Monday, February 23, 2009

Born On Third Base

My kids are mental.

The boy is obsessed with testicles ever since my operation and if it weren't for the sheer entertainment value of our conversations I would regret ever being frank with him about why I couldn't pick him up for a few days. Besides the fact that he asks me multiple times a day if I'm in any pain, including one very public question, there are questions about how many testicles everyone has, whether or not the doctor who cut me is going to return for another round and who has testicles. When told that only boys do, he remarked to his sister:

"See, I told you that girls don't have testicles. Only boys. And pirates!"

The boy is an interesting case. He really is a sweet little guy but lately he has been feeling his oats. Unlike his sister, who will fly into hysterics, all the while trying to con you out of your decision, the boy prefers the direct approach.

Me: Eat your dinner or you'll be going straight to bed.

Him: No I will not. I will go to bed when I want to.

Threaten him with removal of a favourite toy if he doesn't comply immediately and he will lecture you on his theory of ownership, which essentially boils down to "Don't dare touch my shit."

Tell him to eat his vegetables or there will be no dessert and he shrugs his shoulders like a Parisian waiter.

Put him in time out and he walks over to the designated step, sits down and sneers. I half expect him to light a smoke and snarl at me to do my worst.

Don't get me wrong. He's a terrific little guy. Since the baby was born he has not even flashed a moment of jealousy even though she has now taken over his room and forced him in with his older sister. He's a thinker and a musician and an athlete and he has a very good heart. He's also stubborn as a mule. He's a stoic and like his old man and his old man's old man he is calm and has the unerring belief that things will work out. After he drove his remote control truck down the stairs last night, I calmly told him that that was a good way to break it. He replied that it was okay and when I asked him how he knew, he replied that he just knew that it wasn't broken. He was right by the way and now I understand my wife's frustration when I opine that everything will work out fine, whatever the case.

Our oldest on the other hand is an artist in very way you can imagine, including her temperment. Dramatic and emotional and charismatic she is. Challenge her and she will argue with you loudly and persuasively. Give her a piece of paper or a chalkboard or a sidewalk and some chalk, paint, crayons and she will give you something in minutes that will have you shaking your head - its her gift. She deconstructs words and reads to her little brother and takes books off of my bookshelf and reads the titles. (I had to put away Welsh's Porno after she pulled that one out a few times. She likes the pink cover.)

She is brilliant and maddening and volatile, one moment sweet as pie, the next she is driving her brother to tears or her mother into a rage.

Physically they are both me. Unfortunate for her, she's a beauty right now but a monobrow is obviously in her future. Look at pictures of me as a kid and we're talking twins, my God, its frightening.

And my poor wife is holding out hope for the third and early on we figured she may have the greater influence there but more and more it looks like the baby has the wide head, squinty grinning mug and short legs of her father, just like her brother and sister.

The McLean genes are strong!

We do our best to raise our kids the same. Our first got more attention because she was the only one for two years and frankly we were tougher on her then the second. And now we have to make sure the boy doesn't caught in the shuffle. For the most part I think we have been pretty good at bringing them up in the same manner.

And so we can see some similarities. They like to have fun, like any good McLean does. They're social and they spend more time playing and running around then they do in front of the TV. They like their junk food but don't get a lot of it and they prefer naan and butter chicken to cheeseburgers and fries, though its a squeaker at the wire. They're pretty self centred, as all little kids are, but they are generous and polite and don't have to be prompted to treat others with kindness. They like to laugh and they're affectionate little buggers and while they're both pretty wild (and I'm sure #3 will fall right into step) the fact is we encourage them to have strong personalities and make choices and take chances when and where it is safe to do so.

And yet for all that they are as different as different can be. Its a bit scary to realize that whatever we do in a lot of ways we are just going to have to play the hand that we have been dealt, whatever our best efforts may be.


Interesting debates over at Lowetide over last week in a couple of threads. LT took a look at Springfield here and here and then had a nice post about Chorney that resulted in a nice debate about Oilers' drafting and development.

Unfortunately he has deleted the post - hopefully he gets it back up.

This year's Oilers' team has the following players on it who were drafted by the organization - Horcoff, Hemsky, Gagner, Cogliano, Pisani, Pouliot, Brodziak, Stortini, Reddox and Deslauriers. Also Rob Schremp and Theo Peckham have had cups of coffee with Peckham about to get a bit more of an extended look, at least for a week or so.

Tom Gilbert was acquired by the Oilers while he was still in college.

Denis Grebeshkov, Laddy Smid and Robert Nilsson started their pro careers in other organizations but have cut their teeth in the NHL with the Oilers.

Visnovsky was acquired for two guys who have established NHL careers who were drafted and developed by the Oilers - Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene. And Gilbert Brule was picked up for a player who was developed into an NHLer by the Oilers, Raffi Torres.

I think this a reasonable list of guys who we could say have come up through the organization in the last while.

Let me just say the following too so you know where I am coming from here. I think regular readers know that I'm a pretty balanced guy but before I talk about the work of Lowe and MacT when it comes to developing kids I want to let you know what I think of the two, just so you have some context.

I think Kevin Lowe, like Glen Sather, is a better GM when he doesn't have a ton of money to throw around.

I think before the lockout Lowe did a good job for the most part, considering the financial constraints he had to work within. He iced a team that was always competitive and it played entertaining hockey.

I think Lowe deserves a ton of credit for 2006. He did a terrific job that season although he left the goaltending issue too long. Saying that he does not deserve credit, that it was a fluke, that he only deserves blame for when things have gone wrong is wrongheaded.

After June 19th 2006 Lowe has done a poor job, I think. He has careened about without an apparent plan. You can defend this move or that move but there have been far too many moves that need defending and as a whole he has failed the fans of the Oilers. From a break away from winning the Cup to two years out of the postseason and possibly a third, all while dealing from a position of strength (roster of veterans, ability to spend to the cap) is unacceptable.

I think that Craig MacTavish was a better coach when he had a bunch of kids who weren't making a lot of money. That can probably be said about a lot of coaches but I think its very true for MacT.

I think that he, like Lowe, deserves credit for 2006, a lot of it.

I think he has not done a very good job this season and that if the team does not make the playoffs he should be fired.


As an organization the Oilers inspire a lot of, um, lets say, emotion. ;) Lowe and MacTavish have been around for a long time and so both have their supporters and detractors who can point to a long list of examples to support their arguments.

What do I think? Well the truth lies somewhere in the middle, as always. In the end success is measured by championships I think and competing for them. Since Lowe and MacTavish have been in charge six teams have won Stanley Cups - Colorado, Tampa, Carolina, Jersey, Anaheim and the Wings, with two. Three of those teams also went to the Final and lost once - Carolina, Jersey and Anaheim.

Edmonton is one of the next tier of teams who have won their conference, only to fall short of the Cup, along with Calgary, Ottawa and Pittsburgh.

That's better then twenty other teams in the league although I would rank Calgary, Ottawa and the Pens ahead of Edmonton because they have had more playoff appearances (or in the Pens' case, series' wins) in that time period as well as that Finals appearance.

So while we are pissed off that there has been no Cup in the Lowe era the fact is that the team has gone further then two thirds of the league in this time.

Of course you might argue that, for example, Philly has been more successful during this time based on having more playoff appearances. I guess it depends on how you look at it.


So the question is - do the Oilers do a good job of developing players? I think its an important question, especially seeing how two first round picks, Marc Pouliot and Rob Schremp, are surely going to be shipped out by Canada Day at the very latest, while many other Oiler youngsters have struggled this season. The lifeblood of an organization is drafting and development. If you don't do this right then you'll go nowhere for a very long time.

For the Oilers this was made that much more important by their inability/unwillingness to pay veteran players and also by the fact that they have always been a middle of the road club and as a result they did not have the picks in the top five or even the top ten, with the exception of Sam Gagner a couple of years back. When you're picking 15th or 17th or 21st every year then you had better get it right.

The Oilers have had one major cockup in recent memory, the year where they did not have their own farm club. That was a huge problem. And this season looks like there may have been some odd decisions down in Springfield; the club has struggled and it remains to be seen whether this could impact a lot of prospects who are on their way up.

Anyhow if you look at the Oilers its very obvious that MacT can develop young players. Saying that he does a shitty job at this ignores a long list of guys who have become NHL players under his watch. And Hemsky, Gilbert, Grebeshkov and Comrie are examples of 'skill' guys who have done well under him, putting to rest the notion that he cannot coach skill or that he turns guys into grinders. Strangely enough Comrie never really did as well elsewhere as he did in Edmonton, weird considering his comments and the bitter divorce between he and Edmonton.

You might argue that Hemsky was born on third base but he's not the only guy so I don't think its the blind squirrel thing.

And we still have to see how Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson turn out. All exceeded expectations last year. All have struggled this year at times. With Nilsson its a question of maturity. With the other two it may be growing pains, injury, coaching (Cogliano certainly went south once Moreau became his linemate). It remains to be seen.

But even with these guys and this next generation coming along its safe to say that the Oilers have done a decent job on bringing their young guys a long. All of the guys aforementioned plus Horcoff, Pisani, Brodziak, Stortini, Reddox, Greene, Stoll, Torres, Smid, Chimera, Cleary.

Not bad. But not great either and definitely a tilt towards guys at the bottom end of the roster in a lot of cases. Better that these picks turned into something then nothing but also these types of guys are replaceable for cheap.

So this might be a case of being wishy washy but I think that the next couple of years will really tell the tale and cement the legacy of Lowe and MacT either way. If the youngsters that Lowe has acquired do turn out then he gets forgiven, at least partially, for what he did after June 19, 2006, and he cements his reputation as a guy who did decent work in the draft. If they do not then its either his failure or MacT's.

As for MacT well I think his legacy depends on the current crop of kids. If Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Pouliot, Schremp and Jacques are all failures then I think you would have to pin a lot of that on coaching. MacT's quotes about how Pouliot and Brule need to find their roles don't strike me as, well, very smart, to be honest. Pouliot in particular strikes me a guy who could be a good NHL player with the right coaching. I may be wrong and when he goes elsewhere if he fails folks will point to that and say that, see, MacT was right and he was just a failed pick.

That is an accepted argument by most but I don't know if I buy it. Time lost to injury can ruin a career - see Doug Lynch and probably Ryan O'Marra as well - well then can it not be argued that years of misuse would have the same effect? If a guy spends two or three years of his prime developmental years being miscast then would that not derail his career? I think that is a legitimate argument.

As for Schremp well he is the other test case. He will be gone elsewhere this summer and will probably get a shot next fall. He will put up points - of course the question is whether he will be a guy who can help his team win.

And so in Rob Schremp and Marc Pouliot we have the ultimate referendum on the Lowe/MacT era. Are they guys who never got a fair shot who will blossom elsewhere? Or is they just bad picks by Kevin Lowe?

Or is the truth somewhere in between - that they were flawed guys who are in that 15-30 pick range where you get some quality and some dross and that Lowe picking them was a reasonable bet that just did not pan out and never would have, regardless of the coaching they received. Schremp did get passed over by the majority of the league for a reason, I would say.

My head hurts.


Swabbubba said...

Can we add a few more paragraphs. War & Peace of a post.
Here is the thing I will give Mac T for all his perceived foibles I think the players actually like him and listen. He does express exasperation with some players that he see's having a much better toolset that others. If a player just plays to his ability then a coach can help him with tips and tricks. But when a player waffles then it is hard to coach a player because it is a partnership. I see Mac T as seeing the glass have full all the time. Meanwhile as a group the fans call for his head. Mac T has made some tasty lemonade in his time.
Hey in the parenting field my son has told me he can bail on science. He wants to win Canadian Idol and get an acting gig. He seems pretty confident of this a opportunity.

Good Muckin' Tonite said...

"Put him in time out and he walks over to the designated step, sits down and sneers. I half expect him to light a smoke and snarl at me to do my worst."

Brilliant post once again! I'm still laughing over that line...

I don’t think the case can be made that Lowe and MacT haven’t developed their young talent. I'm guessing most would agree with your take on this and your examples. But developing picks is only part of the recipe. The other big part is surrounding your developing talent with the right pieces and whether it’s the wrong pieces that have been slotted in over the past two seasons, or the inability to lure better pieces, that has to fall on the GM. What has this team’s identity been since ’06? You’re asking Ethan Moreau to be Ryan Smyth and Steve Staios to be Jason Smith and as much as I still love the character of both of those guys – it’s not the same. I'm not set on letting MacT off the hook yet. Still waiting to see if he can continue to get Penner and Cole to step up down this last stretch for the playoffs.

Lowetide said...

Gold as always. On Saturday night my wife and I were sharing bottles of wine and feeling good about life when my daughter walked into the room and told us she wants to kiss a boy.

I'm building a moat.

Black Dog said...

G.M.T. - I'm not even sure about letting them off the hook for developing the kids.

As for what you are talking about, well definitely there have been issues since '06. Lowe has left MacT with holes in his lineup and MacT has, at times, played his cards poorly.

Black Dog said...

swabb - military school perhaps?

LT - I'm with you. I'm going to get it twice. Sometimes I think I should just toss a neighbourhood boy off my porch. Then ten years from now the teenage boys will say 'stay away from her - her old man is a nut job - and apparently he's almost out on parole' ;)

PDO said...

Does the older brother get to lay a comment here?

First off, MacT can coach skill and kids just fine. The list is long, and all he really asks for is hard work... and even if it's not there, if there's enough skill you get the chances anyway (Comrie, Nilsson....).

Secondly... about two years ago now, my now 18 year old sister had a party with my parents out of town. I stayed at home, sober... made sure nothing got broke, no one got too rowdy, and my sister paid me off with a fifty for basically being a bouncer so the 'rents wouldn't kill her.

All was good.

Then there was a guy. Skinny fuck... must've been about 6'2" and a buck fifty? Well, he thought it was a good idea to, persay, force the issue with my sister. He was more than a couple brews in, and was unfortunate enough that I happened to be standing directly behind him at the time.

Being the good guy I am, weighing in at about 215, 6'4" and working out fairly regularly.... I decided the best option was to take the kid by his collar.

I got him about a good .. 8-12 inches off the ground.

And then the collar ripped.

I'm sure I look like a jackass when I'm drunk and running... but I can sure as hell say I've never ran through a house with a shirt ripped and out the door drunker than a redneck during a nascar race.

LT, if you ever need a hire, you know where you find me ;)

Jay said...

Love the picture. Those were the days.

Black Dog said...

PDO - I'll call you in ten years or so ;)

Jay - yes sir, you bet

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