Monday, September 23, 2013
First couple of years out of university I lived in an old house in High Park with my best friend and a revolving cast of third roommates, first a buddy of mine from uni who moved out after six months to move in with his girlfriend (now his wife), then my buddy's buddy from uni who had just split up with his girlfriend and then, after six months, moved out to shack up with her. (They later got married, not sure if they still are. Hopefully they are and happy). And then for the duration another fellow my buddy knew from his days in Waterloo. So we knew it wasn't us who were driving these guys out. Or maybe it was. Who knows.
For those couple of years where we lived together we were a bit of a base camp for nights out for the gang we got around with. Most of them were my buddy's pals from Laurier and the majority of them were from Mississauga and still lived there once they got out of school. While we were a bit of a hike to the subway and a ways from downtown we were a hell of a lot closer than Mississauga and so many Saturday afternoons our place (we had the main floor and basement of the house) would get pretty cramped as everyone rolled in to make the pilgrimage into the city.
As with any group that I got around with at any time there was a core of guys and girls and then some others who floated around on the periphery, someone who you would see now and then but not all the time, maybe they worked different hours or were in a serious relationship or they lived further afield. In this particular gang there was a guy named Heinrich (I'm pretty sure that's his name though I could be wrong its been over twenty years) who lived down Niagara way so we would see him rarely. He was a really nice guy, just terrific, soft spoken but pretty smart and interesting. I liked him a lot because while my pal's pals were good guys for the most part they were pretty dull fellows. I could sit down with Heinrich and have a good conversation and he liked me although I think he thought I was a bit of a mental case. (He was right).
Its been so long that I don't recall much about him at all. I went out with his sister on a date once, I think we went to a movie but nothing came of it. And he thought my signature dish at the time (fry up a pound of ground beef with an onion, put in bowl, eat) was completely insane.
And he was a St Louis Blues fan. Now the Blues are a pretty cool team, I think, I really like their uniforms and they've had, for the most part, pretty solid teams over the years. Once the Kings won a couple of years back that left St Louis with the longest Cup drought along with the Leafs though and the other thing about the Blues is that while they have had some great players and characters at times - the Plagers, Unger, Fernie Bederko, Hull and Oates, Pronger, Shanahan, Dougie Weight - they still for the most part are one of those mostly anonymous franchises. Even now despite being one of the best teams in the league and probably a Cup contender (along with Chicago, LA and San Jose) or at least just on the outside of that elite group, they remain a bit nameless.
And in the early nineties, well they had Hull and Oates I believe but the 70s and 80s when we grew up was really a dead zone for them. But Heinrich, in conversation one Saturday night, brought up the fact that he was a Blues' fan. He was the first I had ever met and I was astounded. 'How can that be?' I asked and he replied that his favourite player growing up was Inge Hammerstrom.
So when Hammerstrom was dealt to St Louis by the Leafs he followed his heart and voila, lifelong Blues fan.
The weirdo. Inge Hammerstrom? Seriously.
The boy still hasn't found the club that will break his heart over and over again for seventy or eighty years, with maybe, if he is lucky, one or two moments of joy to ease his pain. I was talking to a cousin of mine last night, he is in his late twenties, a wonderful young fellow. He was at game six of last year's Leaf's series and he talked about how amazing it was and then joked how game seven was a perfect summation of what a Leafs' fan is all about.
I laughed and told him to hang in there, he might end up like Dad who saw his favourite team win the Cup in 1961, got married and started with the gas company the next year, had kids, retired after over thirty years with the company, had grandkids and was pushing eighty when Chicago won again, nearly fifty years later. And then for good measure they won again!
My cousin laughed but in all likelihood he will live a long fulfilling life and pass away in his sleep in his nineties without ever seeing a Leaf Cup. The Leafs are like the Cubs. There is no curse or any of that. They are just, with the odd outbreak of competence now and then, terribly inept.
One of you math guys needs to do a workup on the odds of the Leafs not even making the Finals since 1967. It has to be ridiculous. Even the Capitals and Panthers have made the Finals. Reminds me of something I read a year or two before the White Sox won the World Series, something like the chances of the Cubs and White Sox having the droughts that they did was around 10000 to 1. Holy shit that's terrible.
In any case the boy wavers year to year on what team he likes, he likes the Oilers because I do but in his heart I think he is a Leafs' fan. His favourite player was Ales Hemsky, I have sent him enough videos of the Czech genius to ensure that but because of the timezone thing I am sure he has never even seen the Oilers play live.
Before last night he had never been to an NHL game. We have gone to a couple of AHL games, dull affairs, the only relief for him being the food and drink and sweet talking Dellow's girlfriend after wiping the floor with him at Tic Tac Toe. I want to take him and his sisters to a game some day, maybe next time we are in Florida, I'm just loathe to spend a ton of money to take them down to the ACC, I'd rather give as little money to MLSE as possible and I'm not sure at this point if they'd be engaged enough in the game to be honest.
And then Saturday we received a call from friends, they had box seats for last night's exhibition tilt with les Sabres, freebies in fact. Its my eldest's birthday weekend, she turned 10 on Saturday, and I thought it would be a nice treat so I said that we'd take the three tickets and Jenn would take the two oldest kids, none of the three of them have ever been to a Leafs' game and for the kids it would be their introduction to live NHL action.
It turns out the tickets were about ten rows behind Buffalo's bench and of course the game features eight goals, a line brawl, Phil Kessel trying to chop down John Scott, Clarkson leaving the bench the dummy and a goalie fight.
I don't think anything can top that.
And they had the fancy seats which meant they had a private room in between periods and stood RIGHTTHERE as the Leafs marched out for the second period and as when the boy came home, exhausted but elated, I asked him what the best thing was and his eyes lit up and he said 'Phil Kessel shook my hand!!!'
So he has a new favourite player its been confirmed and really Kessel is a good choice, now it will be interesting to see who the boy's favourite team will end up being when Nonis doesn't sign his best player and Kessel walks next summer. Maybe St. Louis!
Some crazy shit over the weekend and today but I'm going to concentrate on the Oilers although the Leaf mess is total hilarity. They have gotten rid of MacArthur, Grabovski, Frattin and Komorov and used their piles of cap space to sign 40 point player (well once anyhow) Clarkson, extend their third best centre last season to a nice fat deal and bring in a guy who lost his job to Michael Handzus. And now they are against the cap with one of their top four D from last season unsigned and are talking about running with a short roster plus Clarkson is gone for the first ten games, they have a goalie controversy and Bolland is already hurt. (Just in case you didn't know Leaf fans when he wasn't playing on Chicago's fourth line last year he was always hurt).
I foresee Kulemin and Reimer and probably Franson gone by next summer and probably Kessel and Phaneuf as well. Its going to set the franchise back five years and best of all a lot of fans will think all of those guys getting moved will be a good thing.
Anyhow, Oilers. Two things about all of this hullabulloo.
First of all while the Oilers are short a centre on the depth chart that would be their fourth line centre and as a matter of fact their depth one through three is pretty good. For example it is better than Chicago's. And facts are facts, if say the Boston Bruins lost Bergeron and Krejci they too would be pooched. It would be Kelly and Campbell. Better than Gordon and Acton? Sure. But to get on MacT because he doesn't have another top two centre floating around is a bit goofy. Do they need better than what they have for the fourth C role? Yes and he has to get on that. But to say LOOK AT HOW TERRIBLE MANAGEMENT IS THEY DON'T HAVE THREE TOP TWO CENTRES is over the top.
With that said its going to be interesting to see what MacT does here. Last season's chances died when Tambo sat on his hands when the C core was decimated. It looks like a month will go by before either Ted or Gagner are back. That could cost them the playoffs.
As an aside Kassian was suspended five games for the incident. Any time something like this happens all logic goes out the window and anything sensible gets lost in the white noise. What do I think? Well Kassian may not have meant to knock Gagner's teeth in but there is no way that the act wasn't intentional in some way. When you try and hit somebody your stick does not flail like that. As Mark Spector said today, in perhaps the first and only time I will ever quote him and agree with him, Kassian is able to tip a 95 mile an hour slapshot. He is also an NHL calibre skater. In other words he is a pro and pros don't lose control like that unless its on purpose. Hell I've never even seen anything like that in the beer league.
Add to that the fact that Kassian seems cut from the same cloth as Shayne Corson, that is a cementhead entitled asshole on and off the ice and yeah he did it on purpose. He has the track record in the minors and off the ice.
So as to point two from this whole mess, the return of Steve MacIntyre. Oh my.
I'm happy for the guy that he has carved out a bit of a career in the NHL, I just prefer it was back in Pittsburgh. As it is he is now taking the roster spot of a better player (they are all better players than him) and the Oilers are not that good that they can be shorthanded for even three extra minutes a game. He can't take a pass. He can't skate. He's horrible.
And in his first go around with the Oilers guys got run left right and centre, despite his presence. That's the fact. See here's the thing, hockey is a vicious and violent game. Always has been. Read about hockey at the turn of the twentieth century. It was insane. And all through the years it was the same. As a matter of fact it was often the greatest players who were the most vicious. Shore. Howe. Orr. Maurice Richard. Mikita. Messier. The list goes on and on. These guys took care of themselves. I was watching some video of a Hawks/Leafs game from the early sixties (it may have been 1961) the other day. It included a line brawl that started when Pierre Pilote, a Hall of Fame defenceman and smooth offensive player, swung his stick at a Leaf's head. He connected (the Leaf player, I can't remember who it was, had been hooking him as he raced up the ice) and all hell broke loose, the benches ended up clearing and the cops came onto the ice. Hilariously the CBC commentators tut tutted that that was no place for the police to be. So that hasn't changed in fifty years.
The modern goon, the guy who barely plays at all, is a modern invention. Michael Parkatti looked at it last night and marked ~ 1986 as the beginning of the trend towards it. I blame Bob Probert myself. A guy who could play in the top six and essentially knock anybody out, teams had no answer for him in their regular lineups (or didn't want big guys of value taking him on) so they began to bring in the designated fighter to take him on. And away we went. HNIC helped make these guys into legends, led by the old man in the first intermission who, along with others, puts guys like Colton Orr and Fraser MacLaren on the same level as Probert and Neely and Tocchet and Howe and the tough guys of old. Shawn Thornton won the Bruins the Cup remember!! Except all of the guys of old were tough. And they all could play while MacLaren and Orr cannot take a regular shift without hurting their team. And Thornton was nailed to the bench while the Hawks' fourth line, Bolland and two Euros, pushed the Bruins into their grave and shoveled dirt onto them.
Colton Orr was on the ice last year when Kadri was a target and he stood by while Kadri ended up in a brawl, having to defend himself. When David Steckel knocked Crosby woozy the Pens' lineup that night included Engellund, Aaron Asham and Mike Rupp. When Marc Savard lost his career to Matt Cooke the guy who passed him the puck was Milan Lucic. When Taylor Hall fought Dorsett and Avery sucker punched Smid and Hemsky got run night after night Steve MacIntyre was sitting on the bench. He did not deter these actions, no more than Lucic stopped Cooke from ruining Savard's life.
Because hockey is a vicious game and unless next time Vancouver plays Edmonton MacIntyre assaults and hurts one of the Sedins badly his presence is going to mean nothing to the Canucks. If he is on the ice with Vancouver's stars then they will score on the Oilers. He might fight some plug like Weise but so what? Big deal.
The Oilers need to get harder to play against. They probably need to get bigger and meaner but they need to add guys who can play who are bigger and meaner, guys like Jason Smith, Torres, Moreau, Mike Grier. Teams messed with the Oilers less in those days. Guys still got run. They always get run. Savard got run. Krejci got run in the 2010 playoffs. And that is with Lucic, Chara and so on. But having guys who are big and tough who can play helps.
What else helps? Sticking together as a team. Being hard on the puck, hard on the body. Detroit and Chicago are two of the smaller skilled teams in the league but both are tough and while Chicago employed Bollig last year he had five fights. Total. Chicago and Detroit don't fight and yet they win. Why? Because they are really good and they don't get intimidated and they are hard on puck, hard to play against.
And still Toews, Seabrook, Hossa have all been run in recent years.
Because its a vicious brutal game and Bollig or no Bollig its going to happen.
What do the Oilers need to do? They need to take a page from Ryan Smyth and when a guy runs at them they need to feed him their stick. They need to be a little vicious like Taylor Hall, a little crazy like Perron. People will tut tut this but if the league isn't going to protect you then you need to protect yourself. Perfect example - Duncan Keith. Totally has crossed the line a few times, often in response to slights, real or imagined. For the most part you don't see guys taking shots at Duncan Keith because he is liable to take you out. The red mist you know.
Its a complicated issue is what it is. Its shitty what happened to Gagner but the reality is the presence of MacIntyre would not have prevented it, the presence of Lucic wouldn't have prevented it and on and on. Past history tells us that sometimes there is no such thing as deterrence. Kassian is an asshole and he figured he'd try and hurt Gagner and Dale Weise thought he'd take a run at Taylor Hall and Mike Brown did his thing and no matter. Its a violent game, I've done things worse than Kessel's 'spear' of John Scott in beer league, its the nature of it, and on top of everything the NHL doesn't care to crack down on the shit one iota. Want to stop guys taking gratuitous headshots or swinging their sticks? Suspend them for twenty, thirty, forty games. But until that happens there is nothing that is going to stop guys from running other guys.
Certainly Steve MacIntyre is not going to do it.
Posted by Black Dog at 9:05 PM