Sunday, April 10, 2011
The second time I was in Dublin was for both business and pleasure. I had meetings but my evenings were free and I had a weekend to myself as well. That trip was when I really came to know that old town.
The Friday we finished up early in the afternoon and they called me a cab and I headed downtown. I was meeting my friend Cathal Byrne for pints after dinner at an old pub called McDaid's but I had a few hours to kill beforehand so I did a little wander. I went to the Stag's Head,a beautiful old pub, all wood and brass, hidden down an alley. A pint and then out into the street and on to The Old Stand another old beauty, the men behind the marble bar in white jackets, the low hum of conversation. Another pint and then out again and I began to notice that the streets and alleys were becoming lively with song and shouts as kilted Scotsmen began to appear, like me, moving from pub to pub. It was the Six Nations rugby and the next afternoon the Scots were meeting the Irish at Croke Park and with Edinburgh and Glasgow less than an hour flight away it turns out that many Scots make the trip, some with tickets, some just to party in old Dublin. The next pub I entered, Dawson's Lounge, is called the smallest pub in Dublin, and when I came down the stairs to the tiny room I was immediately plunged into a kilted mess, pints clinking, the thick accented roar, the sour smell of many drunken men. Another pint and then, feeling myself drifting already, a belly of Guinness spreading through me, I figured I had better grab myself a bite or it would be an early night.
A little later I made my way to McDaid's (all of these pubs are within minutes of each other). I looked in but Cathal had not found his way there yet and so I stepped back out into the warm Dublin evening to catch my breath. I was minding my business when all of a sudden a group of lads came up to me and one says, in a thick Scottish burr:
Where's the Indian?
I was a bit confused and I'm sure I looked a bit stunned for he says again, now shouting
Hey there, where's the Indian? We're looking for the Indian! Can you help us?
Erm, what do you mean? I said, thinking I was about to be plunged into some drama involving a case of mistaken identity with a pack of mumbling gangsters, whisked away to Corsica and buried in the hills there.
Wha? I said where's the Indian? There's supposed to be a great Indian restaurant around here and we trying to find it, he says.
Well, I said, I'm from Canada so I'm afraid you've asked the wrong guy. (Although my third time there I think I found the place they were looking for, it was just around the corner. Next time I'll be ready).
He began to laugh and his pals ribbed him about asking for directions from the one guy in a thousand on the street who was not from Dublin and then they headed into McDaid's.
Shortly thereafter I got thirsty and figured I'd head in myself. I opened the door and entered the roar and as I made my way to the bar for a pint a familiar song rang out.
My new acquaintances were singing Oh Canada, glasses raised in my direction.
Five shitty years and oh my its tiresome. Makes one wonder if the Oilers do the hiring for management by walking up to random guys on the street as well. Your friend and mine, Pat LaForge telling Eric Francis that the Oilers didn't blow it up, the team imploded, as if, somehow, management was not responsible. Much like 'Holy Cow we have a lot of defencemen' it was suddenly 'Holy Cow we're a terrible team. How did that happen?!'
Of course it was sadly close to that I suspect. A team that lurched back and forth from picking up kids to selling them off for veterans over the past few years thought their team was so terrible two summers ago that they gave Khabibulin a big contract in order to take this club to the promised land. Eight months later they realized they were sadly mistaken.
Now having said all of that while this year was another awful one to suffer through as a fan it also gave us a glimpse of what may be a bright future. If the kids stay healthy and if management gets a clue, the first being, well, up to the hockey gods, and the second, being, really unlikely, seriously, based on the stylings of Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini thus far, then we may have something going on here.
I'm being a prick here and seeing that the Oilers are not in the playoffs again, I think its warranted. But ... I have to be fair. The Oilers are loaded with prospects and with OKC making the playoffs tonight, Tambellini has to get some credit. He wanted to rebuild the organization and the performance of the AHL club has been impressive considering the disaster the affiliates have been for years. So, credit where its due to the dummies. ;)
Now, about those kids.
Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle held their own and quite often outchanced the opposition and the opposition's best at times. Two kids who can do that? Seriously?
Paajarvi did not get the opportunity that Hall did and until Penner was sent away he was third on the the depth chart at LW. Look at the Oilers' lineup and you know he wasn't getting much in the way of linemates and as a result he struggled somewhat, especially playing with noted hockey geniuses Andrew Cogliano and Gilbert Brule. The nineteen year old was the best player on that line and when Penner was moved he got more icetime and the goals started coming and guess what? Looks like we have another player on our hands.
These three were expected but Linus Omark finally got the call and yeah he can play too. He may never get trusted playing the toughs but the little guy will make hay on the PP and my guess is he could kill the soft for this club. A dynamic player who wins puck battles, something the Oilers have been unable to do for years.
Teemu Hartikainen was a sixth round pick. He's covered the bet already. He is big and he plays big and he's got nice hands and he wins puck battles and he's green but he's earned himself a spot on next year's roster already with his play since he got called up.
Theo Peckham looked like he might be in trouble coming into camp but he earned his spot and had a pretty good year. He may be no more than a third pairing guy but he's that at the very least and there is a chance he is more. And he's a tough customer and a lot of fun to watch.
Jeff Petry can play. Smooth and a good skater and again, he's a hockey player, like every guy mentioned so far. He steps on the ice and he's green but he can play. He'll be on the roster next year and I would bet that he's partnered with Whitney to start the year.
Dubnyk has had a very good year. Again, he may be no more than a very good backup but the potential is there. He may be a starter, he may be an actual number one. Crazy stuff for a franchise that hasn't drafted a good goaltender since before I started high school. That is a long long time ago.
And finally our friend Jean Vandevelde. As a golfer, well he's a choker. And in his rookie season as a pro he struggled terribly until the new year and now, in his cup of coffee, he has looked, well, not so bad. He can win faceoffs (wha, wha dat?) and he's a big man and if he can hold his own then things get more interesting still.
So here is the question. What happens this summer?
There are two ways this can happen and I think we all know which one its going to be. The Oilers can stay the course and go with the kids or they can actually augment the youngsters with some veterans who can play.
Here is the depth chart going into the summer - this includes UFAs.
LW - Hall, Paajarvi, Jones, Hartikainen, Reddox, Jacques, Hamilton
C - Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano, Fraser, Vandevelde, O'Marra, Lander, Kytnar, Martindale
RW - Hemsky, Eberle, Omark, Brule, Stortini, MacIntyre, McDonald, Pitlick
D - Whitney, Gilbert, Smid, Peckham, Petry, Vandermeer, Foster, Strudwick, Chorney, Plante, Teubert, Motin, Marincin, Davidson
G - Dubnyk, Khabibulin, Roy
Thoughts on this:
Hall, Paajarvi, Eberle, Peckham, Dubnyk are obviously going nowhere. They are established in the NHL.
Based on what we have seen can we say the same about Omark, Petry and Hartikainen? I would say yes absolutely. The Oilers are not sending these guys down next fall.
Its doubtful that the Oilers can move Ales Hemsky this summer because of his injury. If Sam Gagner were on the block I would say the same for him.
Khabibulin's contract is not moveable and I can't see Katz agreeing to pay more money to a guy not playing in Edmonton so he will be back.
Based on all of this we can probably predict the roster the Oilers are going to break camp with next fall.
LW - Hall, Paajarvi, Hartikainen
C - Horcoff, Gagner, Cogliano
RW - Hemsky, Eberle, Omark
D - Whitney, Petry, Smid, Gilbert, Peckham
G - Dubnyk, Khabibulin
Not a lot of room left there to bring in the guys that this club has needed for years, that is, some veterans to help win some games. As a matter of fact I would propose that the number of questions facing management is a pretty short one.
1/ Do they sign Ryan Jones? He's probably going to command a decent salary, probably far more than he is worth. This isn't Curtis Glencross, this is more like Gilbert Brule. They will have the cap room though and I'm thinking they may give him two years. If they do then they are set at LW if they bring Reddox back to PK and bring energy.
2/ What of Foster and Fraser? These guys were cheap gambles that did not work out so much this year. I don't see anyone taking them and I don't really see Katz paying them to play in the minors. Foster would be the sixth defenceman so there is room for another veteran to replace Vandermeer if they choose to go that way or a kid like Plante or Teubert if they figure either is ready. (Or for Larsson if they pick him and bring him over). As for Fraser well if they go with a centre first overall and he makes the club then Fraser is your fifth centre. If they do not then he slots in fourth, same as this year, unless he gets passed by Vandevelde or O'Marra, which is possible,
3/ What about Brule? Well there is something going on here and I wonder if its a chronic illness. Too much mystery here. I see no reason to bring him back but if Katz does not want to pay him to play in the minors then he slots in on the fourth line.
4/ As for Jacques, Stortini, MacIntrye? Gone.
We know what the plan is. Its to lose until the kids become the Boys on the Bus or Chicago or Pittsburgh. Now if they become Florida or Atlanta or the Islanders then I'm not sure what the next step will be other than heavier drinking but this is what they are doing and so next year is going to be more of the same for us. If the kids all take a step forward and the club stays healthy then they may move out of lottery territory but looking at that roster they just need everything to go right to do so. Probably not a great bet. In other words, lottery territory next season, once again.
Posted by Black Dog at 12:45 PM