Tuesday, January 10, 2012
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.
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?
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.
Posted by Black Dog at 1:30 PM