Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Rookies - Can't Live With Them, Can't Shoot Them


Hihowarya? Good summer? That's terrific.
Me? Haven't had one as good as this in ten years, the summer I lived in PEI, met my wife to be and convinced myself I was still a young lion. Before that ... well when I was a young lion. Turning forty this winter and I have been living it up. I'm on a roll.
With training camp justaroundthecorner I was thinking about rookies. Last season the Oilers broke in a ton - some by choice - some, um, not so much. This year things figure to be a little quieter on that front. Of course the clamour once again grows for Ye Olde Hockey Jesus, never mind that the kid is rehabbing a torn up knee and was a healthy scratch a number of times in the AHL last winter. Nope. Put him with Penner and Hemsky and we're talking thirty goals. Piece of cake.
Of course it doesn't work this way. For kicks I put together the following list. With the exception of one player they are all playing for Canadian teams this season. With the exception of one player (not the same guy) they are all established players in the NHL. Some are amongst the best players in the league. All are famous. All would probably be considered good NHL players.
These are the years they put together as rookies. The ages are approximate. For example Mats Sundin was born in 1971 and his first NHL season was 90/91 so I have him as 19 for simplicity's sake.
Daniel Alfredsson - 23 years old, 82 GP, 26G-35A, -18
Martin Havlat - 19 years old, 73 GP, 19G-23A, +8
Marian Hossa - 19 years old, 60GP, 15G-15A, +18
Jarome Iginla - 19 years old, 82 GP, 21G-29A, -4
Saku Koivu - 21 years old, 82GP, 20G-25A, -7
Alex Kovalev - 19 years old, 65 GP, 20G-18A, -10
Dustin Penner - 24 years old, 82 GP, 29G-16A, -2
Daniel Sedin - 20 years old, 75GP, 20G-14A, -3
Henrik Sedin - 20 years old, 82GP, 9G-20A, -2
Ryan Smyth - 19 years old, 48GP, 2G-9A, -6
Mats Sundin - 19 years old, 80GP, 23G-36A, -24
The point of this list? Well, first of all it is just neat to look at these names and see what they did in the first years of some pretty solid careers, excepting the Sedins who are likely on their way, and Penner, who hopefully (oh please God make it so) is as well. The problem is that I cannot give you context. I don't know who they played with (except for the Sedins and Penner) or who they played against, how much time they spent on the PP and so on. And yes, that even includes Smyth, who came along when I had no TV and a heart hardened against hockey by Bill Wirtz. I figure someone out there may be able to fill us in on his story that season. Hopefully others can do the same for some of these other guys.
Kovalev played for a team that would win the Cup the following season. Penner won the Cup as a rookie. By the time Havlat came along the Sens were pretty solid I think. A lot of these guys played for some real sad sack outfits as rookies, iirc. Sundin and Alfredsson for certain.
As a side note, the following year Smyth would score 39 and add 22 helpers in 82 games. Not so bad a sophomore season.
Secondly, its to point out that Penner, despite his detractors, put together some pretty decent numbers as a rookie. Yes, against soft opposition and with some nice linemates. And he is the oldest player on this list. But twenty nine goals is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering he had little time on the PP, I believe.
Finally it is just to show that the idea of a rookie coming in and putting up huge numbers is usually a pipe dream. It happens but in most cases it is either a special talent or a guy who gets a ton of opportunity because he is on a crap team. Quite often it is a combination of both. The Oilers as presently constituted are mediocre but not terrible. Marc Pouliot (a sophomore I know), Rob Schremp or Andrew Cogliano isn't going to play with Hemsky and Penner. It will be Horcoff who was the number one centre of a team that was a goal away from winning the Cup two years ago and who is a damned good NHL player. Trukhno or Jacques is not going to supplant Torres or Penner. Tom Gilbert is not going to get a shot at the top pair on the backend.
Someone at HF argued that Lowetide was full of it for using Desjardins equivalents to try and figure out what Schremp's numbers at the NHL level would be. Well, lets start by saying that Rob Schremp would not have gone in the first round if he scored six goals in his draft year. Numbers are a part of the game, a big part. They do not tell the whole story but a kid who didn't dominate the AHL (which Penner did) and brings little in "intangibles" (physical play and play without the puck for starters) isn't going to get his shot because he has charisma and some fancy tricks.
If I am an Oilers fan I am hoping for the following - a couple of guys to break in as fourth line guys who maybe inch up the depth chart as the season progresses. Seasons like what Pouliot and Thoresen had last year - two guys who did not do a lot offensively but handled themselves alright. That's a good start. By the way, if Pouliot and Thoresen put together numbers this year like Hossa or Havlat did as rookies I think we have to be pretty damn pleased. If a rookie does that I'd be over the moon.
But I doubt it happens although I can picture two scenarios and two guys. First of all Penner or Torres goes down. The guy to step in - Trukhno. This is based on nothing more then the kid apparently is reasonable with and without the puck. Is he anywhere near ready to play in the NHL? Hell if I know. I guess we will find out. This is a total pipe dream but who the hell was expecting Jordan Stall or Paul Stastny to do what they did last year. These guys have to come from somewhere.
The second possibility and one that I actually could see happen - Cogliano making the team and then getting a shot as a third or, if he can handle it, second line RW. The kid has speed and once again seems to have a head for the game and what to do without the puck. A few things have to fall into place for him and of course he has to be ready. He may not be. But if MacT goes with a shutdown line that includes Moreau and Pisani then someone has to step up on the RW to play with Stoll or Pouliot and Torres. If Sanderson is not up to it, the kid may get a chance.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mulling It Over


While commenter Uni referred to me as a wide eyed optimist earlier this week, I would tend to disagree with that estimation. I am a realist but I am a positive guy. When Vic Ferrari at IOF originally linked to me about eighteen months ago he referred to this site as a good place to visit after an Oilers' loss - I generally dwell on the good. Goodgamegoodgamegoodgame. That's the way I am. And last summer I felt that once Lowe added a veteran defenceman (or even two) that the Oilers would be, if not contenders, at least a playoff team that would likely win a round, if not two if things fell their way.
That veteran Dman never came and when Shaggy and Staios and Moreau went down the season went down the toilet. Smyth was traded and the worst year for the Oilers in a decade petered to a sad close.
I'm not a big fan of what Lowe has done this season. I like the Garon move and I liked the Tarnstrom move before they picked up Souray. Then it was, uh, why pick up three left handed Dmen to go with Smid??
I could live with the Pitkanen deal even though it cost us Jason Smith. The Vanek offer sheet was one I could get behind. Penner - well, we'll see. I tend to think it will be fine. I like his makeup. His development over the past two years makes me think the kid will be a player and considering the money getting thrown at kids like Stephen Weiss these days it could work out just great.
I'd like the Souray deal a lot more if Smyth was getting that money or if that five million plus was going to Tarnstrom and say Danny Markov on a two year deal. I think that ends up being a millstone. Conversations with Habs' fans (three so far) have not made me feel very good at all. Phrases like "worst defenceman in the NHL" and "good riddance" tend to make one a little concerned.
Now, having said all of that I think that this team may be greater then the sum of its parts, just like a lot of Oilers' teams in the past. Last summer was a short one. Players barely finished playing and then it was training camp again. After a long wonderful season guys were worn out. I think a lot of them played quite a bit of golf, drank a lot of beer, got laid a lot, made a pile of money and then turned around to see the calendar turn to August. They came to camp satisfied and out of shape.
Reports out of California since much earlier this summer have a whack of Oilers going through their paces under the watchful eye of Chad Moreau. I believe that we are going to see a lot of Oilers with a lean and hungry look come September. And I do believe that a lot of guys are going to make amends for disappointing seasons.
So, here's ten things I believe. Positive stuff and it won't all happen but I think a lot of it will.
1/ The addition of Penner, Souray, Pitkanen and Tarnstrom will make the power play better. It won't be the 27 Yankees but it will be good.
2/ The addition of Pitkanen and Tarnstrom, the continuing maturation of Laddy Smid and the appearance of Tom Gilbert will mean that the forwards will actually get the puck on their tape while they are skating at full speed. A better transition game will mean that this team will spend a lot more time in their opponents' end of the rink (helping hide some holes on the defensive end) and will probably score a lot more goals then last season's meagre output.
3/ Penner will score twenty five to thirty goals. He will be fine.
4/ Losing Smith will hurt but Penner's size, Moreau's health and the addition of Souray will make this team bigger and tougher. One remark that I read from a Hab's fan that made me happy - Souray is as strong as an ox and when he fights he kills guys. I am looking forward to the first time that a guy takes a run at Hemsky and Sheldon smashes his face with much malice. Remember buddy who took a run at Koivu?
5/ Hemsky will finally take that step. There were times last year when it looked like it was going to happen. LT predicted 90 points the other day.
6/ Horcoff will score twenty plus, no longer worried about that contract. Pisani will also. Pencil Stoll and Torres in for the same. Its no vaunt but I think we'll see six guys break twenty this season. Four more then last year.
7/Geoff Sanderson will be a nice addition. His best days are long gone but he can still skate and he can play. He will help.
8/ Two kids will emerge up front to be capable NHL players. I'll keep it simple and say it will be Pouliot and Thoresen.
9/ Another kid will do what Thoresen did last season. Hold his own. Not do a lot offensively but will do okay. It may be Jonas Almtorp. It may be a kid like Cogliano, O'Marra or Brodziak. I'd bet on Almtorp or Brodziak.
10/ Some kid will exceed expectations in a big way. It may be that Smid, Greene or Gilbert makes a leap. It may be Nilsson or Cogliano surprising everyone. It may even be Pouliot or Thoresen taking a bigger step then anyone could even imagine.
Bonus - the goaltending will be a beauty.
There you go - sunshine and Natalie Portman. All is wonderful. :)
Seventh to eleventh is what I'm saying - that's a big spread. A lot of shit is going to have to go right but I have a good feeling about this team.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Identity



Busiest summer in a long time, work is crazy and to top it all off no internet at home since Friday.


But September approaches. Hoorah!


I have always been Mr. Positive when it comes to the Oilers but after last season I guess you can count me amongst the skeptics for the upcoming season. I'm thinking no playoffs but I'm also thinking that it won't be a huge disaster, which is what I was leaning towards earlier.
One reason for THE REAWAKENING OF HOPE is my belief that this season is going to hopefully see a return, in some ways, to the Oilers of old. For years this was the little team that could, the "young Oilers" who battled for a playoff spot year in and year out, sometimes getting in, sometimes not, but always leaving no doubt that they had left everything out on the ice. Dallas may have knocked them out when they made the playoffs but they always gave them a little scare. In the end the kids couldn't get it done but they were alright. Even in their run of 2006 they did their best work as underdogs. After Lowe loaded up at the deadline the team struggled, unsure of what to do as they now had actual expectations. Barely sliding in as the eighth seed was more to their liking and then they went on their beauty run.
Go back to last fall and you had a new team and new expectations. Roloson, Pisani, Stoll, Horcoff, Hemsky, Moreau and Staios all cashed in. Guys came to camp after a summer of basking in the glow (Stoll and Torres both admitted to not being ready for the season). Trying to remake the gritty team of 2006 with softer skilled guys failed. For the first time in fifteen years the team was fat and happy, with the exception of Smyth who was playing for his contract and a handful of veterans who you could never see getting fat or happy.
And so here is an intangible reason for believing that this season will be better. Reports from California have a large number of Oilers working their asses off in preparation for the season. They have already been written off, by and large. On paper they look like a team full of holes but looking back over the past ten years (check the roster of the team that beat the Avs) there were a lot of teams with more holes then this one who fared ok.
I still don't like the Souray deal at all (Lowe is another example of a GM who has done poorly now that he has the restraints off it seems) but I'm thinking there are a whole whack of players with a lot to prove this season. A burr in their collective saddle may give this team the identity that they seemed to lose last year.




Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mikita




Returned from a week long vacation with no internet access and spent a couple of hours (:) ) catching up on Lowetide's posts from the last seven days. One of them talked about a list of the top thirty six players of all time. Which brings us to Stan Mikita, my favourite player growing up.
Stan Mikita's list of accomplishments is lengthy. He won one Cup (the Blackhawks of the 60s and early 70s likely should have won four or five but invariable fell short). He averaged over a point a game for his career, falling short of that mark the last few seasons though he was still productive for a guy nearing forty who had back problems. He also produced nearly a point a game in the playoffs. When he retired he was third overall in career points, second in assists.
You can read a little more about Mikita here.
Numbers and awards tell a lot but Mikita is an interesting player for many reasons. He came to Canada from Czechoslovakia as a eight year old and had to endure taunts beacuse he was a DP (displaced person), one of many who came from central and eastern Europe after World War Two. He was adopted by an aunt and uncle while his parents remained behind the Iron Curtain. When he started school he was placed in the kindergarten for three weeks because he could not speak English at all.
Even as a junior he played with a huge chip on his shoulder. His last season he won the scoring title and the MVP award, while amassing nearly 200 minutes in penalties. With Ted Lindsay as a mentor during his rookie season, Mikita continued this style of play for years. He would run into anyone, including Gordie Howe, who knocked the youngster cold with an elbow after Mikita gave him a little stick in one game. After a few seasons in the league (including his Cup) he realized that he might help the team a little more if he spent less time in the box. He went from being one of the most penalized (and dirtiest) players in the league to winning the Lady Byng in two consecutive seasons. He also won the Ross and Hart those years as well.
The impressive thing about Mikita was that he was a complete player. He was primarily a playmaker but he scord thirty goals or more nine times. He was a terrific faceoff man and an excellent penalty killer. He had the anticipation, the hockey sense, that all of the great players have. And he could check.
I'm proud of the game afterwards. I'm on the ice for five of our goals, I've got a goal and three assists and they didn't score when I was out there. That's the idea of the game. Score if you can but make sure the other team doesn't. From his autobiography, talking about a 6-4 victory over the Rangers near the end of the 68-69 season.
One of the alltime greats and a guy whose career and skill set were pretty unique. The transformation from "Le Petit Diable" to Lady Byng winner. A guy who put up points but was regarded as a terrific two way player year after year. My Dad talks about Steve Yzerman as a comparable and while their careers were a little different Yzerman may be close. Except Mikita was a lot better.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Penner and Perry



Getting away from it all for a week starting tomorrow and at the very least I think that the Oilers may be competitive this year. I don't like the Souray deal and I think the money they have spent there and on Penner may kill this team down the road, maybe as soon as next summer when they have to ink Stoll and Pitkanen. What makes things even more frustrating is that watching Lowe make his bold (reckless) strikes is frustrating as hell when he pissed away last season with his failure to pick up a veteran defenceman or two. In a similar vein, suddenly money is no object yet this team would not take on an established player in the Pronger deal and would not sign Smyth to a longterm deal for financial reasons.
That is difficult to take and it really reeks of a lack of a plan at all.
Now, having said all of that while I wish we could have given Penner a little less money, I'm not as down on him as a lot of people are. Twenty nine goals as a rookie is pretty sweet regardless of your opposition. His linemates were good but its not like he was playing with Lafleur and Lemaire. His play without the puck needs work but few youngsters cannot say that. He is a big big man on a team that was pushed around a lot last season and anyone who remembers the '06 playoffs (anyone :)?) remembers that the kid was pretty well impossible to move at times. So, we'll see about Dustin Penner. Could be a killer. But if the kid gets better then its a hell of a deal and I'm not sure why a lot of people say he's not going to improve. A dominant year in the AHL and a pretty good rookie year for starters is pretty good in my books.
I'm a little more optimistic then I was even a few days ago. Suddenly this team has a little more then they did before. I think it still looks like a bit of a mishmash but maybe MacT and Huddy can make it happen. Actually if anything this team reminds me a bit of the prelockout teams. You look at it and you figure they've got nothing but they may surprise. The one thing that was heartening was the enthusiasm from Shawn Horcoff. After a season where he saw management mail it in, he suddenly looks around and has hope. I think he and many others bounce back from poor seasons. If Penner can score thirty again (and again and again) and not be Lupul like without the puck and this team can be middle of the pack this season then I can live with the deal.
One last point about another young Duck who remains in California, Corey Perry. His name came up in a thread over at Covered In Oil and the consensus is the kid is a player but also an A1 asshole. Perry has all of the talent in the world but he is dirty, a diver and a guy who is constantly running his mouth. As I mentioned in the thread I saw a video of him, on HNIC iirc, where he was mic'd. This was in the series against the Wings. The entire time his mouth was running and he was threatening Hasek and Datsyuk. Now this brought to mind Lupul's famous interview before the series in '06 where he claimed the Ducks would handle Pronger by running at him constantly. All yap. Perry is hated but why?
Now I'd like to believe that ever Oiler who ever played was a blood and guts guy, the sort of guy who would be fun to play shinny with and have a beer or two after, the type of guy you could trust your girlfriend with. And of course, every Oiler who ever played the game played it clean. We all know that's bullshit all the way. Ethan Moreau spends a lot of his time on the ice muttering threats and then following through on them. We know about Torres' hits that border on the illegal. Smith loved inflicting pain. And Roloson will do anything to win. Messier was vicious. Anderson was a stickman. Tikkanen was dirtier then most and of course there was the original "rat" Ken Linseman. Plus Dave Semenko.
That's hockey. For every guy who plays it straight like Sakic and Gretzky, Coffey and Lafleur, Beliveau and Red Kelly, I can name you a dozen who played outside the rules. Eddie Shore was brutal. Maurice Richard was crazy. Ted Lindsay too. Gordie Howe was a cold blooded thug with his fists and elbows. Bobby Clarke was out and out dirty. Stan Mikita too until he changed his ways. Scott Stevens would put you under when he had the chance. Yzerman and Scott Niedermeyer were both dirty with their sticks. And on and on.
Hockey is a crazy game. I play with a bunch of guys who are nearly all on the other side of forty. Family men for the most part. The nicest bunch of guys. A terrific group on and off the ice.
And in the past couple of years I have witnessed two guys terrorizing an opponent who had given one guy a cheapshot. They spent two minutes screaming at him as the play swirled around. I believe he was called a "fucking cock" about thirty times in that time frame. He was frightened and for good reason. We had the red mist come over one of our smaller guys who ran into (and over) a defenceman on the other team who had taken liberties with him all game. We had a brawl where one father of two (with a third on the way) ended up being suspended for biting. When asked if he did it he said that he could not remember, he had been so crazy with rage. Myself, a married father of two and probably the most easy going guy that you will ever meet, have been in a fight with some punk half my age who got his stick too high on me at the end of a game. I also speared an opponent in the bag after he slewfooted me in front of their net. And I broke my stick over a guy's arm because he was, uh, holding me. (To be fair the stick was on its last legs - I barely hurt the guy). And except for the fight I spent no time in the box. So that makes it alright. Uh, right?
The point of all of these tales of mayhem and these references to Hall of Famers and Oilers, great and not so great? Hockey is a tough and brutal game. It always has been and people who talk about the violence being bad nowadays should read about the game in its infancy as a professional sport.
We cheer the violence by the guys in our jerseys. A guy who is dirty (Tikkanen) is "great when he's your teammate". The borderline hit is legal when its your man throwing the elbow. We even participate in it when we play ourselves. But we loathe Corey Perry. Why? Its not because he doesn't play the game in a certain manner. We admire Joe Sakic and Selanne and Hemsky - guys who can take a hit but don't go out there with sticks swinging or elbows flying.
Its the talk that does it. The facewash. The late hit and the hit from behind. The turtling. That's why Perry pisses people off. He talks the talk but he won't walk the walk. He's a dirty player. How he plays is against the often laughable "Code" that Don Cherry constantly refers to but in this case Cherry is right. He's a punk and one day someone is going to call him on it. Remember what McCarty did to Claude Lemieux?
We can only hope there is a McCarty in Corey Perry's future.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

I Say Again, Serenity Wha?


I will be here in less then three days. Northern Ontario. No electricity. No phone. No internet. No running water.
My wife loves it.
Spent a lot of time growing up on this lake. Isolated.
Both of my parents come from what you would call old stock Canadian families I guess. My Dad has some native in him. Both are from families that were in Quebec long before James Wolfe happened by.
My Dad's father's family has roots in Scotland. His great grandfaher arrived in Ontario and settled near Barrie, then moved to Kincardine just south of the Bruce Peninsula. Him and his eight kids.
The youngest boy, Dad's grandfather, along with another son, then moved to Goulais River in the 1890s.
I was there a few weeks ago.
When I was a boy my parents' idea of a good time was to find a lake in the deepest darkest north, load up the boat, find an island and camp there for three weeks.
They like their quiet. Having been to Goulais I can see that its in the blood I guess. The place is in the middle of nowhere now - imagine the 19th century.
When we make this annual trip we always end up coming out of the bush in a pretty mellow mood. You can turn the brain off.
I think there may be a lot of Oilers' fans who would like to make this trip after today. Dustin Penner is an Oiler. True to his word Kevin Lowe has made an impact this summer. The question is whether the impact is going to be a positive one or not. If this team has even a decent season and Penner is successful (and in a lot of ways the two go hand in hand) then he's likely ok.
If Penner is Lupul II and the Oilers are terrible then this could go down as a complete disaster. we're talking Tom Kurvers.
Never mind the carnage from last summer. Since the beginning of last season the Oilers have replaced Ryan Smyth, Petr Sykora, Joffrey Lupul, Jason Smith, Jan Hejda, Daniel Tjarnqvist, Marc Andre Bergeron and Jussi Markannen with Dustin Penner, two forwards to be named, Joni Pitkanen, Sheldon Souray, Dick Tarnstrom, Denis Grebeshkov and Mathieu Garon.
They are younger. Garon is an improvement on Jussi, though I'll miss the Finn. They are bigger I think. Not sure if they are any tougher. Souray is tough but few come as tough as Smith and Smyth. Better puck movers on the back end. In Smyth, Smith and Hejda/Shaggy they have lost three guys who played their toughest minutes last season.
This team may be better. They may be worse. I lean towards the latter. On paper I think its not as good a team as last season. Now last season there were injuries and the lineup of guys who had poor seasons was a long one. Maybe Torres' marriage sets him straight and he scores 30. Maybe Hemsky takes that next step. Maybe Stoll improves some more and Pouliot comes out flying. Could be that Huddy teaches Souray how to play D and Pitkanen shows that the future is right now.
Paper can fool you. The Vaunt will always remind us of that. So maybe I am wrong. But there's a lot of cash on two longterm contracts out there now.
Spending big money is part of the deal nowadays. I don't know if spending it on Souray and Penner is the way to go. I don't think Souray was smart. I guess we'll see about Penner. I sure hope Lowe is right.
And now I drift away. Sitting by the lake. Glass of wine. Not a sound. Thank God for that.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Serenity, wha?




Turning 40 this December. The memory is going and I am creakier but other then that I feel terrific. Went to Montreal with a very good friend (also turning 40, just six days before I do to be exact) this past weekend as part of our continuing celebration of making it this far. We wandered the streets, from brew pub to brew pub, enjoying a weekend without the responsibilities that are part and parcel of our daily lives.


Had a 35 dollar (including tax and tip) bottle (approximately 3 pints) bottle of beer. It was good. Not 35 dollar good but what the hell, right? Midnight Sun Espresso Stout from Whitehorse, if you're wondering.

Still waiting for the wisdom that comes with age.

Visiting a friend in his third floor apartment overlooking St. Denis, drinking St. Ambroise and smoking Camels on his balcony, watching a couple having pretty discreet sex on the balcony across the way, the conversation turned to hockey. What else? What a country!

The fourth, a fellow we had just met, was a pretty smart hockey guy and a Habs fan to boot. We discussed a lot of the theories and ideas that swirl about the Oilogosphere.

I asked him what he thought about Souray.

"Great shot. One of the worst defencemen in the NHL. Better you then us."

I commenced to drink even harder, trying to commit myself to an oblivion much like the Oilers' season upcoming.

Tomorrow we find out if the Ducks match on Penner. I'm saying they don't. And I surely surely hope Lowe is right on this kid. If not, we're talking Tom Kurvers here.