Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The West Is The Best, Get Here And We'll Do The Rest

We are a long long way away from handing out the Stanley Cup but as always there's a really good chance that the winner is going to come out of the West. Boston could knock off any of the big boys from the big boy conference but I couldn't see any of the other eastern teams getting a sniff.

 People say that the western team that comes out is going to be beaten to a pulp but every year this is the case, the west is a tough road, although Chicago had a decent draw last season in terms of their opponents being a little less physical until they met the Kings. Unless you play a minimum of games you're going to be beaten up, that's the way it is. Sometimes this will have a big impact on the final such as in 2009 when Datsyuk, Lidstrom and Hossa were all in rough shape by the time they played the Pens but generally everyone is banged up.

 The west is ridiculous though. I have four of five real contenders in the west and two of them will be knocked out in the first round. Crazy shit.

 Looking at the east I realized that I went with the team with the better record in each case because I'm a madman (unless no Bishop for Tampa). Hm, pretty boring.

Ducks - Dallas

Dallas is a sexy pick to pull an upset. Their possession numbers are better than Anaheim and they were a team whose record didn't reflect this, especially earlier in the year.

 But man that goal differential difference is a big one and the Ducks didn't ride the shootout either. They're good. I don't rate them like I do the other western big boys but they're not a pushover. Seven players other than Getzlaf and Perry with double figures in goals so they have that offensive depth I'm always harping about, some young guys, some vets, a lot of guys who can check. Dallas is almost a mirror image though, with six guys in double figures after their big two of Benn and Seguin (and a kid in Sceviour who had 8 goals in 26 games). Again they have that solid mix of kids and vets up front.

 The hilarious thing, to be honest, is I don't even know if some of the guys on either team are any good. I shit you not. Dillon and the other Benn on D? Not a clue lol.

 Anyhow the one thing that worries me about Anaheim is their goaltending. I don't think they are going far anyways and a lot of people are saying that this Gibson kid is going to be their downfall and while I think it isn't going to help them in round two I think its good enough to get them past the Stars. My gut says Dallas but while I like them and its possible I don't like them that much. Ducks in six or seven.

Colorado - Wild on Jack Lemaire

For me the Avs aren't in the elite group either and are probably a step below the Ducks as well. They have a whiff of the Leafs about them if you know what I mean. The Wild still are not in their league though. They might win a game, maybe two but the Avs are better I think, even with Duchene out of their lineup. I'm going to say Avs in five, maybe six. I don't really care. Neither team is that good.

Sharks - Kings

 This one is a rematch of last year's homer series which went seven and ended with the Kings edging out the Sharks. This time around the Sharks have home ice and its probably a push between them and the Hawks as to who I think is the team to beat. San Jose will have to beat LA first but even a fully staffed Kings team would have trouble with the Sharks. If Drew Doughty is not 100% and of course I have no idea if he's resting or actually hurt, then this is not going to end well for LA. Even if he is healthy I think it ends well. The Sharks are too deep up front and on the back end, anchored by Vlasic. LA are sound, they really are, but too many of their guys have seen their offence dry up. Brown, Richards, Stoll, even Justin Williams has seen his production fall off. We know LA can check but I think San Jose has just too many weapons. It will be tight, it will go seven (unless Doughty is hurt, then its over sooner) but San Jose will win.

 Chicago - St. Louis

For me the Hawks are Cup favourites again (or at least co-favourites). They coasted home with Toews and Kane on the shelf and there were times this season where they seemed ... bored but they still ended up in the top five in goal differential. They have almost the same lineup as last season, with only Viktor Stallberg, Frolik (who was a pretty big loss imo) and Leafs' franchise centre Dave Bolland moving along. As always it seems the Hawks have some kids in the pipeline and so Ben Smith had 14 goals, Jeremy Morin chipped in near season's end and Brandon Bollig appears to have turned into an actual hockey player plus Versteeg is back. Depth. The advantage Chicago has over everybody though is that elite talent - Toews, Kane, Hossa and Sharp all had 28 goals or more and Duncan Keith averaged nearly a point per game. Shaw had twenty, Saad had nineteen and three others had double figures as well.

 I like the Blues - for me the issue has always been their lack of a guy who can create offence out of nothing, the gamebreaker. They're a deep team up front and on D and they score a lot but man those shooting percentage numbers are crazy high, we're talking out of this world high, we're talking unsustainable really and we're talking about six of their top seven goal scorers having these ridiculous numbers.

 My guess is the Blues try and pound the Hawks into the ground and the Hawks' superior skill wins out. I saw them play earlier this year and St. Louis played physical and Chicago either brushed them aside, gave back as good as they got or just skated out of trouble. To me this is not a great matchup for St. Louis at all. I don't love Crawford in net but I don't love Miller either. I think Chicago moves on in six.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Here Goes Nothing

I don't think I've ever had less of a handle on the playoffs than I do this year. Mostly this is because of the way the west finished. If you want to talk about true contenders I have five - San Jose, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis and Boston. And four of these meet in the first round as Anaheim held on in the Pacific and Colorado zoomed right by the Blues in the last two weeks. Crazy shit.

 I did a count last year on my first round predictions going back to 2006 and was amazed to find out that I had gone 40 and 16 and then preceded to go 7 and 1 for an overall record of 47 and 17 so I guess I'm doing something right but this year I'm not very confident mostly because there are so many 'pick em' series but also because so many key players are either hurt or just returning from injury. Bishop, Toews, Patrick Kane, Doughty, McDonaugh. Obviously if Drew Doughty is not Drew Doughty then the Kings are dead meat so this is also part of the mix.

 Here is what I look at when I'm making my picks.

 First of all I do not look at how a team finished the season or at the head to head matchups. To me they don't mean a thing. Sometimes a team will finish strongly and go all the way and sometimes they will not and they will win the Cup. Every year people say 'oh they finished such and such a way' and it really doesn't matter. Same for head to head, a game in November or January doesn't tell me anything now.

 The huge thing for me is depth. Obviously injuries play a huge part in the playoffs but also year after year we see that clubs with deep rosters go farther. If you can roll four lines, as Chicago and Boston did last year for example, then you're going to go a long way. For example if Toronto had dressed an actual hockey player rather than Colton Orr last spring I believe they may have survived game seven. Certainly having someone you could throw out there who could play a reliable shift would have helped. In a similar vein as the Bruins began to get banged up their depth suffered and as the series wore on against Chicago the Hawks were able to use their superior depth to push the pace. As a result they had the puck more, Chara especially was forced to defend more and by the end of the series the Bruins were done. To me I always look for teams that run four lines deep and six defencemen as well.

 When I look at records the big thing for me is goal differential. A team that is even or maybe even in the red is a team that I always avoid. The real heavyweights are the clubs that have a big goal differential. This may seem like common sense but I look at that even more than I look at a club's win loss record.

 I don't put a lot of stock in your usual narratives, teams that 'know how to win' and all of that. Nearly every year since the end of that stretch where the Cup was always won by the Wings, Avs, Stars or Devils has had a different starting goalie lead his team to the Cup (except for when the Wings won in '08 I think) as an example. So I don't look at the Blues and think that they can't win because Miller has never won the Cup for example or at San Jose and think that they are going to fail because they're San Jose. Intangibles like this are just a lot of noise imo.

 Of course as an out I always say that anything can happen (because it can) - injuries, hot goalie, bad luck. Its hockey so sometimes that's the way it goes but generally I feel pretty good about how I make my picks.

 Anyhow here we go. I have a better handle (I think) on the east so I'll start there. I figure Boston to come out of the east because I like going out on a limb but if they falter somehow then its really wide open.


 Bruins v Wings

 I think the Bruins come out of the East. I also think that if they fail it may be here. Detroit was ravaged by injuries as we all know. I think Babcock is an outstanding coach and that the Wings have enough speed to trouble the Bruins' blue line. The Leafs almost took Boston down last year and the Wings are better than that club, right?

 The problem is that the Bruins are just so good. The Wings had a negative goal differential (and of course a lot of that is due to the injuries they faced) but the Bruins are plus 84. Plus 84! That's unreal. And the kids on the blueline have come in and done a great job replacing Ference and the injured Seidenberg. The Bruins also have perhaps the best goalie in the league and their depth up front is outstanding. Six forwards with over fifty points, a seventh with 48 in 73 games and Loui Eriksson isn't even in that group. If the Wings had Zetterberg I'd think they might have a better shot at this but the Bruins are just too good and way too deep. The Wings will give them a bit of a scare but unless they get unreal puck luck or Rask blows up its Bruins in six, maybe less.

 Tampa v Habs

 These two teams are just so underwhelming if that's a word, I know it's not 'cause Sloan sang about it, but really whoever comes out of this is going to be meat for the Bruins.

 The Habs are loaded with famous players (because they're the Habs) who don't impress and the Lightning have a bunch of anonymous players, especially up front, who don't do much for me either but ... Tampa were a +25 and that is without Stamkos for a lot of the year while Montreal was +11. Tampa has the best forward in the series and while the Habs have PK Tampa counters with Hedman and on top of that I like their D, a couple of nice vets in Brewer and Salo, Matt Carle. Its a coin flip but I say Tampa in 7 with one caveat which I normally do not ask for, if Bishop can't play then I'll take the Habs in 7, maybe 6.

 Pens v Columbus

 To me this is similar to the Pen's opening round series last year. I don't rate the Pens at all really. Their D is shoddy, their depth up front is atrocious and that grinning buck toothed bastard Fleury has ruined my pool the last two years the prick. That said it's Columbus. They're solid but with Nathan Horton and Umberger out its not like they're loaded up front outside of Ryan Johansen; only two other Jackets had more than twenty goals. So while I do think the BJs (heh) have the edge in goal and the Pens back end is not championship calibre I don't believe that Columbus has enough to really threaten Pittsburgh even with Malkin out. Pittsburgh in six.

 Rangers v Flyers

 After Boston I like the Rangers out east. I don't think they can beat Boston but if the Bruins stumble or Chara or Rask gets hurt then I think New York could pull it off. The Rangers were a plus 25, the Flyers barely in the black. The Flyers really stumbled out of the gate so I think they are better than that and I think this series will be close but New York has more top end talent at every position and that will be enough to get them over the top. The clincher is that it sounds like McDonaugh is good to go. Rangers in six, maybe even seven.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Smytty And Those Oilers

 I grew up a Stan Mikita fan. Mikita, for you young pups, was one of the all time greats. Think Pavel Datsuyk but with even more offence, a playmaker and goalscorer who could do it all, kill penalties, win faceoffs, check. When he retired he was the third leading scorer of all time and he did most of that work in the sixties when he was probably the game's best all round player.

 My old man was a Max Bentley man as a boy, Dad was the oldest of six, five boys in there, and a lot of his boyhood was spent doing what the oldtimers did as boys, the Canadian ideal that is fondly recalled now. They had no television, no computers, they lived in the Soo and then a tiny village called Franz, perched on the Canadian Shield in the midst of the wilderness, literally in the bush, and then Wawa and when they weren't in school or doing chores they played hockey, no matter how cold.

They didn't have a lot of money. At a family reunion years ago my uncles talked about the time they got a case of carnation milk and what a big deal it was and my favourite story my Dad tells is about when he was very young, maybe four, and his old man, my grandfather, walked him down the hill in the Soo. They stopped outside a store and there was a bright red wagon in the window and my grandfather asked his oldest son what he thought of it and my Dad said he told his father he liked it a lot and then my grandfather told him it was his and, well I wish I had a picture, when my Dad told me the story a few years back, he was pushing eighty then, and his eyes grew wide with wonder as he laughed and said this is what I looked like and it was beautiful, a boy's wonder suddenly erasing nearly eighty years in his craggy face. And his dad went in and bought the wagon and my old man got into it and he got towed home up the hill.

 Sorry, its almost like I've had a few beers here with the rambling.

 Anyhow Dad and his brothers were all very good hockey players, they each had their team and Dad was the Hawks and Bentley was his man. Dad patterned his game after his idol (or maybe that's just the way he played), he was fast and a skilled playmaker and he could score as well. Years later he and his brother Gerald were scouted by the Red Wings, hilariously Dad said he was disappointed that it was the Wings because he was a Chicago fan.

 After Bentley was moved away the Hawks were terrible for a long while until two kids came along, Mikita and Hull, Hull was the more famous of the two, the flamboyant goal scorer with the huge shot but Dad became a Mikita man and so too did I when I started following hockey as a boy. By that time he was on the downside of his career and we only got one game a week, Saturday nights, so I only probably saw him play a dozen times live. But he was my Dad's favourite and so he was my favourite too. I even have his book 'I Play To Win', the boy is reading it now and I have heard stories in recent years that paint the man as a wonderful guy, down to earth, just a lovely fellow and that makes me feel pretty good too.

 After Mikita retired I remained a Hawks' fan for nearly another twenty years. Larmer was my favourite player during this time period, him and Gretzky, but I took to neither as much as I did to Mikita and I took to neither as much as I did to Ryan Smyth.


 If you have visited this blog for any length of time you will know how Bill Wirtz killed my love of the Hawks, bit by bit, until all of it was gone, hollowed out by that miserable old man and the equally miserable Bob Pulford. It wasn't a conscious choice, it was wholly organic, my change of allegiance. I had always liked the Oilers, had loved the way they played the game in the eighties all go-go skill and speed, that elan that all of the greatest teams have. And so as the nineties marched on and they gathered a team of kids who would work and work and work (though often with little result) I began to pay attention to them again. They had Dougie Weight and Bill Guerin of course but the guy who symbolized those clubs was Ryan Smyth.

 Now Ryan Smyth was a hell of a hockey player. People look at the fourth liner now whose wheels are gone or think of the things that make Smyth an icon and they forget that he could skate and that he could make plays and that he had terrific hockey sense. You don't play in three best on best tournaments for Canada (winning an Olympic gold and a World Cup gold) unless you're an amazing hockey player.

 That's the ironic thing. People forget this fact. Even when he was at the top of his game and he and the Oilers parted ways there were mutterings, the usual bullshit from the enablers of this broken management team, that Smyth wasn't even really a first line winger.

 I used to believe that this type of thinking was an Oilers' fan thing, for a fanbase that had witnessed one of the greatest, if not the greatest team ever assembled, no player could be good enough. How can you live up to Gretzky and Messier and Kurri and company after all? The reality though is that a generation brought up on video games and highlights at eleven seems to think that a good player can (and should) score at will and do so by dancing through a team and then follow that by filling in the other team's best player. Smyth, even in his prime, wasn't that guy. He did a lot of big things well and he did all of the little things superbly.

 What made Smyth an icon though wasn't the fact that he had such great tools, though obviously that helped, it was how he approached the game, how he played it, that is what made him beloved. And it is why I became a huge fan of his and how one day, watching Chicago play Edmonton (it was 98 or 99) I realized that I was cheering for the Oilers and that actually I was no longer a Chicago fan. So its because of Ryan Smyth that I am an Oilers' fan. Its his goddamned fault!


 Smytty could skate and make and take a pass but his shot was a muffin and yet he became a goal scorer. He scored almost all of his goals from within a few feet of the net, banging in rebounds and deflecting shots from the point with his old wooden paddle, his legs, his big beautiful hockey ass, all the while taking abuse that make you wonder how he lasted all of these years. He did the dirty work in front of the net and in the corners and along the boards and he learned how to play at both ends of the rink until he became an excellent two way player and penalty killer. He loved to play, he was an old time rink rat with that amazing mullet and the Nuke LaLoosh responses to interviewers, he was a hockey player through and through and he became beloved, I think, because he did things that anyone could do. I talked about this recently. Your Joe Beerleaguer can't do what Ales Hemsky does and so he cannot identify with him but anyone could do what Ryan Smyth did and so he was an everyman, a guy who its hard to find a comparable for, an elite grinder who drove play and put up points.

 Smyth should have been an Oiler for life and when Lowe botched it and sent him away for magic beans it was really the end of the Little Team That Could, that crew of players who played fast and hard nosed, with that elan of old, if not the skill, the group that competed for the playoffs year after year despite the annual diaspora of the most expensive players on the team. Smith, Niinimaa, Brewer, Staios, Pisani, Mironov, Horcoff, Hemsky, Weight, Guerin, Comrie, Arnott, Stoll, Torres, Moreau, Murray, Marchant, Grier, Cleary, Ulanov, Salo, Joseph, Carter. Some were great players, some were journeymen. Some went on to win Cups elsewhere (they always win them elsewhere) and others faded away and many of them went on that long run in the spring of 2006, the last time the Oilers meant anything. 2006 to me will always be Roloson battling, the madman, and Pisani scoring so many enormous goals and Hemsky finishing off the greatest team of our generation and Smyth, teeth smashed. setting up Horcoff in the third overtime to cue the comeback against the Sharks.

 Afterwards Ron Wilson sneered when asked about Smyth, saying it was no big deal, and the reality is it wasn't because that was not ultimate Ryan Smyth but the usual Ryan Smyth.

 And now he is gone, just weeks after Ales Hemsky and months after Horcoff. Ladi Smid is gone too and so the Oilers finish the year out of the playoffs, as is standard now. Four more NHL players out the door and nothing to show for them but Philip Larsen, magic beans and cap space, business as usual for the Edmonton Oilers.

With Smyth and Hemsky gone all that remains are a bunch of losers and while that sounds harsh its the honest truth. Nobody on the team has won a damn thing in Oiler colours, hell none of them have played a game that matters and that goes for most of the roster period with the exception of Andrew Ference, who like all of these guys is probably wondering what the hell he has gotten himself into.

 Yakupov's season was a mess and the fanbase wants to run Jeff Petry out of town and Sam Gagner is probably a goner too, following Smid out of town, remember when they were the future? I remember rumours of rifts in the room years ago, I don't pay much attention to rumours or claims of fans (or media) who know what is going on in the room or how a guy is in the room. Ales Hemsky was a 'problem' and yet two years ago his teammates stood up one after and another unsolicited and said that he should be extended and I have seen an email from a teammate of his lauding him for staying after practices and working with him on the finer points of his craft. That never got into the papers though, funny that.

 That said I always did wonder what guys like Moreau and Staios thought when guys like Gagner and Nilsson and others waltzed in and got their dough right away when they had played for relative peanuts for a decade before they got their money, doing the dirty work while the golden boys floated. Its years later and Sam Gagner still can't check his hat and while I'm sure he's a fine young man (I guess, who knows?) that speaks to something. Maybe he's dumb though I doubt it. Maybe he doesn't care? I don't know.

 But when you got used to watching Smyth and Moreau and Gator and Niinimaa and Grier then watching this group of Oilers cashing their huge cheques all the while playing matador dummy defence is certainly hard to take at times.

 Another year down the toilet and the team has taken a step back and next year looks like more kids on D which never works. The team is too thin up front to send anyone anywhere for that stud Dman they need and the free agent market is poor as well so it may be the tact they take and while the goaltending is fixed or so it seems the forward depth has gone from a strength to another point of concern especially where Gagner and Yakupov are concerned. So when Gord Miller said that it might get worse next year he could be right.

 Ryan Smyth should have gone wire to wire as an Oiler. He did not and that's a shame. He was a winner though and he squeezed every ounce he could out of the talent that he had and he loved the Oilers and Edmonton, actually arranging a trade back to the Oilers.

 Just for that he's one in a million.

 Best wishes you mulleted toothless fat ass rink rat. Thanks for the memories. Wish we had won it in 2006, watching you raise the Cup would have been the thrill of a lifetime for this hockey fan.

Monday, April 07, 2014

An Inconvenient Truth

 Its my favourite time of the year when it comes to sports, the NHL is wrapping up its regular season and the playoffs are about to start. This year I will have the added bonus of the World Cup in June so its going to be a lot of fun over the next couple of months despite the Oilers not making the playoffs again and Canada nowhere near the big tournament in Brazil.

 What I can do without during the Stanley Cup tournament are the awful narratives that pop up. Its the worst.

 Now I'm a guy who loves a good story. I enjoy telling stories and I appreciate a good tale well told, its one of the few things that irritates me about my kids. They're bright and funny and they're the worst at telling stories. Its painful. Its just their age, I know they will get better at it. If they don't then I will have to disown them. NOT IN MY HOUSE!

 While I love a good story however I also want it to be accurate. Sure maybe you put in a little flourish here and there, a little exaggeration to spice things up, but the meat of it has to be true. If its not then its just bullshit.

 Sports lends itself to story telling of course. Hey if you have been around this blog for a while you know that I often talk about my beer league club or about the boy's adventures on the ice. The last post I wrote was about this very thing. There is a beginning and an ending and there are twists and turns to the plot and colourful characters and it basically writes itself.

 The problem with sports story telling though is, well its like this. There's a lot of bullshit mixed in with the natural story of who won and who lost and how they got there. I'm not old enough to know when it began but I know that at least it goes back to 1972. I know this because, like you, I was brought up on the mythology of that Series with the Soviets. A few years ago I looked at the Series in depth, watched every game, every shift, recorded what went on and discovered that actually the accepted truth was not supported by the facts. It was not a case of plucky Canadian heart and try winning the day but rather Canada being a far superior team that should have probably won six or seven of the games. They outplayed their opponents right from the beginning, even in game one where their conditioning was supposedly a huge factor. The Soviets were this year's Leafs forty years before their time. Badly outshot, badly outplayed, relying on excellent goaltending and a quick strike offence, mostly on the powerplay. If the two teams played a hundred times Canada probably wins seventy five or eighty of the games, if not more, especially if they run with Tony Esposito in net.

 But narrative, right? Especially when there was a patriotic drum to beat and an opportunity to demonstrate our superior 'character'.


 I don't recall the seventies or eighties when it comes to hockey story telling other than there were three very good hockey clubs that won thirteen of fifteen Stanley Cups. The seventies Habs, the Islanders, the Oilers. There was no need to tell a story because the story was a simple one. Three teams too good for the league they were playing in.

 At some point though things turned. It was due to parity in the league. It was due to the World Juniors giving us an annual us vs them event. It was due to Don Cherry.

 At some point hockey became about character.

 This narrative has been pushed by the networks and their commentators who were nearly all fourth liners or backup goalies. Star players in hockey don't need the money, generally, so they gravitate to the golf course or to jobs with their clubs as ambassadors. Some go into management, usually starting with an assistant to the GM's title, often in a situation where the club likes having them around to remind fans of better times.

 But the plugs? Well they stay in the game by starting as scouts or maybe assistant coaches deep in the minors or, because they are generally 'great guys' (they have to be great guys because if you're a borderline guy you can't afford to not be great on the room), they end up in media.

 And for plugs, guys like PJ Stock and Louie Debrusk and Don Cherry, well for them they are now going to push character and the grinder and the plugger because THAT IS WHAT THEY WERE.

 And so you get tales like we did a few years back where Shawn Thornton got an avalanche of credit for the Bruins Cup win. Shawn Thornton.

 Now part of this too is that the plugger appeals to a lot of fans. Never in a million years could your beer league couch potato do what Kadri or Ales Hemsky do, not a chance. But he could back check hard and work his ass off in the corners and go to the net and stick up for his teammates. Anyone can do that of course because its monkey work. I can do that! So for Joe Fan, well he can identify with Colton Orr a lot easier than he can with Nazem Kadri. Its human nature really and so you have a willing audience in a lot of respects.

 The problem is that in the media we have guys, some ex jocks, some not, who are either not very smart or they are lazy or, to be fair, they believe in this story line because its how they were taught to understand the game. Generally these are the guys who respond to criticism with 'you never played the game' or my favourite ' you don't understand the game, just watch the game and you would see'.

 (I always find this amusing because guys like Tyler Dellow and Vic Ferrari are amongst the most astute observers of the game that I know. They watch the games and they watch them over and over again and notice the little things that make a difference. Anyhow, I digress.)

 Anyhow these writers and broadcasters look for stories to tell and generally the simpler the better. And so you get Jason Strudwick proclaiming last night that the Oilers were winning against the Ducks because they had three fights and were emotionally engaged.

 This is a common story and I have never understood it. Two guys fight. One team gets momentum from it and proceeds to win. But why them? Why doesn't the other team get momentum? Their guy fought too after all. Sometimes the team gets momentum because their guy won. Sometimes they get it because he hung in there against a bigger guy. Sometimes they get it because their guy got pummeled. Seriously. Remember a few years back, I think it was Prust was a Ranger and got destroyed by a Senator in a fight and the Rangers to a man said that was a game changer. Is it true because they believed it? I don't know, I never played the game. But sign me up and we'll solve three problems. I will then have played so I can talk about hockey (this entire blog and every discussion I ever had about the sport is meaningless due to not having played, right?), I will make a shitload of money (league minimum is ok!) so I can pay off my mortgage and buy you a dozen beer and also whichever team I play for will go 98 and oh, all the way to the Cup baby, because I will guarantee you momentum every night by absolutely getting killed by the other team's biggest goon.

 Now don't get me wrong, I like Strudwick, I do but by my eye, when I was watching the game, my impression was that the Oilers won because Hiller was terrible and Fasth was very good.

 And I guess the question I also had was what if the Ducks had come back? Would it have been because the Oilers became less emotionally engaged. Are they like I was in my early twenties, all hot and heavy for some girl I saw at a party, having a great couple of months of lusty boning until I became bored and more and more emotionally detached until it all crashed in ruins? Wait a second, the Oilers are mostly in their early twenties!! Maybe I should have had a buddy hanging out with me on dates to start fights so I would have stayed emotionally engaged! Maybe I would have been more successful at love!!

 But really, what if the Ducks came back and tied it. And then gone ahead. Does Hendricks fight someone else and the Oilers bounce back? Is it really a question of a character win? If Perry scores another goal or two, if Getzlaf doesn't hit the post is it because the Oilers are bad people? Or is it because the Ducks are a far better team?


 But that's how it works. Three weeks ago or thereabouts the Leafs were home and cooled, third in the conference, the local media crowing about how the naysayers were wrong and now they are dead in the water, out of the playoffs, and suddenly its a character question. The team doesn't have it.

 Its an easy answer and a ridiculous one of course. So three weeks ago they had character and now suddenly its gone! Where did it go? Did it melt with the snow? They had enough character last year to make the playoffs and push the Bruins to seven (although that character disappeared with eleven minutes to go in that game, damn!) and strangely enough people forget that Joffrey Lupul had a great chance to end it in overtime. He missed, just as Datsyuk missed a glorious chance in the slot in G7 against Chicago, Stallberg getting his stick enough of his shot from the slot was a weak one. Bergeron scored and that was that. But if Lupul scores then suddenly the team oozes character, is that how it works?

 Of course the Leafs did the right thing and dumped Grabovski and MacArthur over the summer because they were the problem or part of it I guess and they brought in the wonder twins from Mimico to solve the character issue. And it seemed to have worked ... until just recently.

 Or maybe. Maybe there is something to Randy Carlyle's system that does not lend itself to success unless you have two Hall of Fame defencemen and Beauchemin in the 3 slot as well as four lines of very good forwards and excellent goaltending. Maybe the reliance on a hot power play and out of this world goaltending while allowing the other team to outshoot you massively game after game because you never have the puck (partially because you dumped two skill guys and won't play other skill guys) is not a recipe for winning, especially when your goaltending no longer performs at Hasek like levels and your few remaining skill players go cold or don't score enough because the rest of your lineup is no longer good enough to chip in offensively.

 But its easier to say that the team has no character than to try and figure out what is going on. Its one sentence versus paragraphs of investigation and explanation.


 I've been going on and on here and I am just going to finish up with this. Despite what Don Cherry says all hockey players are not good guys. Some are. Some are not. They are like any collection of guys you will find except they are elite athletes who play hockey very well. Because of this the majority probably have a bit of a sense of entitlement, which I would expect. And a few are pretty sociopathic when it comes to pursuing their goals. You'd have to be. There are billions of people on this planet. 690 of them play in the NHL.

 All that said they have all worked their asses off to get where they are. All of them. The endless drills, the tedious hours in the gym, the rehab when necessary. Its like toughness. The softest hockey player in the league is a hundred times tougher than your regular citizen. They play through pain that would leave you or I bedridden and their job involves fighting for space with enormous armed angry men, all on ice. Think about that. Oiler fans used to go on about Tom Gilbert being soft, a guy who blocked more shots than most defencemen in the league in his time in Edmonton, all the while getting pounded into the boards, sticked, elbowed, often while playing injured. Yeah, he's soft. Don't pull a muscle cracking open that Coors Light fatty.

 Are there players who are tougher than others? Sure. Jason Smith and Ethan Moreau and Matt Hendricks are three that come to mind right away but this idea that players lack character or toughness is a hilarious one.

 The falsest of all accusations stinks the most however and that is what people like Cherry and Mark Spector and others put forward about European players. Now think about this for a minute. These are people who whine about players who won't talk to them or about donuts getting yanked from press boxes or about games being boring and they claim that European players lack character. (My favourite remains Spector assassinating Ales Hemsky's character last spring, following that up with a column where he whined that Hemsky wouldn't talk to him. Better yet a few days after that it was revealed that Hemsky had played for a month with a broken foot as he tried to help his team get into the playoffs. I mean what a piece of garbage this Spector guy is.)

 So now who lacks character? The guy who confesses to a conflict of interest essentially (this guy doesn't talk to me so he is a bad person) and also does not investigate whether or not the player in question was hurt (nice journalism!) or the guy who came to a strange country as a teenager, unable to speak the language, in order to pursue his dream. Pictured above is Michal Rozsival. At the age of 17 (!) he moved to Swift Current to play junior hockey.

 Seventeen. Mark Spector wouldn't want him on his team though. (More on that later.)

 What do you think?

 Its plain xenophobia is what it is of course. When Kovalchuk played the 2012 finals with a wrecked back CBC roasted him every chance they got. He didn't care about the Cup!!! Never mind that he had been lights out the first three rounds, suddenly he didn't care. And then with a minute left in the last game Hughson ripped him one last time and Healy piped up 'well he's been playing badly hurt' like this was a revelation and what does Hughson do? He sniffs that he shouldn't be playing then.

 A double standard. Marian Hossa plays through an injury so severe that he cannot feel one foot and Tony Amonte, who couldn't hold Hossa's jock if you taped it to his hand, talks about Hossa not being tough enough. Europeans don't CARE ABOUT THE CUP, don't you know.

 Why we're even having this conversation these days I don't even know. To me if you have common sense you know the whole myth is garbage. Look at the history of the game over the last twenty years. Pick any year. 1998 - three of the top five scorers were Europeans. In 2009 four of the top five were Europeans. Europeans have lead their teams to Cups and won the Conn Smythe trophy. Last season Spector (there he is again!) said that you could not win with Europeans or skill guys in your support roles.

 Chicago's bottom six forwards in the playoffs - Saad, Shaw, Stallberg, Kruger, Bolland, Frolik.

Chicago's bottom four defencemen - Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Rozsival, Leddy

 Good thing nobody told them!!!!


 Anyhow if you managed to stick around this long, thank you, a bit long winded I know. My final thought is this. The hilarious thing about the this whole narrative idea is that you get the people generally going on about character and pride, guys like Simmons and Spector, are the guys who go on and on about 'WATCHING THE GAME' the most. Bring up Corsi and JUST WATCH THE GAME they say.

 I'm not a huge stats guy, mostly because I have slight ADD (look, a bird!) but like most thinking people I think they help tell part of the story and when properly applied they add important information. That said I find it hilarious that the biggest proponents of 'just watching the game' are also the biggest proponents of things that you cannot see, character and clutchiness and whatnot.

 I believe in Corsi and Fenwick taken in context. I also recognize that Joffrey Lupul is usually going to bail out rather than get smoked to make a play while someone like Hossa is not, mostly because the guy who hits Hossa is probably just going to fall over, but also because Hossa is tougher than Lupul (who is a million times tougher than you or I) and a lot better hockey player.

 Just don't try and tell me that a team's fortunes can be explained through character or lack thereof because these arguments are only so much voodoo. You find 'advanced' stats hard (hint, its shot attempts basically, they are not that advanced), tell me how a team has loads of character and try one month and then weeks later they do not. Tell me how a team has heart and knows how to win one round and then do not one round later?

 You want to talk about hocus pocus bullshit.

 You want to talk to me about intangibles and character?

 Just watch the fucking game and spare me the fairy tales.