Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why Linus Matters

Nobody saw this coming. I remarked that I wasn't surprised that MacT made a move but the fact that its Omark is a surprise for sure.

But it makes a ton of sense with first Hartikainen and then Rajala heading back overseas.

Omark has his warts but unlike the two Finns we know that he can play in the NHL and so the Oilers, who have dumped NHL players without replacing them for years, resulting in disaster, continue to add NHL players this summer.

And so if one of the top six wingers (as they stand now) goes down with injury or struggles, Eakins now has Ales Hemsky and Linus Omark to plug in there.

There are folks who think little of either player or think that they do not fit or whatever but without them if Hall, Eberle, Yakupov or Perron went down then next in line would be Ryan Smyth, Ryan Jones and then who?

Add good players and keep them folks.

With the rise of the KHL and other European leagues NHL clubs suddenly face a new challenge, as Lowetide pointed out a few days ago. A few years ago guys like Omark, Hartikainen and Rajala who wanted to make big money had to stick it out in the minors and hope for their shot with the big club. Look at OKC's depth this coming winter and you can see that its pretty thin because now these guys (and guys like Patrick Thoresen and Leo Komorov, its not just the Oilers losing depth guys) can go back to Europe and make more money. Can you blame them? I certainly don't. Hockey careers are short and these guys are generally on one or two year deals. Play in the KHL for a few years, do well and you could set yourself up for life if you're smart.

 So MacT, give him a ton of credit, looked at his roster and saw what a guy like Tambellini never could, even though a mook like you or I certainly were able to, that you can never ever have enough guys who can play. Look at the Oilers this summer. MacT has shipped out two good players in Shawn Horcoff and Magnus Paajarvi and he has added the following:

Hamilton (I saw Hamilton play a bit last year, including one game live, he can play a depth role in the NHL)

He also kept Ales Hemsky and Ryan Jones. I know some folks don't like Jones but he is an NHL player.

Some of these bets may not work out. Belanger was a good bet but he didn't work out. Hell just look at the Toronto Blue Jays to see how sometimes even what looks like a sure thing is not.

But MacT has added a ton of players and as a result guys like Whitney and Peckham and Hordichuk and Fistric are gone and Potter and Eager and Brown have been pushed down the depth chart and Klefbom isn't going to have to step in right away.

I don't know if they are a playoff team. They need to beat out Anaheim and Phoenix. But the ifs (if this goes right and this goes right and this goes right) are shrinking more and more. And that is what management's job is. Make it so if Jordan Eberle goes down for a month Ryan Jones isn't your first line RW. Make it so Nick Schultz doesn't have to play tough minutes. Make it so the coach has options. Eakins by all accounts doesn't roll set lines, he's a blender. MacT just gave him another option, a skilled and motivated player, and he looked beyond the past in doing so.

That's good work.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

True Things

 It was a tough beginning to this summer for me, I've been a lucky man for many many years when it comes to the health and safety of those I love and those that they love and so on and so when Spencer got sick it threw me for a loop and then within weeks he was gone, a healthy young man in his prime, imagine that and a reminder that for all of what we collectively believe or would like to believe about karma and good things happening to good people and all that the reality is that its so much a toss of the dice in the end. Nothing good came from his passing, not one goddamned thing at all except perhaps in the time before he passed he learned how beloved he was but he would have laughed and said he'd pass on that for another fifty or forty or thirty or ten years of life I am sure.

 For myself it was a reminder, one that I could have done without, about how fragile it all is and talking with a friend who just retired a few months ago and how he had seen two folks at his work go just like that and how one can't live life like one will go tomorrow (quite frankly that would be exhausting I think) one can certainly find a balance between the day to day grind and planning for the future and the fact that we're here for a good time not a long time as the band once said.

 And so once I flew back from Calgary where I helped carry my cousin and dear friend's coffin I looked at my kids and my wife and cracked a beer and thought well you'd best live and the truth is that Spencer's passing reminded me of that too because few lived life like he did, he really did, and so while there were a few more tears here and there its been a great summer. The things that once worried me, work and money and all of that, well they've drifted away, I was never much of a worrier over that but its gone now, hopefully for good.

 We've been busy as we always are but we have seen friends and family and ate and drank probably too much and the summer hockey has been grand, well we're getting our asses kicked but its been fun, as fun as it can be when you're chasing guys half your age around the ice and then the next morning you find you can barely get out of bed. I've been playing centre all summer and I'm playing as well as I ever have and yesterday we were at dear friends here on the Island, having supper and drinks as the kids swam in the pool, having to be dragged out at 11 to go home and my buddy and I were down in the basement shooting pucks and stickhandling and laughing as here I am, 45 years old, working on getting better at a game but man its wonderful. Life is wonderful, it usually is until you get one of those awful kicks in the head and then all you can do is get up and try and carry on really and so last night one of my best friends and I laughed and drank and caught up and tried to go top corner as we bragged on our kids and talked about what has passed and what may be and it was good, it was a good night, a very good one indeed.


 I wanted to tie this all back to what I wrote earlier this summer because so much of hockey narrative is junk. I think it was Bob Johnson who said that the best coach is the guy who gets off the bus with the best players and of course he or whoever said it is right. On any given Saturday night anything can happen of course and even over the course of seven games the less talented team might beat the better one but there has never been a team of pluggers that won the Stanley Cup, even the Habs of 1993 and Canes of 2006, probably the two weakest Cup champions of the modern era had a ton of skill. Teams of plugs and grinders don't win the Stanley Cup and for the most part they don't even make the playoffs.

 But hockey narrative (and most sports narrative) insists that it is character that wins out in the end because it is a story and a story about hard work and perseverance and overcoming the odds is far more interesting than a story about how having more talent and the required dollop of luck (if Stallberg doesn't get on Datsyuk in G7 OT and hinder his shot at the last minute Chicago never makes it to round 3) wins championships.

 Watch the Olympics, especially the NBC version. Even the greatest most shoo in champions are painted as gritty underdogs, overcoming loss, tragedy, setback after setback. I could barely believe Michael Phelps won even one medal after that piece I saw about his jug ears. Heartrending stuff.

 But the truth is that the team that wins the Stanley Cup is almost always very talented, very deep, generally healthy and a bit lucky. They have great guys and probably a few jerks. They are professional hockey players so even the 'soft' ones are way tougher than any of you keyboard warriors, sorry to burst your bubble, and they all have worked their balls off to get to where they are, even the guys who are first off the ice at practice. If they didn't work hard they would not be NHL players.

 You want to know how the team that you follow will become a contender if they are not a contender right now? They will add good players and keep the good players they have right now and they will not chase 'intangibles' in place of the tangible that is talent.

 We once had a very good player who played for Capsule. He was a big centre who could skate like the wind and he could score and he was a bit soft and sometimes he was inconsistent. I play centre now. I'm a decent player. I work my ass off, I don't back down, I score a little, I do all of the little things, every game I come out and play my game and I can even drive play a bit. I am the poster boy for intangibles and our team is a lot weaker without him on it. He was a way better HOCKEY PLAYER and for all of the lovely little things that I do he would drive the play, truly drive it and the difference between him and me (and losing a few other good players and replacing them with other guys like me and aging for that matter) is that we are a good team in a division below the one we were a good team in when we had him.

 Nothing replaces good players. I think David Bolland is a solid player and David Clarkson is a wonderful story but Grabovski+MacArthur+Frattin>Bolland+Clarkson, they just are. And so when there was talk of Gagner's deal maybe not getting done earlier this summer man it got my back up here was an honest to goodness NHL centreman, just a kid still, and there was talk of getting rid of him, mostly from the usual hammerheads who think any hotshot can step out of junior or the minors and score thirty like a snap plus do everything else a pro has to do to succeed.

 I mean Jesus.

 But of course he got signed and I am very happy with the deal. Ideally it might have been a bit longer but the numbers fit the market and the club's salary structure (if anything he might be underpaid slightly in terms of the market) and he's tied up for three more years and that's good news.

 Any regular visitor here knows that my mantra when it comes to managing a hockey club is pretty straight forward. Get good players and keep them. Its as simple as that. Accumulate good players. If you have to move one out make sure to bring one back in. If you do that then sooner or later your team should get pretty good as you will end up like Chicago did, with a fourth line that included Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik. Both guys have been moved this summer, I can guarantee you that they won't be fourth liners in their new homes.

 This was the problem Craig MacTavish faced this summer. Since June 19th 2006 first Kevin Lowe and then Steve Tambellini did the exact opposite of bringing in good players and keeping them. Instead they moved out good player after good player without replacing them. That turned the team into shit and on top of that destroyed the value of many of the remaining players. Shawn Horcoff playing tough minutes with Ryan Smyth and Ales Hemsky was a guy who could add some offence to an excellent defensive game. Shawn Horcoff playing tough minutes with Patrick O'Sullivan and Jean Francois Jacques got killed. The Oilers would bring in a quality guy (Erik Cole) and then play him with Kyle Brodziak and Ethan Moreau and wonder where the offence was. They'd move him out at a discount and he'd go to a better team (they've all been better teams) and better teammates and lo and behold he would produce.

 MacTavish's problem this summer is that he had so many holes to fit its almost impossible. Keeping Gagner (and Ales Hemsky if he cannot move him) is a start. They suddenly have two quality goaltenders, a plethora of NHL defencemen for the first time in years (although a little light in top four guys still) and a good young top six up front. The bottom six looks like it may still be junk although that could be easily fixed one would think. So overall things are better. Why? Because MacTavish has added good players, replaced one good player he moved (Horcoff) with another (Gordon), upgraded the second one he moved with the Paajarvi deal (I love Magnus but Perron is quality) and kept the rest of his good players. There are fans who think moving Ales Hemsky is a good idea and the answer to that is wait, what?

 Ales Hemsky gets hurt a lot but he is still a good NHL hockey player and if you move him out for a pick then your bottom six looks like this:

Smyth Gordon Jones
Joensuu Lander Brown

That's garbage folks sorry it just is. And if Eberle or Hall goes down then what? Or if Ted isn't ready to start the season and Hall slides over to C for a month.

 Keep Ales Hemsky and Jones slides down in the order or maybe Smyth, whatever fits your world view and when someone gets hurt or slumps, someone always gets hurt or slumps well wait a second you can plug Ales Hemsky right in there.

 Good teams have options.

 Brandon Saad struggled in playoffs for a while alongside Toews and Hossa and so Bickell slid up beside them when he got hot and when he got hurt and struggled a bit then Saad moved back up again and Stallberg was up and down the lineup as well and Bolland jumped up when he was pulled out for a few games and wait what's that you say, depth matters, really I would have never guessed. And so while Chicago kept eight of their top nine forwards this season, a vast improvement over 2010, they are still a weaker team than they were two months ago because Stallberg and Bolland and Frolik are gone. Surely a kid or two will come in and get their chance and then at the deadline Bowman will probably pick up a couple of guys from somewhere because he will have to do so.

 Watch the last two minutes of game six of the Finals again. That should be required watching for every fan and columnist and anyone who has anything to do with hockey. Bickell scores and with just over a minute left to go the Bruins leave out Lucic and Krejci and Horton  and Quenneville sends Oduya and Hjalmarsson out and up front he sends out Bolland and Frolik and Kruger.

 He sends out his second D pairing and fourth line to get the team to overtime. He does what the Oilers have not been able to do for years and what the Leafs were unable to do against Boston. Instead Colton Orr was stapled to the bench and Phaneuf and Gunnarsson and Grabovski and company were run out over and over again in the last ten minutes until they had nothing left.

 And then Bolland scores and Boston calls timeout and sends out the Krejci line again and Quenneville sends the same five guys out again with the STANLEY CUP ON THE LINE. And they nurse it until Toews and Handzus and Hossa come out to finish the job.

 Get good players and keep them. Having Ales Hemsky as your third right winger is fucking awesome because it means you have two other really good RWs. Actually a healthy Ales Hemsky is probably your best right winger right now imo but your mileage may vary on that and if so that's cool. The point remains. If Nick Schultz is pushed down the depth chart that's great, that is not a slam on Nick Schultz it means that the team is better and if Schultz rebounds and makes things difficult for the coach well that's a great thing too.

 Andrew Ference got too much term but the fact is that he was a good second pairing D man on one of the best teams in the league the last few years and the number crunchers have done their thing and he's not riding coattails out there, he's the real deal. MacT added a good player and who did Ference replace? Ryan Whitney?

 Klefbom won't make the team unless he passes four other Dmen on the depth chart (they won't keep him up to sit in the pressbox). Might he beat out four of Schultz, Belov, Grebeshkov, Potter and Larssen? Sure. But again if he does that's fantastic and the other thing is there is suddenly depth there.

 The team is flawed. I don't like their depth up front even with Hemsky back, they need Smyth to rebound or Jones to step it up or Joensuu to surprise and I don't think the top four is up to snuff yet but ... but ... things are better. They are getting to the point where they need fewer and fewer things to go their way to do well. MacT has made his bets and while the Clarkson chase irks me overall he has made good bets. Its like the Belanger deal. These may not work out but based on track record of the players and the money/term shelled out to them I have no complaints. Overall its been a good summer. Ideally he'd add a LW who can check or a veteran fourth C with chops but overall its been quality.

 He's gotten some good players and kept the ones he has. That's all you need to do folks, that's all you need to do.

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Way It Should Be

Seeing as some guy got traded twenty five years ago here are my two cents. First of all apparently Gretz has the biggest knob in the world (My buddy hung out with a guy who was drafted by the Kings and saw the horsecock first hand) and secondly, this:

 It was a few weeks before I got married, back in aught one, we were just wrapping up three and a half years in that shithole called Florida, we'd move back to Canada on Labour Day Weekend. My boss was going to a meeting in Toronto and in her Iowan drawl asked me what kind of money do you crazy Canadians have and how much should I get when I'm up there. My response:

 'Its pretty well the same as in the States except we have a two dollar coin. Other than that the bills are all the same except they are different colours and we don't have a hundred dollar bill. When Gretzky retired they got rid of it and released a 99 dollar bill with his picture on it' 

'You Canadians are so crazy with your hockey!'

 'I know. Anyhow you'll need a hundred bucks probably so when you're at Pearson just ask for a hundred bucks. Ask for a Gretzky, a Little Gretzky and a penny.'

 'What's the Little Gretzky?' 

'That's the ninety nine cent coin.'

 She would have done it too except the girl at the desk next to mine, who was from Ottawa, fell out of her chair she was laughing so hard.