Thursday, April 16, 2009

The End Of Something

I dated the girl from Rawlins Cross for just under two years. For the most part it was very good but it also became obvious early on that in this relationship I was the coyote. It soon became clear to me that I had a big problem. I was in too deep and the result was that what made me me, what had made her fall for me in the first place, began to slip away from me as I scrambled to gain purchase on the hillside. Like one of those old adventure movies, the ground was beginning to slide out from beneath my feet and its hard to keep your cool when you are grabbing for tree roots to try and keep yourself from sliding away with the face of the mountain.

It was around fourteen months into it when she announced to me, out of the blue, that she was done with it and I was thrown onto the rocks. I wandered the streets at night wracked with anguish and friends were astounded by sudden outbursts of absolute heartwrenching grief. I called my folks and spoke to my Mom and broke down.


A few days later my parents called to check up on me. They were each on a phone, calling to lend me support. The conversation went something like this:

Mom : How are you? Are you better? We’re just calling to check in on you.

Me: (Barely choking it out) Oh, I’m ok.

Dad: You do realize that there are plenty of fish in the sea right, son? You have heard of that expression? I think it applies here.

Mom: Jesus Murphy Jack, that’s not helping.

Me: But … but, I love her. I …

Dad: Son, do you know when you’re walking on a beach do you realize that there are millions and millions of grains of sand under your feet. Millions of them. Do you get my drift here?

Me: Gah.

Dad: Or say the beach is up by Goulais. You look out and you see the north shore and there are trees stretching as far as the eye can see. Millions of trees all of the way up to the tundra.

Mom: Jesus Murphy, Jack.

Me: Irk.

Dad: Son, have you ever kicked over an anthill? And all of the ants come streaming out of the hill into the hot hot sunlight ….

About a week later I had a small soiree at a little sublet I had for the summer out at Ossington and Bloor. There was a little deck out back of the second floor apartment and from it you could see downtown through the haze. My friends came out in force that day and we drank beer in the hot sun and laughed a lot and I forgot my problems and then a few hours in (midafternoon) the girl from Rawlins Cross dropped by and we talked and I made my case and that night after everyone had gone I heard a knock at the door and there she was and we were back just like that. Drunken sweaty make up sex that night.

It was temporary of course and seven months later things had really begun to slide and it was apparent that her heart was not in it and by that time mine was not either. Just after New Year’s I walked away but it was really mutual, I just took the step that she didn’t have the heart to. It was sad and on my part there was bitterness but I knew that it was time and that it was the right and only thing to do. A month later I was landing at Charlottetown Airport.


MacT is gone and there are a few people a lot smarter then me questioning this and I really don’t understand why. Lets begin with what I believe.

1/ The fault behind the last three years and what this team has become is primarily Kevin Lowe’s. From botching the Pronger and Smyth situations to the Penner offer sheet to letting cheap outperformers like Hejda and Glencross walk to letting the team leave training camp incomplete each year, Lowe’s fingerprints are all over the mess that this club is in today. He should have been forced to walk the plank yesterday along with MacT.

2/ Expectations for this club this season were unrealistic, to a point. The idea that a nice run last spring and a record heavily augmented by shootout wins would lead to a contender was off base. Realistic expectations for the club would have been to contend for the playoffs, which they did.

3/ MacT is a good coach. He will have another job in the NHL, as soon as next season if he likes.

4/ MacT did not do a good job coaching this club this season and while there is a lot of blame to go around the fact is that there are a lot of unbalanced or young or injury riddled (far worse then the Oilers) clubs that did better then Edmonton this year and a lot of this can be laid at the feet of the coach. Saying that MacTavish could not have gotten this team into the playoffs is ignoring a whole lot of evidence that he certainly did not do a lot to help them, that’s for sure.

Start with the things we know a coach controls, the special teams. The PP, which cost the Oilers the Cup in 2006, remains abysmal, regardless of the personnel that are sent out there. Its static and predictable and in its best year under MacT it was average. The PK, after three very nice years, floundered this season. Part of this can be laid at the loss of Stoll, Reasoner and Greene but a lot can be put down to the lack of downice pressure, the use of the wrong players in the role, the sudden inexplicable refusal to block shots.

From there we can look at the misuse of players. Early in the year MacT made my Spidey sense tingle when he said that Pouliot had to find himself a role on the team. Contrast that with what Jonathan Toews said recently about Quenneville, as quoted in a thread at LT’s, and how the new Hawks’ coach made sure to define for each player what their role on the club was to be and what was to be expected of them. The same has been said about Ted Nolan. He tells each player what expectations there are for each and what they have to do. I would guess that if you talked to guys playing for Andy Murray or Ken Hitchcock you would get the same response. The idea that a guy has to find his role or might get moved helter skelter around the lineup is ridiculous to me.

And yet here we see Pisani playing centre, Cole playing out of position, Cole playing with Brodziak and Moreau, Kotalik out of position, Pouliot out of position and bumped from role to role from game to game, one game a fourth liner, the next on a scoring line, the next on a tough minutes line. Throw in Penner (who is infuriating I know) not being used in the position where he most likely will help the club win (first line LW/PP), Stortini in the pressbox, Reddox on the first line, Smid on the LW of all places. Playing Strudwick in OT in order to try and get to a shootout. The whole idea of playing for a shootout in the first place.

You see, its like Lowe. One mistake can be rationalized or it can be said simply that it is one mistake.

Two or three are a little less easily explained.

A mess of them means that you have a mess.

And finally there is the whole idea of the room being lost and whether or not that actually carries any weight, the idea of guys not playing hard in response to their coach.

I think that anyone who watched the Oilers this year knows that this club came out flat more often then not, that in game after game there was a decided lack of interest shown in playing hard, not just by one but by many players. In many crucial games the team did not compete at all. Players like Cole, a terrific professional with a long record of success in this league, looked lost out there, never mind so many of the kids. And team wide so very few players had decent years, much less improved.

And then you see a team like St. Louis, injury riddled, full of kids, sent their starting goalie to the minors, roar from last in the conference to sixth place.

Again, I can buy the fact that a kid steps back or that a guy has an off year but who had a good year for the Oilers this year? Grebeshkov. Roloson. Visnovsky. You might argue for Souray and Gilbert and maybe Stortini. Maybe. A lot of folks would not. That's a lot of guys not playing well or underachieving in some way.

And of course the final argument, that MacT should stay because changing coaches might not have an effect, might make things worse.

Could they get worse? I guess so though I wonder how having player after player, kids and veterans, struggle through another year of bland static hockey, having successful players arrive in Edmonton and lose their way, only to find it again when they leave, of having a coach unable to get the most out of the players given him, flawed as they may be, when that is his job, his only job really, is something that we, as fans, should accept.

MacT is a good coach. He did not have a good year. I would bet almost anything that if Andy Murray or Ken Hitchcock were coaching this team they would be playing tonight.

That is all. It was time for him to go and while things might slide sideways the fact is the mountainside was already crumbling. Standing by and watching another year pass us by while the puck got sent back to Souray on the PP again would have made me just sick.


Aaron said...

Jesus Murphy, Pat.

You had me roaring with laughter on this one.


Jonathan Willis said...

Wow (in a good way). Just wow.

Schitzo said...

Well played, good sir. One of my fondest "Well, that's dad for you" moments was being a devastated 16 year old and getting the plenty of fish talk.

dstaples said...

Nicely told.

And, when it comes to hockey, I'm not seeing a lot of guys smarter than you.
Better with numbers, for sure.

But not smarter.

hunter1909 said...

My probable all time favorite coach has got to be Don Shula, who took over a pretty terrible Dolphins team from last place., and in short order made them two time Super Bowl Champions.

The first thing Big Don did, was evaluate what talent he had. I'm not sure of the players name, but there was one underachieving guy who Shula told to lose 20 pounds, if he wanted to play. The player replied something to the effect of "But I haven't played at that weight since high school". Shula curtly remarked, "you will be effective at that weight". The guy DID lose the weight, and immediately became an all star. THAT's what I call coaching.

I'm not saying MacTavish ever got an ideal team to work with. Far from it, probably.

Another coach, in English soccer named Brian Clough. he took over a REALLY terrible Nottingham Forest team, and basically simplified the game for the then overcoached and underachieving players. To Clough football was a very simple game, when all is said and done, and he didn't want his players heads full of complicated maneuvers. To make a long story short, Clough's tiny Forest team won the European Cup twice, which is akin to the Barrie Flyers winning the Stanley Cup twice.

As for MacT, we all saw the same things, year in and year out. A boring and ineffective powerplay, a decent puck possession system that, when it worked was really actually quite good. In fact, game 6 of the 2006 finals saw the Oilers play as well as I ever saw them post Gretzky.

Personally though, I don't agree that MacT is a very good coach. He and Lowe ran a pretty terrible team pre lockout, and promised great things as soon as the strike was over. Then there was 2006, where the team, with quite a lot of talent, barely scraped into the playoffs, as usual. Post playoffs, nothing for three straight seasons. So, just exactly what proof is there that MacT is a very good coach?

This season was an unmitigated disaster for any true Oiler fan. Personally, having consciously grown up with the team ever since being 3-4 years old, I and I suspect a lot of others were totally prepared to forget all about the Oilers, were MacT to return. Tambellini saved the day, in my opinion. Tambellini sounds like he's deadly serious about finally sorting through the nepotistic mess that the Oilers have become over the past decade and a half.

Scott said...

This is wonderfully written and in the back half wondnerfully argued. For me there are three things that I think MacT gets a bad rap for.

1. Moving people around in the lineup. A lot of coaches do this kind of thing and some guys do succeed playing out of position. I think it was worth a ten game look of Cole at LW in case it worked. Pisani at C wouldn't have been my choice but I can see why he'd want to try it. Smid played wing for a game or two and it was a message to the rest of the bubble guys to be more physical so I don't see how that's a huge problem. Last year he tried Gagner out of position on the kid line and I didn't hear too many people complaining about that at the end of the year. Sometimes it works fine.

2. That this team underachieved. On the one hand you say that they achieved expectations (fight for a playoff spot) and on the other hand you imply that it's a virtual guarantee that they're a playoff team with a different coach (Hitchcock or Murray). I'm not at all convinced that's true. They may have earned a few more points, but seven points is an awful lot to put on the coach.

3. In some ways I think MacT is a red herring. Stay or go, I didn't much care either way because I do think his contribution is replaceable and as a business decision a scapegoat for the fans makes sense. But MacT being gone doesn't change the fact that this group of players, on talent, isn't good enough. I think Tambellini understands that but the proof will be in his actions over the next few months.

Anyway, excellent writing yet again BD. I always appreciate your work.

Black Dog said...

Thanks for all of the kind words everyone, appreciate it.

Hunter - great stuff, as for your opinion on MacT I guess it will be proven or not when he moves to his next team. Should be interesting.

Scott - Well, I'm not sold. I understand that players get moved about a lot and for example the Cole at LW experiment is one I could get on board with. I think that as a coach though you have to put together the best possible lineup to win and I don't think that was the case. Playing Cole with two offensively challenged fourth liners - not a great idea. Playing Pisani at C not only has him out of position but takes your best two way RW out of the mix. And on and on. And putting a guy like Smid on the LW I think does more harm then good - I think players likely would have looked at that and said WTF? Hurts his credibility.

I think it can be argued that they did not meet expectations. You look at player after player on this team and very few, especially up front, produced offensively what they are capable of. Nilsson and Penner for example. I know the argument of 'well a coach does not cost them this many points' is in vogue but if the coach does a better job then how many goals does Penner score, even though he is lazy. 25? Does Nilsson get twenty more points? Does Cole score another 6 or 7 goals if he plays with Gagner from game 11 onwards? Do Horcoff and Hemsky produce more with Penner on their wing?

I know the argument in vogue is that changing a coach doesn't make a difference and in a lot of cases its just % evening out or a softer schedule but I look at the Sens and how they changed their system to a more aggressive forecheck and how they took off or how Pittsburgh is doing.

I may be wrong and of course next season won't really tell the tale because there will be personnel changes so people will point to that if the team does well.

Good Muckin' Tonite said...

Hammer on the nail. Especially points 2 & 4. Couldn't have found a description I agree more with. Nice summary.

spOILer said...

Was kind of hoping Rollins Cross was a band and you were dating some punked-out Celtic waif... and instead it turns out to be sharing body heat and fluids in the dead of an Atlantic winter.

Anyhoo, I'm glad you used the relationship with the Rollins lassie as your metaphor -- rather than the one you were dating leading into her. If you know what I mean.

And I pray whomever Tambo hires next turns out to be our Charlottetown.

I hope the wife is back and all is as well as can be.

spOILer said...

And hunter, goddammit, I think that's the best post of yours I've ever read. Very nice.

Scott said...

I do think that there are some differences between coaches. The changes in Pit and Ott have made a real difference too. For me, it's more that before the season I thought that the team was capable of 87-93 points and potentially playoffs. That's pretty much where they finished (especially considering the goal differential). That results in me thinking they didn't underachieve. Sure, some things were mismanaged and they certainly didn't overachieve but I think MacTavish got expected results (or slightly below) out of this team. I'm sure another coach may have overachieved with this bunch, but I think it's far from a guarantee.

Black Dog said...

SpOiler - he is very well, thank you, the last week has been excellent, massive turnaround

And yes lets hope that the analogy continues apace, if so we;re lloking at three Cups in the next eleven years. ;)

And agreed on Hunter's comment, terrific stuff.

Black Dog said...

scott - but maybe our expectations were too low? Once again, consider the forwards corps, consider the special teams. I can't get on board with the idea that these were not below expectations, really.

I know the argument and I will grant you that for all we know another coach might not have gotten anything out of these guys; you never know, after all. Remember when Wayne cashman finally got his first gig as a head coach? Everyone thought he was going to be awesome. He was a disaster. You can never know, I will grant you that.

But if the forwards had performed up to snuff, if the special teams had been better (reasonable, no?) then this is a playoff club.

Scott said...

The special teams were below expectations for sure but I'm not so sure about some of the forwards at EV. Hemsky went into a slump at the wrong time, but he had a career high in goals and was a dominant guy at times. Horcoff had a passable year. The offense sure wasn't there for him but the defense was outstanding I thought. Gagner improved year over year and I'm not sure what else can be expected. The fourth line (Brodziak, Stortini, Filler) all played at an acceptable level I thought. Penner's stats were okay though he obviously drove the coach crazy. Not much in the way of outperformance but it's really only Cole, Nilsson and the vets that were well off expectations. The defense was mostly good. The goaltending outperformed my expectations certainly and I think if that came down a bit the special teams could come up to average with very little difference in points (say a top level PK and a below-average PP). And MacTavish should get some credit there. He's probably one of the only fellows that thought Roloson still had game left and whether through luck or skill, he was right.

I think whether or not the expectations were reasonable is the real crux though. I still think that they were but if you really think that, on skill, this team should have been free and clear, say a 94-101 point range or something similar then they definitely underperformed but I really don't see it.

Baroque said...

Now I know the discussion my Dad would have been having with my brothers. I know the talks he and my Mom had with me (when I was upset because the intelligent girls didn't get any boyfriends, since all the guys were interested in the cute girls who didn't care about getting good grades - Mom went through the same thing and sympathized. Dad said there was no way any daughter of his should ever act dumb just to get a dumb boyfriend, because there was nothing as useless as a dumb woman. At least a dumb man could usually be taught which end of the shovel to stick in the ground and perform manual labor, but most women aren't strong enough for that. I think if I tried to hide my smarts he'd kill me.) :)

Steve said...

"You might argue for Souray"? Look, I understand the people who are saying that he should be the defenseman who gets moved (and I probably even agree), but is anybody seriously arguing that he didn't have a good year? Because I'm not sure what that argument would look like.

As well, have you ever written any fiction? Have you ever considered it? I think you may have a hell of a relationship novel in you - think High Fidelity, but with hockey instead of music.

Black Dog said...

Good stuff Baroque.

Scott - Ve vill tolerate no dissent! None! Schultz! ;)

Yes on the goaltending but was Roli that much better then Garon last season? Don't know, just asking. Roli outperformed but I don't remember Garon being a problem last year, I thought he was quite good.

I guess my final argument is this - the Oilers ended up where we thought they would, sure, but I don't think you will find anyone who would say that they could not have done better. Maybe our projections were too low? And back to Hemsky and Horcoff - maybe just maybe those last twenty games are better for them if Penner is on the LW?

Steve - I liked Souray's year but he fell off after Lubo went down, just as Gilbert did, especially when Grebeshkov was down as well. I think they both just wore down. I would argue for the three guys who I said were borderline but I know a lot of people would not.

Thanks for the compliment btw. When I was younger I used to write a bit but I was too lazy to put the time in, too bad because I had plenty of time.

Now I haven't the time. Maybe some day.

Scott said...

I certainly agree the team could have been better and could have been coached better. I'm really not upset MacT is gone but I think it's important to recognize that the new coach will make mistakes too and that this team is not a coach away from a guaranteed playoff spot. They need more talent.

As for the goaltending, Garon was really good last year by the numbers but a lot of that was PK which tends not to work out well the next year. I was expecting the goaltending numbers to regress and they actually improved so that was unexpected. The biggest disappointment for me was the PK. I think that and the lack of a "checking" center are actually the biggest difference between MacT now and MacT's earlier years. He always had that checker to fall back to until this year and he didn't know how to deal without having one so he tried to invent one (Pisani) and when that didn't work he eventually just started playing a really passive style.

But strange choices are nothign new. He's made a lot of strange choices in the past. He was playing Hemsky PvP all regular season in 2006 and while the goaltending was terrible that probably wasn't helping us win games either (paying dividends now though). I remember him thorwing Pittis on the first line for a while in my childhood (like Reddox this year) and then there's putting Brewer on the PP for hours and hours with no results.

I agree with Steve by the way. When you have some more time (i.e. when your kids are grown) you could write some amazing fiction.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Scott.

What's funny is that I have read the opposite argument to yours (if I understand yours correctly) - the reason the PK was so good last year was because of Garon's save %.

Numbers make my head hurt.

I think Jonathan made a pretty relevant point and that is that macT, whether out of frustration or to prove a point, got away from what he does well this year and once he did that then it was inevitable that he would fail. Things like calling guys out in the media and such are generally not MacT's style.

As I have said many a time I think the club was flawed but in termsof strange choices he made a whack of them - like he was throwing stuff against the wall to see what would stick.

Anonymous said...

Very good point about the PP. And yes it is the job of a coach to motivate his players. MacT wasn't able to do that consistently. When someone doesn't do their job, the organization must let them go. I'm not sure I understand why there's any confusion about this among some people! ;)

Calling out Dustin Penner was also really counter-productive, to say the least.

- Chris