Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Once We Had Hope, Now We Have ... E?

 Remember when the first cluster was beginning to crash and burn - Schremp, Pouliot, Peckham, DesLauriers, Plante, O'Marra all unable to make the grade, Lupul, Glencross, Brodziak, Stoll, Nash, Torres and Pitkanen found wanting and shipped out of town, Nilsson a bust, Gagner, Cogliano, Smid and Gilbert all we could hold onto? Lowe and his media toadies wouldn't call it a rebuild but when you ship your two best players out of town for nothing but futures and let Spacek and Peca and Samsonov walk for nothing, well you need to call a spade a spade, right? Of course Lowe tried to have his cake and eat it too so while all of the signs pointed to rebuild he and his successor splashed big money at free agents like Souray and Khabibulin, blew a wad of picks to sign Dustin Penner and sent two young forwards to LA for Lubo Visnovsky. Lowe spent to the cap bless his heart and finished dead last. But remember he was a GM and you are not so you could do no better even though there is literally nothing worse than that accomplishment.

 Then the rebuild began in earnest and while we had been four years in the wilderness our hearts were cheered, somewhat, as the team admitted what we fans had known for years. They weren't going anywhere. And so they tanked. And tank battling was something that the Oilers showed that they were quite good at, actually peerless at. Kursk good. Tambo was Heinz Guderian. As a matter of fact they were too good at it as they shipped nearly every veteran with a pulse out the door in pursuit of those high picks. It was the Chicago model (people forgot Chicago went over 15 years with garbage teams before it paid off), the Pittsburgh model (over a decade) but it also forgot small details like drafting quality after the first round, developing your youth properly, quality pro scouting and so on.

 The plan was draft high picks and BAM Stanley Cup!

 But despite the failure of the first cluster we had HOPE - Hall, Omark, Paajarvi, Eberle. And then we had the Nuge and then we had Yak. And then we signed JUSTIN SCHULTZ, future Norris winner! And we had some kids coming up - Lander, Pitlick, Hamilton - all were solid consensus picks - and there was Dubnyk and there was Petry and Ryan Whitney and how about those sleepers Tobias Rieder, Marty Marincin and Teemu Hartikainen and then the pick of Oscar Klefbom? Sure the Oilers blew a pick on Mitch Moroz and was it true what they said about the footspeed of David Musil and Colton Teubert?

 No mind, we had hope!

 No longer though. Omark was the first to go and then Magnus, after a nice rookie season in which he scored 15 goals and showed he could find his own end of the rink without a map, was discovered to have sideburns that were much too long.

 And we will just try and forget the rest, shall we ...

 The season starts today and the last four or five days have been extremely disappointing. Late last week the Oilers' depth at C and RW was as follows:

C - McDavid, Ted, Draisaitl, Letestu, Lander

RW - Eberle, Versteeg (PTO), Yakupov, Kassian, Caligula (rookie), Pujujarvi (rookie)

Notice how I have the two rookies who are rookies at the bottom of the depth chart. You could make a case that Caligula earned a job. You could not make the same case for the young Finn. And they are rookies.

Then Chia traded Yak for nothing. Fair enough, that was his value. And the good news is that they had Versteeg ready to sign and then the waiver wire spit up not one but two possible solutions, one was a young Finn who the fancy stats love, Teemu Pulkkinen, the other was a veteran, P.A. Parenteau.

 Now here is the thing with the NHL. It's a tough league. You cannot have enough depth. Guys get hurt all the time. So even if you believe in your heart of hearts that the guys that you have on your roster are better than the guys out there, it behooves you to add talent when you can because sure as shit you are going to need bodies to survive the grind.

 Peter Chiarelli hasn't covered himself in glory these past two years. From the Reinhart deal (both guys picked by the Isles with that return are starting with the big club while Reinhart is back in the AHL) to the Korpikoski move (at least he nutted up and bought him out) to the Hall capitulation (the Oilers could have had a better Dman for less return by the way) to this latest mess, well Chia may have won a Cup but either Bob Nicholson has too big a voice in the room or Chia was lucky in Boston or maybe he just doesn't have what it takes to handle the pressure of a Canadian market. My guess is it's a little of everything sprinkled with some 'Conor McDavid is going to drag us to the Promised Land'.

 Because this could have been the depth chart:

C - McDavid, Ted, Draisaitl, Letestu, Lander

RW - Eberle, Versteeg, Parenteau, Kassian, Caligula (rookie), Pujujarvi (rookie)

What made me laugh yesterday is the folks who sneered about Versteeg and Parenteau. Who cares they said? It's Kris Versteeg they said. Well Versteeg was 15-23-38 last year and Parenteau was 20-21-41.

 That's second line production and in Parenteau's case that is first line goal production.

 On last year's club P.A. would have been third in goals (although of course McDavid was hurt) and now Taylor Hall is gone. On last year's club Kris Versteeg would have been 5th in goals scored.

 And now Taylor Hall is gone.

 Now they have added Milan Lucic who popped 20 and Benoit Pouliot will score 20 if he is healthy and Maroon scored at a terrific pace when he came in from California.

 But with the Oilers it is always half measures. You could add 35 goals for nothing. Literally. Send the young Finn down for seasoning and bring him up when he is ready. Let Caligula cut his teeth on the fourth line and move him up when the inevitable injuries come.

 But no ... half measures and a RW and C depth chart which is now a mess and includes two rookies in the top 9.

 So for Chia to say with a straight face that what he has is better than anything out there, well if he believes that then ... I don't even know what to say. But then again he threw out some random data about Kris Russell that is contradicted by every piece of data out there so ... either he is really dishonest or he has been taken to the cleaners by someone who sold him a monorail.

 The Oilers are going to need McDavid to go supernova (possible), perfect health (improbable) and a whole lot of luck to get anywhere near the playoffs this year.

 I'm not getting any younger goddamnit.

 Where we once had HOPE all we have now is hope and I can understand why Oiler fans refuse to believe that Chiarelli is a dud just as we refused to believe that Lowe and Tambo and MacT were duds. Because if he is then it means more wandering the wilderness and Nuge and Pouliot gone next and all of a sudden it isn't the Chicago model but rather the Islanders or Columbus model and then some day Conor McDavid will take his talents elsewhere as well because let's be honest who wants to spend their career playing for the worst franchise in sports? (Taylor Hall wanted to but he was a 'problem' - see how that PR spin works?)

 Anyways HOPE is gone but hope springs eternal and here we go, another season coming. Let's hope that Kris Russell is all that and more because Mark Fayne is next out the door and for all his struggles he is an actual RD and he is a better player than Mr Shotblocker.


 A few other random predictions, I usually try to do a preview of the season and will attempt to do this in the next few days.

 The East has finally caught the West and imo the Cup champion will be Tampa. I think they will win a couple in the next five years unless they have an awful run of luck. Other true Cup contenders, I always try and separate the league as such - the Pens, the Caps, the Blues, the Sharks.

 The Kings may move into that group but man they have lost so much talent over the years. And I like Dallas except for that blueline and that goaltending. Lol. Other than that they look great!

 And what about Chicago? Well I won't go so far as to say no playoffs but that lineup is thin. The bottom six is worse than Edmonton (!!!!!!!) and the D runs four deep which is one deeper than last year but all of those years of slashing for the cap and trading kids and picks for reinforcements - well it's coming home to roost. It was worth it of course for the Chicagos but now they pay the piper.

 I expect Anaheim to step into the elevator shaft as well. Let's just call it the Carlyle Effect.

Out east you have that top tier and then a whole lot of mediocrity although I expect Florida will separate themselves from the pack. But the Isles are going to take a step back, jeez they lost some quality, and the Rangers are withering and Boston, Detroit, Ottawa oh man.

 It's awful and I expect Tampa will run away with the division if they are healthy and ride an easy first two rounds to a win in the conference final and then a Cup win.

 More to come.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Mission Accomplished

I'm dusting off the old virtual pen and paper. I'M OKAY!!

The kids' school runs a very popular cross country program every fall. Kudos to the teacher who runs it, he started it from scratch and now has ~ 150 kids coming out four mornings a week to practice for the meet. Every year he has more participants and more and more of them qualify from the meet for the next round. The boy goes out year after year and every year he improves. I don't know that he will ever qualify, The top thirty move on and he was just over thirty short this year but he improves every year and the attrition of kids with age might mean he gets over the hurdle, maybe in his last attempt in two years. He does well, he is a try hard and he sticks with it and I hope that he gets rewarded but of course it may never come to pass.

Our youngest joined up this year which was a bit of a surprise. When she was younger she would run around with the kids unofficially but once she could actually join the team she demurred. Perhaps she agreed with our friends' daughter (a close friend of hers) who said 'why would I want to do that, all they do is run in circles'.

But she did run in circles for five weeks and lined up for the race on Thursday morning. She is long and lean and has perhaps the most raw athleticism of any of our kids. The older two are good athletes, I call the boy a try hard but he is quick and coordinated and can play almost any sport pretty well. Our oldest is a dancer and sprinter and plays soccer as well, she is lean and has the ropy muscles of a gymnast. But our youngest, when she puts her mind to it, I think is the best of the bunch. Of course the key is that last detail.

So when they blew the air horn and the herd took off I noted our daughter trailing early, jogging along, checking out the clouds and Lake Ontario and perhaps the hawk that we saw later, perched high above us with a squirrel in its' talons. Who knows what she was looking at but she certainly was enjoying the view.

 And so to the finish line where two of her friends, no more athletic than her, came home in the top twenty and so I waited for her appearance and the little girls ran past in their bright coloured jerseys, their parents and classmates and teachers cheering them on and they ran past and ran past and then came little girls walking, in tears from cramps or aches or exhaustion, and then the ones who were lame, limping slowly, and then the blind and the legless and the disembowelled (the hawks again) and yeah you are getting the picture.

 And then she came around the corner at a trot and saw me and waved and smiled for multiple pictures (I was able to get only one pick of the boy as he surged for the line, battling for his placement) and so she finished, 254th out of 263.

 Now don't get me wrong. I am competitive and so is Jenn, We really are. Last year the boy laid some kid out in the slot, totally by accident, and he helped the other kid up and as I watched I felt pride and shame for if that were me I would have likely cross checked the dude as he lay defenceless (I can be a dick on the ice. I am not proud of it and I am getting better but I also recognize it). The boy though, he is a better person. (And don't say that's on Jenn, who comes home from soccer with tales of 'stray' elbows and knees and stomping feet evening scores on the soccer field).

 In any case K is who she is. The thing I learned early on as a parent is that while there are some things you can instill in your kids - manners, respect, good work habits - you aren't going to change their personality. You might smooth out some rough edges here and there but if your kid is a contrarian who marches to their own beat then that is what they are, you may as well live with it. And our little one dances to her own beat and really doesn't give a shit about where she places in a race. After she was done I asked her if she had fun and she said yes and so that was that, good deal. She's eight.

 Although ... when I asked her what she thought of her race she replied that she had met her goal to which I asked 'what was your goal' and she answered 'I didn't want to advance because I am tired of running'.

 Mission accomplished and of course the first thing I thought of was the Oilers.


 Oh those Oilers.

 They are going to be better than they were last year mostly because it's hard to be any worse. And actually if it weren't for the injuries, starting with McDavid and Klefbom, they likely would have seen a jump into the low twenties last season, say 22nd or so in the league. So barring disaster it's likely we see an Oilers' club maybe in the high teens this year. Seriously. I see people on the twitter shitting on this team (and I am happy to call a spade a spade believe me, carry on, you will see), but a healthy Klefbom and the addition of Larsson means two top four d instead of a half of one. Sekera is the goods and so while we are still short one more top four D man (although Fayne's numbers with Sekera and in a less challenging role than last year basically say he is this guy) the D is better. Davidson slots in just fine and while Russell is one of these guys whose reputation far outweighs his value he is at least a real NHL Dman and so if they run these six you are talking six actual NHL D men with no rookies and when is the last time the Oilers could say that. Of course the problem is that it appears that Russell is going to be playing on his wrong side and a slot up and Nurse is going to slot in instead of Fayne and so yes the Oilers can't help themselves really, right? LOL.

 They always have to fuck things up.

 A few quick things before we move on just in case everyone forgets where I stand on certain things.

 - Just because a GM is a GM does not mean he is good at his job. There are good teams and bad teams and the difference between the two is the fact that one team has good management and one has bad management. The Chicago Blackhawks didn't go without a Cup for nearly fifty years because of bad luck. Bad luck played a part at times but good management puts their club in a position to win time and time again and at some point luck evens out. When the Hawks lost to LA in 2014 in game seven they had abysmal luck in the deciding game, pucks caroming all over the place in the Kings' favour. Stan Bowman built a team that was so good that they won three Cups anyway (and in game seven against the Wings in 2013 luck turned in their favour).

Anyhow telling me to trust in Chia because he is an NHL GM and I am not is ridiculous. Lowe, Tambellini and MacT all managed this team into the ditch. And don't give me the old 'he won a Cup' deal. Lowe was a couple of deflections away from being a cup winning GM. And then he destroyed the franchise.

- as soon as a reporter brings up 'character' just before or after a player is traded you can guarantee that they are being fed a line by management in order to cover their asses. Taylor Hall has won at literally every level - U18, WC and Memorial Cup (two time MVP), silver at WJC but his character was an issue. LOL, Sorry to sound like a dick (and any one who has come here over the past 11 years know that I am not) but if you think Hall was a problem then you can get fucking bent, you will believe anything to keep your illusions about Oiler management alive. Reinhart, another winner, gets sent down and suddenly he does not want it enough according to the team mouthpiece. Yakupov, Hemsky, Petry, Gilbert - too soft, too selfish etc etc.

 Management has to cover their mistakes and the first thing they do is run to a reporter to enlist them in the coverup. Trade almost the same package for Griffin Reinhart that netted Calgary Dougie Hamilton? Apparently if Reinhart wanted it more then he would be a top four defenceman who could, you know, skate and produce offence.

- no matter how much you want it to be the case moves don't exist in a vacuum. There are folks who would argue (and have argued) that every single move the Oilers have made over the last decade was a good one. The team is historically bad and has been for ten years. Telling me that management knows what they are doing because they are management doesn't really fly when we have a decade of errors isn't really an argument, it's a surrender.

 So what does it all mean when it comes to Yak?

 Well I loved the kid's enthusiasm and personality and of course he was flawed. What was the line? 'Skating like he was being chased by bees?' Something like that. He didn't have a lot of hockey sense, no doubt about it.

 But if he was a poor pick then that was on the Oilers. And remember that he was the consensus number one pretty well so what does that mean?

 Same as it always means - the process after the draft and the Oilers have sucked at it for years. They do two things that I hate and which have set the team back time and time again. They don't put kids in a position to succeed and they play favourites.

 Because when Yak played with real honest to goodness players he produced. A point per game last year playing with McDavid and Pouliot. Small sample sure but he did it. Was he a passenger for the phenom and the underrated Benoit? Sure but he still produced at a first liner's pace. And 17 goals as a rookie.

 But this is the Oiler way. Magnus Paajarvi had fifteen as a rookie. Marty Marinicin was a top four Dman as a rookie. But they weren't Sam Gagner or Justin Schultz, two of what I like to call the golden boys.

 You see the Oilers have two sets of rules. The golden boys can lose puck battles and make the same mistakes over and over again and they never see the pressbox or the end of the bench because they are the chosen ones. But if you are not one of the chosen few then those mistakes or moments of lollygagging or being European, well they are not forgiven.

 It is reminiscent of the old time baseball manager Montgomery Burns who once suspended one of his best players due to the length of his Ambrose Burnsides. No matter how short the excellent batsman trimmed his goalie sticks it was not enough for his exacting dugout boss.

 But ... but ... Burns was a winner, you sputter, so who cares?

 Well it matters unless you think that Conor McDavid is going to single handedly win the Cup by himself. This is an impossibility although the youngster did feed my family enough with bread and wine when we only had a glass of water and piece of bread the other day, it was amazing really. All kidding aside though young Conor needs a team and in two seasons he is going to get paid which means building that team is going to be harder, not easier and so yeah, basically what I am saying in a roundabout way is Chia needs to get a clue.

 If Yak didn't fit then they needed him to play with Conor for twenty games and then strike while the iron was hot. He was worth nothing because they buried him with the plugs, same as they played Erik Cole with Brodziak and Moreau and Hemsky with Gordon and Hendricks and then said SEE HE DOESN'T PRODUCE HE DOESN'T CARE and then moved him for peanuts because they had turned a house into a paperclip. Again.

 Turning an actual NHL player into nothing is the Oiler way and why they have been one of the worst teams in NHL history in the last ten years. Yak wasn't going to be a 50 goal scorer but not finding a way to turn him into something useful is on management same as turning one of the best LWs in the game into a solid Dman with no offence is ... on management.

 Here is what I think. Bob Nicholson is a bureaucrat, a politician. He toed the line and then when the Oilers own the lottery he saw his moment. He knew the feelings out there about the old boys' club and he knew LaForge was despised and so in one week he cleaned house, making himself a hero with Oiler fans, and he put himself into a position to win a Stanley Cup or two with the golden ticket. He knifed MacT and the lot of them and brought in his man and saw glory for himself in the cards.

 But the problem is Chia has a body of work that is spotty. He fell into two excellent draft picks. Maroon was a stroke of genius. Talbot was a decent move and the Benning and Caligula moves look promising (as do the drafts but who knows how that will go). Lucic, well too much term and money but so it goes with UFAs - he is a legit first line LW.

But the Reinhart trade was a disaster and Bob Green should be fired for it (or whomever was responsible for it). Whoever was responsible for Petry over Schultz (I assume that was MacT) should have been fired as well, But that was MacT you might say. Right, well then why is he still employed? Get rid of him.

 Korpikoski was a disaster. The Monster is one of the worst goalies in the league, why he was signed is beyond me. Nurse was throw to the wolves, the worst thing you can do to a young Dman.

 And the Hall deal? Well I said my piece. I like Larssen but this was a huge overpay. When fans and media around the league are killing themselves laughing at you (or feeling pity) then you're not on the side of the angels.

 And one more thing. This idea that Chia didn't have better options out there or MacT before him didn't have better options? The reporters who shill for the Oilers for 'access' know that the facts are that this team's management have had some fantastic opportunities over the past two years to make this team much better and they failed to do so.

 For no other reason than they are incompetent. I will leave it at that. It is worse than you know.

 That said the Oilers are going to be better. The problem is it is not enough after ten years. But Oiler fans, who once had HOPE, have nothing left but hope. McDavid and a prayer and I don't blame anyone for believing that management  know what they are doing because the alternative is far far worse.