doing you're back in the pressbox' shots but an actual dozen games playing with talent. I thought they should have done the same with Omark last year. Let the kid play, let him make mistakes and have a bad game or two, like the golden boys. Worse case he can't cut it. Or maybe he gets on a roll like Paajarvi is on now. Its wonderful to see.
And I can't help but point out that Mark Spector was calling for Ben Eager over Paajarvi in this spot. Of course he's the same guy who called Cam Barker a top three NHL defenceman last year.
So not all of us is learning apparently.
Posted by Black Dog at 4:25 PM
Sunday, March 10, 2013
Once I bought a composite stick. It was a beaut, light as a feather. Cost me a hundred bucks and I had it about a month and then I was battling along the boards and buddy fell on it and it snapped in two like nothing.
So it was back to the Sherwoods. Last summer I bought another in the long line. There was nothing special about it or so I thought. Just another heavy hunk of wood, a lot of heft, the type that you can lay on an opponent to let him know you're there and he'd know it.
I'd just come off of a summer season where I went without a goal, the first season of my career where I was shut out. I had a good season and it was only about a dozen games so I wasn't too concerned. I got my chances and didn't get the bounces, sometimes that's the way it goes.
Nevertheless I was pleased when I scored a couple early this year to get going. I wasn't playing any different than I did in the summer, they just started going in. And then, strangely, they kept going in.
I ended up in the top twenty five in the league in scoring and fifteenth (!) in goals and in our first playoff game I potted another, giving me eleven in a couple of dozen games and, well, its a good feeling. I've always been a guy who does the little things to contribute to wins. Its pretty cool to be a guy who does the big things too.
As the season wound down though I began to be concerned about Lighting Boy. There was a chip out of the toe and when I bounced it there was that twang that told me that things were coming to an end. A few games ago as I sat on the bench I had pain in the palm of my hand and finger and checking, discovered that I had slivers.
And so last night I was sprung on a breakaway in the first game of our second round series. I didn't panic, I took a look, I chose to shoot, picked a corner but the goalie beat me. And then some time later, set up in the slot for a one timer, a play I scored on last week, instead this time I didn't get all of it and the goalie made an easy stop. And I knew something was wrong.
It was then that I noted a slight keening, a shiver and slowly, sadly, Lighting Boy began to expire and so, minutes later, as I fought along the boards in our zone and chipped the puck out, I suddenly felt that something was wrong and looking down, there was Lightning Boy, a mangled corpse, the blade hanging off of the shaft at the wrong angle.
Lightning Boy fell to the ice as I raced to the bench to borrow (because I only ever have one stick) a composite and at the next whistle we watched sadly from the bench as the ref threw his mangled remnants over the glass and into the corner of the rink.
My linemate turned to me, saw the sadness in my eyes and remarked:
'Its ok, he's just a sack of meat now, he has gone to a better place'
A part of me thought I could rebuild him and I pictured myself retrieving his broken body, wrapping it gently and then, a twelve pack of beer and pack of Camels at the ready, the montage scene, She's A Beauty by The Tubes providing the soundtrack as I, with blowtorch and hammer and tape and all of the technology available to man, brought Lightning Boy back to life, to score again, hopefully in the final, to bring glory to Capsule.
We would film it and call it 'The Unnatural'
Raise a toast to Lightning Boy ladies and gentlemen, wherever you are. The best twelve dollars I ever spent, even better than that time I bought a pitcher of beer at the Rex back on that sunny summer afternoon back in '87. Although that was pretty close because you know, patio beer.
Where have you gone Lightning Boyio, my stone hands turn their lonely eyes to you, whoo ooh ooh. What's that you say the guy who set me up last night, next time you have to bury those. Whoo ooo ooo Whoo ooo ooo.
Can anyone spot me twelve bucks? Have to run to Canadian Tire. Thanks bye.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:34 PM