Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Skewed Perception and A Trip To The Communist Bar

Had a terrific weekend as we wind up August. Good friend over for dinner on Friday night, down to Gerrard Street for the Southeast Asian Festival on Saturday (butter fucking chicken man), barbeque with much wine at a friend's on Saturday night and then on Sunday night I met two handsome men at the Communist Bar in my neck of the woods.

Those men being CIO alumnus, cartoonist and noted sexual deviant Michael Winters and Oilogosphere kingpin, legal eagle and friend of Ron McLean, Tyler Dellow. For Mr. Winters, a man who likes his pints as much as I do, it was his first trip to this fine establishment.

One thing I enjoy about Toronto is that there are uncut gems everywhere. I have lived here for nearly twenty three years, on and off, and yet I am fully aware that there are neighbourhoods whose surfaces remain unscratched (untainted maybe a better word) by my presence. And so it is that my area of the city remains an unknown expanse to many, bordered by the Greektown to the immediate west, little India (butter fucking chicken man) to the southwest and the Beach to the southeast.

I've seen pictures from a century ago and the Danforth stretches east from where I live now into an empty distance, interrupted by a lone inn, a dirt road heading out to nowhere but when they connected the city of Toronto to this side of the valley with the Bloor Viaduct (read In The Skin of A Lion) then it soon became the main artery of a city in itself. Houses were built in our neighbourhood for the mainly Scotch and Irish immigrants who worked in the local brickworks and railyards. A flood of Italians after the second war changed the nature of the hood - for decades it was an Italian area and there are still hints of this in the social clubs and coffee shops, the barbers and other small businesses that cling to life still, frequented by little men with bald heads and grey mustaches and black clad widows with gigantic glasses, leaning on their canes.

But the neighbourhood is changing. The old Italians are dying off and their children have long since fled to Woodbridge and for a while the old shops were islands of civilization amongst a mass of appliance repair stores and pawn shops, seedy bars and massage parlours. When we moved into the neighbourhood it was a little rougher, soon after our arrival a gangbanger was gunned down on the dance floor of a local hangout about two minutes from our house.

But lured by the location and cheap prices the area is now bursting with young families. The crack dealers have fled the parks and street corners and the rub and tugs and dives are nearly all gone, replaced by cafes and bistros, a pet store and ice cream parlour, an organic bulk food joint and a dental spa. As I walked west to the Communist bar I passed a raft of Ethiopian joints, a Moroccan cafe, a Tunisian hole in the wall (amazing btw) and two new pubs. A sign advertised a Turkish restaurant coming soon. We're not in the hood anymore.

We three last got together late in the winter with the plan to meet again come playoff time. We all know how that worked out. So we had a few drinks and caught up and the amusing thing about our meeting is that while the Oilers are what brought us together originally, so to speak, when we made the first tentative connections outside of cyberspace (you're meeting some guy you only know from the Internet!?) this time conversation did not turn to them until a couple of hours into our meeting. We spoke briefly about the club then but quickly turned our attentions to topics far more engaging.

If I were a member of Oilers' management I would find this worrisome. When you have three guys who are big enough fans of the club to actually spend quite a bit of time writing about them and all three are, to varying degrees, disenchanted, then I think that you might have a problem. The answer to the problem, of course, is winning. Ty and Mike aren't too enamoured of the actual players on the club (the word douche came up frequently). Personally I have little issue with most of the players. When you're an Oilers' fan you're used to cheering for laundry. Everyone moves on although to be fair this isn't a situation exclusive to Edmonton. It would certainly be pleasant to see some guys finish their careers with Edmonton, maybe even a guy like Pisani play for nobody but the Oilers. I could get behind that but then again I can get behind anything, as you know.

The money has changed it of course. The 2006 club had a majority of guys who, while wealthy by our standards, had not yet gotten that big contract - Horcoff, Hemsky, Stoll, Torres, Pisani, Moreau, Staios, Bergeron, Greene - all were paid relatively little. Even Smyth and Smith were not making big money by NHL standards. And its easier to cheer for a club with that makeup because the players are still trying to shoot the moon and the results of this can be seen on the ice. When the big contracts came that summer then you could see some of that ambition disappear, I think, and of course when guys cash in after their first year in the league or by attaining their rookie bonuses, well then once again the carrot is not there, not for long anyhow.

Now I am rambling here but the answer to all of this, to getting the fans engaged again, is a simple one. Ice a winning team. Two weeks back I was reading season previews from TopSpurs, and there was little passion or excitement, instead there was mostly boredom with a club that had been nothing but mediocre for a long long time, even with their Carling Cup victory in 2008 (the least of four honours that an English club can win in a year but a win nonetheless). These fans were tired of management reaching into their pockets while not providing any results on the pitch.

Three games into the season, very early of course, Tottenham has been excellent and stand at top of the league. The same fans are cautiously optimistic now but the main thing is that in their words one can sense that they are enjoying the games. The club is playing well and most importantly they are winning. In seven days and three wins everything changed.

That's all the Oilers need to do but the problem is that management has insisted, over the past four summers, to fall short of doing what is necessary to put a winning team together. They are trying to rebuild on the fly, which is fine, but they, for various reasons (not wanting to spend the money, betting on the wrong horses, not filling obvious holes on the roster, incompetence), have failed and so for three seasons we have watched a miserable team play uninspired, boring, miserable hockey.

Forgive for thinking that this season will bring more of the same. Last year's club was short of NHL calibre forwards and they have dumped two more of them without replacing them. Not as bad as last summer when they got rid of Torres, Stoll, Glencross and Reasoner and only brought in Cole (and these guys all had their detractors, fine, my issue is that they were not replaced) but still they are short again. And then replacing Roloson with the best known goalie, giving him a ridiculous contract in the process, rather than a cost effective tandem for less then what they are paying Khabibulin and JDD.

We had better hope that Quinn and Renney are excellent or that MacT was really that bad, because this team, three years out of the playoffs, looks to be worse than last year's club.

The biggest problem though, is one that another erstwhile fan of the club, Andy Grabia, has pointed out a number of times. The best way to effect change is to vote with your wallet and your eyes and not follow the club. When Daryl Katz looks around Rexall and sees empty seats or when he gets less money for TV rights then there will be hell to pay.

And I know that Katz wants to win, hell he probably wants to win more than anyone does. They'd erect (heh) a statue of the guy if the Oilers win the Cup again anytime soon. And its only a year into his stewardship of the franchise. Another crappy year or two and Ales Hemsky walking away when his contract is up might make the light go on though. Certainly empty seats and less money in the coffers would hasten the reckoning.

The problem is that you have a whack of fans and all of the media licking their lips at Khabibulin's ring and thinking that Tambellini's hands are tied by the cap, never mind that acquiring Heatley would have put them at or above it by my math with two roster spots opened up by the outgoing bodies that would still need filling.

And yet here are your columnists saying that the fans complaining about another lost summer should give their heads a shake. The Oilers' hands are tied. Strange that.

Its a strange perspective to have. Reminds me of the other day. I was taking a whiz when the boy walked in. He marched on over, took a look and commented on how well endowed I am.

my god man, you have a gigantic cock

I think that's how he put it.

I keed.

But he was quite impressed ( I told him to go tell his mother his findings). Why? Because he is three! He doesn't know any better. Beside his own self a peanut looks enormous.

Just because Rachel is giving you the come hither right now doesn't mean that you're going to sleep with her.

Know what I'm saying? Critical thought man!


PDO said...

Well, looks like you don't have to worry about Ricky any more Pat - the Oilers have brought in Wayne Flemming.

And I'd say it's a coin flip that there could be a certain Czech player coming along with him...


Amazing thing - we could have had him last season, but Lowe was leery of giving him the 2nd year on the deal. Now we've missed out on a Jagr year that was surely better, and are giving him the 2nd year anyway...

Anonymous said...

Another crappy year or two and Ales Hemsky walking away when his contract is up might make the light go on though.

This light has already gone on for the Oilers. What do you think the Heatley trade (or Hossa) was all about?

Pension Plan Puppets said...

The biggest problem though, is one that another erstwhile fan of the club, Andy Grabia, has pointed out a number of times. The best way to effect change is to vote with your wallet and your eyes and not follow the club. When Daryl Katz looks around Rexall and sees empty seats or when he gets less money for TV rights then there will be hell to pay.

That might work with a team with a small fanbase but it certainly hasn't done much for the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Oilers' fanbase is likely too large for any kind of exodus to impact the team at least in the short-term.

Black Dog said...

oil dude - hey its great that they are willing to go after the Hossas and Heatleys, its great that they want to spend the money.

But you know what would have helped last summer or this summer or any of the past four summers? A plan B. A plan C. A plan D. Any Joe Blow can see the weaknesses on the Oilers in July. Why can't management? Hell even the year they went to the Final it was pretty apparent by Halloween that goaltending was an issue but Lowe waited until he last moment to fix it.


PDO - yeah we'll see. I like the idea of Jagr for a year but they'd have to move some salary to make it work

Black Dog said...

PPP - yeah but the Jays don't give a shit about the fans right now; they've gone from being a model org. to a disaster.

You're right about the Oilers though and of course I'm one to talk. I'll still follow them. Hell I was a Hawks fan for nearly 30 years, I can put up with a lot. ;)

Anonymous said...

BD: I totally agree with you about gaping roster holes and the need to fix those holes. But we are looking at this from the fans "build it correctly without taking shortcuts" POV.

What I'm trying to say is that Hemsky doesn't go to management and say "sign Blair Betts to fill the checking role and I will be happy", he says "Find me someone play with!" and it's possible that he has been saying that for 2 years now.

hunter1909 said...

I was happy as shit when I lived in a poor area, that had heart, more so than a rich, souless area full of yuppies and rich idiots who've never had to work for a living.

Spurs, lmao. Winning 3 games in a row in August might keep them out of the relegation batles that lie ahead for them more often than not, but they willl soon start dropping games, as always. But then I'm an Arsenal fan, a team that's so well managed they refuse to win in the usual buy players at all cost manner.

MacT was a terrible coach. Like the gay shop teacher he acted like, he played his little pet players(dopey kids who wear glasses being groomed for gayness) over common sense, alienating the rest of the team in the process.

Strange how no one seems to want MacT to coach their NHL team, and there already have been several openings.

Pat Quinn will motivate these shell shocked players, much like Patton did when he arrived in Tunisia and found a demoralised, beaten army. Patton turning them around quickly through the simple application of good leaderhip.

mattwatt said...

Hunter: Gunners have not exactly been gunning over the past few years Hunter. They were at one time, a few short years ago (early to mid 2000's come to mind), a model English organization but over the last few seem to be a step behind. That said, they are having as good as start this year as any, so only time will tell.

I can't say much, I cheer for a team trying really hard to buy a Championship (Manchester City) only because at a young age thought it would be cool to cheer for the same team that Oasis did.

Black Dog said...

oil dude - you're right but I think that while Ales might want someone to play with I think that if the team as a consistent winner he'd probably be just fine with Penner as his LW, that's my point

Its the same as the whole argument about why FAs don't want to come to Edmonton, Detroit is kind of a tough town these days but they haven't an issue with attracting players - win and players will want to play in Edmonton.

hunter1909 said...

mattwatt: Obviously you don't know much about Arsenal, the only team that's never once been out of the top flight of English football.

They're not called "The bank of England" for nothing.

Okay, the past 3-4 seasons haven't been perfect. Only finishing 4th in the Premier League. Only ending up in the semis of the Champions League.

On the other hand they don't owe anyone any money(see Man U and Liverpool with wtf I don't know how much debt each team is playing under), and have a spanking new 65,000 seat stadium to play in. In short, they're not setting the league on fire right now(well technically right now they are), but aren't going to be going to relegation and doom land ala Leeds United, and all of those other clubs who mortgaged their futures away, for 1-2 seasons of glory.

What happens when Abramovich gets tired of Chelsea? Or when Ferguson finally retires at Man U?

Anyway compared to Spurs(Arsenals biggest rivals) over the past 15 years, it's like the Red Wings v the Oilers for success v failure.

Black Dog said...

hey hey leave off the Spurs now, we take what we can get

I'm sure I've told you this before Hunter but you should check out Fever Pitch, great book, although this was back in the days when Arsenal were not so good and the Spurs played winning and beautiful soccer.

Much like the Oilers used to play hockey

hunter1909 said...

Spurs play a great style of footie. But to play all out attacking you need the best players, and Spurs rarely get the right combination.

They're a lot like the Oilers - great history, usually crappy present, a feeder club for the big boys.

Most ironic of all, they play near a little place in North London - called Edmonton.

spOILer said...

I need a plan B because Rachel might merely be teasing me with that oh so sultry stare?

I mean that look she's got there, that's meant for me only, that much is obvious...

So if she shoots me down, can't I just keep living the dream?


Steven Tambellini

Darren said...

hunter1909: Arsenal do actually owe someone money. The bank, for the stadium you mentioned, and for the Highbury developments. Although they do make about 3 million pounds per EPL match, the flats at Highbury have not been selling, and they have even had some people reneged on their deposits. So its not all as rosy as they would like us to think.

BD: Spurs are looking good this year, it sure helps that they didn't overturn their whole squad for the first time in what, 5 years? They may make it to the Europa Cup this time!

Black Dog said...

Mind your manners, Steve, she's with me.

Darren - a nice start for sure, even when they were decent under Jol they could never beat the big boys and their away record was only so-so.

And yes, I think the lack of turnover has a lot to do with it. Funny too how Defoe and Keane, both sold when the Spaniard was in charge have returned and are doing well. And I have read some nice things about Keane as skipper. Some don't like it but I do.

And Redknapp seems to know how to get the best out of them. He's a wanderer but shortterm at least he's getting some nice results.

I'll take what I can get. I'm hoping a return to Europe and a run in the FA Cup or the Carling Cup. No Europe this year so they can concentrate on that and at least Man U and Liverpool look a little vulnerable.

And hoping Arsenal and Chelsea save their best efforts for Europe and the Premiership

Darren said...

They never should've gotten rid of Jol. He has done well since leaving, while spurs have gone downhill. Redknapp is alright, but you just wait until he turns your club's fortunes around and then runs for more money as he has done twice to Portsmouth (man do I feel for them right now!)Spurs have some potential, but alot of things have to go right, like Everton and Aston Villa going south, ManCity's money spent not working, and a continual slide of one of the big four. Which I should add, I don't think anyone breaks into the top four this year, a couple clubs may seem vunerable, but it has only been 3 matches.

Black Dog said...

Darren - yeah I liked Jol as well. They had consistently good results under him - always in Europe at least.

Poor ownership there.

We'll see how it goes, God knows its early but they've always been plagued with slow starts. Nice to bank some points before Labour Day.

spOILer said...


I don't think that's irony, that sounds more like coincidence.

BDHS (& y'all)>

Tottenham sucks.

Just sayin'.

A small market team trying to make their way through the big bad world of football cartelship? My side, the Wanderers, off to an absolutely brilliant start, yet again.

hunter1909 said...

Bolton Wanderers?

I always marvel at how anyone can support a team that's not Liverpool, Manchester United, Aston Villa, or a London team.

heh heh

Darren: Please, for the love of Marilyn Monroe, don't interfere with my regard for Arsenal with mere facts.

I've gotten more cynical recently about football anyway. Talk about inflated salaries, ripoff prices, and taking advantage of fan fanaticism. There's something Roman Empire circa 300AD about the way sports in general have gone ballistic over the past generation.

Give me a hot girl anytime.

LittleFury said...

But then I'm an Arsenal fan, a team that's so well managed they refuse to win anything at all.

Fixed that up for you Hunter.

Darren said...

Hunter: I am a huge Arsenal fan myself, just been alittle concerned about the money factor as of late with the Fat russian, manure loving oligarchy wanting in. I don't think the finances are as great as Arsenal would have everyone beleive.

LittleFury: It's called growing pains of youth. Just watch the Arsenal win this year, Wenger's reputation and philosphy depends on it.

Black Dog said...

I always find it interesting that whenever I reference soccer I get a whack more comments than normal. Have no idea what that means, if anything.

Plus I'm loaded.

hunter1909 said...

Little Fury; So, the Premier league and FA Cup are nothing?

Bruce said...

Saw the end of Spurs unlikely win yesterday. They were level at 1-1 and had been going absolutely nowhere for a good quarter of an hour when a Birmingham City defender fell down and Spurs pounced very late in time added on. You know you're on a roll when ...

Black Dog said...

Bruce - yeah that's usually what happens to Spurs, not for.

Some luck but then again they dominated the first half and ended up with nothing to show for it so ....