Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas


 At this time of year we can lose track of what its all about. I almost lost sight of this last year. Life is busy and December can be even busier and in the running around and shopping and wrapping and preparing and last Christmas, well, I wasn't all bah hambug but I certainly felt worn down by it all. I enjoyed the day, its impossible not to when you have three little ones, but the leadup was an unpleasant grind.

 This year is no less busy, if anything its busier. Jenn has taken on new responsibilities at work which have squeezed things even tighter when it comes to time and sometimes it seems like there's no moment to breathe. Except ...

 I don't know if its the fact that I am getting older(turned 45 last week) but I think it is. I'm not 'old' by any stretch but I'm aware that I am now closer to 50 than to 40, if only by days (and how the fuck did that happen?) and I'm quite aware of, what is it, my own mortality? Sounds crazy and don't get me wrong, I'm not thinking of buying a Porsche (not that I could afford one) or having an affair with a neighbour (who has the time!?) nor for that matter am I sitting by the window looking at the moon thinking maudlin thoughts. I'm just ... aware of it.

 I've always enjoyed myself. I've always enjoyed the moment. It just seems that these days I've gotten a tighter grasp on this idea. Call it wisdom. Call is desperation ;) But things are good. They've always been good but they're even better now. The white noise, the grind, the little nags, these are all fading into the background, as they should.

 And so this Christmas season, despite the grind, has been a wonderful one, filled with parties, food and drink, laughing with friends, playing hockey, having a grand time. The kids are beside themselves with excitement at what comes tomorrow and I'm a lucky lucky man to have three healthy young ones.

 For those of you who drop by here now and then I want to wish you the merriest of Christmases. Celebrate! Eat, drink, spend time with your family and your friends. Laugh.

 The very best of the season to you all.

Pat

Monday, December 17, 2012

Glory Twice Over



Hey there how are you doing, well that's great, glad to hear, yeah I'm doing well thanks for asking.

Its been a hectic few weeks here, after that quick spurt (heh) of activity in November I thought I was getting back on that blogging horse but as always life has gotten busy and so the old interweb blogsite has had to take a backseat. I have next week off though so maybe I'll write up a few. If I'm not too drunk.

Drunk.

When last we checked on our greying balding gut ever expanding loveable losers at Capsule things had been riding a wave made up of the blood of their vanquished opponents. We were firmly ensconced in the top four of our beer league division. Two of the teams below us had picked up some new players which had boosted their fortunes so these were early days but things were going well going into a four game stretch which included games against the top two teams as well as doubleheader against a club which had gone from getting smoked every game to suddenly beating everyone in sight thanks to the addition of a couple of guys who were ripping it up.

So a test of whether we were for real or not or if this was going to be another mediocre season in a history of mediocre seasons.

After two games we were failing. Not terribly, both games could have gone either way. We lost to the up and comers on a standout performance by their goaltender and then we lost to the first place team, undefeated so far, on an outstanding effort by one of their guys out of nowhere with just minutes left ended up being the winner.

Still two losses are two losses and one of our top Dmen gone for the next two games. Two more lossed and we'd be at .500. Mediocrity thy name is Capsule.

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First we had our rematch at the revamped Maple Leaf Gardens two weeks ago. We came out slowly and ninety seconds in we were somehow down two. We dragged ourself back to a tie only to watch them pot two more thanks to great individual efforts by their big guns.

So with seven minutes we were staring at a third straight loss and being a single game over .500.

And then our best player, who had scored once already, took over. He's the youngest guy on our team, an absolute horse, a Hossa type, big and strong and overpowering. He brought us within one and then with a few minutes left he tied it up and it looked like we would at least get a point.

 And then with less than a minute left a flurry from them, a shot hit our goalie high and popped up in the air and behind him, teetering on the goalline while our keeper went down, swimming like a madman and our two D tried to clear the puck while boxing out their frantic forwards flailing madly at the victory just inches away. One of our guys chipped it into the corner, averting disaster. In the ensuing battle his partner came away with the puck and wheeled behind the net and as he did our centre sped out of the zone, heading up the left wing. Hard up the boards and onto his stick and down his off wing your man roared, a defenceman backpedalling furiously before him.

 The wrister, the goalie screened, the puck in the net, seventeen seconds left.

 A month ago or so we had scored to take a lead with a minute left and seconds later we had lost it and so I admonished one of our D to make sure (we had both been in the ice for that failure), he smirked and moments later we had broken up their last thrust before it entered our zone and he sent the puck the length of the ice into the empty net.

 After the game the chatter was hyper, grown men happy as boys, the hero saying this past weekend that that night when he went out he had immediately told the story to his companions, one of whom he had never met, thinking halfway through 'what the hell am I doing?' and then continuing:

 So tonight we were playing at Maple Leaf Gardens ....

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 A week later, this past weekend now, and we were facing the second place team. Our only meeting this season had ended in a 0-0 tie when an unfortunate accident ended the game prematurely.

 A win and we're two points out of second. A loss and we might not catch them.

 We scored early and so the game stayed for the longest time as things slowly got uglier and uglier. Their best player is the biggest man I have ever played, at one point after I was pushed into the boards and I got up in a rage he stood between my assailant (who was sincerely apologetic) and I and the sun was blotted out as I stared at his ribcage smouldering. He threw two of our men down in separate incidents but when one of our guys held his ground (although admittedly dropping his shoulder when the collision came) he charged over shouting about body contact.

 Yeah it was one of those. A player from each team tossed and barking from both teams and otherwise a pretty good game as they tied it midway through the last period.

 And then a minute thirty nine left somehow a man left out front and the puck behind our goalie and the centreman, the most laconic guy on our club, who meets every jibe and poke with a quiet shrug (he has two teenage daughters so maybe its just exhaustion?) and has never raised his voice or stick in anger, smashed his Sherwood over the crossbar in a rage. Our opponents celebrated as if they had just won the Cup.

 As I readied myself for the draw the ref admonished us 'ok now lets try and play this last 1:39 like gentlemen alright'.

 Our best player, sucking wind, lugged the puck through the neutral zone, barrelling through hooks and slashes and getting it deep. Their big man fired it high and hard up the left side but our blue gloved it down and fired it back in as our goalie raced to the bench. They rung it around the other way but there was no winger and so our left D picked it off and with time straddled the line, easing into a lane and wafting a high wrister. After the game he laughed that it was going three feet wide but what happened is it hit one of us in front of the net in the shoulder and bounced into the net as we shouted.

 Back to centre and this time they gained our blueline and suddenly their big man activated, charging into our zone, calling for it. For the majority of the game they had been looking to get it on his stick and now he rushed in, looking to end it, and their winger telegraphed it all the way and floated it into the middle of our zone, behind buddy, off our winger's stick, past their Dman who had just collided with said winger and fallen.

 And the puck skittered out into the neutral zone and Ben (our big winger), exhausted, pounced on it and raced the other way with their centre in pursuit. The length of the ice they charged and Ben went backhand and the keeper sprawled to stop him and did so but our other winger, who had scored the equalizer moments before, picked up the loose puck and flicked a backhand over the fallen goalie into the top corner. As he turned he gave me a sardonic smirk as I leapt into his arms roaring. (He later said he thought I was rubbing it as revenge for their own celebration. The reality is I'm just a goof who needs a life ;) )

 And so Capsule sits pretty now, halfway done, 7-3-1, lofty heights we haven't seen in years.

 Glory days for these oldtimers. *rubs gut, drinks*

Friday, November 23, 2012

Billy Conn


I wrote about this years ago and its apropos to what I'm about to say.

I'm so old (HOW OLD ARE YOU? (and if you get that gag you're my age)) that I remember when boxing mattered. I remember watching heavyweight title fights with my grandfather and dad in my grandparents' house in Pincourt, a suburb of Montreal. Ali. Norton. Foreman. Joe Frazier. Earnie Shavers. Spinks. Larry Holmes. On regular TV, none of this pay per view crap!!

Boxing may have died anyway, anyone who has seen poor Shawn O'Sullivan certainly can see why its best if it went away but I wonder sometimes if it would still be as big as it was before it started going to Pay per View and all that. Out of sight out of mind and I'm sure I'm simplifying it all. The corruption, the multiple associations, the lack of charismatic stars, I guess they all contributed.

Anyway when I was a kid I knew boxers past and present and my favourite old timey story was Billy Conn's first bout with Joe Louis. Here is what I wrote a few years back:

One of the great sports stories, certainly one of my favourites, is the story of Billy Conn. Conn was the light heavyweight champion of the world back in the day, a great fighter, and his fight with Joe Louis is considered one of the greatest fights of all time. Louis outweighted Conn by over thirty pounds when they met in 1941; both men were in their prime but Conn was the heavy underdog.


For twelve rounds of the thirteen round bout Conn beat Louis. Going into the final round Conn had the fight clearly won. His corner advised him to stay clear of Louis for the final round; the fight was won, there was no need to go after the bigger man.

So Conn charges out for the final round and goes for the knockout.

Louis knocks him out with two seconds left.

After the fight Conn was asked why, with the fight so clearly won, he threw caution (and sense) to the wind. He answered that he was an Irishman and it was his nature. He had to go for the knockout.

He had no regrets. He's rather lose being true to himself then win hanging back.

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Got in a discussion on the Twitter today and figured I'd expand on it here. I fucking love twitter, its mental, but sometimes its hard to get your point across, it can get fragmented.

Here's the thing. There's a lot of noise surrounding this whole mess. You have your hockey 'journalists' (HAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAAH sorry, oh jeez), many who are in the pocket of one side or the other. You have player agents, representatives of the owners and the players and you have the fans, many of whom are biased one way or the other, some who are not.


I'd like to think I'm in the middle of it or at least that I am unbiased. I know people who are kneejerk for the owners and I know people who are the same for the players. Of course there are also a lot who don't care either way.

In 2004 I sided with the owners. It wasn't a question of thinking that the players were greedy or that the owners deserved this or that. I felt the system was out of control. I remember one game I was watching between the Wings and the Oilers and the Wings had a power play and the six guys on the ice made more money than the entire Oilers' roster.

I wanted some competitive balance. So when they introduced a cap and they rolled the players' salaries back I didn't cheer or anything but I wasn't unhappy with the result.

So here we are, seven years later, and the guy who drew the last CBA up is back to try and a)fix what he fucked up last time and b)get more money for his bosses.

Now as to a) well nice job pal and I know the owners like the guy well enough but if I were one I'd be asking where he got his law degree when he wrote a document with loopholes that took clubs and agents about a minute or so to figure out. You fucked a season to get an agreement that you wrote. You got Goodenow's head on a pole outside the city gates. You won. Except you're so dumb that the guys you 'beat' actually won in the end.

Now Lockout Gary really can't win, not until the share is 80/20 for the owners or something like that (so according to the NHL business model, about twenty years or in three more lockouts) because he has a ton of franchises that cannot keep up. Ideally they'd fold eight franchises or so but of course this won't happen and neither is bigtime revenue sharing. So as the cap goes up the zombie franchises will stumble along, bleeding money.

Of course Gary has gotten the owners to pass a law so that he only needs a small minority backing him to do as he sees fit. You see they're his bosses but he's a smart guy. He really is. They may be his bosses but if has a small group on his side then he can drive the bus. And he is. Not all the way, of course, but a lot more than a lot of people think.

Anyhow back to b) and this is the end game here. The owners want more money, its as simple as that, and Damien Cox (first and last time I refer to Mr 'Tom Gilbert and a top prospect for a 7th rounder derp' in a positive manner but oh well, blind squirrel) had it quite right when he referred to the fact that one of Bettman's huge problems is that he can't articulate why the league is doing what its doing other than to say that they want more money. Which is fine, except its hard to sell. The only folks who support the NHL these days are those who figure the owners deserve to make as much money as possible because they're billionaires and ergo they deserve it basically whereas the players should shut up and play and why damnit they should play for nothing its just a game, why I'd play for nothing herkl jerkl derp. And the players are dummies because hockey players.

 (As an aside I know some perfectly lovely folks who support the owners. I do.)

Of course the argument that its just a game and they should play for peanuts is about as stupid as you can get. Its a billion dollar industry and there are less than seven hundred guys who are good enough to get paid. Its capitalism, sort of, and these guys should get paid. My guess is that if it were a true free market they would be getting paid more. Of course for a lot of 'capitalists' capitalism is for the bosses, not the workers, similar to the idea that profits should be private but losses socialized.

Funny double standard there.

Anyhow that's neither here nor there. I would say actually that while some of the players are dumb (come on down take your pick) the vast majority of them know exactly what they are doing. Heck for some of them this is their third work stoppage (LOCKOUT GARY!!) - for guys like Yakupov and Nugent Hopkins this could be the first of three or four for them - so they know the drill. So to say that they are blind or being led against their will or any of that is a bit of nonsense.

 They're going to lose. The best they will get is 50/50 and they've lost some of their cheques already. They'e going to lose. But you know what?

 THEY DON'T FUCKING CARE!

 They're hockey players. They have lived lives that are based on competing for square inches of ice, literally. They have been taught, since they were boys, to play through pain, stick together, fight through the check, don't stay down, don't back down, don't show weakness. In some cases they literally have to fight for their jobs.

 There are men and women all over the world who fight for their rights. They get locked out or they go on strike and sometimes they die and these are people who make a lot less than professional hockey players. They make mere dollars a day, if that. They have everything to lose and often do and yet they do it. Maybe its principle. Maybe its stubbornness. Maybe they do it because they are tired of getting pushed around or being told what to do. But they do it.

 Our company was in a situation a number of years ago where we were for sale and things looked bleak. We would have probably lost our jobs if we had been sold to certain interests. In the end we were bought by our founder and the first thing that happened was that everyone took a paycut. Money was tight. Except a few of us, individually, said no.

 I would not have quit, certainly not, but I told your man that I couldn't take a cut, it wasn't in the cards with a young kid and another on the way and that if I had to then he'd have to understand that I'd do what I had to do.

 I work for great people, it goes without saying. They found some money for me. I stood up for myself and it worked out. And I did so in a case where they could have easily said 'no sorry' and would have been justified doing so.

So why wouldn't NHL players do the same? Why wouldn't they say 'hey honour the contracts we signed this summer', its only what's right. Because it is.

 And here's the other thing. I went searching and (glove tap to Tyler Dellow) checked out the NHLPA constitution and if you look at Article III on Membership you will see the following:

Section 1. All players who are on an NHL Club roster shall be eligible for membership in the Association.
  Because what a lot of people are saying is that the players are throwing away big money (which many are) and for quite a few they will have a short career and this is it for them. They are blowing their only chance at an NHL payday.

 But (and I may be reading this incorrectly but I do not think I am) the fact is that the NHLPA is ~ 700 members. They are the existing roster players on NHL clubs. Lets look at Edmonton's roster, courtesy of CapGeek. We're looking at the roster players. Unless I am mistaken these are the members of the NHLPA. The NHLPA does not include guys like Toni Rajala and Alex Plante.

 How many of these roster guys are fringe NHLers?  How many of them might not be in the NHL next year?

 And look at the money these guys are making and think about what they have made.

 Horcoff, Smyth and Hemsky have all made over thirty million dollars. Hall and Eberle are signed to contracts which will take them over that number. Barring disaster Yakupov and Nugent-Hopkins will do the same. Whitney and Khabibulin have made over twenty million. Nick Schultz has. Sam Gagner, at 23, has made probably over fifteen million.  And you have young Schultz, Petry, Smid and Dubnyk. They're all going to get paid. That's fifteen guys already. Andy Sutton has made over thirteen million over the last five years. Eric Belanger, fringe player, has made eight million over the last five years.

 Do you see where I'm going with this? Then you have Ryan Jones, who has averaged over a million over the last four years and who does enough to have a career for a while yet.

 The number of guys who might really be getting hurt by this lockout? Maybe six guys. And one of them, Teemu Hartikainen, is probably going to win a job with the big club when they start playing again. He's just starting out. If anything the lockout is helping his career. And Darcy Hordichuk has hung around for years, making 800000 a year, year in, year out. Has he blown it? Maybe he's that dumb. Somehow I doubt it.

 So you have Lennart Petrell, Corey Potter, Ben Eager (who has made over six million dollars) and Theo Peckham.

 That's not a big majority of guys fretting about their future. And if Eager has any sense (unlikely I know) he really should be okay as well.

 Now a lot of folks told me today that I don't know the spending habits of these guys but this is what I do know. This is anecdotal but I am a cheap bastard and I would bet money that the vast majority of these guys have more money in the bank than you and I ever will. These are guys who rent houses togther for crying out loud. Rookies live in vets' basements or above their garages. For many of them their idea of a good time is deer hunting in Saskatchewan. They are notoriously cheap. Are some of them dumb? Sure. Will some of them piss their money away? Sure. But the fact that every once in a while a guy like Bryan Trottier goes bust because of bad business decisions does not mean that this is happening to the vast majority of these guys. They have financial advisors. They are businessmen themselves as many old timers moan. Its pretty hard to spend a million bucks when you spend most of your time either playing hockey or preparing to play hockey. A lot of these guys drive beaters for crying out loud. They're Finns and Swedes and Canadians. Have you met my Dad? Have you met me? CUT FROM THE SAME CLOTH!

 So lets review. We have a group of guys who are getting asked to take less money even though business is booming by a bunch of billionaires whose representative is an arrogant, smarmy liar. Their profession requires that they be stubborn, that they stick together, they they fight (often literally) for everything. They went through this seven years ago and nearly everybody predicted that this would happen again. And they are, for the most part fabulously wealthy. The older guys have banked more money than you or I will ever see. The younger guys still have their paydays to come. And a large number of them are playing somewhere. They're not making the money they would be in the NHL but they're making money regardless.

 So why are they going to cave again?

 Maybe they do but I suspect that, like Billy Conn, its not their nature to go down without a fight and if that means taking less then so be it. Are they stupid because of it? I don't think so. I know some do but part of this is ingrained in them and part of it is that they can afford it (if they couldn't they'd be playing right now) and part of it is the principle of the thing.

 I know that sounds crazy to us ordinary schmucks, some who are probably struggling to make ends meet, but I don't blame them a damn bit. If I were in their shoes and I could afford it (and I could because I throw nickels around like manhole covers let me tell you) I'd be right at it.

 NOW DRINK!

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Man In The Window

 After our parent/teacher interviews last night (and yes both of our older kids are doing great, thanks for asking. No interview for the youngest, likely will have to book a week for that one.) we had an hour or so to kill so we figured we'd take a run to a neighbourhood fancy burger joint we hadn't been to in a while. I was going out for some pints with a pal later so we didn't have time for a fancy but when I first asked Jenn out it was over a burger on the way back from Panmere Beach on PEI (I was giving her a lift home from a gathering) so it was just like old times except for the fact that we were in Toronto, we own a house and have three kids. And over fifteen years have passed us by.

 Fucking mental.

 So we're eating our massive fancy burgers and onion rings (Great Burger Kitchen btw I recommend it), sitting at the rail overlooking Gerrard Street, chatting and watching the world go by, its an interesting one down that way, when all of a sudden this little guy walks by, looks at us, does a doubletake and comes ambling over to the window. He proceeds to press his face against the glass, staring at our burgers. His eyes bug out, he sticks his tongue out and licks his lips, he mashes his face into the glass as if hoping that by the sheer will of his appetite our tasty burgers will come through the glass into his gaping maw.

 I'm killing myself and Jenn is aghast - Oh my God she says what is wrong with this guy? OH MY GOD!

 He pries himself away from the glass, leaving slobber marks there, walks away and then suddenly turns and opens the door to the restaurant. Jenn grabs my arm and shrieks, Oh my God he's coming in here!!

 And then I introduced her to my buddy Scott, 49 year old grinding winger on Capsule Music.

 Best. Ever.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Hall of Being Famous And Pretty Good




I love hockey. Love it. Even NHL hockey, although I prefer Olympic or some other form of best on best tournament. I loathe the entity that is the NHL though. And I am indifferent or hostile (more the former than the latter, hostility is not really a big part of my makeup) to a few of the more famous events linked to NHL hockey - the All Star Game, the annual awards and the Hockey Hall of Fame (granted its not the NHL Hall of Fame but there is a tie there, why else is Bettman even invited).

I like the actual Hall of Fame itself, don't get me wrong. Its a pretty cool place. Its the membership, the honoured members, that bug me. There are too many of them. Way too many. The bar was lowered a long time ago and now anyone who was a pretty good player waltzes right in. Sometimes they wait a while but they get in all the same.

(Just as an aside I don't have a beef with the idea that a guy may not get voted in when he is first eligible but then get in later. There is a difference between, say, Wayne Gretzky, and, um, how about Peter Stastny and its okay for that to be part of the process.)

There is a site by a guy named Arthur Chidlovski. He has a nice workup of the 72 Summit Series but also he takes a look at the Hall of Fame - he actually created a committee and they go through eligible players year by year and put together their own Hall of Fame. Here is part of his introduction:

(this is) the very problem of the Hall of Fame: there are so many people elected that few know (or have even heard of) all of the honoured. The level of excellence has been lowered so that if one wins five Stanley Cups, the expectation is they should be enshrined.


And then he has this beauty quote from Phil Esposito on his induction:


Said the man who trailed just Gordie Howe on the NHL's all-time goal scoring list when he retired in 1980, "It wasn't that big a deal to me because I feel there are some players in the Hall who shouldn't be there, and as a result it sort of cheapens it for everyone."

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What Chidlovski did (until 2007) was go through the eligible players year after year with his committee and try and create a truly elite hall of fame which also looked at international players a lot more than the present hall does. Players have to wait 5 years before they are eligible and need 15 of the 20 votes to be inducted. They are brutally tough markers, for example Stan Mikita, one of the truly great players of all time, does not get in on his first try. He was a guy who was first team all star centre six times (only Gretzky has more) so yeah I think he merits induction on his first try. Anyhow his case is an illustration of how tough they are.

(An aside, Oiler (and WHA) fans will be happy to note that Wild Bill Hunter is a part of this hall, inducted in his third year of eligibility.)

I'd highly recommend taking a look at this site. You probably won't agree with everything, I don't, but its a great exercise. Chidlovski includes eleven players who are not in the present Hall of Fame. He excludes 128 (!!!) from his Hall.

 Now he stopped tallying votes in 2007, as noted, so it seems likely that a few of those excluded would eventually make it in. A few guys who are locks are not in yet because of the five year wait - Bourque, Coffey, Mario Lemieux, Fetisov. Mark Howe and Grant Fuhr are already pretty close in his tally (interesting that Howe looks to be a shoo in for an elite Hall of Fame but waited forever to get into the everybody gets in club that exists now) as is Tony Esposito but other than that there are plenty of guys who would never get in - Larry Murphy, Ciccarelli, Sittler and Cheevers amongst them.

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Those four names are a good starting point. I grew up in the 70s and so I recall Cheevers and Sittler and I witnessed the careers of Murphy and Ciccarelli in their entirety. I wouldn't call any of them Hall of Famers with the possible (slightly) exception of Sittler and I have to say that that may be more due to the fact that he was so famous.

Were these guys all really good hockey players? Sure they were. Absolutely. But none of them pass what I call 'the sniff test'. I saw all of them play many times and I would never think 'Hey that guy is a Hall of Famer. That guy is one of the all time greats.' A guy who was a controversial choice a few years back, Glenn Anderson, a guy who would not be in my Hall of Fame either btw, that guy, in his prime, he was a guy who for a few years you would say that guy is a Hall of Fame player. When the Oilers were running rampant it was Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson and Coffey. Seriously. He was with those other guys based on what he was doing on his own.

Maybe, maybe Sittler I could say that about. But I don't think so. And while I could briefly say that Anderson could pass the sniff test, I don't think Sittler could.

Is that my subjective take? Sure but I'm not sure how else to go about it. You can look at awards and end of season all star teams but John LeClair was an end of year all star five times (first team twice) but I wouldn't even rate him in Sittler's class (only one second team selection - its tough to get those nods at centre, the talent runs so deep). You can look at stats (Sittler had four seasons of 40 goals plus and another four just under 40) but Steve Larmer had five season of 40 plus and another four over 30 plus he didn't miss a game in 11 seasons and was an outstanding defensive player.

So why is Steve Larmer not in the Hockey Hall of Fame?

Seriously though, why isn't he?

(I have no doubt that he will get in at some point but if you saw Larmer play you would rather have him on your team than a whole lot of guys who are in there now.)

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The problem with the present Hall of Fame is that it is too inclusive, the bar was set low early and remains low so its hard to deny new 'very good' players as they become eligible.

Bob Pulford is in the Hall of Fame. Bob Fucking Pulford. Now the Original Six era was a different era, sure, and he was a checker but he scored over 25 goals once. Once.

Stan Mikita was also an excellent defensive playerwho played in the same era as Pulford. After his first two years in the league he scored more than 25 goals fourteen straight years except for one year where he scored 24.

Pulford's highest point total - 56. Over 19 straight years Mikita had more than that except for his second year (53) and two of the last three of that run (49, 55) when he was almost 40.

Don't mean to pick on Pulford here (well yeah I do because he basically destroyed the Blackhawks' franchise) but he doesn't deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, not one that has a guy like Stan Mikita in it. Sure he won a lot of Cups but if Mikita was a Leaf he wins just as many or more (this is another issue with the HHOF - if you are a soldier on a great team it counts somehow in how you are rated a player. Craig MacTavish awaits his call from the selection committee. So does Butch Goring.).

(Meander meander digress digress).

So we have a Hall of Fame loaded with sixties' Leafs (yes they won a ton of Cups but how many all time greats were on that team really? A wonderful team but one that was greater than the sum of its parts, did I get that right?), guys who piled up the stats in the go-go eighties and nineties, supporting cast members on dynasty clubs, guys who were really good but not great. The Hockey Hall of Fame ladies and gentlemen.

In my Hall of Fame there's no place for Dick Duff, Bob Pulford, Allan Stanley or George Armstrong. There's no Mike Gartner, Bernie Federko, Dino Ciccarelli or Larry Murphy, probably no Adam Oates either. There's no Clark Gillies, Glenn Anderson, Bill Barber, Joe Mullen.

In my Hall of Fame I want the all time greats. The guys who, when they played, were the absolute best players in the game.

I don't want the guys who were really good.

That's what we have now. Its a shame but its too late to raise the bar now. How do you tell Steve Larmer he doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame when he was a better player than a bunch of his contemporaries who are already there. The numbers say so. His individual and team accomplishments say so. He belongs and he will get in.

But at the top of this post there are pictures of three guys who played for Chicago.

Can you honestly say that Larmer deserves to receive the same honour as the other two?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Remember

I originally posted this on Remembrance Day 2008. I haven't been able to say it any better since.

The men in this picture are Canadians celebrating their great victory at Vimy Ridge in 1917. They are all gone now. Some of them are buried in France or Belgium; they never made it home. Others survived to return to Canada.


In every small town in Canada you will find a hockey arena, a LCBO (or its equivalent) and a war memorial. I have seen them in Fernie B.C. and in Truro, Nova Scotia, in university residences and the avenues of Toronto, in the centre of Charlottetown and in the centre of my own hometown of Sudbury. Even in Goulais River there is a war memorial with far too many names on it, young men who left their little town and never came back, including Private Ivan McLean, killed in the slaughter at Passchendaele.
I was at a funeral in PEI last summer, held in a tiny old church on a slight rise, overlooking rolling green fields and down below, the Northumberland Strait. The church was built in the 19th century, it was stifling hot the day I was there, though it was just May. A simple beautiful building, built near a crossroads, it has served the farmers who lived in the countryside around. And on the wall, at the entrance, a plaque with six names on it, farmers' boys who lie buried in Flanders, have been for nearly a century and will be there for eternity.

Sixty thousand Canadians perished in the Great War and forty thousand more in the war that followed just over twenty years later. Just boys most of them. They marched cheerfully to Europe in 1914. It was a time of innocence and they believed in their country and their Empire and in the fight against Germany. A war that never should have happened, millions of men slaughtered, drowning in the muck, blown apart by shells, machine gunned as they attacked impregnable positions, led by donkeys who had no idea of what they were ordering these boys to do. The same foolish old men who botched the war botched the peace so that barely twenty years later Canadians again marched off to Europe, many sons of the survivors of World War One. This time they marched with caution and knowing of the horrors that lay ahead yet they marched just the same.

Ask the Dutch or the French or the Belgians what Canada means to them. The sacrifices made to destroy a brutish ideology and save the world are not forgotten there and thankfully, after years of neglect, are not forgotten here. On Sunday morning take a moment and honour the young men and women who fought (and fight) for our country. You may not believe in the war, whether it be the useless slaughter in France ninety years ago or the current conflict in Afghanistan, but honour these boys who fought for their country. We live in a country whose freedoms and prosperity are amongst the greatest enjoyed in the world. So much of that is because of men like those in the picture above, the best that Canada had to offer.

Think of their sacrifice. Think of their courage. Be thankful for where we live for we owe so much of what we enjoy to them.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Lucky



This would be a perfect story to tell if the NHL was actually deigning to hold a season. I know that that is a ridiculous expectation, especially considering that they have locked out the players twice since the Rangers won the Cup in 1994 but then again these guys couldn't organize a sandwich run without lighting themselves on fire. Incompetents. In any case here goes nothing.

So Capsule was relegated after last season and I, for one, was frustrated by the turn of events. We had been in this division for a few years and age and the loss of a few quality players (we lost three of our four best players after 2009/2010) has meant that we weren't in the mix like we once were. Even two years ago we finished middle of the table, one of those years where we were seventh of ten but three points from fourth. Last year though, well, last year was a tough one. A lot of 3-1 and 2-1 losses, which is usually how it goes with us. A lot of games where we deserved better than we got but whe you end up at the bottom of the league usually you have to admit you deserve to be there. I coached a team once that lost a lot of games like that. After a half dozen tight losses where we bemoaned the defensive breakdown or missed chance or soft goal that had cost us the game we figured we'd be right in it once our luck turned. After fifteen games of the same we came to the realization that we really just weren't that good.

And so it was with last year's Capsule club. We lost a lot of games 3-1 or 4-2 or 2-1 because for the most part our offense is of the pop gun variety and as a club we're pretty old so that we've slowed down and thus our D get beat by younger faster guys enough that we're going to give up a big play against the flow of play now and then. So we'd outplay and outshoot a club but in terms of pure scoring chances, well we'd get killed there. A half of a dozen five bell chances beat one or two and a couple dozen muffins from the outside anytime.

 What rankled for me is that we may have been bottom of the league but we were competitive. We beat most of the teams above us and we got blown out only a couple of times. So a big part of me thought (and thinks) its bullshit. If we can play with those guys then why move us down the ladder?

A bit of this is raging against the dying of the light stuff mind you. We're in the bottom division now. My first year with Capsule we were fodder and then got relegated, we had four years in the next division and I think three or four in this last one. We have nowhere else to go now unless we find a true old timers league or play shinny once a week or break up the old gang and find a club that will take on those of us who still want to play competitive hockey.

Its a discouraging thought but I will be 45 in a month and our oldest player is a year from being 50. You'd never know it, mind you. But the years are marching on and while this sounds a bit crazy I'm suddenly aware of my own mortality and so the big trip I'm planning for Jenn's 40th birthday (two years away) may get pushed up if I can get the cash together for it. Mental, eh? I'm still a young man by any measure but ... well I look around at my peers and see the grey hair (where there is hair) and I wonder ....

Anyhow we're in a new league and most likely we will be able to play here for many years. We've barely had our full team together and every game it seems we've missed a few of our top players and yet we are sitting strongly in third and have outplayed the opposition in every game. Most teams have a few guys (or more) that you can pick on and so we've had three games where we've had easy wins already, which is about three more than we had all of last season.

I've had a good start. I've played some centre, which I prefer (and am better than on the wing) and have played well in all but one game. Its a lot weaker division. I'm no star by any means but last night we played a team with one or two good defenceman and I beat one of them easily on the rush. Most teams have a few guys who are quite weak. We may be old and slowing but we can all give and take a pass and we can all skate and so one of our biggest issues has been letting teams back into games after we roll over them early.

I had a good summer season, had my chances, but for the first time in probably forever I ended up without a goal. Picked up my fair share of assists and had a solid year but not a goal. Now when you play ten games its not the end of the world but still you like to score here and there you know.

So winter season starts and second game of the year the opposing goalie, who liked to wander, came way out and managed to play it into my winger and I picked up the puck in the corner and fired it into the gaping cage. Then two games later, I scored off the rush on a nice wrist shot (if I do say so myself) and then, on my next shift, I centre it and watch as it banks off a defenceman and in.

On fire. Three goals. Four games.

Last game we were tied late and swarming the net. The puck was sitting there. My linemates were tied up, goalie was down. My normal reaction to this would be to shovel the puck into the goalie. What did I do? Perhaps buoyed by my start, perhaps realizing I had all of the time in the world (I did) I picked up the puck, took a look, took a step back to get a better look (!!) and fired it top corner.

And just then the goalie lurched up and the puck went off his head and over the net.

Seconds later I called for the puck in the slot, got the pass, on my stick and off, corner picked, shot low and hard, perfect.

Kicked out at the last second.

And last night, pouncing on a puck turned over by a stumbling Dman, by him in a flash, hard in, quick check, all of the time I needed, a look, the natural predisposition to try and shove it fivehole and then, looking at my options, seeing the spot high blocker, the shot as he goes down, hard, on target,

The clang off the post.

I'd lol except this is my life when it comes to scoring goals. Even when I'm actually doing things right, have the time, pick my spot ....

Well lets just say we're six games in and I've already seen the highs and lows of the dice. And don't even get me going on the goals against. I've been my usual quality on the other side of the puck (came back hard on a 2 on 1 last night to break it up last second in the slot) but have seen four of the last five goals against go in on my watch, no fault of my own.

Its enough to make a man drink. /drinks

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Rod Hockey Man

The boy is four games into his hockey career and he has already told us that he prefers it to soccer, which he has played for years, and that he wants to play next year. He is enjoying it, apparently, I say apparently because getting anything out of him these days is a difficult proposition. One word answers are in vogue suddenly.

'Did you have fun?'

'Yes'

'How was hockey?'

'Good'

His team is pretty good (2-1-1 so far) and one of my best friends is coaching him. He's an excellent coach and wonderful with the kids and my son couldn't ask for a better introduction to the game and I'm sure this helps because quite frankly the boy is terrible.

He's the smallest and probably the youngest in a two year age division and his skating is a ways away and so there are long stretches and entire shifts where the puck comes nowhere near him and when it does he swipes at it, often misses and then watches as the play goes the other way. Jenn has seen him play once and she found it painful, its hard to see your kids struggle.

He has to start somewhere though and his last game he improved quite a bit, he has a bad habit of pushing with his right leg when skating (he did this last year during lessons as well) and I reminded him before the game to use both of his legs and to keep pushing and so he was quicker and suddenly he was around the play a lot more. He had a shift at centre so he got to take some faceoffs and get his nose dirty a bit there and as the game wore on he got into a few of the scrums and whacked the puck the right way and overall it was a great day for him. When the puck was in the other team's zone he was able to skate quickly enough to get near the net (and actually had a chance in the slot all alone, unfortunately it was a swing and a miss). Baby steps, right?

Talking to my buddy last night at our Capsule game he said that the thing about the boy is that on the bench he is constantly asking questions so my guess is that much like his old man, he is probably going to be one of the smartest guys on the ice. Hopefully he will have better physical tools (!) ;) but for now whenever one of the other parents asks me which one is mine, I just point to the guy playing his wing. While the majority of the other players follow the puck like a rugby scrum, back and forth, back and forth in a mass, you can see my little guy, much like a rod hockey player, up and down his wing, up and down his wing. So he's got the playing your position thing down anyhow.

Of course the main thing is that he is enjoying it. Nothing else is important really and i have to say that I am very happy that this is the case. Its made for a great autumn.

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

I think at this point there's going to be an NHL season. If the rumour is correct and the NHL is going to cover existing salaries then really there is no reason for a deal not to be made.

There is a small part of me, a cynical twisted part, that would like to see it all go up in flames. I love hockey and this fall I've watched the boy play and my own season has had a great start and we're very busy otherwise, we're always busy these days, and so I really haven't missed the NHL or the Oilers at all. Once winter comes I will also be playing outdoor shinny once a week and will probably help to flood the neighbourhood rink and once that is up and running the boy and I will hopefully spend some time there workingon or games.

I'm really looking forward to it.

Watching Katz botch what was a pretty terrific deal for a new arena because of greed or ego or 'negotiating tactics' has reminded me that the Oilers remain an organization that is entirely unlikeable as well as incompetent. I'm sure that when they return the addition of further young talent will probably push them up the ladder of the standings, finally, and Yakupov and Schultz will make the team that much more fun to watch.

But it would be nice if the public face of the organization itself wasn't one of slimy incompetence. Cheering for a club that is such a disgrace requires some serious compartmentalization, much like Bill Clinton claiming he didn't have sex with that woman or a Republican being gay.

As for the NHL well if it were my NHL there would be eight or nine teams folded and I'd start with those clubs that are apparently driving the bus on this latest lockout, those clubs that will never succeed until the revenue split is 90/10 in favour of the owners. A lot more teams make a lot more money than people think but when you have teams losing twenty, thirty, forty million dollars, the only way they will ever make a profit is if you have a cap around twenty to thirty million dollars. And that's not going to happen.

With a third of the league always going to lose big bucks you're never going to find a system where everyone makes money unless you have full on revenue sharing and that won't happen and shouldn't. Its one thing to have a league where you have a couple of big money makers, a majority of clubs who make money and are strong and a couple of small markets. The NHL will never be that league. And there is never going to be that massive TV deal and with every interrupted season you kill your revenue sources, you alienate sponsors and fans, you stop any momentum you've built.

Nothing good is going to come out of this lockout except I would guess that its the loathesome commissioner's last, more because of his age than anything else. What a legacy he will leave. Failing franchises everywhere, three lockouts, a league that still, as it always has, gives the impression of making things up as it goes along. As Mario Lemieux said, a garage (garbage) league.

But they'll be back. And pretty soon I guess.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

The Lion In Winter




Up at the crack of crow's piss last Friday and on the road with the boy almost immediately. We don't jack around. Pack light and go, up to Sudbury before noon.

We made good time.

Called Dad at the camp (he allowed his neighbour to string a line through the woods so that there is a phone in case of emergency, his one concession to civilization) and arranged to meet after a quick lunch with Mom and gathering of supplies - filled up a jerry can with gasoline, also got some beer and pork and a toothbrush for the boy, the one thing I forgot.

Down the old cordoroy road and at the landing and across the lake we went in the fourteen foot.

Last year when we did this we were in parkas, hats and gloves when we made the trip, this year a sweatshirt did the job. The sun was shining, the colours were brilliant.

Day one was a simple one. We had the boy bail out the twelve foot which was almost swamped by the rains of last week. We cleared and gathered some brush and stacked the woodpile but overall it was pretty slack. The young fellow got some reading in and I had a few beers and Dad had a couple of rums and we had some of his homemade stew for supper. Done in by the drive and the fresh air I was in bed just past nine. Unlike last year when we nearly froze to death it was positively balmy.

The second day we started off with ham and eggs and then got to the task we were there for. Our old dock at the landing had given it up and so Dad is determined to build a new one. It will be his last one, he said. Next time it rots out (twenty years) or the ice takes it then it will be someone else's problem.

I helped him put one together twenty plus years ago, one Saturday morning when I was in my early twenties and still drunk from the night before. What a nightmare that day was. Was at some girl's place at 3am and realized I had to go. Walked across the city, getting home with the sun already risen, at 6, Dad waking me at 7 to head out.

Now this time he had the cribs in place and what he needed were two twenty four foot timbers. You run those from the shore over the cribs and then you nail your boards across these and there you have your dock. He uses pine, there's nothing you can do about the ice taking away your dock but if you have pine then if it survives the ice it will last for decades.

We hop into the fourteen foot and duck into a little bay which is at the corner of our bigger one. There's a beaver lodge in there and it goes back a bit, its a bit treacherous with driftwood and enough rocks to take out your prop but we've been going there for over forty years. We used to go in as kids, all the way to the end of it and then track through the bush to a small lake about a mile or so in where we'd put our minnow traps. I'm sure the path is long gone now, its thick bush, we're talking 70s Penthouse here.

The lake is Northern Ontario shield, carved from granite hills, boulders scattered along their slopes and down into the water, left there by the retreating glaciers. Its what you would call rugged. ;) So we putted along until we saw some possibilities and then brought the boat in, nice and easy, a perfect landing as my old man always says.

It was slippery going, clambering up the hillside, amongst the red boulders, the forest floor brown with pine needles, the stand of red and white pine and balsam rising to blue skies. Dad with his chainsaw, me with the axe, the boy carrying a tape measure and work gloves.

Dad turned to me and laughed at one point and said 'We're like mountain goats up here'

My old man is 80.

You would have to see it to believe it.

We found a tree and he brought it down and I hacked the branches off of it and then we cut it to twenty four feet and then hauled it down the hill (to be fair gravity did a fair bit of the work here) and then drug it into the water and into the boat we went and tied it and towed it back to camp where we hauled it onto the shore. And then back we came again and did it a second time.

And then it was time for a beer and some homemade soup which is basically Dad's stew with a bit more water in it. He lives off of this, every day its his lunch. When he said last year that 'Everything he needs is right here' there was soup, even if there was neither heat nor light.

And so we meandered back and forth from the logs, stripping the bark off of them leisurely, to other odd jobs that were two man endeavours and then to the deck for a beer. Supper was corn on the cob and potatoes and pork chops on the barbeque and we all had our fill, the boy eating what could be described as a man sized meal for the first time, shovelling back the mountain on his plate.
And so again that night we sat upstairs, I with a beer, Dad with a Caesar. He told me about how one of his younger brothers, kicked out of high school, went to work as what they called a radio operator up in Wawa and then further north, directing air traffic was the job basically, cajoling the pilots to take him up with them, letting him fly until he got his pilot's license, working his way through Arctic milk runs until he ended his career flying jumbo jets for Air Canada.

He told me about the summer he spent prospecting in Newfoundland, about the bear that he shot when it came into his tent one morning and the massive cod that dragged him and a buddy around a cove one day when they were casting about from a canoe and about how he went into the bush with a young Inuit helper Enik Karpik, going in for weeks at a time, trying to strike it rich for a British mining concern.

He talked about playing hockey with his brothers on frozen northern lakes and running along the tops of moving trains as they chugged out of Franz, jumping off into enormous snowbanks laughing.

And he talked about times up at camp, how they bought a rundown log cabin in 1968 and how his best friend, a massive Finn named Otto Koski, proclaimed that first things first they would repair the sauna. And so they did.

Otto is gone now and so is Dad's brother Don and so too many of the friends Dad talked about on the nights we spent last weekend but for my old man there are no regrets. He misses them but he's got too much to do and too little time and so he chuckles and raises a glass and then he gets right back to it.

What a guy. Unreal.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Losing



A couple of weeks ago we had what passes for a tough couple of days for us in our house. We've had a good run of luck is what I'm saying because this is what we call bad times

On the Monday night I played for Capsule in our summer league playoffs. We had a decent year, not bad, not great, 8th out of 10 clubs, a few points out of fourth, so in the middle, as we usually are, a goal here or there would have meant a jump in the standings. Can't complain. Blown out twice, on both occasions played the top two teams with less than nine skaters. So pretty good.

The week before we happened to be short again and so we had lost game one to a quality team of kids, man they could skate and pass. We kept up for a while, went up 1-0 and then the old legs betrayed us. The way the playoffs in our league work is that its two games total points. So even though we lost the first game all we had to do was win the second game to force the series to a sudden death overtime tiebreaker.

We had ten skaters, they had eight this time around. They came out flying (they're the better team no doubt and even with eight guys they have the legs) and there were about a dozen minutes left and they were up 4-1 and while we were pushing things weren't looking so hot for the good guys.

 And then we scored one and then they began to sag and within three minutes the game was tied and they were on their heels. They were tired and my line hopped over the boards and my winger took a beauty stretch pass and went in alone and was stopped. And then I was coming up with speed and the dman hit me in full stride at centre and I blew by the defenceman at their blue (you know buddy was exhausted ;) ) and I was in all alone, cut to the right and tried to slide it five hole when he came with me and failed.

 And our next shift, just a few minutes left now and we have to win, and the D pushes the puck up to me at centre. My back is to their net and I have a second and I see one of their guys in front of me, far to the right and, figuring I may have someone right on me and only one of our D between me and our goal I make what I think is the right play.

 I bank it off the boards back to our D.

 Except he sees what I don't see which is that we have numbers going up and I have time and so he is jumping up and so my pass goes not to where he is but to where he was and to where that winger on the far side has suddenly sped, picking up a gift and going in alone.

 Yeah you know what happens.

 We push but we need two and we're out of time.

 And that was it.

 Fuck me.

 Gutted. I'm a guy who plays smart and safe and prides himself on it.

 Fuck.

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

The next night the boy had his soccer semis. We had a very good year in every way. Kids all got better, we won more than we lost, every kid but one scored at least a goal. Lots of fun.

 They roll the schedule so there are no standings and our first game was up against the next team we were set to play, the team that just happened to be the one team that may have been better than us, if only slightly so.

 They had three kids who were excellent, better quality than any of ours but we had the better team top to bottom. Played four times. Spit the games down the middle. Win this and while there was no guarantee the truth is we would be in good shape to win it all.

 We came out the first half and pushed the play and did a fine job. We were shutting down their big guns for the most part and about halfway through the first we scored, we have a little fellow who can score, man he's one of those guys who just has a nose for it, and so he slotted one home and when it came to half we were up one and in fine form.

 The second started and they came out strong and slowly but surely we began to give. Our little keeper made a save and then another and they began to push and some of our guys began to tire from the chasing and then in one sequence our goalie made a save and then another and then they hit the post. It was coming and all we could hope for was for time to run out.

 And with five minutes left a shot that couldn't be stopped and it was a deserved tie and when the clock stopped it was a shootout.

 Well they had three guys who could put the ball where they wanted and you can imagine the result. Our second shooter was stopped and their third stepped up to win it and put it top corner cool as can be and that was it.

 These are six and seven year olds so there was some confusion. The little goalie, the player of the game by any measure, came up to me and asked me if he could shoot next and I had to inform him gently that we had lost. As we gathered everything up I looked over and saw his mom taking pics of him holding a ball, tears streaming down his face. He wasn't the only one.

 A damn good year, just a hair short.

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

Last night we were at a wedding in Midland, a small town a couple of hours north of Toronto. A bit of a hike but we had a good time. Some guy who looked an awful lot like Shawn Horcoff was there and when they played Rasputin he shouted 'Is my song Komrades!' in a distinctive Russian accent and then proceeded to take over the dance floor. Crazy times but I digress.

I was checking my phone when I saw the Oilers twitter account reflect the management of this incompetent joke of a franchise with an absolutely ridiculous tweet, discussed here.

I've written a number of times here about Bill Wirtz who along with his lackey Bob Pulford basically destroyed hockey in Chicago. Incompetence writ large and a refusal to pay any Blackhawk star once it was time for them to get paid resulted in a generation of awful teams, empty arenas and a decimated fanbase that booed Dale Tallon when he eulogized Wirtz after he died.

Awful awful stuff.

Every franchise has its own history and, how do you say, personality. Some, especially the newer ones, might blend into each other. For others there is a stark and unique character that separates them from all others. The Edmonton Oilers are one of these clubs. I talked about this at length this past winter when the Oilers were going to move Ales Hemsky until Taylor Hall said he didn't think that was a good idea and suddenly things happened.

There were the wonderful clubs from the dynasty era. There is the franchise's inability or unwillingness to keep any players of note in Edmonton. And there is the almost constant threat of relocation from Edmonton by the franchise and their water carriers in the media.

Oilers' ownership and management has been smalltime for a long time now. From the reported incident when they blocked in a media vehicle because of comments critical of the franchise to the incompetence of Lowe and Tambellini as they have put the on ice product into the ditch to the club sponsored media smear campaigns of players who are about to be run out of town, its an amazing thing to behold. There are other professional sports clubs with management that is incompetent or loathsome but here, like in the draft lottery the past three years, the Oilers take the gold.

This latest though, the negotiations over the new arena, well here the club has sunk to a new low.

Now Katz is a businessman and business is business and he and his henchman, led by the disgraceful Patrick LaForge, are trying to get the best deal possible for the club, the deal that brings in the most money for them. That's fine, that's business and that's their prerogative. And I'm not a citizen of Edmonton. I've been there once and I think its a wonderful city but whether or not their elected representatives want to pay for a new arena, in part or in full, is up to them. I know folks in Edmonton who believe its a terrible idea and I know folks there who think its great and in the end if the city agrees to some sort of deal well then they will have to live with it and hopefully the money spent will be worth it. I'm not going to comment on the whole idea because reams of internet have been killed on the topic elsewhere not because some supporters of the idea, while using studies and quotes from anyone outside of Edmonton to prove their point, will stamp their feet and point at me and say 'NOT FROM EDMONTON' if I do.

Here's the thing though, you have folks who oppose the project or want less public money spent on it and you have folks who support it and some of the reasons proposed are valid and some are not but people have opinions and they are free to express them and defend them. Whatever. Its a free country. You're not hurting anyone, say and do as you please and try and do so with respect for others.

But the people driving the bus on this, the Oilers and their water carriers in the media, well it may be negotiations and all but it was telling that as soon as city council rejected the latest Katz ploy out came the usual suspects and the first word whispered by all of them was relocation.

And if I was in Edmonton this is what I would think. I would try and put aside the history we spoke about above and I would think Hm this is strange, employees of the Edmonton Oilers and a handful of Edmonton media say that relocation is an possibility. Obviously the Oilers have everything to gain from a sweeter deal and for those media guys, well for them its access. We know how the trade off works although we may believe its not the case - media need to sell papers and airtime - access to the biggest game in town helps do that, helping out the guys running the game, its a simple equation. Media love to pretend there's an objectivity there but this is a town where the local club holds nights to honour local media guys.

So this makes sense, that these guys would whisper 'relocation' as soon as the Oilers might not get their way.

And yet, and yet, there are people from outside of the city, people who do not have a dog in this hunt at all, who react to the threat with disbelief and incredulity. There is Forbes Magazine that estimates the club to be the fifth most profitable in the NHL despite not having any playoff revenue. There is Corey Pronman from ESPN who says:

Fairly ignorant on the EDM arena, but if Bettman could find an array of owners for PHX, I cant see how a top 5-10 profitable team moves.

James Mirtle and Bruce Arthur basically said this would never happen. Now I'm sure one of the crack journalists at CHED or the Journal will say 'TORONTO' because that is their response to any criticism but here is my question.

If everyone outside of Edmonton does the math and knows that this club makes money hand over fist despite their incompetence on the ice and the Oilers dispute this and are saying they need to move because the arena deal isn't sweet enough then who do you believe?

The people with nothing to gain in any way from this or the business that is trying to make as much money as possible from this?

And further to that what does this say about the people who run the Edmonton Oilers, the people who refuse to open their books to scrutiny? I may not be from Alberta but where I am from, a small northern Ontario town, if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to hide. Show the people of Edmonton the numbers. After all its a community and partnership that you are happy to trumpet when it suits you.

And one more thing, you don't act like a dick. When I was growing up if you acted like a dick you got punched in the mouth. The Edmonton Oilers remind me a of a kid I knew back in school. He had some swagger and he was a fair size and he had a mouth on him and one week he decided to ride my best friend, a big goofy good natured kid who was the biggest kid in school and never bullied or said a bad word about anybody.

This went on for a couple of days until finally my pal had enough and said 'alright after school' because that is how things were settled back then and so after school we all went to a path that cut between houses from street to street, this is where we went to fight when we had to fight. We all crowded around, probably sixty of us, and your man is talking big all the way there and they put down their books and step forward and my buddy grabs him by his jean jacket and he hits him right in the face and then again and buddy goes down blood streaming from his nose and then he gets up, tears streaming, and runs away home.

And that was the end of that.

Mayor Mandel should call a press conference and say that the city has offered Katz an excellent deal and if the Oilers think they can get a better deal elsewhere then they should go away, thanks very much. Bullying and blackmail won't play in Edmonton and if the Oilers want to play that way then go away but oh yes your name and colours will remain and the next tenant of the arena we are going to put up will certainly love to make a ton of money while Daryl Katz whiles his time away in Seattle or Kansas City.

Just please make sure to take Tambellini and Lowe and LaForge with you. And Stauffer and Tencer too.

Good bye.

That's what I would say.

Monday, September 17, 2012

This Is A Joke Right?

 
I have a great picture of the big fellow that looks exactly like he's laughing. I'll have to scan it and post it.

School just started two weeks ago. Our youngest began JK (another reason why teachers DO NOT GET PAID ENOUGH) and a lot of friends asked me if that made me feel old and my answer was no but the fact that my oldest is in grade four and thus will be starting university in NINE YEARS, well now, that makes me feel old. (pulls pants up to nipples, shouts at teenagers on lawn)

 So its been hectic, school and school activities and ballet and gymnastics and hockey and so on, everything getting going, back in the swing and all that and on top of that work has been hectic for both myself and Jenn. This past week has been especially mental. Its always mental but this past week, oh man.

 Jenn worked Monday and Tuesday and then Saturday, Sunday and today. These are twelve hour shifts, mind, so its the mental cases and myself, working or not, running here and there and everywhere and they're hyper because of school starting and driving me out of my mind.

 And then on top of this on the three days in between Jenn had stuff going on every evening. So yeah, as I said, mental.

 Tonight was the end of it. Cooked up some nice fatty chops and little potatoes, sliced a cucumber up, sent the boy down to get me a nice big cold beer. Oh yeah, winding down.

 This is pretty standard stuff for me as you know. Have friends who just had their first and buddy is cut from the same cloth as me. Friend of theirs was over, planning a night out for the new mom, said that Angelo would be fine babysitting the new little one. Ang stares her down, asks if the baby were left with its mom if she would be 'babysitting'. Stammering, stunned, 'er, no'.

 Exactly.

 So get them fed and chores done and ready for bed, teeth brushed and our youngest in bed and I decide I'm going to have a hot shower. You have kids? You know how awesome this is.

 So here I am. Its great. Stress is disappearing. I'm relaxed. And then the door cracks open and here's my youngest 'Daddy I need to pee' and oh yeah for sure go ahead, just don't flush I'll do that when I'm done.

 And she sits on the commode and its nice and quiet and all of a sudden a bit of a grunt and 'Actually (this kid's favourite word) its not a pee, its a big stinky poo'

 This is what she says.

 And her description is on the money.

 I'm fucking dying in here. Don't know if its the steam or what but its just fucking hanging there, soaking into everything. And then:

 'Oh Daddy there's poo on the floor. You'll have to wipe that up'

 No joke. And then:

 ' Er, Daddy I think you need to help wipe my bum, its pretty dirty.'

 At this point I just turn shower off. I towel down, step out. Sure enough there's a turd on the floor. So I wipe her ass and then pick that up and flush the lot of it and then she looks at me and with an aggrieved tone remarks that I have managed to get her hair wet by dripping on her.

 Jenn got home. I informed her that I have decided that when I am old and severely incontinent, that I will be living with our youngest child.

 Easy fucking decision, that.
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 Hockey, meh I've got nothing. I've got something but will post in a few days, seriously.

 But for now /cracks beer, drinks deeply/.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Hockey Who?

The last time there was a work stoppage and Gary Bettman cancelled the NHL season I had been married just over three years, had a one year old daughter, was 37 years old, was just starting my career with Capsule Music, had never heard of blogs and had a dog named Ben who was a healthy lad of seven.

Eight years later, well the math is pretty simple, I'll let you do that. As for the rest I've three kids now, the youngest is starting school in six days. Even with my very infrequent posting this will be my 924th post on this website. And poor old Ben has been gone over two years now.

When the first lockout happened we had been waiting for it for years. 'Armageddon' it was called long before it came and while a true reckoning would have resulted in a half dozen franchises down the tubes along with the jobs that came with them there was still a lost season, the Stanley Cup uncontested, millions and millions of dollars lost by owners and players.

I believed at the time that it was the right thing to do, that some sort of cost certainty had to come into the game and I still believe this to be true. While the English Premier League may be wonderful entertainment (and I believe it is) the truth is that we already know the top four at year's end, give or take one and the one that misses out will probably be fifth. Smaller clubs may have a year of brilliance but invariably they are squashed by the economics of the game and so it was that even when fans pointed to Tampa/Calgary as an example of how poorer clubs/clubs on a budget could succeed, the reality is that in the nine years previous four teams had won the Cup and, even more telling, the list of teams that were truly competing for the Cup were, well, those four and a couple of others.

That was what the league had become.

Now here we are years later and suddenly we are staring into the abyss again. Why? Revenues have grown like wildfire but the problem is that there are about a dozen teams carrying the water, if that, so as the cap has gone up, so has the floor. The owners' grand southern experiment, an expansion fee cash grab and reach for the Holy Grail of US TV dough, going on since 1967, has been a massive failure and you could probably fold a half dozen franchises with very little fanfare other than the protests of their core fans.

You could cut the cap in half and there would still be teams losing money. Think about that. So while Bettman may talk about financial viability for the weak sisters being a cause here (and I don't think he really has honestly) these teams would only be saved by a return to the indentured servitude of the post World War II era when players, most of whom grew up in the Depression and the butchery of a global conflict, were literally happy to have jobs. Pretty hard to complain about your lot when you grew up with nothing and a half dozen older boys on your street never came back from Europe.

So its about the owners getting more money, nothing more, and while you still have a handful of the 'I would play for free' gang grumbling (sure you would dummies), it appears that the majority of fans and media, except for the most ardent spear carriers for the owners or those who really love the whip of authority on their asses, can see what's going on here. The players make a ton of money, sure. My wife works with kids with cancer for crying out loud, I can see that the whole thing is crazy, but hockey is a billion dollar business and the guys who play the game are the guys who generate that revenue. There are 690 of them who have jobs and probably two thirds of those, if that, have jobs that are relatively secure. So yeah, they deserve to get paid a lot.

The owners should expect to make a profit too, at least the ones where people actually come out to watch hockey and pay for it, don't get me wrong. No way the players should take home the whole pie. But this, folks, is a cash grab plain and simple.

What can be done? Well I was kicking around ideas on a patio last Friday. If you could get the politicians to say that with no agreement the writeoff loopholes would get closed off I think you might get some owners' attention. Or if the players could come together and create a challenge tourney for the Cup, Canada wide, similar to the FA Cup so you would have teams at all levels of the game playing off, well that would be something. Problem is if there was a settlement they'd have to carry it through right to the bitter end. Wouldn't happen, same as the politicians. Fantasy.

The only possibility is that this time when its all over the fans don't go back so that six or seven years down the road this doesn't happen again, so that Bettman sees that 'the greatest fans in the world' won't stand for his contempt anymore.

But do you think that will happen?

Here's the thing though. I don't care. Maybe its the fact that the Oilers have been so awful for so long. Maybe its because Bettman is such a dick. Maybe its because there are too many teams and the hockey is watered down and the league is bush, always has been.

Or maybe its because the reality is that its a game. Its entertainment. A hobby. A way to waste time. And the reality is its not that big a deal if they don't play this year.

My son is almost seven and in a few weeks he will start hockey for the first time. We got him his gear last weekend and came home and he tried it on and he was so proud and so excited and he is going to hopefully love the game like I do. The real game. Not the NHL game.

This week I got on the ice myself three times. Playoff game on Monday (we got killed) and then shinny at the 'new' Maple Leaf Gardens Tuesday and Thursday. Hockey with old friends and new. A lot of laughs and some good healthy competition and I scored one on a tap in from inches out and scored another on a clean cut breakaway, high over his glove (I never score that way) and while last night my hip hurt (occasionally does) and my knees hurt (quite often they do) and my ANKLES AND FEET HURT (what the fuck is happening to me!!??) it was all worth it. Winter hockey starts in a few weeks for us and I will play shinny every Wednesday like I did last winter and hopefully the boy and I will go for a spin now and then as well. Hockey. Love it.

What else? Well the boy and I are going to help my old man close our camp down again this fall. We have a wedding in September and Jenn's birthday is coming up so we'll go for dinner and maybe overnight for that. We have friends and family coming to visit in the fall and we have our own busy lives to live, good food and drink and the sex as well. Books to read. Music. You know, living.

So I'm thinking that yeah I'll be ok. And whenever the players end up caving in this time then yeah I'll turn the TV back on and catch the games when they start again.

But I won't miss them when they're gone. And neither should you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Very Good Day

Announcement today that Taylor Hall has been extended for seven years for 42 million dollars.

A very very good deal.

Consider that Hall scored 27 goals and almost a point per game last year over 61 games and that he did so while driving the bus AT THE AGE OF TWENTY and that the contract buys three UFA years and its really a terrific deal and yes Tambellini and company deserve credit.

The only worry I have seen brought up is that the kid has missed a number of games in each of his first two years. Could he be Wendel Clark or Eric Lindros?

Of course. Anything is possible. But you cannot not (not not?) sign a kid who drives possession and scores goals because he might, might, get hurt. Every longterm deal is a gamble. This is a very good gamble.

Next - Jordan Eberle. My guess is that Hall is the outer marker now, as he should be imo. What Eberle gets will be very interesting. I think he's a very good player who will probably regress a bit this year, his percentages were through the roof last season. Still I do believe that he will be a top line forward as well although he still is a guy who gets sheltered. Should he make as much as Hall? No. Will he get the same contract? He may. If he does its not the end of the world but if he comes in at a lower rate than Hall then it would be a sign that this management team may be on track.

Whatever the case its a very good day to be an Oilers' fan.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

What Matters and What Does Not Matter



I remember last summer there was some point where I felt overwhelmed by it all for a short while. We live busy lives and I was out for pints one lovely hot night with a good friend and as we watched the city pass by I lamented my lot. He laughed and commented that my life was a tough one alright, day after day of hanging out with friends and family eating and drinking and enjoying what life has to offer.

Um yeah, that snapped me out of it. Gave my head a shake.

This year has been, if anything, even busier but I have my head out of my ass and while I'm exhausted I have to say its a good ride. We've had fantastic weather all year and good luck to top it off and everything culminated in our family reunion at Goulais River last weekend. There was some poignancy to the whole event. Dad and his siblings are all getting older and the past two years have seen some major health scares. One uncle had a major heart attack. Another had a heart attack and almost immediately afterwards was surprised by a dire diagnosis, cancer of the esophagus. It was touch and go for him for sure. We had a cousin diagnosed with cancer and then of course there was Mom, stricken by something (they never figured out what) that put her in a wheelchair, by all accounts permanently, and left her in pretty well constant, though manageable, pain.

There will be major sorrow for all of us at some point but not yet my friends, not yet. For all of those stricken low pulled through, some luck involved yes, but of course nobody cares about that. For the most part it was bad luck that laid them low in the first place.

And for Mom, told that she would never walk again just over eighteen months ago, triumph, the victory of a stubborn, tough woman who decided, I think, that sitting around was tiresome. And so she hit the pool and the bike and when I called home in February Dad said, without fanfare as is his wont, that Mom was indeed doing well, first the wheelchair and then the walker put away, walking for the first time since over two years ago.

So besides the usual festivities, the beer and wine and rum, the barbequed porchettas and turkeys, the games for the kids and the golf tournament and the tour of old family landmarks, there was a little more plain old joy at this event, some headshaking at the toughness of old women and men and some thankfulness for what we all got to enjoy.

After the dinner on Saturday night we gave a nod to Dad, who turned 80 this June, and to he and Mom, who celebrated 50 years of marriage this past April. I gave a little speech, apologizing for the inability to celebrate two great milestones in five minutes or less (Unpossible!) but I think I did ok. I spoke to the enthusiasm that Dad has for life and how more than anything I hope we could all learn from that and I joked that while 80 years is quite the milestone you have to have some luck to make it whereas 50 years of marriage, well that takes some real heavy lifting.

Marriage isn't easy of course, you need to work at it, even in the good times. The real measure of a marriage though is when times are a bit rockier, when your spouse's father is in a coma and touch and go for a month and you have to hold down the fort while she is a thousand miles away trying to keep it together, when the baby is three months old and still up through the night and the two of you have to try and survive the overwhelming fatigue without killing your other kids and each other.

The real measure of a marriage is when your wife's health falls apart, she loses half her body weight and ends up in the hospital for five months and you go each day to sit with her and then, when she comes home, you take on the laundry and the cooking and the cleaning and the errands without complaint. The real measure of a marriage is worrying, not about your own failing health, but about your spouse and the fact that they are doing everything and you, who did so much for so long, cannot contribute.

 The real measure of strength and character is when the one who cannot stand, who cannot walk, decides that she will and is able to do so, not only because of her own strength and willpower but because of her husband who gives her everything that he has so that she can do what she needs to do to come back and defy reason.

 So yeah we celebrated that and our wonderful crazy family. We had a great party. Its a great ride.

 That's what matters.

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 In 2005 I was all for whatever it took to bring some competitive balance back to the NHL. Teams like Toronto and the Rangers and the Wings were spending three times as much on salaries as many clubs. While this didn't help the first two do anything of note the fact is things were seriously out of whack. I remember watching one game between the Oilers and Wings and the commentator noting that the Wings first power play unit made more in salary than the entire Oilers' roster.

 Good management might allow a team on a budget to make a surprise run (like Tampa and Calgary did the last year before armageddon) or to be competitive year after year (as the Oilers did from 1998 to 2004 despite some awful amateur scouting) but there was no staying power for those surprises and those teams that managed to compete were first round fodder that shipped their quality to the big boys as soon as they had to be paid.

 So yeah I wanted a cap and while it was shitty that a season was lost to it I felt that it was worth it.

 And now, seven years after that deal was signed we are facing another work stoppage. And this one, my friends, is all on the owners. They got their cap last time, they got their cost certainty, the fans didn't see ticket prices fall, as Bettman claimed they would (and nobody in their right mind believed) and yet here they are, again with their top hats in hand, looking for more.

 The league is broken of course, hard to believe considering the huge increase in revenue since 2005, but it is broken and its the owners that broke it, greedy for expansion fees and the US TV money that they have chased since 1967. And so there are teams all over the US that won't draw flies and short of returning the league to the 1950s when each player was the property of whichever team signed him as a teenager until he retired there is no way to fix this. Revenue sharing is the partial answer but when teams lose twenty, thirty, forty million dollars despite being relatively successful (as Phoenix has been recently) and receiving revenue sharing already, well, no measure of revenue sharing is going to save those franchises. They can cut the players' share of HRR and limit contract length and increase revenue sharing and the zombie franchises may be propped up momentarily but this is not the NFL where TV and merchandising money means each team can make money and compete. The NHL is smalltime. Always has been, always will. There are haves and have nots and the haves don't make enough money to prop up the have nots and make a tidy profit themselves. (I may not like the owneres here but I'm not against them making money on the whole venture). I'm not a commie like Horcov.

If the owners win, and its a question of when they win and by how much really, they will all get more money but it won't fix what is broken and all of Bettman's smarm won't change it. Of course Bettman is the perfect villain in all of this. He's just doing his job really and I certainly can't get worked up about him like I used to do so but its hard to believe that anyone could make Donald Fehr look warm and fuzzy. Gary Bettman manages to do so though. The arrogance is unbelievable. As we saw from the whole Phoenix mess he cannot be trusted to tell the truth for one second. And the ego is massive.

And so he makes a good villain. ;)

There will be no hockey this fall and then come late November there will be movement and in mid December there will be an announcement and it will be a fifty fifty split of HRR and on New Year's Day the season will kick off with the Winter Classic. This time the fans are on the players' side, with the exception of those who believe the players shouldn't make anything, the 'I'd play the game for nothing' crowd. (Although seriously if you were one of 690 men good enough to play in the NHL in the world why would you be that dumb? That's elite company right there. Under 700 guys good enough to play in the Show and out of that how many are good enough to have real careers? Maybe 450 of them? Think about that the next time you complain about how much a guy who scores 'only' 50 points in the NHL makes. There are so very few of them and they are in a big money business. Fucking rights they should get paid very well.)

 But the fans, well the fans don't mean anything to the NHL and unless they were organized in a way that is impossible then they never will. So there will be a lockout. There will be hockey come 2013. The fans will return (the greatest fans in the world as Bettman calls us) and in a couple of years clubs will figure out a way to get around this contract and salaries will get goofier and teams where people don't care about hockey will struggle all the while as Bettman goes on about record revenues and how no franchises are on any difficulty.

 So this fall I'm going to watch soccer, just as I did back in 2004/2005. I'll watch some junior hockey. I'll drink some beer and help the boy learn how to play hockey and I'll chase Jenn around the house. So business as usual in a lot of ways. ;)

 But I'm not going to worry about Bettman and his cronies' latest money grab. Its a garbage league and so with the hockey comes the garbage. This is one of those times. Best to enjoy the things that matter.