Sunday, June 09, 2013

Blood In The Water


I've been coaching on and off for nearly thirty years now. In my original incarnation when I was first a teenager and then a young man in my twenties, I had a lot of success in both hockey and soccer. I was a different guy then, I was a bit fiery, lets say, and it was a different time too. Sometimes when we did well (and we did well quite a bit) it was because we had a lot of really good players. I've seen enough good teams fall apart to know that coaching matters but when I was lucky enough to have those good players I kept it simple, we played as a team, we worked hard, we played ferocious defence and the guys with the talent had free reign up front as long as they did all of the rest.

 My favourite teams were the teams with less talent, the underdogs who started slowly and came on and won it all. I had a few of those. The best. The absolute best.

 Many years passed when I did not coach and then a few years ago, when I had kids of my own, I picked it up again. Basic rec soccer. Coached my eldest for two summers. Then the boy. This summer we signed up my youngest and originally my plan was to coach both her and the boy but then the league moved the boys' time to the same as hers and so I decided it was her turn.

 So last Tuesday I met my latest collection of little guys and gals and oh boy I'm not in Kansas anymore. They are the youngest group I have ever coached, four and five year olds and let em tell you ... I have coached five and sixes and I have coached teenagers and every age in between and I think this is the biggest challenge yet.

 The little buggers hit the field except for our one sub and I made a note as to who was off and checked my phone to time the shift and then a minute in one player runs off the field 'I'm thirsty' and so I said 'ok' and sent the other on and I made my note and checked my phone and I look up and there are three kids off when there should only be one.

 And this was just the beginning. My daughter went into the net and they scored two or three while she was climbing the back of the net from inside of it. Another little girl, probably our best player, told to keep an eye on the ball, left her net as her opponent bore down on her and ran onto the adjoining field, chasing the ball in that game. At one point as a player came up the field towards our guys, all six of them ready and then like the Red Sea, they parted, running off for bathroom breaks and water breaks and 'hi mom and dad' breaks and 'look at that cloud' breaks and the one on six turned into a breakaway and a shot into an undefended net as the goalie sat in the corner of the net watching the world go by.

 They don't keep score but I do and I can tell you for certain we got it over half twice, not counting the time one of our players picked it up and ran it to their net.

 I do not have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times the ball ended up in our net.

 This, my friends, is a massive challenge. The most massive. The massivest.

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After years where management sat on their hands, we're talking all the way back to 2006 where that beautiful team almost was stillborn for lack of a goalie, having a man of action in charge of the Oilers is both refreshing and a little bit unsettling and this past week has demonstrated that when Craig MacTavish said that there would be changes this summer he was not kidding.

 I've written about Hemsky at length, especially last spring when it looked like he was a goner for sure, and when the day comes when he is moved I will write a farewell and include links to those pieces. Its no secret that I am a Hemsky man and a Horcoff man as well, always have been. We all know that life is not fair and while both men have made millions playing hockey its shitty for them that after that run in 2006 when they were both outstanding they then spent the heart of their careers playing for an absolute joke franchise.

 My reading of MacT's comments is that its probable that Horcoff has asked out. Why now, when the team looks to be maybe finally turning the corner? Well Horcoff is a pretty smart guy and he knows he only has a couple of years left and while the Oilers' time may come its not going to be in time for the wily Russian and so on HNIC tonight it was confirmed that he wants to go to a contender and most likely the Oilers will eat some salary to make it happen.

 As for Ales Hemsky, well with Yakupov and Eberle in the fold I'm thinking that management figures they need a little less dangle and a little more grititude on the right side and that the majority of minutes on that side will go towards the two kids.

 While I'm a sentimental guy the reality is that for me the main thing is anybody can be moved as long as it improves the club. Can they bring in a better player than Horcoff? Maybe. Could they bring in a better player than Hemsky? Less likely.

 So I'm skeptical.

 And there is the fact that they will be eating some of Horcoff's cap hit to move him.

 With that all said, moving both guys clears over ten million in space, less what they eat, and this summer is going to be a serious buyers' market. Cap going down. Compliance buyouts. Teams looking to move contracts. So the possibilities are there. Really they had better be there because if they move 10 and 83 that's another two NHL players they need. And this as we know has been the issue for seven years. Not enough NHL players.


So MacT has made an already difficult job even more difficult but obviously he has his plan and I guess we'll see what happens. If you believe in him you're hopeful, if you don't then you're pessimistic and whatever your opinion on the subject he will either be successful or not and we'll know soon enough.

 And we will wait, again, for the player who plays his entire career with the Oilers.

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 And after all of that today I was at a kid's birthday party and his Dad, an Oilers' fan, wanders by just as its ending and says Kreuger is out and I say 'what' and sure enough its the case.

 The word is that Eakins was being interviewed to be associate coach and I would bet real cash money that this was the plan until other clubs started to nose around him and then MacT figured 'fuck it I'm all in' and good for him, if you're GM you should have your own man in there from the beginning and good for him to ignore the optics of another new coach. It looks horrible but if you don't believe in the man in there then why bother?

 I liked Kreuger but I could do without the fourth line heading out for Dzone draws, I like my coaches to line match thanks very much.

 As to Eakins well he's been an assistant in the NHL and a head coach in the AHL so he's done everything but coach in the NHL. He's ready. As a Toronto resident I can say that what I've noticed is since he's been in charge the Marlies have sent a steady stream of kids up to the Leafs who have looked prepared, who can check and do the little things that help you win. Even the guys who are obvious career scrubs are able to get in there and not get killed. And the youngsters come up and are ready.

 That's what he's noted for, the work with the kids. And he's come to the right place for that.

 I think its a good move. He could bust but he's the most hotly pursued coach out there. A guy like Jim Matheson might ask where the retreads are (to each his own I guess, literally) but I prefer someone who might bring a little something new to the table and MacT has proven again that he's not afraid to make the bold move.

 Time will tell whether they are the right moves but at least finally none of that sitting on the hands garbage.

 I like it.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

One more move it would be perfect

Fire Lowe

Anonymous said...

Did you see this tweet by Bob Mackenzie?

Bob McKenzie ‏@TSNBobMcKenzie 6h
Also, PHI is in market for D and may be willing to move one of their young centres - B Schenn or Couturier - for the right deal.

I could trade Petry + ? = Couturier

Take Nurse at #7 a potential #1 D-man

Gord said...

I remember watching my niece playing soccer when she was a kid. She and her defensive partner watched butterflies above them as their opponents went by them with the ball. Their goalie was crying after after three goals on three shots.

I apologized to the net minder's parent standing beside me - he told me it was no problem.

Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Ack that is a massive challenge, but a cute story too. Good luck!

HeavySig said...

Been there, done that with kids soccer; but T-ball took the cake. The first at-bat, the whole fielding team would descend on the ball after it was hit. Then they would move like a giant anthill towards first base, never quite getting there before the hitter.

the next at-bat, the ball would bounce through the infield without notice, as the second base person and shortstop would be on their hands and knees studying a grasshopper up close.

I think the firing of Krueger is very unfair; and yet the right thing to do. If MacT didn't believe in him 100%, why waste another season of the kid's window of opportunity? You can't be sentimental, you have to be pragmatic and honest. MacT was both here, I believe.

Black Dog said...

HeavySig - lol good story

I'm with you exactly on Kruger.

Anon 2 -

Love Couturier but trade Petry and there's another hole to fill. I've heard good things about Nurse but he's years away.

They need 2 top four D ideally. Trading Petry means they need three.