Friday, October 31, 2008

Truggles


MacT and the Oilers have them, as they stumble along in the midst of a losing streak whose length is yet to be determined.


Everyone knew that this opening fifteen games would be a challenge but a speedy start masked problems, both foreseen and not so much. Ironically now the team is playing better but has nothing to show for it and as is the case with offensive slumps things seem to be getting worse rather then better. The sticks are getting squeezed and there's not much a coach can do about it except to encourage players to go to the net hard. Except for Souray not a single player is producing up to par offensively so its not as if he can move Hemsky or Gagner to another line to kickstart a slumping teammate.


This team is flawed but other then the Red Wings, the Sharks and the Habs, every team has flaws in the new capped NHL. Big money given to one player means finding an outperformer elsewhere. Gone are the days where solid and trusty veterans could be found to fill out the bottom D pair, the third and fourth lines, the spot of the backup goaltender. Nearly every team now has holes somewhere, lack of depth, a kid or journeyman or two playing when a few years back they would be in junior or the minors. So the Oilers are no different then anybody else. Their D has three guys who are pretty green and the three vets all have their flaws. They don't have a bigtime stopper between the pipes. A little more size and experience up front would be nice.


There is however, no doubt, that this team has underperformed, as a whole and as individuals for the most part. And grumbling has begun about the coach.


While Jim Matheson may opine that the last two years this team had a legitimate playoff shot the truth is that both years were sacrificed to development. That's fine but a third straight year out of the playoffs for a team that can and has spent money would likely mean the end of MacT's tenure. He has a number of veterans in the lineup now and a whole lot of guys who have produced in the NHL. I think the only time during his time in Edmonton when he may have been in trouble was when the club struggled to make the playoffs in 2006. I think if this club doesn't get some results on the board soon that he may find himself in the soup.


The problem for MacT is that a lot of the problems this team has been having can be laid at his feet. Its one thing if a guy is slumping. Its another when the following problems are part of the mix:


The three headed goaltending situation. How much of this is management and how much is MacT is open for discussion but he should really be telling Tambellini that JDD has to be sent down. When Pisani was hurt they were left with no options up front but to play MacIntyre against the Avs in the second part of a BTB. Unnecessary and untenable. What I know about goaltending is very little but I do know that they need as much work as possible to stay sharp. Rotating two guys is difficult enough. Rotating three is ridiculous. They need to send JDD out and get another option up front. As I said this may be management but MacT has to get control of the situation here.


The Pisani experiment. Enough is enough. Send him to the wing and give Pouliot a shot at this position. Kid can win draws and it would be nice to see him play with a couple of veterans on his flanks which leads us to ...


The fourth line. Last year a strength after the arrival of Glencross its now a nonfactor. Stortini is an absolute cipher (some might say so what/told you so) and Brodziak hasn't a point. Moreau replicates Glencross' skill set for the most part. Send him, Brodziak and Stortini over the boards. While I will admit that the arrival of MacIntyre seems to have meant a lot less in the way of abuse for the Oilers the fact is the guy is not an NHL player, far from it, and everytime he steps on the ice its a lost shift for the club.


Special teams. The PP has never been a MacT strength and it cost the Oilers a Cup in 2006 as far as I am concerned. After a run last spring which saw players and the puck moving quickly and creatively they have gotten back to the old pass around the perimeter to tee it up for the D routine. Poor poor stuff. And on top of this the PK has been shoddy at times as they try and break in Penner and Gagner. I'd be rolling out Pisani, Horcoff, Moreau and three of Brodziak, Pouliot, Cole or Cogliano myself. The first two have played some in that role and Cogliano and Cole have the wheels.


Throw in a lot of poor starts to games, a general lack of intensity and a lack of accountability for mistakes and I can understand why a lot of people are pointing fingers at the coach. If Grebeshkov makes another backpass to nobody like he did against the Canucks the other night then he should sit in the pressbox. A soft play or turnover should end up with someone nailed to the bench. Its up to MacT to take control of this situation.


I like MacT, I do. The folks who don't give him credit for anything are way offbase. He had a brilliant run in 2006, he does a nice job developing kids and he can get a lot out of a little but presently this team is running in place and that just won't do. The underlying numbers suggest that its more of a case of bad luck then anything right now but I'm thinking that Daryl Katz may not care so much about the underlying numbers, not when he sees Ron Wilson whipping a team of scrubs into shape in Toronto.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

When Bad Things Happen To Good People I Feel Sad


I have a great friend who I have known for nearly twenty five years now. During our university summers he was the straw who stirred our social drink. Saturday afternoons and evenings were spent at his folks' place before we went out. All day people would come and go as we ate and drank in the sun. A ballgame would be on the TV in the house, music would be playing and good natured insults would fly through the air. Anyone was fair game and any misstep was remembered and recounted endlessly. One of the girls who had too much to drink one time became known as Carrots after she tossed in the driveway before we hit the road.


Saved by youth's ridiculous capacity for alcohol and the ability to quickly recover from nights of abusing our bodies, Saturday and Sunday mornings would invariably begin with a phone call from Frank with a plan for the day. Throw down some coffee and a bacon and egg sandwich and out into the sunshine to go fishing, to play a pickup game of soccer or ball hockey or baseball, to make a ridiculous video, play some golf or go harass some of our poor buddies who happened to be working. Or take a daytrip or an overnighter to a camp. And then we'd start at it again.


And once or twice a summer we would roadtrip. One of these, referred to briefly here, was to Penetang. Frank's girlfriend at the time was from there and one weekend she had a wedding to stand in. Two of her friends who were also in the wedding party weren't seeing any of the local yokels so Julie and Frank convinced them to import two yokels, myself and Carlo. Two first round draft picks from the big city.


The highlight of the weekend was the Saturday afternoon. While the girls were at the wedding we sat on Julie's sister's boyfriend's deck overlooking Georgian Bay and drank beer. His name was Bob and he was a typical smalltown Canadian guy (read: terrific). A good old boy who was a contractor. Business was good. I think being a contractor is brilliant myself. When times are good people spend money on their homes. When times are bad rather then buy a home they upgrade their existing ones. Anyway business was good for Bob. He had the big sprawling house with a beautiful wraparound deck. He had the big truck, the big boat and all of the toys. And he had a beautiful bulldog named Gus.


By the time it came to go to the reception we were a pretty big mess. A solid day of drinking will do that to you or so I've heard. We arrived at the reception late and in fine fettle we were. Our dates were not impressed and Carlo and I got the cold shoulder early and hard. Our nights decided for us we amused ourselves by making sure we were around the videographer the entire night. Right now somehere in central Ontario a couple who have been married nearly twenty years are watching their wedding video and wondering who those two guys are who are in nearly every shot at the reception. And how come two such handsome guys aren't beating off the ladies?


We returned to Bob's place to sleep and by this time we could barely walk or talk. Slow into our room and I ended up on the floor on a foam pad as Frank and Carlo grabbed the couches. Wrapped in a sleeping bag and dozing off when I heard a snorting and a snuffling. Around the corner Gus shuffled.


Dogs love me but never like this. He came across the room at that slow pace that bulldogs have and then he mounted me. I was laughing so hard and so helpless from the drink that I could do nothing but submit to his frenzied yet deliberate thrusting. Suddenly a gasp and he rolled off of me and disappeared into the darkness.


We were killing ourselves at this point when all of a sudden from around the corner, another snort. Not yet satisfied, someone was coming back for more. And so it went. Again. And again. And again. My pleas for help were met with laughter and flashes going off as the moment was recorded for posterity.


Gus is long gone now but he lives on in our memories. He was a good boy, even though he violated me multiple times.


Lets hope that the Oilers road trip doesn't end up with them helpless and drunk on the floor being raped by a bulldog. Based on what is going on lately the possibility is there.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Calm

These are my folks having a dance at our family reunion up in Goulais last summer. A couple of months after this picture was taken they tackled Lake Superior for the last time.


Mom and Dad are both Northerners through and through. Born there and they have lived their whole lives there - in Sudbury and the Soo, Timmins and North Bay, Wawa and Elliott Lake, where they met. Dad grew up in a railway town called Franz. His Dad was a railway mechanic for the ACR and Franz was a tiny town stranded in the middle of the Canadian Shield along the railroad. Franz is a ghost town now but over sixty years ago my grandfather and grandmother raised five boys and a girl there.


Northern Ontario is as different from Southern Ontario as Newfoundland is. Endless forests of spruce and pine, countless cold lakes teeming with pickerel and trout, the granite of the Shield under a summer night sky brilliant with a million stars. Towering snowbanks and back breaking cold in winter. Even the soft people up north are tough and hardy.


Not long after they got married Mom and Dad began to take their boat trips. Sometimes to obscure lakes hidden at the end of an old cordorouy logging road. Sometimes to the bigger wellknown lakes like Nipissing and Temagami. As they got older the boats got bigger until Dad finally got his dream boat - Burgundy Belle, a twenty one foot Cadorette - when he was in his fifties.


The boat meant trips on the Trent Severn and Simcoe and the grandest lake of them all, Superior, because, with care and sense, its the type of boat that can handle that big water.


Dad is seventy six now. He's slowing down a little although you wouldn't peg him for anymore then sixty really. Every year he wonders if it will be his last with his boat. Mom can't help him much with it when it comes to getting it in and out of the water and soon it will be too much for him. But he figures as long as he can he will keep it. He gets far too much joy out of it to say goodbye to it.


So last summer they decided to take one last crack at Superior. The trip was a comedy of errors from the beginning. Police, dead rodents, a split axel, a night marooned on an island in a rainstorm with nothing but the clothes on their backs, a smashed propeller, two days trapped in a tiny cove as Superior raged ... in two weeks I may tell the tale if this Oilers' roadtrip goes as poorly as it might. For now though I just want to tallk about the end of it.


The trip had been a tough one and it finally got to the point where they were anchored in a cove waiting out a storm. For two days straight they were stuck on the boat until finally the weather broke slightly and they decided to make a break for it. Dad's been on Superior many times and he knows the lake well. He also knows what he and his boat are capable of and he knew that they could get back to the port.


Dad's a little guy but he's all sinew and wire, massive hands and old man strength. He steered that boat along the north shore of Superior, up and down, in and out the swells. There's no beaches up that way, just cliffs and shoals, no margin for error. And Dad brought it home. A few months later over dinner and wine Mom and Dad laughed about it but there was no doubting it was a close call and it was the last trip they'll make that way. But Mom said admiringly "Your Dad's a great captain, no panic in him, he just took us home."


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The Oilers are four and three now and a win tomorrow night against Boston would be nice before they go on this long roadtrip. We all knew the beginning of the schedule was a tough one for this club and four and three is a decent beginning. As always there is plenty of gnashing of teeth with three straight losses but the reality is the team is playing pretty well. They beat Colorado when they did not deserve it but by my eye they were value for the next three wins. A bad first against the Ducks and in the second game against the Flames but overall they may have gotten a few breaks but nothing ridiculous. The Chicago game was a disaster but they could have had better results against both the Avs and the Canucks. The first two Avs goals were the results of terrible bounces and last night saw the Oilers outchance the Canucks in the first two periods. Some Luongo and a couple of posts did them in.


So really they are where they should be and that's not bad considering the kids, for the most part, have looked like kids, they seem to be missing a key guy or two every game and they're still trying to figure out who fits where. A few quick thoughts:


- Hemsky began to wake up against the Avs; he will be fine and so will Horcoff

- Cole looked terrific last night back on the RW; he may get with the kids or stick on the "third" line but he has to play the RW, he looked the different player

- Pouliot should get a shot playing with a couple of vets on a full time basis

- Brodziak needs a couple of real wingers or at the least he and Stortini need a real LW, they miss Glencross and this team misses having a legit fourth line that can eat minutes and take it to the other team

- first unit PP is too static - its perimeter play trying to set up Souray and its terrible

- when Pisani comes back I would move him to play with Gagner and Cogliano and I would drop Penner to the fourth line - I don't like Penner's game at all and he just doesn't seem to fit anywhere, he needs to wake up

- goaltending has been shoddy, except for the second Calgary game they have had a softy a game since JDD's start


Finally Staios' return helps and I (maybe I'm the only one) think Gilbert has been getting better but this team needs a defenceman like my Dad on Superior. A calm veteran influence who can steer them through the rough waters. A guy who can eat up a ton of minutes at ES and on the PK. A guy who can play with Visnovsky and shut down the other team's top players. A guy like Duncan Keith or Ohlund, Bouwmeester or Willie Mitchell. This isn't news, of course, but its clearly the case. Someone with calm feet, calm hands and a calm head.

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A quick weird note on the magic of the internet - the guy I talked about in this post actually had a buddy who read it, told him about it and he tracked me down. Maybe a pint or two in the future to talk about old times.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oh Boy!



My son is the golden boy. Just turned three and he has come into his own. If Pierre Maguire lived in my house he would turn his back on Dion Phaneuf and gush about this lad. Now I am fully aware that I'm not the most objective guy here (although I am fully aware of the flaws of my children unlike those parents whose heads are firmly implanted up their asses) but friends and family agree that he is a special little guy. He is a smart, generous, sweet little lad who is is equally at home in a gang of munchkins or hanging out by himself, playing the pirate captain. He is still at the age where his daddy is his greatest hero but the feeling is mutual.

A week and a half ago he went to his daycare (he goes Mondays and Tuesdays) and the provider, a lovely nona, looked in the diaper bag and told him that Daddy had forgotten the pullups. (Daddy had not.) There was no wailing or gnashing of teeth on the boy's part and when I came to collect him that night he had gone through the day accident free. Just like that he was toilet trained. And in the week or so that has followed he has only had a couple of accidents.

He's brilliant even though he still occasionally shits his pants.

Anyone see that Chicago game last night? Hopefully the Oilers are like the boy and this is just an occasional thing. If not MacT may have to make a run to Shoppers.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A High School Party Game


Before I talk about the week that was I wanted to start by saying a few words about Dave Berry. I don't know Dave personally, per se, but I am saddened to see what has happened. There is a lot of debate about the Oilers and their media policies going on as a result. I think the Oilers were within their rights to do what they did, although the explanations about rights holders and such seem a little bit much. I think what is disappointing about the whole situation is how the Oilers staff (and thus the Oilers themselves) come off as hostile bullies. Dave apologized for violating a policy that he was unaware existed. A polite response to this was all that was needed but instead the tone was aggressive and dismissive. Anyone with any sense can tell you that if you are in any sort of position of power its quite often not what you do but how you do it. Much like Cal Nichols' comments about Pronger's marriage or the organization's remarks about Ryan Smyth after he was moved it just seems indicative of a cultural problem with this club. I'm not naive - for example I know that as much as I'd love to believe the Oilers are as great a bunch of guys as my own club team I know that there's probably a number of them who are likely jerks in 'real life' - the Oilers are first and foremost a business and a big one at that. As someone who works for a business I think it goes without saying that treating your customers like dirt, even if they piss you off (for Dave is a guy unafraid to criticize the Oilers), is not the best way to go about things. Its a shame because Dave is a bright and funny guy and the more people like that involved in anything, the better. He will be missed.

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As for the week that was, short of four victories by double digit goals I really cannot see any way it could have gone better for the Oilers. I managed to see all or a good part of every game except the Friday night match and once the Oilers found their legs in the second period against Anaheim I only found fault with the first period Saturday night after that. (Well okay, four out of five periods - big deal right? ;) ) Word is that they did did well enough on Friday anyhow. The Colorado game was stolen but so it goes sometimes. The fact that this club took eight out of eight points, including four out of four on the road, and conceded no Bettman points against two teams in their division and a third in their conference to boot, makes for a terrific start to the season.

A lot to like about this club starting with Garon's play in net. Goaltending was considered a possible problem. I think he's the real deal. You can't ride him for seventy games - I would say fifty five might be the max - and while JDD won Friday night I'm thinking they should keep Roli around. Not sure how that's going to work out though.

On the back end they have mostly been good enough, which is what was expected. There is depth and that makes a big difference on this team. Greene probably doesn't make this squad (and what is LA thinking? My God.) Visnovsky has been a treat to watch, Gilbert is getting it together and Grebeshkov is probably going to make a lot of money next season.

I know a lot of people have been on Moreau but the guy has barely played in two years. Saturday night shows that hopefully he is finding his legs. And Pisani once again displays that he is The Cleaner. Two years ago Torres and Stoll played their best hockey when united with him. Last season a couple of games with the kids when he returned seemed to spark them to a strong finish. And now a game with Pouliot and the kid looks all world.

And there is that depth thing again. This team has some up front as well.

Cogliano, Nilsson and Gagner have all picked up where they left off and by my eye the rink is tilting a little more in their favour when they are out there. I think after a quick start sparked by adrenaline that Horcoff has some dead legs now but once he gets going, along with Cole, I think we'll see Hemsky wake up a little too.

No complaints over all - the MacIntyre Gambit seemed to have an effect on Saturday night. (Is it true that he broke the kid's ribs when he was punching him? Jesus!) I'm still not sold on it but its kind of fun to see a lifelong minor leaguer get out there. He has certainly endeared himself to the coach, the fans and his teammates so he get a decent run out of it yet.

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My senior year of high school was pretty terrific. I went to a private Catholic school in Sudbury, St. Charles College. All boys' school with excellent academics (guys who would struggle with low 60s would move to other schools in town and pull off 80s and 90s with ease) and powerhouse sports teams, especially hockey. By the time we hit Grade 13 there were less then 100 of us and we had been together for five years. Some pretty funny shit went on and there was a wide array of personalities, some really interesting guys. When I finished school I would still see guys during the summer or at Christmas when I came back from University. Sudbury is a fair size but sooner or later you're going to run into everyone you know. I've run into guys on the streets here in Toronto and ended up rooming with one of them as a result. Went to a party and bumped into a few guys who happened to be there as well. One of the strangest reunions I had was the time my wife and I were at a school here in town looking for the gym - we were in a floor hockey league - and the guy we asked for directions was one of my best buddies in high school, he teaches at this school.

When we were about twenty one we went down to Penetang for a long weekend, three of us. One of the guys had a girlfriend from there and she invited him to a wedding. She had two friends who needed dates so two of us tagged along with Frank. It was a ridiculous weekend that did not feature a minute of sobriety as well as a bulldog named Gus who took advantage of me. Multiple times. (More on Gus another time). On the Saturday morning as we wandered about Penetang looking for food I heard someone call my name and there was a guy I hadn't seen since high school. His nicknames in school were 'Puffy' (his face was - he looked like George Chuvalo after the bout with Ali) and 'Eskimo' ( this is long before political correctness). I remember two things about him. He dropped out if school on the last day of Grade 13. (Why I have no idea - he would have graduated.) And he was the Stairdiving Champion of SCC.

We were at a house party out in Capreol, a railway town about forty five minutes outside of Sudbury, which sent a few guys into town to our school every year. There were a few in our class and one of those was Puffy. The party was at one of their houses, can't remember who. It was a good time. The usual crew from school was there as well as a lot of the guys from the smaller towns out that way who usually hung out with their own on the weekends, drinking and getting high. They never got into the parties in the city, as a rule, because none of them would stay sober to drive. So they stayed home. Our loss because these guys were a riot, on the wilder side for sure. Anyhow, because the party was out their way they were able to convince someone to drive them and they were able to join in the festivities.

There were four guys in our class from a town called Garson and on this night three of them set up camp at the top of the stairs. Anyone who came with arms' length and was not on their guard was summarily thrown down the stairs. It was a fair distance down and the stair made a hard left down another flight so the victims stood a pretty good chance of hitting the wall if they picked up enough speed. Well Puffy wandered by and got thrown down pretty good.

Guy was a Capreol boy, as I said, so he was walking home that night and as a result he was beyond loaded. So much so that your man immediately rushed back up the stairs for more. And again. And again. The last few trips he made blindfolded. Finally the guys' arms got tired and they went away but not until, at his insistence, they proclaimed him Stairdiving Champion.

Except for that time in Penetang I haven't seen the guy in over twenty years but I will always remember that night and his role in it.

And I think he was a Flames fan. Which makes sense when you think about it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pork The "Other" White Meat? Give Your Head A Shake!



I had the greatest summer job when I was a student. Paid well, worked outside, had a company car, was my own boss and my actual boss was a crazy oldtimer who could curse better then anyone I have ever known, even in the twenty years since I worked for him. He could throw a 'cocksucker' or 'motherfucker' into any conversation just as casual as can be. He'd be talking about a picture his granddaughter drew "Really, Pat you should have seen this cocksucker! Beautiful drawing of her Grandpa and Grandma. Cocksucker!"
Reminds me of a set of commercials I saw when I lived in Florida starring Samuel L. Jackson. It may have actually been for something to do with hockey. In them he's walking around, talking to regular people, throwning casual 'motherfuckers' into every conversation. One ends with him squatting down beside a couple of five year olds with a puppy "That's one cute little motherfucking puppy, boys", he says.


We didn't have lunch when I was working for the gas company. Generally I'd drive right from my home to wherever I was working that day. I'd start early, work through lunch and be done by mid afternoon. It was sweet. When I did go into the office in the morning, however, we would always go for breakfast. We'd leave the office and whoever was in our crew would meet for a quick scoff, usually at this little hole in the wall diner near my parents' house. The grill was right there and the place smelled of grease. It was a family operation and it was either the mom or the daughter who would get our orders. It was the typical breakfast you get at a diner - two eggs, ham, bacon or sausage, home fries, toast and coffee. The coffee was good and so was the food. We'd sit around and shoot the shit, my boss would smoke, we'd eat, he'd smoke some more and then we'd get to work.


Ham, bacon or sausage. All from one animal and, as Homer says, a magical animal at that. The breakfast animal.


I love a roast chicken or one of those barbequed beer chickens. I'll eat all of the skin off one of those bad boys and then really get to it. But there is no comparison between chicken and pork. Who the hell does the marketing for pork? The NHL? The other white meat, my ass. Get serious. Pork fucks chicken up the ass and leaves it begging for more.
I love a roast of pork. My Mom does it right. She buys one with a big fatty rind on it. Those are the best. The fat melts over the meat and of course if you are lucky you'll get a nice hunk of that rind on your plate.
My wife is not much for roasts but Dog bless her she called me shortly after we were married to surprise me with the news that she was cooking a pork roast that night.

After I wiped myself off from the excitement I expressed my gratitude. This all turned sour when she complained about the difficulty of cutting all of the damn fat off the roast. I shrieked in anguish and told her to please reattach the rind by whatever means necessary.

She replied that she had thrown it in the garbage. I told her to retrieve it, wash it and get some toothpicks. Damn it.

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Speaking of pork, one of MacT's recent comments was about putting lipstick on a pig. Sunday's win over the Avs was an ugly one for sure. I am not worried about the Oilers one bit, to be honest. Well, not because of the preseason and Sunday. I have some concerns but I had them in August. Fact is this team had not played as a team for almost ten days and that game ten days ago was the only time they had played together, period. Sunday they didn't have their legs, no, and they were out of sync as might be expected. Stupid schedule - almost everyone else has played three games and in a timely manner. A week in tonight and the Oilers will just be playing their second game. Their legs and heads need to get into game shape still.
I only caught the third period on Sunday so I missed the awfulness that was period one and period two when the ice was tilted the wrong way. The third period was not great but not so bad either. Other then the sequence that led to the penalty shot the play was pretty even, I thought, although the kids did get hemmed in a couple of times.
Lipstick for this particular pig? Penner was the most impressive Oiler and he and his line gave the Avs problems. Moreau was hard to handle down low a few times, actually both of Penner's goals including a Moreau cycle in the process. Like someone said the other day about Steve Bernier, I want to see this in game twenty five before I start jumping up and down but its a great sign.
Gilbert and Grebeshkov showed some calm feet and moved the puck well. Tom also laid out Darcy Tucker which made me smile. Visnovsky separated a very large forward from the puck along the boards and turned and moved the puck quickly. Strudwick did not look out of place.
And I know it was noticed by others as well - Pouliot winning a third period draw against Sakic after an icing and a shift where the Avs had the Oilers' fourth line hemmed in. He only got to take it because Brodziak got tossed but at some point we have to see him between Pisani and either Cole or Penner, do we not? Doesn't this just make sense?
Two points in a game they did not play well in is two nice points to have and it was nice to see the Oilers winning one at the end. That six seconds means one less point for the Avs come April.
Oink!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Good Luck To The Calgary Flames This Upcoming Season


Eric Duhatschek's article in the Globe yesterday talked about how a fast start to the season has played a part in the success of the past four Stanley Cup champions. All have started very quickly.

The old saw about two points banked in October being as important as two banked in April is very true and for Oiler fans the first month's schedule is daunting. Twelve out of fifteen on the road could put this team in a hole, shatter confidence, push them a step back after they took a step forward last spring. A dozen points or more out of those twelve road games will be a sufficient start. A start like last season may mean no playoffs, again, and the end of MacT's tenure in Edmonton. Expectations are that high.

The beginning of the season is always magnified. The Oilers disastrous power play run in the first month of the season last year would have been as ugly in January but likely not as obvious. A guy who undergoes eight games without a goal in October feels the pressure more then a guy who hits a lull in December. A team can rebound from a slow start (see Washington last season or San Jose after the Thornton trade) but slow starts lose coaches their jobs and can kill seasons dead.

Now the season has just started but a few interesting things have happened already.

By all accounts Sidney Crosby was pushed around a lot by the Ottawa Senators (huh?) when they were on their European vacation. One guy, what's his name, Jason Smith, apparently was at the heart of the issue (do you think the Sens could have used a guy like the Gator all these years they were falling short against the Leafs?) and already there is talk that the Pens are lacking guys who will go and get the puck when the other team has it. Combine their losses with the injuries to Whitney and Gonchar and the Pens may be in serious trouble.

Watched the Leafs game Thursday and it was a totally different team. They are going to lose a lot of games this year but for one night at least you could see what an injection of youthful enthusiasm can do for a team. Youth will lose you a lot of games but if you're going nowhere its really the only way to go. Toronto was faster then they have been in memory, they crashed the net with enthusiasm and hit everybody that they could. With guys like Tucker and McCabe following entitled punks like Tie Domi out of the Toronto scene one thinks that this team may finally have figured something out. Now about trading away all of those draft picks ....

Colorado's goaltending sucked hugely on Thursday night. There were a few teams who had shoddy goaltending the last couple of nights but I'd bet on Vokoun bouncing back before I would lay any money on Peter Budaj. Its going to kill the Avs, I'm telling you. And this idea that they're going to run out and pick themselves up a saviour? Who is this who is going to ride to their rescue?

And of course, your Calgary Flames. Getting waxed by a division rival who is supposed to not be able to score is not the best way to start the season. Panic has not set in and a nice game tonight will alleviate Flamers' worries but for now anyways there is some concern out there. The one thing I will give the Flames' fans is that even after that debacle there was measured response. It was far more reasoned then the response Oilers' fans had to losing a preseason game - farm out Gagner and Cogliano and Nilsson (one commenter only but holy shit the stupidity of it was mindboggling), trade the vets, cats and dogs living together and so on.

Meanwhile Canuck fans plan the parade. ;)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Drop The Puck Already



Or Horcoff will steal your land, your women and your livestock and send you to the gallows.

OK, picks for the upcoming season. The last two years I have actually been seven for eight in the West (blind squirrel, nuts etc etc, right?) while last season I had five of eight in the East, one better then the year before.

Stanley Cup pick in September of last year was Detroit over Ottawa.

So, here goes nothing, with my picks for the Western Conference.

The heavyweights remain the heavyweights with a few teams beginning to slide, to be replaced by a couple of young up and comers.
Detroit will win the conference again. The addition of Hossa, the pipeline of young talent, the excellence of Lidstrom, Datsyuk and Zetterberg - compare what the Penguins lost to what the Wings gained in the offseason and is it any wonder that Detroit is the model franchise in the NHL? Their division remains the weakest in the conference to boot.

San Jose has been the Vancouver of this cycle. I would say Ottawa except the Senators at least made it to the Finals. There has been a lot written about the Sharks being a favourite year after year but its been four years now that they have fallen short and only in the first year did they make it past the Conference SEMIFINALS. Todd McClellan may give them that new coach bounce in the regular season that wins them a tough division and Dan Boyle is a nice addition but I'm thinking come the spring they will fall short again.

Wild On Jack Lemaire is just like New Jersey - year after year players leave and it looks like they will fall off. Year after year they defy expectations. The Northwest is going to be determined by whoever stays healthiest but all things considered the emergence of Koivu and Burns and the additions of Zidlicky and Brunette should offset the losses they had during the offseason. The real drama here is Gaborik - he is the one guy whose loss could really damage this franchise in the years to come.

The Ducks will finish fourth. Its their last kick at the can and that motivation will get them by the Stars but this team has been bleeding NHL players for the last two years and they are no longer what they once were.
The Stars had a nice spring and look to be a good bet again. Big problem for them is that middle of the playoff pack means three tough series in a row. Bigger problem is that Zubov and Modano are getting old - the sublime Russian is already out. Will be an issue all year I'm afraid.
Oilers in sixth. They are not going to repeat that shootout magic but this club won a lot more games in regulation as the season wore on. And that good luck in the shootout was more then offset by the lack of NHL players on their roster and the fact that they were gutted by injuries, again. They've added two quality pros in Visnovsky and Cole, they finally have the depth to spoonfeed the kids some soft minutes and the goaltending will be solid, if not spectacular. They don't have the top end talent of the Flames but after the top three guys on Calgary's roster the Oilers beat them hands down, imo. That depth eases them past the Flames in the standings.
I look at Calgary and how their team has changed since 2004 and I'm reminded of the Blues. Remember how the Blues had such a nice team at the turn of the century and then frittered it all away? Sutter has shown a remarkable penchant for moving out useful players and the end result has been a roster laden with dead wood. Some of that has been cleaned out but along with the bad have gone Tanguay, Huselius and Nolan. I like Cammalleri and Bourque and Glencross are nice pickups but I look at this team and I don't see them being better then last year. If Kipper is sliding (and I think a lot of this has to do with both team defence and the defence corps itself being weaker) then this team might not make it.
Chicago is the sexy new pick to move up and they have upgraded with Huet and Campbell. Too shallow up front though, I think, to make more of a move then the last playoff spot. Still a nice thing is happening in Chicago, finally.
Out of luck, in no particular order:
The Avs begin to slide down the ladder. They have nice depth up front and on the back end but that goaltending is not going to cut it and I also think that injuries are going to be a major concern this season. Hejduk is a shadow of his former self and they are depending too much on Sakic and Foote. Stay healthy and shore up the goaltending and they will be a force but I think it tips the other way. Plus I think Granato is a terrible coach, certainly nowhere near Quenneville's calibre.
Canucks' fans talk about having a healthy blueline and the difference it will make but the problem on this team is scoring goals. Demitra, Bernier and Wellwood probably won't even make up for the loss of Naslund and Morrison, imo, and the depth up front is shaky. Not enough NHL players. The Sedins are great and I'd take Kesler any day but this club doesn't have much going on up front and the idea that they are going to bring in a big player because of the cap room that they have ignores the fact that by the time such a player becomes available, if they become available, it may be too late. Can't win every game 2-1.
The Preds have been bleeding players for years now and Trotz has kept them afloat. But this year they take a step back. A nice team a couple of years ago is getting torn apart. There should be only two dozen teams in this league, at the most, and Nashville should be one of the ones dumped. Its just a no-go. Terrible thing for the fans that have caught on there but I would say it gets ugly very very soon.
Tough for the Coyotes to be caught in a brutal division. A lot of nice youth there and picking up Sauer was a terrific move. Jokinen is garbage though, I really think so, and they have too many kids to take a run at the big boys.
Columbus? Who cares? Really. Fuck those guys.
The Blues have really nice uniforms and I miss the Plagers. Other then that they are waiting and
hoping that in three years or so they have enough kids to look like an NHL team again. Plus Andy Murray will drive everyone crazy and get fired.
The Kings finally signed O'Sullivan but this team is really really going to be the shits again. They have gigantic holes pretty well everywhere and will probably compete with the Islanders for the first pick overall. Its been over forty years of people barely caring though so what's another one?
General points:
Whoever comes out of the West will win the Cup.
Detroit and the Pacific three are the class of the conference and one of those will likely win the Cup.
The Northwest is going to be vicious, again. Injuries will determine the results here and any team can finish first to fifth. The healthiest team will probably win the division. Any team from the NW that gets to the second round will likely get waxed, again.
Other then the Kings and Blues everyone will be competitive, at least.
The gap between Detroit and the rest of the conference is greater then ever. The Wings have added an elite player and they have a ton of young players getting better. Look for Franzen to have a monster year. This year could be a joke.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

MacIntyre?


OK, I'll shut up now. After the Oilers picked up Steve MacIntyre on waivers I dismissed him out of hand.
Turns out I was oh so wrong. Both papers today say he has made the Oilers, as has JDD, based on their performances Friday night. Barring an injury or a Roloson getting shipped out it looks like Brule and Schremp are getting sent out.
The Oilers have espoused team toughness since LeGG left town and games like last year's brawl with the Canucks show that this team will stick up for each other however there is little doubt that teams have taken liberties with a lot of the Oilers' players, especially Hemsky, in the last two years.
The MacIntyre move does not bother me in terms of the roster spot he takes up. I'd rather he sit in the pressbox on nights when he is not needed then Schremp or Brule. The guy is almost thirty and his next NHL game will be his first, I believe. Munching on popcorn isn't going to stunt his growth as a player.
As for his usefulness, Matt Fenwick argued in the thread after Friday's game that he felt that the addition of MacIntyre would be pointless for the Oilers. Respectfully I would disagree. Vandermeer's assault on Pouliot after he scored showed that the Flames had no fear of retaliation. Vandermeer is a pretty tough guy and he went after a guy who certainly is not a physical threat.
Does MacIntyre stop this from happening? Well, I would say that the way he pounded Vandermeer afterwards is going to make a good number of Flames think twice next time they decide to run an Oiler. Will it stop Regehr from pounding on Hemsky? Probably not - that's his job and he is a tough guy who can handle himself - but then again, maybe it will. Guys like Vandermeer and Phaneuf though - I would say they may show a little more respect out there. There are always guys like Boogaard too - he will not be deterred, I think, but now the Oilers look like they have a response, a guy who will go after Gaborik next time Boogaard takes a run at someone.
I don't believe in the idea of a goon, per se, but the Oilers are deep enough up front that when MacIntyre is stapled to the bench MacT can still run four lines, double shifting a number of guys, which is also a nice carrot to have. And based on the what has happened the last two years makes me think that for better or for worse, they need the threat of MacIntyre being on their side.
It certainly seems that MacTavish and the players feel this way.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Oh Crap!


Not sure if Mom or Dad built this one. Mom has built at least one, making her the only Mom in this conversation who has, I would say.
Being a household with three small children, the conversation here often revolves around poo. It cannot be helped.
A newborn baby poos a dozen times a day or so. (I told an Irish friend this just as he was about to become a father for the first time this summer. He had no idea. He thought it was a few times a day. I think the news made him shit his pants.) The boy, who is almost three, is working on training. He can do it and has done it but for the most part he just is not inclined. He likes to take a big crap right before bed and usually as I'm wiping him clean and asking him why he just doesn't go in the toilet his answer is hysterical laughter.
Two nights ago we were at swimming lessons for my oldest and the boy and I were watching. He had had his evening dump an hour before when all of a sudden a familiar odour began to waft amongst the spectators. I took a look and saw that at this point there was nothing going on. I asked if something was coming soon and he affirmed that he might soon have to go. I emphasized that there was a bathroom RIGHT THERE and to let me know when the time came. He agreed.
A couple of minutes later he leaned against the wall like a rummy about to throw up in an alleyway. (Kids will use anything as a grip bar. Once my daughter grabbed on to the dog and held on for dear life while she shat herself and he was further discouraged as to what his life had become. His ancestors used to hunt mammoths likely and here he was being used as a toddler's crap aid.) His face turned a bright red and then that passed, among other things. As the familiar stink overwhelmed us I realized that I still have to change another thousand diapers or so (that's just me, never mind my sainted wife) before I could take what had better be a long break until the grandchildren begin to arrive.
And then there is my eldest daughter. She hasn't crapped her pants in quite a while now but she is in kindergarten where poo is the centre of humour and often, most conversation. She will often roar down the stairs to demand that we check out her latest production "The Hugest Poo Ever" or its sequel "The Biggest Poo I Ever Saw" And there was the time last winter when I was preparing dinner for the kids, only to be interrupted by her frantic screaming. I rushed upstairs to find that she had gotten stuck, so to speak.
How much do I love my kids? Enough to resolve the above situation manually, lets just say. I didn't wrestle that alligator barehanded but lets just say it was an awful enough situation that I have blocked out most if it from my memory right down to the coverage I used on the tool of extraction. That tool being my finger.
One more thing. My daughter, like me, has an interesting little quirk. Entering another person's home seems to trigger something down there and soon enough its off to the races. Don't know what it is. I'd say nerves (I always take a big one at the arena right before I get dressed to play hockey) except neither of us are the nervous type and this happens with folks who I've known forever.
It doesn't really matter for the most part although one time the repercussions may have been ugly. It was the summer I spent in PEI and I had just started dating the woman who is now my wife. We'd just spent the day at the beach or something and had retired to her house before going out. We were downstairs when all of a sudden I felt that familiar stirring and excused myself.
I'm not one to waste time when I get down to it so a few minutes later I was done. It wasn't a huge deal, just a regular, and so when I flushed I had no reason to foresee what was about to happen.
There was the usual gurgling and whooshing and then when it was all over, nothing. Still my remains remained. So, I waited a minute and then gave it a whirl again. Once again, nothing.
Her folks' house wasn't on city water at the time so it turns out the water pressure was shit, so to speak. Again and again I flushed, each one sounding like the roar of Niagara Falls in my ears, with me going over them in a barrel constructed of feces.
At this point panic started to set in. Options are limited when it comes to crap. Its not a snot rag which you can carry around with impunity or even a condom which you can smuggle out (or carry like a hidden trophy) after a quick tryst away from the crowd. No sir, there's no way you can wrap up a piece of shit in a kleenex and try and make a break for it. For a moment I thought about plucking it and firing it out of the bathroom window but I imagined a neighbour marching over to point out to my new girlfriend that I was flinging crap out of her parents' window like I was some sort of Barbary Ape.
I could see it all receding away from me - the wife, the house, the kids, the times, good and bad - and then ... victory! Finally my little log floated away down river, though it was sans logroller at the time.
I emerged from the scene of my great trail flush with victory and celebrated with a night of drinking and sex, the likes of which had never been seen.
(Actually years later I told the story to my wife - she had no idea that this happened. I think she may have been outside having a cigarette. Which makes that last successful flush that much more meaningful - she may have witnessed my desperate toss and how would I have explained that?!?!?)
So, what does that have to do with the Edmonton Oilers? Fuck all really. Same as that 4-0 loss the other night to some of the Flames. Same as the loss the Flames had to the Canucks a couple of nights later. How much stock the coach put into the game against Calgary can be determined by the fact that he gave the team the weekend before the game off. After the game he noted that it was time for the veterans to begin to gear up with the season now under two weeks away and I am sure that we see this begin to happen.
Hemsky and Horcoff and Cole and Gilbert and Grebs and Visnovsky and every other veteran on the team have not stepped off of the cliff. Gagner and Cogliano and Nilsson needn't be sent to Springfield, as somebody suggested the other night. If you could fucking imagine.
The game did not matter. They don't matter. They charge money to see these games but they should let people in to see them for free because that is approximately what you can take from the majority of them.
There are a lot of reasons to worry about the Oilers this season although I tend to agree with Lowetide and see them finishing second or third in the division. They have more depth then anyone else in the division although it would be nice if they had a shutdown Dman (or two) and a centre for the Pisani line. Goaltending may be an issue although I think they will be ok.
A real reason to worry? If, like my daughter and I, they take a big shit on the road - with twelve of their first fifteen out there, they could dig a big hole early.
A 4-0 loss to Calgary in September. Pass on the worry. Now excuse me while I go change another diaper.