Saturday, October 03, 2009

Death Of An Optimist, By A Thousand Cuts

I left work today and I took a longcut, which I often do, through the Eatons' Centre. I can get to the subway in about a minute from my work but I like to unwind a little some days and so I walk up to Queen Street and then I cut through the mall up to Dundas station, through the crowds of teenagers and tourists.

Its the only time I spend in a mall.

This afternoon I was making my way and I ran into my friend S. I have known her for over twenty years now, her and her husband, ever since second year of university. She's brilliant.

When I saw her I had to do a double take. I have seen her in our house and theirs, at parties and bars and restaurants, in hockey arenas and on soccer fields, in parks and at the beach and in a thousand places. But never in a mall. Its just not a place that either of us frequent.

It was a strange moment and very striking, the incongruity of it all. Like seeing Dion Phaneuf with a book in his hand or the Edmonton Oilers in the playoffs.


Frequent commenter Darren, in a recent thread, pointed out that while I claim to be an optimist, which I am, dyed in the wool, I haven't said much good about the Oilers lately. I plead guilty as charged.

Strangely enough, for a guy who writes about the Edmonton Oilers as much as he can and who reads everything he can about them each and every day, I don't take the whole thing that seriously. Really. I'm a fan of the club and when I watch or listen to a game I am happy when they do well and if I miss a game I feel a little drop in my gut when I find out that they lose or I put on a grin when I hear that they have won. Its not the end all and be all. To me its entertainment but I do love it, sure I do.

So I will cheer the club on this winter and I hope that they do well. I have my favourites, just like everyone. I hope that Horcoff has a terrific year and scores like he did two years ago but stays healthy all season this time. I hope that Tom Gilbert has a tremendous year and that the kids make leaps ahead and that Souray and Visnovsky, such different players, stay healthy and are successful. I hope that Fernando Pisani comes back and has a nice year and that he either signs an extension or decides to hang them up come next summer.

I think the Oilers have a shot at the playoffs, of course they do, nearly everyone but Colorado and Phoenix do, but I think they are going to finish out of the money again. I'm not going to beat a dead horse; myself and others have been going on since last season about what this club needs and management has done nothing to address it. I certainly cannot put it any better than Brownlee does here. And we naysayers do not know what will happen, of course. Maybe youthful elan will carry the day and Jacques and Stone and Brule will be the real deal. Maybe the kids will all step it up and Khabibulin will remain healthy and maybe the Oilers won't get a single penalty this season. That would help.

The problem is that once again management has put together a club full of holes and while its fine to believe that hockey is a video game or what you see on the highlights on Sportscentre, you know, the ones that get Dion Phaneuf a nod as a Norris finalist, the truth is that for each of those highlights of the goals and big hits there are plenty of pictures of Kiprusoff fishing the puck out of his net and Phaneuf gliding out of the picture, head down, while the Flames' opponents celebrate. Because he's fucked up in his own end. You know, where the puck ends up sometimes.

The Oilers were in a position of strength on June 19th, 2006. They had just lost the Cup but they had a roster full of good NHL players, many of them entering the primes of their careers. And since then they have thrown nearly every man one of them overboard. That's a problem. The bigger problem is that they have not replaced them.

And the kids that they have replaced them with are one dimensional at this point in their careers. Chicago has a pile of kids and so does St. Louis and Columbus but some of their kids can check and some have size and each team has a vet here and there to do some heavy lifting as well.

Every summer there are those who say that this is the year that the Oilers quell the naysayers and the kids will score and the problem with this club is that there are too many veterans. (!) They scorn those who wonder who will win faceoffs and who will kill penalties and who will hold the lead. And sometimes I think, hell it can happen. Tom Gilbert made the leap from the AHL to holding his own playing tough minutes in the NHL. He did more than hold his own, in fact. So why can't it happen again? The Chicago Black Hawks didn't spring fully formed from junior but damn near close, no? But ....

I like Gagner and Cogliano and the rest but who are they going to outplay on a club like Chicago or Detroit or San Jose, clubs that run three lines deep. If they are out against Iginla they will get eaten alive. Do you think they stand a chance against Langkow? And the Flames can run a third line out that at the very least can stop them dead in their tracks.

I like the kids and I think its going to be a lot of fun this season. I also think the Oilers are going to lose a lot of 5-4 games.

In 2006 I believed in the Vaunt. Mostly I believed that Kevin Lowe would shore up the D, even before Tjarnqvist and Staios went down. The team had lost Spacek and Samsonov but they were late additions and Peca had done little in the regular season and sure they had lost Pronger but they had Roloson for the whole season and the additions of Sykora and Lupul. I picked them for the middle of the conference and figured if they added the right guys they could make another run. I did. You can look it up.

Instead they traded Smyth for a guy barely hanging on now, a guy buried in the minors and a pick and in the summer Sykora was gone and Smith and Hejda, a real gem, too. In came Penner and Souray and Pitkanen and Tarnstrom at least so four guys who could play out and four in but there were still holes. That summer I didn't pick them to make the playoffs.

And they didn't and by last year Stoll and Reasoner and Torres and Pitkanen and Tarnstrom and Glencross were gone and Cole and Visnovsky were in. Again more NHL players going out than coming in, just like 2006, but I figured they would be in the mix for a playoff spot (they were) and that they would make it. Because I can't help myself. I figured that Tambellini would bring in somebody up front to make a difference where the club needed it.

He did not. And they did not. Make. The. Playoffs. Again.

And this summer they moved their second best faceoff guy and a fellow who tore it up pretty well as a rookie on a pretty solid fourth line. And no replacement for him either.

Its fucking death by a thousand cuts here. I'm surprised that they didn't buy out Pisani and Moreau and bring in Schremp and Reddox.

So I've been fooled two years out of the last three, three of three really, waiting for management to address roster problems. And we're going through it again this season. Posters over at LTs snidely say that anyone can armchair GM and that if it was that easy to pick up guys to PK and win draws then the team would have done so. I say well it seems that other teams, the ones that, you know, make the playoffs, seem to be able to address needs. The Flames dumped a lot of shit salary and added Jay Bouwmeester so I think that maybe someone there isn't talking about the cap being a problem and is actually trying TO MAKE THEIR TEAM BETTER!

Say what you will about the Flames, be snarky about their one Cup, but they have made the playoffs five years in a row and every year their GM actually does something to try and get the team to the next level. Sometimes he is wrong but at least he gives his club a chance to win the Cup.

Because they make the fucking playoffs, you know. Its hard to win the Cup when you are golfing in April.

I ask why you can have faith in franchise that spends to the cap every season and has been out of the playoffs three years in a row. I liked it better when the club wouldn't spend a goddamn dime but would find guys everywhere who could play. Guys like Hejda and Glencross would have been signed in those days because management knew a bargain. Instead they are playing for two teams that the Oilers are trying to catch.

I'll be cheering for the Oilers this season and they will be in the mix, I am sure. Hell you look at Montreal and how things can go south in a hurry. One game and their season is probably done. The Oilers might sneak into the playoffs but I doubt it.

Remember that those teams from 1997 to 2006 made the playoffs seven out of nine seasons, winning at least one round three times, going to the Finals and just missing out in 2006. For four years before that run they missed the playoffs. They were awful.

A miss this year and this franchise will have matched that record of futility. While Patrick LaForge grins and makes an ass out of himself, as usual, talking about the need for a new arena and the club losing money, the hockey team, whose business it is to win hockey games, plays second fiddle.

Hard to believe that we'd be looking at those little clubs that almost could with wistful glances but those are the glory years compared to this sorry stretch.

Prove me wrong, you Oilers.


Deano said...

I like how Quinn is changing the dialog.

I don't hold out much hope for tonight with a few new bodies and lots of new responsibilities in our shiny new system against a team that has a game under their belts. We are bound to make too many mistakes that end up in our net.

Kipper has to be off and we need Khabby-the-good for a chance I think.

spOILer said...

The Holey Oilers...

Detroit's goaltending hole being exposed while I post. Does any one doubt that's something they will attend to before the playoffs?

Being in the South of the Alberta now, I notice how much anti-Oiler stuff there is on the radio, far more than anti-Flame snarks in Edmonton and it makes me wonder if the populace down here is a little insecure about their sports teams. That insecurity doesn't seem to have been absorbed by Flame management though, whereas in Edmonton the management team tosses perfectly good berries aside to hunt Big Game, hoping to bag the trophy that will prove stars will play there. Meanwhile we fans go hungry.

Torres and Stoll and Smyth were let go not because of the players they were, but because of the money they would have demanded for what they brought, especially after precedent setting contracts to Pisani, Moreau, Staios.

So why wouldn't they be replaced with cheaper versions? Isn't this pretty simple stuff? I've been a big defender of old Vish over the years, but I'm starting to think that the Oilers' true Black Hole is upstairs and that he and Tambo have to go.

Scott Reynolds said...

You know, Pat Laforge has been the face of the franchise since Smytty was sent out to pasture. That's the problem. Whereas it seemed in those earlier years that the business was there to support the hockey things are all backwards now. Maybe that's me being naive or massaging history a bit too much or maybe it's just the plight of being a "have" team and still sucking.

Freeze said...

I'm not sure what to think at this point. One day I am very optimistic about their chances, the next I'm writing off the season. The holes are glaring but if we can stay healthy there is some good talent there to make some hay.

I guess I'm checking in as being realistic optimist if there is such a thing.

I really, really wish Tambo would make a move already...

Hockey Noob said...

"You want playoff hockey? Okay... We want a new arena!" -PL

A case of quid pro quo, lol?

hunter1909 said...

LaForge is an ass, who eventually either gets fired or else maybe the city of Edmonton needs to be talking to Bettman about quietly snapping up one of those sunbelt disaster franchises.

Wouldn't it be grand, to simply tell the Oilers to get the hell out of town. The city can support a real NHL team, but these clowns need to be taken out to the woodshed. And thrashed within an inch of their fucking lives.

In this economy, the Oilers have no where to move to. NHL hockey has been saturated, by at least half a dozen cities too far. Therefore, fuck LaForge, fuck the Oilers, and fuck their lame assed threats.

As for the team, they're going for 6th in the west. Last night I hear they played well, and although hunter1909 won't actually be around to support them until late October due to his heavy travel schedule, lol, I'm sure that Mister Quinn can get the bhoys to hold the fort until I return to fan duty.

Bruce said...

Chicago has a pile of kids and so does St. Louis and Columbus but some of their kids can check and some have size

Yeah. I watched some of the Blues-Wings game again yesterday -- another convincing win for the Blues -- and spent much of my time salivating over a line of Jay McClement between Alex Steen and B.J. Crombeen. Not exactly kids, but young players 24-26 who are developing very nicely. All over 6 feet and over 200 pounds, guys who skate and play the body and can win a faceoff and kill a goddam penalty once in a while too. Closest thing we had to a young guy who fit that description was Brodziak and he's gone. Pouliot maybe, but he has run into yet another snag and continues to spin his wheels. The other young holdovers save Stortini are some combination of small/soft/poor defensively. The eternal optimist in me says maybe Stone and JFJ can fill some of these holes, but they can't take a faceoff and they don't appear to be able to kill a penalty either.

Darren said...

BD- It wasn't that I don't agree with you, because I do. It was just a casual obversation. I happen to completely agree with you. The Oil may be my team, and it sucks when they lose. But when I go home after our Stanley Cup winning goaltender gaffs the game-winning goal to the flames, (this guy is supposed to be a flame-killer?) I am disappointed, but on the LRT, I can still laugh at the banter between the flame/oiler fans.
I'll be sitting on the fence with this team until they actually make the playoffs. ha, right. If they ever do.

Black Dog said...

Darren - hey I didn't take it the wrong way at all, I just had to stop for a second and think and then I realized, hey, you know what, the one part of my life where hope is dead is with my hockey club.

Well maybe not dead but on life support. ;)

Fun game last night, I liked what I saw for the most part. They certainly played aggressively and that included a lot of the smaller guys, good to see.

Black Dog said...

Bruce - yeah the Oilers' kids are all cut from the same mold mostly, hopefully Jacques and Stone can gain some traction. JFJ struggled a bit last night but he wasn't terrible. Hopefully just the yips.

The Blues have a nice looking club. People forget they had some serious injuries last season.

Scott - that, my friend, is the Leafs' modus operandi - Christ MLSE sells condos amongst other things. We can see where that has gotten them.

mattwatt said...


This team seems it will be tough to play against. More then could be said last year.

Everyone else, join me in fantasy football. If management wants to be dolts, the least you could do is spend your time managing your own roster.

mattwatt said...

Also, is it "than" or "then" that should be used in the above post? Me thinks I have committed a grammer mistake. ;)

docweb said...

BD- Tough to be an optimist, especially with Tambo, as of this week, is still waiting to find help "from within". Until when?? When we are so hoplessly out of it that you might as well just go for the lottery?
I must admit it was a good game last night with at least some effort and hits. From where I sat JFJ looked a little lost but still useful. Hemsky just looked lost. Some strange goals though.

After reading your blog and LT's for 2 years I can see how it has changed my perception of the game even when watching live. One example last night was when Cogs was put out to take a draw in our end killing a penalty. I said to my wife..WTF he has the worst FO % of anyone...and sure enough the worst happened.

Makes me wonder why management doesn't hire some lackey just to read the blogosphere, do a little analysis of the general themes, and when appropriate go back and say "you know maybe they are onto something here".

Facts are facts no matter how they are obtained.

Ribs said...

The Score taking the blogosphere by storm? Looks like a nice setup.

TK10 said...

mattwatt: Yes you did and because BD makes the same error I'd like to offer a very simple explanation-pages could be written.
First comes 1, then comes 2, then 3. I went to the game and then I went home.
I like blue more than I like red.
"Then" relates to time or sequence. "Than" is more about comparing things.
The words are also pronounced differently.

Black Dog said...

TK10 - ah but I am getting better at the than/then thing

mattwatt - first results look good in terms of the club having a little more grit, we'll see if they can keep it up

docweb - well its hard to say what they are thinking really. I think sports management is conservative by nature and I think these guys definitely have healthy egos so I think that they figure that they know best. They should too, really.

So they make a decision and then politics and groupthink plays a part so you don't have others standing up and saying 'hey, what about a couple of big guys to play the PK'.

We all think that the holes are obvious. I guess maybe they figure they are not there or that they can solve them from within or ...?

Someone would have to ask management and that doesn't seem to be a strong suit in the Edmonton media, asking tough questions that is

hunter1909 said...

"Someone would have to ask management and that doesn't seem to be a strong suit in the Edmonton media, asking tough questions that is"

You get that when you're in a one horse town like Edmonton. Say the Oilers/Eskimos freeze you out. What are you going to write about? High school soccer?

Black Dog said...

Yeah I know Hunter, what did Vic used to describe it as?

Lawrence Nebraska or something like that.

Only game in town.

mattwatt said...

Lincoln, Nebraska. Husker football games turn into the 3rd biggest city in the state.

Black Dog said...

That's the one. I think I got it confused with Lawrence, Kansas.

Or Lawrence Fishbourne.

Something like that.

Deano said...

Fifteen years ago or so, the Wyoming Cowboys were in the NCAA's (as it was then) football top 10 for a while. On Saturdays during that stretch, Cheyenne was the largest city in the state.