Saturday, December 29, 2007

Prospects and How They Can Bust


Lowetide had his top twenty earlier this month. I don't know if I look forward to posts more then these biannual looks at what Oiler kids are coming.
Things have become better for the Oilers in terms of player procurement, at least in amateur scouting (North American division). Since the summer 2006 list Marc Pouliot, Jean Francois Jacques and Denis Grebeshkov have graduated, according to LT's standards (played enough games in the NHL), although the jury is out on all three as to whether or not they will have NHL careers of any length.
From this past summer's list you can add Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Tom Gilbert and Kyle Brodziak. And Zach Stortini fits in there as well. I believe he has "graduated" or is pretty close. This group is certainly an impressive one. Gilbert is now in the top D pairing and doing a fine job. Gagner and Cogliano have looked like rookies but I think there are few doubts that they will be fine players. Brodziak looks to be a solid role player at worst.
What interests me, and this is something I posted on during training camp is how a player's fortunes can rise and fall. Lowetide's post on Jacques last night brought this back to mind, especially his comment that "prospects ebb and flow".
So true and we can focus on Marc Pouliot, Rob Schremp, Kyle Brodziak and Tom Gilbert, to illustrate LT's point.
We'll start with Gilbert because he is likely the best story of the year if you are an Oilers' fan. A kid who steps in, ends up playing tough minutes on the top pair, doing a fine job of it, and who is on pace for around thirty points to boot. He had a good first pro season last season with Wilkes-Barre and showed well in his cup of coffee with the Oilers before he got his bell rung. Having said that nearly everyone had him pegged for the minors this season, considering his contract and his lack of experience. Now what has occurred since September is quite interesting, especially when you consider what other players have said about opportunities and what excuses people will make for their failures.
Gilbert earned a spot in the opening night lineup. Amongst the players he bumped - Smid (sent out) and Grebeshkov (pressbox). He stayed in the lineup and when Pitkanen and Souray went down his responsibilities increased. He thrived, no matter whom he was paired with (Grebeshkov) or what type of minutes he was given. Now, paired with Pitkanen, he could be a fixture on the Oilers' blueline for years to come. All in the space of four months. From a likely ticket to the minors to a long term big money contract.
Kyle Brodziak was pegged to earn a spot with the Oilers last season. Instead he fell out of the running almost immediately, outplayed by Patrick Thoresen, among others. Shockingly he was one of the first cuts in camp and it looked like he was about to be buried (much like it seems Pouliot is right now). He bounced back with a strong season in Wilkes-Barre but there was no doubt that this fall would be his last chance with the Oilers. He came out ready, his skating and strength improved, impressed early and has only been scratched for one game thus far. He is a role player who has chipped in five goals so far. Not a world beater but a solid player.
Rob Schremp's issues have been well documented and coming out of camp this fall he looked like he had been passed by for good. And yet, the kid had a good camp despite rehabbing a knee injury. And he is lighting it up in the AHL. He may not make it but he is going to get the opportunity based on what he is doing this winter.
And then there is Pouliot. He had a fourth line role locked up in the spring of '06, if you recall, playing well enough to earn MacT's praise. Flanked by veterans who made his life easier, he looked set to contribute to the Oilers and then mono derailed his season. He wasn't ready for last season and found himself sent down. After a while he got it going and came up to the big club. In the HNIC game against Toronto he had a standout game - I was there and was excited to see the kid. Playing with Torres and Thoresen he brought energy and showed the ability to make plays at top speed in heavy traffic. He was one of the best players on the ice. He never built from that game however and so this fall he again found himself fighting for a job and once again he is in the minors. He may not be back with the Oilers again.
Or he might be brought up, end up on a line with Ethan Moreau and Brodziak, and prove that he can play for this team.
I have always believed that with a lot of these kids there is very little separating those who make it from those who do not. I have always thought that in most cases its the opportunity - the icetime, the linemates, being put into a position to succeed.
I argued this with Mike W. and sacamano in the fall. If Jacques were given forty games with Hemsky and Horcoff, I said, he would be successful, he would get his confidence, he would establish himself as a player.
They both disagreed; sacamano saying that if a guy is an NHL player then he is an NHL player. If he cannot make an impact, even with eight minutes a night, then he hasn't got it.
Looking at this sample, small though it may be, I have to admit the truth in what he said. Gilbert and Brodziak got no more of an opportunity then Pouliot, who has actually had many chances now. They just took what they got and ran with it. They forced the organization to play them, based on what they did.
It will be interesting to see what Schremp will do when his time comes.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Muddled

Watched the first two Canadian games at the WJCs as the Oilers prepare to begin their post Christmas schedule tonight against the Anaheims.

Stamkos with three assists yesterday and Doughty with an elite play in the third today, a spin away from his man at the redline, carrying the puck into the Slovak zone and then the saucer to Turris for the insurance goal.

Penner has looked quite good lately but things had better look up in the second half. Read the comment thread here - note what Gare Joyce says about Stamkos. And while many commenters have said that the Oilers are loaded with young D so who cares about those next picks after #1, I. for one, prefer not to wonder what might have been if the Oilers had Scott Niedermeyer for the next ten years.

Lowetide has ten questions about what is next for the Oilers. With good health and some breaks this team could edge into the top twenty but if Hemsky and Torres are out for any length of time we could be seeing Burke pick a franchise a player in June. Since June 19th of 2006 the franchise has been a bit of a mess and nothing that I can see convinces me that we're going to have much to cheer for in the next eighteen months or so.

Lowe has many problems, mostly of his own making. Too few veterans and too many kids. The good thing is that it appears that many of the kids will be frontline players but that day is still a ways away. He has a pile of money tied up in Souray who is not a frontliune player, despite the musings of Jim Matheson and Sun Media. They still have a whack of cash tied up in Roli, whose contract for next year makes him pretty hard to move. The guys who might have trade value are guys that they need - either kids for the future or the few veterans that they can rely on now. Here's a start for Lowe:

1/ Sign Pitkanen and Gilbert now. They are playing tough minutes and doing well with it. He cannot let two top four defencemen slip through his fingers, especially two guys who are just kids really. Sign them and you're getting to being set on the blueline for the long run.

2/ Come July get Horcoff signed longterm. They can't allow him to walk the following summer. For once lets see a quality guy (one of the top centres in the league imo) start and finish his career as an Oiler.

3/ Unless he's looking at a quantity for quality that brings in an Ovechkin, Bouwmeester or Hossa (signed longterm btw) don't move any of these kids - Gagner, Cogliano, Chorney, Nash, Petry, Plante, Peckham, Trukhno. Crazy long list? Yes. Herein are guys who have too much potential to give away for a stopgap veteran (the guys in college, junior, Trukhno and Peckham) and the highend guys already in the NHL (Gagner/Cogliano).

4/ Don't move Greene, Brodziak, Thoresen, Smid or either of the goalies unless you're bringing in an NHL player. The first four can all play some role in the NHL now and in an organization short on guys who can do even that, moving them does not make a lot of sense. As for the goalies, with Roli done by the end of next season at the latest Lowe had better have some insurance (no matter how iffy) in the wings.

5/Wait on Stoll. He's having an awful year but a concussion is a terrible thing to recover from. Being off of the PP is going to bring his numbers down anyways but on a team short of NHLers dumping him for a bag of pucks now makes no sense.

6/ Start moving on upgrading your bottom six somehow. Sanderson is done and it may be time for Marty to go too. Moving kids like Jacques or Pouliot, who look to be no longer part of the future, for solid NHLers who can play that bottom six role would help.

7/ Free up cap room for next year if possible in order to add a Dman to play in the top four or someone who can play in the top six forwards, a Huselius type (if not necessarily him), who can play with Gagner. Here the options are limited unless they can move Roli (unlikely), Souray (ideally but won't happen) or one of the vets (only if they can be replaced with an upgrade).

Its a mess. If the lottery were not in play then they could just let things fall as they may but with Stamkos hanging over Lowe's head I think he's a buyer this winter, which means things might get worse.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Chrimbo

Best not to think about this past week when it comes to the Oilers. Best not to think about Ales Hemsky's knee and Brian Burke getting a lottery pick out of OUR mess.

Instead, here's to good food and drink shared with family and friends and health and happiness in 2008.

Merry Christmas to all of you and yours!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Important Thing To Remember Is That We Wore Onions On Our Belts


Because, after all, it was the style at the time.
Forty today. Right.
Tonight the Oilers play the Devils. I respect the Devils for being a contender year after year for nearly fifteen years now. I admire them for their team first ethos, their drafting and player development, their winning organization.
I also hate them more then any team and that includes Minnesota who, as far as I am concerned, were spawned by Leaping Lou.
Rightly or wrongly, I believe the Devils to be the originator of the modern day overcoached, trapping, chip it in, chip it out, strangle out any sort of flow game that I despised. Also they, like so many teams in this league, play in a market that could not care less about them. If I were commissioner I would fold a bunch of teams and they would be near the very top of the list. Put it this way. When they played Dallas for the Cup a few years back I actually wanted Dallas to win. And I hate Dallas.
Fuck those guys.
I'm usually not in the prediction business but it being my fortieth and all, I'm going to go out on a limb here.
Oilers run the Devils out of the building. At the end of the second, they are up eleven to nothing, with Thoresen having eleven goals and twenty two assists. During the second intermission New Jersey falls into the ocean. Distressed by this turn of events the Devils fall apart in the third. As the Oilers pump goal after goal past Chris Terreri, a Souray slapshot flies into the crowd. It ricochets off of a buck naked, fully erect Pierre Maguire, who is vigourously (of course) whacking off into a Sid the Kid cereal box. Maguire is killed instantly as are Leaping Lou and Gary Bettman, who happen to be nearby, Bettman giving Lou a reacharound, as is his wont. The game ends with an Oiler victory - 40 -0 - of course. When Horcoff scores the fortieth goal he turns to the camera, winks and says "That one is for you, Pat."
New commissioner Esa Tikkanen, aided by an army of translators, immediately folds the Devils after the game and strips them of their Cups. He decrees that the Oilers receive one and presents the Stanley (hat tip to LT) to Horcoff, who raises the Cup over his head, kisses it and then passes it to me, along with the key to his and Pisani's hotel room.
Happy Birthday indeed.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

When Will Zubov Retire? Soon Would Be Nice


Just because I am a copycat.
The genius who does the NHL schedule needs to give his head a shake. How does a team have five games in hand on another, as Andy pointed out. I've heard of similar weirdness - a team not playing for five days, playing one, then being off again. How hard can it be?
Are the Oilers a couple of players (Moreau and a pickup in a trade) from winning a few more games in regulation? Or is even getting to the shootout just the result of a lot of breaks, as Tyler argues. I'm a glass half full guy as we know and part of me thinks that the Oilers have had a lot of bad breaks so far with injuries so the good luck in terms of high shooting percentage is just evening things out. But I'll be the first to admit I can't back that gut feeling up.
Shootout points, luck, karma - whatever - I'll take where the Oilers are right now for sure. I'm of the mind that it will not last for despite my tendency to blue sky I still think that this team is not that good. Having said that someone (MacT?) deserves some credit.
They need another defenceman to play in the top four. Things have worked out with Pitkanen and Gilbert (cough cough sign them!) but they need one more guy. Too many fives and sixes.
And with Torres going down there is once again the issue that they need help up front. They have a legitimate #1 line (starting to feel pretty good about Penner now - even Fat Terry had nice things to say about him today) and Fernie's kids are holding their own. That leaves a bunch of guys who Grabia described (paraphrasing) as having to absolutely play their best to hold their own. Now we know there is no lack of effort from Brodziak and Thoresen, for example, but the remaining forwards seem to range from too young to too old. Boy am I glad that Thoresen is back, by the way. Maybe its the underdog thing but I love that kid.
Moreau's return will help and Stoll has shown signs of life. If Torres is ok and gets back healthy things look better still. But I wonder of Jacques or Pouliot gets moved at some point for someone who can help out. Problem is other then LA nobody looks to be out of it yet and I don't see anyone there worth a look. So unless the Oilers move Tarnstrom (why is he sitting again?) to a team in a swap for that forward or they find a team who wants to clear a guy to make room for another pickup I'm not sure if I see anything happening.
Two days until I hit 40. Yipes.
And the Dallas Stars? Fuck those guys.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fernando, If I Was Quite Gay, Fernando Yeah


Ok, so in the last few weeks we have seen Pitkanen emerge as the defenceman we hoped to get in the Philly deal. We have seen the Oilers claw their way back to .500 (and yes, I am fully aware of the whole shootout thing but what the hell, points are points. I'll take them for now.). We have seen Souray return from injury. Tarnstrom is almost back. Moreau is close. He really is.
Hemsky is nearly at a point a game. Penner looks like he is getting it together. And Horcoff is establishing himself as one of the premier centres in the game, imo.
The biggest story - Fernando. Back for nine games in which they have picked up thirteen of a possible eighteen points. Two goals plus the shootout winner last night. And he has brought along Nilsson and Gagner. Nilsson, about to be sent out before Fernando came along. Gagner, who had become a non factor. Now they both look like legitimate players.
Apparently Toto has rereleased their totally awesome hit from the early 80s.
All I wanna do when I wake up in the morning is to see you, Pies
Fernando, Fernando I never thought that a guy like you could carry two kids, Fernando
All I wanna do in the middle of the evening is to watch you score
Fernando, Fernando I didn't know you were looking for more than a checking role
Not quite three months since he went away, Fernando yeah
Now he's back and I have to say
Meet you all the way, if I was quite gay, Fernando yeah
Meet you all the way, if I was quite gay, Fernando yeah
I can see your face still bearded like it was in that lovely spring
Fernando, Fernando I didn't know that a guy like you could make me feel so sad, Fernando
All I wanna take is a night you'll carry Torres and Stoll once again
Fernando, Fernando they never thought that losing you could ever hurt so bad
Not quite three months since he went away, Fernando yeah
Now he's back and I have to say
Meet you all the way, if I was quite gay, Fernando yeah
Meet you all the way, if I was quite gay, Fernando yeah

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I Am Without Speech


A guy spends the evening hanging out with his folks and he misses every damn thing.
Wow.
And on top of that Fernie's Kids (hat tip to Dennis) beat the frigging Red Wings, the class of the league, in their own building, to collect five out of six points on a road trip that I figured was an 0 fer before it began.
Holy fucking shit. I mean, seriously. Seriously. Get serious.
Holy fuck.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Googling Images of Shawn Horcoff Gives Me These















Yep, when I google images of Shawn Horcoff I get, (besides a big boner), a picture of the big fella.
Hah!
In Gary Bettman's NHL a team can be nine, I think its nine, games under .500 and still be in the mix, five points out of the division lead, right in the playoff race. The shootout (if you are good at it) and parity are good for business. Usually for the also rans hope springs eternal in September and then dies by Halloween. For the Oilers, written off for dead by many (including me) months ago, they have six weeks to hang in there - if they are in the mix come February 1 then Lowe is a buyer.

He's likely a buyer anyways. We all know that Lowe has to avoid the lottery and that this team looks like it may have enough to get out of the bottom ten in any case. Add in the fact that they have a plethora of prospects, many who have been passed by (Pouliot, Jacques, Roy), to deal and its likely we will see Lowe picking up a player or two to put them over the top.

The top being out of the top ten picks, in this case.

Having said that and recognizing how success in the shootout has put this team where it is (as an aside its part of the game now, the points count - ask the Leafs what a poor shootout record has meant to them the past two seasons) there are a number of positives to come out of these thirty two games:

- the fact that this team has overcome a pretty serious run of injuries to hang in there
- in the same vein they have had sub par performances from some key guys - Stoll, Torres, Roloson - on a team that has few veterans and they have still survived
- Mathieu Garon's emergence as a guy who at the very least can share the load
- Joni Pitkanen and Tom Gilbert's emergence as a legitimate top four pair who can play tough minutes and thrive - in the last two games the Oilers are plus 6/minus 7 at even strength. Pitkanen is a plus 4, Gilbert a plus 3. Neither has been on for a goal against at ES.
- Penner's arrival. He's still a work in progress and he may be getting a lot of help playing with Horcoff and Hemsky but the past seven games have seen the kid become a force.
- Hemsky is quietly getting there, nearing a PPG pace
- there is nothing quiet about Shawn Horcoff's arrival; other then their roles on the PP how about Brad Richards as a comp? Top twenty in scoring on top of everything else he does. There are few better allround players in the game right now.
- Pisani's return coinciding with a seven game (!) point scoring streak by Nilsson and the return of Sam Gagner to being a bit more of a positive factor
- the play of Brodziak and Cogliano, despite the latter's fade as of late
-decent play by Grebeshkov and Rourke on the third pair

Looking at this team, positives and negatives, a few things are apparent.

Smid or Rourke are going out when Tarnstrom comes back. In my opinion Tarnstrom should join Staios in the second pair with Souray playing on the third along with Grebeshkov or Rourke. Smid back to the minors. Souray may get the call with Staios and Tarnstrom may still get moved but to me that's a reasonable sextet. I like Tarnstrom though.

Tons of holes up front. There is Horcoff's line and Pisani and the kids can handle the soft stuff but then it gets iffy. Moreau's return will help and maybe he joins Reasoner and Brodziak. Maybe Pisani gets moved to play with Stoll and Torres.

Its amazing that they are hanging in there with this lineup up front. Either Stoll and Torres have to wake up or Lowe makes a move or two and brings in help, with Stoll or Torres getting lesser roles or moved themselves.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Holy Crosby! Crosby Crosbies Crosby. Crosby.....Crosby



Well, another ten games gone and this was the most successful and most eventful ten game segment yet. Six and two and two winnable games ended up in a slightly disappointing six and four but if six and four is disappointing then things are beginning to look up. The Oilers clawed their way back into the pack and while they are still amongst the bottom dwellers this team is showing signs of life and the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Penner's name won't be mentioned in the same breath as Tom Kurvers.
Wins in regulation, two good beatings laid on Anaheim, terrific goaltending from Garon and Roloson, some fine play by Rourke and Grebeshkov as the third pair, the arrival of Very Good Joni, some solid play from Laddy Smid and continued strong play from Gilbert Gilbert (who got a lot of love on CSN on Wednesday) were among the highlights. Indeed the future with this blueline is starting to look a little brighter and the question is what happens when Tarnstrom and Souray return. (Hint - Tarnstrom gets moved.)
Up front the storyline is all about Shawn Horcoff who is a point out of being in the top twenty in scoring in the league, all the while being the same old Horcoff - that is, he does everything. And if I am Kevin Lowe then I am talking to him about an extension and soon. Yep, now. With Gagner and Cogliano coming the debate, if there really was one, was who to keep - Horc or Stoll. From this corner the answer was always pretty clear and I can't see how anyone other then Stacey's mom would argue otherwise now.
Having said that there are plenty of other things to consider up front besides Horcoff. Gagner's name has begun to pop up on the scoresheet lately along with Nilsson's and one wonders how much of that is to do with their new winger and babysitter. Besides these kids there have been some goals from the backend and so its become Horcoff from Hemsky and scoring by committee otherwise but it seems to be working out as guys like Reasoner, Brodziak and Cogliano chip in here and there.
Penner continues to tease. Two good games in California and then nothing much back home.
The return of Thoresen, finally, who scores in his first game back and of course the best story of them all, the return of Fernando Pisani. Unfortunately the best story about this terrific tale was found in the Globe, courtesy of CP, rather then in any of the local papers, bedazzled as they were by some kid from Nova Scotia.
And as these ten games ended it was ironic that for all of the joking about CSN's over the top story of the Crosby and how he earned ten Grammy nominations, cured cancer and won the war, all while banging the cast of The L Word, the truth is that when he tore the Oilers apart on Wednesday night he impacted the Oilers in the short term and perhaps the longterm as well. To wit:
He exposed questions about MacT's strategy of playing good try no play Zach Stortini against the best player in the league while trying to protect a one goal league. Why not Fernando Pisani? He sent Pisani out for a defensive zone draw late in the second in Stortini's place when Therrien sent out Crosby and Malkin. The Oilers immediately got possession, moved the puck into the Crosbies' zone and spent the entire shift there. And if not Pisani then what about Kyle Brodziak? Or Andrew Cogliano? Other then Sam Gagner there is likely not another player I would have out there rather then Stortini.
And of course the other two thirds of the line that Crosby victimized were scratched against St. Louis. The arguments why this was dumb are many. Torres and Stoll, despite their failings, are still better players then most of the Oilers' forwards and if you are trying to win then they have to dress. They had actually been doing a decent job up until Wednesday despite having to drag around Stortini. MacT risks losing other veterans on the team because of this move. Stoll is still recovering from his concussion and has been getting there lately. If these guys are tradebait as has been surmised, scratching them brings down their value. Etc. Etc. A lot of good arguments made by a lot of people smarter then me against this move.
And I was still onside with it. There aren't many ways a coach can get a player's attention these days. Fact is Stoll and Torres have underperformed this year. Broken record for Torres who is now making decent coin and is no longer a kid. And remember that prior to last November when Stoll did take off he was brutal in October, by his own admission unprepared to play.
On this team they should be right behind Horcoff and Hemsky, along with Penner (of course he's a story for another day), in terms of production and responsibilities. For the first ten games Torres was terrific. Then he went ten games without a point, iirc. Does he do other stuff well? Absolutely. Does he need to be a better player? Yes. Yes he does. And that goes for Stoll too. Neither guy was happy about being benched but I would suspect that for a couple of weeks at least that we see a little more fire from them.
Oh and send Stortini out already. Or put him on the fourth line. Love his try. I really do. But there's no way he brings more to the table then a guy like Thoresen.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Some Recognition For "Pies"


A really nice story from Canadian Press in the Globe about Pisani's comeback. He sounds like he is about the greatest guy ever.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

There Is Something In The Air Tonight, Fernando



There are good hockey players and there are famous hockey players and there are those who are both.
Tonight one of the latter plays his third game of the season, his first at home.
Fernando Pisani was always one of those unsung guys, a low draft pick, a hometown boy who made the local team and played a good solid game. A professional player who did all of the little things necessary to help his team win.
This all changed in the spring of '06. Whenever the Oilers needed a big goal, more likely then not it was Pisani who was scoring it. Two goals in the third period of G6 against the Wings. The game winner, shorthanded, in OT!, in G5 of the Finals. A third period goal to bring the Oilers within one in G7, a near miss to tie it.
If Ryan Smyth had had Fernando Pisani's playoff he'd be an Oiler for life.
This summer Pisani became famous for a different reason as it was revealed that he was suffering from ulcerative colitis, a disorder that threatened his career and, possibly, his life.
Tonight he is back on Edmonton ice for the first time this season. Here's hoping that the crowd gives him an ovation that he will never forget.
And here's hoping that the Oilers continue on their roll. Eight of their last twelve and a couple of winnable games left this week. My expectations honestly remain low but the kids have pulled themselves out of the basement - they are playing fun hockey and they are winning and its nice to see. They're working hard and they deserve it.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Decisions Decisions - Chase The Cat or Smell Its Bum?


Its kind of funny really how this latest stretch of play has everyone smiling guiltily like the guy I saw skulking out of the neighbourhood rub'n tug, sorry, "health spa", the other day. The Oilers remain below .500 but they have been playing well and they are ahead of the Flames and sweeping a home and home against the Burkes is nothing to be sneezed at. All of this has been going on with a pretty full sick bay and some underachieving individual play as well which makes it a little more impressive. And three of the last four games have ended in regulation wins. Believe it or not an Oilers win tonight would pull them within five points of Wild on Jack Lemaire and the division lead.
Now I am still a skeptic and a .500 finish to this season would exceed my wildest expectations but truth be told there are some good things going on, especially back on the blueline. It has started and ended with Tom Gilbert this season but its become pretty clear that things have turned around in a big way for Joni Pitkanen. He was very strong at Rexall in the game I saw. He was singled out by MacT as the only guy to stand out in the Avs disaster and he obviously made an impression on the Anaheims in the first game as they tried to run him out of the rink last night. Didn't happen. Add to this the fact that Staios has been solid (interesting how he suddenly has become a whipping boy of sorts now that Smith has gone) and that Smid seems to be slowly finding his way and things look not too bad on the second pair. And Grebeshkov and Rourke are handling the third pair just fine, thank you. With Greene likely a ways away and Roy passed by Rourke for now the decisions upcoming will be when Tarnstrom and Souray return.
Ideally to me Tarnstrom would step in for Smid and bump Laddy down a pair to play with Rourke but I think that Dick is tradebait which is too bad. Fellow is a decent player in my eyes but he is a guy who can be moved pretty easily. Looking at it now one has to wonder again what Lowe was thinking on the Souray signing. Here's a guy who is going to be pulling down 5.4 per for the next five years when they don't need him. They will likely need that cap space when all is said and done though. Dammit. So while in my perfect world Souray would have a two year contract or would be playing for LA instead he will come in and likely get on that second pairing, because you can't pay a guy that coin to play on the third pair, and this will necessitate either moving a perfectly good and cheaper option in Tarnstrom out of here or farming out one of Smid, Grebeskov or Rourke while sending another to the PB.
I don't mind Souray but that contract is what is killing me on this. Ask the Leafs about bad contacts. They already have 42 M committed to next year's squad.
Of course one of the reasons the D have looked good is that both goaltenders have played well over the past couple of weeks - Garon and Roli have been fine as a 1A and 1B combo. It seems like the competition is friendly, so far, and there is no doubt that Garon has proven he can play in the shortterm while Roli has responded well to the push. Good to great goaltending can make all of the difference and one only has to look down Highway 2 to see what a struggling keeper can do to a team with high hopes.
And now up front we have seen Pisani return and as I commented over at Tyler's site I listened to CHED on the interweb last night and it seemed every time Fernando was on the ice I heard him breaking up a Ducks rush or clearing the zone or killing a penalty. I felt like I was in front of a roaring fire with a hot rum and it sounded like the radio guys were there with me as they commented how Fernando just helps win hockey games. Everyone smile and sign now. :) Great story and on top of that Hemsky, Moreau and Sanderson are all returning at some point soon. With Moreau and Pisani returning this team is suddenly looking at three reasonable lines and a babysitter for the kids if they go that way. I woud think that they will keep an extra forward but I would think sadly that Thoresen would be sent down and that maybe Nilsson would join him? Unless they try and buy time and send Gagner to the juniors. Its strange. Stortini has done all that he ever has done and that is improve. Have to admire his try at the very least. Cogliano and Brodziak have done well. Brodziak certainly plays like every game like he may be sent out any minute. Nilsson shows flashes but its that lack of consistency that's killing him.
So, 27-10-83, 14-16-34, 18-19-51, 8-13-89? Stortini in the pressbox until they move Sanderson? Or maybe Moreau babysits the kids?
I'd like to see Gagner go to the juniors and Thoresen playing with Sanderson and Cogliano myself but I have a soft spot for the Norwegian. Can't help it.
Interesting choices coming for Lowe and MacT. Now excuse me while I go chase the cat.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Making Love In The Fescue, Behind Clare Drake Arena With You, Edmonton


Landed in Edmonton just after lunch last Friday. First time there. Flying in, looking down at a landscape alien to someone raised in the ruggedness of Northern Ontario, resident of Toronto, past resident of Tampa and Charlottetown. I haven't been everywhere, man, but I've been a lot of places. Ireland, Scotland, England, quite a bit of the States, Puerto Rico, all over Canada except for the Prairies and Manitoba, which I learned is part of Central Canada, according to Grabia anyway.
Flatness as far as I can see, dotted with tiny frozen lakes, and then the city, encroaching on the prairie, subdivision by subdivision. Nothing and then a cul-de-sac and then, here we are, the land of milk and honey.
So confirmed by the fact that the parking attendant offered us a free newspaper when we left the airport. So excited was I that we immediately had to pull over so I could change my boxers.
Friday afternoon Andy and Van toured me about the city. Up to the city from the south, along the river and then into Edmonton itself. To Rexall and Commonwealth Stadium and then downtown, past City Hall and the proposed site of the new arena. Along the way Andy pointed out the sites - Whyte Avenue, the Journal, the bars and restaurants of note, including a Chinese joint (Wong's?) where the 80s Oilers used to hang out. After a quick stop by Grabia's favourite opium den for a little pick me up, we moved along to West Ed.
I have to apologize because my recollections of the West Edmonton Mall are certainly coloured by being completely high. Like Alice down the rabbit hole I was assaulted by a bizarre and freakish world. An amusement park with a roller coaster, a water park, a skating rink, a replica of one of Christopher Columbus' ships. Right .... as if.
Among the fun facts that I learned - Boston Pizza is not a chain out of Boston, but out of, you guessed it, Edmonton! I sampled the "Meteor" at one of 78 Boston Pizzas that I saw in my stay. I believe there were a half dozen meats along with some cheese on that sucker.
After I recovered from a mild coronary episode we attended the Golden Bears' game vs. UBC at Clare Drake. With both rosters stacked with former junior players, a carnival like atmosphere (including two guys who berated the UBC goalie nonstop for about forty minutes) and four dollar beers, lets just say, um, Go Bears! After the game we retired to RATT, the University of Alberta pub. We were joined there by Mr. Debakey, Allan and Colby Cosh, who took a couple of photos of yours truly and our little gathering. Good times and good company as we celebrated Andy's 33rd birthday. Andy, with three gin and OJs (irk) lined up in front of him, declining a drink. A few minutes later, asked again, and now with only two left - "Of course, of course, fucker!"
I have to admit I bailed early (12:30) brought down by jetlag, age and the fact that I'm a gigantic pussy.
Saturday was spent mostly relaxing with friends as Andy recovered from a fairly massive hangover. When we got going we headed to The Sherlock Holmes pub downtown for a pregame meal (very good), some pints (excellent) and a few laughs. Andy showed me the pics in the back, you know the ones you see in many pubs, where hammered patrons make asses of themselves. This being near the hotel where visiting teams and media stayed back in the day, the pics included ones of Ron MacLean, Jari Kurri, noted arseholes Al Strachan and Bobby Clarke and numerous other hockey types.
The friend who I stayed with told me about going to the pub back in the 80s on a bitter winter night. The fellow in front of him, some guy in a long coat rushing in out of the cold, failed to do the old "hold the door open for a sec" thing. Mick went in, a little put off, and sat down with his buddies, who suddenly looked up, a little open mouthed. There was the guy in the long coat who apologized to Mick profusely - the door had slipped and he felt badly because he knew it must have been a pisser. The guy in the long coat, of course, was Wayne Gretzky.
After the game, Andy and I jumped on the LRT (nice) and were downtown in minutes. We went to Brewsters, struggling a bit with a cool night and a bit of a wind. Now, I know I missed the cold weather - this was nothing - but I was quite surprised by Grabia who urged me a few times to "save myself" and to "remember me to the lads". Finally as the big baby blubbered curbside I was forced to fireman carry him for a bit. In the end, I dragged him the last two hundred metres by the scruff of his neck.
At Brewsters we settled in for pints of stout (me) and some sort of girly drink (guess who). Joining Van (Andy's girlfriend) and a number of his pals, we enjoyed the remainder of the night. Truly astounding was Van's capacity for alcohol. 287 martinis, certainly a world record.
After a struggle that I have engaged in everywhere but here in Toronto, in London, New York and Chicago, trying to get a cab on a Saturday night, our evening ended, as we stumbled into our taxis and bid each other adieu.
Next time, and there will be a next time, I will hit a few more establishments, including the Black Dog (sorry Craig). That was my one regret from my trip but so it goes.
Final impressions of Edmonton - I really enjoyed it. The things I found offputting - the sprawl, the car culture, November, are the same things that are offputting about any city in North America so big whoop. These things don't reflect poorly on Edmonton at all.
Indeed Edmonton is my favourite type of city, in the Dublin, Halifax, Edinburgh tree of cities. Large enough to have the big city feel - great food, a varied nightlife and culture, a lot going on - while still small enough that people are friendly, you can get around quickly and easily, you don't feel overwhelmed by people and traffic. I don't really have an exact comp :) - St. Johns and Halifax are smaller, Dublin and Edinburgh, with due respect, are Dublin and Edinburgh - but I have good friend who counts Edmonton amongst his favourite towns and I would agree.
I will be back. Thanks to everyone who I met for showing me such a great time and for making me feel at home. A special thanks to Andy and Van for taking a lot of their weekend to show me a great time and to show me their city. Thanks guys!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Raffi Being Raffi - Oilers V. Hawks II


Other impressions from Saturday's game, notably up front. The key here is that they were playing the Hawks and as a result they looked better because of it.
While Horcoff and Hemsky were on the ice for the first Hawks' goal, they were money the entire game, meaning that when they were on the ice the puck was almost always in the Hawks' end and their own net was rarely in danger. On the GA Hemsky was actually in deep in the left corner, not the only time in the game, I might add. He chipped it up the boards on his backhand but Nilsson was not there. He was on the right point (Hemsky's point). Nilsson was then caught in no-man's land as he hurried to his point. The puck went to the spot he had vacated and it was in the net. After that I don't know if he saw the ice again although it wasn't like he had done anything before that. Then Penner and Sanderson rotated on the Horcoff line with Torres getting the odd shift as well.
Hemsky shoots from everywhere now. Everywhere. He has eight goals after a slow slow start - with the amount of shots he's taking I could see him hit thirty. Horcoff is just a terrific player as we all know. On the shootout he went in top speed, the best way to do it I think, and it was a no doubter. Funny how a guy who often hits the goalie or has the puck bounce over his stick on scoring chances has suddenly been revealed as a shootout wizard. Has to be good for his confidence.
The Oilers' forward lines are really a black hole though. Penner looked like Penner. Huge, slow, not super aggressive but like Pitkanen you can see he may have "it". Had at least one good chance. Not a defensive liability on this night.
The Reasoner line was great and they are likely one of the best fourth lines in the league. Unfortunately on this team they are the second best line right now. Solid in their own end, great puck pursuit. Reasoner's goal was nice. Sanderson is just a beautiful skater. And Brodziak is just a solid kid.
The kids weren't really noticeable. MacT did have them out there a bit against Kane and Toews but for the most part they got some nobodies. Didn't do too much with it but they didn't get eaten alive at any point either. They certainly weren't trapped in their end for any length of time. As for Gagner's move on the shootout - just amazing. He was going pretty quick too.
Finally, Torres, Stortini and Stoll. Stortini, as has been pointed out, adds little. He had a little hug (although I don't blame him - guy he was fighting was a monster) - other then that he was ... well, there. Didn't hurt. Didn't help.
Torres was totally Torres. He went after the guy who knocked out Tarnstrom and I think freaked him out a bit but other then that he did little. Disappointing because it looked like after the first ten games he finally had gotten it - instead he's the same old Raffi - the odd little plays that killed momentum, the lack of intensity. Raffi being Raffi. When Pisani returns I would plug him in with Torres and Stoll and if nothing is doing then I would bump Torres up to Horcoff and Hemsky duty. Guy is being wasted playing where he is now. Its a black hole.
Which leads us to the sad case of Jarret Stoll. Goddam concussion. He looked awful. People are talking about Reasoner and Sanderson being done - Stoll looked worse. I know MacT is feeding him the icetime, hoping that he gets going, but nothing is doing yet. Not a factor at all. And that may be the difference between 10 and 13 and 13 and 10. I feel for the guy - a concussion can take a long time to shake off. He's brutal right now.
Other then that not much else to report (brain is a little fuzzy) - the PP looked good its first two times out there - players and puck were moving. The third one did not get untracked at all.
On last thing - a player who gets a penalty in OT and does not serve it out before time expires should not be allowed in the shootout. Kane served three seconds in the box and then was the Hawks' first shooter. Kind of bullshit, no?
Loved how they went after him though and man, did he get booed.
Next - off ice hijinks. There was a little. But unfortunately it also served to remind me why I was there - I'm turning 40 Goddamnit!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Two Men Pining For Gilbert Gilbert - Oilers v Hawks


Goodgamegoodgamegoodgamegoodgame.
Off-ice report to follow but here's what I thought of the game Saturday, my first ever trip to see an Oilers' home game.
Um, where I'm from, that arena is basically downtown already. A quick ride on the LRT away anyhow. You can see how its presence has certainly created a bustling neighbourhood around it though. There was the strip club and um, yeah .... not so much else.
All kidding aside I am not from Alberta so I have little invested in the whole debate. Its a nice rink though. I've been to Wrigley, White Hart Lane and the old Chicago Stadium so trying to sell me on the fact that this place is falling down and has to be replaced makes very little sense to me.
The Oilers put on a good show. Impressive. The lighting, the music, all that stuff. Far better then the Leafs. The whole Tickets for Troops deal was pulled off extremely well. There was the usual background noise stuff, which I don't like much, but it was not as bad as, say, the Leafs again.
The weird beginning where the players are goofing around against a white background - very very strange. Reminded me of 90210? The beginning I mean. Smid does a posedown like Hulk Hogan - if you blink you miss it - and as a result I like him a hundred times more.
They also had a little Q and A during a timeout where they ask guys what they would be if they were not in the NHL. This was a riot. Mathieu Roy grins and says he's be working construction or pumping gas or something. Gagner says he's be in school (no shit-grade 6 by the look of him). Pouliot says "Rock Star!" - he looks like a real fucking weirdo. And then Stortini. Zach, what would you be if you weren't in the NHL?
"Well, I'd really hope I was in the NHL, you know. Because its my dream. So I really would think I'd want to be in the NHL, playing hockey." Ok then.
As for the crowd - not as noisy as I thought it would be although far noiser then the ACC. And during the shootout and at some other points during the game it was great. Also a lot less prompting for crowd noise from the scoreboard - a couple of times but that's all. Good.
So Andy and I had good seats, row 12 in section 108, right behind the Oilers' net for the first and the third. Andy screamed like a little girl a few times when pucks hurtled at us, only to be stopped by the glass. Of course I shat myself so I'm one to talk..
Yeah we're idiots.
Of course as usual its amazing to see how big and fast these guys are live. The new jerseys do have a slimming effect though. Torres especially doesn't really look that big. Staios either.
Chicago is pretty crappy. they really are. So are the Oilers. It was a great game in that the Oilers won (yay) and the game was close (obviously) but there were times it was a bit of a snooze, especially in the first. Of course I was pretty exhausted at this point from trying to fend off Grabia's advances. He sure likes to play grabass. Then again, who doesn't. Anyways while the Oilers didn't play terrific I think even their best game would result in very little against the Detroits of the world. There's not much on this roster. I thought they deserved to win this one though. The Hawks had more shots but the Oilers had more chances.
Observations. Roloson is a whack job, which we all knew. He played well but had few five bell saves. The Hawks had forty shots but the majority were from outside. The Oilers did a good job of keeping them out there and the Hawks really created very little off of the rush. Toews was a complete nonfactor. Kane not much more. Pitkanen was out a lot against Kane and spent a lot of time working him over.
On the D everything was status quo. Tarnstrom was fine until he got whacked which was pretty close to us. He was a bit of a mess. Smid actually played quite well. No glaring errors and he certainly has an edge to him. He likes to mix it up out there. Grebeshkov will not shoot the puck. The play to Hemsky turned out great but it really looked like he had blown it before Khabibulin kind of got turned around. He wasn't terrible but when he has time he gets into trouble. Twice late in the third he had the puck with time as Chicago were on a change or clearing the zone and he fanned on the puck for no apparent reason. He also had a couple of times where he could have chipped it out easily but hesitated and ended up getting the Oilers hemmed in. Staios did the exact same thing on the second goal. Pitkanen got him the puck. He had time and could have just flipped it high and out. Instead he hesitated, ate it and the next time the Oilers got the puck they were fishing it out of the net. This was about five minutes after Andy and I had discussed how Staios had really changed his game - no more gambling, play it safe - and how we felt that while he was less fun, he was certainly a better player for it. He then made about three gaffes in a row. He's pretty damn solid though.
As for Joni Pitkanen, this is a guy you have to see live. He is an unbelievable specimen. Only one game but based on what I saw this guy would be the best player on the Oilers in terms of the tools he possesses. He is huge. He can skate like the wind. He is beautiful to watch. Now of course the idea is that there is a good Joni and a bad Joni but if they can harness good Joni then I would say sign him right now, longterm. Of course, harnessing good Joni has been the problem, now, hasn't it?
Terrific skill though. Of course he also likes to wander, lets say. At one point he was behind the Hawks' net and I thought he was Penner because of his size and because, well, he was behind their net. When he wheeled out to get back there was no doubt who he was though.
As for Gilbert Gilbert, well he is all that he is cracked up to be. Just a hell of a hockey player. Everytime he did something Andy and I would look at each other and smile like a couple of schoolgirls with a crush, which essentially we were. They did a giveaway where a fan had to guess who had the Santa disguise on. Andy and I both fairly shrieked his name. We could not have been any gayer if we were wearing skirts and had our hair in pigtails.
I was hoping to get down there and maybe get a little makeout time with G.G. but it would have ended our budding friendship as Andy was of the same mind I think. So we ignored our loinal urges and did some manly drinking instead.
Next - more impressions.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

In Andy I Trust, Unless He's Sneaking Up Behind Me To Give Me The Edmonton "How Do You Do!"

In twenty four hours Andy Grabia and I wil be driving around Edmonton.

And things will never ever be the same again.

I suspect that this may be too much fun for me to bear.

Worse case we will spend tomorrow afternoon in embarrassed silence, realizing that sometimes these internet blind dates aren't all that they are cracked up to be. We will attend the game Saturday night and then part ways gladly, slinking out into the night much as someone who wakes up the next morning with the result of far too many drinks the night previous laying beside them will recoil in horror and then try to tiptoe out the door. If caught, we might mumble a false phone number and then dash into the street. However, seeing as I have met Chris!, mike w., sacamano and mudcrutch and they are all terrific fellows whose company I enjoy very much, I suspect that this weekend will hold more of the same.

Here we go but first an old joke, nothing to do with this weekend but if I do get stabbed on Whyte Avenue let it be my requieum :

Buddy moves into the country into an old farmhouse. He enjoys the privacy and the peace and quiet. His nearest neighbour is a couple of miles up the road. After a few weeks however he begins to wish for a little human contact. He's sitting out on the porch when a pickup rolls up - its his neighbour, a fellow about his age. After introducing himself and some small talk about the weather and the barley, his neighbour says: "Well now, why don't you come up to my place Saturday night. Fellow gets a little lonely out here. I'm having a party and it should be terrific - lots of drinking and fighting and fucking."

Well, buddy is a little lonely indeed and he thinks this sounds great. He agrees and waves to his neighbour as he heads up the road.

On Saturday night he showers up and puts on his best blue jeans, combs his hair and puts on a little bit of his eau de cologne. Thinking of healthy ruddy faced farmgirls, he heads up the road to his neighbour's place. He knocks on the door and his neighbour lets him in.

Taking off his coat, he says "So, when does everyone else get here?" for nobody else has arrived as of yet.

Buddy looks at him, a little surprised. "Ain't nobody else coming. Here, have a beer."

Yuk yuk yuk.

EDIT - Andy has our itinerary ready.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Deepest of Thoughts - Three Days and Counting


Stately, plump Andy Grabia came from the stairhead, bearing a pint for each of us. Oh, I should say so. Black Dog at the Black Dog? Confusion. Purple Onion. Donairs? Talk about your mystery meat. Wife loves them though. Of course she's out of her head. Look who she married.

Must remember, I'm from Sudbury. Not Toronto. Sudbury. Born and bred. Must count for something. Toronto sucks us dry as well. From Sudbury. Just like American backpackers with their Canadian flag patches until they say something stupid and give it all away. Then the European beauties laugh at them. Better yet they get pounded by some yobs whose grampies slaughtered the Jerries. Tough pricks, the Brits.

I'm from Sudbury.

Don't say anything stupid. Likely to get dropped off at the edge of town. Let the Eastern bastard freeze. Indeed. Must be nice to Grabia. In the news and all. Bow and scrape if I must.

Is it true if your dog runs away you can watch him do so for three days? Hmm. Should test it out. Or is that Saskatchewan? If the Riders win will I see Regina in flames from 30000 feet on Sunday night? What if they lose?

I love Gilbert Gilbert. Wonder if I can get his autograph Saturday night? Maybe I'll sneak into the dressing room. Nobody will notice. Hide behind the moustache.

Poor Paddy Dignam. Poor Oilers. Three-three now. Another long night. Grabia likely in a rage now.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Here I Am Coming, Edmonton



Woke up this morning, foggy in the brain, lying out in the backyard, an empty bottle of Bushmills beside me, head resting on a tattered copy of Ulysses. Damn good night despite the hangover and the onset of pneumonia. Realized, niney niney nondoors, flying to Edmonton on Friday morning. Good on ya. Never been. Should be fun. Have to pack. Going to Whyte Avenue? Can't bring a knife on the plane. Thats ok, buy one at Edmonton Airport. Be prepared, just like the Boy Scouts. Not Lowe though. Lowe though. Heh.


Scritch scritch scritch. Fleas? No. Maybe crabs. Unfortunate. How to explain to Molly? Come up with something. Must get gift for Grabia. Famous now. Maybe too big a wig? We'll see. Porn is always nice. Gladheateher. Splendour In The Ass. Schindler's Fist. His birthday too. Maybe a hooker? Booze. Cigarettes. Too easy. No mention from Staples. Maybe good. No danger of lawsuits if nobody reads. Get back to the roots - gay porn, nonsensical ramblings. My niche. Masturbation and so on. Can't beat it.
Heh. Funny guy. Gift for Grabia. What to do? Cosh said he needs a pair. I haven't any to give ever since that vet appointment. Didn't see that coming. Have to remember - revenge against the guy with the mustache. See how he likes it. No balls. Prime of life. That's no fair. Smother him with a pillow maybe. No thumbs though. Maybe a problem. Still not fair. Hard to lick balls when there are no balls. Phantom pleasure I think.
Gift gift gift. Coat made from sacamano's back hair? Big. Warm. Red. Maybe itchy? Don't know. Think on it.
Drink before the flight. Hate flying. Remember not to shit myself from fear of flying. Andy won't let me into his car.
Hope people in Edmonton have heard the saying "Give The Dog A Bone"; if so might not come back. Probably will - not too good to leave it all behind. No midlife crisis here. No sir. Nope.
Um, no.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kurvers


This is Tom Kurvers. Kurvers won the Hobey Baker after scoring 76 points in 43 games for the University of Minnesota Duluth. He was drafted by the Habs and was a part of the 86 Cup winning team. That team had Bob Gainey up front as well as 110 point scorer Mats Naslund and Bobby Smith - the rest of the forwards were a kiddie corps of very good young two way hockey players including Mike McPhee, Brian Skrudland, Guy Carbonneau and two annoying rookies - Shayne Corson and Claude Lemieux. The back end was led by the legendary Larry Robinson and there were a number of excellent young defencemen - Chris Chelios, Craig Ludwig and Petr Svoboda. Kurvers scored thirty points in 62 games in what was his second season. He had scored forty five as a rookie. He was injured for the entire playoffs but the Habs went all the way, helped by the fact that the Oilers had lost to the Flames on the Steve Smith own goal. Facing a Flames team which probably felt like they had already won the Cup, the Habs won in five games. Montreal was led by Lemieux who scored big goal after big goal and would have won the Conn Smythe for his Pisani like performance if it weren't for their rookie goaltender, ah, what was his name? Oh yeah, Patrick Roy.

Seriously, Tyler just posted about teams denying all statstical probabilities. Few teams did so like those '86 Habs. They got every single break going.

So Kurvers got his ring and then he began to bounce around. He could put up points but he didn't know how to play defence. So he went to les Sabres and then to the Devils, who were just slowly beginning to emerge from the mire. In 89-90 Kurvers scored 66 points in 74 games for NJ. He was no slouch. A game into the next season the Maple Leafs traded their first round pick for 91-92 to the Devils for the guy they felt they needed to QB their PP.

The Leafs had been mired in mediocrity along with the rest of the Norris through the 80s. Back in those days four of the five teams in the division made the playoffs and one was guaranteed to be cannon fodder for the Oilers or Flames in the conference final. With Ballard and Wirtz and weak ownership in St. Louis plus the Wings dragging themselves out of a disastrous run in the 70s there was no real reason to improve. I was a Hawks' fan in those days and had just started school in Toronto and believe me, it was almost as if there was a gentleman's agreement amongst those teams. 80 points was good enough to win the division a couple of years but who needed to improve as long as they were guaranteed playoff money? Its not like they would beat the Oilers anyways.

And then Mike Ilitch and Mike Keenan happened. Driven to win, Ilitch bought the Wings and changed the culture. In Chicago Keenan supplanted Pulford temporarily (Rocky Wirtz's first two acts as owner after his father's death were to televise home games and move Pulford out of hockey operations - smart guy) - in his brief stay the Hawks became a hard driving team that won the President's Trophy on year and went to the Cup finals the next. Couple these two squads with an improving team in Minnesota and the Leafs and Kurvers ran into a perfect storm of circumstance that would make Kurvers infamous.

Kurvers scored 52 points in 70 games in 89-90 and the Leafs made the playoffs. The following year disaster struck. At the end of the season the Leafs were in second last and Kurvers was gone - after 19 games he had been shipped to the Canucks.

So the Leafs ended up with the third pick overall as the Nordiques selected first overall and the San Jose Sharks were given the second pick as an expansion team. Of course the only problem was the Leafs didn't have that pick. The Devils did. They picked some guy named Scott Niedermeyer.

Niedermeyer is going to be in the Hall of Fame. He won three Cups with the Devils as they were one of the dominant franchises in the league for a decade. When he moved to the Ducks he won another Cup there last year, captaining them through a dominant playoff run. He is one of the premier defenceman of his time. It can be argued pretty easily that without him the Devils would have no Cups. After he left and Scott Stevens retired the Devils began to sink into mediocrity.

As for the Leafs its been forty years and counting since they won the Stanley Cup and one would think its a good bet that having Scott Niedermeyer in their lineup for over a decade would have ended that drought.

Now there is no guarantee in the draft - the top six in that draft were Eric Lindros, Pat Falloon, Niedermeyer, Scott Lachance, Aaron Ward and Peter Forsberg. Probably three of those guys end up in the Hall of Fame. Ward has had a long career as a solid Dman and has won three Stanley Cups. LaChance was a disappointment, comsidering he went fourth overall. Falloon was a disaster.

With the Oilers having three regulation wins in their first twenty games, they are looking like a lottery team, especially considering the improvement of perennial doormats Columbus and Chicago. Actually they are looking quite a bit like a good bet to get that last spot overall. Now I can get behind a rebuild, even when its completely self inflicted, which this one is, but if Brian Burke gets up to that podium with a pick in the top five next June, Kevin Lowe had better hope that he picks Pat Falloon rather then Scott Niedermeyer.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Fans To Lowe - Things Look Ugly


Wasn't too long ago that the Oilers had played just ten games, back in the days when I was clean shaven and not looking like John C. Reilly in Boogie Nights.
John C. Reilly is very cool and also very, um, lumpy. My neighbour said I looked a lot like Reilly tonight. I had to push her down the stairs.
Its truly a painful season. Many of the pluses of the first ten games - Greene's slow steady progress, Torres' solid play, Gagner looking at least reasonable as a player - have been lost due to injury, poor play (no points in nine games for Torres?) or youth. Jacques and Pouliot are tearing up the A but unable to accomplish anything in the Show. Roloson is now possibly supplanted as the number one. Souray is out indefinitely. Penner is no Lupul but its looking like a lottery pick for his services more and more.
If the Oilers win tonight they will have garnered one more point then they did in their first ten games when they were 4 and 6. An improvement of a point over each ten game segment would get them to 92 points after 80 games but we all know that this is not going to happen. It is looking to be an ugly ugly year. Yeah, we're talking 70 points and Brian Burke picking first or second overall. And Lowe with a four year extension.
My aching head.
Positives? Gilbert Gilbert is Bieksa. Cogliano is a rook but at 20 years old he is on pace for nearly fifty points and remains a plus player despite his struggles. Brodziak is fine. Garon has done a great job lately. Umm ... Hemsky has been great although sometimes he reminds me too much of Afinogenov - so much flash but not as much in terms of results at times. I'm being nit picky though. Kid has been terrific.
And then there is Horcoff.
Other then that, Tarnstrom has looked good. Staios has been solid. Nilsson had four good games in a row.
Yeah I'm fucking reaching here.
Could be worse. Wonder what JFJ is thinking today. Could have had Bryzgalov for a low round pick after trading all of those picks and Rask for Raycroft and Toskela. Nothing against Toskela or Raycroft for that matter but I would say the Russian is their equal, if not better.
Love the Leafs. Always make me feel better.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hanging In There



A four game trip through the division results in five points and with the cavalry possibly coming soon, the Oilers have shown a nice resilience this fall so far. Heading onto the road down four defencemen and still without an appearance from Moreau or Pisani, things were looking pretty lousy, sort of like lottery pick lousy.

But contributions from the usual suspects, Horcoff and Hemsky, and the unexpected, Nilsson and Garon, helped make the trip a success. Garon, more then anyone, deserves applause as a guy who matched Luongo last night and outplayed Kiprusoff on HNIC. Great goaltending can help cover up a rookie laden defence corps and zero goals from your teammates apparently.

Of course with the Wild in town tonight the Oilers will likely look awful, as they always do against Jack Lemaire, but for now we'll bask in the sunshine of the Oilers little run. Enjoy it while we can although if they can hang on for a few more weeks and maybe win a few of these home games the big picture might begin to look a little brighter.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Horcoff


A big win last night for the Oilers and now three out of a possible six points on this trip - not bag at all, especially considering the state of the blueline and how it started.
And the man in the middle of it all, with two goals, your man Horcoff.
The debate that underlies the future of this team is Horcoff v. Stoll. Horcoff is a UFA at the end of next season and Stoll was pegged to be in line for a big raise and a possible offer sheet at the end of this. That fear has subsided quite a bit as Stoll is definitely not right - his struggles have been Lupul like. Very little at either end of the rink and how much do you give a guy who is good on the draw, a decent man on the PK and likely a good guy in the room. What's Reasoner making?
I wish no ill to Stoll. He's a decent player who looked to be really getting on track last winter. Playing with Torres and Pisani he had a nice run where he was playing some tougher opposition, outscoring that opposition and looking like a guy who might be a contributor. Then the concussion.
I was concussed once when I was around 22 and it takes a lot out of you. Mine was minor, really, but I was goofy for a couple of weeks before I recovered. Some might say, however that a) I was goofy before and b) I haven't recovered. Anyhow he's definitely not back and if I was MacT I would get him out there between Torres and Fernando when Pisani returns - that will likely be the cure for what ails him.
Regardless of this possible return to form this one really is a nobrainer. You've got a guy who plays the tough minutes every night, who is dynamite doing the little things, can win you the big draw, can play the PK and the PP, can play 20 minutes plus because he is extraordinarily fit, will block a shot with his face, will score you big goal after big goal in the playoffs, will outplay the league MVP over a six game series. If Horcoff had better hands he would be among the league's elite but as Matheson pointed out today:
For all you Shawn Horcoff knockers, as of Nov. 2, he had 12 even-strength points, tied with Pavel
Datsyuk, Eric Staal and Rod Brind'Amour. Only Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov, as NHL centres, had more.
What more can be said? With Cogliano likely to take on tough minutes and Gagner the softer stuff for years to come and plenty of candidates for the fourth line role - O'Marra, Brodziak, Thoresen, Almtorp - you have one more spot to fill.
Its in the Oilers best interest that Stoll comes back strong and then, as long as Gagner is pegged to be a centre, to move him along.
Yes, Horcoff is that good.

Remember


Friday, November 09, 2007

Movember Is The Cruelest Month (Except For The Arrival of Gilbert Gilbert)


The Oiler player procurement department (amateur division) has done a nice job this decade. Plenty of regulars have arrived and the future looks bright indeed. There's been no home runs but some doubles and if Hemsky keeps it up, we're looking at a standup triple I think. After a start where he looked terrific with little to show for it, he has five goals in seven games and has been the most dangerous player on the ice in most games I have watched this fall. He's shooting more and he looks like he is taking the fabled "next step".
Alas, other then Hemsky, Horcoff and Torres most of the Oiler vets have been spotty and the results can be seen in the standings. Not enough vets and not a lot of production from the ones out there.
The result has been kids thrown to the wolves. Some have been on the Springfield shuttle. Some have been overmatched and badly. Some have had growing pains. Four have stood out. Gagner, who is overmatched but at barely eighteen has also had flashes of brilliance. Cogliano, who has held his own for the most part at both ends of the rink. Brodziak, who has done a pretty good job playing some tough minutes and being a primary guy on the PK.
And Gilbert.
My complaint the last couple of years is the Oilers' lack of rookies who have made any sort of impact. While San Jose (for example) has seen Vlasic, Carle, Preissing, Bernier, Michalek and Clowe and a seemingly neverending stream of kids who contributed over the past few years, the Oilers have had no such luck. Until this year. Now some of this Oiler "failure" has been by design I believe. MacT likes his vets and when you are trying to get that last playoff spot year after year you're going to go with the guys who can make the simple play rather then the kid who may show flash and dash one minute and then cough it up in the slot the next.
And some of this failure can be attributed to the lack of kids who have seized the opportunity. Well, this year Cogliano and Gagner and Brodziak passed a few guys with more experience (Pouliot, Jacques, Schremp all passed by) - they came to camp and seized the day.
And Gilbert, despite having a contract that was made for demotion did the same, forcing the team to demote Laddy Smid. And then, unlike a lot of kids who fade after a half dozen games, he has taken on more responsibility, partially because of injuries, partially because he has earned it.
Gilbert has offensive skill but he makes the safe play on the back end. When caught up ice he recovers easily. A number of times against the Avs (I remember three at least) he was caught for a moment at the offensive blueline. Each time he got back into the play easily, once breaking up a three on one. He also covered his partner, who was caught once similarly that I can recall. A few long and effortless strides (the guy has the big man's look of barely trying when he skates but he eats up the ice) and he had come back to break up the rush.
Gilbert has always played with poise and I would say the guy is a pretty confident kid. Unlike Grebeshkov who plays nervous (he looks like I did a few years back when I played in a league above my weight class), fanning on the puck, hurrying passes or not being quick enough, or Smid, who has the deer in headlights look, Gilbert always looks like he knows what he is doing.
Sweet.
Hey, this season I think we'll have to take our positives where we can get them. And Gilbert is about as positive as it gets. Playing tough minutes and doing this well - no better compliment can a rookie defenceman earn.
On a personal note, the stash is coming along - I would call it "tawny" in colour, surprisingly. It is noticeable and I can say this because of the looks of pity, disgust or mockery that I am now getting (and this is just at home). I am thinking this baby is going to take off - its been nine days and with three weeks left I think it may look quite Goulet like by December 1st.
Check it out at this site. Enter 60191 in the log link and take a look. It is cheesy, creepy and truly awful. I am debasing myself to raise money for prostate cancer research so if you have a few bucks to spare please donate. Don't make my wife's suffering be in vain.
Thank you. Thank you very much.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Long And The Short Of It


There's a terrific thread over at Lowetide's and in it one of the themes touched on is the rebuild. One of the commenters, Lowe apologist Mike, claims that he's prefer the peaks and valleys of the Oilers' recent history to what Ottawa, Buffalo or Calgary have done. Basically in his mind, making the playoffs year after year but not winning it all is pointless - he'd rather tear it down and start over.
Of course this ignores a number of facts. Since 1991, say, the peaks have been few and far between for the Oilers. Indeed the peaks were two first round victories in the late 1990s and the beauty run of 2006. In between the peaks were more molehills then mountains - making the playoffs and putting up a good fight against Dallas before bowing out was considered a good year.
Also, while Mike somehow refers to the 2006 team as Pronger and nobody, the fact is that was a pretty good club and one that was underestimated because it was an eighth seed, a placing the Oilers fell into because atrocious goaltending that undermined their efforts until Roloson was acquired. So when Pronger asked out its not like Lowe was left with a bunch of pylons out there. If he played his cards right he could have augmented his veteran lineup until kids like Cogliano and Gilbert arrived and would these guys ahve not benefitted from easing into a winning lineup rather then being thrown to the wolves as they are this season.
You see, Lowe did a terrific job in 2006 and one of the most impressive things that he did was improve the team dramatically without giving up very much in the way of prospects or picks. Now, I'm sure Ranger fans don't regret trading Doug Weight and Tony Amonte for the veterans who helped win the Cup for them in '94. If I were a Flames' fan I could live with moving Hull for Ramage and Wamsley in '89. They weren't huge parts of that Cup win but they provided depth and showed the team and fans that the organization was going for it. Moving Kobasew and Ference last year didn't work out so well but you have to admire Sutter for giving it a whirl.
These examples make Lowe's job in 2006 that much more astounding. He added Samsonov, Spacek, Roloson and Tarnstrom for very little - Reasoner and Cross off his roster, some picks, two prospects now in Europe. He was terrific - he balanced present and future perfectly. He kept his kids and set himself up for what should have been a nice run for the Oilers. Maybe not in the Final every year but in the mix. What more could you want?
And this is what makes the present state of the Oilers and Mike's statement so frustrating. Sorry, I'd rather be Calgary or Ottawa, who both have made the finals within the last three seasons and, on top of that, are not bottom feeders right now. I'd rather be the Sabres, conference finallists two years running and likely in the playoffs this season once they adjust to losing Drury and Briere. Because you cannot win the Cup if you don't make the playoffs! And there is no guarantee that the kids will turn out or not be derailed by injury (see Stoll, Jarret).
So here's a thought Mike - the Oilers' disaster last year did net them Gagner, which is nice, but this year's travesty isn't going to get the Oilers a lottery pick although I'm sure Brian Burke is chortling in some pub somewhere. So all of these brutal losses - they're for nothing.
Next time you wax poetic about Lowe's six Cups and how Oiler fans should just give him a break you might ask why he blew the budget on Souray and Penner while not signing a first line left winger who, along with "nobody" Horcoff outscored MVP Joe Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo head to head in '06. You know the guy? He may have helped this team stay competitive for the next few years. Or why Jan Hejda, playing on the top pair for a Columbus team with five shutouts already, was allowed to walk when he makes a fifth of what Souray makes (-28 against mutts last year remember?). Do you think Smyth and Hejda and, say, Danny Markov signed for two years, might not have been better options? Maybe you don't and that's fair. But don't tell me that as a fan I can't have my cake and eat it too. Detroit, Colorado, Jersey and yes, even Ottawa and Calgary belie that you have to tear everything up to get to the mountain. Smart drafting and player development and good management can keep you in the mix year after year. Is that too much to ask?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Folly - It Didn't Have to Be This Way And Its Getting Worse


A couple of great items out there, here from Vic Ferrari and here from Dennis. Dennis is looking at Journal blogger Staples whilst reviewing some of Lowe's errors over the past sixteen months while Vic looks at a guy who was a nice coup for Lowe, Jan Hejda, a guy who is now plying his trade for the Ohio BJs.
What is killing me about this season is the fact that it did NOT have to be this way and both of these guys bring up some good points.
Lets for a moment disregard the return in the Pronger and Smyth deals - lets give Lowe the benefit of the doubt there. Seriously. We don't know what was out there in either case. We think that he may have gotten better but lets suspend disbelief and not speculate that he may have gotten, say, Pitkanen, Richards and a first or Bouwmeester, Weiss and same. We don't know what was out there.
So, you're coming off a trip to the finals and you can't keep the team together and on top of that Pronger walks. So the reality is you're likely not getting back to the SCF right away - you can't replace Pronger and Peca, Spacek and Dvorak are gone as well. However you have a solid corps of veterans and younger guys coming off a run to the SCF. You should be competitive as long as you fill those holes and you can ease your youngsters into the lineup.
Instead of signing a guy like Markov or picking up an equivalent you go with the interesting choice of playing twenty year old Laddy Smid in the top four, at the expense of Jan Hejda. So three of your top six are Smid, Greene and Bergeron. The result is predictable.
If Lowe had added Markov or an equivalent, lets say, and given Hejda a spot immediately in place of Smid then their D could have looked like this:
Shaggy-Smith
Markov-Staios
Hejda-Bergeron
Throw them out there anyway you want. Everyone knew this team needed a veteran Dman last season from July on but Lowe sat on his hands.
When the team went down the tubes Lowe moved Smyth. Of course, Lowe's apologists are quick to point out that Smyth was not an elite player etc etc. Of course he happened to be the Oilers' best player and one they have not replaced. What kills me is that while I love Smyth I could get on board with the trade for the reason that to me the way of the league now is to spend the big money on the younger guys. Just as I hated moving Smith but could see the reasoning behind it, I thought that moving Smyth made sense - I would rather that money go to pay guys like Hemsky.
Of course this all went to hell when Lowe signed a surprised Souray who said that the Oilers' offer came out of nowhere (just after Katz's big offer - coincidence?). Why you would pay an injury prone, aging Dman the money you would not pay Smyth is beyond me and puts the lie to everything the organization said about why they would not sign Smyth. You can argue about Smyth being an elite player - it depends on where you draw the line at elite - but Souray surely does not pass that sniff test. He is nowhere near the player Smyth is. And that contract had better not handcuff this club down the line but it likely will.
But some fans say things like "its a rebuild" and "be patient - its short term pain" and the media go along with it - its a rebuild they say, failing to mention that its a rebuild that didn't have to be, that a rebuilding team has no business spending huge coin on Sheldon Souray and that looking at Columbus and St. Louis might lead one to believe that an elite level coach can do a lot to turn around fading fortunes.
Instead we get Terry Jones talking about how this team lacks toughness (the same Terry Jones who made an impassioned plea that Edmonton get behind EIG in its battle with the devil (ie/ Katz) and how Dustin Penner is a big fatty. Pot, meet kettle, this guy is like Johnny Pavorotti in the old SCTV skit, telling Joe Flaherty he'll do anything for him and then refusing to give him any of his gigantic provolone. "Its Johnny Pavorotti - My God - he's making a beeline for the lasagna!"
Its quality journalism like this that sees Lowe and MacT get a free ride as they ride this franchise into the ground. Mistakes like pissing away last season for want of a move or two, signing big Souray to a ridiculous contract, playing Smid over Hejda last season and then Roy over Tarnstrom this season, letting Hejda go this past summer.
3-0 Minnesota at the end of the first. Can't wait to hear about the injury bug again tomorrow. This team is sliding fast - we're not talking lottery territory anymore, we're talking first pick overall. Only problem is its no longer the Oilers' pick, in case anyone out there forgot.
Will anyone call Lowe on this disaster?

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Diversions



With the injuries piling up and a lottery pick in the offing (oh wait, goddamnit!), its time for a diversion.
Pics to come.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Absolute Worst Way To Follow A Game


My wife, the saint, and I have been together for over ten years and married for just over five. Before we had kids we had a great old time, going out, partying, doing the eeh eeh - eeh eeh whenever we got the chance.
Then we had my daughter. Now, your first kid is a trip. Later when you have a second you wonder why you thought the first was so difficult. You had her outnumbered but its your first and when you get home from the hospital and realize there's no manual then you're in a world of shit because you realize that you have to keep her alive and you haven't the foggiest.
So then we had our son and the baby part was a piece of cake because you know what you're doing now but the problem is that the teams are now even and like the Finns when the Soviets invaded in '39, it may seem like you're winning and people everywhere admire your pluck but the reality is you're just delaying the inevitable and pretty soon there are statues of Stalin in every square in Helsinki. Same deal once you have two kids. They are pretty well always winning. Its like watching those poor Canadian Olympic hockey teams in the 70s and 80s playing the Soviets again. You knew they were going to lose everytime. Just too much firepower.
So your time is precious and Dog bless my wife, the saint, because when the Oilers are on the TV she lets me have at it, no complaints. Living amongst those Whose Passion Unites Them All, however, means that Oiler games are usually few and far between.
So many nights are spent like last night, hanging out, knowing the Oilers are on, but not really in a position to do anything about it. Sure I could tune them in over the Interweb radio but all of those married fellows out there know that when you have kids and you're actually committed to the cause (ie/ you do your full share) that its all about tradeoffs. I'm going to Edmonton in just over three weeks, leaving Jenn with the kids but I will return the favour in the spring when she takes off for a weekend soemwhere. In the same vein watching the Oilers whenever they are on means that when Desperate Housewives is on I'm going to grin and bear it (aw, I like that show, who am I kidding) - sneaking into the basement with the laptop isn't going to do the trick.
So what does one do? Well, I have the laptop at arm's length with the Live Game Update from the Oilers' website running. If you've never taken in a game that way let me just say that you should try it because other then the shots at or on the net, the stoppages in play and, um, well, that's all really, you haven't the foggiest idea as to what is going on out there. For all I know the lads could be playing canasta by the pool with the Ducks.
So last night I see 2-1 Ducks and then STAIOS - PENALTY HIGH STICKING with under three minutes left and I figure that's all she wrote.
And then nothing. Just the time click ticking until:
SANDERSON, EDM, SHOT 45' - now the clock stops but because its Sanderson and its 60' and its SH I figure he's lofted a long one in at Giguere. And then:
COGLIANO, EDM, SHOT 7' - I kid you not. And then ...
COGLIANO, EDM, GOAL - TIP-IN 7'
You really can't beat it for excitement. Really.
How about those Oilers?!