Sunday, January 29, 2012

Dexterity


The boy is a chip off the old block in many ways. He's an easy going little guy and while both of his sisters often react with great drama to requests he is more likely to shrug his shoulders and get to the business at hand. Like me he is a reader and like me he is an enthusiastic and smart sportsman, if not the most physically gifted. He's got a head for numbers and he's interested in history and travel, even at his young age. He's really a terrific little guy and that's the general consensus, you can ask anyone who knows him, not just his old man. ;)

Of course he's also different from me in a lot of ways. I'm not a lazy guy but he has a put your head down and grind it out work ethic like his grandfathers that I do not and his mind has a bent to the mechanical and scientific. When he was three he famously cornered my old man in his boat and spent an hour questioning him on how the motor actually worked. At the end of it Dad referred to him as 'the son he never had'. ;)

I am more of a dreamer, an arty type, like my oldest daughter; at any time we're likely to walk outside of the house without our pants, all the while solving the problems of the universe. The boy is methodical and literal to a fault, one of is favourite phrases is 'actually' as in 'actually it didn't take her hours to get ready, only seventeen and a half minutes' or 'actually you did not pick up after us all of the time, I put my underwear away last Tuesday'.

I call him Dr. Reid now and then, after the supergenius on that Criminal Minds show. Buddy has that same habit. 'Actually ...'

The boy has another similarity to his old man. He likes touching his junk. Much like that scene in Forrest Gump where buddy tells Forrest the thousand different ways to prepare shrimp, so to are the places and scenarios where the boy has his hand on his knob endless.

The other night I was helping him shower (he prefers the shower to the tub, its quicker) and as I helped him soap up he kept his right hand on his pecker, moving it this way and that, kneading it like a lump of dough. Back and forth back and forth. I shampooed his hair and as he stepped over to rinse it I offered him a cloth to cover his eyes.

In an amazing feat of eye hand coordination and dexterity he took the cloth in his preferred masturbatory hand while seamlessly transferring his cock into his off hand. I swear his knob was left untouched for not even a fraction of a second, like the fans at Liverpool sing, it seems it will never walk alone.

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I've been saying for a while now that this stretch upcoming, from the trade deadline and through the summer is the key to the Oilers' prospects and, in my mind, may make or break the franchise for years. Despite the prevailing wisdom that the Oilers are on the right track and that adding lottery picks until BAM! Stanley Cup! is a quality strategy the truth is that one only need to look at the Thrashers or Islanders or Panthers or BJS to see that simply acquiring high draft picks sometimes leads nowhere.

And the two franchises most often mentioned as the examples of what the Oilers are trying to do, the Pens and the Hawks, won their Cups not only on the backs of their high end picks but also because their management added quality everywhere so that when the window opened they had depth at every position.

The Pens roster had Crosby, Malkin, Staal, Fleury as well as homegrown players 25 or under who played supporting roles in Kennedy, Talbot and Letang.

The remainder of the roster was made of up veterans, a few homegrown, many acquired - Orpik, Scuderi, Kunitz, Guerin, Gonchar, Sykora, Satan, Gill, Eaton, Boucher, Fedotenko, Cooke, Adams and Dupuis.

As for the Hawks well their roster had a younger look. They had a number of homegrown players 25 or under - Toews, Kane, Hjalmarsson, Seabrook (25), Versteeg, Brouwer, Bolland and Byfuglien (also 25). Plus Andrew Ladd who was 24. Also on their roster - 26 year olds Keith, Eager and Niemi. And then again the veterans - Hossa, Campbell, Sopel, Boynton, Kopecky, Madden, Sharp.

So definitely a younger club but they are augmented by a strong contingent of veterans and a lot of their homegrown 'youngsters' plus Ladd are 24 and 25 years old.

What is the point of all of this? Well first of all that the Oilers aren't going anywhere near a Cup, as presently constituted, for a few years unless a lot of quality is added. And secondly, the idea that the Oilers' present methodology of dumping anybody with any experience isn't really a good idea if they want to win anything. These two clubs were probably the youngest to win the Cup since the Oilers did so for the first time, nearly thirty years ago. And neither of them was really that young.

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So if the Oilers are going to make steps towards contending then the idea, as I always say, is to add or retain their quality players. Ales Hemsky is unsettled by his status and coming off major shoulder surgery and having an off year, yes, but dumping him when he has had nearly a decade of good years as a top six forward seems counterproductive, no? And yet, like Penner, this seems to be what is about to happen.

Now I don't pretend to know if Hemsky would sign, same as I didn't know if Penner was going to sign but lets say for argument that the Oilers had kept Penner and planned to keep Hemsky. Here is their top nine in this case:

Hall/Ted/Eberle
Penner/Gagner/Hemsky
Smyth/Horcoff/Paajarvi

And their fourth line is then Eager/Belanger/Jones

That's a far better lineup than right now, no? Renney has more options, you have Paajarvi playing with two quality vets and Gagner is in the same boat. Belanger and Jones slide down the lineup a bit and then can jump up where necessary.

Instead it looks like Hemsky is a goner and there is talk of trading Gagner for a defenceman, which the club of course desperately needs. And Penner is gone. And because the wings are thin we have seen Gagner playing the wing and best guess is is will return there when Ted comes back.

So now here is the depth chart up front:

Hall/Ted/Eberle
Smyth/Horcoff/Gagner
Paajarvi/Belanger/Jones

Now your mileage may vary of course. Maybe Gagner is back at centre but you cannot look at this lineup and say that it is anywhere close to the first one I posted.

Moving Penner and now the probable move of Hemsky is gutting the forward depth and if they rob Peter to pay Paul by moving Gagner for a Dman well then you can see how it even further damages this club up front.

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Do I have the answers? No of course not but presently the club has this as their depth chart:

Hall/Ted/Eberle
Smyth/Horcoff/Hemsky
Paajarvi/Gagner/Omark
Hartikainen/Belanger/Jones
Hamilton/Lander/Pitlick

Hemsky is a goner and maybe Gagner too. Smyth, Horcoff and Belanger are getting older. Paajarvi has taken a step back and Omark and Hartikainen have been in OKC pretty well all year. Who knows if the last three kids will contribute as NHLers. They may but there's no guarantee. In other words, the forward depth ranges from mediocre to abysmal unless all of the secondary group of kids turn out.

Now as for the blue:

Smid/Gilbert
Whitney/Potter
Sutton/Petry
Barker/Peckham
Plante/Teubert

Sutton is a UFA and Barker is garbage and Whitney may be done and even if he isn't done he and Smid are unrestricted after next season.

So yeah its pretty thin back there too. Now robbing the forwards to add to the blueline might help but if they lose Smid it sets this club back enormously, imo. Six years it took to get him here (and this is a guy who had pedigree so don't think that all of the prospects bubbling under are going to step right in - maybe one or two may get ahead of the curve if Edmonton is lucky) and if they lose a guy who is a legitimate top pairing guy just as he enters his prime, well then what does that do to the franchise?

And of course in goal there are intriguing prospects who are years away, Khabibulin and Dubnyk, who does not look like a guy, just yet, who can backstop a contender. So add G to D and F as issues. Not a surprise, there's a reason this team has been out of the playoffs for six years and probably in the lottery for three.

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So there are holes everywhere and the very real possibility that things could get worse and the problem is, as I have said before, if things get worse then you risk losing your quality upcoming UFAs like Smid and Gilbert, which makes things worse still, and then you are risking alienating the kids the franchise is depending on.

Do I have the answers? Well, no. But I certainly reject the apologists who say that management deserves slack when these are the guys who have put the team off the rails in the first place. Four years they tried to contend and finished 25th, 19th, 21st and DEAD LAST in those years, including a couple of years where they spent to the Cap.

Think about that for a second. And don't try to tell me that as a fan I don't know what I am talking about and that the job is hard. Of course its a difficult job but you know what? If a guy is BAD AT THE JOB then he should get unemployed and fast. If you think your club can contend and spend to the cap and finish last well then that says a lot about you as a talent evaluator and that is what being a GM is all about when it comes down to it.

What would I do if I were GM?

- sign Hemsky unless the price tag is ridiculous. I can't see it being so

- keep Gagner. He may not be the answer but if you are a rebuilding club then you don't trade a 22 year old C. If you take a C in the draft and he makes the club next fall then move Gagner to the wing and then move him later.

- sign Smid as soon as possible

- add another top four D on the cheap somehow, pick one up with a year left on their contract or from a team that is capstrapped or find a Hejda - a quality guy who can be had on the cheap. Ideally the club would add two. Impossible you say? Look around the league. It happens all of the time. The Oilers used to do it all of the time.

- move Khabi, if possible, and address the goaltending with a Craig Anderson type. Again do I know who exactly? No but quality goaltending is out there and can be found for cheap, I have no doubt of this. Again look around the league.

Retain the quality you have, add pieces to shore up the D and goaltending if possible. Do so without hamstringing the franchise with bad contracts. Does Tambo have the chops to do this, to make the team better for the short and long term, to do something other than waiting on last place finishes to bring us to the Promised Land?

Despite the full court press from the Oilers and their media lackeys (excepting Brownlee and Gregor who have both come out as skeptical on this point imo) that Tambellini is doing a bang up job and deserves an extension, I would say that history tells us that he is not up to it and that his boss and likely replacement, Lowe, the guy who got us into this mess, is not either.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Oilers Brass


Here is a guest post from frequent commenter and occasional poster Matthew Watt. Ironically he sent this to me just before Terry Jones' column on the probably extension being offered the GM. Enjoy.

I, like the man who words grace this blog, come from good stock. Loving, caring, respectful people. My family does have their intricacies (don’t know if the Al Gore is big enough for me to outline what all of these are, I keed), but in all they are just good people. Especially my dad.

Now in my dad’s world, there is no greater joy than talking with others. When he tells you about how his perfect day went, the words “just had so many great visits” are uttered numerous times. You would think he gets sick of it after awhile, but no. Hell, he has now made his daily routine to be visiting and talking with others, and he would have it no other way.

Did I tell you he is a politician?

My dad also ensures that the visit is always on his dime; he is extremely benevolent. Every time, no matter the place, he is always gets the bill. Hotel rooms for family events, taken care of by him. Gas when going on vacation, just use his fuel card. Meals, he gives his credit card to the waiter before everyone is seated. Generous as they come.

Except in one instance. My dad, to celebrate his sons coming of age will always take us out for a night of drinks. However, when I became 18 we just never got around to it. A year passed, I then started university and the subject was never approached till Christmas break. One night when I was back home on holidays, my dad then decided that this would be the time he takes me out to the bar. Good enough for me. So out we went, to the local watering hole and proceeded to make a night of it. Due to it being Christmas time, lots of locals were there and my dad ended up visiting with some of his friends and me with mine. He just told me “put your drinks on my tab, I will pay it at the end of the night.” So I did.

Night comes to a close, Dad calls mom to come pick him up, and he goes to pay the bill. To say he was shock was a bit of an understatement. Not to sound like a blowhard but I come from a long lineage of people who can hold their liquor, and that first semester of university only helped my cause. My dad found that out when the tab came. To be honest I probably bought a few rounds for others there, and grabbed a case of beer at the end of the night to drink at a friend’s, but still drank a bit too much for dad’s liking.

“I don’t mind buying you some drinks,” he said, “I just no longer want to fund your pissers, that is for sure.”

My dad hasn’t taken me out to the bar since; funny how that works.

Derek Zona stated that someone close to Oilers management has said that they have expressed interest in extending Cam Barker’s stay in Edmonton. I say you don’t even have to be close to the situation to know that. Spector said during intermission of one game I saw that injuries can’t be excuses, but this team misses Barker who was one of their “top 4 defenceman.” Then while I was listening to the radio on my way home from the Calgary game (yes I was there for the game and no I do not want to talk about it), Tencer was saying how you can’t blame Tambo for how the defence corps are so bad when the likes of Whitney and Barker, two of their top 4 defenceman, are out with injuries.

You know as well as I that both Spector and Tencer are getting this information from one place, and it is definitely not from fans in Section 203 (or from watching games apparently). Their writing shows that they are close to those at the top, and will do lots to keep those ties intact. Their actions so far speak to this. And what they are getting from management is that Barker is part of the Oilers long-term plans.

You only have to watch the games Cam Barker played in to know how much this team needs him, which is not at all. The guy skates like he has lead weights in his ass, acts like a traveller in a foreign land when the puck is in the Oilers end, and does not offer much on offence. To put it nicely, he is a black hole of a defenceman and I haven’t even started on his underlying numbers which show him to be a further joke.
Yet this management team feels it would be a good idea to extend his stay in Edmonton.

I for the longest time gave this management group the benefit of the doubt. One has to be this way as a fan to see what you have got for a brain trust. Now Oilers brass making bad moves is nothing new, the past 6 years of mismanagement is a pretty impressive study in futility. Just read either Pat, Tyler, Lowetide, Zona, Reynolds, Willis, etc., all outline just how inept this brain trust is. Yet, as a blind fan, I still held out hope that those in charge would find a way to figure things out. Oilers management was just having sex for the first few times. In time, they will be making love.

No more. The tea leaves have been shown. This management truly believes that one of the most ineffective defenceman in all of the NHL, someone who should be working on his trade in a lesser league, is top 4 NHL defenceman. Those close to them have said so. They also believe this after Barker playing 12 games this year where he was largely ineffective, to go along with previous years of him being a bust. What the hell is going here? We get rid of the NHLers like Hedja but keep Barker. Dispose of Brodziak for picks, in turn signing Belanger as replacement (who has been pretty brutal this year, especially in the Calgary game). Trade Smyth for picks that never turned out. I could go on and on, but the message is clear on how this management group runs this team.

Like my dad, I have been a benevolent soul towards Oiler management. Like my dad, I also know when enough is enough. The guys in charge don’t have a fucking clue. As such they need to go, sooner than later.

For I, like many other Oiler fans, am tired of funding the pissers they have at the expense of us.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chaos


Was at a surprise birthday party for one of Jenn's friends last night and as I was at the bar buying drinks a woman said 'Are you Pat McLean? You used to coach my brother Ryan.'

I looked at her and after a dim moment realized who she was, the younger sister of a kid I coached for three seasons twenty years ago.

You're a lot taller than the last time I saw you, I remarked.

Caught up for a while, turns out that life had been good to her, her brother, their Mom and aunt, they lived just around the corner from us in High Park all those years ago and I got to know the family quite well. Also at the party, another young woman who I also remembered, they were still friends after all of these years. This one remarked how she had a crush on me way back in the day.

Very funny. Very weird.

Grinding out January, winter has finally arrived although the cold and snowy stretch of days we see here and there are almost immediately followed by a couple of days of rain which leave everything grey and muddy. There is a part of me that likes my winters wintery but then I think that we are nearly through January and we've had three really cold days so far and I cannot complain about that.

We're laying low, recovering from the holidays, but the next few weeks things look to be ramping up again. I haven't played hockey since before Christmas but I hit the ice with Capsule again tonight and I've been playing shinny Wednesday nights. Of course the kids are busy and so its back to to hectic everyday chaos of our lives.

Our youngest is a real handful. Lately she has taken to getting up quietly after we put her to bed, turning on her light and then 'reading' or doing puzzles until she is discovered. So she's a bit tired as a result and a bit under the weather and so she is even more of a challenge than usual.

The other day Jenn was taking the kids to school and found the side doors of the van frozen shut (we drive a Honda, have had them forever and love them, but this flavour of van has this problem which is annoying - its a good thing we don't live somewhere actually cold). So she muttered some curses and opened the back hatch and the two oldest kids clambered in. She had our youngest in the front and turned on the van and blasted the heat and our baby (she is three now) jumped at the sudden roar of the air. She looks at my wife and says:

That fucking noise scared me.

My wife's jaw dropped, the other two kids' eyes popped out and she said 'What was that?' And so our baby replied:

I said that fucking noise scared me.

Lol. Thing is my wife has nobody but herself to blame. I have an awfully foul mouth but have always kept it in check around the kids. She has a little more difficulty in that area.

At least she used it in the proper context though. Another smart kid.

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The Oilers' descent, once again, has included the usual freakiness. The team was sliding long before the injuries hit, which hasn't stopped the narrative from being 'its the injuries' from some quarters and it looks like last place may be in the offing. Again.

The injuries themselves have been ridiculous, coming fast and furious. Eberle injuring his knee (thank God not badly) in an innocent looking spill. Ted stumbling over the blueline into the boards (looks like Smid has passed on that particular 'skill'), Gilbert getting run through the boards by serial douchebag Daniel Carcillo, the end result being the latter's year ending injury. Considering how little Carcillo adds to the game, being one of these serial rats that the old school guys talk about, one hopes that it may be a career ended as well. He's a guy who adds so little, a lost step or two might do him in. We can hope anyhow.

And then just as Eberle gets ready to return the most bizarre and cruellest cut of all, Hall's scary experience in the PREGAME WARMUP of all things.

As the young man said he was both unlucky and lucky and he's right on both counts. That might have been it for him right there.

And so Oiler fans look at another strange run of injuries and there is talk of karma and no luck but bad luck and of course its all hooey. You can blame the Oilers for rushing guys back from injury, a lot of teams do so of course but these guys have a particular affinity for it, but for the most part these things, the cut to Gagner's hand last season, the repeated injuries to Whitney and Horcoff and Hemsky are either the result of acquiring guys who have a history of breaking down or who are, quite simply, breaking down from age and abuse by the Reghyrs of the world. The Habs went through the same thing, it was about a decade ago. Koivu was the guy who got hurt constantly, amongst others, and of course his illness was in there as well but it just happened to be a bad run. Funny thing was that Koivu ended up becoming quite durable once that run ended. The Kings were another club that went through this a few years back and now it looks to be the Pens' turn.

I always find the karma talk to be funny though. If we want to talk about karma earned and owed does anyone not think that the Oilers very likely might wander in the wilderness for generations more? For a decade or so they had the greatest club ever assembled and if money hadn't reared its ugly head the Cups probably would have numbered in double figures. They had the greatest offensive player ever to lace up skates and his SUPPORTING CAST included Messier, Kurri, Coffey and Anderson, not to mention the quality soldiers behind these guys. Andy Moog was the flipping backup for Christ sakes.

So Edmonton is owed nothing and of course throw Pocklington into the mix and the subsequent owners, including the present one, crying poor at every turn and the media being castrated and never saying a discouraging word and the fans baaing like sheep (not to mention the politicians throwing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars at a billionaire) and one might say that Edmonton is getting exactly what it deserves.

Of course karma has nothing to do with it. The injuries are bad luck but at the end of the day it comes down to management. Folks like to look at the Chicago model but they forget that after Mike Keenan left town the Hawks wandered in the desert for nearly two decades under the grim ownership of Bill Wirtz and the dour management of Bob Pulford. Pulford was the Hawks' Kevin Lowe for over thirty years. He was coach and GM and neither but he was always pulling the strings and so it was no Cups despite two lovely clusters of talent in the early 80s and then again a decade later. When Keenan was fragged by Pulford the Hawks slowly and surely dumped veteran after veteran for, ready, prospects and picks. Steve Larmer and Jeremy Roenick and Eddie Belfour and Chris Chelios. All discarded and three of the four would play major roles in winning Cups elsewhere.

I was a Hawk fan in those days and when these players were moved the reaction was one of outrage. No matter the picks and prospects and players these guys brought back (Chelios returned a can't miss young Dman named Anders Eriksson (lol) and two first round picks) fans knew they were getting fleeced and the reality is the moves almost killed hockey in Chicago and put the club in the shitter for over a decade. Eric Weinrich and Patrick Poulin could not replace Steve Larmer and the return for Chelios could not replace him and the return for Roenick and Belfour was equally forgettable.

What's amazing to me is that when the Hawks moved vets there was outrage and yet here the Oilers are about to move Ales Hemsky and the collective response is a yawn. A rumour on twitter was that it was Renney or Hemsky and while I like Renney he's by no means irreplaceable. Most players are not either but when you've been out of the playoffs for six years and you have almost NO TALENT on your roster, you might think that keeping what you have might be a start. Instead the outcry is not to keep the Oilers' best player from the past decade but rather an outcry as to what the Oilers are waiting for. And so it was in the response to this particular rumour. Renney or Hemsky? No brainer - dump the top six forward.

Hemsky has had a bad year but he's been quality for so so long. Doesn't matter though. I'm not sure if its the fact that so many great players wore Oiler silks many years ago but its never good enough for fans these days, never mind that Hemsky scored the biggest goal for the franchise since Marchant zipped by Ledyard and put a knife in the Stars. Of course the other biggest franchise goal of the past 15 years was the one that Horcoff scored to stop the Sharks from taking a 3-0 lead in that series and we all know what the fans think of him.

Its not the fact that there is disappointment in Hemsky's game falling off or Horcoff's decline, its the rage and contempt for these two players from the fanbase that is sad and disappointing.

In any case they will soon get their wish and its probable that Hemsky, freed from the sinkhole that this franchise has become, goes on to star for another half dozen years. The team will be weaker, again, because no prospect or pick is going to be better than Hemsky is right now and may never be. See Smyth, Ryan, and the 3 first rounders that came back for him five years ago. One is in the minors in Russian, another is in the AHL and the third is a career minor leaguer who is having a cup of coffee right now.

Its awfully sad to see him get shipped out of town with the crowd cheering the move and its another reminder that this franchise is heading nowhere fast. Six years out of the playoffs folks.

Six years.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Groundhog Day



Love Bill Murray as regular visitors here know. Love his work but love the stories of him showing up at random gatherings even more. Cool cool guy. Waiting for him to show up at my door one night, preferably with some cigarettes and steaks, and we'll hang out on the back deck drinking good beer and scotch, shooting the shit. And Bill, if you're reading this, bring me a puppy. No way Jenn will send away a puppy if you bring it. I'll even name it Bill Murray.

Groundhog Day - underrated movie. Would have been a hundred times better without Andie MacDowell in it. Sure she's pretty but I swear a squirrel is going to pop out of her hair at some point, she's so damn wooden. Ruins every movie she's in. Put Julianne Moore or Bridget Fonda in there goddamnit!!

Speaking of Groundhog Day well here were the quarter pole grades of the Oilers.

Ahh for those heady days just SEVEN WEEKS AGO!!! WHAT THE FUCK!?!??! Oh my God that's depressing. Tambo you idiot what have you wrought but another season of awful disappointment. I am guessing that come the summer heads will roll or at least certain coaching or management types may not get extended.

With Gilbert, Ted and Eberle out for another half dozen games or so the Oilers will be firmly ensconced in 30th or thereabouts soon enough and the annual firesale which will see Hemsky and others moved out will only guarantee another lottery pick.

Its awful and so much of the promise of this year's beginning has disappeared into the mist.

Here we go. Quarter pole mark in brackets, present mark is cumulative grade for year:

A+

Tom Gilbert (A+)- club MVP, a minus two despite playing the other team's best, generally starting in his own zone and, well, playing for the Edmonton Oilers. I have always liked Gilbert. He has been fantastic and his absence is the one the Oilers can least afford.

Jordan Eberle (A) - just absolutely tearing it up before he got hurt, over a PPG and top ten in scoring. What a wonderful player.

A

Ryan Nugent Hopkins (A+) - hard to nick a teenaged rookie who is averaging almost a PPG but his production on the road and at ES is not great, expected of course. Ironically the injury may help him get around the wall I sensed he was hitting a bit.

Ladi Smid (A) - he has arrived and how. Of course his arrival is also a reminder that Dmen take forever to develop. Really has been great though and has even chipped in some offence.

Taylor Hall (B+) - came back from his injury and put the team on his back on the last road trip. Looks to maybe be from the Iginla mold with his slow starts back to back now.

Ryan Jones (A) - I was never a Jones hater but I was pretty well indifferent to him I guess. Fair play to him though, he has worked hard to become a more complete player and of course he scores goals like crazy. A pleasant surprise.

A-

Ryan Smyth (A+) - Smytty has slowed down somewhat, no surprise. Ferraro said the other night that Renney has worn he and Horcoff out, playing them tons, and we're not talking the easy minutes either.

B+

Nikolai Khabibulin (A) - old goalie has come back to earth a bit, he had to, but he's been pretty good still

Sam Gagner (C-) - Gagner with a bullet, averaging almost a point a game since he a)got fit and b) started getting the quality linemates and icetime. Not sure if Gagner is part of the future (I say don't move him yet, if at all) but at least he has some value now if they do move him

B

Shawn Horcoff (A) - Horc has been playing the toughs and killing penalties and playing over twenty minutes a game and his numbers are taking a beating after a great start. The try is there but sometimes the results are not.

Corey Potter (B+) - looking a bit more like what we expected but overall hard to complain. And a nice contract extension to boot.

B-

Jeff Petry (B-) - almost bumped him up, he is getting better by my eye but he's still a rookie and so the mistakes happen. I think he can be a top four guy, just have to be patient

C

Andy Sutton (B-) - the team is better with him in the lineup and I think he has enough crazy to keep other teams worried but unfortunately the suspensions are killing his club

C -

Devan Dubnyk (B-) - he has not been good enough

Ales Hemsky (B-) - I would sign him in a heartbeat still. He has not been himself but when he is himself he is a gamebreaker who averages almost a point a game. Having a tough time coming back from major surgery and I think the contract situation and his impending move is weighing on him. Sad that fans think he should go after he has had a couple dozen bad games after almost a decade of good ones.

Anton Lander (C) - should be in OKC playing a ton. Poor development decision, O'Marra should be playing these minutes

Colten Teubert (no grade) - has looked like a rookie Dman but not awful, all things considered

D

Eric Belanger (C-) - still no offence and not much else, there was talk of a back injury early one, I wonder if that's playing a factor, he has been a decent player for so long its hard to believe he is suddenly this bad

Lennart Petrell (C-) - a fun story but in the minors, doesn't really bring much

Magnus Paajarvi (D) - ended up in the minors, he has lost his confidence, a big disappointment this year

Linus Omark (D) - no change as he has been hurt this quarter

Ryan Whitney (Incomplete) - he looked absolutely awful in his return and they finally shut him down again. Sad is the best way to describe this situation.

Ben Eager (F) - slightly better but of course he was so brutal he had nowhere to go but up

F

Darcy Hordichuk (F) - still a waste of a roster spot

Theo Peckham (no grade) - lol I forgot to grade Peckham last quarter. I love the kid but he's been awful except for on the PK, problem is he is often in the box. Plus he's been terrible.

Cam Barker (F) - was an F and hasn't played since.

B

Tom Renney (A-) - I haven't liked his work this quarter as much, he's had some goofy situations where he has thrown out the 4th line at the wrong time at home, he has little to work with though so its hard to blame him for this mess.

C

Steve Tambellini (B) - I've nicked him, not so much because the team has struggled but because he hasn't done anything about it. When Whitney showed he was in trouble he should have tried to add a Dman imo. Might have stopped the freefall. Oh well, he may be a goner and I think that would be a good thing.

A

OKC Barons (A)- same mark as last term for the same reasons - top notch club that has provided quality reinforcements; even with callups and injuries they have done very well

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.

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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.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

When I Was 43, It Was A Very Good Year


Am drying out now. Realized the other day that in the last two weeks of 2011 I had been out for pints or at friends or had friends over a total of eight times. My liver is crying uncle. On the plus side I have little boobs I can now play with as I sit on my couch.

As an aside if I were a woman I would never get a damn thing done. Just sit around playing with my boobs all day long.

So New Year's Eve was a quiet one and the first few days of 2012 have been dry ones. Just going to take it a easy for a bit, try and rejuvunate the body and the bank account.

This past year was a very good year as any folks who come here often would know. 2010 was by turns wonderful and awful and was marked by those big events that are interrupt what life generally is, a series of quiet days and small events. 2010 saw trips to Dublin and Fernie for weddings but it also saw the passing of my old friend, Ben, the inspiration for this blog. Three friends of ours lost loved ones in the space of about six weeks in the fall and overshadowing all of this was a strange illness that put my Mom in the hospital for five months and left her in a wheelchair.

Here's the thing about life. Nothing is promised. You can make your own luck by working hard and living well but a string of bad luck doesn't mean things will get better just because and a charmed life doesn't mean that some cruelty isn't lurking just around the corner. Life is what it is and part of it is death. Its just the way it is and its best not to think about it other than to make the most of your time here. Pretty simple really.

The shittiest thing about aging of course is the fact that as you get older your chances of rolling snake eyes go up and, worse still, you start losing the people who are older than you or even around your age for whom the die do not fall. Its a tough thing to get a handle on.

So after last year I have to admit I was a bit, well, on edge.

But we were lucky. We had a great year. The kids are growing like weeds and doing all of those wonderful (and exasperating) things that kids do. Jenn and I celebrated ten years of marriage by going to the Dominican and eating and drinking and sexing and otherwise doing a whole lot of nothing. She ran a half marathon and has become passionate about running. I am still playing hockey and while I'm getting older (44 in December) I'm still feeling pretty good.

I have a dear uncle, one of my Dad's brothers, who had a pretty serious health scare in the fall but he pulled through it and his road, while tough, is looking pretty good right now. And a cousin is fighting health issues as well. But Jenn's Dad has bounced back from his own scare a few years back to be his old self but better, imo. And on top of that we've had a few friends add little ones or get pregnant and of course that is the best news of all.

And the biggest news has to do with my Mom who has gotten strong enough that she is now doing physio and has started driving again. She is going on a cruise to Europe in the spring and the biggest news of all is that walking, once thought an impossibility, is suddenly on the horizon. She has gotten to the point where she can stand unaided and at Christmas her and Dad had a little waltz around the living room.

So yes 2011 turned out to be a wonderful year all around.

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For the Edmonton Oilers, well, 2011 was an awful year and 2012 looks to be starting off on on the wrong foot with Ted and Tom Gilbert going down last night. If both are out for any length of time the lottery is a certainty (it may be anyway) - if Gilbert is hurt seriously then we're probably looking at a third straight number one pick.

It hasn't been all bad news for Edmonton. Despite a similar record to last year this is a better team, the goal differential is much improved and the holes to fill are becoming less. The Hemsky question looms and we need prospects (some if not all) like Hartikainen, Pitlick, Lander, Hamilton and others to turn out and guys like Paajarvi and Omark to bounce back. Nugent Hopkins is a special talent though and so is Hall and Eberle may be the best of the bunch. Seriously. And of course Ryan Smyth returned and has turned back the clock (that goal against Chicago was just terrific - vintage Smyth) and Ryan Jones is proving his doubters wrong and Horcoff has been healthy and pretty damn good. Most important of all - Tom Gilbert and Ladi Smid look like a legitimate top NHL pairing. Taking on the tough opposition with this club and barely a minus. They are serious quality.

Now we just need four more NHL defencemen!

And this is the story of a rebuilding club. A number of positives but a lot of negatives too. Whitney looks crippled and so as usual its a bunch of 5s and 6s after the top pair (although Teubert's decent play in callups merits a positive mention). Khabibulin has been good but Dubnyk does not look like a guy who can carry a quality team. And there is Hemsky and Belanger's lack of offence and the awful fourth line and the fact that the club is again near the bottom of the league. And the step back taken by Paajarvi and possible waste of Omark are particularly worrisome. If this club is to be built through the draft then this club better know what to do when developing the kids. There are a pile of nice looking ones coming. If the club blows it with them then its going to be Islanderville for us.

Its tough to take for fans and one thinks that Renney is not going to survive the summer. Thing is this is the third coach who will be unable to make something quality of the unbalanced lineups management gives them and so one wonders if Katz may look at Tambellini and think that he has to go too. Problem is that Lowe, the guy who started this mess, will still be around when all is said and done.

That's not cool.

What does 2012 hold? Looks like another top ten pick, perhaps in the lottery. Hemsky will probably get moved. He is playing hurt I would guess but the media is greasing the skids and the fans love their picks and prospects, damn the fact that you need quality NHL players to win and until this season he has been just that.

And this summer will be the one that makes or breaks Tambellini and, I believe, this club for years to come. I don't have a lot of faith in old Sleepy but here's hoping I am wrong.

Best wishes for a healthy and happy 2012 for all of you!