Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Still Making Good Time

When my daughter turned ten last fall (ten! I can hardly believe it) I told her that to celebrate we would spend a weekend away at a destination of her choice that we could drive to (within reason). She chose Niagara On The Lake and when told to plan the itinerary asked if we could go to the Falls and ride the boat up to them as well as go to the butterfly conservatory and 'Bird Kingdom' which turned out to be one of those old school attractions that you see here and there in rural Florida. A little run down and seedy, a little cheesy. Totally fun.

 We found a weekend which with Jenn working many weekends and all of our activities and obligations isn't that easy - case in point we have two free weekends where we will all be at home from now until after Labour Day - and after our youngest's kindergarten graduation ceremonies last Friday morning we hopped in the van and headed down the QEW. We stopped for a quick lunch and were closing in on St Catherines when suddenly the engine light came on and the van began to shudder. We pulled over, dead in the water. Visions of a ruined weekend appeared in my head and I pushed them down violently. This was going to happen. It had to happen.

 The same thing happened a year ago and it turned out the engine was misfiring due to a fouled sparkplug. We got a tow to the nearest Honda dealer and they said they'd look at it and we tried to figure out what was next. They were amazing (super amazing!) - they got a van from the used car lot and shuttled us to the cottage we rented 25 minutes away and told us that in the worse case they would deliver a rental car to us so we could enjoy our weekend. Minutes later our shuttle driver was back to take me to the dealer. It was the same problem as last year and the van was ready to go. (It turns out there is some sort of known issue so we need to get that fixed but for now we were good to go.)

 We were lucky. In a few weeks we head out east for our annual trip and I pictured us breaking down between Quebec City and Edmundston, stuck two hours from a town of any size, trying to convince someone whose second language was English that what we needed to get back on the road immediately. Instead it all worked out and my daughter (and the rest of us) had a tremendous weekend.


 What drives my wife crazy about my family (and me) is we're optimists. We can't help ourselves. Our family crest should be a guy drinking a beer in a boat with an elk and a wolf with whatever the Latin for 'It Will Work Itself Out' embroidered below. When Mom was sick a number of years ago and we were in the hospital discussing options Mom and Dad nodded and smiled and repeated this mantra regardless of whatever the doctor or nurse or therapist said.

 It will work itself out.

 For us, well its a coping mechanism I guess. We aren't dummies. We know that sometimes things don't work themselves out. A year ago yesterday Dave Bolland had just scored and I got an email telling me that my dear cousin had passed after a short valiant battle with a vicious cancer. Just about to go to California to start a fellowship after finishing his surgical residency he had his whole life before him. And then he was gone.

 I had a beer for him last night. A big fantastic beer. I miss him so much.

 Things don't always work out.

 So much depends on luck. That cluster of cells that turns on you. The drunk driver on the road, the sudden violence of cars colliding that always gets me when I hear it. You can make all of the right choices and it helps you if you do so of course but when it gets down to it shit happens and a lot of the time there's not a thing you can do about it.

 It's ironic that Spencer's passing woke me up to this and that because of his death I've become more alive than I ever have been. He always lived his life full out and for that matter I had too, as best as I could, you can't live every day like you're going to drop dead tomorrow, its a nice sentiment but exhausting as a philosophy but with that said I worry very little about things anymore and when the question is do it or don't do it, whether its travel or adventure or anything within reason then my answer is yes, yes, yes, lets do it and so we went to Paris last fall rather than wait and then New York this past spring and in the fall I will be heading off again, though to where is still up in the air, perhaps Budapest, perhaps the west of Ireland, the balls of life, as philosopher Aaron Ekblad says, are being juggled and I don't know where they'll land and I wish my balls were being juggled right now but I digress.

 People don't like thinking about that eh? That luck is always there lurking in the shadows and that you can do everything right to fashion your life so that all will be well and then BAM you're a goner. Its a hell of a thing to get your mind around, it can be terrifying really but its also the way it is. We have friends who have had miscarriages and we had one couple whose baby died when she was being delivered. All was well and the baby was perfect, something just went suddenly wrong and that was it.

 Unbelievable horror.

 But we can't think about it other than as a cautionary tale that we are lucky and that we should enjoy what we have and celebrate it. Because we should, right? Because another truth is that it can always be worse. Car breaks down on side of the road? Its nothing. The absolute and total exhaustion that comes with being a new parent? Its nothing. And on and on and on. You do what you can, the best you can and then you hope that the dice come up for you.


 People don't like talking about luck in hockey either. The preference is to attribute championships to hard work and character, its the story that sells see? The reality is the team that wins is usually the one that is the most talented, healthiest and luckiest. See those guys in the NHL? They all busted their asses to get there, on the rink, in the gym, countless hours pursuing their dream. They are all tougher than you are, sitting on your couch, drinking your Pepsi, eating your Cheetos. Professional hockey is a vicious brutal game, it always has been, and the softest player in the NHL has more guts than you can imagine. So lets put that notion to rest please. Telling me that, for example, Dave Bolland has some sort of intangible quality (he is good in the room - how do you know that?) that makes him a better hockey player than Mikhail Grabovski when watching the game proves the opposite. Dave Bolland was a fourth liner on the Chicago Blackhawks. He lost his job to Michael Handzus. He wasn't worth what he was paid last year. He scored the Cup winner, same as Frank Kaberle, Ruslan Fedotenko, Uwe Krupp, Maxime Talbot. These guys were all decent NHLers, don't get me wrong (and I don't mind Dave Bolland, at least before he pulled up lame, I wouldn't pay him a cent until I saw if he could still skate) but so much of what we read and see and hear is overblown nonsense isn't it? Character and wanting it more and all that. It is more entertaining than to think that plain old luck has a lot more to do with it that's for sure.

 Los Angeles was a deserving Cup winner and they squeaked by Chicago due to luck. If Chicago had beaten them? Luck. You don't win three seven game series, including one on overtime (and multiple OT games to boot) without getting the bounces. Not to take anything away from LA, they're a great team and they own the puck and get a lot of shots on net and the end result is that luck smiles on them more often than not, especially when they added a guy in Gaborik who could turn all of that possession into production but if any of those odd deflections go a little awry then its Chicago in the final and likely winning it all again. And that's fine, that's the way it goes sometimes, it was actually a relief to, for once, not hear how a losing team lacked character or try, good god I hate that.

 Where does all of this meandering take us with regards to the Edmonton Oilers? Well I've been thinking about the Oilers a bit lately, I didn't for a while as the real teams played to win the Cup but now we're at the Oilers' big moment, as it has been for the past eight years, the draft, and with the first big pick from their rebuild, Sam Gagner, soon to follow the prize prospect of the Pronger deal, Ladi Smid, out the door, my thoughts turn to ... despair? My bottle of whiskey? Murder most foul?

 I saw Ekblad play a bit in the WJC but I have no idea about any of these kids, just like you probably don't. I believe in best player available and think the idea of picking a kid who can 'step right into the lineup' is silly. You want to draft the guy who is going to help you win a Stanley Cup. That's the point of it all, right? So pick the guy who you think is going to be have the best career and go from there. I don't know if its Bennett or Ekblad or the German kid or some kid who isn't even ranked in the top five. Nobody does, you're projecting the next ten to twenty years on teenagers and unless you're talking Sidney Crosby who knows? Remember that Jonathan Toews went third overall. Joe Sakic 15th. Anze Kopitar 11th.

 It's a crapshoot.

The problem facing the Oilers and Craig MacTavish is the same problem that they faced last summer. Too many holes. Thanks to Kevin Lowe and Steve Tambellini the Oilers were left bereft of actual NHL players as they reversed the proverbial paper clip into a house idea by trading, well, everyone, for basically nothing.

 The result is that now that they have the prize kids they have few solid veterans to augment them and, on top of that, while Toews and Kane had a whole team of players behind them who were drafted later than the first round the Oilers have fallen down in that regard too.

 You have to really be massively incompetent to be as bad as the Oilers have been and remember they were pretty healthy last year too.


 It looks like MacT has solved the goaltending but while it looked like he had eight top nine forwards last fall (Hall, RNH, Eberle, Perron, Gagner, Yakupov, Gordon, Hemsky) he now has seven and two of those, Gagner and Yakupov, fell off the cliff last season. On the back end, well its the same old story. Last year it seemed they had two top four Dmen in Smid and Petry and the hope was that Ference could step in and Schultz Younger would step up and instead Smid fell off the cliff and got moved, Ference got exposed and Schultz was terrible. Only Martin Marincin was a bright spot.

 So this is the problem. Too many holes. Same as it has been for years.

 And another problem ... the constant devaluing of the players the Oilers have. So you see Ales Hemsky traded for nothing, going to Ottawa and putting up a point a game playing with real players for the first time in years. Playing for a bad hockey team with a lot of bad hockey players means that you probably aren't going to look good and the end result is you have guys who get traded for nothing who then flourish elsewhere. Erik Cole was one of the first examples of this, brought in, immediately put out of position and then ending up taking on tough minutes with Ethan Moreau and Kyle Brodziak while people whined about how he didn't score any goals.

 Anyhow rehashing everything that has happened over the past eight years isn't going to get us anywhere and we'd run out of Internet talking about the failings of this club. They are a joke to everyone outside of Edmonton, deservedly so, and they deserve no benefit of the doubt, I'm sorry. I like MacT, why I don't know. Memories of 2006 and he's articulate and compared to Tambellini anybody is an improvement but really none of these are good reasons. I guess that it's just hope, that's all.

 He has to do a good job this summer, he has to, what's next, another new coach? Bringing in Ramsay was great and Nikitin is an improvement over Fraser (as am I but that's another story right?) although in the case of the latter I sure hope Howson knows something that we do not because buddy has been not so great lately.

 Remember way back when when we talked about luck? That's the problem when you've dug yourself a hole as big as big can be, you've got little room for error. You can bring in Boyd Gordon and Andrew Ference and David Perron but you still have a half dozen holes to fill and so you roll the dice on cheap gambles - Belov, Grebeshkov, Joensuu, LaBarbera - but then none of them work out and on top of that Dubnyk falls apart and Schultz younger and Yakupov regress and Gagner gets hurt and looks like a rookie when he gets back and Nick Schultz falls apart and now the season is over and you've taken a step back, not forward and you have to start wondering how long before Hall asks out.

 So now MacT has added Nikitin and he's a gamble and they're hoping that Schultz the remaining can show that he has a clue and that Marincin doesn't take a step back and that Ference can rebound and that's a lot of ifs and we're just talking about the D here.

 This is the problem.

 Stauffer was throwing names around and apparently Kulemin and Grabovski were mentioned and I'll tell you right now signing that pair would help turn things around. These are the types of guys that MacT has to chase after, slightly undervalued, good players, and here's hoping that Stauffer is in the know here. Spending big money on mediocrity is not going to get it done, it's going to take smart buys and moving picks or middling prospects for salary dumps that's going to get it done. I've seen a lot of Grabovski and Kulemin these past number of years and would take both in a heartbeat. Your mileage may vary but these are the types of players Edmonton needs. Guys who can play at both ends of the rink who move the puck in the right direction regardless of the opposition.

 This team needs men on it for lack of a better description. The 2006 team was loaded with them. MacT has to find some without dumping what good he has up and coming and if he decides to move the good kids then it has to be home runs, none of this Marincin for Boychuk horseshit that Matheson was floating earlier this week (trading a possible top four Dman that young and cost controlled for a guy on the other side of 30 with one year left on his deal would be a firing offence of course). No more suspects or guys with WJC pedigree from a decade ago or any of this 'character player' bullshit. Keep the few good hockey players that you have. Get more.

 And then maybe we won't have to rely so much on all of the 'ifs' working out and all of the dice landing just so. And then when the GM makes mistakes and they all do, even the great ones, then there's a ton of cushion for it.

 The boy and I are going to help Dad open the camp this weekend so we will literally be incommunicado from around Friday at noon until Sunday. Crazy. I hope the weekend turns out well for the Oilers but I worry. It has been a bad eight years. I'm hopeful but that's just my nature.


Anonymous said...

Toews went #3

Jonathan McLeod said...

I'm assuming your van is a Honda Odyssey. While travelling through Maine last month, I had to get my Odyssey towed to Augusta. The problem was due to my negligence, however. The oil was low. No indicator light came on for low oil, though. But the check engine light came on and the engine lost power. Hopefully permanent damage wasn't done. Still waiting to see if Honda will reimbursement me for the rental car, etc. But, in the end, everything worked out OK for us.

Stauffer mentioned Kulemin, Moss, and Fayne as players the Oilers would have interest in. He said they weren't as interested in Grabovski.

Black Dog said...

Fack! Thanks Anon, that's fixed. I knew that, brain cramp.

Jonathan, yeah 2012 Odyssey, apparently there is an issue with the pistons, it leaks oil when they align a certain way and the plugs get fouled. Literally takes a year for it to happen, getting it fixed for good next week. This is our fourth Honda, first time we've had any real issues. Hope your situation works out!

Yeah I saw the list and the Grabbo comment, I hope they change their mind there, he can play!

Anonymous said...

"What drives my wife crazy about my family (and me) is we're optimists. We can't help ourselves. Our family crest should be a guy drinking a beer in a boat with an elk and a wolf with whatever the Latin for 'It Will Work Itself Out' embroidered below."

This is outstanding writing. Also, something I absolutely can indentify with as my wife and I often see things "differently".