Saturday, July 04, 2015

Glory Days

 It was a few years ago that my friend Frank suggested that we try and set up a reunion of sorts with the old gang we got around with back in the day. If you've been here a while you will know those days, I have talked about them many times, our summers when we were in university and gathered together again back home in Sudbury, Thursday night and the weekends spent making the best of our youth. I look at pictures from back then and there are endless folks coming and going, a Saturday was spent usually in Frank and Tina (his sister)'s backyard, there was a group of us who were always there and then through the day and night a constant coming and going and in the evening we would head downtown to one of the union halls where we would drink platters of cheap draft and play shuffleboard and pool and then finally to the big bar in town around 11 so we wouldn't have to wait in line.

If you have ever seen Dazed and Confused (and if you haven't get the hell out now and go see it) there is a scene where Wooderson, Pink and Mitch Kramer walk into the emporium in slo mo and to this day that reminds me of how we would stride into City Lights, although there would be twenty of us or so. We didn't know everybody, the bar held a couple thousand people I think and so you'd have your folks from the Valley and Lively and Chemmy and all the small towns in between as well as any out of towners, it was the only place in town on Saturday nights really, but you would walk in and there would be nods and handshakes and smiles of recognition and we weren't the shit in town, if you know what I mean, but we were known and it was good. We'd drink and some of us would dance and we'd laugh and fuck around and life was great.

 So a few years back we tried to set things up and it all fell apart and so at Christmas Frank and I went out for a few pints after work and we started talking about it and I said why don't we try it again, leave it to me and within a couple of weeks after Christmas we had a date and we had invited eleven of the old gang. Two were sure nos right away but everyone else said yes and in the end only one guy bailed and so we had eight come out, four for the full weekend and another four for the Saturday.

 You know how you always hear people say that when they see old friends they just fall into conversation right away, never skipping a beat? Well this is how it was right from the get go. We all have different relationships now, the six guys still back home see each other, a few of them see each other frequently for that matter but there are a couple of them I had not seen in twenty years. And yet we sat down and started in on the beers and it was like not a day had past. The teasing and laughing and wisecracks and we were killing ourselves with laughter right away, we always had a lot of laughs, and we have all been relatively lucky with our lives so far and so as we continued on, going for a tool around on our host's boat and finishing off a nine pound porketta and sitting by a campfire into the night, well, you know I am a sentimental old fool but the best thing about it was that it wasn't a nostalgia trip, it was just a goddamned good time.

 Oh yeah there were references to old stories here and there but most of the time we were talking about the now and the to come and about new stories and at one point I sat back in the sun, tipped back my beer, looked back at my old pals, all in conversation, shouting and laughing, and I just grinned and thought 'fuck this is great'.

We will never go back, we can't go back now. Christ just to look at us, although for the most part we have aged pretty damn well. A couple guys are heavier and a couple of guys are thinner up top but that would have been the case anyhow it was Sudbury in the late 80s you want to talk about a collection of beautiful mullets but otherwise we're still a bunch of pretty handsome dudes ;). At one point we set anchor by a cliff and a few of the guys headed out to jump. Back in the day I would have been out there for sure but when asked I said, 'naw man, too hammered' and one of the guys said 'if you know that then you're not' and I said 'yeah, can't swim well, have had ten beers and I'm clumsy, I'm not HAMMERED but this would not end well' and so yeah I'm an old man now lol. (This was also emphasized by the fact that I was out of commission until Wednesday recovering pretty well. I started drinking at 2 one day and at 9:30 in the morning the second, so while I apparently I can still do that, (with no hangover, gord bless the day drinking marathon) my body is more likely to cry uncle. Of course on Canada Day we ended up going mental again but that is for another day, that story.

 And so we talked about doing it again next year and part of me thinks naw man let's wait another year or so, we're all busy as it is and if it becomes too common then guys will just start saying I'll go next year. And then part of me thinks that this was a weekend that I will never forget, because I won't, and what other things about life are better than enjoying it with your friends, very few things that's what.


 It's a running joke amongst those who are not fans of the Leafs that almost any Saturday night there is a ceremony honouring some third liner from the 1964 Cup team who just made the Hall of Fame or the surviving members of the famous 1955 'Win One For Bucky Gooberson' gang or one of the ancient ushers who along with King Clancy used to pick through Harold Ballard's shit, looking for corn and other signs of the franchise's ultimate destination. As an Oilers' fan though over the past few years the smirking and snickering has begun to fade as the bumblers in charge of our once proud club tended to celebrate the glorious past, all the while hoping that this would perhaps shift our gaze from the rubble of the sad present. The Oilers, like the Leafs, have crumbled from once proud empire to a tiny rump state and a laughing stock to boot.

 We cheered at the promise of McDavid and at the arrival of Chiarelli and the opening of the stables to the river's cleansing although to me that didn't go far enough. And then we waited to see what was next.

 And so what of PC's first couple of weeks then? Here's what I think.

 The big thing that destroyed the Oilers and turned what should have been a short rebuild into Moses in the desert (note how the Falmes have perhaps the best D in the league now and have added the immensely valuable Frolik to their lineup, just last June we were snickering at them and telling them to enjoy their bottoming out) was Lowe and then Tambo's modus operandi which consisted of shipping out quality NHL players for nothing. The list is a long one and I have talked about this before and so we won't go over it again. 'Get good players and keep them' is not a particularly brilliant idea but when I first said this a number of years ago in this corner of the internet it was just as true then as it is now. Look at good teams and that, more than anything, is what they do. They accumulate talent and when they can they keep it or they get other talent for it. For a number of years the Oilers turned a house into a paperclip. You do that and you will lose.

 MacT came in and gord love him he tried to reverse this trend, he really did. He brought in some useful NHL players and in some cases did so for no more than cash or magic beans but in the end it seems that for every step forward he took a step back and so this season, for example, we saw Perron and Petry, two honest to goodness quality NHLers, shipped out for nothing. Again.

 PC is here to stop the bleeding and his June and July have been pretty damn quality by me. By my count he has brought in seven NHL players at the cost of two and every move but one was an upgrade with a second being a beans for probable player move imo. Shall we?

1/ McDavid - well this one is an obvious no brainer. The kid is unreal and even old cynics like Dennis King have boners over him. As opposed to boners over other things I mean. (Dennis is not that old, I mean he's not dead yet). Him and Ted are going to be killer. No more issues at centre.

2/ Sekera - the cream of the UFA D crop and all he cost was money and I had no issue with the term or money. I think he plays with Fayne, who was a legit top D in Jersey when he had a partner who could move the puck and so I think we're actually getting two top four D for the price of one on this. He's a great fit for the team.

3/ Gordon for Korpikoski - Love Boyd Gordon. Love him. Talk about a guy who got the shit end of the stick game after game. Yet he never complained and he did his job well. Wish he was going to a contender though I bet he gets that chance in the spring. Korpikoski is a slight downgrade but he is fast as hell and he is a good bet to rebound. You know what else I like about this move? Gordon was gone by next summer anyhow, either at the deadline or as a UFA and PC turned him into another player with another year on his deal. So instead of nothing or a fourth round pick or something like that he got a guy who can play in the NHL. Imagine that. Smart.

4/ Mark Letestu - a solid bottom six player who can do everything and can slide up in the lineup if need be as well. Good UFA pickup, solid bet.

5/ Cam Talbot - good bet and the price was reasonable. I'm a big believer in the spending not a lot on goalies. The golden age of goalies - Roy, Hasek, Belfour, Richter, Belfour and so on - is over. The last great goalie to win a Cup was Tim Thomas. Other than that it is a list of journeymen, good but not great and guys who got hot for six weeks (See Cam Ward - spits) - Khabibulin, Ward, Giguere, Osgood, Fleury, Niemi and yes I would include Quick and Crawford in that list. The last two are good and the Cup wins count for a lot but there are about a half dozen goalies who I would pay big money or assets for and they aren't on that list. The reality is most goalies are good now and if the team in front of them is quality well that is what matters. Talbot may be Scrivens though I suspect he will be better (I also bet Scrivens rebounds, I certainly hope so, he seems like a bright, fine fellow) and in any case good on PC on upgrading the position and doing so on the cheap.

6/ Gryba for Marincin - not a big fan of this mostly because I like Marincin and Gryba is another bottom pair guy on a team flush with them. Never mind the numbers which like Marincin quite a bit, the kid is still young and developing and while he may have taken a step back last year I don't get why his sideburns suddenly became an issue. Giving up young Dmen (even if his ceiling is bottom pair which I think is a low bar for him) for a guy a year away from UFA doesn't make a lot of sense to me. As usual the response was 'small move, who cares' but Chara was a nobody when he went to Ottawa as well and Duncan Keith was a second rounder in the AHL before he became Duncan Keith. Not saying Marincin is Chara or Keith at all but would have liked the club to stick with him.

7/ Reinhart - I was mostly incommunicado when this went down so I didn't catch the backlash which I understand was pretty harsh. First of all let me say that I don't give a shit that he was a fourth overall pick or a World Juniors' guy or that he is famous. None of that matters. It doesn't. Give your head a shake. What matters is can he play now. And the answer is we don't know. The price? Probably too high. I would hope that perhaps a better option was available, someone who could step in now, or perhaps that option would have become available, remember Leddy and Boychuk? That said ... I believe he is going to be an NHL player. He is still a kid and he has been a pro for a year and the blueline is a hard gig to figure out, perhaps the hardest. I would have hoped for a true NHL top four guy for the price but I also think that he is probably going to be a second pair guy in the league based on what I have read. This one is really one I will reserve judgement on.

So overall pretty good. McDavid is cheap for three years. This is the key. PC has made moves to make the team better now. The forward corps is quality. The new coach is a quality NHL coach. The goalie is an upgrade just by, well, the fact that he couldn't be worse. The kids who are coming will FINALLY have to earn their spots on the team, it is likely that Nurse and Draisatl and Slepyshev (I think he can play) will start the year in Cali. The big question, same as it has been forever, is the blue. They need another veteran Dman, preferably RH, to step into the top four to play with Oscar (and of course they need Klefbom to not regress); the Petry fuckup could really haunt them.

 Look at the market. It's obvious teams have smartened up. There have been no ridiculous contracts, which I have never seen before. There are still some quality players out there and there are still teams in cap hell and so my guess, a pretty good one I think, is quality players can be had for cheap. Not sure why they didn't buy out Nikitin but if PC can dump him or Ference or Schultz and use that money on a quality Dman then we're cooking.

 And then we can start talking about the present and the future instead of the past.