Friday, September 29, 2006

Your Man Moreau



As per my agreement with Alana over at Hot Oil, here are my picks for the remainder of the First Original Hot Off - I have invested too much to not have my vote count. With my mancrush Ryan Smyth long gone I have to go with former Sudbury Wolves' playoff rental and failed basketball star Ethan Moreau to go all the way.

Alana will cast my votes for me - you can double check here to make sure she doesn't stuff the ballot box with her dream Oiler, you know who.

So here goes.

Jason Smith/Steve Staios - I'll take Gator
Dwayne Roloson/Jan Hejda - Roli the Goalie

Semi finals

Ethan Moreau/MacT - Moreau of course

Here are my rankings for the other bracket - Jason Smith, Dwayne Roloson, Steve Staios, Jan Hejda

Finals

Moreau, Smith, Roloson, MacT, Staios, Hejda

May the hottest Oiler win.

And what does he win, anyhow?

Anything can happen!



Despair not, Oiler fans. If this guy, who was an uber geek with a perm during the 80s, can become omnipresent in the media as the Sex Symbol of our time, then surely the Oilers can survive with Gator, Staios and the chorus on the blueline.

So Long, Farewell!



Off to England with my wife to celebrate five years of wedded bliss.

Trip will include:

Many pints in many old pubs inhabited by decrepit old men (my favorite - old pubs that is, not old men).

A lot of boiled meat or, if lucky, a lot of Indian takeaway.

A healthy dollop of sex.

A Premier League Soccer match.

No kids.

No Oilers.

The first time we were overseas, four years ago, we left with the Yankees coming off of four straight appearances in the World Series and favoured to do it again, and returned to find them long gone, knocked off by the Angels (!?).

In other words, there will be no computer, no TV, no papers.

We return Thursday afternoon.

I hope to see our starting lineup that night including everyone healthy and Pouliot on the fourth line with Reasoner and Thoresen.

Jacques in the pressbox with Peterson or Winchester and Hejda (I guess).

It looks like the top six D are decided and the above is likely, if not guaranteed. Interesting to note that even in the papers the note is that Winchester has done nothing to earn a spot.

Trade him now. Or send him down.

If I see our friend Bob Sacamano, I'll say 'ello.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Into The West



A week away from opening night.

I put my western picks together for Mudcrutch two weeks ago and while I already have misgivings in a few cases, I'll stick with what I said then. Here goes nothing:

1/ Detroit - a year away from a slide, the Wings still have two great lines (not three anymore), an excellent defence and a joke division - enough to get them first in the conference and an early playoff exit one more time.

2/ San Jose - my preseason Stanley Cup rep from the west - a team that was a Roloson OT save on Cheechoo away from the conference final suddenly has doubters - Preissing is gone but add Bell, Grier and Curtis Brown to this team that has depth everywhere and the salary cap room to get help on D and these guys are the favourites in my opinion

3/ Calgary - addition of Tanguay, steps forward for Kobasew and Lombardi and bump from a new coach add up to another division title

4/ Anaheim - not enough scoring to go all the way but a solid contender

5/ Vancouver - why I don't know - part of me can see them dropping right out of the picture but injury free and this team makes the playoffs last year - Luongo will make the difference here

6/ Edmonton - Great forwards, good goaltending. newfound confidence and an infusion of youth add up to a playoff spot even with this D - look for two of Bergeron, Greene or Smid to exceed expectations and, if all else fails, Lowe will move assets to get help on the blueline - definite playoff team with possibility of higher finish

7/ Nashville - sexy preseason pick takes a step back this year - remember they had a pretty bad fade at the end of last season

8/ Dallas - If Lindros were to be healthy this team might finish higher but when is the last time that happened?

9/ Wild on Jack Lemaire - Another sexy pick this year but they lost five regular D from last season's corps - this big leap forward everyone thinks will happen doesn't make sense to me

10/ Phoenix - I could see them being truly miserable but this is how bad the rest of the conference is.

11/ Colorado - Forsberg, Foote and Roy replaced by Turgeon, Brisebois and Theodore - this year the wheels finally fall off the Avs with Blake and Tanguay out the door as well

12/ Columbus - Doug MacLean's Folly

13/ Los Angeles - starting to go young but a shocking lack of talent, especially up front

14/ St. Louis - nice top four D but this offence - maybe in '96, not in '06

15/ Chicago - How to Kill a Professional Hockey Franchise by Bill Wirtz with a foreword by Bob Pulford

Monday, September 25, 2006

Is It Over Yet?



Don't get me wrong. I follow training camp - I do. I enjoy seeing who is ready, who is almost ready and who will never be ready. I don't care so much for who is winning or not, although Colby Cosh at Battle of Alberta has an interesting look at the meaning of preseason win/loss records.

I mean ask Brendan Bochenski the importance of preseason stats.

The reality is (and a good thing for Edmonton fans it is) that this camp has been about determining the bottom four forwards and two D on the depth chart. Which is really what camp should be about if you're a half decent team. While Rob Schremp intrigues me as a future Oiler, the truth is if this guy were to find a spot on one of our top two lines then this team would be in deep deep shit. And you know what, there are plenty of teams out there, including one that has not even made the Stanley Cup finals in 39 years, which would give him that spot.

As a wise man with the initials V.F. has said a few times, training camp is about getting into the season with all of your veterans healthy. Not much else happens. A few kids make the team. One or two will likely be replaced by the guys they beat out at some point or another, maybe in a week or two. And for other guys who got cut, they will get their chances when injuries crop up.

It is exciting though to see a bunch of new guys coming up. Its been a while and speaks to the depth of this organization that a guy like Kyle Brodziak, a callup last season and someone who figured to be in the mix this year, is long gone, passed on the depth chart by a half dozen youngsters, some who weren't even on the radar a year ago.

Notes so far (and I realize that it is only training camp):

1/ Patrick Thoresen arriving in camp as a virtual unknown and forcing the team to give him a job almost immediately; a nice story and best of all this kid gives us a prototypical fourth liner - he'll kill penalties, hold his own against the big boys and likely outscore his counterparts - skilled and driven - a nice combination

2/ Jan Hejda has looked at least like he can be an NHL defenceman and that is a good thing - he has seen a lot of minutes against the best they can send him out against and he has pretty well been invisible - when you're a Dman I think that's a good thing

3/ Devyn Dubnyk has given notice that he may the real deal - he has been excellent in both starts

4/ The veterans have stayed healthy (knock on wood) so far

5/ Toby Peterson is this year's Todd Harvey, only a better player, I think

6/ Mikhnov's finger injury gives the club an excuse to send him down - first injury to any winger on one of the top three lines and he'll get a shot

7/ Schremp has to go down for some seasoning and why this is a bad thing in anyway is beyond me - Guy Lafleur played in the minors, iirc, for Chrissakes. He needs to learn to be a professional hockey player and that is ok. Anyone see how Eric Staal did with a full year in the minors as Carolina's farm team's go to guy? Right. (Not to say I expect Schremp to be Staal. Far from it.)

8/ Smid probably beats out Gilbert but we'll see Tom later this season. We got this guy for Tommy Salo?

9/ Pouliot probably joins Reasoner and Thoresen on the fourth line. While part of me thinks it wouldn't be bad for him to go down for more seasoning, if he can get some reasonable icetime then keep him with the big club. He is ready to help this team now - this kid has big things ahead of him I think.

10/ Smid takes that 7th D spot (although he had better play - if not they may as well keep Syvret) and I guess Winchester takes the last forward spot, simply because the pressbox is a good place for him.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Scoring Og Assist Fra Thoresen



So says this headline.

And the young Norwegian has made the team. Lowetide has his take on the move. After An impressive beginning to camp Thoresen proved he belonged Thursday night when he picked up a goal and an assist, all the while playing big ES minutes against the likes of Iginla and Tanguay.

With Schremp heading down to learn that part of the game not involving the power play, Kyle Brodziak MIA (is he hurt? sick? holding out? anyone?), Mikhnov hurt and likely not a bad candidate for a little minor league seasoning himself there remain three spots and five candidates.

I think its safe to say Winchester and Peterson hold down the two extra spots at this point but that could change. I think though that these two aren't going to the minors for any reason while the remaining three candidates need to play regularly at this point in their development.

So, Jonas Almtorp, Marc Andre Pouliot and Jean Francois Jacques - good luck tonight.

All three (and Winchester and Peterson for that matter) are in the lineup against the Flames..

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Your Man Thoresen




I had never heard of Patrick Thoresen really until LT did a piece on him back at the end of May which includes a picture of him apparently skating out of the maw of Hell.

Such an unknown that even Mathieu Roy beat him out for a spot in The Hot-Off.

And now he has propelled himself into the mix in the early going.

In the Edmonton Sun today Tychkowski makes the point I did yesterday and which we all know - this early stuff is nice and it sure is better to be good early then not - but the fact is Pouliot has not lost a position to Schremp based on his slow start and Captain America's decent showing in the offensive end of the rink in the last couple of games.

Tonight an Oilers' team short on experience up front at least will take on a Calgary Flames' squad including Kiprusoff, four of the Flames' top five defencemen, Iginla, Tanguay, Amonte, Friesen, Kobasew, Lundmark and Nilson.

Might be a rude awakening for some of the kids.

Hejda and Roy draw in on D. Smid and Gilbert, who have each played two games so far, do not. Neither do Bryan Young or Danny Syvret who have only played one game each.

Reminds me of Jim Bouton's classic Ball Four and when he talks about training camp and trying to make the major league roster of the Seattle Pilots. If you're not playing much is that a good thing? Does it mean that the team has decided you are in? Or does it mean they have decided that you are out? If you are playing a lot what does that mean? It must mean you are in the mix, right? Or are they waiting for you to fail so they can point out to the media/organization/you that this is why you were cut?

I think I'd rather play then not and if I were Young and Syvret I'd be worried if my name were not on that lineup card next game.

I think Hejda sees a lot of ice tonight.

Up front Horcoff, Pisani and Stoll get to babysit the bubble boys.

Peterson, who has shown well in two games and I think is in anyhow, sits. So does Mikhnov who, if he could read English, probably wouldn't be too happy about MacT's comments on his skating today.

Winchester, Pouliot, Jacques, Almtorp, Thoresen and Schremp all draw in as well as Reddox, Trukhno and former Sudbury Wolves captain Zach Stortini.

Brodziak, who has played but once, does not. I wonder what he's thinking.

MacT comes right out and says that this is an opportunity for the guys on the cusp to prove themselves in a tough environment.

Watch for Winchester, Jacques and Stortini to drop the gloves to prove their worthiness. Watch for Thoresen to try and make a statement as well.

If he can then he will have taken a big next step.

At 22 he is man while some of his competition are still boys.

He's played in the Swedish Elite League and that pro experience under his belt will make a difference.

He apparently has a nice skill set, can take care of his own end and doesn't back down from the heavy going. So far all of this has proven to be true. He can also play centre and the wing. If he can keep it up as the competition gets tougher then he has a leg up on Schremp (defensively deficient and younger), Pouliot (younger, only plays centre), Winchester (brings more to the table) and Mikhnov (ditto).

Now, those four I just mentioned likely all have a bigger upside then Thoresen (except Winchester) but he is a nice fit for what they are looking to fill:

-fourth line spot
-can play multiple positions
-has skill set to play in "new" NHL (he can skate)
-can take care of his end of the rink
-likely can kill penalties
-probably can chip in some offence
-knows what it takes to be a professional hockey player

Lowetide said a while back that there is always a surprise in camp. Tonight Patrick Thoresen can begin to prove that he might be a serious contender to make this team.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Early Returns



Sure its early and what can you tell when the opposition includes guys from Making the Cut, Rudy and pity picks but you can still take something from what has been going on.

- the idea of Sykora at centre is one I had thought about this summer and I like it - would you rather have Horc/Stoll/Reasoner/MAP up the middle and then a loaded right wing (or Lupul on the left) or Horc/Sykora/Stoll/Reasoner; yep I thought so

- the vets have come to camp ready to play and that is a good sign

- Roloson appears to be fine

- both young goalies have looked very good in their first appearance from all accounts

- Schremp has been on the scoresheet for the most part but as expected has been lost in his own end - he's going to get sent down and that's ok - probably best for him in the long run

- MAP has not impressed although it is early and with Sykora at centre he may be heading down anyway, first to come up for injury - last year was his first as a pro - he has to play and hanging around in the pressbox is going to do him little good

- Gilbert has gotten the early notice; good for him and we'll see how he does as the competition stiffens

- Thoreson - see Gilbert but in Pleasure Motors' recap he notes one of many things in Patrick's favour - he knows his way around his end of the rink; add to that the fact that he has some skill and a little grit by the sounds of it and I think he's a darkhorse (maybe not so dark) to make the fourth line if he keeps keeping on

Interesting to note that MacT said no courtesy games this year and good for him - the young guys should be ready to play. With three lines set and Reasoner the fourth line centre that leaves four spots.

Pencil in Peterson as one - why else do you bring him in if not to fill the Todd Harvey role.

Winchester, Jacques, Thoreson and Mikhnov are the guys with the inside track, I think. Winchester is working hard to impress and while I think he's tradebait he makes good sense because he's a guy you can sit. Its not like they're going to send him down to work on his game. Its Jani Rita time for him.

If Thoreson keeps it up I think they have to keep him but of course they don't have to do anything. We'll see - I think its between he and Mikhnov for that last spot (I think Jacques is in) and it will be their play against tougher lineups that will determine who stays or goes.

As for the D - Heyda, Smid and Gilbert for the last two spots. My guess is Heyda gets one - it makes no sense to sit either of the kids in the pressbox so Heyda starts as the number seven guy.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Homoerotic Subtext



It was around February of this year that I was googling Edmonton Oiler fansites or some such thing when I came upon something called Covered In Oil.

Holy fuck did I laugh.

From there I found the Battle of Alberta where Fenwick and our friend Bob Sacamano traded barbs, Lowetide who introduced us all to "saw him good", Terry Harper and, of course, Stan Weir. From there my travels took me to IOF where I was introduced to concepts like outscoring and soft minutes courtesy of Vic, Dennis and the other lads. And Mudcrutch who has almost convinced me that Radek Dvorak is twice the player of Bobby Hull. Almost but not quite. And finally Loxy who combined fandom with a lot of amazing photography and a lot of non hockey rants and tales.

I've learned a hell of a lot about hockey and the Oilers these past six months or so. Shared the amazing run of '06 and specifically Game Six at Paupers' Pub with Oiler fans from all over.

And laughed my ass off.

Forgot about this and so, now, in the same vein (although nowhere nearly as well written) my tribute to the guys who introduced me to the Oilogosphere.

Chris Pronger opened his eyes and moaned. The ceiling fan spun above him. "this must be what that kid from San Jose, what was his name, oh, it doesn't matter, must have seen after Raffi almost took his head off". His orbs, juggled oh so gently, pulsated in Teemu's hands, so soft from so many saunas.

"I told you it would all work out", said the wide eyed veteran Finn. "After I heard about what happened at the alumni dinner I knew we were meant to be together. "Remember last spring? I remember skating by you at the faceoff and whispering to you - do you remember what I said?"

"Yes", said Chris Pronger. "Like it was yesterday"

Teemu rolled onto his back. "Say it to me."

"Bumhole. Bumhole. Bumhole.", whispered Pronger as he hovered over Teemu's Finnish Flash.

"Oh", said Teemu. "Chris, you are so gay."

"Mmffmm", said Pronger.

"What was that, dearest?"

"Do you think this cock in my mouth makes me look gay?", said Pronger.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

If I Were A Leafs' Fan



4-0 in the third baby!

This is our year - we're going all the way!!!!

Whoooooo.

Hoo.

Chaos



Camp has started. Things are looking interesting in Oiler land (Sykora as centre between Hemsky and Torres, Horc, Smyth and Pisani as a line - like them both). Lowetide is churning out his usual terrific stuff including a review of the members of the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I want to talk about chaos.

Or as I call it "What If?" theory.

What if Eric Staal explodes? What if Rod Brind'Amour, after years of decline, uses a year off to rest and returns to form? What if Frantisek Kaberle has a career year and a guy who looked like a minor leaguer or at best, a bottom pair defenceman, Mike Commodore suddenly emerges as a good defenceman. Then you have a team pegged as also rans going all the way.

And from there, the ripple effect, as Vic over at IOF calls it. Staal's emergence keys Erik Cole and also helps Brindamour and Matt Cullen, who see easier minutes. This in turn leads to Justin Williams emerging. On D, the performance of Commodore and Kaberle means less minutes for oldsters Glen Wesley and Bret Hedican and allows Laviolette to spread those D minutes out nice and even over 6 guys. In turn the better defence and offence, for that matter, leads to better results, giving the team confidence as a whole, etc etc.

Simple. Straightforward.

The reason I bring this up now is because with predictions flying fast and furious around the internet the thing that I look at on each team are the what ifs.

And I'm not talking about injuries either. Even with the overall poor play and the Bertuzzi factor, the Canucks would have likely been in the playoffs and maybe even a high seed last year if they had not lost Cloutier and Jovonoski for months, Ohlund and Salo after the Olympics and if Naslund and Morrison had not been hobbled for nearly the entire season. Think about that - any team who lost their number one goalie and best defenceman long term as well as having their #2 and #3 Dmen out at a key point of the season (same time as the #1 too) and two thirds of their top line playing at far less then 100% - what would those team's chances be?

This can happen to any team - it seems like some teams (Montreal, LA) have worse luck then others - if Mikka Kiprusoff blows out his knee in October then the Flames are probably done but I'm not going to pick against the Flames using that thinking. Nobody has the depth anymore at every position to survive a handful of key players getting injured.

The only time I look at injuries is if a guy is always hurt (Eric Lindros) and a team is taking a big gamble by giving the guy a big role.

So, from team to team - what teams have one or two question marks? These teams are likely in really good shape. What teams have a dozen (Maple Leafs)? Are these teams doomed? No because everything might come together. But the likelihood of this happening? Not great.

So, what ifs in the Campbell:

Oilers - can the current cast on D do the job or do they bring someone in who can - they have the cap room to do so. Outlook - good.

Flames - can Kobasew and Lombardi provide that secondary scoring or do they need outside help also - in any case their outlook is good

Sharks - can the young D behind Hannan and MacLaren get the job done - I'd say so and, if not, once again, they have cap space - outlook is good

Ducks - does Selanne have another big year in him; can Penner, Getzlaf and Perry take the step that turns this team into one of the favourites - yes on Selanne, jury is out on the kids - outlook is still pretty good I'd say

Canucks - can secondary players Krajicek, Bulis, Cooke and Kesler provide bigger and better things then expected (more offence from Cooke, Bulis and Kesler), some top four minutes from Krajicek - if they all do so then the Canucks are in the thick of this thing - they have to because no help is coming - outlook - not impossible but they need at least a three for four, I think

Wings - with two lines instead of three to produce offence, how will guys like Lang, Samuellson and Williams react to facing less soft minutes - will Hasek, Osgood and Howard do the job in net - outlook - pretty good for the regular season (especially with that D and Datsyuk/Zetterberg up front) but the playoffs - early exit again I think

Preds - can the young D perform - how will Arnott do as "the man" instead of playing behind Modano - who replaces the minutes of all of the guys (mostly unsung types) who have left - outlook - iffy - I think this team takes a step back

Stars - who replaces Arnott's offence - Lindros - can he stay healthy? can Zubov do it again? was the #2 seed or the first round exit more indicative of where this team is at? I think the latter - its a general feeling but I think the slide is beginning for these guys

Wild - who replaces the five regular defencemen who are gone from last season's team - are we supposed to believe that Demitra and Parrish suddenly turn this team into an offensive juggernaut - outlook - count me among the doubters - too many questions

Blues - Is Weight done? Is Guerin? And this is two thirds of their first line. Good top four D, probably decent goaltending but no offence - seriously who scores on this team?

Hawks - Michael Handzus - first line centre? Ruutu's health? Havlat facing the toughest minutes for the first time. And this is their first line? Who else scores? Can the young D perform? Is Aucoin done (probably not)? Khabibulin (more likely)?

Jackets - Can all of the youngsters on this team move forward? (no) Can Adam Foote hang in there one more year? (likely) Is Federov completely useless? (almost) How does Doug MacLean hold onto his job?(beats me)

Coyotes - Can Nagy stay healthy? (probably not) Can Comrie get his head out of his ass for the entire season (likely not)? Will Roenick and Nolan contribute anything but headaches? (no) Curtis Joseph is the answer? (no) Bye bye Yotes.

Kings - who scores for this team? (nobody) are we to believe that O'Sullivan is going to tear it up as a rookie? (no) will Cloutier do the job in net? (probably)is Rob Blake done? (close to it)

Avs - can Svatos replace Tanguay? (no) can Theodore replace Roy? (no) can Leopold replace Blake? (yes) can Turgeon replace Forsberg? (no) can Brisebois replace Foote? (no) are the Avs a shadow of their former selves? (see above)

Looking back at this post - what a long and useless ramble - but what the hell. Things are starting to happen.

Awesome.

Friday, September 15, 2006

What the Hat Said

This is from the Globe and Mail - its insider stuff online - so a short summary, other then Duhatschek's feeling that the Oilers will be contenders if they have good goaltending there is nothing super interesting here and for those of you in Edmonton, much of this may not be news at all.

- Duhatschek describes the Pronger loss as one that nobody is underplaying; he describes the remaining players who departed as comparatively minor

- Lowe refers to the Canes/Sabres model as he has done previously - the idea of the no name D and the plethora of skilled forwards up front

- line combinations - 94/10/83 - 16/14/Lupul - 34/Sykora/??? (either Moreau/Reasoner or a kid)

- kids he mentions - Schremp, Winchester, Mikhnov, Jacques, Pouliot - so do these guys have the inside track - seeing as he is talking to Lowe I presume this is likely what Lowe has said - not a great leap of logic and of course I think we would all agree these are the guys on the radar anyhow

- Roloson is ahead of schedule - he was supposed to begin skating September 5th and has been in full pads, good range of movement (butterflying etc) since mid August

- they are at @38M so can add salary if need be

- Lowe said the one positive about losing Pronger (and Peca for that matter) is it gave them 10M to play with so they were able to resign guys, extend guys etc whom they may have not been able to otherwise (Horc/Hemsky???) So that flexibility was one good thing out of the mess.

- he says he thought a little bit about forcing Pronger to fulfill his contract at least into the beginning of this season but says that CP would have just stayed home rather then deal with the fans' anger - by airing his demand for a trade CP forced Lowe's hand

That is all - nothing earth shattering but I love the Hat and figured I'd pass it along to non Globe readers.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

No Kidding - Check out what the Hat says

Eric Duhatschek, one of my favourite, if not my favourite hockey writer (I actually emailed him last year to ask him whether he thought Ryan Smyth would make the Olympic team - he answered me ten minutes later with an actual well thought out response) has a piece on the Oilers and their summer in today's Globe and Mail.

In his opinion if the Oilers get good goaltending this year then they are contenders, even without Pronger.

I can't see it and its only one man's opinion but that's nice to hear amid all of the doom and gloom, no?

Check out the article - it may be Insider Edition (subscriber) - I'm on my way out the door but will double check tomorrow and if it is I'll post a summary.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Prince of Wales



Ok, while I would love to do a team by team analysis of the eastern teams as I did with the west, work has gone bananas, my wife is running a half marathon in 11 days (see link at the end of this post), my kids are turning 3 and 1 in the next month, my own hockey season starts tomorrow (keep your head up mudcrutch) and we are off to London at the end of the month.

In other words, things are superbananas.

So without further adieu, your Prince Chaz conference, in what I figure for a general order of finish, right now. I will do my actual season prediction after training camp is over but for now, here goes.

1./ Les Sabres - lost the useful Mike Grier and shotblocker Jay McKee, walked away from JP Dumont's contract, added Jaro Spacek - the team to beat in the east, methinks, although they better hope Tim Connolly's concussion woes don't sideline him for long - enough young talent that should take another step forward, the right motivation and steps back for the Sens and the Canes mean this team is the one to beat, imo. Also doesn't hurt to have two good goalies, even if Biron is tradebait.

2./ Rangers - picked ahead of the Devils for now due to the cap mess Lou is in, adding Shanahan, Aaron Ward and Matt Cullen will help, at least in the regular season. Would have been interesting to see how they fared in the playoffs if healthy. Also interesting to see Sather's success now that he actually has to put a real team together rather then putting together a fantasy team worth 90M of overpaid crap.

3. Carolina - losing the rent a players isn't a killer and Matt Cullen going opens up icetime for a kid; can Cam Ward carry the load for a full season - maybe not but I would say yes; too bad because having he and Gerber was a big reason for this team's success. Aaron Ward will be missed but a bigger worry for this team - Kaberle and Stillman gone for long periods of time to start the year. They are still the best in their division, I think, have to respect them, especially with that talent up front, but they are no longer as deep, especially on the back end and this might be their undoing, especially with everyone gunning for them - weak division helps them along though

4./ Ottawa - another opportunity lost for the Sens - why they thought bringing in noted regular season success/playoff choker Bryan Murray would be the answer is beyond me but with Chara and Havlat gone who is left to blame for the annual failures? They will be part of the mix again this season - they have too much top end talent not to be - Tom Preissing is a nice addition - Antoine Vermette and their new Russian kid will have to help Fisher and Schaeffer take some of the load off the top line

5./ Jersey - keeps rolling along although even if Lou can finesse Mogilny and Malakhov as injured players and thus not counting against the cap he will still be over and will still have to part with some useful talent - having Elias for a full season means they will be there and possibly they will overtake the Rangers, easy to see that, but their D is a shadow of what it once was

6./ Philadelphia - bold move by Clarke with Kesler but with the Canucks sure to match, not sure what he was trying to do - maybe he's pissed at Nonis? The Flyers may be seeing their window closing with Primeau retiring and Forsberg injury prone and the Sabres ran roughshod over them last season - have to hand it to Clarke - they have some nice young talent so the Flyers will be around, again, but their blueline is looking kind of thin

7./ Habs - Sergei Samsonov was certainly not the impact player Oil fans expected - I figured with that talent he would win or help win a few games in the playoffs but while he was useful there was not the oomph factor - interesting to see how he does playing with Kovalev and the other skilled Habs' forwards. Two good goalies, a player any team would want in Saku, a lot of good players - why then so streaky?? If they could get a higher seed then an easier road might ensue - the Canes thought them their most dangerous foe in the East last year amongst those they played (uhh, Buffalo?) - anyhow, maybe Carbonneau helps bring that consistency

8/ Boston - signing Bergeron longterm was a good idea - imagine - committing to your young talent - what a concept - seriously while the Bruins have been straying into Chicago territory for a while they seem to have accumulated some decent talent and not the garbage they had last season either - Bergeron, Boyes, Savard, Sturm and Murray will score, Axelsson, Primeau and Donovan will do the heavy lifting or some of it and their D, while not great, is pretty decent with Chara and Stuart leading the way. Can Tim Thomas do it again? Doubt it and these are the Bruins so while they get into the playoffs I can't, in good conscience, rank them any higher. It goes against my principles.

9/ Tampa - adding Denis is well and good but losing veteran D Kubina and Sydor as well as 30 goal man Freddie Modin - the Bolts struggled last year and with Jay Feaster having painted them into a salary cap corner with his top heavy roster - I think they slide right out of the postseason

10/ Florida - the more I think about it the more I think the Canucks got the better of their deal - Bertuzzi may be motivated and the Panthers definitely have some high end young talent - Jokinen, Van Ryn, Bouwmeester, Horton, Weiss - but something doesn't feel right - a lot of old creaky guys too - and that D doesn't impress me - Alex Auld is solid but he's more Rick DiPietro then Roberto Luongo - wonder if he can cash in too? This team is one that might make a move though

11/Atlanta - everybody's sexy pick to break through, much like Columbus in the west - here's a newsflash - just because a team has a lot of young talent and has been bad for a while doesn't mean they are going to be Ottawa or Quebec - sometimes they just end up being young and bad forever - if I was the Thrashers' fan - I know he's out there somewhere - my question would be this - who is their #1 centre - uh, former Sudbury Wolves' captain and my parents' next door neighbour's grandkid, Derek MacKenzie? I remember him playing ball hockey in their driveway when he was 5. he's not much bigger now, either. Seriously they have nobody up the middle and are thin everywhere else. And I hate Kovalchuk's guts. Someone end his career already.

12/Toronto - ahh, 39 years and counting but at least Richard Peddie is selling a lot of condos - its a shame because Leaf fans are as passionate as you get but they have only themselves to blame - they fill that arena night in and night out no matter what shit they put on the ice - remember the Ballard years - want to see Peddie and the money men get serious about getting it together - stop going to the games - note how when Raptor attendance suddenly took a dive they suddenly actually brought in a qualified GM. This team has so many ifs its unbelieveable - if Sundin proves the end of last season was the norm and not the beginning, if Jeff O'Neill ever got his confidence back, If Steen and Wellwood and a pile of other kids make a quantum leap, if Darcy Tucker can prove last season was not his career year, if Kubina shows last season was the exception and Paul Maurice can teach anyone, anyone how to play defence and Hal Gill can learn how to skate and Raycroft can stop anything, anything at all then this team may sneak into the playoffs. Get the picture? Most teams have two or three question marks. This team is loaded with them front to back. Poor Mats Sundin.

13/ Islanders - But it could be worse, he could be an Islander. GM Garth Snow had to buy himself out and mediocre (I mean seriously how many goalies are better then this guy) goalie Rick DiPietro has a lifetime contract. If he turns into Patrick Roy then its a bargain. Otherwise... As for the players who this team has dumped over the years with little or nothing to show for in return - Zdeno Chara, Bryan McCabe, Eric Brewer, Wade Redden, Roberto Luongo, Jason Spezza, Todd Bertuzzi, Tim Connolly, Oli Jokinen, Raffi Torres, Taylor Pyatt - you know who I feel sorry for - their scouts! I look at their roster and I see maybe four or five guys I would want on my team. Ted Nolan, keep your head down and mouth shut, do your best and hopefully this leads to something down the road for you - there's one good move Wang has made anyway.

14/ Pittsburgh - Crosby and Malkin and a whole lot of hurt - still a long way away but they'll be fun to watch

15/ Alexander Ovechkin

Now, if you made it this far go to this site and click on donate here. In the list of top fundraisers is Jennifer McLean, mother of two, 31 years old, running the Toronto Waterfront half marathon in 11 days. Money donated here goes fully 100% into research at Sick Kids Hospital - the foundation has no overhead - and the research will benefit kids worldwide. So ... if you have kids, are planning on having kids, are a kid at heart, etc etc. give 10 bucks, 20 bucks - whatever you can. My wife has been busting her ass all summer getting ready to run this thing. The most she has ever run at once until now is 10K - she ran 16 two Saturdays ago as part of her training.

Thank you!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ahh, that's why they call them the Blues

The Blues have always been a good team. Not sure of an equivalent in another sport - not sure if there is.

Solid. Always in the playoffs. But after their opening three years when they were the best expansion team and thus represented the West in the finals (and talk about as close to a gimme Cup win as you could get for the Habs in 68 and 69 and the Bruins in 70 - win your conference and you're done) they haven't even been back to the Finals.

Hmm.

They looked to be making a move on the powers in the West a few years back but Larry Pleau traded some of the young talent that was part of that success for big tickets like Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk and ended up with a top heavy roster with not a lot between the pipes and the end result - playoff failure. Can't blame Pleau for going for it but it did not work out and after the lockout he bit the bullet. Al MacInnes retired. He traded Pronger and then dumped other vets as the year played itself out.

Some think the Blues will be better this year and of course there's the old joke that they could not be much worse. On the plus side - Curtis Sanford had decent numbers and he and Manny Legace will likely provide pretty good goaltending although Manny is going to realize pretty quickly how good he had it all of those years. And in Jay McKee, Eric Brewer, Christian Backman and Barrett Jackman they have a pretty nice top four D.

Their big problem - up front. Doug Weight showed that he is no longer the player he once was - he helped Carolina on the PP but the Canes are not going to miss him, I think. Bill Guerin, Dallas Drake, Martin Rucinsky, Keith Tkachuk. Nice bunch of forwards. If it were 1996. Hopefully Tkachuk will have a different conditioning plan this season other then waddling up to the buffet.

Problem for the Blues - they don't have a lot up front in the way of ready prospects - watch for them to fade early and deal some of those vets to try and get some.

Finally, if anyone can beat this for the weirdest story of why someone is a fan of a team, I would certainly like to hear it.

I met a guy who went to university with a buddy of mine and this guy was a diehard Blues fan.

Why?

He grew up in Southern Ontario so sadly as a child his loyalties were to that tragic default - the Leafs.

Until suddenly a thunderbolt.

And after that - it was the St. Louis Blues all the way.

That thunderbolt?

Inge Hammerstrom was traded from the Leafs to the Blues.

The guy who Harold Ballard (I know, consider the source) once said of - he could go into a corner with a dozen eggs in his pocket and come out with not a one broken.

And he did not mean that in a good way.

Possible modern comparison. Being a Leafs' fan because of Jonas Hoglund.

So that is the Campbell Conference.

As for the Prince of Wales its going to be short sketches in bunches.

Training camps are about to start.
Work is crazy.
Both my kids have birthdays in the next month, my wife too.
And my wife and I are going to London to celebrate five years of marriage.

Plus I don't really care about the East so much. This being an Oiler's blog and all.

Friday, September 08, 2006

How to Kill a Franchise



In a true Hall of Fame, a collection of the truly elite, Steve Larmer would not belong but when you look at some of the latest inductees, then this guy, one of the most complete players of his era or any era, should be there.

He played at a high level at both ends of the rink, came up big in big games, was a big contibutor to a Canada Cup victory in 1991 and a Stanley Cup in 1994. He was a consistent player who came to play every night, literally, as he had an ironman streak of @ 800 games at one point iirc.

The reason I am talking about Larmer is that he is everything that is good about hockey.

And his former franchise, where he played most of his career, and his former boss, one of those ex-Leafs who is in the HHOF because he is an ex-Leaf (hello Dick Duff), are everything that is rotten about it.

As a Blackhawks fan since I was @ 3 until I was @ 33, I can tell you that any complaint you have about your team can be trumped by how Bob Pulford and Bill Wirtz have destroyed a once great franchise.

Bob Pulford is Mike Milbury but he has been there for 30 years.

The Hawks' record of drafting from the early 80s when they had a nice run until the late 90s was so bad that they had a stretch of @ 15 years where after Larmer, Savard, Secord et al they had but one player who scored over 20 goals for them until Eric Daze turned the trick. Indeed other then Roenick and Belfour, the Hawks drafted so poorly that, well, they drafted nobody. So bad indeed that the Oilers' drafts of the 90s look positively New Jersey like by comparison.

And on top of that the refusal to pay guys like Belfour, Larmer and Roenick and the failure to get anything in return for them of any value. While having the money to be able to retain the top players in the first place.

A fan can forgive mistakes. Bad drafts happens. The wrong youngster gets thrown in on a deal for a bigname player. A fan can forgive moving players near the end for value (Denis Savard) or just because its time (Doug Wilson).

But wilful neglect. No sir.

Friends ask me when it happened - the change of allegiance. I had always been a fan of the Oilers - loved their flair - and was living in the States when it looked like they would not survive long. I had adopted them as a second team, cheering for a true underdog in those series against Dallas where they always fell short. And one day watching the Hawks/Oilers on ESPN I realized I was cheering for Edmonton. It was as simple as that. All of those years of fandom, through years of mediocrity in the 70s, that exciting go-go team of the 80s, the near miss in 92 and the years after that. Killed dead by two old men.

Seeing Keenan forced out by old Bob after finally reviving the franchise after years of neglect. Seeing Larmer leave. Belfour. Roenick.

Wirtz and Pulford didn't care and so neither did I.

The ironic thing is that years later with empty seats by the thousands and hockey dead in Chicago Wirtz is spending money. And they can't even do that right.

Havlat is a real sweetheart and scored a lot of goals playing behind Alfie and Hossa in Ottawa. We'll see how he handles facing the Prongers and Pahlsons, the Hannans, Reghyrs and Horcoffs rather then the softies he's used to.

Some nice young D and I like Aucoin, though not for that contract. But goaltending is a black hole and up front ...

Daze is done and it appears Ruutu may be too - even when the Hawks do something right it turns to shit.

Karma.

And as Vic said recently there seems to be a disconnect between the front office and what is happening on the ice.

You have two good players in Calder and Bell and trade them for Havlat and Handzus - so you are getting less but paying more.

Stupid stupid stupid.

The Blackhawk way.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Slip Sliding



I always found it interesting during the lockout and postlockout as well to hear people bemoan the end of the non salary cap era. Now to be sure I am biased, being an Oilers' fan, but I'm not sure how allowing certain teams an advantage over others due to market size and revenue streams is good for a sport. Being a small market or mid market team (NJ) did not mean certain failure just as being a big market team (Rangers) did not mean success but allowing certain teams to have a better chance of success then others based on their population base and revenue streams (not to mention that the owner might be a pizza baron or some such) just seems foolish to me.

Surely smart drafting and development could help a small market team compete - God knows the Oilers wasted too many picks on the likes of Kelly and Bonsignore over the years - but the apologists (especially here in Toronto) who noted that Calgary and Tampa were in the finals in 2003/2004 also failed to note that both teams had struggled for years to get to that point and that without a Cap both would have been picked apart quickly, forced to trade players whose salaries ballooned in arbitration or who held out for bigger money and losing veterans to free agency. So a year or two of competitiveness and then back in the toilet while the Leafs, Flyers, Wings etc banked payrolls twice or three times that of competitors.

No guarantee of success but certainly an edge.

Without a cap would the Wings have seen Shanahan depart and replaced Legace with Hasek. Or would they have signed Gerber or Roloson as well as traded for Pronger and for good measure added Peca for some grit. Or maybe signed Chara? Or would they have added Khabibulin last summer?

Anyhow, I know the age of the dynasty is probably over and for many parity is a dirty word but I prefer a league where my team (inherent bias) has a chance to win the Cup or at least make the playoffs regularly if their management team is smart and where a team which neglects the draft and has a poor record of developing its own players will continue its 39 year streak of not only not winning the Stanley Cup but not even making the finals.

Which leads us to today's team - the Avs. Now, like the Wings, Stars and Devils I don't really begrudge the Avs their success of the past decade. They always drafted well and then filled the holes by trading youngsters (Robyn Reghyr) for the veterans they thought might put them over the top. Or not.

But I think they are about to join the Caps, Blues and Leafs as former big spenders on the post lockout scrapheap. First Forsberg and Foote, now Blake and Tanguay. I look at this team and they are a real mishmash which generally means a whole lot of trouble. They have a goalie who seems to have lost it, a pile of defencemen who, with the exceptions of Leopold and Vaananen, really leave a lot to be desired and up front, Heyduk, Svatos and Joe Sakic, who looks like he is going to end a terrific career (one of the best) where he started it. At the bottom.

Of course I thought they would be out of it last year too. Joel Quennville is one of the best in my book. And they have some other guys I like - Lapierre, Konawalchuk and good Sudbury (actually he's from the Valley I believe) boy Andrew Brunette.

But Brisebois? Turgeon? Arneson? Etc. Etc.

Irk.

Lacroix got out when the getting was good.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Back to Work



THN has the Oilers finishing behind the Canucks, the Kings, the Coyotes, the Blue Jackets, the Wild and the Stars.

I can't see it and here's why.

At the turn of last year the Oilers were fighting for first place in their division.

This despite shoddy goaltending. (Ty Conklin replaced by Dwayne Roloson)

Terrible third pair on D. (Cross and Ulanov replaced by Greene and Tarnqvist)

No Spacek, Tarnstrom or Samsonov. (all acquired later on)

Mike Peca a 4M per faceoff man.

Add to this team Joffrey Lupul (28 goals) and Petr Sykora (22 goals in an off year).

Subtract Chris Pronger.

Now, I am not naive. The Oilers don't get back to the Finals with their team as constituted presently.

I do think they get to the playoffs, even with this bunch.

And if October proves that Smid is not ready, that Bergeron will never be better then third pair material and that Hejda should have stayed in Europe, then does anyone really believe Lowe will stand idly by and tank the season? (and I know that all of these are very possible)

Unlike many of his rivals (Canucks, for example) he has a pile of prospects and young players and the salary cap room to make a deal.

Would it be comforting if they had another top four Dman or two? Absolutely. Should they have gone out and paid 5M per year for four years to get Pavel Kubina?

Nope.

If the present bunch is not up to it, Lowe will add a Dman or two.

And this team will be in the playoffs. And it won't be a squeaker either.

That's all I'll say about that for now.

Opportunity Lost



The Canucks join the Flyers and Senators (probably although I guess never say never) as teams who showed a lot of promise but never got to the top of the mountain.

The window is almost closed and for the Canucks, it probably is.

The defining moments for this team. Blowing a 3-1 lead to a Minnesota Wild team that looked like the 78 Habs by the end of that collapse, blowing by bewildered Canuck defenders as they filled Cloutier. And the Bertuzzi/Moore incident. That team, demoralized, fell to the Flames in 7.

Last season, racked by injuries, they fell short of the playoffs completely.

Now Cloutier is gone. So is Jovo. And Bertuzzi. And Marc Crawford as well.

With Alain Vigneault behind the bench, the addition of hard rock Willie Mitchell and star stopper Roberto Luongo this team is remaking itself, at least partially, as a defence first outfit.

Jan Bulis is a nice addition and will probably replace Anson Carter's 33 goals. Or close to it anyhow.

I think the Canucks get in - they were in last year if they had not suffered injuries that knocked out Jovo, Salo, Ohlund and Cloutier for extended periods, never mind hobbling Naslund and Morrison for most of the season.

And the Bertuzzi circus is long gone.

This team is not dropping to 11th. They are better then LA, Phoenix, Columbus, Minnesota, Dallas and maybe one or two more that THN picks ahead of them.

Dave Nonis' problem. He has no room under the cap and a startling lack of depth at every position. If Bulis produces then they have five forwards instead of six they can depend upon for offence.

Cooke, Pyatt, Chouinard, Kesler - they have some role players.

But if guys get racked up - say Ohlund and Salo go down here and there for a few weeks. Or Morrison.

Nonis just doesn't have that wiggle room to add bodies.

Having said that, I think reports of the Canucks' demise are premature.

But unless Krajicek is a player and some of these youngsters can contribute - Bourdon being one of them (unlikely), I see them as in and gone. Maybe Luongo steals a round. But that's all.