Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Atlantic Step Dancing Champion


I had been in Charlottetown for just a little while when I started getting around with a young fellow who I worked with. I was living at a hotel and didn't know a soul and he took me under his wing, so to speak. We're cut from the same cloth, we enjoy life and get a good laugh from it when we can and we have shared a few adventures since those early days.

1997 was the year where my life took many crazy twists and turns. It was barely days old when it ended with the girl from Rawlins Cross. At the beginning of February I was off to the Island to work in a business which I had very little experience in. By the end of the year I was finishing my contract and arrangements had been made to move to Florida to join the parent company. I met the girl who I would marry, a guy who would become one of my best friends and a dog who would become the dog.

All in one year.

It was a couple of weeks after our first excursion (and we'd had a few in between) that we rushed down to the Old Dublin (a fine little establishment) for St. Patrick's Day. We got there at 5:05 and the place was already to the gills and about ten minutes later they were lined up outside.

Now I'm not usually one for St. Patrick's. I'll usually cook an Irish stew and have a couple of Guinness at home to mark it. As they say there are too many amateurs out that night.

This night was a fine one though. The crowd was roaring and we were drunk soon after we set foot inside and the band was playing some aye diddle aye and your man got up and began to dance.

My Dad, he said, when the music stopped, is right into the whole Island culture and heritage so when I was growing up I took step dancing. Myself and my sister.

No kidding, I said.

Yep, he said. Its easy, very simple, just do like so.

And so we did a little bit.

The next day at work one of the girls asked how the Old Dublin was and I said it was great and blah blah blah and your man had me up step dancing, it was great fun.

And she, laughing, looks at him and I turn and he's got a smirk on him, a smirk I would see many times again.

Bastard.

So four years later or so and he was married in June and I flew up from Florida to be his best man and then a month after that I was back again for my own wedding in which he stood.

Now I'll write about this some day but let me just say that this was the greatest day. All of my friends and family together and we drank and danced and laughed and after it was all over we were up almost until dawn, we didn't want it to end. My Dad said a few words at the start of the party and prefaced his remarks by saying

We McLeans are a peaceful and quiet bunch.

Which brought a cheer and raucous laughter from the gathering for two nights before the uncles and aunts and cousins had rolled into town and danced and drank the night away at that same Old Dublin. The McLeans came howling naked and drunken out of the moors long ago and while we have been civilized some its just a thin veneer really.

So the night took off from there and about an hour in the DJ plays a little aye diddle aye and up comes MacLeod and there he is, a hundred and twenty or so looking on, and he begins to dance.

All by himself.

Everyone is clapping and cheering and all of the folks from away are particularly excited. One of the other fellows there from the Island leans over to one older woman who was completely beside herself ( I think it may have been an aunt of mine, God bless her).

He's very good, isn't he, he says.

Oh yes, he's just excellent, just wonderful, she gushed.

Well he should be. He's the Atlantic Step Dancing Champion.

I would bet she tells all of her friends about that to this day.

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I figured it would be an uneventful camp and I was wrong. I figured Brennan to make the team and when he got sent out I figured Reddox and I never ever thought MacIntrye would make it but apparently management would rather risk a decent young player with reasonable upside than lose a goon who is has a half dozen replacements in Springfield right now.

Sigh.

And Pisani is on long term injury reserve and I wonder if this might be it for Fernando. As I said to Scott Reynolds yesterday though part of me hopes that this is it. Twisted thing to wish and this team is poorer without him. He's no superstar from the dynasty days or Doug Weight or Ryan Smyth but he's been around and he's a quality guy and it would be nice for him to end his career never having worn another uniform. That would be a first.

I look at this team and I see Moreau on the fourth line and its a fit and I see Nilsson in the PB to start and I understand that and I can even live with Gagner getting a kick in the ass.

I also see Jacques, Stone and Brule in the top nine. Its early, hell by five minutes in on Saturday night Moreau and Gagner might have supplanted two of them.

I like seeing the kids doing well and its a breath of fresh air but I can't see this team winning much when the games start in earnest.

I hope, as I've said many times, that I am wrong. The guys this club needed were out there. The guys who win draws and kill penalties and check a little.

In the end Tambellini promoted from within and he's put all of his eggs in the Quinn basket.

There are still a few out there who say lets wait and see - some enthusiasm and confidence and pride will go a long way and this club is going to be a playoff club, just wait and see.

I just have a niggling feeling that Tambellini is up there dancing and while he is looking good and he cuts a fine figure in the end he's just taking the piss at our expense.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Now What The Hell Are We Going To Argue About?

I kid. There will always be something to argue about.

It would have been about a hundred different types of amusing if he had not been picked up but good luck to you, Captain America.

I would say we barely knew you but the truth is we knew far too much about you, considering.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The End of Something


My father was a heck of a hockey player, scouted by the Wings along with one of his brothers back in the early fifties. He was a center who could skate and stickhandle and pass the puck and he could score a little too, just like his idol growing up, Max Bentley, and his favourite player later on (my idol as a kid), Stan Mikita. Dad went to mining school in Haileybury and then spent some time prospecting in Newfoundland and Northern Ontario. He worked in northern Saskatchewan in Uranium City, the coldest place he has every been (this is a Northern Ontario boy), he has described to me getting up at midnight to go underground, rushing out of the bunkhouse, so cold that your face would freeze within a couple of minutes of exposure.

After some time in the mines in Elliot Lake Dad got a promotion. This was in the early sixties. $600.00 a month, good money back then, he says when he describes it. Good money but it was underground. As he pondered the offer he got a phone call from a good friend of his, a burly Finn who had left Elliot Lake recently, traveling east on the Trans Canada to Sudbury where they were laying pipe for natural gas. There and all over Northern Ontario. A brand new company and a ton of opportunity. He would start at $400.00 a month and he’d work so much that my mom wouldn’t see him (they were newly married) for a couple of years except when he stumbled in and out of bed, exhausted, to sleep and then off to do it again. He took the job. He knew what he was getting into but it wasn't underground and the possibilities were endless.

Of course it worked out for my old man. He stuck it out and rose through the ranks and had a terrific career there, almost thirty five years in a job he enjoyed. At his retirement party they stood and cheered for him. That's the type of man my father is.

In his first decade with the company he played hockey for the Sudbury team. There were big offices in Thunder Bay and Timmins and North Bay and the Soo and Kingston and they probably had a club from the Muskokas as well. Dad’s team played in a senior league of sorts in Sudbury, the hockey would have been terrific, all of these guys were players back in the day. These guys grew up before the days of TV so Dad and his peers were all the type of guys that today’s young men could only hope to emulate. Dad played hockey and ball and he boxed a little. He played guitar and he could fix a motor and build a camp and do electrical and plumbing and pretty well whatever you wanted to ask him to do. He finished our basement and some years later he put in a sauna. He could fish and he could hunt and he could do pretty much anything.

Anyways these guys could play is the point and while the league was one thing it was the tournaments that the real games began, all of these guys from around Northern and Eastern Ontario who could play and it was for bragging rights and so it was pretty serious stuff. One of my earliest memories is being at a rink watching my Dad play hockey. Its foggy but that's the way it is up north. Hockey hockey hockey permeates everything.

When I was five and he was just forty two, they went up to Timmins for a tournament. They made the final and Dad scored a hat trick that game including the winner on overtime. Dad’s not a braggart at all but everyone once in a while he’ll sit back and tell me about that game. ‘I was a pretty good player’, he’ll say with a little smile. And that was his last year playing.

In December I’ll be the same age as Dad was when he hung them up. I hope to emulate his brothers, one who played into his sixties, another into his seventies (my uncle could absolutely play in our league, I swear to God, he is in phenomenal shape and an amazing player, he can skate like few I have every seen.) Anyways I laced them up this afternoon for the first time since the beginning of August. Our summer season was, lets say, a complete disaster. More details another day. Lets just say we went ofer.

So the last time good old Capsule won a game was in March sometime.

Zero and sixteen since then.

So we skate out and we have eight guys and there’s a club we’ve never seen before and like everybody we play they’re big and they’re fast and they’re young, the fuckers. And one of their guys comes over before the game and he says yeah we’re new and we figure we’re a high seed in the division above this one.

Did I mention we have eight guys?

And this is, with one exception, the guys who went oh and sixteen. We’re missing our best two centers, including a guy who averaged a goal a game last year. We’re missing two big guys who swing between forward and D as needed. Both are players. These guys, except one of the centres, don't play in the summer.

First shift they cut through us like nothing, we’re running around and before we know it we’re down one.

And they keep coming. So we hunker down and ride it out and then we begin to push back and we get a chance or two and then we tie it up but its just a flash of hope, it certianly can't last.

They’re big and they come with speed out of their end and we just hang back, we’re already sagging. My fucking legs last two shifts and then its hang back and pick off plays, that’s all I’ve got. But thing is they come hard through the neutral zone but we stack it up and chip it back out and soon their D begin to jump in, they have two guys who can really wheel, pushing to beat our tired legs and put us out of our misery.

One of them whirls out of the zone and chips it past the defenceman and rushes into our end full speed. I’m coming back hard and he has a step on me and I just take him out, I have no choice and so he slides into the boards hard and I’m right behind him, full out. Luckily he breaks my fall.

And that was the last we heard from him for the rest of the game. Not a peep.

Of course I was in the box. I have a new stick and like all of the ones that came before its not so good with the goals but pretty good at laying on the wood and getting me into the box.

The lads picked me up, all four minutes of it, not even a sniff and as the game wore on we held on and held on and I sat beside a terrific new player who joined us this summer, a guy who has never won in Capsule colours. He’s a big forward who is hard on the puck and has good hands and he's a great addition. Just chip it out, chip it out, we’ll try and catch a break, we tell each other.

Next shift he strips a Dman and goes in alone and gets stoned and we sag a little, that may have been it.

Instead we work them over down low next shift and pop it out front and suddenly we’re up.

Next shift the new guy beats a guy into a corner and I beat everyone else to the slot and I get the shot I want but the keeper stretches out that leg and beats me. Some things never change.

And soon after we lose a guy, ejected for his third penalty. Seven guys left, one for each minute left in the game.

And we hang on, they come in waves and they nearly all break at our blueline. The goalie comes out and they throw it all at us and here we are, dead beat, a guy in the box again and yet every battle for the puck is ours. With about twenty seconds left one of our defencemen has two guys in the corner and he's the guy who comes out with the puck.

And we win.

I think its going to be a good year. Unfortunately I don't think I'm going to be able to get out of bed tomorrow.

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This is it for camp, this is it for some kids. Some of the guys we know are going to be sent back to Springfield and some guys may be gone for good.

Its been an interesting camp. Brule got the push that was expected and he’s got it made. Jacques was considered a good bet for a job but there is no doubt that he’s exceeded all expectations. He’s starting the year with Horcoff and Hemsky.

I kid you fucking not.

And it seems that Stone has it made as well. Big guy and a good camp.

So its Horcoff, Hemsky, Jacques, Penner, Comrie, O’Sullivan, Cogliano, Gagner, Stortini, Brule, Stone, Moreau

That leaves Pisani, Nilsson, Pouliot, Reddox, Brennan, MacIntyre, Schremp

Am I missing anyone?

I can’t see them sending Pisani out. Remember this club has few vets and a problem on the PK. I think its Fernando’s swan song though.

I’m sentimental. Here’s hoping Fernando has a terrific year and retires an Oiler. The first of any consequence to do so.

And who else? Well if Pouliot is on the IR that helps postpone the decision but my guess is Nilsson is going going gone. Writing was on the wall when they brought in Comrie and next year Eberle will be pushing. Rowbert is going to be moved I think.

Schemp is getting sent out.

MacIntyre is not good enough to play a regular shift.

So its either Brennan or Reddox if Pouliot is out. Brennan was my darkhorse but a guy pushing thirty who has sixty games or so on his resume doesn’t strike me as a reasonable choice, especially with Jacques and Stone out there.

I think the Red Ox might make it.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Capsule and Politics



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.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Preseason Game Day Live Blog - My God The Excitement!


Big game tonight! Big game! Oh my God!

Pal commenting over at the Journal on a story there recommended cutting Horcoff, Hemsky, Moreau, Pisani and Penner.

There's a good idea.

Last night has to put a stop to all of those Lowe Lynchers out there - that trade for Curtis Glencross looks awesome everytime he steps onto the ice.

Anyways I'm going to try and liveblog the game tonight. Its on TSN so I'll be watching. A lot of the bubble boys are participating - Schremp, Reddox, Brule, Pouliot, MacIntyre and Nilsson.

Horcoff and Hemsky are not playing. Souray isn't either. The bums.

Actually before I go any further let me just make it clear that other than for those players mentioned above the preseason means absolutely nothing for the vets other than coming out of it healthy, imo. This idea that we should worry about Hemsky or Horcoff because they are not up to snuff now is pretty ridiculous. If you have to buy tickets to these preseason games because you are a season's ticket holder then I feel badly because its positively criminal what they charge. If you buy tickets for the game on your own well caveat emptor. Its exhibition. What do you expect?

If Hemsky is sucking bag in October then we can worry. For now, whatever.

------------------

This is going to be exciting though. Because not only am I live blogging the game but I am live blogging my day. Now you get to see how the other half lives.

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11:15pm And another lost draw and thats the game. So ... oh right, a guy who can win faceoffs, who would have thought that might be an Achilles heel for these guys? Oh hindsight is 20/20 blah blah blah.
Well a good second and third periods and most of the guys who had to show well did so. Schremp is a goner and probably Reddox too so its Brule, Stone, Pouliot and Nilsson for the last three spots. I think so anyway. We've been saying it all summer, well for two years now, they need someone who can win draws. I think they might move someone out, maybe a couple of guys, and bring someone in. Cost them the game tonight.
And Cogliano on the wing? Yes please.
That's all for now, have a great night.
11:09 pm Oilers come with speed and aggression and one hopes that this is how they play this season, hard to handle Cogliano on the fly, he's looked terrific.
11:04 pm A lost faceoff and they don't get it back and its a tie game.
10:56pm Hmm, MacIntyre should have broken Fedoruk's face for that hit on Gilbert I think.
I like Matt Damon. I'm not fucking him but I would if I could.
10:47pm Call in tired. Hahaha! Seriously though, wow, that girl is hot.
Saw The Reader the other night. Love Kate Winslet. And she was naked. Again! Hmmm.
Cogliano looks pretty comfortable on the wing.
Gagner looks faster. Stortini too, of all people.
10:35pm Ladies and gentleman noted hipster, barfly and pervert, Mike Winters. Stone makes his case for a roster spot and for a special place in my heart with consecutive hits on punk Steve Downie. And really this line with Moreau, Brule and Stone looks like a fine fourth line, I have to say. Brule with a nice turn up ice and feed to Gilbert.
I think Gilbert pots ten or more this year. Plus I love him.
Him, beer and salami. And sex. I love sex a lot.
10:25pm Nice dig at Maguire on the Nilsson draft pick. One last thing before the third period. Its overdone sometimes but it would be nice if some other Oiler players emulated Reddox. Kid has heart and he's a smart player. I don't think he makes the club but he'll be back if he makes it through waivers.
10:10pm And we have a tie, well deserved. Got a break on the Nilsson goal but I think he'll take it. Nilsson has skill. Dear me can they cut him? If and its an if he has figured it out, well ....
And Cogliano with a nice period. Put him on the wing, please.
Too many damn forwards. I'm impressed with Eberle but I think its clear that he's going back to junior. Three spots for Nilsson, Stone, Brule, Pouliot, Schremp and Reddox then. I can't see them keeping MacIntyre and Brennan. Quinn wants guys who can play. Still, six guys, Jesus.
10:00pm A decent PP, a lot of puck movement, players are actually moving their feet. This is one thing that is going to show a lot of improvement this season I think. Schremp wins a couple of draws. Eberle with a beautiful pass. Far more aggressive.
9:47pm A better period so far. They're skating. Schremp has a nice shift. Hell freezes over. The big fellow fucks a cat and then enjoys a cigarette. I stop drinking. Brule actually knocks someone down. Gagner wins a draw. Too much salami I think. I have the shakes.
None of the bubble boys have done much. Schremp is a bit of a turnover machine. Chorney doesn't stand out and that's a good thing at his age. He's not hurting his cause I think.
9:24pm Barnaby and McGuire ridicule the team that Tambellini and Lowe have put together. Ha. Too small. True. Too soft. True. Too many underachievers. True. Khabibulin's health a big issue. OK so Matthew Barnaby knows this but Oilers management is ok with the gamble. Not a playoff team according to Barnaby. I agree.
Ooh Olympics. Awesome.
Drinking Oatmeal Stout from St. Ambroise. Quality quality shit. I highly recommend it.
9:16pm Well that was awful.
Visnovsky is going to be fine though. Major surgery and hasn't played in months and months. His timing is off but he looks fine. He can skate for miles. Gilbert looks fine too. Grebs and Smid had it tough, especially the former. Some serious giveways. Up front Penner looks good, Stortini and Reddox have energy. Eberle doesn't look out of place but he's going back to junior. Its great that he fits in but they can't keep him. Too early. Stone looks ok, nothing special but not terrible.
Nilsson looks like the best of the rest. And the rest, a whole lot of meh. Schemp and Brule have done nothing to convince me that they belong on the club but if Pisani and Pouliot are going to be out for a while then they can postpone the decisions I guess. Good for Schremp because there are still people out there who figure he's going to be a superstar. To that I say, um, give your fucking head a shake.
9:04pm Nobody on this club can win a draw. Not even close.
Penner really does look good. The PP, not so much.
8:50pm Quinn pregame talks up Penner and Jacques who he thinks has more than fourth line potential. There's our 11th man up front then. Also twists the knife a little. The organization has been poor. Hah. If they miss the playoffs he's the GM folks. Awesome.
Down a goal already. Smid coughs it up and then gets outmuscled. The LW (? who was it?) is at sea and then the rebound goes to Malone who is uncovered. Wow what a gongshow.
Nilsson has unbelieveable skill. I can't see them cutting him.
8:32 pm School visit went well. Apparently the diva and the boy are brilliant. Not surprised. Also very well behaved. Trying to figure out if kids have pics of teachers or perhaps their family members hostage somewhere.
Pierre Maguire, ah how I've missed you. In studio the hyperbole almost immediately begins with him and Barnaby trying to outdo each other. Hedman is fifty times the player and the person that anyone expected.
Jesus. And he and Stamkos are both franchise players.
Joey Mullen as a comp for Eberle. We can only hope.
6:08pm Going to school curriculum night. The diva's teacher told my wife today that the diva is a joy. The half dozen times that my wife berated her at supper I whispered across the table "She's a joy."
Off to rape and pillage.
5:55 pm Crispy chicken tacos, fuckers. Read em and weep. Or something like that.
3:57 pm Like Lionel Ritchie last night I had a dream, I had an awesome dream. In the dream there were people and a park and games were being played in the dark and there was a masquerade and a video with some blind girl. Hmm.
Actually I can't remember but I'm pretty sure it was a sex dream and in the dream I was getting a ride and I was reaching for my wife (yes when I dream about sex I do dream about my wife) and what heppened is that I actually reached my arm out in real life.
Meanwhile my wife was apparently dreaming about being chased. We might have been having the same dream by the sounds of it. Anyways she is running for her life and all of a sudden I poked her in the belly. Hard.
Well she wakes up with this gasp which of course woke me up. Scared the shit out of her. Had to change the sheets.
And damn it I didn't even get to finish my dream.
Going to punch out now. Heading home.
3:39pm My baby's all growed up. Man the CBC loves Dellow. I think he lives in Ron MacLean's basement actually. I find it amusing that so many fans will defend Oilers' management and a lot fo the moves they've made. Like the past three years out of the playoffs, after having a club that came within a goal of winning the Cup, isn't proof enough that these guys are incompetents.
If Nilsson gets cut then for Chris Pronger and Ryan Smyth they will have Ladislav Smid as the only player out of the four they traded for who still has any chance at an NHL career with this club. How brutal is that?
3:15pm Feeling fine now. Not going to worry about the fact that the Oilers once again don't have a centre other than Horcoff who can win draws or PK or who can find his way around his own end of the rink. Quinn's not worried. Oh, he is?

I've said it before and I will say it again. If this club does not make the playoffs this season Tambellini is a goner and Quinn takes his place. Your man Pat Quinn is a smart guy and he's an astute politician and he has a lot of cachet. He's already saying on the record that this team is lacking. When Katz is pitching a fit at the end of the year and the famous coach says hey I told you so what do you think happens to the newbie GM?
2:55pm Ok I'm going back for a couple more pints. Nobody's going to say anything. I'm the boss. What the hell are they going to say? Plus I think they're happy to see me go. Had lamb shank, garlic mash and bok choy for supper last night at the bistro plus a couple of Creemores and some red wine. The office smells like ass.
2:43 pm Have to pee again. Plus the buzz is wearing off. Stupid Oilers are going to suck. Again. Need to go back to the pub. Nobody's noticed a damn thing. Except I keep having to go pee. I wonder if I just pee in my garbage can here if anybody will notice?
2:26pm Damn, have to pee. With bladder being the size of a B.B. I should have seen this coming.
2:15 pm Back from McVeighs. My choice of bar is, to paraphrase Hobbes, nasty, brutish and small. Or are those the women I used to end up with after I hit the bars? Anyways love McVeighs. Nearly fifty years old. Pictures of Michael Collins behind the bar. Up The Republic and all that. Good Guinness and Murphy's too. Publican is old Jimmy. Cantankerous. Gave him my debit card to pay for pints. Threw it on the bar, snarling 'what the hell is that?', stomped off.
Feeling damn good now. Two quick pints. Oilers' season looking less gloomy. Apparently I've hit on it. Must drink more. I'm up for it.
1:45 pm Work is fucking mental. I didn't sign up for this. Plus I'm thirsty because of that salami. I wonder if I sneak down to McVeighs for a pint would anybody notice?
1:30 pm Salami sandwiches for lunch. Love salami. Love all of those sausages and sausage type meats. Wonder if that says something about me in a weird subliminal sexual way.

Nah.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Its A Jungle Out There


The big fellow has had his issues with urban wildlife but things have been quiet on that front for a while now until last week when all hell broke loose.

I don't know if its because winter is around the bend and the neighbourhood vermin have to fatten themselves up but it seems as if we are in danger of being overrun and the result has been chaos and near disaster.

It started less than a week ago when I was taking the big guy for his morning constitutional. As we returned to the manor I caught a glimpse of something furry scurrying around the porch and into the alley beside our house. As we climbed the steps the leash tautened as there was a fair size raccoon on our porch. Now they're stupid but not that stupid and it immediately scaled the supporting pillar and set up camp on the porch roof. I got the boy and brought him out and we checked out the coon as it leaned over the eave and checked us out.

No problem, right?

So I'm off to work, hi ho hi ho and all that and first I bring out the recycling and the garbage. We have these fair size bins that sit right against the porch so I just lean over, pop them open and drop in the bags. So I look up to make sure the raccoon isn't going to drop down on my head and then I fire the recycling in the bin. Then I turn to the garbage, open it up and shit my pants because there are two little faces looking right up at me.

Arghh.

I went to get some gasoline and a pack of matches and came back to see Momma on top of the bin, looking concerned. For a second I wondered if I was about to get attacked but instead she turned tail and ran, probably figuring if these two were dumb enough to fall into a garbage can they were probably going to be living in her basement with their stoner skid girlfriends long after they should have gone out on their own.

As I doused the little rats with gasoline they cried pitifully but I have a heart of cold ice and so I dropped the lit match. in and stepped back.

The front of our house still smells like barbeque.

Bah, I'm kidding. I took a broom and knocked the bin over and they scurried away.

A couple of mornings later I was again bringing out garbage. I swear sometimes that's all I do. Take out garbage and make babies. I'm awesome at both. Seriously should go pro.

Anyhow I reached over the porch to pop open the bin and there, ambling by, out towards the front of the house, was a fat skunk. I turned, because a certain someone had followed me out onto the porch, a certain someone whose white tipped big bushy black tail was disappearing down the porch steps.

You ever see a movie where they use super slow mo at the very climax of the movie? Its become a comedy staple now, Will Ferrell or Steve Carell or Adam Sandler leaping to prevent calamity, mouthing Nooooooooooooo as they are hit by projectile baby vomit or something but of course before that it was used in action movies and sports movies and westerns, the sidekick leaping to stop the hero from getting gunned down, the undersized receiver making the catch to win the big game, the gunfight ending in a hail of bullets, the blood spreading out across the villain's shirt as he sags into the dust.

Well that was me last Saturday morning.

Noooooooooo Beennnnnnnn, noooooooooo.

Of course he ignored me, the bastard, he doesn't listen to anyone, he seriously does not give a shit anymore and he trotted up to the skunk who was making for safety under our porch. I held my breath, literally and figuratively, and watched as the potential sprayee walked up to the potential sprayer, sniffed at him casually and then turned and had a pee on a nearby bush.

He came back up the steps and walked into the house like nothing happened and I, for the second time that week, cleaned a turd out of my shorts.

------------

If I were trying out for the Oilers I think I would just not answer the phone. I don't have a cell so there's no way they could track me down. Call me in my room, don't answer it, knock on the door, hide in the bathtub, coach wants to see me, sneak out the back door. I'd be like George Costanza, remember he got fired and kept going to work pretending nothing happened. That would be me.

Show up for the first game.

McLean, what are you doing here? We cut you son. Two weeks ago.

No, no, Mr Katz told me to come tonight, he said I made the team.

What! What the fuck!

After Quinn stomps off, I knock one of the little guys in the head (Christ I'd have my pick, its going to be like walking into a kindergarten class in that dressing room) and stuff him under the Zamboni seat. When Quinn returns, purple with rage, I explain to him that Nilsson said he didn't feel well, went home or some damn thing.

Alright take the pregame skate then but you're in the press box tonight.

Make sure to slew foot another guy and rake someone else across the eyes 'accidentally'.

Volia, I'm in the lineup.

A couple of years ago I described the Toronto media as being so obsessed with the Leafs that they would go into the toilet after Paul Maurice left and try and divine the club's workings by sifting through the corn in his shit. We're getting near critical mass right now folks, although its Quinn whose words we're poking at, holding our noses, because it looks like Tambellini and Lowe have dropped another huge turd into their coach's lap.

Rumours are flying like crazy. Fernando may be a goner says Matheson who turns around in the same article and quotes Quinn as saying that Pisani needn't lose any sleep. Quinn says the veterans aren't up to snuff and folks read this as meaning that Moreau and Staios are on their way out.

I think Quinn is telling the vets that playtime is over and that its time to get serious.

I still think, barring a trade or injury, that Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner, Cogliano, O'Sullivan, Comrie, Gagner, Moreau, Pisani and Stortini are in the lineup opening night.

I think that Jacques has made the club. He came in with a lot going for him anyways and he has not disappointed.

I think that it is quite clear that Stone has put himself into position to be the darkhorse and that he is in good shape.

I think Pouliot has shown pretty well and the fact that guys like Gregor, who isn't a fan, have him making the club says a lot.

Quinn said he's not going to keep a guy around just to fight, he has to be able to play. Bye MacIntyre.

Schremp has done nothing and is not in the lineup on Wednesday. Bye bye and lets see if anyone picks him up.

So that leaves Nilsson, Brennan and Brule. Brule has done fuck all but is supposedly the pick of management. Nilsson, rightly or wrongly, is the poster boy for what has ailed this club the last two years (much of that being just too young but also inconsistent of course). Brennan has told Quinn that he won't be the designated goon and Quinn giving him a chance to prove that he can play.

Interesting stuff. I'm going to say Brennan by a nose. Of course last year I said Spurgeon was the darkhorse, so Kip (WTF?) might start checking out condo listings in Springfield Mass.

Just don't pick up that phone, boys. Walk away.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sideways


I remember one Christmas Eve, my God it was a long time ago now, probably twenty years or so. Our family tradition (I mean the Sudbury McLeans) is pretty simple.

First of all we're heathens. None of this going to Church once or twice a year for us. We're all out.

So what we used to do and still do when we get up there is have a big plate of shrimp and a simple fondue. The fondue pot is probably as old as I am and I think the oil my folks use is too. My Mom cuts up some steak and we eat shrimp and fondue (fondo?) the meat and have a few drinks and listen to Christmas music. My best friend, who I have known since we were five, would go to Mass with his family and then wander over from their place a couple of streets over and have a couple of beers.

On this one night we were back from school, we may even have graduated by this point, I can't remember and we were out at a buddy's. Can't remember why but Pete wasn't going to Mass that evening. It was a beautiful night. Warmer than normal, mostly because there was a nice heavy snow coming down. Everything white, you know how that looks and feels. Silence. The streetlights muted. No a soul out except for us because it was Christmas Eve. Probably around 8 or 9.

And we're heading back to my folks' place, nice and easy in our old Chevy pickup, what a great truck that was, the only North American vehicle I've ever had a good thing to say about and up ahead the light turned red and I wasn't going too fast at all but when I pressed the brake to slow down we just went for a nice easy gliding spin, round and round in nice easy loops, softly in the silent falling snow, we just looked at each other and waited it out until we came to a stop.

And then we went to my parents' place.

I think too that this was the night that we took a break from the surf and turf and went out back and smoked a joint. I remember giggling in the bathroom like fools and then trudging downstairs and cracking open another beer, glancing over to see my buddy staring at the myriad of flashing lights and Christmas geegaws that overrun my folks' house every December, waiting for him to run screaming out into the snow.

It didn't happen but damn that was some Christmas Eve.

-------------------------

Well it was only a few days ago that I was shooting off my mouth about how very little was happening this year in camp other than vets getting into shape and some prospects getting a chance to strut their stuff. The latter is continuing with Chorney having a nice game last night.

The thing is there may be more going on than I thought. I still think that both the goaltending and blue are set. The one guy who might have pushed for that seventh spot, Peckham, is still recovering from an ankle injury. Probably best for him to play big minutes in the AHL and I'm sure we'll see quite a bit of him this year later on when the injury bug hits.

Up front here were my fourteen a few days ago. The same fourteen as I would have listed a week ago:

Horcoff, Penner, Hemsky, Gagner, O’Sullivan, Nilsson, Cogliano, Comrie, Moreau, Pisani, Stortini, Brule, Jacques, Pouliot

Now in the last post and in the GDT at LT's there have been a lot of other names thrown about. Fact is there are some guys making an impression. Now its early and I think tonight's game against a Canucks' club with a lot of regulars might start exposing some of the pretenders but the fact is that right now there are some fellows who are turning heads.

So lets look at a few of what I believe LT calls 'tells', things that are going on or that have happened that might reveal to us what's happening.

- Jacques, Stone, Schremp, Eberle and now Brule are guys getting a long look based on the linemates that they are getting, no pluggers for these guys, they are getting time with Horcoff and Hemsky and other top sixers.

- Potulny isn't even getting a look at all, the poor bastard

- McDonald and O'Marra and Paukovich, longshots all, aren't getting much of a sniff either

- Cogliano is getting another shot at centre, if they wanted him on the wing he'd be playing wing.

So of our fourteen originals, barring injury, I think the following are locks unless there's something big in the works: Horcoff, Hemsky, O'Sullivan, Comrie, Penner, Cogliano, Gagner, Pisani, Moreau, Stortini

Now how this is going to end up as a reasonable lineup I have not the foggiest. Deano and I were going back and forth in the previous thread and by my eye the following pairs have shown something: Cogliano and Penner and O' Sullivan and Comrie. Problem is if Comrie and Cogliano are centres then it doesn't work because you still have Gagner and Horcoff. And as I said they haven't played Cogliano on the wing yet.

So likely we're going to see Horcoff and Hemsky and either Comrie or O'Sullivan on the left, likely the latter, at least to start. And then the second of those two will play on Gagner's left. And Penner and Cogliano will be a third pair. Then you have Pisani on one of these lines and I guess Moreau on the other.

I guess. You're short a RW unless Penner or Moreau shift over.

If Nilsson survives then he's the RW, likely on the Gagner line and then Moreau drops to play with Stortini and either Brule or Pouliot.

But here is where it gets interesting.

Nilsson

For - best player of those on the bubble, an obvious whipping boy for MacT you have to figure he could thrive under a new coach, conditioning shows he might finally get it, a world of skill, a natural RW, political fallout if he gets moved after being the centrepiece of the Smyth deal

Against - Cogliano and Gagner have pedigree, O'Sullivan is better player, they didn't bring Comrie in to sit, relatively large salary on a club with cap issues means he might be moved, despite his promise he was scratched a tonne last year

Prognosis - not so good, he's the natural to get moved especially with Eberle and the Euros in the pipeline, the Comrie signing sealed his fate, I think he gets traded if they can find a partner, gets paid a lot to send to the minors but if they need size, grit, PKers (and they do) then he's the odd man out

Jacques

For - Size, an apparent willingness to do what it takes to stick as a role player and hope to move up the ladder later, too attractive to get through waivers

Against - can't afford to slide in terms of effort, can't PK worth a damn that's for sure

Prognosis - on this club he's set, they are too small and he's huge, he's our eleventh man

Pouliot

For - a big RH centre, just what they need, is versatile enough to slot in a higher spot if needed, looks like he finally realizes this is it and its reflected in his efforts, another guy unlikely to get through waivers

Against - jack of all trades, master of none, not very physical on a team that can use it

Prognosis - he's the wildcard, I like him and I think they need him but he hasn't done a lot to merit high hopes, to me he's a guy who can fill a need, take draws, PK, chip in with some offence, like Nilsson however I think he may be in danger

Brule

For - aggressive player, some offensive skill, great pedigree, likely not to get through waivers, management wants him to succeed, especially since they gave up an NHL player to get him and he's done fuck all yet

Against - small, not impressive in any of the areas the club needs other then he is willing to hit, did very little last season

Prognosis - he has a spot unless he's absolutely terrible and even then he might, they're not going to trade Raffi Torres for a guy and then give him what, a dozen games? He has a spot but I don't think much of him. I hope that I am wrong.

Reddox

For - according to Gregor he is in the mix for the fourth line centre spot, excellent chance at bottom of the roster if not that, tenacious smart player on a team that lacks them, can kill penalties and knows his way around his end of the rink

Against - his size, his pedigree, he's a guy who could probably sneak through waivers

Prognosis - I didn't think he had a shot but he's the ginger who keeps coming back. If he makes it does that mean Pat Quinn is a shitty coach too? I hope he makes it and if they figure they need what he brings then he will

Stone

For - size, toughness, some hands (who knew?), has had a nice camp

Against - running out of spots

Prognosis - this is one guy I know nothing about and I'm not the only one, does he have to clear waivers? if he does then it helps his cause, if not I could see him going down and being the first guy coming back when the injuries start

Schremp

For - those crazy hands, he's actually in shape, if they waive him someone will take a flyer and he will be gone

Against - he has to leapfrog not one but two of Cogliano, Gagner, O'Sullivan, Comrie and Nilsson, not going to happen, limited skill set means its top six or bust

Prognosis - gets snapped up on waivers or maybe they find someone willing to trade a pick for him, a nation weeps, that nation being Belgium, or something like that

MacIntyre

For - great story, like Rudy, plus he kills people

Against - can't actually play hockey

Prognosis - can't see them carrying him, a great story from last year, two goals, a big league salary and that Flames' game but its back to the minors with him

Brennan

For - management went out and got him, he can skate, at least

Against - I don't think he can do much but fight, again, can they afford to carry a guy like this

Prognosis - serious wildcard, I don't see the point but a lot of folks might disagree

Eberle

For - kid has looked just fine so far and he's a RW, this club needs a RW badly

Against - he's a kid and he'd be far better off going back to junior

Prognosis - unless they get a couple of injuries then he shouldn't even get his nine games in, send him back and give him another year to fill out, he looks good though, might be another great pick

So there you have it, its a goddamned mess and of course this doesn't even take into consideration possible trades or waiver pickups.

I have to admit though, they have my attention now. I even watched a few minutes last night.

Of course I was high as a kite. That's my story anyways.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rocket Men



The boy has eased himself nicely into the new routine, thank you very much. Unlike his sister who proves that she is indeed five going on sixteen by answering inquiries about her day with grunts, sneers, smirks and eyerolls, the boy is quite happy to share the details of his morning with us at great length.

Of course talking to a three year old is an adventure. Lets just say that his grip on reality is tenuous at times. When he had his first soccer game this summer we were standing in a circle with other kids and their parents listening to the coach when all of a sudden he began to make a loud revving noise.

Hey buddy, what are you doing there?

Starting my engine for soccer. I hope I don’t run out of gas!

And there is the attitude, he’s a stubborn mule and he doesn’t like being told what to do. When his little sister is down for a nap and he has to go use the little Canucks' room, he’ll be on his way up the stairs and we’ll usually tell him to keep it down. We did this a few times until he started getting severely pissed off at us.

DON’T TELL ME TO BE QUIET! YOU DON”T HAVE TO TELL ME. YOU ALWAYS TELL ME AND I ALREADY KNOW TO BE QUIET SO LEAVE ME ALONE!

All of this is a whisper full of rage.

Hm.

Since the baby came along he and his older sister have been sharing a room while the baby has his old digs. He is getting eager to return to his own room now. He and his sister are like an old married couple. They love each other dearly and they make each other mental. With summer over and her now being in a full day of school they don’t spend as much time together as they did before and they are finding it tough at times, missing each other, but they are also a little beat so when they are together there is a lot of fighting going on. They’re a couple of grumps really and will be until they get used to their new schedules.

So we’ve been putting them to bed earlier than usual. In the summer we’d send them upstairs but they’d talk and play for an hour or so, sometimes longer, which was fine, but now its pretty important that they catch up on their sleep. And while his sister’s mantra is “I never sleep” (when I ask her not to get up so early she says that she wants to make her day as long as possible because she has so much fun – how the hell do I argue with that? she’s a mini me right down to the hairy back, poor girl) the boy is pretty aware that sometimes he just needs to sleep. He tackled the baby earlier this week and bloodied her and when he saw what he had done the lip began to quiver and his eyes welled up and he said that he had to get some sleep.

There’s been a few times since school has started that he has asked if he can sleep in our room to start the night off and we have agreed because when one does not have the other then they both tend to crash pretty quickly at which point we come upstairs and move him down the hall.

The other night was one of those nights and so I had him upstairs and was wrestling with the baby and he began to talk about what he wanted to do. When he is asked what he wants to do he invariably says that he wants to be an ice cream man. Well now things have changed. He wants to be an astronaut. But like right now!

He wants me to buy parts so we can build a rocket ship.

Then we’ll get in the rocket. And we’ll put our seatbelts on and then we’ll zoom into space, way way up above the sky and then we’ll take our seatbelts off and that will be ok up there. So we’ll take our seatbelts off and then we’ll float around.

Good plan brother.

------------------------------

Camp has begun and its always interesting to see how different folks react to what’s going on. This isn’t like it was two years ago when there were openings everywhere and Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Kyle Brodziak made the roster out of camp and Tom Gilbert passed Grebeshkov and Smid to earn a spot on the roster for opening day.

Of course Gilbert would rise up the depth chart almost immediately due to injury and end up having a nice rookie year, having pretty good success at both ends of the rink while playing pretty tough opposition. Its guys like Gilbert and Horcoff and Pisani (and the list goes on and on) that make me take proclamations about how young players have reached their ceiling at a certain age with a grain of salt. Already folks are saying that guys like Cogliano and O’Sullivan and Smid may never amount to much, based on different factors, mostly their progression, the arguments are legitimate certainly, but I have always had a hard time with this idea that professional players are fully formed after a couple of years in the league, like Athena springing from the head of Zeus.

It doesn’t work that way, regardless of what the numbers say.

And of course it doesn’t work the other way either, where a guy can say, like some commenter at Lowetide’s the other day, that Tom Gilbert is a piece of shit defenceman and a pussy, because that’s what he sees and damn any of the fancy numbers.

You know, like goals and assists and plus minus. Or the icetime your man put in, all the while playing in the NHL with a bad back.

Hockey more than any other sport lends itself to interpretation. Put one hundred folks in a room to watch a game and you will get one hundred different interpretations. For some folks Shawn Horcoff can do no wrong, for others he can do no right and then there’s the majority in the middle. So it goes. Gilbert could win the Norris and score five goals in game seven of the Cup final and you'd have some guy bitching about how he turned away from a forechecker in the first.

I always enjoy training camp. I like it because it means hockey season is about to start. I like it because there are times where there is legitimate drama, like two season ago when Smid and Stortini and Thoresen all got sent out and Pouliot and Jacques and the aforementioned all made it.

Of course it wasn’t long before Smid and Stortini were back to stay. It will be the same this year when guys start getting hurt, those last cuts will filter back up to Alberta, some to stay for good, others to get their Tim Sestito cup of coffee. Not to take away from the achievement of breaking camp with the big club or the disappointment of getting sent down but the reality is it can chnage within days either way.

This year there’s not much drama really. With Brule’s waiver eligibility exhausted its become pretty clear that unless the club moves someone out, which they still may, or someone gets hurt then I think we can agree that the roster is going to look something like this:

Horcoff, Penner, Hemsky, Gagner, O’Sullivan, Nilsson, Cogliano, Comrie, Moreau, Pisani, Stortini, Brule, Jacques, Pouliot

Souray, Visnovsky, Grebeshkov, Gilbert, Smid, Staios, Strudwick

Khabibulin, JDD

No real surprises here. They are small up front and there are a lot of leadoff hitters, as LT likes to say, but consider that they’re unlikely to give up on a guy like Nilsson unless they think Schremp can step in and do him one better. Considering that guys are going to get hurt, moving Nilsson out doesn’t strike me as a wise move. If he is the odd kid out having him on the fourth line certainly doesn’t hurt unless you can get a big body in return for him.

But I think we’re going to see if Schremp can make it through waivers. I don’t think he will.

Other than that there’s not really anyone else who strikes me as ready to step in. Ryan Stone might, if he can have a terrific camp, but even then, who is he going to knock out of the lineup? Jacques would be the logical candidate but he has had a nice start to camp so far and my guess is that someone would take a flyer on him if they try and waive him.

This camp is all about the veterans staying healthy. Its nice that O’Sullivan scored two the other night I guess, good to get some confidence going early, but playing a bunch of scrubs means not a lot and you can bet the vets know it. I’m not concerned about Ales Hemsky looking disinterested, he’s got bigger things to worry about, like trying not to getting killed by the sheepherder this winter.

Know what I'm saying?

The one positive coming out of this little exercise, having said that, is the next wave of kids coming up. I haven’t seen a damn thing out here in Ontario-o-o-o but there have been good reports. Cornet was sent down but he showed well. Motin has looked terrific and Eberle has not looked out of place at all. I’ve heard good things about Kytnar and Dubnyk and Plante as well. Good stuff, especially considering there are still the Europeans and the college kids and Roy, not to mention Peckham.

A solid pipeline of talent and a lot of them look to be steals from the later rounds. It bodes well.

And it also sounds like Pouliot had a solid game last night. Its his last chance really but he could finally be a useful player, a big centre who can win draws and kill penalties. Last chance for him too.

I will just be a lot more excited if all of these same arrows are pointing in the right direction in November and February.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Best Laid Plans Etc Etc Hee Hee. Laid.


It was almost ten years ago that an elaborate, well thought out scheme, pure genius really, fell to pieces.

My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, was turning twenty five that October and in the spring I decided that I would surprise her by taking her to New Orleans. We lived in Tampa (Oakland with beaches is pretty accurate by the way) and we could fly to New Orleans for cheap.

Now I'm all about keeping her happy. I'm always pulling this type of thing. Booked a massage for her the other day. Organized a long weekend for her in Montreal with a friend from the Island for later this fall. For her birthday this year it was going to be a surprise trip to Cuba before her dad got sick. You see if she's happy then I'm going to be happy. And her going away for a few days is no big deal. I had the kids three days solid over Labour Day while she worked and we did just fine. The beach. Parks. Went for a pint at my local with them. House was tidy, laundry done, clothes laundered. Plus I made cookies and butter tarts.

No wonder she loves me. I am so so gay.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anyways I let her do her thing and encourage it and basically I just want to be left alone to do my thing when I like. A little road trip here and there. Pints. Hockey. A little bit of the ee ee ee ee when we can. Some time to write or watch the Oilers.

I'm a simpleton what can I say. But that is all I ask. Just every once in a while, leave me be.

So the best thing about this plan was that I laid the groundwork for it in the spring. In April I told her to make sure that she booked off the weekend in question. I said nothing else.

It made her crazy.

My wife is the type who still gets a thrill on Christmas morning and it has nothing to do with the kids. The anticipation, the surprises, when it comes time to come downstairs to see what Santa brought she's pushing the kids out of the way like George Costanza trying to escape the fire.

So its killing her.

We'd be sitting on the beach and I'd smile and she'd ask me what I was thinking about and I'd smile some more and say 'Oh just thinking about your birthday weekend'.

Hah!

It made her mental.

Where are we going?

Can't say.

Where are we going?

You'll see.

Where are we going?

Well ...

Yes? Yes?

I might be persuaded .... raises eyebrow sexily

Later, sharing a smoke and glass of wine.

So, where are we going?

Oh that's for me to know and for you ... to find out!

Yes, I'm twelve. But you knew that.

The thing is this was before 9/11 as well so you could go to the gates even if you were not flying, that is there was no big rigamarole going through security. And it was Southwest so you could get your ticket at the actual gate. So we'd have carry ons and my plan was to go through security and then drag it out forever, stopping in front of gate after gate until her head was ready to pop off. It was going to be so fucking awesome.

It was two weeks before our trip, not even, and we were eating supper in our apartment. The upcoming weekend we were going to Toronto for a wedding and then the weekend following we would go to New Orleans. Six months I had held this secret close to the vest, I was less than two weeks away; I was home free. And then she asked me what we were going to do with the dog when we were away.

When we're in Toronto Diane is going to take care of him and then when we go to New Orleans ...

That was it. She actually felt as bad as I did, she wasn't trying to find out by now and the whole trip had become such a great mystery. Good fun, you know.

I looked at the dog and I said, for neither the first nor the last time:

Way to go, jerk.

And he looked at me and said:

Don't go blaming this on me you stupid fucking dummy.

And then I thought I had it made, because I owned a fucking talking dog!

But that's a story for another time.

----------------------------

I feel like my birthday is coming up and Steve Tambellini, bless his little heart, is going to give me something big. Maybe a weekend in New York. We'll catch a show, take a romantic stroll in Central Park. Or maybe an all inclusive trip to Jamaica. We'll oil each other up and drink big drinks with umbrellas at the swim up bar. Or maybe, maybe, Paris! Or Prague! Or Edinburgh!

I really am excited because Steve promised me something great at the beginning of the summer. And lets be honest, I deserve something big, don't I? We're talking three years out of the playoffs and he's spending all of that money for nothing. What's a girl to think? I'm wondering if he has someone on the side but then I think, naw, I'm getting fucked too hard for that to be the case.

The thing with Steve is he's already talking like all of his buddies. They talk about the old days all of the time. Championships and Oilers' hockey and the best ice in the league. Problem is its nearly twenty years since they won a Cup, they haven't played Oilers' hockey since 2006 and the ice is shit. And just to make matters worse here comes Pat LaForge talking about how the team just isn't tenable unless taxpayers cough up for a new arena.

I keep expecting Christopher Lloyd to pull up in his DeLorean and ask me to get in along with Michael Keaton, Webster, Ah-Ha and the gang from Full House.

I'm sure Steve will pull through for me though. I mean he said himself that this club was too small and too soft and of course he has to know that next year there is going to be a crunch with the salary cap and Cogliano, Gagner and Grebeshkov are all up for big raises. Three huge parts of the future right there. Its not like he'll further tie the franchise's hands by handing out another huge contract to an aging player. That wouldn't be too smart. And he'll take care of that whole situation where the club needs to get bigger and tougher and could use someone to win draws and kill penalties, right? Everyone can see the need is right there. He said so himself.

Hmmm.

Yeah I think we're fucked.

Again.

Hey I screwed up my plan but at least I had one and in the end we went on our trip and it was great and I got the girl.

Here I am and I'm thinking Steve is going to tell me that we're taking a Greyhound to Albany. And for me its only a one way ticket.

Surprise!

Friday, September 11, 2009

New Beginnings


Last September I wrote about how the rhythm of my life for so many years has revolved around Labour Day being my New Year’s Day. This became true when I was in university and has continued through the years following. The end of glorious summers, the beginning of hockey season. Changes in my life always seem to fall at this time of year. I bought a little black and white puppy at the end of August 1997. In September 1998 my girlfriend moved down to Florida to live with me. Three years later we packed up our car and a Uhaul and drugged the big fellow and drove back to Canada on Labour Day weekend. In 2002 we moved into our house at the end of August and a month later we went to Europe for the first time. In 2003 our daughter was born in September. Two years later our son was born in October.

You get the picture.

Once you have children this feeling of September as the page's turn accelerates when they begin school. So this past week my daughter started Grade 1 and the boy started junior kindergarten.

They stagger the little ones’ entrances into school because it can be a little much. They’re four, those with late birthdays, like my son, are actually three.

There were some tears in the lineups for Grade One. Our oldest was a little nervous but was fine. Full day at school now, she even eats her lunch there. Its really fucking mental when I think about it. It’s a big adjustment, from a half day to a full day, and once evening comes she’s a bit of a mess. Pretty tired out.

But kindergarten? Well, some do ok. Others not so much. Our daughter was a tough sell for a few weeks, crying as we dragged her up the stairs to her class. I don’t blame her. There’s many a morning when I get on the subway in tears.

So Wednesday was the boy’s first day. He’s been excited for this for months. He has the same teacher that his sister did, an absolutely terrific little guy who just extraordinary. He runs a very tight ship, which we like, has high expectations for his pupils and has an unbelievably creative and engaging classroom. Apparently he did just quit smoking on Monday so that might make things interesting in class for a while. (At dinner I asked the boy if he found that his teacher seemed to be tense or on edge – he stared at me like I have two heads).

So at 7am the boy was up and he got himself dressed (have I mentioned before that my children are brilliant). The boy is his own man, always has been, and he, like his namesake, my father, takes his time.

If I had a dime for every time my dad said “Take your time” to me when I was a boy I’d be doing this blogging thing for a living.

Getting dressed, eating, taking a dump.

The boy takes his time.

And on Wednesday he was at the door, backpack on, shoes too, breakfast eaten, teeth brushed, fully dressed, at 7:30. A half hour after he woke up.

Easy there big fella.

An hour later we left, walked to the school, dropped off his big sister and walked over to the kindergarten. He gave me a hug and walked up the steps with his mom. A minute later she came down the stairs.

He’d walked into the cloakroom, hung his bag on a hook and walked right into the classroom without looking back and barely a casual goodbye.

He’s cool, that one.

------------------------


So here we are, camp about to start and there are some nervous folks out here in the ‘sphere.

We’re worried about the goaltending.

We wonder from amongst the forwards who is going to stop the other team from scoring.
We wonder who is going to kill penalties and win faceoffs.
And who is getting sent out of town, if anybody, amongst the regulars.

Mike Comrie is the only skater to come in this summer. Its an odd choice. It’s a terrific contract and if his health issues are behind him he will probably completely outperform it and how many Oilers can we say that about? Folks look at his last couple of years and they were pretty poor but he was the focal point of the offence on the Island so my guess is he faced some tough opposition there. If he gets the easy stuff and he is healthy he is a good bet to produce.

Having said that, please please stop justifying his signing by talking about the fact that he scored thirty goals though. Bobby Hull scored fifty, should they sign him too? Its about as relevant as Khabibulin’s Cup ring as far as I’m concerned. When the playoffs roll around next spring it wil be six years since Tampa won the Cup. I wonder what Dave Andreychuk is doing these days.

Fair play to Comrie anyhow. There will be no booing and if he produces then he’ll be the hometown hero again, at least until he leaves town for greener pastures in a year. His career is hanging by a thread, never mind Winter’s claims that there were three other teams after his services. Whatever. He'll be highly motivated and watch the crowd roar the first time he puts one into the net.

Of course the problem with Comrie’s arrival is that his skill set is a redundant one on this roster. Small offensively skilled forwards are abundant on this Oilers’ club. They need … well, we know what they need, we’ve known it for a while now.

LT is the man when it comes to training camp, as if we didn't know. But if you didn't, check it out.

Anyhow it looks like the blue and the goaltending are set. Up front is where the action will be.

Horcoff, Hemsky, Penner, Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Comrie, O’Sullivan, Pisani, Moreau, Stortini, Pouliot, Brule, Jacques, MacIntyre, Reddox, Potulny, Schremp, Stone, MacDonald, Minard

Is Penner in shape? Is Nilsson ready to be a man? How about Gagner and Cogliano? Can O'Sullivan impress? How much do Moreau and Pisani have left? Will Jacques and Pouliot make the most of what has to be their last chance? Schremp? Can any of the longshots make an impact?

Fourteen of those guys make it. The rest don’t. And there still may be a trade to bring in a little bit of what this club needs.

I know that for many camp is pointless but it means hockey season is almost here. The start of a new year.

Finally.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Bye Bye Hunter


There's dopey moves and then there's dopey moves. On a team in desperate need of size, toughness and two way forwards the Oilers sign another small forward. Unless this is the precursor to another move or two, we've got a problem Houston.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Edmonton Minis.

Agin - Why The Oilers Have Sucked and Will Suck Again


The problem with the Edmonton Oilers this upcoming season is the same problem they have had every season.

I see three years out of the playoffs with a fourth likely. I also see the following list:

Pronger, Spacek, Smith, Hejda, Tjarnqvist, Bergeron, Tarnstrom, Pitkanen, Greene, Samsonov, Peca, Dvorak, Smyth, Sykora, Winchester, Thoresen, Stoll, Torres, Glencross, Reasoner, Cole, Kotalik, Brodziak.

That is a list of what I would call NHL players that have been moved out since June 19, 2006.

Now in some cases the Oilers did not have a choice and in others they got a nice return and there are others that you can argue whether or not the outgoing players had much value at all.

But here is the problem, its not that they moved guys. Guys get moved all the time. A guy like Marty Reasoner or Kyle Brodziak or Patrick Thoresen can be replaced pretty easily but if you do not do so then what happens? This is the problem. The list of incoming players is a lot shorter than the list of guys heading away.

Two seasons ago the Oilers had a fourth line of Glencross, Brodziak and Stortini. They were terrific. Very effective in the role that they played. Patrick Thoresen and Marty Reasoner were two other fourth liners who are now gone. Brad Winchester too.

So what does the Oilers' fourth line look to be this season? Stortini and then two of Potulny, Jacques, Brule, Pouliot, Reddox, Stone, MacIntyre plus any guy who comes out of nowhere.

Not a lot of experience. Not a lot of anything.

The problem with the franchise's approach to each summer is that there does not appear to be a longterm plan. Instead the same mistakes are made, over and over again.

So in 2006 the Oilers lost three of their top nine forwards - Dvorak, Samsonov, Peca. Moving into those roles were Sykora, Lupul and Moreau. Immediately you see a sacrifice on the defensive side of the ball, so to speak. Sykora is probably an upgrade on Samsonov, Moreau is a downgrade from Dvorak, Lupul is not really a replacement for Peca, he cannot do anything that Peca does but he should be able to score goals. So we see that Lowe is sacrificing defence for offence which might be fine except that Pronger and Spacek are also gone and so two of his top four D spots are open and on top of that its his two best puck movers on the backend who are gone. So both offence and defence take a hit from that standpoint.

To fill their roles he brings in Tjarnqvist and Smid, with Jan Hejda in the wings. I was pretty confident in that club after the heady run in May and June but Lowe left a gaping hole on the back end in terms of defensive and offensive quality and never addressed it. The results, in hindsight, were pretty predictable. Laddy Smid in the top four? Come on.

The idea of a run and gun club is a nice one but if your defencemen are a weak group and they don't have the ability to get the puck to the forwards then there's a big problem.

Each of the following summers brought more of the same. Smyth had been shown the door with a similar return to Pronger (futures) and so it looked like the rebuild was on especially when the club tanked. So now you have some more kids coming in and they ship out Gator along with Lupul who was found wanting and they bring in Pitkanen. Also Bergeron was sent out for Grebeshkov, don't forget. So the rebuilding of the D is moving apace - you now have Pitkanen, Grebeshkov, Gilbert, Greene, Smid - a nice collection, plus a veteran in Staios and a quality cheap tough minutes option in Hejda who wants to sign in Edmonton.

Up front however you have a ton of holes especially with Sykora also moving on. You've gone from the 2006 group - seven tough minutes guys plus Stoll, Hemsky and Samsonov, ten quality players in all - to five tough minute guys plus Stoll, Hemsky, Sykora and Lupul, to four tough minute guys plus Stoll and Hemsky. And Reasoner who slots in as a quality fourth liner is in both of the latter two groups.

Its at this point that it looks like it may be time to go all out and rebuild or at least bring in some cheap vets to augment the kids. With Smyth gone the die has been cast.

Instead Lowe goes the other way. He throws big money at Vanek, a move I liked then and still do. A guy who may only play the butter minutes but who absolutely murders them. It fails so then he invests a ton of money and three picks and takes a flyer on Penner. And then puts a ton of money into Souray. And while all of this is happening Hejda walks.

I like Souray a lot but the problem with this move is that Lowe doesn't follow it up. He ends up with a D that is pretty green but ends up being a surprising strength of the club, even when Souray gets hurt early. The issue now is up front. There are too many kids and when Moreau and Pisani go down with injury and illness the result is predictable because there is nobody to step into the breach at all. This is further compounded when they lose Thoresen and while this may seem minimal (I know I know the guy isn't even in the NHL now), the Norwegian was a young role player who could PK, protect the puck, win puck battles and was pretty low event. If you are rebuilding then you want to have young players who can do different things, right? Anyways he is lost on waivers.

And then we get to last summer. Now remember that this club was green as hell up front the previous season, right? So what do they do? They again try and have it both ways. They move Pitkanen for Cole and they move Stoll and Greene for Visnovsky. And they let Torres and Glencross and Reasoner go, for Brule and for nothing. So two vets in but again the outgoing guys outnumber those coming in.

Now I make that Visnovsky trade again for sure and I liked the move for Cole but once again the issue is not what Lowe does its what he does not do. I have no argument with getting rid of guys like Stoll and Torres and Reasoner. You can argue why each had to go pretty convincingly. But then you don't replace them.

So they move out Thoresen, Stoll, Torres, Reasoner and Glencross and bring in Cole.

Can you see where there might be a problem? Five out, one in.

At least on the D there is some balance. You have three kids and three vets.

But up front for another season you have holes everywhere and from 06 you have three tough minute guys left plus Cole and Hemsky and then you have kids. Everywhere.

Why invest all of the money in Souray and two young players and money in Visnovsky if you're not going to complete the puzzle? As Bruce McCurdy has pointed out a number of times, you have a handful of guys in their thirties and a whack of guys under twenty five and barely anyone in between.

So why this long litany of complaints and examples?

Because this summer they did it all again and on top of it they committed the sin of creating a bigger issue with the salary cap with Gagner, Cogliano and Grebeshkov up for renewal next summer.

Again they invested big money, this time in Khabibulin, and again they ignored the fact that they have holes up front. Indeed they have made things worse if anything by moving out Kotalik and Brodziak, one of the few veterans and a kid who could do what none of the other kids could do, that is play a role. Is Brodziak replaceable? I guess so. People look at last season and say he was crap but here's a kid who took defensive zone draws and PK'd and spent a lot of shifts dragging guys like MacIntyre and Boulerice around. As a rookie he had a pretty decent run. I'd say he was worth keeping around. But now he's gone too.

A lot of commenters argue that the kids like Brule and Pouliot and Jacques need their at bats and that's fair enough except this is going to cost this club wins, again.

And you might say to me, well hey there what are you arguing - what gives - and my response is that I want my pie and to eat it to. Lowe never had to blow this club up. He could have augmented what he had with the right choices and let some kids spend a little more time in junior and the club would have been more competitive to boot. Now we've wasted three years and we're still betwixt and between. Maybe we can compete for eighth but a summer from now we'll have a bunch of guys closer to the glue factory and once again a bunch of holes on the roster plus we'll be scrambling for cap space to sign three big parts of the club's future.

Think about that - Grebeshkov or Gagner or Cogliano gone because of the money invested in a guy who'll be long retired before any of them hit their prime. The absolute height of stupidity.

On top of all of the guys that we have let go for nothing we still have the same problem we've had for three years running now. And every summer everyone says things are going to be different and every summer this team falls flat.

The Oilers have a hugely expensive injury prone goalie who doesn't even have a proven backup.

What happens if Khabibulin goes down for fifteen games and JDD and Dubnyk cannot do the job?

What happens if he goes down for thirty games?

Who is going to kill penalties? Who is going to take faceoffs and win them? Nobody could do it last season and there's nobody new in the mix.

Can the kids finally kill the soft parade?

What if it wasn't MacT? What if Nilsson and Penner and Pouliot are just a bunch of dog fuckers?

Can the fourth line do anything worthwhile or will they need to be stapled to the bench? Would you rather a line of Jacques/Brule/Stortini or Glencross (or Moreau)/Brodziak/Stortini? A line that murdered the other team's dregs. A line that got that puck moving the right way.

Who can play the tough minutes? If Penner/Horcoff/Hemsky are one tough minutes line then who centres Pisani and Moreau on the other and what happens if either of those guys or Horcoff goes down?

Can you see the problem here? If the Oilers are up one with three minutes left and Quenneville sends Kane and Toews over the boards and Quinn sends out Horcoff you might get a saw off. Then Quenneville sends out Sharpe and Hossa. Quinn responds with Moreau, Pisani and who? Pouliot? Feeling as confident? What if Horcoff is out? Is Gagner taking on Datsyuk? Or Pisani goes down? Is it Stortini out there protecting the lead against a line led by Zetterberg?

This club is riddled with holes, absolutely riddled, and its pretty well all management's fault. Look at St. Louis or Columbus or the Kings, two clubs that made the playoffs last year and a third that is a pretty good bet to do it this year. A lot of kids on all of these clubs but on the first two a nice set of vets to act as the spine for the kids, guys who can saw off with the other team's vets. And the Kings heading that way as well.

The coaching move was inspired but far too many things have to go right for the Oilers this year. People speak about how this team was in good shape last season but they also forget that they had pretty nice luck with injuries. A few injuries to the wrong people and this club, too thin up front and in goal, will be in lottery territory. Absolutely healthy they still fall short. Too many holes. They just aren't good enough.

Next we'll enter fantasy land and I'll talk about what I would have done both this summer and since 2006. None of this - oh I traded Pronger for Bouwmeester or I signed Zetterberg to an offer sheet shit. I'll work within reasonable parameters and this club will be more competitive, cheaper and a playoff team. Guaranteed. ;)