Monday, August 31, 2009

What Are You, Three?


The boy turns four in six weeks, his older sister will be six in half that time.

She is starting grade one next week, he is starting school.

They're pretty excited, he more so.

I can't wait to turn four, he says.

Now my eldest is steadfast in her belief that the entire world revolves around her. Everything and I do mean everything relates to her upcoming birthday. Sunny outside? I hope its sunny on my birthday. Pork chops for supper? On my birthday I don't want pork chops. And so it goes.

The boy is taking the opposite tact, announcing yesterday that on his birthday he wants a Closed sign put up outside of our house and that he does not want a party. He does not want anyone coming by our place, no sir no how. He wants to spend his birthday hanging out with his parents, his siblings and his dog.

He marches to his own drummer that one. We're a little nervous about the whole school thing, to be honest. Our daughter is pretty wild but she also has a healthy respect for authority. Her teacher (and all adults who do not live in our house) always praised her for listening so well and never causing any trouble. When this happened we figured we were part of some gigantic prank show on TV or that somehow she has swapped places with another, more docile child, sort of like in those Freaky Friday type movies or Big. Or Jennifer Garner in that 13 30 movie.

Jennifer Garner. Mmmmm.

Her kid looks like a goblin, you know.

The boy is going to have the same teacher as his older sister did. We love this guy. He's strict but he's also totally creative. If I had had a teacher like him in kindergarten I'd probably have three Pullitzer Prizes by now or I'd be in the London Philharmonic or I'd be an astronaut or starring in pornos or something big, really big. Seriously. This guy is awesome.

He also does not put up with a single bit of shit and here's the thing. The boy is stubborn. He's a mule. He's pigheaded. Only 1% of the time is he like this. The rest of the time he's Joe Cool. But when he gets it in his head that he's going to shove it up your ass then the trouble starts.

Sit down and finish your supper or I'll be deleting a Mickey Mouse Club from the PVR, I say.

I don't care. Delete them all.

Get to sleep or I'll take your pirate hat away.

Here, take all of my pirate stuff

Stop hitting your sister or I'm going to take all of your cars into the back yard, douse them with gasoline and light them on fire.

Hold on while I get my matches for you.


I'm strict but fair as a father. I pick my battles and I let them be a little wild. They have to be kids. But I have a line and its pretty clear and when they cross it they get warned and then the hammer comes down. I used to get a little bananas but I've learned how to hold my temper much better. The key is to keep them off balance. One time my daughter was giving me grief and there was no getting through to her. She'd been to a birthday party the day before so I grabbed the balloon she had brought home and was dragging with her everywhere around the house. I got myself a pin and she was up the stairs getting ready for bed so fast you wouldn't believe it.

So the boy is stubborn and he's rough and tumble and that's just fine but sometimes I have to take the wind out of him a little. His sister was pissing him off a little yesterday and so he waded in there like Billy Conn, just whaling on her, mostly shots to the body and he wouldn't stop so I pulled him off of her and that was it, no trip to the park for him.

But I'm happy that he has a tougher side. My wife has told me about times last year when they were picking up my daughter and some kid was picking on him and how she handled it and in my head I'm thinking that if we really want this to stop the boy's got to lay this fucker out. That will stop it.

So I might be a problem.

Daddy, that kid pushed me.

Well son, I can't do a thing about it. But here's what you can do. Go over there. Kick him in the nuts as hard as you can. Or you can punch him in the face until he starts to cry. Either way he's not going to bother you again I can guarantee you that.


Now the boy is absolutely brilliant but the thing is he's three (almost four) and when they say that a three year old and a dog have about the same level of smarts, well let me tell you they're not too far off. Try and explain to the boy why throwing his sister down the stairs is not a good idea (dangerous, risk of injury etc etc) and he's going to reply with an explanation of how he's invisible becasue he's a spy and he's wearing his spy robe. Of course he's talking to his feet or the lamp at this point, hard to say.

Of course he can count to one hundred. The dog can't do that. But when I tell the dog to stop eating garbage he stops. Plus he's ingratiated himself with the baby so that she has taken it into her hands to make sure that he's well fed, every second thing on her tray gets tossed overboard while he lurks just outside of the room, ready to come in and clean up. Plus he can lick his balls. Well he could if he had any. So he's no dummy.

Of course he's not getting any smarter whereas the boy is going to have the world by the tail before too long.

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The number of words written about Rob Schremp is almost completely inverse to the actual impact he has had on the Edmonton Oilers as a professional hockey player.

I wish Schremp were a superstar, I do, hell I wish Cameron Abney will be the second coming of Gordie Howe. As an Oilers' fan its in my best interest for every Oiler draft pick to end up in the Hall of Fame.

But it remains that he has had one good year out of three in the AHL, the AHL remember, and that he cannot skate very well and is completely useless without the puck, still. He does not hit or fight. He does not backcheck or forecheck. A number of people have noted that he does not compete hard enough.

There are still Schremp apologists out there who think that it is MacT's fault or the Oilers' fault that this guy is not centring Hemsky and Penner and of course my question in if this guy is that good then why has nobody traded for him? The Oilers don't realize it, sure, but where are the other twenty nine teams clamouring for his services?

So the latest article on Schremp came out and caused a bit of a firestorm. Now for me I don't mind the cursing and I don't mind the outspoken persona. Thing is if you're going to be a loudmouth and talk about 'Rob Schremp' hockey like its some sort of brand, you know, that we should be excited about, then you had better be able to bring it like Jeremy Roenick or Brett Hull. I mean I know a lot of guys who play Rob Schremp hockey in my beer league, those fat loudmouths who wave their stick in the air at the redline waiting for the breakaway pass. So its definitely a popular brand of hockey.

Because when you admit on the record that with a spot in the NHL on the line and a whole lot of guys between you and that spot that you failed to spend the summer doing everything preparing yourself for that challenge, that in fact you came into camp out of shape, well that's all kinds of stupid right there, there's no other word for it.

Now when you're young you're young. You don't get where you are in a straight line. I certainly didn't. If I knew then and all that shit. I wouldn't take a minute of it back either, growing up is part of growing up and it isn't easy for anyone involved. The boy is going to give me enough headaches in the years to come and I'm sure when he drops out of med school to play drums in a band or when I find him banging some little piece of tail in my bed or smoking my dope or drinking my wine I'm going to have to beat the shit out of him

But at least the boy is three. He's got a whole lot of growing up to do, years of it. Rob Schremp is twenty years older and he's trying to start a career, probably the only one he will ever have. What's his excuse again?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

They's Fidgets!

Remember the Little Rascals? When we were kids (1970s you wiseacres) once we got cable in Sudbury we would get the old Our Gangs cartoons on Global. Some pretty funny shit that became even funnier as we got older and began to pick up on a lot of the other stuff going on, like Buckwheat constantly looking over at the director (or maybe his Momma?) to get his cue.

One of my buddies could quote the scene where bullies smushed tomatoes into Buckwheat and Porky's faces and Buckwheat (Mr. Wheat! Mr. Wheat!) told Spanky and the rest of the gang what happened.

Buckwheat - He took a tomato, see, and then he smushed it our faces, see, he smushed it all over, see, that's what he did. Ain't that right Porky?

Porky - Mmm, hmm.

As for me the one I remember best of all is the episode where a couple of crook midgets (sorry, little people, remember this was way before political correctness reared its sweet smiling face) dressed as babies in order to pull a job.

They's fidgets!

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Rumour has it that Mike Comrie is coming back to join the circus which tells us that the little guy's career is hanging by a thread. Yes he scored thirty goals twice before but I think that that first one must be a mistake. After all he was playing for MacTavish who as we all know can't coach young creative players.

Wait a second!

Anyhow he's fallen on tough times but he's had some injury problems so this may be the reason. He played pretty well for the Senators in their Cup run despite having a shoulder injury and he actually took on some reasonable competition for Ottawa although his linemates were Fisher and Schaeffer. Still he was a viable NHL player even in 2007/08 when he scored twenty one goals.

Its a terrific contract and its the type of bet that the Oilers need to make more often. They're only a few years behind the curve on this one (although to be fair they did hand similar contracts out to Sykora and Tjarnqvist in 2006). Shortterm contracts are the way to go, if you can, and going after guys who have a lot of motivation to do well is a pretty smart thing to do as well. Guys like Comrie, Grier, Dominic Moore, Blair Betts and so on are on the road to Ansoncarterville, which is just a stop before Jefffriesentown. They're fighting for their careers at this point.

Of course the one problem with the whole Comrie deal is the fact that they already have four guys who are similar players - Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson and O'Sullivan. Comrie is more established obviously and if he has a good year he will likely help the PP and do some damage against the soft opposition but he is not big, he doesn't PK, he doesn't win faceoffs.

So if this is true what does it mean? Well it means one or two of the aforementioned kids is on his way out of town most likely. Or it means that Tambellini is going with the hand that he was dealt, meaning a lineup like this:

Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky
Cogliano-Gagner-Nilsson
O'Sullivan-Comrie-Pisani
Moreau-Pouliot-Stortini

Hell you might even see Potulny on that Comrie line and Pisani with Pouliot and Moreau. This club wouldn't have a fourth line in the traditional sense of the word. It would get pushed around and it would bleed goals against (only the Horcoff and Pouliot lines would be able to do anyhting against tough opposition and even that would be iffy) but maybe this is what we're looking at. Even without Comrie in the mix this club still has O'Sullivan or Nilsson or Cogliano not playing in the top six.

Khabibulin is going to need a groin transplant by Halloween.

Great contract. Wrong player. Unless Tambellini still has something up his sleeves.

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!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

An Oh Shit Moment


A few weeks ago, on the eve of our trip up north, I managed to get out for an evening with two old friends. We've known each other for over twenty years now, since early on in our university days. Lots of good times. Lots of beer and cigarettes. Some recreational drug use. Road trips. Chasing women (well two of us anyways). You know, the usual shit that young guys get into.

We all live in the city now. Two of us have kids. We all have pretty good jobs. We've done well. We've been lucky. Two of us play hockey together and so we see each other weekly. The three of us try and get together every few months. Our nights out are always trips out to a pub and over many pints we shoot the shit until we wobble boozily off into the night. Pretty sedate really but always they are fine times, really fine.

So on this evening we met up in the Annex at our buddy's new place. We sat on the porch and had a couple of beers while his kids wandered in and out of the front door. His wife, whom we have also known forever, sat with us. It was good conversation. It always is. We talked about our travels this summer, future plans, the kids, gossip about mutual friends.

And through the conversation a dark thread dodged here and there. My father in law's issues (he's doing very well these days btw), operations and travails of aging for our own parents, a good friend of mine's divorce, friends of another separated, a work colleague battling cancer, an old friend doing the same, the passing of a friend's mother. A lot of bad news in the past year. A lot of tough times. And finally I turned and remarked to Sharon that maybe, just maybe, this was the new normal for us, that at our age this was something we might need to get used to. And we laughed a little at that, fully knowing that maybe there was some truth to what I had said, though we were hoping that it was just a run of bad news.

We wandered down the tree lined streets to Bloor and ducked into the Victory Cafe where we sat at the bar and drank some IPAAAAA and a stout or two. Stories about crazy travels and school days and jerking off and hockey and then we hopped in a cab and headed over to Ossington to check out a new joint that two old friends just recently opened up. We hadn't seen them in years and as we piled out of the taxi into the rain soaked street, warm night, laughing people we immediately saw him outside of his bar, hugs and claps on the back and smiles for long lost friends and then into the dark beauty of the bar, art and music and lovely young women and generous drinks on the house and so pints of Guinness and then outside for cigarettes (reformed smokers all of us but one and he the one, the social smoker, who brought sweet sweet tobacco) and then back in and here she is and now shots of whiskey and more pints and then Irish Car Bombs and outside into the warm damp and back in again and more hugs and the roaring of laughter and then with midnight long past and work staring the two of them in the face and a long drive for me this new day we finally staggered out into the night and went our separate ways. And this wonderful night, glorious, we knew it would be one to remember as we smoked our cigarettes on the sidewalk, warm with the booze and holding onto each other tight, because this is what its all about, with all that we are facing, the tough times here and now and those to come, and who knows when they will come for you, when those cells deep inside of you turn on you or that guy in incoming traffic has had himself a dozen beers already today and so you had better hold on tight and go man go while you can. Yes you had better.

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So damn serious, huh? No not really. Its the plain truth of course, you never know when your time is up so you had better make something of your days. Nothing too fancy deep about that. And of course this is a hockey blog after all, in the end and its about a diversion and fun and those damn Oilers.

We've been waiting for four summers now for the shit and while there have been some good days there have been a lot of bad days and most of all there have been days where we've just wondered if anything was ever going to happen to address the holes in the roster. This summer has seen an expensive old goalie come to town and Kotalik and Brodziak leave and other than the pursuit of Heatley pretty well a whole lot of nothing.

With Kotalik and Brodziak leaving the forward corps is smaller and amazingly even less experienced than before. I look at this group and it just doesn't work.

Penner-Horcoff-Hemsky
Cogliano-Gagner-Nilsson
Moreau-O'Sullivan-Pisani
Jacques-Pouliot-Stortini
Brule/McIntyre

Is that it? I like the back end. I really do. Its not a bad blueline at all. I don't know if we are going to see the good or the bad Khabibulin and even if we see the good one I have no faith in his backup.

But that forward group leaves me cold. Your fourth line, if that's what it is, is a far cry from that group two seasons ago. O'Sullivan has come out and said that he is not interested in playing centre but whether or not it is him or Pouliot or Cogliano centring Moreau and Pisani that is not a line that's going ot be able to handle much in the way of tough opposition, imo. Horcoff, Hemsky and their LW will be just fine but does anyone believe the kids, whatever kids they are, will feast on the soft stuff?

Yikes.

But its becoming pretty clear that our expectations that something is going to happen are not going to be met.

Lowe has painted this club into a nice corner with his past moves as there is very little room to add any salary. Tambellini hasn't helped his own cause by adding O'Sullivan and Khabibulin. I like O'Sullivan but he is redundant on this roster unless they move someone else out. As for Khabibulin, well they could have had someone and a better backup for less, I believe.

Now all is not lost. I think that they have to move one of O'Sullivan or Nilsson. There isn't the room on the roster for both and I am thinking they can dump one of them to a club that is looking for offence.

And then they'll have a little more room to play with and they can bring in a true tough minutes centre and hopefully a winger too. At this point the guys who are left on the market are starting to sign and they're not getting a lot. Read the article on Comrie today and I think a lot of these guys are thinking about Jeff Friesen and Tony Amonte and Anson Carter and a whole lot of guys who have been in the NHL one year and in Germany or retired the next, just quietly fading away. So yeah they can get Dominic Moore or Malholtra or Betts or whomever they would like and once you get rid of the guy that they are replacing then there won't be a huge jump against the cap.

But having said all that while Matheson and Barnes et al say that a defenceman will be moved or help will be on its way when I read quotes from Tambellini and Quinn about staying the course and essentially going with the same roster this season as last all I can think is oh shit here we go again.

Time for a pint and a smoke. Or a dozen of each please.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gotta Laugh To Prevent Yourself From Crying



This is my old man in a nutshell.

We were away from home for almost five weeks this summer. Up north and then PEI and then home for four days and then up north again. And while today is a hot bastard and news is that this type of weather is going to stretch deep into September July, usually the most glorious of months, was the shits. Here. Out east. Up north.

Last July was cooler than what we are used to but it was awesome. 70 degrees each day and rain at night is alright with me. Less than 70 degrees and rain every day. Not so much.

So when we drove east it was pretty well through the rain. And once we were on the Island it was pretty well all rain, all the time. We had three sunny days when we were out at Wood Islands and three more the rest of the time we were out there. So six sunny days out of nearly three full weeks. And frost warnings a couple of nights. Bah.

And then we headed up north and it rained. It rained when we were at the landing loading the boat, it rained all the way across the lake. It rained when we unloaded the boat. It rained when we were swimming. It rained when we were fishing. It rained at night and during the day. It rained when we had our big feast with our neighbours (we raised a tarp over the deck - it worked just fine thank you very much). It rained and rained and rained some more.

We had a couple of more days left in our stay when my Dad came in and announced the weather. My Dad loves the weather. He listens to the radio and watches TV to get the news on the weather. When we go to visit or when they come to visit the Weather Network is on all of the time. He can talk about fronts and air currents and lake effect and weather patterns from Prince George to Cape Spear. He missed his calling. I knew he was heavy into the weather when he began talking about Alberta Clippers and Kentucky Lows in his everyday conversation, names that sounded like old time minor league hockey clubs, dropped here and there in the discussion on what the weather would bring later today, tomorrow and on the weekend. So my old man comes upstairs and smiles.

Good news folks - its going to be sunny at noon tomorrow.

Huzzahs from all. Until my wife pulled me aside later.

They never said that!

What?

What your Dad said. I was right there. They didn't say it was going to be sunny at noon. They said 'May clear in the afternoon'.

I know! Its awesome. Finally some sunshine. Should be awesome once we get to lunchtime.

They didn't say that!

Jeez, you're just a pessimist.

She snorted with derision and stalked off, waving her arms. I have a special gift for making her completely mental.

Dad was pretty close to right by the way. Sun came out before 1 and it was a beauty of a day.

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Even dear old Dad would have a tough time getting behind the Oilers these days. I'm a dyed in the wool optimist myself but I look at this club and I don't see much to like. As a guy who was introduced to the Oilogosphere by Vic Ferrari back in March of 2006 as a good place to visit after an Oilers loss - he always has something positive to say (or something like that), he said, it goes against my nature to prophesize doom and gloom but this club reminds me more and more of the Cubs or the Leafs or, more apropos perhaps, the Jays.

The Jays were once a model of how a sports franchise should be run. Excellent drafting and development resulted in a club of homegrown talent that went from expansion to contender in a relatively short period. They made mistakes as they tried to take the next step both with free agents and managerial choices (Bill Caudill, Jimy Williams) and on the field itself (the loss to the Royals in 85, the awful collapse in 1987) but under Pat Gillick they always looked to have a plan and when it became clear that they had to make things happen (it took a while - Gillick's nickname was Stand Pat) then they did, first trading for Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter, and then augmenting their roster with free agent signings and deadline deals. Two World Series resulted.

Nowadays the Jays are a loser franchise. That's the only way to describe them. They have been mediocre forever now with only individual brilliance (Pat Hentgen, Carlos Delgado) sustaining any sort of pulse in a once proud franchise. It's the impending departure of Roy Halladay which has really gotten my goat though. Don't get me wrong - I'm nothing more than a casual fan these days. I watch the playoffs here and there, nothing more. I know that the Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies and Angels are having good years and maybe the Cardinals? And the Red Sox have tailed off, right?

But the Halladay situation? A joke. A joke because the Jays have had a great pitcher on their club for years and years now and haven't even got a sniff of a pennant race. Not even close. Only excuses about the division they are in and their payroll and so on. And of course Tampa of all clubs nearly won it all last year. And so the club trots out the heroes of yesteryear, balding or greying, thickening middles for some, whenever they can. Because they have absolutely nothing else.

Now this diatribe is not aimed at the Oilers although in my mind they are flirting with this territory. The good old days supercede anything happening right now. There is plenty of sizzle (the pursuit of Heatley, the signing of Khabibulin, Pat Quinn's arrival) but very little in the way of steak. There is no reliable backup goaltender and this might cost them their season. The penalty kill cost them their season last year and yet there are no veterans who can win faceoffs or kill penalties. There is, again, a lack of quality veteran two way players on this club. The forwards are small. There are, as LT says, a half dozen leadoff hitters and nobody to bat cleanup.

I like what Tambellini did at the draft and I like what he has done with Springfield but for the fourth year running there is a lot of uncertainty about this club and when a club spends this much money one would think that they should have a shot at a division title at least, not a puncher's chance at a playoff spot. That they are spending money is terrific. That they are spending it unwisely again is not. That is worrisome and that falls on management. Summer is not over yet but time is running out.

Although I guess if they are spending dough and getting nothing for it they are more like the Leafs than the Jays after all.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Falling Down


Mental is the word to describe this life this summer and its just been racheted up a notch.

My wife has gone back to work.

She's a nurse at Sick Kids. She is an excellent nurse. She works with children who have cancer.

That sort of thing will make a lot of your problems seem very very small.

So how it works is that she does shift work. She works twelve hour shifts. Mondays and Tuesdays and then X number of days or nights on weekends over each schedule.

The weekends aren't such a big deal for me. She started last weekend with shifts Friday and Saturday nights. So up first thing Saturday morning, breakfast and then we were off to Fergus for the Scottish Festival and Highland Games so my wife could sleep in peace. Now that was mental. A tale to be told another time but it was something else. Pipers and kilts and crazy tests of strength and IrnBru and bacon and sausage and red faced men and pale pretty red haired girls.

Did I mention the bagpipes? Jesus. Everywhere you turned they were warming up and wailing, whaaaaa whaaaaaa whaaaaaaaaaa, and of course the Tattoo, hundreds of them marching into the makeshift stadium, the drums and the pipes. As we left my oldest watched another pack of them tuning up in the parking lot, surrounded by drummers and campers drinking beer, and turned to me and said:

"I wouldn't call this a festival. I would call it a big party"
Oh, you bet.

So the weekends - piece of cake. Its the weekdays that are spinning crazily and this past Tuesday was the first.

Wife gone before anyone is up. Baby up at 6:20. Rest of the Wild Bunch up ten minutes later. Prepare breakfast. Take out eight weeks of garbage (this was our first collection since mid June although to be fair we were away for nearly five weeks, actually we missed the whole goddamned mess). Cajole, threaten, bribe and wheedle two oldest into getting dressed, making beds, cleaning room, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and hair, not killing each other. Feed and change baby. Release the (aged) hound for morning constitutional. Prepare self for work. Admittedly this last task is simple. Tshirt, shorts, sandals. Simple lunch. Book for subway.

Out the door and kids to daycare. Off to work. Bring home bacon. Leave work and rush to daycare early because of playoff game at 6:30. Heat up supper while packing hockey bag, preventing kids from murdering each other, doing breakfast dishes. Bring in garbage and compost bins. Release the hound for afternoon constitutional. Prepare kids for bed. Take deep breath and await babysitter. And as the phone rings I hear:

Thump. Thump.

And I realize that something or someone is falling down the stairs.

Thump. Thump.

And I round the corner to see the baby hit the hardwood. And she starts to wail.

The boy went upstairs to take a whiz and in the chaos the gate was left open.

And the phone rings. Its my wife. Because I haven't a lick of sense I pick it up.

Hi. Yeah yeah. No, good day. Oh she just jammed her finger in the door. (No blood) No she's ok, just tired too I think (Baby still has all of her teeth), no she's ok, not that big of a deal.

And I pass the phone to my eldest.

Hi Mommy. How are you? Guess what, Kate just fell down the stairs.

She holds the phone out to me.

Mommy wants to talk to you Daddy.

Ratted out by a five year old.

Goddamn it.

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Was kidding with LT this morning as he insisted for probably the nine hundredth time since Chris Pronger was traded that the Edmonton Oilers are going to make a move to fill a hole in their roster. As the Oilers shed the veterans who handled the tough sledding in that beautiful spring of 2006 - Pronger, Peca, Spacek, Dvorak, Smyth, Smith, Torres - we waited for the cavalry to come. We waited for the veteran defencemen who would augment a blueline that had Laddy Smid in the top four the year after the Cup run. They never came.

We waited for a replacement for Smyth and for Sykora and for the flawed Joffrey Lupul and instead we got a pack of kids up front to go with the kids on the back end. And once again we waited for the reinforcements, the simple hires who could step in and help the kids out. Strangely enough three players who came in who had exactly what this club needed, guys who came in cheap and could have been retained - Hejda, Glencross, Thoresen - all went away.

And so last summer we waited and Visnovsky and Cole did come and for the first time in a while we could look at the blue and the goaltending and see quality and depth. And the addition of Cole was a solid one. Problem is that three decent NHL forwards in Stoll, Torres and Reasoner went away, as did Glencross. It wasn't so much that these guys were sent away. They had their faults and they had their detractors. Stoll had three goals at ES or something ridiculous like that in his last season here. Torres was a little mental. And so on.

Problem was that they were not replaced. And so a nice blueline and decent goaltending was wasted as another young forward corps floundered.

MacTavish lost his job and Lowe was kicked upstairs. Somewhat.
And this past six months have seen Cole leave and Roloson and Garon and Brodziak and Ales Kotalik (oh we barely knew ye!).

And Khabibulin and Patrick O'Sullivan come in.

Four more veteran NHL players gone and a youngster who could do some things that none of the other kids do.

And so we wait again. While a club that has finished out of the playoffs three years running now, up against the cap again, gets ready to go to camp with absolutely no goaltending depth, a centre depth chart with one quality NHLer and a bunch of kids who can barely grow a beard between the lot of them, a team that is still too small and too young, especially up front. A club that missed the playoffs despite being very lucky when it came to injuries.

At the end of the summer Tambellini said that this club was too small and too soft and that he was going to change that and he has not done a single thing to address these issues. More importantly he has not addressed the lack of experience on this roster. Again.

Man we had better hope that MacTavish was that bad of a coach and that Quinn is that good.

Because next spring if they are out of it again and Tambellini steps up to the mic and says that they just missed out, that you know, they just kind of jammed their finger in the door, we might need my daughter to step up and tell the truth.

Only problem is in this case its going to be us fans who are crying out eyes out.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Golden Years


It was about a year and a half ago that I came downstairs one cold winter morning and found Ben in the kitchen. I called to him to take him up and down the street for a little walk and then I watched as he struggled to get to his feet. It took him a long time. An eternity.

Something was not right. And the next couple of days saw more of the same.

After the first time I headed for the basement, leaned against the washing machine and began to sob, stopping only when I realized that the kids had come down and were standing, puzzled and a little concerned, watching me break down.

His annual was the following week as luck would have it and they checked him out and while he was a little heavier there was nothing much wrong with him except that he was getting older. The usual prescription for what ails - moderate food and some more exercise.

The big guy has never been a big eater and as for exercise, well, I do what I can but the truth is that as each baby has been born the old guy has slid down the clan totem pole. So he gets out but its usually down the street and back up again.

Ben is going to be twelve in a week and its become quite clear to me that this will be his last birthday. He has had a good life. He is loved dearly and like all dogs he gives more back than he receives. The kids adore him and that is the saddest thing of all, that they did not know him when he was full of piss and vinegar and could run for hours and hours on end. They know him as the big old slow dog who gives them kisses but it would have been fine for them to have a good dog to run with in the park. Now we take him to the park or sit out in the backyard and we throw a ball and he looks at us, sighs with disgust and lays down.

We take him to a ravine near our house and we follow him as he wanders about sniffing. I'm sure he doesn't recall that this was where he first bagged himself a raccoon, thus able to scratch another item off of his bucket list. The kids dawdle, looking at the snails that infest the lush plantlife by the stream, the acorns underfoot, the flowers along the trail and he wanders ahead, stopping and turning impatiently, as if he had places to go and we were making him late.

His hips are bad and now when we walk he gives a little stagger at times and when he takes a shit he doesn't go into the classic position but instead whines softly as he tried to bend himself. His eyes are getting cloudy with cataracts and last night I lay on the floor with him in the kitchen, spooning him gently and scratching his belly, after he came to find me looking for a scratch.

Last winter my wife had hit the wall with the baby after a few months of nightly feedings. I had retreated to the couch from the beginning (I've never been able to sleep with a baby in the bed) and on this one Saturday night I brought the baby down to be with me. I had her in the carseat, where she might sleep for an hour or three, and had a bottle all ready. I fell asleep.

It was a little later that I woke up and as I tried to get comfortable (an impossible task), I peered over the edge of the couch to where my youngest was sleeping, peacefully, the dog curled around the carseat as best as he could manage, doing what he must, for he is a dog.

He has an appointment next week and of course there is not much that they can tell me. Its age that's catching up with my old friend and there's not much I can do but make the best of what time he has left.

So that's what we will do.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Giving The Dog Your Entire Dinner


When I moved to the Island in 1997 I didn't know a soul. That didn't last long at all. I walked across the tarmac at Charlottetown Airport on February 9th and five days later a girl I worked with and her friend came and took me out to dinner. It was Valentine's Day and they weren't doing anything and they knew I was alone and though they didn't know me they thought I might not be the type who would want to be alone on Valentine's Day.

It was in the next few days that I began to get around with a young guy whose desk was right near mine. He lived just around the corner from the hotel where I was living and so he began to take me to and from work. ( I hadn't a car but didn't mind the walk to work though it was mid February - it was only about a half hour and I was used to walking - the Islanders thought I was mental.) It would probably have been the last day of February that he asked if I wanted to drop up to his place for a few beers that night, after which we would go out.

Charlottetown has changed since those days when your options for going out were limited to Myron's and The Old Dublin in the winter and the same plus Peake's during the summer. When I was there a few weeks ago we hit a half dozen pubs and bars and still had a couple we missed. Anyhow that night the coin came up heads and we decided on Myron's.

So I picked up some beer and wandered up a couple of crooked back streets, the old white narrow houses wood siding leaning here and there until I got to his place, a typical old downtown pad where he lived with a few buddies from university.

Now Trev and I hit it off right away and we're cut from the same cloth, bullshitters both of us, and always into the mischief. That night it started and it hasn't ended yet, all of these years later. There were the two of us and his roommates and then it became clear that this house was one of those places where people gathered, as there were comings and goings through the evening, reminding me of my friend Frank's parents' place back in the day.

One of the guys who came by brought his brother along. Now your man was friends with all concerned and had gotten around with the whole crew for years but his brother was cut from different cloth. A little serious, a little full of himself, a little bit of a dink, he did not impress me and I soon was taking out the needle and beginning to use it. Someone turned to me and asked me how I liked the Island. I said I liked it just fine and that while it was different from Toronto I figured I'd be alright.

You know what they say. When in Ireland.

Buddy perks up and informs me that that isn't the saying. Its 'When in Rome'. I laugh and turn to Trev and ask him if this was an Island saying, 'when in Rome' I'd never heard that before and he all deadpan says nosir I have never heard of that one before, of course he knows 'When in Ireland' that's pretty standard.

Well your man gets a little indignant and we argue back and forth a little bit. He's a little hot under the collar but he cools off until I begin to talk about the Bermuda Circle and how all of those planes and ships used to disappear into it.

You can see where this is going.

Well again the arguing and then I let up a little and we soon we put on our coats and head out into the chill. We're talking about investments and buddy pipes up about the only rule he follows is that he never puts all of his eggs in one basket.

What the hell does that mean? I say

And he begins to turn purple. It means you don't put everything in one place, he sputters, for fear that something goes wrong.

So, says I, with an innocent look, that makes no sense now. What the hell are you doing with a basket and why the hell would you put a bunch of eggs into it anyhow?

And as he grunts and churns and bumps I opine

What you meant to say is that you don't give the dog all of your dinner. That would be a bad move. If he eats all of your dinner well then you have no dinner and you're hungry.

You could hear him shouting in New Brunswick likely.

The dink.

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Its becoming clear that other than the goaltending plan (bah) and the farmteam plan (looks good) the Oilers had one other idea when Strong. Muscular. Thighs. raised the Cup. Crosby. Get Dany Heatley. If that fails trust in Quinn.

Well that failed and all that Tambellini has done since is let Kotalik and Brodziak go. Kotalik was an NHL veteran which this team has few of but I'm not horrified considering his contract. Brodziak was a kid but a kid who could do a few things and who they had invested some time in. Pouliot, if he is his replacement, might be able to do what Brodziak did. Brule, I think, is not there yet.

So we have a team that has still not yet recovered from Lowe's foolishness since June 19th, 2006 (three years now), who have finished out of the playoffs three years running and who have stayed the course on the back end while getting weaker up front and between the pipes (regardless of Khabibulin's play its likely that JDD is going to get some twenty to thirty starts - I don't know anybody who thinks that this is a good idea). And they are right up against the cap. And they have to worry about Gagner, Grebeshkov and Cogliano next summer with very little relief in terms of shedding salary and the possibility of a dropping cap.

They are not in a good way. I liked it better when they had no money and were at least efficiently run (relatively speaking I mean - some better drafting might have been nice when they were the little organization that could). Now they are the Rangers lite - lots of money and no clue on what to do with it, just a long string of big bets that are bound to fail.

There is a lot that ails this club. They can use a proven veteran backup goalie and another vet who can PK on the blueline and a couple more vets still to muck it up and kill penalties and win a draw or two. And the skill guys are mostly too young and too inconsistent and some may never get there. And they still haven't replaced Ryan Smyth.

Amongst others.

And there's the contracts.

So its going to be up to Quinn who can be fabulously grumpy. This could be good.

Especially considering that your gruff Irishman is an astute political man, is experienced as a team builder and is a famous famous man. If Tambellini has given him a big pile of chicken shit (likely) and wants him to make chicken salad out of it I would place good money on Quinn being GM sooner than you might think. If you've thought of it at all.