Sunday, March 02, 2008

Glory


Tottenham Hotspur a week ago.
Kevin Lowe might have had a hand in Spurs' management last summer. A strong young team who finished fifth in the Premiership two years running, Spurs came into this season looking to make the leap into the top four in England, a spot that includes a space in the European Champions' League. Their big issue last season, a leaky D that often coughed up goals late in games and especially on set pieces (corner kicks and free kicks for you non-fans out there). So last summer Spurs went out and purchased ... one of the top young strikers out there.
Autumn saw a lot of 4-3 losses and Spurs faded out of the European picture pretty quickly. Their manager was canned, replaced by a Spaniard who immediately went out after Christmas and picked up two quality defenders. Last Sunday Spurs beat powerhouse Chelsea 2-1 at Wembley for their first trophy in years, guaranteeing themselves a spot in Europe next season. (For non fans reading this, this is a big big deal - both the tournament championship and the spot in Europe).
Oh, and to get to the final the Spurs beat their arch rival, Arsenal, who have owned them forever, 5-1. The game was barely over and the team was selling a DVD. There is not really a comparison to make here. Imagine the Oilers winning their opening round series in 2006 against Calgary rather then Detroit, make it seven games rather then six, and have the final be 14-0 for the Oilers. That would be approximately the same deal.
So at least one of my teams is winning. Actually in this post I will praise the Oilers, not bury them. For a rebuilding team they are on a nice run. After a 7-5-1 January that included three Bettman wins, they put together an 8-4 February with seven of those wins coming in regulation. Finally we are past that stretch where you could look back sixty games and barely need two hands to count regulation wins. And this has been done without Horcoff, Torres, Souray and now Moreau and Smid. Its been done with Pitkanen in and out of the lineup, with Hemsky hurting and with Penner looking like a big big fucking mistake. And amongst the scalps taken - the Flames, the Avs, Wild on Jack Lemaire and the Wings. Not so bad.
This doesn't absolve Lowe for making a hash of things the last two seasons. Indeed forget Pronger and Smyth and imagine this - a team without Souray and Penner. In their place Hejda or Danny Markov and someone like Bill Guerin, a couple of veterans on shortterm deals. I would guess the team might be better and even if not the Oilers would still have those three picks this summer plus they would not have ten million dollars wrapped up in these two guys for four for more years.
You only have to check out the Leafs to realize how when you spend big money you had better do it right.
Anyways enough grumpiness for a moment. There is no guarantee with kids because they get hurt, they lose confidence, they get sidetracked but the Oilers and, yes, Kevin Lowe, do deserve credit. A lot of positives to look at on this club. Two rookies looking to top forty points (I said I would be ecstatic if that happened in September). Gilbert has hit the wall but he has been playing top pairing minutes most of the season and is at 9-16, nearly entirely at ES. A trio of young D in Greene, Smid and Grebeshkov who have all made decent strides this season. A fourth line of kids that looks terrific with Brodziak having ten goals and Glencross having eight in 45 games played. Plus Stortini is an NHL player apparently. Throw in Nilsson who looks to be player and you have ten, ten!, kids. Nice on player procurement. Not all of them will end up becoming players who can help the Oilers win but its something to be positive about.
Add in that Horcoff has become the man, Hemsky has become a man and Fernando Pisani has come back from a life threatening disease to score at a twenty goal pace (close enough). You have Staios rebounding from a poor start, Garon giving better bang for the buck then nearly any other goaltender in the league and the fact that this club seems to have found itself, playing a fast, aggressive style that harkens back to a few years ago.
Things are shit but there are plenty of bright spots. This team might have folded up like last year's - instead they are giving us something to cheer for in these last couple of months.
Now if we could only find a Spaniard.

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