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!