Sunday, January 29, 2017

Keep On Keepin' On or Why Pat Maroon is Chia's Most Important Acquisition


 Maroon reenacting the Orr shot.

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 My daughter is going to high school in the fall, just over four years from now she will graduate high school and may be gone soon after. Sure if she goes away to school she will come back for holidays and the summer but really that will be it. I am not looking forward to it.

 She's a teenager now and she can be a challenge at times. She is strong willed and independent and somewhat selfish, same as we are, and so we buttheads often butt heads. She is also smart and kind and hilarious and thank dog she has finally learned how to tell a story. About a year ago we were at dinner and I interrupted her as she tried to tell an anecdote, it was agonizing, all like this and like that and pauses and her voice trailing off. (She was just a typical kid, I have never met anyone under the age of 12 who can tell a story worth a damn).

 Be concise with your words I said. When you digress, which is allowed (and encouraged, I go off on tangents all of the time), you have to keep it relevant and it has to be very good. Build to the ending and then let them have the punchline. Don't speak in a monotone. Don't mumble. GODDAMNIT!

 Just kidding on the last, I would never say that to my kids. I would think it though.

 Well glory be she can tell a story now, man can she nail it, the other night she had us in stitches, just had us reeled in, wait for it, wait for it, and then let us have it. We rolled about the place and the great thing was it was just some little bullshit story about something mundane that had happened to her, nothing really, and she hit it out of the park, turned it into a work of art. Great stuff, as you might guess I put a high premium on the ability to spin a good yarn.

 She is applying for a couple of arts high schools, dance is her passion, she is at the studio nearly every day and I have taken to doing pirouettes and flying leaps around the house in imitation of her own high flying ways, she literally dances from room to room at times. Really no surprise that she is an excellent dancer as after a number of drinks I will cut the rug like nobody's business. She got that talent from me as well as, unfortunately for her, the monobrow and hairy back. :(

Last week she went to one of these schools, she had to audition and write an essay and interview with a panel. It would be nerve wracking I would think although Jenn was far more nervous than she. Afterwards we talked about it and she said that she had been a little nervous but had done well she thought except for one thing in the interview.

 What happened I asked. Well, she said, they asked me if I could explain the difference between dancing on my own and dancing as part of the performance team and I had a brain cramp and said that when I was dancing as part of the team there were other people there.

 Fuck we laughed and I will tell you that I was pretty proud of her at that moment because even though she had goofed she was not worried about it and was able to laugh at her mistake. It was a pretty cool moment. She is amazing.

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 Another guy who can probably laugh at his mistakes right now is Peter Chiarelli. He has made some big ones but the Oilers are sitting pretty right now. After years of discarding Real NHL Players for nothing, literally, this leading to the Oilers having a historically terrible run, Chiarelli has, in 18 months added a bunch of Real NHL Players, many for nothing but cash. Amazingly this has resulted in success. WHO KNEW?!?!??! (Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish didn't and um, fuck those guys). Besides Connor McDavid the Oilers added Sekera, Letestu, Kassian, Caggiula, Benning, Talbot, Russell and Lucic, not to mention the arrival of Davidson, Nurse, Hang on Slepy Hang On and Khaira.

 For. Basically. Nothing.

 Now a couple of the kids won't cut the mustard longterm and that Lucic contract is just waiting for the next lockout to get cut loose but even disregarding falling into McDavid I count eight actual NHL players there, not counting the kids who have come up through the system.

 Talbot has been great this year, Sekera is the best defenceman on the team, Letestu and Kassian and a rotating cast of kids and Matt Hendricks have given the team a quality fourth line for the first time since Glencross, Brodziak and Stortini. Benning is beautiful and Russell, well I have no complaints about Russell as what he presently is, a stopgap 4/5 guy on a one year deal.

 Remember when the Oilers' D was basically Jeff Petry and a bunch of third pairing or minor league guys (and before that Tom Gilbert and a bunch of third pairing or minor league guys) and how some wondered why the Oilers were so terrible? Well now they have a real NHL D and Kris Russell is an actual real NHL Dman and he is part of that.

 If they lose Davidson in the expansion draft then they can bring him back for another year but otherwise they are set on the blue for a while. They are young and mobile, the prototypical modern blue, and they are going to get better.

 But the most important guy Chiarelli has added for nothing, another one of these small deals, was Pat Maroon.

(He seems to have a handle on the little deals and midrange UFA stuff doesn't he? And I can forgive him Lucic, sort of. We all knew it was an overpay at the time but Lucic has been a 1LW for a long time.

 Reinhart was a fiasco and while I like Larsson quite a bit ... on no planet was he worth Taylor Hall. Chia panicked there, dealing from a position of weakness, and he blew it. Luckily for us I don't see a need for another big deal, he seems to have a tendency to lose those. And for the first time in a decade the Oilers are dealing from strength. It may be a matter of tweaking now, holy hell I hope so.)

 Anyhow back to Maroon. Everyone loved the deal right away or at least as far as I remember it. Cost nothing, they bought low on a guy who was at worst a proven top nine guy. Now, Anaheim didn't know they were giving up PAT MAROON and Chiarelli didn't know he was acquiring PAT MAROON and still didn't know this after the big guy has some success with the Oilers last spring. If he had known then likely Lucic is not an Oiler and Hall is and they would have brought in Demers or another Dman for cash to shore up that blueline.

 Because Maroon is what they were hoping for when they signed Lucic. Big, rough and tumble (ooh baby rough and tumble, rawrrrrr) and he can keep up with McDavid (as well as anyone can, nobody really can but he's not two zones back like Milan) and he can produce - I mean he won't keep this rate up but he's already almost at 20 goals. He has been fantastic and because he has been so great he has had a ripple effect down the lineup and through the organization.

 Maroon's success has allowed the Oilers to move Lucic down the lineup. He has outplayed Milan and the latter has struggled but having him on the third line means a legitmate third line for starters. They need a real centre for that line and my guess is that will be the target at the deadline and for the offseason, I like Caggiula but he's not the answer, certainly not right now. In any case Maroon sliding up the lineup means the possibility of a real top nine, not just a top six and hang on.

 More importantly long term Maroon has forced the Oilers' hand. A lot of the verbal last summer regarding the expansion draft pointed to the Oilers going four and four in the expansion draft. So:

Lucic, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle

Sekera, Larsson, Klefbom, Davidson or Reinhart (I kid you not, he was in the mix here) or Russell (once the season started and talk of an extension began to be talked about)

Now I like Davidson a lot but to me exposing a top 6 LW in Pouliot didn't make a lot of sense in the above scenario, regardless of who the fourth defenceman was.

 And now Maroon has essentially forced the Oilers' hand to go with seven and three:

Lucic, Draisaitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle, Maroon, player X, player Y

Sekera, Larsson Klefbom

Now there are a few ways the Oilers could go here. For starters they could run with Pouliot and Letestu as their sixth and seventh guys. We know that won't happen, Pouliot doesn't look like he has a future with the team although to me, well I have always said 'Get good players, keep good players' and despite Benoit's stumble out of the gate this season he has had two good years with the Oilers and is a legitimate top six guy. Keep him and you have a pretty nice LW depth chart. As for Letestu, well he has proven his value this year, he is a really versatile player and right now their third best centre. Lose either guy and you have to replace them. Protect them and you have to replace a fourth line winger. The Oilers would basically hit the summer with this year's roster minus maybe Davidson and Kassian. Pretty damn good spot to be in (and while we assume Davidson would be picked he has struggled to get back up to speed since returning from injury.).

 And then there is another option and here is where things get really good. With Leon on the wing and young Puljujarvi coming and Benning's emergence there is one obvious gaping whole in this lineup. Sure another top four RH D would be great to give Benning some cushion but right now that hole is at 3C. The Oilers need one. A quality centre who can score fifteen goals and check would make what looks like a pretty good team that much better. Plus give Lucic someone other than a rook at C and I think we see more offence there as well.

 Now if I am Chiarelli and Pouliot isn't in my plans or I am thinking of exposing Letestu I am doing one of two things. I'm looking for someone at the deadline who still has term to fill that 3C role. Or when the season is over I am looking at teams who have expansion draft problems and who are looking to get anything for guys that they are going to lose for nothing.

 If you want to replace Pouliot and you want to add that 3C then make your moves then and those are your sixth and seventh forwards you protect.

 Just make sure to thank Pat Maroon for forcing their hand on this. ;)


Friday, January 27, 2017

The Oilers Have Risen and So Have I (not a boner reference)


Oh hello. I know, it's been a long time since we rock and rolled here, not a reference to my own rocking and rolling, not dead yet thank Christ.

It is slightly ironic, not in the Alanis Morrisette sense of purchasing 10000 spoons, that's mental illness, not irony, that other than the opening salvos of this blog, back in the spring of ought six, nearly it's entirety, all of those posts, over a thousand of them, were written when the Oilers were garbage, one of the worst stretches in NHL history and now, when they are actually good, I have written not a one.

 Well I am here to change that, let me tell you.

 Above is a picture of the boy the last time the Oilers made the playoffs. Below that is a picture of him now. He is 11 and finishing grade 6. He plays hockey and soccer, is a hell of a student, a hilarious dude who has been to France and will be going to Italy in April and yeah ... he has had a damn good run so far.

 When Pronger and Smytty and Horc and Ales Hemsky and Gator and Roli and the rest of that beautiful team were just falling short to that bullshit Carolina team (thanks Craig Simpson for that fucking power play that cost us the Stanley Cup) my son could not walk or talk and was still shitting his pants two or three times a day.

 It's been too long.

 This morning we wake up to the Oilers a hair out of first in their division, fourth in the conference and two points out of being alone in second, and twelve points up on the ninth place team.

 Their goal differential is second best in the conference and seventh best in the league.

 ....

 I am without speech.

 Miles still to go before we sleep and injuries could derail everything but this just in (to steal a phrase from Jeff Veillette), the Oilers are 'actually good'. This isn't a team riding ridiculous luck or hanging on to a playoff spot for dear life after a charge through October and November. The one place they have been lucky is in the injury department. Dwayne Roloson going down in G1 of the Final in 2006 was a harbinger of what was to come as increasingly talent thin teams invariably lost what little talent they had to injuries, many of the freakish variety. While this year had been very gratifying the fact is that last year's team, healthy, would have likely finished around 20th or 21st in the standings. The leap this season has been a big one but not as huge as we think.

 The injury bug has hit this club too but it has been third pairing D and fourth line wingers who have taken a beating. While poor Pitlick might disagree, guys like him and Khaira and Hendricks, Davidson and Fayne, Gryba and even Nurse, can be replaced pretty easily. Draisatl or Sekera or Talbot, not so much.

 So fingers crossed there.

 Playoffs? PLAYOFFS!?!?!??!

 Looks like.