Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Old Man Down The Road



 Monday night I came home from beer league and sat down and checked my phone and saw that Patrick Kane had just scored and so I told Jenn to go to the PVR and rewind it a couple of minutes and then I went upstairs and woke up the boy and brought him down to watch his team win the Stanley Cup.

 We had a ritual though the final, he stayed up and watched the first period on school nights and as long as he could stay awake for the Saturday games. When the Hawks won I would write the score and goal scorers as well as the series score on a post it and put it on whatever book he happened to have beside his bed. He put each one on his dresser and I actually wrote one up after he went back to bed on Monday as well. I was just upstairs and they are all lined up there still.

 The boy is a pretty serious little dude and so when Kane scored there was no eruption of joy, he sat there, taking it all in, maybe he is already knows as a fan that you always expect the worst but after the Hawks killed the last ditch Tampa PP (the Lightning never even really threatened in that last five minutes) and the United Center erupted in a joyous countdown he sat calmly, smiling now and then during the celebration and replying to Jenn's queries 'are you excited? are you happy?' with a quiet 'yes' and all the emotion of, well, Jonathan Toews usually.

 Me, well I was very pleased. As the Cup was passed around I thought of two men. I thought of Stan Mikita and I thought of my old man.

 Mikita was my favourite player growing up although by the time I tweaked to hockey he was past his prime, an aging superstar on a mediocre team. The best centre of his era, which is saying something, Mikita retired as the third highest scorer of all time but like Toews he did everything well. I'm not big into hero worship, especially when it comes to men and women who play games for a living but I admit that I had a big thrill a couple of years back when my friend Ellen, of Theory of Ice fame, a Chicago native, told me stories about her uncles, the diner they used to frequent and Stan Mikita, who apparently was a better man than he was a hockey player, a genuine, kind, humble man with a sense of humour, a man who would, when this diner got crazy, grab the coffee pot and help out the waitresses, a guy who hung out with the other regulars, eating and shooting the breeze.

 I thought of Stan Mikita because it was on Monday that a story was published about his failing health. Stricken with dementia he is now a shadow man, unaware of who he or his loved ones are. He may live like this for years, otherwise he is hearty and happy but I have a good friend whose mom went away when she was in early fifties and who only passed last year, nearly two decades later. She was long gone, no longer her and I think of my Dad's sister whose husband, my uncle Bill, a former fighter pilot, a good man with a sense of humour and a good heart, is now struggling with this disease and my Dad's brother Raymond, a former pilot as well, who is also no longer himself. As my grandmother once said, in her soft French Canadian accent 'ooever call it the Golden Year, well I would like to ave a word with him, 'e was not too smart that man'.

 And I thought of my Dad who was a terrific hockey player himself growing up in Franz. He was one of six and each of them had their team, for Dad, the oldest, it was Chicago. He was a Max Bentley fan and later on he was a Mikita man, he was a smallish speedy skilled centre and so he liked their games. When the Hawks won the Cup in 1961, led by a young Mikita and Bobby Hull, Dad was just married, not yet thirty and had not started what would be his career for nearly thirty years yet. When they beat the Flyers in 2010 he had been married nearly fifty years, had four grandchildren and had been retired for over fifteen years. That's a long time between Cups.

 Mom and Dad came down two weeks ago to visit for the first time in five years, ever since Mom got sick and was told she would never walk again they have not been down, we're fifteen steps up from the street and our old house is two stories with the bathroom and bedrooms upstairs. Last fall she said they were coming, she was strong enough to make it now and so they came down with my sister. They got to see my oldest's ballet recital and the boy play in goal and we went to the pub for dinner one night and we had a good time, as we always do. They're getting old, Mom and Dad, and it's hard to see sometimes let em tell you. They're still in good shape considering but by the end of three days they were worn down and sore and Mom had to lean on Dad to head out for dinner, luckily just  up the street and a few doors away, they left before us, hobbling up our little street arm in arm.

 Dad turns 83 tomorrow and I will call him and we will talk about the Hawks, he was certainly watching Monday night, he has followed them through the playoffs, Mom too, and I know they was smiling when Toews lifted the Cup. After years in the desert it's been a great run.

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 You can go on and on and try and parse what makes the Hawks so great and of course nowadays they are what passes for a dynasty, yes. The days of teams winning three or four in a row are long gone with the salary cap and thirty teams and so you can call it a dynasty or not but this last seven years has to rank up there with one of the greatest runs in hockey history. Three Cups and a bounce or two away from what certainly would have been a fourth last year as well as a fifth conference final appearance. And now for their reward they get to tear it all down again.

 I read Duhatschek today and I have always liked The Hat, I have, but like a lot of the old timey writers he tends to fall back on the old saws, turning a game into a lesson on courage and character and so he said that that the difference between the Hawks and everyone else is Toews' leadership and like Messier it looks like Toews will probably be able to dine out on that forever. Don't get me wrong, I am sure that whatever the ideal captain is, Toews is it, but I think if you want to talk about what separates the Hawks from everyone else it's a core of generational players surrounded by a team that is four lines deep (the Hawks were running four lines of NHLers when other dummies were still dressing two goons on their third line - hello Leafs, hello Oilers - I wonder what the Hawks brass would think when they saw that, probably they giggled) and led by a great coach.

 Toews, Kane, Hossa, Keith. Four guaranteed Hall of Famers. Sharp, Saad, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Oduya.

 Throw in a good, if not great goaltender, an absolutely outstanding player in Marcus Kruger and then that depth and ... well, you can only shake your head and try and remember that for decades this team was run into the ground by Wirtz and Pulford. The Hawks as the flagship franchise of the league? The closest equivalent woud be the Red Sox and Giants recent successes after years in the desert but there is no real match in sports. It's amazing.

 And now for his greatest trick Stan Bowman has to break up the gang and yet ... and yet ... this cannot be like 2010. He has to keep the window open somewhat if only because while Toews and Kane are still relatively young and Hjalmarsson too and Saad and Teuvo are babies yet and coming on strong and Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa are robots or something the reality is that Keith and Seabrook and Hossa are on the wrong side of thirty, Hossa is closer to forty than thirty which can of course not be believed, other than Saad was there a better Hawks' forward in the Final, and Seabrook will be unrestricted in a year.

 Vermette and Desjardins and Richards will be gone. And Roscival. And biggest of all, probably Oduya. Bigger than Sharp. Bigger than Bickell, scratched for most of the Final. Bigger than anyone. Johnny Oduya.

 The reality is that this is like 2010 because it's really looking like a two year project and in two years Hossa will be 38 and Seabrook may be gone and then you're talking the window closing unless they manage to land another Saad and Tuevo lower in the draft.

 Sharp and Bickell will be gone along with the aforementioned and so you are talking five of your top thirteen forwards and two of your top five D and that's an awful hit to take. Bowman has made mistakes, of course, he is human, but man ohh man it's a tough league now, you can barely make a mistake at all. He will get out from under Bickell but the real albatross is Crawford or rather that contract.

 Don't get me wrong, I like Crawford. He's a good goalie, even though he lets in goals like that Johnson one, he's no Carey Price but nobody is. But he's not worth that money and if Bowman were braver than I suspect he is he would move Crawford and replace him with someone who can do the job for a half or two thirds of the price. A second Cup in three years, there are teams who would take him but of course Bowman and Q probably look at him and say a second Cup in three years. He was great in the Final and who's to say that someone else is as good.

 I guess I do but you know what I mean.

 I think Bowman can go one of two ways here. He can play it safe and try and cobble together depth next year with kids and cheap vets and somehow figure out a way to replace Oduya who will be the key loss back there and then extend Seabrook at some point and go from there.

 The second option is bold and I don't think he takes it but he could go big and move Bickell and Sharp and Crawford and Seabrook now and use that cap space to fill in the holes. The return for Seabrook in particular would be massive and with those picks and prospects and cheap players and cap space Bowman could probably add the top two D that he might need in a year anyhow if Seabrook leaves. Replace Crawford with a cheaper option and then go from there.

 I don't think it happens and I don't blame Bowman if he goes steady as he goes but the window closes fast and there's no place for sentiment.

 They're a team for the ages already though.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

Terrific post as always, Pat. Agreed on Oduya, he's totally underrated but has he ever done the job since Bowman acquired him on the cheap. I saw him good all playoffs, got burned now and again, but his mobility and quick, safe puck movement were first rate. The play that I will remember of Johnny Oduya came with 3 or 4 minutes left in the finale when he got absolutely cranked behind his own net, wobbled back to position but cut out the centring pass and made a safe outlet of his own, even as he was getting pasted a second time. Pure quality.

I like Crawford too, but that is an albatross of a contract. Still, he has delivered the goods, no more so than in the Stanley Cup Finals when he backstopped 3 wins in the Games 4, 5, and 6 with just 2 goals of support each time, against the highest scoring team in the league to boot. Sure his team played strong in front of him, but you don't win 2-1, 2-1, 2-1 and 2-0 as the Hawks did in their four SCF wins without stellar netminding, if not Stellar netminding.

Bowman has some fancy footwork to do if he wants his team to stay at or near the top of the heap, but he's proven more than capable of that in the past and I'm not betting against him now, either.