Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Winter


Nothing makes me feel older than talking about winter. When I was young (and even today) my old man talked about how cold the winters of his youth were. He has lived nearly his entire life in Northern Ontario and many of the years were spent in Franz, a railroad town a couple of hours north of Wawa. (A railroad town literally, there was no road into Franz. My grandfather was a railroad mechanic. He had one of those cars that drove down the tracks.) And one of Dad's first jobs was working in Northern Saskatchewan in Uranium City. Him and a few pals went out that way when they were just kids to get some work. Coldest place he ever lived, he says, so cold that your face would freeze if you were outside for more than a minute.

So in his day (and where he lived) winters started in October or November, lasted through March and at least January and February most days (!) were twenty five below or colder. And this is without windchill.

(A few years back we were in Sudbury for New Year's. New Year's Day was the start of a cold snap. Dad and his brother got geared up to plug the trucks in (the temperature had plummeted overnight) and my Uncle, who lived in Moose Factory and was a pilot in the Arctic for years, asked what it was like out. Someone said twenty five below with the wind and he said Don't give me any of that windchill bullshit, I don't care about the wind, I just want the actual temperature! Then he and dad went out in their ballcaps and got everything squared away.)

Now when I was younger (hooks up pants, spits plug of tobacco into old rusty can) it was cold enough. I played outdoor hockey every year but one and the ice was not artificial ice, it was real, laid down by neighbourhood dads all over the city at every rink in very neighbourhood. There were dozens of them and they were open from early November right through the end of March. As kids our lives revolved around those rinks (as did much of the neighbourhood adults as well) - we spent our weekends and evenings there. From about mid December through February the roads were covered with hard packed snow and whereever you walked the ground squeaked beneath your boots. Your nostrils stuck together and when you spit your gob would bounce when it hit the ground. The snowbanks were higher than the cars and if you ventured off of the road or a beaten path you were wading through drifts. That was a Northern Ontario winter and we spent most of our time outside, coming in to take off layers of clothes and feel the burning of our fingers and toes as they protested where we lived.

I moved to Toronto when I was eighteen and while the temperatures rarely hit minus twenty (standard daytime temperature in Sudbury) and never hit minus thirty (standard nighttime temp) it was cold and snowy and of course the cold was a damp cold which made it nastier than back home. (lol I know, a dry cold but its TRUE!) Snow started falling in November and we had snow through March. Before I moved east and then south I coached hockey and we had outdoor practices and again these ran right up until March no problem on real ice. It was no northern winter but it was a Canadian winter all the same.

We came back to Toronto about a decade ago and at first it was business as usual but over the past few years winters have, well, disappeared. We had no snow at Christmas again this year and today it is six degrees. Last Tuesday it was twenty four below (with the wind) but it's possible that may be the only cold day we have this year. In the four years past with one exception where we had a cold snap that lasted a couple of weeks I could count the cold days each year on one hand.

One hand.

Now I am pragmatic and I prefer a warm winter to cold don't get me wrong but there's something not right here, never mind all of the global warming stuff. My kids have been sledding once this year, they got out one evening after a few inches fell that day. The next day the rain came and washed it away. In the park one street over the rink that gets made every year is non existent. There is no snow. There is only grey dingy mud and dead plants.

I don't long for the days when it was twenty below but there just doesn't seem to be a damn point to any of this now, I mean if were going to have winter lets have some winter,am I right?

Right.

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

For the Oilers winter has arrived. The slide has become an avalanche and now the annual devastation of the roster has begun. Ted is out for a few more weeks because of a freak accident and we await word on Eberle. Gilbert is gone until at least the All Star Break and so the D is now Smid and five guys named Moe.

It's about to get quite ugly I believe. Er, uglier.

It's so depressing that even the good news, like the signing of Potter to a totally reasonable contract, is overshadowed in the gloom.

Tom Renney is dead man walking, he certainly will not survive another lottery pick, especially based on management (and himself) proclaiming that playoffs are the goal. And while the injuries are a useful crutch, as always, one has to think that Katz will note that this freefall began before last week, and actually really started when the club was healthy!

It's possible that Tambellini himself may be in trouble and while it's a truth that losing organizations are the ones that change management and coaches constantly I think we have gotten to the point where we have to wonder where the buck will stop. Again the blueline has been exposed for a lack of depth and again our men in charge have shown to be, for the most part, unsure when it comes to assessing talent and the status of their club. These are the guys who signed Khabibulin to a four year deal and tried to trade three players for Heatley, remember.

And with Ales Hemsky on his way out the door to join the scads of useful players, some very good, who have exited in the past half dozen years, usually to the cheers of the media and fans who think that picks and prospects are better than established quality NHLers (recall the return for Smyth, how has that worked out - 3 (!) first rounders, all of them busts), I can only wonder about the following.

- at the beginning of the year it looked like the Oilers had enviable depth up front with 9 top nine forwards - Hall, Ted, Eberle, Smyth, Horcoff, Hemsky, Gagner, Paajarvi, Omark. At this point in time, two of those guys have been to the minors, Hemsky is out the door for certain, Smyth may follow and Horcoff is long in the tooth (as is Smyth). So where is this depth again? And this is the club's strength!

- they have two quality top four D that can be relied on - Gilbert and Smid

- the reality is that after next year Khabibulin will be gone and Dubnyk has proven nothing, so the goaltending is a mess as well

- for all of the wonderful prospects in the pipeline, Smid is just hitting his stride now, at 25. Klefbom and Bunz and Musil and Marancin and on and on may be quality but we won't know for years for the most part.

- multiple players run out of town are playing for teams that are better than the Oilers (of course this is pretty well every team) so again where does the problem lie? Was it Souray? Cole? Penner? (and yes I am aware of his struggles) Pitkanen? Glencross? Brodziak? Visnovsky? Torres? Stoll? Greene? Hejda? Some of these players came to town in exchange for each other, all were shipped away. Some asked out. Some wanted to stay. In the end nearly everyone brought nothing in return or assets that slowly diminished. On a young team would not Greene, Stoll, Brodziak, Glencross and Pitkanen all be guys who could help, all guys who are in the age range needed? Guys with size and for the most part grit. Yet were all found wanting as Oilers, just as Ales Hemsky is about to be.

It's really a joke.

And this is where the danger lies.

Hemsky is gone. Whitney is UFA next year. Health problems aside, do you see him wanting to stay with a franchise six years out of the playoffs, bleeding veterans. He will be dealt after whispers about his lack of grit in overcoming his injuries. The fans will cheer. The year after it will be Gilbert and Smid's turn and then Gagner. Why would any of these guys want to stay with a club after nearly a decade of failure and not a playoff appearance?

And then you know who would be next? That's right - Eberle, Hall, Nugent Hopkins.

Why would they sign longterm with a franchise that has wandered in the desert for so long?

Hemsky is a goner and I suspect that unless something big happens this summer in terms of trying to right this ship that we will see exactly what I have described above.

Because while management calls it year two of the rebuild and some fans buy it, the truth is it's six years running as the worst franchise in hockey. How do you think the players feel about that? Have you ever played for a shitty team, even in beerleague. Losing gets tired really quickly.

I'm surprised Hemsky hasn't asked out. I wouldn't blame him. But that's the thing, he wants to stay. And the club is going to move him anyhow.

Winter.

15 comments:

Garnet said...

It's going to reach the point where draft-eligible players will, Lindros style, frankly state their desire not to play for such a team. It's not a theoretical matter - if you were Yakupov, you might well choose to collect a big cheque in Russia (or at the very least threaten to) rather than join a squad with a history of alienating players and handling injuries badly.

spOILer said...

I'm surprised Yzerman stuck with the red WIngs after all those years (2 friggin decades) of wnadering the desert. How is that possible?

Black Dog said...

spOILer - sarcasm? but they were bad for what, eight years, before they became contenders?

two things different about those years though

different playoff structure which meant that even bad Wings' clubs made the playoffs many years

and different FA rules which meant the team was quality before he even came close to being free

Garnet - speaks to the whol eidea that Edmonton the city is the reason players won't sign/want to leave, an idea the org. is happy to push.

Detroit is no paradise but have no issue attracting players because they are winners.

resigned said...

winter indeed...

depressing as it sounds, I think you are right about more of the same in the future... really, how can it be otherwise?

no matter how brightly the new lights shine in October, or how hopeful the fans become (mostly against our better judgement)...the same old patterns seem to re-establish themselves by christmas

the sins of the past seem to catch up (frittering away a legacy of greatness)...the team loses its focus and its confidence, and people start getting hurt...

one could argue that the injuries are no accident...players being asked to skate thru the fog of mismanagement and uncertainty that eventually descends to ice level...

and usually about this time of year the witch hunts begin...

thanks for standing up for hemsky, an artist whose magic will be sorely missed

would have added satan to your list, even bo bo...but
then again its all water under the bridge

Black Dog said...

resigned - well I'm more or less talking about since 2007 when I talk about guys getting shipped out

I'm usually not so pessimistic but its hard not be based on the treatment of 83 over the past couple of months and how now he is suddenly the problem

Not sure why the fanbase cannot stand seeing many good players on the club. Of course it goes back to management and ownership. Pocklington dismantled the best team ever. EIG kept the team in Edmonton but dumped Smyth and cried poor year after year. And now we have Katz who is focussed on a new arena more than his on ice product.

Karma perhaps.

resigned said...

not sure why the fans turn on the skill players and I would add the europeans...maybe its the fact that the fanbase itself has gone through so much change since the golden age...remember this is now oil country, fist country, in your face country...not the cinderella city that was taken on the magical mystery tour of the cup years

definitely a fall from grace...accompanied by disappointment, resentment, and anger at the fate of the team

so much has come so easily in the economy in recent years that you are now dealing with a sense of entitlement that breeds its own stupidity, arrogance, and impatience...a bad fit for inexperienced ownership and incompetent management, fumblers with no clear or consistent vision of where they want to take the team...

the result is a culture of blame, where someone else has to take the fall...most often the players of whom the most was expected, the artists who after a time can no longer carry so much dead weight on their backs...

Travis Dakin said...

Every single Oiler fan should be reading this blog. Too many of them just can't see what the real problems are. You always have such a way with words. It would really help if everyone could get this beaten into them! ha

Imagine: Hemsky, Gagner, Gilbert.... Yes you dumb fu**s! They are the reason the team sucks. Let's get more draft picks! They can't ALL be misses! Unreal.

It's just so painful to hear my friends talk, and to read comments on blogs. Everyone is just so blind. It's so embarrassing.

Jordan said...

It's funny - you point out the "problems" and all I can think about are the solutions! I posted on them over at LT's old place, and what to do to fix em.

It's pretty simple:
Don't trade the vets. Sign em' to short term deals @ reasonable money, and tell them you're fixing the D.

Fix the D. Get Weber or Sutter for a year or two, and made a run. See if they'll take Whitney, a first or 2nd, Pajaarvi and a prospect. Sure, it's a lot, but #1 D don't grow on trees, and the Oil need him yester-f***ing-day. Bring in someone to partner with him too. Cycle Peckham-Petry-Teubert-Potter through in the 5-6 spots. Take a run at Voynov (OS?) or see if Parise wants a 1 year shot at the cup.

The Plan is simple: Sign good players. Sign more good players for less because they see you have good players.

Chris said...

If Katz isn't willing to fire both K.Lowe and Tambo, then those two should do the decent thing and commit seppuku.

Also, I did a recent Google search for, "Black Dog Hates Skunks," and Google insisted I was searching instead for, "Black God Hates Dogs."

- Chris

Black Dog said...

Chris - wasn't it Van Halen who said if there was a God dogs wouldn't die? maybe not ;)

I think Tambo may be in trouble. Unless Katz is blind.

Jordan - I absolutely agree but the problem has been there for quite a while and management has not figured it out

But yes sign Smyth and Hemsky for starters.

Shore up the D. Get two guys who can play top four now.

Probably need to add another forward I would think as well.

And they need to find a Craig Anderson type imo. By that I mean a quality guy who isn't a big name.

The solutions are there but management seems in a fog.

Black Dog said...

Thanks for the kind words Travis and I have two words for you:

New friends. ;)

resigned - its not just Edmonton, its everywhere, people like the 'working class' player. Thats why Smytty has always been so popular.

My theory is that the regular joe looks at a guy like Gretzky or Hemsky or Mogilny and knows that they could never do what they do. They possess a genius. And they also resent the fact that sometimes the genius can be stifled by tight checking or an offnight or whatever.

Whereas the working class guy, the guy like Smytty. Well hell I can do what he does, he just does it writ large, goes to the net, fights for pucks, works hard.

Regular folks identify with a guy like that.

Chris said...

I agree that they need two more decent D-men. And also that they should resign Smyth and Hemski. This team has a proven track record of chasing good players out of town over the past several years. These are players that, as you have pointed out, tend to thrive elsewhere.

Management needs to be held accountable and needs to be more patient, instead of just scapegoating the good players that they have.

- Chris

Nanaimo Oil said...

When do you think that the GD Pro scouting dept is going to start doing it's frickin job and acquire some proven puck rushing d-men?...I thought we had one of the genius Sutter boys brought in to find us some....My two cents...trade a prospect or two. Brain

Bruce said...

Now when I was younger (hooks up pants, spits plug of tobacco into old rusty can) it was cold enough. I played outdoor hockey every year but one and the ice was not artificial ice, it was real, laid down by neighbourhood dads all over the city at every rink in very neighbourhood. There were dozens of them and they were open from early November right through the end of March. As kids our lives revolved around those rinks (as did much of the neighbourhood adults as well) - we spent our weekends and evenings there. From about mid December through February the roads were covered with hard packed snow and whereever you walked the ground squeaked beneath your boots. Your nostrils stuck together and when you spit your gob would bounce when it hit the ground. The snowbanks were higher than the cars and if you ventured off of the road or a beaten path you were wading through drifts. That was a Northern Ontario winter and we spent most of our time outside, coming in to take off layers of clothes and feel the burning of our fingers and toes as they protested where we lived.

Paragraph quoted in full for its truth and beauty, not to mention its strange charm. Particle physics puns aside, your writing is always good, Pat, but there are times you outdo yourself.

You're right about the dry cold, too. Two of the coldest days of my life were experienced on consecutive January 20ths, 1971 and '72, my last year in St.John's
and my first in Edmonton. Still had Fahrenheit thermometers back then, but the numbers that spring to memory are -7 F and -46 F respectively. And the day of the -46 I said to my schoolmates that it didn't feel as cold as minus-anything on the Atlantic seaboard. Doesn't matter how you dress, you can't keep it out, and your house can't either.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Bruce!

And yeah people joke about dry colds and that but you're on the money and that description is exactly it, it just soaks you right through when its damp.