Friday, April 10, 2015

Try Try Again

Hi there.

Remember me?

How are you, how have you been? Good, good.

It's been a good spring for the McLean clan. Indulge me and sit for a while while I brag on my kids.

The boy's string of four (!) straight hockey championships ended this spring with a whimper. His team roared out of the gate in the fall, ROARED OUT, winning six straight to start, thumping everyone in sight and then, as happens in houseleague usually, the other teams began to get better. And so they squeaked one out and tied another and then they got pounded. And then they got pounded again.

 Now the boy has never faced adversity as a goaltender before. He did great last year in the dozen games he played but he jumped up a division this year and suddenly the kids were bigger and they could shoot harder and pick corners and put it upstairs and so he got filled a few times and he took it hard. His league is great in many ways but there is little practice time and like most leagues at that level the coaches are dads and they don't know a lot about goaltending. (Back when I coached the extent of our instruction was 'Head up, stick down, don't get beat', we were fucking quality).

 So we went online and looked at instructional videos and a few times a week we went to the basement and worked on what we could work on, mostly the most basic of basics. And he worked, man, did he ever. He'd get a good sweat going and every evening he would be after me to get downstairs to shoot on him. And of course, as you would expect, his hard work paid off. He couldn't beat the fact that he is a little guy or that he is a try hard more than an exceptional athlete (this runs in the family) but he did cut down on the soft goals completely and he made himself as big as he could and he cut down his angles and so you could see that he improved. His team bounced back and did enough to finish first in the league and so they went into the playoffs feeling good even though the reality of it all is that while all the teams got better they had actually gotten ... worse.

 And so it was in the first game of the round robin to determine who would go to the big game they barely eked out a win over the last place team and it was the boy, standing on his head in the last two minutes, who got the two points for them. That was the high point right there. They managed a tie, a close loss and they got cleaned out twice. They ended up playing for fifth out of six teams and that game ended in a loss as well. The boy though, well he played well throughout, the last game may have been his best of the year, and so we were proud of him and he was proud of himself. Hard work eh? Who knew!


 My oldest daughter is eleven. She's a funny kid. When she was younger she was always pretty quiet at school and maybe a bit immature compared to her peers and we worried about her and how she would fit in as she got older. Nothing wrong with being quiet or not fitting in socially, don't get me wrong, you just want your kids to be happy and growing up can be tough (I've seen all the JOHN HUGHES FILMS SO I KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT!!!).

 And so this year in grade six something happened that, well, took us by surprise. I had a pal back in the day, he was the guy who made our social lives hum. Every weekend he set the agenda and so from Thursday to Sunday nights we had shit going on. Bars, parties, playing ball, impromptu road trips and so on. He moved to BC the year after he finished university and the next time I went home to Sudbury (I was in Toronto fulltime as of the year previous) the town was dead. It was all the same people, all the same scene but the guy who was the catalyst was gone and with him it was over.

 Well my daughter is Frank Kuznik. Lunches, sleepovers, sledding, movies ... if something is happening it is likely that she has put it together. I don't even know what to say. And when she stopped doing choir and peer review this past fall we were disappointed at first but she was just changing gears. She started going out for school teams instead. Now she is in grade six and these are grade eight teams and she's pretty small in stature so even though she may be the best athlete in the family she was still in tough and sure enough she didn't make it to either team she tried out for before Christmas. She was really disappointed and discouraged and yet when soccer tryouts came up a few weeks ago there she was, ready to give it another go. Try your best we said that's all you can do.

 And she made it.

 Isn't that great? I think that's just great.


 What can one say about the Oilers? Well, as you can see by the activity here over this past season, not much. There's no way to sugarcoat it, it has been another disaster for the team and one can only talk about how much they suck so many times. I am astounded that LT still pounds out content daily. He is a better man than I.

 There are only two lessons to draw from this past year. First of all is that even the small victories are meaningless until the organization changes once and for all. Sure it's great that Nugent Hopkins took a real step forward and that Yakupov found his confidence and that Lander (and Pitlick for that matter if he could ever stay healthy) is finally a bona fide NHLer and that Klefbom is the real deal. We've seen this all before with Gagner and Cogliano and Nilsson and Gilbert and Penner and Petry and Paajarvi and Brodziak and Dubnyk and so on. Every year brings small victories. They are nice, hell I have always been a big fan of Lander and am very happy for him, but in the end they are meaningless. The players regress (remember how Marincin was a nice story last year) or if they establish themselves as real NHLers they spin their wheels in the mire that is this franchise until they finally escape to greener pastures (all of the pastures are greener).

 Ben Massey made the hilarious point the other day when Ryan O'Marra announced his retirement from the County Cork League or wherever he is plying his trade now that the Oilers have been rebuilding so long that the prospects they acquired nearly a decade ago are now finishing up their careers and yet the team is actually ... worse.

 And it's true. It takes a special kind of incompetence to turn the Oilers into what they are but it's a combination of bad drafting, poor professional scouting, terrible development and awful management at the top to get this team where it is right now. So just minor tweaks are needed!

 And while I am happy for those small victories I remember the small victories from last year and see Perron gone for a pick and Marincin likely on his way out the door and Scrivens' confidence in ruins and you get the picture.

 There are only one way this is going to get better - get a lot of good hockey players on this roster. Scott Bowman couldn't turn this team into a contender so whether Nelson stays or not won't make a difference. Nope, they need good players and they need to keep good players. Draft them and develop them, trade for them, sign them. It doesn't matter how, get your good players and then HERE IS THE FUCKING KEY keep them.

 You know who had been awful for years? Awful. The Jets. For years they were one of those island of misfit toy teams like the Islanders were or the Devils have become or the Coyotes, Canes and Panthers always are. The way the Falmes have been until recently and the Leafs will be next year.

 A team full of guys who you weren't even sure were in the league anymore. Vets hanging on, overpaid UFAs, fringe NHLers and failed prospects with a couple of kids with promise. Anonymous, mediocre, going nowhere.

 (The Oilers don't qualify for this because they are a) too bad b) too famous and c) have too many quality kids still but the possibility remains for this of course).

 And now the Jets are in the playoffs and if Pavelec holds up (a big if no doubt about it) there is a real chance they could go a long way. And they have a lot of skilled kids on the way. And the Oilers are still rotten. And how did the Jets manage this? By acquiring real professional hockey players, one by one, so that when their D Corps was decimated by injuries they survived and when Perreault and Little went down they had brought in three (3!) NHLer forwards and so they got by.

 Anyhow back to point right? There is one way for the Oilers to get better but the problem is this, the management team has not shown in any way that that they can do this. They needed a 2C last summer and they brought in Derek Roy long after the season was down the drain. And the D has been a festering sore forever and the solution was Nikita Nikitin.

So do you think they have the chops? I don't. The proof is right there. So they need to replace these guys and hope that the new guys have the chops.

 And on top of that the new guys have the same holes they had last summer plus now they need to replace Perron and Petry and the goaltending is in ruins. And it's not like they have endless cap space.

 So you could bring in Bill Torrey (circa 1976) and it's a tall order.

 They need a real 2C.

 They need two or maybe even three top four Dmen.

 They need goaltending.

 Can it be done? Well the Islanders brought in Halak, Leddy, Boychuk, Grabovski and Kulemin last summer so of course it can be done, anything can be done.

 But can the Oilers do it?

 The answer would be no, of course. Nine years out of the playoffs. What a disaster.


edc said...

Welcome back, Pat!

Agree about the Oilers. These small victories are meaningless. Klefbom is the new Petry, who was the new Gilbert, who was the new Coffey (remember that Gilbert broke Coffey's rookie goal scoring record?). Nurse will soon be the new Klefbom. Y'know, after Klefbom is run out of town for not showing enough "character" and not throwing enough hits. Or something.


I can't even bring myself to cheer against the Flames. How could you? That team is fantastic. Full of promising, hard-working young players and vets that have exceeded expectations (Hiller, Giordano, Wideman, Hudler). Not sure if their luck will continue, but there's no question that the effort the team gives night-to-night is consistent. Can't say the same about the Oilers. Haven't been able to since 2007.

Anonymous said...

Well said Pat. This team will go nowhere with the same people in charge who put it in the ditch (but you were only saying that 6 years ago).

Brag on your kids all you can. They are awesome. I do it all the time and could care less if someone thinks I'm deluded about them (I'm not, I just like to brag how much better at stuff they are than I was at that age).

Great to see you post some stuff again. Its been a long winter!

Bar_Qu said...

Shoot that last one was me. Didn't me it to be anonymous

Olivier said...

In his first summer, Marc Bergevin extended Max Pacioretty to a deal that made Mad Max fire his agent, I suspect. We gloat today, but he also signed Prust and Moen to 4 year deals and then extended Emelin (our Nikitin) for 4 years after 20 games.

Then he signed Parros, Brière, Douglas fucking Murray.

Then, something clicked. Don't ask me what, I don't know. But it seems that the Vanek acquisition was some kind of a revelation: acquire good players, not bad ones!

Since then, it's pretty much all he's done, while getting rid of dead wood. Petry's the latest one, obviously (a very nice D, by the way, thanks!)

My point is, GMs can get better, they can learn from their mistakes. Don't give up on MacT yet. Maybe, just maybe he turns a corner this summer.

MissingOil said...

Thanks for writing again Pat - you have been missed! And its always great to hear about the kids and Jenn, makes you human :)

Honestly, my relationship with this team has been like a bad marriage, where the spouse is always out cheatin but you by their crap they will change and they love you every time. And as much as I love the Oilers, I just can't watch anymore. Or maybe I will jump in for 10 or 15 minutes to see if they are just wasting my time... the drive to stick with it is gone.

I'm like you in that I had such high hopes for MacT but this year has done me in. I think he's so far behind the times and just unable to judge the talent that he has. Even keeping Eakins as long as he did (should never have made the hire to begin with) just blows me away. And we have wasted TWO YEARS with this garbage.

Anyway, thanks Pat for being one of the bright spots. I think its folks like you and LT that keep me sane in all of this.

Black Dog said...

Thanks MissingOil! Yeah I'm in the same boat as you, I watch snatches of a game here or there but otherwise I have better things to do.

Thank you edc, nice to be back, if only briefly. It's difficult to take, isn't it? When the youngsters brought in almost a decade ago have been shipped out, the 'Hall generation' are the longest serving Oilers now and fans live to turn on their Oilers so they will be next to go if things don't turn around, it's brutal.

Black Dog said...

Bar Qu - it has been a long winter for sure. Warm weather today finally and it was amazing! And yeah I'll brag on my kids, who am I kidding? :)

Olivier - maybe so, the pickups of Fayne and Pouliot last summer were good signs but Nikitin and then moving Perron and Petry make me think MacT may be more JFJ than Bergevin. Tough because I had high hopes for him :(