Hit the ice for my sixth season with Capsule tomorrow. Looking forward to it, summer season ended in early August, mercifully I might add, and since then I've been doing little but sitting around, er, getting into 'shape'.
It will likely be the same story this season as the past three. We're a competitive squad who win and lose a lot of 2-1 games. We're the oldest team in the league and we have to get by on smarts and effort. As long as we bust our asses, which is most of the time, we hang in there and win our share. A few times a year we either don't show up or have the hockey gods sneer at us and then we get waxed. Last season was typical. Maybe two or three bad games during the season. Seventh out of eight clubs but just a few points out of the top half of the league. Two game playoff against the defending champs and second seed. Game one we played them perfectly, down 1-0 halfway through the game and coming on and then a mistake and it was down two and then the doors fell off as we tried to get back into it and we got pounded. In the second game, a must win, we threw it all at them and were up one with seven minutes left when an unlucky bounce ended up in our net. The rest of the game we poured into their end in waves but chance after chance went for naught and so we ended the year with a tie and the series lost. They went on to repeat and nobody came as close as we did to getting a piece of them.
This is standard. Two seasons ago we won our first series and then upset a top seed in the opening game of our series. They beat us in game two and then we lost in overtime to go out. The year before out in the first round with the usual valiant effort that fell short.
You get the picture. We're generally unlucky but the truth is that we are just a touch weaker than the other clubs and the end result is talent winning out. It looks like bad luck but its really just justice.
It was the 2005/2006 season that was the pinnacle for our merry band of balding greying shinny artistes. The season started off on an inauspicious note as one of the guys had a heart attack in the dressing room after a game. (He survived, if it had been a month later he likely would have died. Got the balloon, stopped smoking and began to eat better and he was on the ice by the new year). From there though we didn't look back. We had an unbeaten streak that hit double digits. Our strength was a five man defence that was big and tough and could move the puck. One of the guy's attendance was spotty but the other four were golden and so every game we could run two pairs out there who were reliable. Throw in three lines of guys that included a hard checking LW who lived across the street from me and a slick playmaking little guy who could play any position up front. We rolled through the season, a stingy defence allowing us to get by with our usual two or three goals a game.
And then in February one of our D left town, moving down to the States for a new job. He was the least flashy of our five guys, the type of guy who fans would sneer at if we were in the pros, a choppy skater who added nothing on offence, a chip it out, chip it in guy but a guy who came to play every night, who won the battles along the boards and cleared the front of the net.
When he left we suddenly had four D instead of five and when a guy was missing then it meant three D or someone dropping back to make it four. We still ended up second in the league (and winning the Exclaim Cup as well) but it was to spell our doom in the playoffs. We knocked off our arch rival in round one, a nasty brutal series in which yours truly scored the game winner in one game and broke his stick over someone's arm (thankfully unnoticed) in another. We went into the semis and won the first game of our best of three series. And then we fell two straight. Just short in each game. The club that beat us went on to win it all.
That was the high point (well, winning the Exclaim was, sadly for me I wasn't part of that squad) for Capsule. The next season we were down two more defencemen, a loss we've never been able to address. The following season the fourth of those original five left along with the slick playmaker I alluded to. We picked up a burly rugged guy to play on the back end at that time but in men's league you really can't pick and choose to fill your roster. The result is that we have two natural defencemen, a few forwards forced to play out of position (quality players too so our offence has also taken a hit) and so we usually hit the ice already facing an obstacle besides the fact that our opponents are on average more than a decade younger than us.
We've added a terrific player this fall but he's a forward once again.
We're seriously out of whack.
The Oilers are getting closer to season's beginning and while a decent preseason for JF Jacques has raised eyebrows, the fact is that this team is going to go into battle exactly as was expected by many. They're missing pieces. They're too small and they're a little too fancy and they still don't have the guys to win battles along the boards and in the proverbial trenches. Its one of the reasons that Jacques has gotten a big push and Stone too. Its why a guy like Reddox who is gritty and aggressive still has a shot and why another guy, Gilbert Brule, is also getting a long look, because while he may be small, he's not afraid to get his nose dirty, as ineffective as he may sometimes be due to his size.
And while it was only preseason it was a perfect end to the Tampa game when a lost faceoff led to the tying goal with little time left and then another lost faceoff led to the overtime winner for St. Louis.
This club has needed a centre who could win draws for over a year now and they've needed some size and guys who can move the puck in the right direction for longer. Guys like Pisani and Torres and Glencross and Brodziak and Reasoner aren't sexy and one could argue pretty easily why the last four were moved at the time (yes including Glencross whose loss wasn't as loudly lamented at the time as some are saying now) but the issue with Oilers' management remains the same as always. They move these guys out and then they don't replace them and of course there's the rub. Chris Pronger and Jaro Spacek and Mike Peca weren't staying and then Lowe decided against Ryan Smyth and he let Jan Hejda walk inexplicably and again you can argue each and you can't do much about the guys who leave on their own but if you have a defenceman who can play the tough minutes who wants to play in Edmonton and will do so cheaply then you had better replace him with the same. If you don't then you're out to lunch.
Its the same old story. This summer they drop a guy, a fourth liner sure, but a kid who could win draws and score in double digits and two seasons ago he and Glencross and Stortini were money. Now two of them are gone and Glencross is a top nine guy in Calgary and I'd lay pretty good money on Brodziak succeeding too.
And they still haven't replaced the exodus of forwards from last summer. Some were flawed and a couple maybe made too much money but bring in the LW who can stir it up and check consistently for half of what Torres made if you want to drop him. Don't just drop him and Smyth and Dvorak and Peca and Glencross and Brodziak and Reasoner and Thoresen and Stoll and Cole and then wonder why the hell the puck is always in your end no matter who you throw out there.
So we're entering what may very well be the fourth straight year in the wilderness which would tie the disastrous post dynasty clubs for futility. The difference is that these are cap teams, built to succeed and when Pat Laforge shoots off his mouth about the club losing money, a completely ridiculous statement (but I expect nothing less from that jackass) I wonder when someone will stand up and ask why Katz stands for spending all of this money while the club continues to miss the playoffs. Such failure in the real world would result in wholesale changes at the top. If the one way to make money is to make the playoffs then why is the architect of the past failures still in the mix. And he is in the mix, don't believe otherwise.And here is Pat Quinn. Make no bones about it Quinn is an astute politician, he survived all of those years at M-I-C-K-E-Y M-L-S-E after all, and he is laying groundwork already with his comments about the organization being poor in the past and about the team he has been given lacking size and toughness and guys who can play both ways and win draws.
If this club falls short, again, and Katz asks his people for assessments of the situation what do you think Pat Quinn will say? He's already on the record saying that he has been dealt a losing hand in some ways. And if push comes to shove and Katz looks at a once proud franchise equalling its darkest days under his watch, all the while spending millions of his own money, who do you think he will hand the keys of the franchise to? The understudy from Vancouver who has had two seasons out of the playoffs or the experienced veteran hand with a long record of success?
All it is going to take is Khabibulin or Horcoff going down, hell it might not even take that, for this season to go south.
This club missed the playoffs again last year and all Tambellini did was bring in a guy who replicates half the players on the roster in Mike Comrie and a wildly overpaid injury prone goaltender (sorry goaltending was not the issue last year). Plus Cogliano, Gagner and Grebeshkov coming up for contracts on a club against the cap with that cap possibly falling.
What result do you see coming out of it?
Its not men's league. You can actually go out and fill needs if you have them. Everyone else seems to have figured it out.
I hope I'm wrong. Pessimism does not come naturally to me and I certainly don't get any satisfaction from my team being shitty. But forgive me if I'm not holding my breath for a revival here.