Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Looking Forward, Looking Back

I'd say something about the Russian plane crash but its all too sad. All of the families left with an absence in them. Its too horrible for words.


Last August and September we did a little project here on the Summit Series in 1972. In the next week or so I am going to start posting a new series, a look back at the 1976 Canada Cup. The first Canada Cup was the first best on best tournament ever held and in the minds of many the Canadian team was the greatest hockey club ever assembled. This was the first of five Canada Cups, a tournament Canada won four out of five times. I always get a kick out of Canadian hockey angst, although I am a fullfledged participant in it. There have been a dozen best on best tournaments if you include the 1972 Summit Series. Canadian clubs have won eight of them. No other team has won more than one. That's excellent. Unlike the English, who groundlessly feel they are automatically favourites for every major soccer tourney they enter, we Canadians actually have reason to believe that we will emerge triumphant.

So how good was this club and who drove the bus for it is what I want to see. This is a different situation than last year's look at 1972. Unlike that club which had quite a few players who I did not see in their prime, including my boyhood idol Stan Mikita, by 1976 I was a big hockey fan and had been watching NHL hockey for a few years so I have memories of most of the Canadian players involved. I actually watched the tournament although I was eight at the time so I don't remember much about it other than Sittler's famous goal. I certainly don't remember Bobby Hull, who was gone to the WHA by the time I became a hockey fan, and so it will be interesting to see him play. Also this is Bobby Orr's swan song, even playing basically on one leg he was named tournament MVP, so I am curious to see him as well.

And unlike 1972 there is not a huge mythology around the 1976 team. Its been thirty five years and there was not the drama of 1987 or 2010 or even 2002. This club sits there with the 1991 and 2004 Team Canada clubs, superb, victorous, but anonymous in a way, partially because of the coldly efficient way in which they triumphed when all was said and done. This was a great team on paper and on the ice.

Without even cracking the DVD shrinkwrap yet, looking at the Canadian roster online there are two things that stand out. First of all the roster is compact unlike the bloated collection of players from 1972. There are twenty two skaters. Secondly is the astounding quality of the Canadian team with sixteen eventual hall of famers on the roster.

Anyways times have been busy as hell for me so I'm hoping to get the games watched and posted within the month. I hope you enjoy reading about this series as much as I hope to enjoy writing about it.


Soon, very soon, Oilers' camp is going to open up and NHL hockey is going to return.

Its probably going to be another long year unless Tambellini addresses the defence and goaltending before the start of the season. I don't see that happening really so barring a miracle its going to be another long Greyhound ride although likely there will be many more anonymous handjobs than last season.

There are positives. There are four actual left wingers on the roster and three actual centres and three actual right wingers and when is the last time we could say that? Of course Hemsky and Smyth will likely be traded for futures come the spring but for now we can enjoy the deepest corps of forwards the Oilers have had since the 2006/2007 season, deep enough that a guy like Teemu Hartikainen will probably not make the team, despite showing that he could probably play in this league right now in his cup of coffee last season.

Just as Brian Burke said the other day that the Leafs' roster is pretty well set so too is the Oilers'. You could write a lot of names down in pen.

LW - Hall, Paajarvi, Smyth, Eager, Hordichuk
C - Horcoff, Gagner, Belanger
RW - Eberle, Omark, Hemsky, Jones
D - Whitney, Gilbert, Smid, Peckham, Sutton, Barker
G - Dubnyk. Khabibulin

So we're looking at probably two forward spots and one spot on the blue. Of course injuries will change all of that as well but for now this is what we are looking at.

So we have Petry and Chorney likely battling it out for the final D spot.

And if Brule is healthy (and he's skating so one assumes he is, although one assumes he will come down with an irritated labia or uncomfortable rectum soon enough) then there is one of the two forward spots gone.

So that's one spot left and Nugent Hopkins will get very chance to win it I would think and my guess is unless he is completely lost out there he will get at least nine games.

There's your roster folks, barring trade (unlikely) or injury (waiting for the first shoe to drop over here).


Olivier said...

It's been a while and my comparison may not be that good, but they look like the 91-92 Nordiques. No defense, no goalies, a bunch of raw talented kids up front, all ending in a 52 points season. That was followed by a firewagon-hockey style 104 points season, a fallback (76pts) season and then pedal to the metal for a decade.

That's a helluva young F corps these Oilers have.

Jordan said...

I'm quite curous about the D corps. There are a lot of players who could surprise because of the raw number of minor-league prospects that the team has now. Especially if Whitney is not ready to go - Potter? Teubert? Petry? Fedun?

Based on this story I'm less worried about what they'll do in goal. Oilers Cool-aid tastes less like watered down orange Tang and more like Fruitopia - Nothing special but bearable to drink.

My question is in terms of development - will playing with a weak D and questionable G help teach the Fs to play defense as a team, or that playing defense is irrelevant and the best D is a strong O?

I have great difficulty imagining the team wallowing in failure - the young stars seem to have too much character to allow it, and too much skill to be forced into it

steveb12344 said...

I think the key concept that most don't seem to be grasping around here is.....What is oilers management's priority for this season? It seems very clear to me with the moves they have made, and the new players that they brought in. It is probably not to make a run for the cup(at least not yet anyhow) They are all tough,or character players, or both. with the exception of Barker, who maybe did just have a rough time in minni. It's not impossible is it? He had great junior pedigree, and a very good rookie season. Everyone keeps saying Dmen take longer to develop. While last season was purely development, I think this one is development first, though if the players do pull it together and still in the running after new years, then ST and co. will address the needs you are all screaming for come deadline time. It looks like JD is gonna get this whole year as starter to see what he can do,with NK as backup/mentor. Who knows? Maybe as a backup with limited games,Khabby's gimpy body may hold up and allow him to play better than he has with the heavy workload over the last few years. as far as the D,same thing. How are you going to know what you have with the youth, if they fill the roster with aging,mediocre veterans. The only thing that i think will interest them in this regard is if they have a shot at a young franchise type D. That is not likely. Imo it will be all about finding out what they have, and giving the youth lots of opportunity to show it. By the end of this year, they should have a much better idea of who's going to be good and who is bust. That is when we should start to see the actual oiler team of the future start coming together.Unfortunately there are just too many questions for it to happen now. If that's the case we might as well stop worrying about it,and just kick back and enjoy the ride. Regardless of where we finish, there is still going to be plenty of excitement, with much better times just on the horizon, for Oil country.

steveb12344 said...

Said JD, meant DD obv.

nanaimo oil said...

Pat, can't wait to read your analysis of that '76 series....I was in my 20's then watching and boy what a team, Bobby was great, sure coulda used him in '72. I assume you got around to finishing the Deadwood series...where you as frustrated as I that there was no real ending?...but what about that fight, gotta love that, watched it a few times, love the grease!...Brian

Black Dog said...

Olivier - if they turn into the Avs I'll be pretty happy that's for sure. Only time will tell if there is a Sakic or Forsberg here, that's the key.

Steveb - no I agree with you, its a development year. I like Dubnyk and they need to see what he is. And the Barker signing I don't mind. I don't think he will pan out but its only cash for one year. Doesn't hurt.

I don't share Jordan's enthusiasm although I hope he is right.

Bruce said...

@BDHS: As long as they don't turn into the Avs and wait until they're stateside to win anything.

Not sure that I'd call the 1976 squad the greatest Team Canada ever, but I will say unequivocally that squad had the best defence corps I have ever seen on any team. Orr, Savard, Park, Robinson, Potvin, Lapointe, Watson, yowsa.

Black Dog said...

Amen to that Bruce.

Yeah that D is ridiculous. Who would you say is the best Team Canada ever? I look at this roster and its just unbelievable, only the goaltending would have to be considered a weakness perhaps with Parent not being available.

Thanks Brian, I can't wait to watch the games and write about them. Its been thirty five years, the last time I saw any of it was the winning goal. No sports highlights back then. ;)

As for Deadwood, well there's a sad tale. We left for PEI and I had it set to PVR. The last episode I saw was the one was around #24 or #25. Came back to find that HBO stopped showing it right at that point. Don't know why but now I have to track down series three and of course finding a video store these days isn't the easiest thing ;)

Anyhow I'll figure it out.

Smytty777 said...

I would place my vote on the 87 Canada Cup team. Gretzky and Lemieux in their prime puts it over the top in my opinion.

Not a bad supporting cast either: Messier, Anderson, Hawerchuk, Gartner, Coffey, Bourque, Murphy.

Black Dog said...

Smytty777 - that one would be up there but the D is not the same calibre as 1976 and I think maybe a lot of the forwards don't match up as well, jmo of course

spOILer said...

I vote 76 for D and 87 for forwards... the two greatest forwards to ever play the game were on the 87 team.

Shit, Pat, where did you get that DVD? Last year when you were doing the 72 Series I cursed myself for not having it to follow along with your game reports. This time I think I should.

I think Olivier's comp is a pretty fair one.

Black Dog said...

HMV 40 bucks, saw it on kijiji, Amazon for the same price

These 76 forwards are ridiculous, hard to say.

EasyOil said...

Nice post as usual, Pat.

Have to disagree on one thing though: us English don't all believe that England will win every major tournament; in fact, most people that I know nowadays are extremely sceptical about England doing well. They don't even deserve to do well to be honest, the passion for most of them (Beckham, Gerrard, Terry and Ferdinand excluded) just isn't there.

The word "grit" doesn't seem to exist in the soccer player's language, unlike hockey. Of course I don't want to generalise, there are some soccer players (such as the above mentioned) who do play with some tenacity, but they're few and far between.

The 2006 England World Cup Team was a potential world cup winning team, but no-one really believed they would do it. All the talent in the world and no desire to work together to win.

I don't know if Bill Bailey is well known in North America, but he's one of Britain's best comedians; he describes footballers thusly: "A bunch of vein, illiterate, millionaire, borderline rapists, who's job it is to shepherd a bit of leather into a badly made outdoor cupboard". Quite an apt description, I feel :)

Anyway, just thought I'd defend my countrymen just to ensure you we're not all deluded fools!

Black Dog said...

lol Easy Oil, good stuff and I stand corrected.

Maybe its the media I should be blaming? Every tourney we hear England trumpeted as a favourite and they inevitably fall short. Read an interesting quote from Capello the other day after they barely squeaked by Wales - all in their heads he said.

Or is it just that the players are famous but not as good as their fame warrants?

EasyOil said...

Well yeah it probably is the media to a certain extent, but I'd also say its simply the fact that the people who trumpet that England will win it all tend to be more vocal than the sceptics like me and my friends who mutter away to each other in the corner of the pub whilst watching the game... Don't get me wrong, I support my country (although I'm not a massive soccer fan, rugby is more my game - now THERE'S a sport we can win at... although I think NZ have this World Cup in the bag), but they've been nothing but a huge disappointment since 1966 - 22 years before I was even born.

In 2006 and even 2010 England had great players in terms of individual talent, but they just couldn't bring it together as a team. And part of that is coaching, whether it's Capello, Sven-Goran Eriksson or Steve McClaren, they all suck at tactics and make very curious decisions.

Should have killed Wales, and just sat back on their arses after getting that goal. Just as usual.

And yes, the tabloid press does assist in making players more famous than they deserve. Just the way it is these days though!

spOILer said...

I would call Kevin Davies gritty. Or is bruising a more appropriate description? He's good, but of course not on the same level as the Rooneys and Gerrards of this world. Man U certainly had grit a few years back when Keane and Scholes were both playing.