Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas My Friends!

Time is flying by isn't it? For us its been a hectic December. Happily it has not been any crazier than any other month which is both good and bad. Bad because sometimes it would be nice if everything just slowed down for a bit. Don't get me wrong, a lot of the busyness is what we choose, we like to be social and busy, its the stuff we don't choose we could do without :) Good because even with Christmas coming and all of the preparations needed for that for the most part we have been able to keep on trucking along without any added stress.

 I have over a week off starting tomorrow and I'm looking forward to it. Jenn's folks and sister are coming to town and so Christmas will indeed be a festive one. I will be taking my kids to a movie and playing hockey (with Capsule as well as shinny) and plan to spend a lot of time playing road hockey with the boy. He has turned into a solid little defenceman but has also decided that when the playoffs roll around he should be the starting goalie. Its a good idea and he put it to his coach who (rightly) deferred on making the decision. Whichever way it goes its exciting for my little guy as he's gone from being essentially a passenger last season (to be expected as it was his first year playing) to a guy who is a key contributor on a very good team. He works hard at improving and he loves it so its a great experience allround.

 Though if he is in net in the playoffs I will have to drink first thing on game day, I know I won't be able to handle the stress. Like the old song goes 'Momma don't let your babies grow up to be goalies'

 I'm going to take my eldest out for lunch or some outing where we can just hang out. She's ten now (we told her we would spend a long weekend somewhere to celebrate and she chose Niagara so that is on the docket for the spring) and soon she will not want to spend so much time with her old man. She has been busting her ass at school this year without complaint and her marks are through the roof and seeing as she used to show signs of being a student like me (smart guy, bad work habits) I am very proud to see that she is taking after her mom when it comes to scholastics.

 And the 'baby'? Well she's five and so we will read some stories and play some games and if we get some snow to cover this ice we'll hit the park one street over and do some sledding and then go have a hot chocolate up on the Danforth.

 We'll have some drinks with neighbours and one night we will go out to celebrate my birthday that just passed (I barely feel a day over 46!) and we will enjoy the feast on Christmas Day and the wonder (there is still wonder thank goodness) in the kids' eyes when they come down the stairs on Christmas morning and see the tree.

 Its been a difficult year at times but all told it was a very good one for the most part. I am a lucky man and in the past week a number of people have said some lovely things about me - hopefully I won't get a swelled head but all kidding aside I appreciate the kind words, they mean a lot to these wrinkled old balls ;)

 Here is to all of you, Merry Christmas. I love this time of year and I hope that wherever you are that you enjoy good food and drink and the company of friends and family. Stay safe and warm. Enjoy

Thursday, November 28, 2013

When I Was Forty Five, It Was A Bittersweet Year

 Last summer we trekked up to Goulais. Last summer my father turned eighty. Last summer my parents celebrated fifty years of marriage.

 At Goulais we ate and drank and laughed as we McLeans do. We surprised Mom and Dad with train tickets to see the colours in Agawa and a dinner on the river and I gave a little speech and in my speech I proclaimed us lucky, for a little while yet, the previous two years having seen Mom laid low by a disease which put her in a wheelchair never to walk again the doctors said, a cousin with breast cancer, an uncle with a severe heart attack, another uncle with esophageal cancer. And here we were, all of us. Mom walking, my cousin ready to go back to work, my uncles laughing and dancing. Bullets dodged, especially for my Uncle Roy, the finest man, the youngest of the brothers and sister from Franz, diagnosed the previous fall, suddenly, his oldest son, Spencer, a surgical resident, telling me that the odds were not good, not good at all, my old man and his brother and sister making the trek west before the surgery, the surgery touch and go but better than the alternative, not saying what they all knew, that this was a trip to maybe say goodbye.

 And here in Goulais, a mile from the old family homestead at the mouth of the river, my uncle dancing like there might be no tomorrow to the bluegrass stylings of the Goulais River Rats or Shovel Band or whatever they were called, they play at every McLean reunion, every reunion a different name for the same group of oldtimers, most of them related to us by marriage for certain, Goulais River is a small place and the names remain the same as a century ago.

 Bullets dodged for a little while, a year of peace and good health and we raised our glasses and cheered.

  And then this spring the news came fast and it was bad news again and again. My wife's best friend with breast cancer now. My cousin Darwin with cancer, the prognosis poor. And then the hardest blow, most unbelievable, an email from my Uncle Roy, stunned, disbelieving, cancer in the family again, not him this time but Spencer, weeks from getting his papers and going to California to do his fellowship.

 I told Jenn the news and the diagnosis and she said that's not good at all and sure enough a week later another email and the cancer advancing rapidly, an aggressive bastard, such a fucking bastard.

 I called Spencer a week or so later and we chatted for an hour, laughing and joking. He was the best of the best, you would have loved him, the type of man who was a bright light, the brightest of lights really. He told me he knew he was in tough but that he was going to fight it, it was all he could do. He was a Canucks' fan and I kidded him about how the Cup final (at this time it was pretty clear that it was going to be Chicago and Boston) must be his worst nightmare. We laughed and then he told me he was a bit tired and I said so long.

 It was the last time we spoke. He had lied to me, I think, I pieced it together later when I went out west to say goodbye to my dear brother, that he knew he was a goner when we spoke but he never let on. It was just over two weeks later, Bickell and Bolland had just shocked the Bruins and the Hawks were parading the Cup around the Garden when the email came. He was gone. My wife came home to find me leaking silently, staring at the teevee.

 A week later I helped carry him out of the Church. It broke my heart. He's gone. Spencer is gone forever.


 That's life though right? I've talked about it here before, I know it, you probably know it. One day your number is up. If you're lucky you're like my Mom, survivor of two bouts with cancer and a virus that took away her legs, on our way up north this summer Jenn said your Mom is as tough as an ox but God don't tell her I said that laughing, she turned eighty this year and we spent our summer trip up at camp as always and in September she went up for a couple of weeks, just her and a friend, enjoying the quiet and the beauty.

 My cousin Darwin survived his own bout of cancer, thank goodness, and he and his wife have been travelling and enjoying life and Jenn's friend Joanne is finishing her treatment and things look good there too and so it could have been worse of course it can always get worse that's the terrifying thing that will keep you up at night if you dwell on it.

 And so what do you do? Well this summer I thought about this a lot and I talked about it a lot and a good friend of mine in Sudbury, just retired, said to me as we drank cold beer on his back deck in the sun that you can't live your life like you might drop dead tomorrow but with that said it doesn't hurt to have some of your decisions informed by this very real fact. He's a smart guy.

 And so I do what I can to be the best father I can. I always have but I have become more patient, more careful with my words, more huggy, more kissy. I'm a great dad, I always have been but I've taken my game to another level lol, its the most important thing I will ever do and so it has to be done right. I take in my time with them and I enjoy each moment. My oldest is ten now and her Christmas list doesn't have toys on it, it has clothes and giftcards and money and that's fine, its the way it is but sooner than I know she will be making her own way in the world and then her brother and sister will follow and when that day comes it will be bittersweet as well for as a parent you work towards teaching your children to be strong and independent, the very characteristics that will carry them away from you one day.

 We went to Paris this October and it was everything we could hope for. I had originally planned the trip for next year when Jenn turns forty but even before Spencer took ill I had decided that this year we would do it, why not, who knows what tomorrow would bring, right? And so we took three children across the Atlantic, the first trip to the continent for any of us, Jenn and I had been to Ireland and England and Scotland only. Paris was a dream.We all fell in love with it and so we joked that whatever happens we will always have Paris, eating confit de canard at a cafe on Rue Cler, 'our' bakery where the kids had pain chocolat each morning, the cafe across the street where I had 'deux espressos to go', wandering Ile De La Cite, crepes in the Marais, the Republican Guard exercising their horses in the alley right outside our flat's kitchen window, picnics in the park, the market at the Bastille, Shakespeare and Company, the Eiffel Tower at night and cruising the Seine and the carrousels and sailing a boat in Jardin Du Luxembourg and the meals and the wine and on and on, too many good memories to recount, a lovely time, a time we will always remember.

 And of course that is what its all about, we don't like to think about the darkness that may lurk around the corner for us but at the same time we tend to get caught up in the grind and forget about what makes it all worthwhile and of course its all worthwhile no matter the pain that we suffer as part of the journey. Spencer McLean knew this, I have known no man who enjoyed life as much as he did, and I, for my part, have always known this too and I have done my best to live in that manner.

 I'm getting older, not a lot older of course, but old enough that a Saturday night game lasts in my knees and back for a few days now and there's a lot of gray in my beard and hair coming out of my ears and nose and what the hell, when did this start happening? I would tell you but the mind isn't what it used to be either haha. I'm not dwelling on it, getting older, but with that said, well, I'm getting older.

 Enjoy the holidays, the season is upon us. Eat drink and be merry my friends. Eat drink and be merry and lets hope that the next year is a better one still.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Losing Losers Who Lose

When I was a boy, heck when I was a young man, I didn't really understand the concept of change. I wasn't one to ask questions and my folks, as wonderful as they are, weren't ones to offer much up unless asked (although the old man has become more of a chatterbox as he's gotten older) and so my kids and especially the boy, are far more worldly than I was at their age. For that matter they are probably more worldly than I was when I was a young man. They ask, and I answer, questions about economics and personal finance and history and politics and puck possession and relationships and whatever else they can think up. A good part of our time in Paris was spent explaining to the boy the French Revolution and the concept of a monarchy and the Napoleonic Wars and European power politics and yeah you get the picture.

 So I was and really have always been slightly naive. I grew up lucky and so news of a divorce always astounded me, for example. In my world things just trucked along when I was a boy and of course that is not the reality of the world, it never has been and it never will be. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the erosion of the American empire, the collapse into irrelevancy of the federal Liberal party, the end of the PC dynasty in Ontario, the emergence of Canada as an Olympic power (at least in the Winter Games), the Internet and smart phones, these events and inventions, some hugely important, some not so much, I could never have envisioned as a boy or even as a young man. NEVER.

 And yet here we are and who knows what will happen in the next decades? We don't know. We can guess at possibilities but we don't know what the future brings.

 When I was a boy the sporting landscape was vastly different. I became aware of the NHL in 1973 and in the sixteen years that followed only four teams won the Stanley Cup - Montreal, Philadelphia, the Islanders and Edmonton. The Original Six were garbage, Detroit was terrible, Chicago and Toronto and Rangers were mediocre with the odd gust to being pretty good, the Bruins usually pretty good with a few years as contenders. Philly was always solid but the rest of the '67 expansion was junk - the Blues, Kings, Pens and Stars all terrible or mediocre, the following expansion squads nearly all terrible as well. Philly was replaced by the Habs who were supplanted by the Islanders who then saw the OIlers rise to power. Nobody else really mattered.

 In the CFL you had Edmonton and Montreal and nobody else.

 In baseball you had the Big Red Machine and then the Yankees and then a dozen different champions in thirteen years.

 In the NFL you had the Steelers and the Raiders and then sixteen years where the NFC pounded the NFC for fifteen Super Bowl wins, the 49ers and Cowboys and Giants and Redskins destroying the Bills and Broncos and various other pretenders with Chicago and Green Bay also picking up wins over another patsy, the New England Patriots.

 Nobody knew who Manchester United or Real Madrid were.

 Boxing mattered. So did horse racing and the Indy 500.

 I'm old. OLD!

 You know who was the baseball club that everyone wanted to emulate when I was a youth? Kansas City. George Brett and speed and defence and pitching and they were in the mix every year. After that it was the Blue Jays. Every year the Jays were competitive and finally in 92 and 93 they won it all.

 Times have changed.

 In 86 I was at the Cameron House with a buddy from Sudbury, we were in our first year of university and 18 years old and we had found one of many places you could get a beer without getting ID'd. We skipped out of class to drink beer (a common theme of my university days) and watch the Red Sox beat the Mets or so we hoped. And the Mets were down to their last strike and then suddenly Carter, I think it was, stroked a single and then the next batter went down two strikes and did the same and then on and on and the ball through Buckner's legs and game six was over and we knew what was coming before game seven even started.

 That was the Red Sox. They were cursed. Losers. 1918.

 A couple of weeks ago I watched them win their third World Series in a decade. The other champions in that time? The White Sox. I remember a couple of years before the White Sox won reading that the odds of both the Cubs and White Sox going as long as they did without winning were something like 5000 to one. In 2010 the Giants won for the first time on over fifty years. Two years later they won again.

 Losers no more.

 In 1994 the New York Rangers won the Stanley Cup (1940! 1940!) and three years later the Detroit Red Wings ended forty one years of frustration. In 2011 the Bruins went all the way for the first time in nearly forty years. The Wings have been the gold standard for the league for over twenty years. The Bruins have been to the final twice in three years, losing last year to the saddest of sad NHL sacks, the Chicago Blackhawks.

 The Blackhawks were the biggest losers in the NHL forever. Forever. Under Bill Wirtz and Bob Pulford they wandered into the desert. They didn't return until Wirtz died. When Dale Tallon tried to eulogize him before a game the United Center crown booed.

 In the third season after his death Chicago won their first Cup since 1961. Three years later they won again.

 They're the new gold standard.

  What happened to Chicago?

 After 1961 they went just over a decade where they were a very good club but did not win another Cup despite trips to the Final in 1971 and 1973. They faded in the seventies and early eighties and then built a decent club around Savard Larmer and Doug Wilson in the eighties. They were pretty good but no match for the Oilers. Often they were no match for the junk in their division even (Murray Bannerman!). Mike Keenan came to town in the late eighties.

 In 1991 they won the President's Trophy. The next year they went to the Stanley Cup. Then Pulford stepped in and Keenan was a goner and that was it.

 There was a stretch of around fifteen years or so where the Blackhawks drafted two players who scored over twenty goals or more in a season, Roenick and Daze. Something like that. Isn't that amazing? How imcompetent were those scouts?

 They traded Hasek and then they dismantled that early 90s' team piece by piece. Roenick, Chelios, Belfour, all gone for futures. They got Tony Amonte for Noonan and Matteau and then years later they let him go too. Each move was rationalized, some were correct at the time (Hasek was not Hasek yet and they had Belfour of course, Amonte wasn't worth it anymore imo)

 The Hawks turned a house into a paperclip and then went a decade with one playoff game win. One playoff win in ten years. One game.

 Their best players were Kyle Calder and Mark Bell and Tyler Arnason. In one five year stretch they had six (6!) coaches.

 Here are their first round picks from 1991 to 2000 on: Dean McAmmond, Sergei Krivokrasov, Eric Lecompte, Ethan Moreau, Dmitri Nabokov, Daniel Cleary, Ty Jones, Mark Bell, Steve McCarthy, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev.

 Could you imagine.

 Bad management. Bad drafting, bad trades, bad decision upon bad decision. Good players traded for a wing and a prayer. Draft picks spent poorly. Team is bad. Young players brought up and placed in a bad position. They fail. No free agents will come to a garbage team. And so the spiral goes.

 They had bad luck. Eric Daze's back giving out was a big one. But you know what? Everyone has bad luck.  The Detroit Red Wings won three Stanley Cups after Vlad Konstantinov's car accident. Of course the Wings could draft and develop and they had good management.

 It took the Hawks pretty well fifteen years to climb out of the hole Pulford dug for them.

 Fucking losers in the biggest way. Everything they touched turned to shit.

 Like the Toronto Raptors. The LA Clippers. The Buffalo Bills.  You know the teams. In some cases they used to be good, in others they have never been good. The only way out for them is to get the proper management, to draft properly and develop properly and build that house from scratch. Get good scouts and good coaches and add to the foundation by making proper moves.

 Then you are no longer the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or New Orleans Saints or Chicago White Sox.

 Chicago's draft record speaks for itself. They had some misses in the 'oughts but they also had great success in the later rounds. They added young players like Versteeg and Sharp for nothing. They picked up veteran stars like Hossa and Campbell and support players like Madden and Kopecky as free agents and moved Ruutu for Ladd and Barker for Leddy. They hired a veteran coach and when the GM botched the contract situation with the RFAs they cut him loose (though of course politics were involved) because you can't afford to have a manager who fucks shit up that badly.

 There were missteps and after their first Cup they had to gut their supporting cast but the return for those players stocked their prospect cupboard once again and now they have another Cup and look to be perennial contenders for years to come.

 No longer losers.


 The past few weeks have led people to say that the Oilers have hit rock bottom and of course that is far from the truth. They still have a lot of young talent in the NHL and some promising prospects. They're far from rock bottom but this fall has been a pretty good rebuttal to all of the fans and media shills who proclaimed that the Oilers were on the right track.

 The problem with tearing a team down is that if you leave nothing left, if you turn that house into a paper clip, as Lowe and Tambo did, just as Pulford did after 1992, then you leave a mountain to climb. Keep getting rid of NHL players and suddenly you don't have an NHL team which means that you might have three number one picks but you don't have a supporting cast and so the team continues to lose and your leverage is gone because everyone looks worse than they are.

 You can move Cam Barker for Nick Leddy because Barker might be garbage but he's surrounded but a tremendous team and so he doesn't look as bad as he is. If you wanted to move Nail Yakupov right now, which would be dumb of course, you'd get fifty cents on the dollar. Yakupov has been rotten but a lot of that has to do with circumstance. You might say (and you would be right) that he has to become a more complete player but you also need to put him in a position to succeed. He's the talent. Figure it out.

 I liked MacT's summer, I like his fall a lot less, but RiversQ made a point that I have repeated here a few times, the hill was too big to climb this summer. The D was in shambles as was the bottom six and the prospects who you would hope would be ready to step in and fill some holes based on their age and pedigree - Lander, Pitlick, Hamilton, Martindale, Plante, Teubert - have all either completely busted or are on that path (although Pitlick seems to have turned things around possibly and reports on Lander have been good too, it may not be too late). Rajala and Hartikainen flew the coop and suddenly the fourth line is garbage once again, the idea of a puck possession team out the window for more facepunchers who can't make or take a pass.

 The goaltending has righted itself but put them in a hole early when they deserved better but the bigger issue is what has come to pass since the team basically got healthy and Dubnyk found his game. They've been worse. They've been dismal. They have sunk to the bottom of the league again and barely squeaked by Calgary, thanks only to the Flames' own goaltending issues. They can't score and they can't defend and the shiny new coach looks to be at a loss.

 Its an absolute mess.

 And they are dealing from an absolute position of weakness. Perron has looked good for the most part as has Ales Hemsky by my eye and Gordon has done what he can although I am sure he and Horcoff could have a few beers and talk about playing tough minutes while dragging a couple of boat anchors around with them. In any case they can't move Perron or Gordon and Hemsky, likely a goner, is a UFA and thus will bring only more fucking futures which is exactly what this club does not need.

 What does MacT do? Well he cannot panic but he has to fix this somehow. He has to find the teams that have guys to move who can play. Florida and Buffalo fit the bill obviously and maybe they can find a contender that needs scoring but doesn't have the cap space to acquire Hemsky without sending a player back.

 I know when the Hemsky/Simmonds rumour was flying around a few weeks ago people were up in arms but if they're not keeping Ales (and I would have to guess he is tired of the losing and the circus and may be ready to go) then getting an honest to goodness NHLer would be huge and certainly preferable to more picks.

 I can't speak to what is going on on the ice except as usual the team needs D and a couple of guys who can win puck battles and check and PK and so MacT needs to fill those holes somehow and he has to win the deals he makes because the problem now is that its eight years out and while Smid and Hemsky were happy to extend to stay here we're getting to the point where guys might want out while under contract.

 And that, folks, is where we're going to hit rock bottom. I have talked about this for years, the problem with the scorched earth build/rebuild is that the danger is that it does not work, like it didn't in Florida and Columbus and Long Island and Chicago for a decade and in Atlanta which had five straight years of top two picks and saw it all frittered away as guys either did nto pan out or opted out as soon as the opportunity arose.

 The next few months are critical. MacT and Eakins have to right this. Its obvious that there is something rotten and its rotten at the core right now. Its not the veterans, its the kids. Yakupov is unhappy and Hall and Eberle and Ted are underperforming and Gagner and Schultz Younger have been horrible.

 There are sixty games left. If they are as awful as the first quarter of the season people might start asking out and we all know that dealing from a position of weakness is a good way to get ten cents on the dollar and this club doesn't have enough dollars to afford that.

 We're going to see the cut of MacT now that's for sure. If he fails, and he may, we're just at the beginning of a long dismal winter that will make these past few years look like a walk in the park.

 Fingers crossed.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lots of Laughs

After June 17th 2006 things began to go south pretty quickly for the Edmonton Oilers. Just two days after they had totally outclassed Carolina in game six they fell just short of winning the Cup. Soon after Chris Pronger was gone and the downward spiral has not abated since.

 The errors of management have been rehashed ad nauseum here and elsewhere so lets just sum everything up quickly as follows:

1/ Kevin Lowe put the club in the ditch, mostly by trading Pronger and Smyth, the team's best two players, for futures and not replacing them or other veterans from the Cup run (Peca, Spacek, Samsonov, Dvorak) with quality NHLers. This would become a theme as you will see.

2/ Lowe actually made things worse by trying to eat his cake and have it too. Rather than commit to a full on rebuild he spent money and assets acquiring a sprinkling of vets who prevented a full freefall, all the while pushing kids into the NHL too soon, resulting in a bad team and damaging or ruining the development of a number of prospects.

3/ Steve Tambellini came in and when it became clear that the team with Khabibulin in net was not going to be a Cup contender (lol) the organization went into full rebuild mode, burning everything to the ground, the end result being a roster which at the beginning of this summer included three number one picks overall as well as three top ten picks selected by the organization, not to mention Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz.

 Coming into this season then the team had spent seven years out of the playoffs. They had changed owners once, they were on their third GM, second scouting director and fourth coach. They had fired the training staff (seriously!), redone their minor league system and turned over assistant coaches, some scouts and other head office staff.

 With the Horcoff trade there was only one player remaining from the 2006 club which came within a break or two of winning the Cup who had played for the team every year since then, 'Winter' Ales Hemsky. Somehow he has survived though his days are definitely numbered. Here's hoping a Chicago or California address is in his future.

 How do you turn a team that almost wins the Cup into the laughing stock of the league? It takes a lot of work but the Oilers' management team discovered the easiest way to do it. Turn NHL players into nothing. Turn the house into a paper clip.

 Chris Pronger, the best defenceman not named Lidstrom of his era, was turned into Lupul who was sent away with Jason Smith for Joni Pitkanen who was traded for Erik Cole who was moved for Patrick O'Sullivan who is out of the NHL. He was turned into Ladislav Smid who was just traded for two nobody prospects. He was turned into three picks, one of which is Jordan Eberle.

 Ryan Smyth, good enough to play in three best on best tournaments for the deepest national team in the world, was turned into Ryan O'Marra, Robert Nilsson and Alex Plante.

 Jaro Spacek, Michael Peca, Sergei Samsonov and Radek Dvorak all left as free agents.

 Jan Hejda left for nothing.

 Jarret Stoll and Raffi Torres were traded for Lubo Visnovsky who was traded for Ryan Whitney who just cleared waivers.

 Curtis Glencross left for nothing.

 Kyle Brodziak was traded for nothing.

 Andrew Cogliano was traded for nothing.

 Sheldon Souray was buried in the minors and bought out.

 Tom Gilbert was traded for Nick Schultz.

 Dustin Penner was traded for Oscar Klefbom and Colton Teubert. Teubert is gone. High hopes for Klefbom.

 Have I missed anyone? Probably. I've only tried to include players who were NHLers when they were moved out and who remained NHLers for at least a couple of years after being moved out.

 That's a lot of good players out the door with only Jordan Eberle and maybe Klefbom coming back. And Nick Schultz who looks to be done.

 There's a reason its been seven years, soon to be eight, out of the playoffs.

 You can argue a move here and there maybe. Maybe you hate Gilbert, who is a top pairing Dman this season. Maybe Souray was a bad bad man.

 But the proof is in the pudding.


 Since 2006 you could probably divide Oiler fans into two camps. Those critical of management and those who believed in it. Some, like Vic Ferrari, RiversQ and Dennis King, wanted Lowe's head on a stick by September 2006. They predicted, correctly, that he had turned a winner into a loser. Others, such as myself, saw a flawed team that fall but believed that there was no way Lowe would not add the necessary ingredients to ensure success. When he flushed the season and traded Smyth then he lost me. I wasn't the only one.

 Every autumn following I would predict doom for the Oilers and someone would invariably comment that I would eat my words and that I was not a true fan, too negative and so on. And the franchise circled the drain. The critics increased in numbers.

 There were always fans who believed in the club though, believed in Lowe and Tambellini, believed that the rebuild began when they moved Lubo out the door, believed that the tank job would result in BAM STANLEY CUP! They ignored the fact that the guys who destroyed the club through incompetence and folly were now in charge of building it again. They also conveniently ignored the fact that for every Chicago and Pittsburgh there were Atlanta and Florida and the Islanders and Columbus and that Chicago had in fact wandered the desert for fifteen years 'rebuilding' before Bill Wirtz died and Bob Pulford finally got the axe and that the Penguins had not one but two generational players and that in both cases management surrounded the young stars with quality veteran players all through the roster and that a lot of the 'youth', Keith and Seabrook, for example, were entering their prime when these clubs went all the way.

 There will always be that dichotomy in the fan base although even the diehards are starting to grumble now. There will be those who think that moving in more kids is the answer.

 And there will be those of us who are skeptical. The diehards point at us and say 'you're not a true fan' much as someone will point to a citizen critical of the government of the day and say they don't love their country. This is dumb of course. Blind faith is really dumb. The fact that because someone is an NHL GM makes them good at being a GM is foolishness. Mike Milbury and Doug MacLean and Steve Tambellini and John Ferguson Jr. say hello. For starters.

 The funny thing is like the diehard all the critical folks want is to win. And we look at history and we say that its not likely going to happen.

 The fear all along for me is that this would become a perpetual rebuild and again there was scoffing but the move Friday night of Ladislav Smid for, wait for it, two marginal prospects, was a perfect symbol of all that we have gone through since 2006.

 He, along with Lupul, was the centrepiece of the the Pronger deal, the first pieces of the puzzle. Now both are gone for nothing, seven years later, and the franchise has not played one playoff game.

 Ladi Smid never turned into an all star but he was at worst a top four defenceman who took a step backwards over the last eighty games. Now he's gone and Saturday afternoon the Oilers made the Flyers popgun offence look like the Chicago Blackhawks and then when they met the actual Blackhawks last night they handed the defending champions the two points with an absolute joke of a defensive game.

 The Oilers are in no position to give away actual NHL players without replacing them, especially those under contract (and a reasonable contract at that) after this year. They are amongst the worst teams in the league. Again. Same as the last seven years. They are going to miss the playoffs. Again.

 The team is not as bad as their record. There has been bad luck and injuries and the goaltending has inexplicably let them down.

 But the song remains the same. Not enough NHL players. Giving away guys like Ladislav Smid isn't helping matters.

 Hold on tight because the next thing I predicted is one of the golden boys asking out. It won't be this year, maybe not even next. But does anyone think Taylor Hall is going to spend his career waiting for management to get it together? He won't. He will ask out and the media will say nobody wants to play in Edmonton and that he was a bad person and Oiler management will count their money and shrug.

 They need more good players and the problem with the scorched earth rebuild is part of it is you give away most of your good players. The end result is that you are weak and so the Oilers don't have the chips to acquire what they need unless they are really smart and really creative.

 I'm a MacT man through and through and I'm hoping someone is on their way to replace Smid but if not then I have to say I'm beginning to have my doubts.


The Lost One



I first posted this on November 10th, 2009.
I once wrote that in every small town in Canada you will find a hockey arena, a hotel and a war memorial but the truth is that even in the smallest villages of this country you may not find an arena or a hotel but you will find a war memorial.

In Toronto the churches along Bloor and the Danforth that I see daily have memorials to young men long gone. Along the widest avenue there are towering monuments similar to what you see in Edinburgh and London and Glasgow (though not in Dublin). The university has a beautiful memorial and in the fraternity houses there are solemn plaques to commemorate the fallen. In Truro and Sudbury and Fernie, in Charlottetown in the centre of the town at the end of the main street, in tiny wooden rural PEI churches built in the 1800s, overlooking rolling fields of green and the Northumberland Strait, everywhere you go in this country the names of young men are carved into stone or bronze or oak so that we will not forget them.

In Flesherton, a tiny Ontario village, eighty four young men enlisted to fight the Kaiser. Nineteen did not return.

A map of a portion of East York, not far from where I live, places poppies over the addresses of boys slaughtered in France and Belgium. The street names are obscured by a sea of red. Neighbours lost sons and husbands. Some houses have more than one poppy. A bloody sea of grief and horror.

In tiny Goulais River, west of the Soo, perched just before the Highlands of Lake Superior rise out of the granite of the Canadian Shield, there is no hotel and no hockey arena but there's a war monument and there are far more names on it than you would expect for a town perched on what would have been the edge of the world a century ago.

Sometime in the 1880s my great great grandfather, Neil McLean, his wife Margaret and his family of eight children left what had been the family homestead for decades and moved to Kincardine in Bruce County. I have been researching the family for years and for a while there was a massive gap in what I knew. Two of the sons, the oldest, Malcolm, and the youngest, Neil, had appeared in Goulais River soon after but of their parents and their siblings nothing more was to be found.

A few years ago I found that Neil and Margaret were actually buried in Goulais and the picture began to become clearer. Then this past year it came into focus as I discovered census records that showed that actually the entire family but one of the oldest sons, Duncan, had sailed across Lake Huron and settled in Goulais almost immediately after they arrived in Kincardine. After this things become murky again. Of Duncan I have found no trace. One son, John, perished on Superior. His body was never recovered. Two daughters and a son moved west and were still alive when Neil passed away in 1929. The third daughter also disappears from the picture after the turn of the century. Malcolm or Uncle Mac as he was known, lived into his nineties, a relic of times long past that my dad and his siblings remember as a kind and gentle man.

In 1901 there is someone else in the picture in Goulais. a widower, Nicholas McLean, and his son Ivan, a twelve year old. Are they related to our McLeans? Based on family stories the answer is yes but how they are related, I don't know. Nicholas, born in 1853, is almost twenty five years younger than old Neil McLean, the family patriarch. In fact he is almost Malcolm's age, just a few years younger. Perhaps he is a cousin? There are two separate accounts of Ivan being related, one mention of him being a cousin of my grandfather's brother, another of him being my grandfather's uncle. He is definitely not my grandfather's uncle but one thinks that that traditionally we called older friends of family Uncle and Aunt and so I wonder if that is how he was referred to in the McLean family by some.

We know little about Nicholas. Ivan was born on July 5th, 1889 in or around Toronto. In 1891 the baby Ivan and his parents, Nicholas and Jane show up a ways from Toronto, in Grey County. In 1893 another baby, Norman, is born.

We don't know what happened to Jane but in 1901 Nicholas is in Goulais with this oldest son. In 1911 Norman is also in Goulais, living with his father. Ivan, now in his early twenties, is on his own but still in Goulais.

In the history of Goulais River, Valley of Trees and Water, there is a picture taken from around this time. Its some sort of club or service organization, I cannot remember which one. Ivan stands in the back. He is tall for a McLean (and for the time). He has a large, drooping mustache and he looks at the camera seriously. I have not seen the picture in a couple of years but I know that at least one of the other young men in the picture went to France and did not return.

My grandfather was barely a teenager when the armistice was signed and my own father turned thirteen when the war with Hitler ended. They were both the oldest in their families. My grandfather's youngest brother Morley fought in World War Two and his wife Etna served in the WACs in the same war. Other McLean involvement in the wars is a little cloudier. Stories tell of Uncle Mac fighting in both wars (he would have been 82 at the beginning of the second war) and also of Neil the younger fighting in the Great War. I could find no record of Neil McLean in service records of the CEF though and as a father of many in his late thirties I don't think that he enlisted.

One McLean who did go to France was Ivan. His service record tells us a lot about him, although his last name is spelled MacLean. Its the same Ivan McLean though, he has the same birthday and his father is Nicholas.

Ivan was a lumberman by trade and when war broke out he was working in the west apparently. He immediately enlisted in the 31st Battalion and would have shipped out to France very early.

For a record of the exploits of the 31st battalion I would recommend The Journal of Private Fraser, a book I actually owned before discovering Ivan's service record earlier this year. Donald Fraser describes in great detail what the regular infantryman had to endure. Its a terrible tale.

In September of 1916 its the Canadian divisons' turn at the Battle of The Somme. This is before Vimy Ridge and before Arthur Currie turns the Canadian Army into the elite force it would be in the last two years of the war but even in 1916 the Canadians are recognized for their ability in battle.

On September 15th they go over the top and begin the last part of the battle, a battle which they would successfully conclude a month or so later, a battle that cost the British the flower of an entire generation.

On September 15th the artillery does little to dent the German trenches and German rifles and machine guns take a terrible toll, a toll that Fraser describes in detail as he watches his comrades killed around him.

By the end of the first day of the battle the 31st has lost over a quarter of its strength, over two hundred and seventy men. Whereas usually there are a fraction of casualties who are killed, in this battle over half of those casualties are fatal.

One of them is Ivan McLean. His body was never recovered. His name is found on the Canadian monument at Vimy Ridge.

On November 11th, remember him and remember all of them.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Out Of This World


 Paris was, for us, better than we ever imagined. Loved it. Absolutely loved it.

 My favourite moments involved the kids. Taking a boat cruise on the Seine when suddenly around a bend and there the Eiffel Tower looming over us, our oldest's eyes widen and mouth gapes and she whispers 'Wow'. At a cafe on Rue Cler, the boy ordering confit de canard, the man size portion, finishing it all, loving it. Our youngest dragging us around the Louvre (we're not big art museum people, we tend to see the big stuff and get out for a drink) from hall to hall, especially exited by 'the Stinx' in the Egyptian exhibit.

 And for me, wandering the streets, day after day. An espresso here, a glass of wine there, wandering the streets of Paris with my family. Trip of a lifetime.

 By the way, the ruse worked. Jenn, though slightly suspicious (she knows me well), was convinced it was Barcelona, so much so that she had a Spanish/English dictionary, borrowed from a friend.


Returned from France vaguely aware of some of the goings on with the Oilers that had come to pass, the two wins at the end of the road trip and Dubnyk rebounding being two positives, the Hall injury being the major negative although it appears he may not be out for four weeks, which is great, although the season is likely already doomed by the poor start.

Getting a fourth for Mike Brown was a stroke of luck or genius, I respect the guy for carving out a career but he's waiver wire fodder and paying a fourth for him originally was really stupid but that was Tambo through and through, he pulled the same shit when he acquired Smithson and Fistric. He will never be a GM again and its a career path well earned.

 I get the frustration of fans, if the Oilers miss the playoffs this year then it will be eight years out, only Florida has had a longer run amongst franchises that still actually exist. I figured them for a team with a legitimate shot at the postseason this year but its likely that dream is already over, they need to go on a massive run and while anything is possible, its probably not going to happen. The season has been sunk already and its tough to take and while the team has taken strides forward on the ice for sure, it cannot be ignored that they have deserved better based on the run of play in their games, the bad goaltending and defensive lapses and brutal special teams have done them in. If its not one thing its another and the team already has the look of one on a death march.

 What will probably happen is they will pull out of it. They will get some bounces. Dubnyk will return to normal. Hall and Gagner will be healthy and some pucks will start going in. They will fall short though.


 Fans are freaking out and WANT SOMETHING DONE NOW but dealing from a position of weakness is stupid and giving up on Yakupov or Schultz who have ~ sixty NHL games under their belt is something that Mike Milbury would do. Same with firing Eakins. He has to figure out the PK and he has to figure out the lapses in defensive coverage and I am pretty confident that he will. Ignore the media snarkiness about him. For the most part Edmonton sports media are a perfect explanation as to why newspapers are dying, sadly many of them are involved in TV and radio as well and so we'll never be rid of them.

 LT took a look at MacT's moves this summer right here and basically I agree. He added a lot at minimal cost but the problem, as RiversQ has pointed out numerous times since last spring, is that he was starting from so far back that it was impossible for him to make up the lost ground. The work that Tambo and Lowe did to put this club in the ditch was so thorough, so scorched earth, that MacTavish was stuck from day one unless he could convince clubs to part with quality NHL players for futures, a Coburn for a second type deal. I thought this might be possible based on the cap crunch and the fact that summer 2012 saw two legitimate top four guys moved for just that. It didn't happen though.

 The other issue is that unlike Chicago, for example, who brought up Pirri from the AHL and installed them as their second line centre or even Toronto, who has supplemented their injury riddled forward corps with guys who have been able to take a regular shift, the Oilers depth on the farm is almost all on the back end and not yet ready. The departure of Hartikainen and Rajala left their forwards in OKC that much thinner, with only Pitlick, now hurt, and Lander looking to be guys who might be able to contribute in some way in the NHL. There is no Pirri in OKC. What you see in Edmonton is what you get and when the injuries hit, as they have, then you have Denis Grebeshkov playing in your top nine. Not a recipe for success.


 So, as LT says, what does it all mean?

 Don't fire the coach.

 Don't panic in any way.

 What do the Oilers need? They need top four D men. If Dubnyk is hurt longterm then they need a goaltender. They need some guys up front like Gordon, bigger guys who can play.

  Nobody is untouchable but the kids and anyone of value really, the core of what is going on here, and I am including Nurse, Klefbom and Marancin in this, cannot be moved for fliers, possibilities, stopgaps, ten cents on the dollar. If you are going to move any of these guys it has to be for equal value or better, similar to the Paajarvi move. You cannot move Yakupov for a goalie because there is no goalie who can bring the guaranteed long term value that Yakupov may bring. You cannot move any of these guys unless it is a sure thing.

 You know what happens when you repeated send out NHL value for lesser value? Then you end up with what we have now.

 A few years ago the Oilers forward depth was Horcoff, Penner, Hemsky,  a few kids with promise and some garbage. On D they had Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert, Smid, Staios, Grebsehkov.

 Not too bad on the blue right?

 Now Staios got old and Smid is still here but Souray they railroaded out of town and for Visnovsky and Gilbert they have nothing to show. All three are still in the NHL, all three are playing top four minutes on teams better than the Oilers, though in Florida's case this is a marginal difference. Still Tom Gilbert is playing nearly 22 minutes a game and is an even player on a garbage team, basically the same as he did all of his years in Edmonton.

 Three top four defencemen. Gone for nothing. Brodziak. Gone for nothing. Pitkanen. Gone for Cole who was in turn traded for nothing. Cogliano. Gone for nothing.

 On such moves are disasters created. Calling for more of these types of moves will only add fuel to the conflagration.

 Do you want to blame someone for this mess? Blame Tambo if you want but he will get his. He got his shot and botched it and he will be remembered as a terribly failed manager, a punchline.

 No sir the man to blame, the one who has survived all of this, the coaches and all of the players come and gone, the changes in scouting, the changes on the farm, the change in ownership and the changes in the training staff, the one guy left standing, the architect of this disaster, our Bob Pulford, is Kevin Lowe.

 His is the only head left to roll and as we saw during his performance last spring when he sputtered indignantly about knowing about winning he lacks the self awareness to step aside or he would have done so years ago.

 Lowe's departure would not change a thing but to gladden our hearts and clear our minds somewhat in any case. The die was cast when they traded Pronger and didn't replace Spacek and Peca and then when they shipped Smyth out months later. Seven years of bungling cannot be turned about in the matter of a few months, not when you are dealing from weakness.

 And so we must still abide and hope that MacTavish and Eakins are the right men for the job. A dozen games does not say that they are not. Here is hoping that a year or two down the road does not prove that they are not. If this is the case then we are well and truly fucked.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Don't Mess WIth The Master

 Jenn turns forty next October and so a couple of years I ago I began kicking around the idea of a trip for her birthday. My folks are getting way up there and her folks, while younger, were gassed in April of 2012 when they helped me with the kids when Jenn was in Qatar for two weeks so while the idea of a trip for two is preferable it also became clear to me that this was going to be a family trip.

 We began talking about it and I made it clear that the destination was going to be a surprise with the only caveat being that it would not be somewhere we had been before. So no England, no Scotland, no Ireland. We would book the time off and then look at prices and go from there. And then I began to wonder why we were waiting for 2014. A lot could happen before then. At this time we are lucky enough to have our health and to be able to afford it so lets go.

 So six months ago or so we booked the time off and I began to look at possibilities. Europe was always the only destination really and we had the money so I began to look at flights. The choices were endless. Italy. Barcelona. Prague. The Low Countries.

 And of course France and Paris in particular.

 The problem was the prices were up there, of course we're talking months out here but for a while Prague was the frontrunner. Prague and a train trip to Vienna. Ideally I wanted to stay in one place but Prague/Vienna looked pretty sweet, it fit our budget and I didn't want to wait and wait and then get stuck.

 And then a buddy of mine who is a travel agent (one of the last I think, he's like a flightless bird on some island a few months after the Europeans arrived) got me a sweet deal and so Paris it was.

 I told the kids and we began to make our plans. Really I figured one of them would cough it up, after all we're talking nearly six months of keeping a pretty big secret. I didn't tell our youngest though. She's five and a blabbermouth, I might as well have rented a plane with a banner to fly just above our house or so I figured.

 (Funnily enough she overheard us talking about it about a month ago and she's a tougher nut to crack than any of us, a hardcore secret keeper, that one.)

 So six months we've kept the secret. Pretty cool eh?

 Here's the funny thing about the whole thing though, it was mid July and we were out for drinks and she began fishing and she kept saying 'Its Paris, I know its Paris! Where else would it be!' because we have talked about Paris, though not at length, and also because, you know, its Paris.

 So a couple of days later I went online and I found a sheet of common phrases with their Spanish translation, gave it to my eldest and told her to leave it laying around. Sure enough that night Jenn comes home from work ~ 9 or so, goes upstairs, looks in on the kids and comes down.

Where are we going?

Can't say.

Did you print something off for the trip for P?

*cocks head, looks pensive* Erm, maybe.

Well she left 'something' laying out in plain sight.

*looks shocked* Wha-a-a-a-t?

*looks smug* Uh huh.

OK so you have to promise not to say anything to her, she'll be devastated.

Oh I won't, I just can't believe you would give her something like that, she's such a flake.

*sits back, crosses arms behind head* Oh, I know. I know.

I'm writing this on Tuesday night, she just asked me if we should borrow a Spanish/English dictionary from a friend who has one. I told her it might not be a bad idea. I have it on good authority that she is convinced that its Spain.


We're at the airport right now. This is going to be good.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Panic At The Disco

The Oilers have stumbled out of the gate slightly.

 Just slightly.

 The beginning of any season is fraught with emotion. For nearly every team there is hope and a quick start brings dreams of a late spring run into mind while a bad start, well see your Edmonton Oilers and the message boards, comment sections (Never read the comments, I no longer do), blogs and social media for that over the top panicky emo reaction.

 Eakins should be replaced by Laviolette.

 Yakupov should be traded for a goalie.

 Hall is terrible. Eberle is terrible. They are all terrible.

 Etc etc.

 Now for a bunch that are supposed to be sophisticated, Oiler fans, like all fans, really are not, with some exceptions of course and neither are the media that cover them. From Terry Jones musing that any six blueliners at the WJC a few years ago would do a better job than the crew patrolling the Oiler blue at that time to pretty well anything that comes out of Mark Spector's mouth (Ben Eager a top sixer, Cam Barker a top three NHL blueliner, the fact that a team can't win with Euros in support roles - hello Chicago), you get the picture.

 And then there is Joe Average fan (or maybe I am being harsh - perhaps the folks online are the dregs though I sadly doubt it) who calls for veteran NHLers to be sent to the minors and replaced by Rob Schremp and Colton Teubert and so on. Of course said fans are not confined to Edmonton, you have Boston fans who want to get rid of Chara and Toronto fans who want to dump Kessel and Phaneuf and it goes on and on.

 A lot of white noise. A lot of bullshit from people who think Mike Brown is a better hockey player than Ales Hemsky. Dummies in other words.

 What do I take from the Oilers' start so far? Some good. Some bad. Some questions.

 The Good

 In the end its goals that matter of course but possession stats show that the Oilers are either holding their own or outplaying their opposition. Or if you hate possession stats then just watch the game and you will see that the Oilers are either holding their own or outplaying their opposition. They are 1-4-1 but they could very easily be 5-1 or any other combination. And they haven't been playing patsies. Would it better if they had more to show for it? Obviously. Is it better that they could be 5-1 but are not rather than being 5-1 and getting wildly outplayed but getting points because they have hot goaltending or have been lucky? Make sense? Sure it does.

Winning and outplaying > Outplaying but losing>Winning but being lucky>Being horrible and losing


 We knew Perron was a player and we figured Boyd Gordon was a player too but both have been better than advertised so far. Gordon isn't going to keep up the pace offensively but he's probably going to break career marks considering the talent he is playing with. Two great gets by MacTavish.


 The team can score. They've run into some hot goaltending here and there but without Yakupov doing anything and without Gagner in the lineup they're still scoring some and its balanced, eight players with four or more points plus Ted had three in four games.


Faceoffs. If you think they matter and I'm not really sure that they do other than its important to have guys who can win them in your zone, especially on the PK, then you're probably happy. They've gone from being terrible to pretty good. Of course Acton lost two last night on the PK and both times the puck ended up in the net.


Arcobello's lack of finish might be the only thing preventing him from having an NHL career right now. Small sample size but can they really send him back down once Gagner is healthy? I don't think so. Considering they have no F depth in OKC (although early returns on Pitlick sound positive) this is an unexpected pleasant surprise.


 The Bad

 The goaltending has been awful and with even average goaltending they are at least 3-3. It is hilarious though that people are ready to throw out three years where Dubnyk has been a pretty decent starter over four games. That said he has to be better though and one suspects he has to be get it together really soon or MacT is going to pull the trigger. There are more issues than goaltending but its the most obvious and probably easiest to fix.


 Team D has been, um, interesting. Case in point, Lupul's first goal on Saturday night. Belov has the puck carrier contained just fine and next thing you know there are four Oilers within about a ten foot square area and Lupul is wide open in the slot. I guess its a system thing? Whatever it is their coverage has been terrible at times.  That's stuff you get taught in atom right there although Bryan McCabe never figured it out either.


 Schultz younger has been pretty terrible in his own end, if anything he looks like he has regressed. Tyler Dellow brought up Andy Dellmore the other night and that sound you heard was my tears, they flowed in a very copious manner, drowning the cat and flooding our main floor.


The fourth line has been a joke. Whenever they are on the ice they invariably chase the other team around the offensive end for a few seconds, then the neutral zone for a few seconds and then finally around their own end for a minute or so in a total gongshow. I respect guys who make the NHL through hard work and determination despite lack of talent but these guys are playing about five minutes a night too much. So essentially all of their shifts. Last night was the epitome of how useless the whole exercise is with Chimera, unintimidated, running Schultz younger and then later skating away from Gazdic who was left going to the bench without his gloves or stick, having dropped them, and then later, Ovechkin, a guy who is supposed to be intimidated, I guess, running Brown.

 Too fucking much. Get rid of them and bring in some guys who can PK or at least play a semiregular shift of hockey please. You know like the fourth lines in Chicago and Boston. Good teams.



 I really only have one right now and that is Eakins. I can't figure him out. Benching Yakupov to get his attention for a game made some sense, I guess, but when you're not winning keeping a guy out of the lineup over Mike Brown or Luke Gazdic for a second game makes little sense. Yakupov has looked awful but so did Hall when he played C and Eberle was terrible for the first week. Make your point and then put him in a position where he can succeed.

 Beyond that there is that fourth line and there is the 'system'. I like Eakins, I am a sucker for a guy who is articulate and who seems smart, but presently I am wanting more.

 One More Thing

 I think the Oilers are a possible playoff team, I do, if they can iron out the goaltending and the coverage issues. I do find it funny how fans and media are freaking out. The team has been garbage for seven years and now people are getting upset? Hilarious.

 Cam Thomson (RiversQ to you), who is a pretty smart guy, pointed out in the summer that MacT had too much on his plate and he was right. You gut a team for seven years, purposely tanking (and in many cases just being really stupid when it comes to judging talent) and the end result is a roster that has so many holes in it that you are going to be unable to fill all of them. In any case they have been lucky that Arcobello has been reasonable and Belov too but the D is still iffy and the fourth line is a gong show and they are lacking guys who can play a solid allround game, guys like Brouwer and Ward and Chimera, to name three members of last night's opponent.

 Kevin Lowe sniffing that he has six Cup rings is more than hilarious considering that he turned a pretty good club into a laughing stock in the blink of an eye and his man Tambo, well his legacy lives on, with guys like Souray and Cogliano and Brodziak and Visnovsky and so on and so on playing for teams better than Edmonton (news flash - everyone has been better than Edmonton these last seven years). Tambo is the guy who turned a house into a paper clip, each player brought in withering on the vine until they were moved for lesser value (or nothing), picks moved for guys like Smithson and Brown, what other teams call waiver wire fodder.

 I like MacTavish but he's part of this crew, the one that employs Buchberger and hires Messier and all of that. I wish him well and I do think he has the chops but I worry. I think the foundation is here for greatness but I keep thinking back to the darkest days of the rebuild when I'd bring up Atlanta and Florida and the Islanders, wandering the desert for decades, and people would sneer.

 Nothing is guaranteed even with the young core they have in place. These first two weeks don't matter, really, but they have exposed a few issues. I think they can be fixed but I guess we will see what MacTavish and Eakins are made of now.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013


Anything could happen but the Stanley Cup is probably staying out west again. Probably best four teams in the league right here.

In Like Flynn

Hawks - a million things could happen, mostly injuries, but Chicago is the team to beat again. Pretty well the same squad is back with only Frolik, Stallberg, Bolland and Emery hitting the road. They need to figure out who will take Frolik's minutes on the PK but that's probably their biggest issue. A bunch of new kids have moved into the lineup and that doesn't even count Pirri who was hurt at the start of their camp and never got traction. I suspect we will see him between Sharp and Hossa before too long.

 Anyhow last year they had the best offence and best defence and its basically the same team and with the exception of Hossa and a couple of the supporting cast its still a relatively young club. If they're healthy I think they repeat.

Kings - the Kings will be in the mix again of course, they are just so good. I think their only issue might be depth on the wing, they don't score a ton after that top six and while their top end talent is fantastic I think that deeper teams with the equivalent top end quality (so, um, Chicago and maybe Boston) can beat them. Of course as I noted that's two teams and Boston's depth is not what it was so, well, one team.

Sharks - maybe the most interesting team to watch this season as Thornton, Marleau and Boyle's contracts are all expiring. The Sharks are in danger of becoming the Sens or the Canucks, a very good team that never won it all, this is their last shot or at least this group's you would have to think. I think they will be there again, a key for them might be home ice and they may have the offence to win their division and get that. They are a bit of a popular pick this autumn, I think like LA they may be just a titch below Chicago but I could see them going all the way in this gang's last hurrah.

Blues - I have the Blues just below the big three but they're close enough that they could roar right through the West if the other big boys have bad luck or injury woes. For me the difference between St Louis and the others is the lack of a gamebreaker. They have the best defence corps in the league, I like Halak and their forwards are quality as well but while Chicago had Kane and Toews and Hossa and Sharp and San Jose had Thornton and Marleau and Couture and Pavelski and the Kings have Kopitar and Carter and Williams and Brown the Blues have ... Steen?

 Without that pure offensive talent the margin for error when playing those top teams is almost none.

Canucks - Their window has closed for this team I think, the big issue for them is there are no young quality players coming up behind to support the Sedins, Kesler and Burrows. The D is certainly too good for this team to fall apart and I am sure Luongo will bounce back as well but their depth up front, once such a strength, is non existent. Who is their best young forward? Kassian? Yikes. With that said though they are still a shoo in for the playoffs.

On The Bubbles

I miss Bubbles. 'Jesus Fucking Christ Julian you mean one of those big cocksuckers out on the ocean!'

 I do a mean Bubbles. Hard to do with three young kids around though.

 Anyhow the three remaining spots out west are pretty wide open. Here are the three who I think will make it.

Ducks - Anaheim was lucky last season, big time lucky, but with the Wings and BJs (heh) gone from the second division I think they're probably the best of the rest. They have a pretty nice group of forwards and quality goaltending. I think their D is their biggest weakness, especially with Souray out, if something happens to Beauchemin then they'll be in big trouble.

Oilers - *gasp* I know, I know, hard to believe. I'd feel a lot more comfortable if Gagner and RNH were available and that fourth line has to be the worst in the league but my guess is Eakins rides his big horses for these first few weeks and they tread water long enough to survive until the centres return. I like their goaltending (note this was written before last night's disaster), I would love another top four D but with that said I think Ference and Belov will help and that Schultz younger will be improved as well. And they have a lot of firepower up front. Hall is a superstar, Hemsky is proven quality, Eberle, Gagner, RNH, Yakupov and of course Perron who I think is a big addition. Finally I also think the team took a big step backwards under Krueger and we'll see Eakins make a difference.

Stars - I'm going to say the Stars will make the playoffs as well. I like their roster, they have some quality vets all through their lineup and of course Benn and Seguin to lead the way. Its Dallas so I hate them but then again ... Horcoff!

And the three that might sneak in.

Coyotes - Can't stand this team, the drama around a club nobody cares about, the NHL grifting Glendale, the way they choke the life out of every game. With that all said they will ikely be in the mix, they're like the Wild, every year they're hanging around, one year they're in, the next they are out and nobody cares or remembers either way. They have a nice blue but Ribiero is their number one centre, really, and they have almost nothing on the wings at all. Still with all that said ... Tippett. If any of the teams ahead of them falter they might sneak in there.

Wild - they snuck in last year they might sneak in again this year do you care about this anonymous bland McFranchise no I didn't think so I certainly don't

Preds - like the Coyotes and Wild you look at the roster and there's a lot of meh but with that said they have a workmanlike group of solid forwards and Shea Weber of course and most of all they have Barry Trotz. Never underestimate the guy.

Bringing Up The Rear

There's some serious junk in the west.

Jets - Jets couldn't make the playoffs playing in the east and in the worst division to boot. Love Ladd, Kane, Byfuglien but goaltending is bad and so is the team. Claude Noel is getting so fired.

Avs - They have some wonderful young talent, Duchesne, Landeskog, O'Reilly, MacKinnon. And then a whole pile of garbage everywhere else.

Falmes - lol

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Bringing The Crazy

Was out on the street today with three of the neighbourhood moms as the kids ran wild. Best street, seriously. Maybe fifty houses, hundred year old duplexes mostly, the odd detached place. A couple of old folks hanging in there but mostly young families. Its great.

 We were discussing bedtimes and different strategies. Our guys are ten, almost eight and five and for years we'd have the lot of them in bed by seven but now its eight and sometimes a bit later for the two oldest. I dread a few years from now, we barely have any time to ourselves now and the evenings are ours but not for much longer and how the hell am I going to get any of the sex if the kids are lounging around.

 Goddamn it all to hell.

 So this reminded me of last night and so I told them about it, it was getting near bedtime and our youngest told us we had to attend her 'dance show'. She had been after us for a while but we were doing dishes and cleaning up and getting homework finished and so we kept putting her off but we all trooped down to see what she had put together. She's cute as a button our youngest all enthusiasm and giggles and joy and so we smiled and thought oh this will be great.

 After a few minutes the phone rang and Jenn smirked and excused herself as it was her sister and so I was stuck watching what could only be described as a fucking disgrace. The two oldest were enlisted in this effort and there was no dancing or singing or anything worth anything, just her running in circles with them running after her and after each circuit she'd throw herself onto the couch and so would they and then they'd do it all over again. And I'm sitting there thinking what the fuck is this shit, this is horrible and all I want right now is a drink or a cigarette or a hooker to end my misery, what a fucking disaster and then it ends and I think thank fuck and then she smiles and says its intermission and I got up and roared at them to all get to bed that was the end of that my Jesus what a disaster.

 And so I told this story to the moms and they laughed and cringed a bit and I am sure they were thinking my God he's a mental case and so I'm watching the hockey game tonight and first intermission comes on and I think well you know what maybe Cherry and I aren't that different after all, it must be all the booze and blows to the head over the years, am I right Don?


Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Best Game You Can Name

When I was growing up in Sudbury I knew a lot of serious hockey families, they would have a couple of boys, maybe in AA or AAA. Back then hockey began in the fall and ran through to spring and then it was done. Nobody played summer hockey, they played ball or soccer or they just went up to camp and hung out by the lake. A good way to do it. During the winter though, man, they would be at rinks every night of the week, that was just the way it was between practices and games. I coached Select and then A here in Toronto for a few years and we would get on the ice three times a week, for a couple of years I coached both a houseleague and a Select team and so it was five times a week. It was pretty hectic but I loved it.

 We're not a hockey family. I play once, sometimes twice a week, year round and for ten weeks of the winter I play shinny as well once a week. Its my sport of choice and so as you know because you read my hockey blog I follow it, if not as closely as I once did, pretty closely nonetheless. But my wife doesn't play and neither daughter is interested although our oldest is kicking around the idea of ball hockey in the spring and the girls will come out and play a bit of road hockey with us now and then. Even the boy is a bit of a late bloomer. He played his first season last year and he loved it but whereas I grew up watching Hockey Night in Canada and spent my winters playing shinny or road hockey he is just coming around to this now.

 This past week though, we were a hockey family.

Saturday September 21 9:30am

Mid morning of my eldest's tenth birthday the phone rang and it was a friend of ours. They are a hockey family. Oldest son is nine and playing AAA, second son is seven and following in the brother's footsteps. We don't see them anymore, I see the Dad at shinny now and then but we are busy and they spend every evening in rinks all over Toronto and so its been probably a year or so and they live ten minutes away. Crazy. Anyhow he is a lawyer and a bank he does work with had ten box seats for the Sunday game with Les Sabres and after them and a neighbour they had three left. I've been to plenty of games but Jenn has never seen a Leafs' game and neither have the kids so I said sure we'll take the three and of course everyone was pretty excited about that.

Saturday September 21, 10-11pm

I hate getting to a game late, even though its just beer league I tend to get nervous before games and having to rush just makes me unhappy. When I left for McCormack Arena, a tiny closet of a rink dropped right in the middle of a Parkdale residential area, I had plenty of time even with the Gardiner shut down. Usually a twenty minute trip took me twice that and so I walked into the room just as the game before us wound up. To add to my agitation we had seven skaters, including me, and our goalie was a guy who had played D for us a couple of years back (great guy, all the tools, ten cent head) but who I had heard was taking up goaltending despite being forty or thereabouts. A guy poked his head in and asked us if we needed more skaters and our captain said 'no' and man I hate that, there's no fun in having seven or eight guys, you end up exhausted and while we've won a few like that usually you hang on for dear life and then get pounded once you run out of gas. We had another guy coming and he figured that was enough but when we stepped out and saw that our opposition had fourteen skaters and they were young to boot he turned around and accepted the offer.

 This is the Exclaim league, we play a half dozen games through the year to prep for the Easter tournament. Its an open division so the opposition ranges from being really good to really bad. The team we were facing is a better team and word is they've brought in some ringers despite the whole idea of the league being as rec as rec gets. The game started as expected, they came on and they got a softie and soon after they got another and while we were hanging in there until reinforcements came it was pretty grim. Early in the second their best player went through everybody and our goalie ... fell over. He flipped it into the empty net. We were down three when we finally reached our full compliment of nine skaters.

 And then ... we took it to them. The rest of the game we outplayed them by a good margin and scored in the second and then again with just over thirty seconds left. And then somehow (well its beer league) we ended up with a three on two and I found our Dman on the far side, hit him with a sweet pass and he waltzed in all alone. I was preparing to ride my stick to centre or leap into the glass and then he, who probably has the best hands on the team or close to it, watched the puck trickle off his stick. I don't even know if he got a shot. Game.

 It was worth it though to see the look on the other team's faces when helmets came off revealing grey and bald and then to add insult to injury our goalie (he didn't play all that bad to be honest) in conversation with their goalie let it be known that this was the third game he had ever played. It was pretty funny, you could see them looking at each other, we barely beat THESE fucking guys.

Sunday September 22 2-3pm

We won our first game the week before against the closest we have to a rival in our league and so we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. Early days in beer league are interesting because there are new teams and you don't know what you're going to get. Last year we finished third in a ten team league, a point out of second, three out of first. We were in the mix and the two teams who finished ahead of us last season were 1-1 and 0-1-1 after their first two games so a win would give us an early jump.

 It was a new team that we were playing,  they had tied another new team and so the question was were they both good or both bad. Turns out they're both pretty bad I think. These guys had a couple of solid defencemen and a nice centreman but other than that they weren't all that great. We were missing probably our three best forwards and we took care of business essentially.

 Up 2-0 and I headed out to kill a penalty. Our Dman got control and I broke for open ice but he didn't see or hear me and so he iced it. Out came the goalie to play it. He could have fired it up the boards or dumped it into either corner or fallen on it but instead he froze. Completely. And so I took the puck from him and scored the first wraparound shortie of my long career.

 Went back to centre, pushed the puck to their blueline and went after their Dman. He fumbled it, stumbled and as I picked it off of him he got enough of me that I did the old Bobby Orr as I got the shot off.

 No goal but if I had scored two shorties in ten seconds or whatever it was that might have been that moment where I picked up the puck, waved to the bench and gone straight to the room. Hang em up, you'll never beat that.

 They scored one late on a beerleague backcheck to break the shutout and we answered a minute later, awake again and so it was 4-1, tied for first early days.

Sunday September 22, 6:30-10:00pm

 I told Jenn to get the kids there early enough to see the warmup and she did. I thought box seats were, you know, a box, but it turns out they were four rows from the ice, directly across from the Sabres' bench. The game was, well lets just say they will probably never see a better game (and probably not from seats like that unless we start saving now). Preseason but the Leafs iced a real lineup. There were eight goals and a line brawl with a goalie fight and when they came home, wide eyed, my son told me about how between periods they stood where the players walk out to the ice and 'Phil Kessel shook my hand'. And so he now has a favourite player (he likes Hemsky and Hossa and Crosby but nothing compares to this experience) and possibly a new favourite team.

Wednesday September 25, 6pm

 I've been roller blading to and from work for most of the summer and the fall, I think its ten miles or so round trip. Have been watching what I eat and cutting back on the beer since Labour Day too, my cardio has been great but have packed on the pounds. Weighed myself Wednesday. Seven pounds down since the first of September. Pretty happy.

 Got home, hot tired sweaty, boy says 'Hey lets play road hockey'

 Some day, soon, he won't. So we, along with our youngest, passed the ball around for forty five minutes until dinner was ready. Best times.

Thursday September 26, 5pm

 My neighbour, also a good friend and Capsule teammate, texted me. The boy's birthday is coming up and we were looking at a net. He was at Costco and found a quality one and did I want it and yes please. The boy will love it and I know another guy who needs to work on his shot. I believe the term is muffin.

Saturday September 28, 8am

 First practice for the boy, once again my good friend is coaching him. Was talking to Mark and he said I don't think we have much of a team and I thought hm, your son scored two goals in the championship game (3-1 win) as a 7 year old in a 7/8 league and the other coach's son was pretty good as a seven year old as well, I think they might do okay.

 Of course I was most interested in my boy. He went to a week of hockey camp and there's been the road hockey and while he loved playing last year I was hoping that his skating might have improved to the point that he might be a bigger part of what's going on. And so after a half hour they scrimmaged and it turns out coach was wrong. The two boys mentioned as well as a third basically did what they wanted. If they were keeping score it would have been something like nine or ten nothing.

 As for the hero of our story ... the other club got their only sniff when one of their guys broke in alone, only to be caught and dispossessed by SOME GUY NAMED MCLEAN. Next shift the puck was behind his net and he swept in, took it off his opponent, carried it to the hashmarks and head manned it.

 Tape to tape. The boy can make and take a pass and he doesn't fuck around, he fires it.

 Moments later he picked up a loose puck and juked around a couple of guys as he raced through the neutral zone.

 After the scrimmage I said 'how was it' and he smiled and said quietly 'I had the puck. A lot.'


Saturday September 28th, 6:30-10 pm

Friday night grimly a self absorbed internet gangster messaged me and asked if the boy and I would be up for a Leafs' game Saturday night. I tracked down a sitter and so for the second time in his life and in a week the boy got to see the Leafs. We walked from Union Station with the blue shirted crowd, past a woman playing a fiddle like her life depended it and I told my son about how my father and I went to a few Leafs' games back at the Gardens and how the walk to the arena after a steak dinner and a couple of beers, past the scalpers and hobos and musicians and sausage carts, was one of my favourite parts of the whole experience.

 Both teams iced AHL lineups for the most part but it was a fun game, Reilly looked superb, great vision and hands and like any offensive Dman is wont to do, got caught up ice a couple of times. Reimer looked good. Colton Orr flubbed a perfect pass on a two on one. It was fun, we had great seats and of course Tyler and Amanda are great company. Tyler showed the boy a video of Yak's celebration last season and we talked about our upcoming trip to Europe and their own trips over to watch soccer and we sang along to the hockey song and it was very fine. Jack fell asleep on the subway on the way home and as we walked home in the warm dark night he turned to me and asked when he could get a Leafs' jersey.

 Fack me.

Sunday September 27th, 2-3pm

Capsule again. This is my son's teacher's team and I realized quickly that he's not the diving guy I spent a good part of last season telling to 'GET UP OFF THE FUCKING ICE!'

We played this team three times last season. They have a bunch of French Canadians on the team including two brothers, one of whom is the best player in the league. Buddy can skate, dangle, make plays and he has a heavy accurate shot. We split our first two games last year and then the third time we played them he wasn't there and we murdered them.

 We carried the play early and their goalie was up to the task but we're the better team and so we scored one and then we got another and then a third. I've been on the other side of it, they stuck with us, they're a good team but we were better and so after a while the shots start going in, a good bounce here, a good bounce there. They might beat us but they will need a lot to go right for that to happen.

 For the first third of the game or so my line didn't face their star and I was happy with that but after a while we began picking up a bit of their shifts until suddenly it was us against them and so it was for the rest of the game. It was tough slogging, I spent a good part of the game keeping an eye on him and trying to cut him off before he got going and somehow, somehow we did it. Our goalie saved our bacon a couple of times but at the end of the game we were a plus one, no goals against, outchanced them even and while they scored with about six minutes left they never got a sniff at the end even with a power play.

3-1 Capsule. Tied for first. A good start for the best guys.

Hockey. Best.


The East remains the junior circuit, Bettman's parity is slowly eroding the powerhouses out west but there are still four teams that are head and shoulders above anything the east can offer. Not to say that the Stanley Cup might not come back east, in a seven game series anything can happen, a team can get lucky (Carolina), ride a hot goalie and Shawn Thornton (Boston) or run into a club riddled with injuries to key players (Pittsburgh) but the reality is that the eastern teams are smaller and slower and not as deep as the big boys out west.

 That said the eastern conference is probably the more interesting of the two. There is no team head and shoulders above the rest except for the Penguins and we all know that their goaltending is garbage. They might run and gun to the conference championship in the regular season and a first round win over an eighth seed but as soon as they hit the big boys things will fall apart. Beyond the Pens it seems most of the rest of the conference playoff seeds seem pretty clear, though fluid, with a handful of clubs fighting for the final spot. Injuries and the unexpected may throw things for a loop but I'm pretty confident that things will suss out as follows or at least relatively close to this:

Sure Things

Pens - This club reminds you of the Pens clubs of twenty years ago in a way, its top heavy as hell. The problem for this club is that while those teams ran out Lemieux, Francis, Jagr, Tocchet and Stevens in the top six as well as some decent D and a reasonable goaltender in Tom Barrasso, this team is even more top heavy. Kunitz and Dupuis are nice players but they're not in the same conversation as Crosby, Malkin and Neal and after them the dropoff is severe. Their Cup winner had Staal, Kennedy, Cooke and Talbot in the bottom six, this team has Sutter and not a lot else. The D is shoddy and with Vokoun done its Fleury or nothing for the Pens. The crazy thing is that the talent up top was enough to help the Pens run away and hide last year and this year may be more of the same. But their goaltending, D and depth up front will get exposed in the playoffs.

Habs - The Habs are one of those clubs that you look at and wonder if its mirrors sometimes but their roster is pretty solid. Subban is a superstar and they have enough guys like Plekanec and Eller who can do the heavy lifting so that the kids (and Danny Briere) can kill the softs. Injuries blew the club apart last spring so its hard to say if they are a team that can come out of the east although one suspects that if Price provides them with good goaltending and they are healthy then they will be in the mix.

Bruins - Two trips to the Finals in three years, the Bruins are the team I'd pick to come out of the conference again this year except their depth has taken a hit. Horton, Seguin, Peverley, Jagr and Ference are all gone, replaced by Eriksson and Iginla and unprovens for now. Chara isn't getting any younger and so you know Chiarelli will being in reinforcements in the spring if the youth isn't up to the task. The edge the Bruins have had for years now is that aforementioned depth and as often happens the beginning of the end for a contender is when that depth starts to take a hit. That said they will be in the mix again and are a shoo in to make the playoffs.

Wings - Detroit leaves a division that included Chicago and St. Louis, two of the best teams in the league, and comes east and I expect they're going to tear it up. They aren't your older brother's Wings but they came the closest to knocking Chicago off last spring. In two years or so they are going to be fucked, they're all getting old, all of them, but Datsyuk and Zetterberg are going to eat the east alive and Babcock will get the most out of a roster that looks like a bit of a hodgepodge in places to be honest.

Sens - Ottawa had a quality year despite being ruined by injuries last season and I think the addition of Ryan, good health and a step forward from their raft of quality kids will actually put them into the conversation when it comes to contenders this season. I rate MacLean as a quality coach and they have very good goaltending and strength up the middle. A team on the rise even if you can't name half of their players.

Caps - Washington started slowly and then got rolling last season and I expect them to have a good year. The addition of Grabovski is going to help a lot and their lineup is deep pretty everywhere you look, not sure if they are a true contender but I suspect that they are.

In The Conversation

That's four teams in the Atlantic and two in the Metropolitan what the fuck oh right its the NHL. (Had a conversation at the boy's practice this morning, one of his buddies asked why the Sabres' coach got a fine for leaving John Scott on the ice last Sunday, all we could say is 'because its the NHL'. Mickey Mouse right down to the red pants with the big brass buttons). Anyhow another team from the I can't even say it division has to make the playoffs. My guess is the two remaining clubs will come from this group of four and the teams that end up out of it will probably be the least healthy of the lot.

Islanders - these guys have the inside track, they are a team on the rise and one suspects with some goaltending they might have beaten the Pens last spring. Indeed if I were an Islanders' fan (are there any Islanders' fans?) that would be my biggest concern. They have enough up front and on the back end and Tavares is unreal. But the goaltending ...

Rangers - the Rangers have Lundqvist and if Staal can recover then I really love their top four D and while a lot of their forward corps is more sizzle than steak they still have a lot of quality there. And I like Vigneault a lot, I like him more than Tortorella, I think he can get more out of this club. Really hard to see them missing the playoffs to be honest.

BJs (heh) - Wow Columbus really is a bunch of no names for sure, other than Gaborik, talk about your anonymous bunch. But they fell just short of the playoffs in a tougher conference last year and they added Nathan Horton. On the other hand they were a bit lucky last year and do we expect Bobrovsky to repeat his numbers from last season. Then again they were in a division with St. Louis, Detroit and Chicago and now they are not.  So yeah I have no idea.

Leafs - The Leafs were super lucky last year and they got rid of their best centre, two decent top nine options and a quality fourth line player. In came David Clarkson, Dave Bolland and Mason Raymond as well as Paul Ranger on the back end.

 I think the Leafs don't make the playoffs if its a level playing field and I am pretty confident that Carlyle will screw things up (he's already grumbling about Gardiner and one must remember that the Leafs didn't put their best lineup together until, what, game four against the Bruins?) but with that said their D is a pretty reasonable group one through six and they have a nice set of wingers in the top nine and Phil Kessel is one of the best players in the league. There's not a lot going on behind them in the standings so if a team or two above them falters then I think the Leafs might make it. The problem for them is the loss of Grabovski turns a strength (centre) into a weakness. Remember that Dave Bolland lost his job to MICHAEL HANDZUS and was a fourth liner in Chicago who could not produce offence playing with PATRICK KANE. And then you have Kessel's comfort goat, Tyler Bozak, also know as a poor man's Matt Stajan. I picture Carlyle making a mess of this with his 'system' and insistence on playing a couple of goons every night and Kessel, Kulemin, Reimer and Phaneuf all being gone by next June. We worry about a lack of depth with the Oilers, the Leafs have nobody who can move into their top nine forwards after McClement. Nobody. Think about that. And a poor possession team got rid of some good possession guys with speed. LoLeafs.


There's a real drop off after the top ten teams.

Devils - New Jersey finished in last place in their division last year and then lost Kovalchuk and Clarkson, its up to Patrik Elias, one of the great underrated players of his generation, Adam Henrique and a bunch of nobodies. I've never liked the Devils, ever, maybe this season will lead them to folding, a man can hope.

Flyers - Watching Holmgren try and build a contender is sheer entertainment, every year he throws money at flawed aging players, every year the team takes another step backwards. They really have some wonderful players up front but their best two D are on LTIR and pushing 40 and whoever thought Steve Mason was the answer in goal is well I have no words for that one really. Unless Ray Emery's magic hip can withstand 75 games of 35 shots plus then the Flyers are going to sink in the standings and then next summer Holmgren will throw a huge contract at Nick Schultz and sign Jose Theodore.

Lightning - part of me wants to like Tampa, they have some tremendous players up front and of course now they have added Filppula and Drouin to replace Vinny but I think they're top heavy and their D is shoddy and honestly I don't see them being any better than last year when their GA was sixth worst in the league. Another high pick for them I think. Fun place to see a game though.

Panthers - Dale Tallon reminds me of Garth Snow. Sometimes he does great things. He built the Blackhawks. This summer he picked up Boyes, Gilbert and Tim Thomas for basically nothing. He has some nice young pieces on this club. Other times he's a disaster. The qualifying offer fiasco. A couple of summers ago when he threw big money and term at a pile of mediocre free agents. He's the Dave Kingman of NHL GMs. All or nothing. This year its going to be more nothing even if Tim Thomas is Tim Thomas. The Panthers were full value terrible last year. Only Nashville scored less goals. Nobody allowed more. In a short season they were twenty points out of the playoffs. Some people say they might surprise. If they aren't a lottery team colour me surprised, whatever colour that is, maybe its 'flesh' whatever the hell that was.

Les Sabres - oh the poor Sabres. Add Darcy Regier to the long list of GMs who did great when faced with a budget and then fell to pieces when suddenly given an open chequebook, it reminds me of when I went away to school for the first time, by the spring I was looking in couch cushions for money to buy Kraft Dinner or a bowl of soup. The men from moustache town are facing what will be another long winter in what will be a series of long winters with the only drama being when Vanek and Miller get sent out of town. Its amazing how difficult it is to build a good team but how easy it is to ruin same. They have some nice kids but a long way to go and once Vanek goes its going to be a real wasteland.

Canes - its almost as if these eastern teams have a blueprint on how to be bad. Super quality top six forwards and then junk on the blueline and or in net. Carolina's goaltending is better than a lot of these other clubs and Hainsey was a nice cheap add but their D is thin and not that good and after that top six their forwards are either unproven, ancient or terrible. No way to run a railroad but fuck the Canes anyhow. Fuck them.