Thursday, July 02, 2009

On The Road To Nowhere


As we made our way across Northern Ontario from Goulais along the north shore of Huron and then further east past Nipissing and down into the Ottawa Valley, skirting Algonquin Park, we could see hints of the past everywhere we turned. Along the highways from Montreal to Quebec City you have either forest or neatly arranged fields and in New Brunswick you have nothing but wilderness as you drive the TransCanada, rugged hills heavy with pine between the odd town.

As you wind through Northern Ontario though along highway 17 you can see history right out your window. Old farmhouses and barns grey with age, some collapsing in on themselves, some still standing. And often you can see old highways running parallel to the one you travel on, the asphalt cracked and wearied by decades of neglect once they were replaced by the new TransCanada, no longer a highway but just an old sideroad called "Old Highway ###" and in some cases completely abandoned and tumbling back into the brush, a true road to nowhere.

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Its been another odd week for the Oilers, just another in an endless list of odd weeks since June 19th, 2006. Apparently it wasn't just Kevin Lowe.

Like Lowe often did this regime seems to get the small things right, although calling the draft small is being silly, of course. Maybe a better description for what they do right would be the simple business like parts of things. I do think that this draft, like the last few, will likely pan out pretty well when all is said and done, barring any catastrophic injuries. The draft is always a crapshoot, a whole bunch of mumbo jumbo and even the most successful clubs like the Wings and Devils fall on their faces more often then not.

I know a whole lot of nothing about this stuff but other then the enforcer Abney who likely could have been had a lot later I don't really have any issues with any of the picks. I like the two Swedes a lot. Both Bigos and Hesketh have promise and Rajala and Roy may both be steals.

Of course they all may be busts but I think we'll see a few careers out of this bunch. I have no issues with the draft.

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Its everything else that gives me the heebie jeebies. If you had asked me what I had wanted to see before the summer began I would have come up with something like this as a wishlist:

1/ Replace MacT with a quality alternative. Done.

2/ Get the farm system in order. I believe that this in the process of being done.

3/ Try and move some of the poor contracts if possible - I would include Moreau, Staios and Penner in this group. Nothing yet although they obviously are trying to move Penner.

4/ Try and shed further salary in order to get this team in a more viable cap position going forward. They are a cap team with not even a playoff spot to show for it and they have very little flexibility going forward. Nothing yet. Instead they have added one contract and are trying to add another one that will limit their ability to move.

5/ Quality goaltending for half the price. I liked Roloson but two years was too much if that is what he wanted. JDD is not a guy to hang your hat on. I would have liked a bet on two low cost vets from the Garon school. Poorly done. Khabibulin was a disaster in Chicago until his job was in jeopardy and his contract was almost up. Giving him four years at his age is a recipe for disaster. He misses plenty of games which means JDD will likely be the difference between this club making the playoffs and not. Do you want to bet on that working out?

6/ Try to keep as many young valuable players as possible. Brodziak has been moved with Brule apparently tabbed to take his place. And apparently Cogliano and Smid are part of the Heatley deal. Not what I had in mind.

7/ Add some low cost veterans up front who can get the puck moving the right way. Nothing yet.

Hey there I know that a lot of folks have different ideas of what they want to see but right at this moment I would not say that this team is any better then last season's club. Brodziak could win draws and PK and he had some experience and now he is gone. I would rather have had Roloson for two years then Khabibulin for four years. That is just plain poor. And there have been no additions at all to last year's roster and there have been no deletions of guys who really underachieved.

Maybe it was all MacT's fault.

And the Heatley situation has become another embarassment. Why they would get on the plane to go and see this guy to try and convince him to come is beyond me. As soon as he said that he would sleep on it they should have withdrawn the offer right then and there. Damien Cox put it quite right - your man signs a longterm deal, asks out a year later and then puts a kibosh on the trade. Why would you want this guy on your club? He is about himself only, nobody else. What a headcase.

All is not lost although its getting there. While Chicago and Columbus and Philadelphia make some nice moves, big and small, the Oilers' song remains the same. Tyler Dellow's judgement is harsh but I certainly don't blame him. The Canucks sign their two stars for a nice rate in money and term after another nice year. Down the highway Sutter again makes a bold stroke and signs the most coveted free agent on the market. The Wild add a few professional hockey players, including Kyle Brodziak, who will make their team better. And the Avs shore up their goaltending issues for a fraction of the cost that the Oilers pay.

And Edmonton overpays for an aging netminder who underachieved nearly the entire length of his last contract and reup Strudwick. And they move a kid centre who at the very least can provide quality depth. And they open themselves up to ridicule on the whole Heatley mess.

Le sigh.

All is not lost but they need to figure things out. If they want to add a winger for Hemsky, again, then they better get to it because the Leafs and the Canucks have cap space and the Rangers are itching to spend that Gomez money and we may end up being the only ones still standing when the music stops, again.

Wandering in the woods on the crumbling grey, looking up at the blue sky, the buzz of a million wild creatures in our ears, wondering how we got here and why our pants are so big.

The glory years are fading away. I am as proud as anybody of those great clubs - they are arguably the greatest team ever assembled. But talking about the past and the victories then does little of me. Since 1990 the Flames have had more success then the Oilers and this decade they have been the better run organization. At some point talking about past triumphs strikes me as silly and pointless, sort of like if you walked in to a Vienna cafe and a bunch of dudes were lamenting their lost empire.

We may be nobodies now but remember the Habsburgs? Remember when we bestrode Europe like a colossus? Ah, for the days of Gretzky, er, Franz Joseph.
Three poor summers and its shaping up to be a fourth. The conductor has changed but the music remains the same.

15 comments:

Baroque said...

At first I wondered why the heck the map wasn't of Canada, but I knew you would tie it in somehow.

I also figured you couldn't possibly be that bad at geography with all the long road trip experience you have had. :)

Bruce said...

BDHS: Very well said. I share your pessimism, which today is bordering on depair. All the steps are in the wrong direction so far. The Heatley affair -- no, that's the wrong word, you have to get some for it to qualify as an affair -- the Heatley debacle is yet another black eye on the franchise, and the city. It's getting embarrassing.

Meanwhile, while we were busy playing hurry up and wait, Minnesota signed Havlat and Zanon on the UFA market for less than Heatley's obscene cap hit, with enough left over to offer Kyle Brodziak a nice raise on his ~NHL minimum salary. Whatever he signs for, Kyle is a better than even-money bet to outperform it, and how many Oilers are left that we can say that about?

Swabbubba said...

Well I take the road less traveled. I actually like the Bulin wall signing.. bit of an over pay... but he is the same style. Fills the net up top. Was sad to see Rollie leave but I was pretty sure a 1 and done was the way to go.
The Heatly thing... I was pretty pumped when I heard it. Well and then selfish prick screwed both clubs on Free agent day. I will put this out there do we want guy that drinks and drives and kills team mates, and is not man of his word representing Canada. For me it is simple no... this guy is an example of what is wrong with the pro's of today. I hope Team Canada finally shelves this prick. I was never a fan of his. It is all about Dany well u asked for trade and in salary cap world u were lucky the Oilers offered what they did. The fans in Ottawa have a right to be pissed... he out prongered Pronger man I did not know that was possible

TK10 said...

BDHS: I like your writing but I have one quibble. Would you please use the word "than" when you mean "than". You always use "then". It derogates from your otherwise fine style. This is meant in the kindest way possible.

TK10 said...

Swabbubba: I disagree that Dany boy screwed the Oilers. I think he is doing the team the same favor that Mrs. Nylander did.

General Factotum said...

Pat, I just have to tell you how much I admire your writing. This particular post put me in mind of the ending of Tennyson's "Ulysses":

"Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,--
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield."

Lord knows that Katz and Tambellini have shown no lack of will, but I have to agree that their wisdom hasn't yet matched their ambition. IMO there were better options than Khabibulin, the Heatley trade was ill-advised from the beginning, and after nearly a year the obvious holes created by the departures of Stoll, Reasoner, and Greene haven't been filled.

You're absolutely right: it's not too late (yet), but someone's got to change the tune.

hunter1909 said...

It's going to take an entire season of Doctor Quinn to cure whatever ails this sad, sick franchise. Maybe more than that.

Honestly, what hockey player in their right mind wants to come to Edmonton to play for fans who have been slapped around so much they're virtually insane? No player wants to be lambasted everywhere he goes in his home city.

And for a team management culture that's still the old boys club, until proven otherwise(see the start of this post for the cure)?

Oh yeah, and the team itself is textbook disfunctional, and perpetually spinning it's wheels.

Finally, I love Khabibulin. A real goalie. Watch the Hawks next year without him. They'll think they're the 2006 Oilers.

Marc said...

I think you're forgetting how crappy Calgary was in the '90s. All those years where we were battling Dallas and Colorado in the first round, they missed the playoffs altogether. It was seven or eight years in a row if I remember correctly.

In the last five years, Edmonton made it to within a game of winning the Cup and missed the playoffs four times. Calgary made it to within a game of winning the Cup and got knocked out in the first round four times, several as favourites.

Calgary by all accounts has drafted poorly and has very little in the system. Edmonton has drafted reasonably well, filling the team with home grown players and having one deeper pools of prospect to draw from.

Edmonton's cap management hasn't been great, but Calgary's was so bad last year that they dressed 17 players for some games. Their cap situation will continue to be a challenge for them this season.

There have been better run teams than the Oilers since 1990, but I'm not convinced that Calgary is one of them.

Black Dog said...

Baroque - we took the left turn at Alberquerque ;)

Bruce - add the Wild to the long list of clubs who just do things right, Flethcher looks like a smart hire

G.F. - thanks for the kind words.

Black Dog said...

hunter and swabb - we'll see about Khabibulin. If he plays like he did last year then the Oilers will be fine but the term is too long and they have no backup still.

TK10 - ;) no worries, its a known weakness and the problem is I'm too lazy to just sit down and figure it out, even my wife gives me shit about it

I'll fix it, I promise.

Marc - well in the early 90s the Flames were still pretty decent while the Oilers were awful once they shipped everyone out. Then the late 90s saw a reversal of fortune

But this decade each team has just fallen short of the Cup once. The difference is that the Oilers have been out of the money constantly while at least the Flames have been in the dance. Yes they never get anywhere but the WC is vicious. Your point is taken but I'd rather get to the playoffs and get a shot then be sitting on the outside every year. The Canucks haven't won anything either but their record over the last ten years also makes the Oilers look that much worse.

Of course the Nucks are a loser franchise so maybe that's a bad example altogether.

Swabbubba said...

hey this no back up deal. wtf JDD is the back up let the guy play hell he can't be worse than some of the tenders. the best teams develop there own goal tenders with an older dude driving the bus.... somehow we got off that. I want JDD to play every 5th game. The tenders need to play to develop and that is why MacT pissed me off last year.If he shows that he ain't the dude put Dubnyk in and move on... we may grind it along... everybody says build from goal out i think we have good mix... we need a center's because we were and still are gawd awful at the dot

Black Dog said...

swabb - I don't know buddy - I think Jonathan at C&B just said it best - JDD is an average tender in the AHL

I'm all about giving the kids a chance to play and they will never know if he can unless he does but I don't see the guy as a viable option.

I guess we'll see because they're going with him.

Bruce said...

Except they're not going with him. They just signed an outsider to a four-year deal at starters' money which tells us all we need to know about Oilers' true level of confidence in Deslauriers and Dubnyk. A one- or even two-year deal for Roli would have left the door open a crack.

Black Dog said...

Yeah Bruce but as a backup.

Just enough to cost them a playoff spot.

Bruce said...

BDHS: Agreed. It's definitely a good news/bad news scenario for JDD.