Thursday, November 06, 2014

I Know A Little German, He's Sitting Over There!


 Oh hi! How are you? It's been a while. Sorry about that.

 I wrote my last post and thought 'here we go! Back on the horse! Going to be churning them out now'.

 BUT NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

 Life is busy.

 My kids are growing up.

 My youngest is in grade one and she is becoming a big kid, relatively speaking of course. I enjoy the kids getting older but the one thing that I miss about the younger years (I've touched on this before) are the accomplishments! In the space of days they suddenly can do something big! And so in September, in the space of a few weeks, our youngest learned how to read, how to swim and how to tie her shoes. Isn't that unreal? Just amazing. That disappears as they get older, the milestones I mean. They become fewer and far between and in a lot of cases just not as exciting, at least for us parents. We're not going to be celebrating their first drink or first sexual experience with as much enthusiasm.

 The boy is trucking along. He has started his first season as a full time goaltender and he is on a quality club again. So far so good although I have to admit the drinking helps Jenn and I get through it, even if it means taking the subway home afterwards. He's a solid dude though, for sure. He is taking swimming as well. We require all of the kids to do so until a certain level and then they are allowed to do a second activity in its' place. The lessons are brutal, the coaches work them like dogs, when our oldest finished it she was all Andy Dufresne on us. So the boy started this fall and we figured he'd have two more sessions to finish up but we met with his coach yesterday for midterms and if he masters two techniques, easily within his reach, he'll be a graduate. His coach, a real hardass, was all cherry pies and unicorns talking about the boy. 'Hardest worker' and 'most focused' in the class, despite the fact that for the most part, he despises it, which the coach knows. Very proud of my son. Sometimes shit isn't fun. If you can put that aside and still grind it out, you've got some real character.

 As to my oldest, well she is 11 now and how the hell did that happen? SERIOUSLY!!!

 She went out for Halloween with her friends, that is, without her parents and siblings, for the first time. She was ten minutes late coming home but called to let us know which was great. She is growing up and it's wonderful and amazing and heartbreaking. She disappears into her room to listen to music and the other day she told Jenn 'YOU ARE RUINING MY LIFE' and according to my father in law if Jenn was any indication we only have about, six, no eight, no, wait ... eleven more years before she comes out of it.

 And then he smirked while Jenn glared at him. I wasn't smiling though.

 This is why I drink people!

 As for your handsome hero and the prettiest girl in the room, well we're doing alright. Good health this year and it's been busy and fun and a good time had by all. These few weeks mark the big one for the year though, Jenn turned forty a few weeks back and next week she goes to Vegas with some pals to run her first ever marathon and then if she can walk she will be partying some.

 Now I have to pull over to nap if I am driving over twenty miles so when it comes to runners my opinion is basically they are mentally deficient so I have no idea what she is thinking. (I keed I keed). Seriously though. Crazy shit. She has trained her ass off. She is as fit as she has ever been. The only worry is she has to finish it within a certain time. She could totally just do it but the time limit is a worry. I hope she does it. Oh man.

 My own tastes are less about the running and more about the drinking and so last year Jenn, who has been traveling some for work and some not for work, said you should go on a trip and you don't have to say those words to me twice. After my family and friends and the basics - eating and drinking and the sex - I love nothing more than travel. The only caveats were I could not go to a few places that she wanted to experience with me - Italy, Spain, Prague, Helsinki (seriously!) - and I could not go by myself, this more out of concern that if I hurt myself there be someone there with me than any fear of me getting into, ahem, trouble.

 I have a pal in Ireland and had never been to Galway and so that was a possibility but I have been three times to Ireland and we are now owned by a company based in Dublin so more trips there await me. And then in discussions with one of my oldest friends it turned out that his annual conference this year was going to be in Germany, Frankfurt to be precise.

 The plans took twists and turns. First we figured on Budapest, then I was thinking the south of Germany, then it turned out the conference was going to be in Hamburg and so it became Hamburg and Berlin.

 It was mental.

 You haven't lived until you've done karaoke in a St. Pauli dive called Thai Oasis at 5 in the morning after fourteen hours of groses biers. And never mind Hamburg, which was a riot, I'd been told that Berlin was amazing and we were not disappointed. As my pal noted as we wandered through Kreuzberg 'it's like they took all of my favourite bars in the world and put them in one neighbourhood'.

 It was grand. To travel and share that experience with an old friend, there are few things better. There are few things to recommend about getting older but the one is that as you get along in the journey your give a shit meter ends up in the garbage or at least mine has. I say and do what I want as long as I'm not hurting anyone. I still have a long way to go (knock on wood) but there is certainly no use in waiting around for tomorrow's glory to come. Drink it in. It's short.

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 As for the Oilers. Oh those Oilers.

 The roster is the best it has been since 2006/2007. Veterans sprinkled throughout to augment the kids, this is what MacT has done. Fayne, Nikita Nikita, Purcell, Pouliot, Gordon, Hendricks, Ference, Perron.

 That's a lot of quality.

 And yet. And yet.

 LT, the most positive guy out there, opined in his post today that the idea is still not about winning and it's hard to disagree. As he notes, if this team was serious about competing they wouldn't have left the gate with Arcobello and Draisatl as two of their top four centres.

 Yet they did.

 And so here we are. Staring down the barrel of nine years out of the playoffs.

 But what I want to talk about is the coach and the number one defenceman.

I'm an Eakins guy. Have been since the beginning. Not a popular position today I know. Not popular at all.

 Here's the thing. Eakins is a smart guy. Eakins is a thinker. He is a guy who asks questions. He is not an arrogant guy. These are things I know about Eakins from people who know Eakins.

 That's what I know. Here's what I think.

 I think that there are politics being played and that management has given Eakins some mandates that don't necessarily coincide with winning and that this is being played out first and foremost on the blueline.

 A coach wants to win and a coach can look at the numbers past and present and watch tape from past and present and any coach, anybody really, can see that if you are doling out ice time to the Oilers' blueline that you would start with Petry, Fayne and Marincin, move on to Nikitin and Ference and then go from there.

  And yet the number one defenceman on the Oilers in terms of icetime, same as last year, is one Justin Schultz. Last year he averaged the most icetime on the blueline, nearly two minutes over Petry in total, and over one minute over Ference (!) and Petry at even strength.

 This year he is averaging over 22 minutes a game, over a minute more than Nikitin, over three minutes more a game than Petry, over five minutes a game more than Fayne. You know who else averaged more ice time than Petry and Fayne? Brad Hunt.

 And this again carries over to even strength, though Petry is less than a minute less there.

 Now you tell me this. You watch the games. Schultz not only plays a ton but he is getting a serious push in terms of where he starts. He is getting put into a position to succeed. And yet when he is on the ice the rink ends up getting tilted into Edmonton's end.

 Why?

 Because Justin Schultz is not a very good NHL defenceman.

 Now here's the thing. Schultz had played a total of 134 games in the NHL up until now. So we are not talking about the finished product or at least probably not. He might be Andy Delmore, as many believe, but we don't know that yet. Defencemen can develop in many ways.

Your Bobby Orrs and Ray Bourques and Nick Lidstroms happen. Drew Doughty was a year and a half in the league and playing for Team Canada and playing well at the Vancouver Olympics.

 Chris Pronger struggled famously his first few years in the league. Larry Robinson played for a year and a half in the minors, Duncan Keith played two. Zdeno Chara spent time in the minors too, though less than a season.

 And on and on it goes.

 Will Justin Schultz become a Norris trophy winner? Probably not. We don't know yet what he will be. The worrisome thing is that he doesn't look like Oscar Klefbom or Martin Marincin or Jeff Petry. He doesn't look like he gets it. Those guys had (and have) their ups and downs but they looked like they had an idea from the moment they stepped onto the ice in the NHL.

 When Tom Gilbert came up for his first cup of coffee in the death march of the spring of 2007 before he got injured he looked like he belonged. Right away. The next fall he came into camp without a spot and he out played nearly everyone and stepped right into the top four. Right off the hop. He knew what he was doing right away. Bam!

 Schultz, well he reminds me of Ladi Smid. Love Ladi Smid. Love him. And he became a decent NHL top four defenceman for about two years before he went off the rails. But it took forever for him to get there. And Schultz, well, he may be a guy who just needs seasoning to become a star. Or to become a reasonable top four guy. Or maybe he's Andy Delmore. We don't know yet.

 And yet the coach plays him more than anyone else.

 Why?

 The coach wants to win. This isn't kids' sports. It's the pros. Dallas Eakins wants to win because that is the goal and the more he wins the better it is for him.

 And yet he plays Schultz (and Brad Hunt) more than Petry and Fayne and Marincin and everyone else and Petry and Marincin sit in the press box for various reasons (not enough intensity seems to be the latest for the big Slovak) and by the way when is the last time anyone accused Justin Schultz of showing a modicum of intensity?

 Don't get me wrong. I like Schultz. He has talent. I want him to do well because if he does well then it stands to reason that the Oilers will do well.

 But he should be playing a lot on the power play and after that he should be playing third pairing minutes at ES, sheltered as best as they can, until he masters that. Play Fayne and Petry and Marincin and Nikitin and give the team a chance to win.

 Right?

 But that is not the plan. The Oilers' management are tying their fates to Justin Schultz, he is the hill that they are going to die on and Eakins is the guy that is going to be the first to pay the price.

 I don't agree with everything Eakins has done. I don't know that he will be a good NHL coach. But management has tied his hands behind his back. Just as they did to Ralph Kreuger and Tom Renney and vem old Pat Quinn and ironically Craig MacTavish himself.

 If you don't give your coach the tools to win. Or even worse you give him a decent roster and still instruct him to play guys a certain way, then your sending him to a knife fight with a spork. And that's a damn shame.

 Dallas Eakins isn't blameless for the Oilers' woes but if he had the last say here I would bet a lot of money that playing Schultz more than anybody else is not his idea. And I don't bet. Ever.

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