Monday, 16 May 2016

Another Hockey Post About the Oilers

Wow, you think with the amount of writing I do about the Edmonton Oilers, I'd be a big fan.

Not exactly.

If I had to choose between the two Alberta hockey teams, I'd go Calgary all the way, much to the relief of my fiance's family (but not so much my fiance). I would thoroughly enjoy it if Calgary was always better than Edmonton, but when Edmonton is always the worst team in the league, they start to take away all the high picks and no one else gets a chance. What was once pity has become straight up frustration.

Seriously, stop sucking, Edmonton.

Now, however, Edmonton has some management in control that were never part of the 1980's Oiler dynasty, so there's going to be some changes. But what kind of changes? Who will go? Who should they get? Who should they draft? And this intrigues me. I like to think I know hockey pretty well. So how would I fix the Oilers so that they can actually start winning?

Priority number one is the draft.

The biggest mistake the Oilers have made in recent history is going to all offense and no defense. When they did go defense, they either didn't turn out or they were sent away for more draft picks, which they used to pick more offense. While that may have worked in the 1980s, it definitely has not worked today. Taylor Hall, the Oilers top pick in 2010, looked to be on the verge of superstar-dom, and Edmonton still couldn't get out of the basement.

So, with the 4th overall selection at this years' draft, what should the Oilers do?

I think they should trade down a bit.

At the 4th spot, there are some very talented and strong kids, but generally all forwards. The Oilers definitely need to get tougher, but they first need a defenseman. In a recent Hockey News article, the author suggested trading with Carolina for young defenseman Justin Faulk, or with Colorado for fellow young defenseman Tyson Barrie. The article states that the Oilers could ship out one or more of their young forwards, specifically centerman Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or winger Jordan Eberle, but that the other team may want more for their defenseman.

The author sees Carolina being reluctant to let Faulk go, since he's easily their number one defender, so that leaves Colorado as the trade target. Since Barrie will be a restricted free agent and its been slow-going getting a deal together with the Avalanche, he could be available. In order to coax the Avs to send them their defenseman, the Oilers send their 4th overall and Nugent-Hopkins in exchange for Colorado's 10th overall and Barrie, as well as a later round pick (probably 4th or lower).

Then, with the 10th overall, the Oilers could take one of the top end defensemen that could be available, those being Jakob Chychrun, Mikhail Sergachev, Olli Juolevi or reach a bit for Jake Bean. Should all those guys be gone, the Oilers could go for toughness, in either Max Jones, Logan Brown or Julien Gauthier. Jones is the smallest at 6-3 and 201 lbs. And these kids are 18.

I think that Edmonton should target St. Louis for their first. Yes, it will be a significant fall from 4 to somewhere between 26 and 30, but it won't hurt so much if it's paired with defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. He was criticized in the early rounds of playoffs for not being as effective as he had been, so maybe he's available, which would be, in my opinion, perfect for the Oilers. He's a bit older than either Barrie of Faulk, and he does have is somewhat of a defensive liability, but that means the Oilers could get a bit more in return, in either picks or prospects, especially if the 4th + Nugent-Hopkins offer is still the deal. Maybe a goalie prospect like Jordan Binnington, or a defensive defenseman like Joel Edmundson or Jordan Schmaltz, or even a scoring winger like Ty Rattie or Dmitrij Jaskin. Then with the low pick, they either go goalie, like Carter Hart, a tough, two-way winger like Nathan Bastian or Boris Boris Katchouk, or try for defense, like Markus Niemelainen or Libor Hajek.

But if they keep their pick and try to trade player for player, which they very well might, they might try to get a power forward like Pierre-Luc Dubois or Matthew Tkachuk. Which would be alright. I just think they could do better.

After the draft, things really open up. They definitely need to trade a center, and RNH has been in the rumour mill for quite some time. He has great offensive instincts, but is quite small and has fallen down the Oiler depth chart. Send him away for defense. If they can't get a first-round pick paired with him, they should at least try for a second or third. Another player who has become a big question is Nail Yakupov, who will demand a lower asking price because of his lackluster play thus far. But, he is a former first overall, so he could get at least a decent prospect or a few picks.

One name that keeps showing up, though, is Jordan Eberle. I think trading him would hurt the Oilers' lineup more than help, as he's sort of become the heart of the team. He's a Western kid and has been with the team for the toughest years while still producing at a regular pace. Letting him go would also leave a massive hole on the right wing, with only Yakupov to take his place.


There are a number or other areas the Oilers need to address during this season, but with their crop of high-end talent, I think that they're fairly close to competing, or at least not sucking. They've been rebuilding for most of my adult life, and that's just too long. Just listen to me, Oilers, and all your problems will be solved.


Quick note: I said the last post was a part one of two (if I didn't say two, I'm saying it here), but I didn't get a lot of feedback on it, so I assumed people weren't really interested in it. If you want to hear the other side of the story, let me know. I like to hear what people think about these hockey posts, because I know it's more of a niche target audience.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

There's Something in the Water, pt. 1

There’s got to be something in the water.

Specifically, in Edmonton, Alberta, and Newark, New Jersey.

More specifically, the drinking water in the NHL arenas at those locations.

Why would I say such a thing?

Let’s first take a look at the more well-known case of the Edmonton Oilers. Almost 10 years ago, the Edmonton Oilers surprised many by making it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. Though they ended up losing, it was a miraculous run from a team that entered the post-season in 8th place in the Western Conference. It wasn’t that surprising that they made the playoffs; with some good young players who were developing perfectly, a very good captain in Ryan Smyth, a future Hall of Fame defenseman in Chris Pronger, as well as a rag tag group of slightly above average goalies, they were a decent team that could steal the odd game. It seemed as though they were taking over as the next great team from Canada, as the Calgary Flames had impressed in years before, but fallen significantly by 2006. The Oilers were ready to compete again after several years of mediocrity.

Except that was the last time the Oilers made the playoffs.

Everything started falling apart almost immediately after losing to the Hurricanes, starting with Hall of Fame defenseman Pronger demanding to be traded, saying that it was too much pressure to be in Edmonton. Next, Smyth was traded to the shock of many fans and seemingly for Smyth as well. The combined income of those trades were 2 first round picks, a second round pick, and 4 former first round picks. For being put in a difficult situation, it could have be argued that the Oilers came out alright. I definitely thought so back when it happened.

However, I now know how everything turned out.

After Pronger left, everyone seemed to want out. Gone were all the veterans that had been signed for their playoff run. Only one stayed, that being 40 year old goalie Dwayne Roloson. He was the playoff darling, turning the 8th place Oilers into the beast they became. Even being close to death (by NHL standards), he was thought to be the next starter in Edmonton.

He wasn’t.

They ended up finishing in the lowest position in 10 years of team history, but landed them a high pick of their own to add to the two from the trades. Of those picks from the trades, not one player made any significant impact on the roster. That’s rough luck, but explainable, since the draft is often more luck than anything. It’s incredibly lucky, then, to have 3 first round picks in one year and all of them turn into busts.

Of the players acquired in the trades, only one stuck it out for any amount of time, and he wasn’t really that good. Two turned into good players…after they were traded again to other teams. The return for those players were more picks and players that turned into busts and good players elsewhere. So if you’re keeping score, that’s 8 high-end prospects that fizzled out while in Edmonton. Some went on to figure things out later, while others shriveled up and died.

That’s an incredibly unlucky year for the Oilers. And it seems as though they never fully recovered.

2008 – Oilers do slightly better than the year before, still miss the playoffs. They land a Western sniper and Canadian World Junior hero by the name of Jordan Eberle in the 21st pick. So far, it seems to be working out. They also steal (almost literally) a young player from Anaheim, which gains their GM much criticism. It turns out, he wasn’t worth all the trouble.

2009 – Another bad finish, leaving them to pick 10th overall. They pick Magnus Paarjarvi-Svensson, who couldn’t crack 20 points or 50 games. They also try to acquire budding star Dany Heatley from Ottawa, but he refuses to go to Edmonton, even though he grew up in Alberta. Ouch.

2010 – The Oilers finish with their worst record in their franchise history, giving them first overall. They pick Taylor Hall over Tyler Seguin, who some thought they might take instead. Both have turned into very talented players, though Seguin has put up more points and has a Stanley Cup ring. That may have to do with his teammates, however. The Oilers officially enter into their rebuild, sending away anyone who could get them anything, including buying out one of the contracts they originally acquired in the Smyth trade in 2007. And he was originally taken 15th overall. More ouch.

2011 – Again, the Oilers finish dead last. They go for a skinny center from Red Deer named Ryan Nugent-Hopkins over Swede Gabriel Landeskog and future Calder (best rookie) winner Jonathan Huberdeau. Though he’s performed below expectations, he’s still the most second prolific scorer of that draft year (behind Landeskog), so I guess that’s ok. They also sign a bunch of gritty veterans, offensive defensemen and former 3rd overall pick. One of those players work out, and only for one season. And it wasn’t the high pick. We are now adding insult to injury.

2012 – Surprise, the Oilers are still the worst. They take another center with Russian Nail Yakupov instead of American defenseman Ryan Murray. Many think this is a dumb move, because the Oilers need defense. Many would still agree, as Yakupov has performed well below expectations. They then signed another former first round pick, defenseman Justin Shultz, who initially showed incredible offensive skills. However, he had few (if any) defensive skills, and he has regressed. The open would is now festering. Does somebody have any salt?

2013 – Hey, the Oilers aren’t the worst anymore! They make a big jump up to 7th worst and finally take a defenseman with Darnell Nurse. A labour lockout scrapped the first half of the season, but Taylor Hall looked like a legit star in the second. It’s been painful, but the salt is helping. The future seems…bright.

2014 – After 41 games, or half the season, the Oilers are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They take German Leon Draisaitl at 3rd overall in one of the few occasions the Oilers would not win the draft lottery. New coach Dallas Eakins (the 4th new coach since 2009) is fired half way through the season. We told Edmonton not to pick at the scab, but did it listen? We’ve got a full-blown infection again. Hope is all but dead.

2015 – The Oilers once again win the lottery – their 4th time in 6 years – and take prodigy Connor McDavid first overall. He’s spent 37 of the 53 games on the injured reserve so far this year. The Hockey News publishes an article that claims the Oilers could make the playoffs this year, but Oilers fan have cauterized their open sores and have forgotten what winning feels like. Even with McDavid, they are afraid to feel, for fear of breaking their sores open again.

It’s like watching Will Smith in the Pursuit of Happiness. You want to hope for the guy, you really do, but you know that no matter what, he’s not going to be happy. Pity turns to annoyance as he continually is kicked while he’s down.

“Ugh, another high pick is a bust? Didn’t see that coming.”

(I think. I’ve never seen the movie. I have the Oilers to watch, and that’s enough pain for me)

To compare to other teams who have been the worst before, it took 3 of 4 years for Chicago, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Tampa Bay to start becoming regular threats to take the Stanley Cup, and have all won it at least once, with Chicago winning it three times and Los Angeles winning it twice. Tampa is the exception, as they do have one cup, but it came just before they started their most recent bout of sucking, and they made it to the finals last year.

There’s got to be another reason other than the worst luck aside from the Maple Leafs.

Well, Edmonton is the farthest North of all NHL cities. With the air being much colder the further north you go, the drinking water would undoubtedly be affected. My best theory suggests that there are microscopic icicles suspended in the water. When drunk, they immediately go to the brain and restrict information channels, especially those that make good decisions possible. This explains poor play by players who then go on to play well other places, or the choices of management on draft day and through trades (if I got into all of that, this article would never end). When players leave for warmer climates, the ice melts, freeing up the decision making parts of the brain. However, if left too long, the brain will go into a perma-frozen state, unable to ever be revived.

The Oilers dynasty may have appeared to bypass these harmful effects, until you look at their post playing careers of many of them. Craig MacTavish, Keith Acton, Dave Semenko, Glen Sather, Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and even Wayne Gretzky have had their management careers all but terminated because of terrible trades, bad or questionable picks, and continually icing a team that keeps losing. Only Gretzky didn’t work for the Oilers, though. He screwed up the Phoenix Coyotes for a few years, then they recovered. This year, for the first time since 1980, the Oilers have a GM who didn’t play for the Oilers. That should be a good sign for things to turn around.

I mean, on top of the 4 first overall picks they already have that have worked out so well so far. 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Ballad of John Scott

Well isn’t this a pickle.

You may have heard, even if you’re not a big hockey fan, about the NHL All-Star Game. I mean, they have one every year. It’s a big event – or, at least, the NHL wants you to believe it’s a big event. It’s really a time for players to show off, have some fun and let lose while playing hockey, and we fans get to watch them do it.

And this year promised to be even more special, depending on your definition of the word. Well, maybe any definition would work. That’s because once again, the NHL had a fan vote to select the fan-favourite player to ensure he would be in the All-Star Game. It’s a chance, the NHL believes (there’s that word again), for fans to elect a hometown hero or a star who just might have missed the cut. Last year, the Latvians all got together and elected their only NHL star Zemgus Girgensons, which might be one of the greatest names in hockey. Though he was talented, he was young and playing on a dreadful Buffalo Sabres team. But he still got to play in the ASG.

Perfect, thought the NHL. This is exactly what we believe the fan-vote should be.

This year, however, fans wanted to outdo themselves. A few people from the popular social networking site Reddit decided that it would be hilarious to have 6’8” goon John Scott play in the ASG. Including this year, he has 11 points in 285 games, averaging about 6 minutes a game on the ice. Definitely not an all-star. In fact, Scott is barely considered good enough to be in the NHL. But when the time came for the fan vote, thousands poured in for poor John of the Arizona Coyotes. At first, we took it for what it was – a huge joke. Even Scott urged voters to pick players more deserving on his team, but his pleas were ignored. Even more votes came in for Scott, and soon, it was over, and John Scott was slated to be the captain of the Pacific Division at the ASG.

So now there was a goon attending the ASG. And, with the people speaking very loudly, Scott decided, “Why not?” and confirmed that he would participate in the game. There was even a cash reward for the winning team this year, making it a bigger draw to go. However, the NHL was freaking out. See, they still believed that the ASG was a competitive game to showcase their biggest stars and that this player would make a mockery of the game.

Wait, what?

Didn’t the NHL put in the fan vote in the first place?

It appears that they forgot to take into account the power of stupidity.

The vote allowed anyone to nominate any player to play in the game. Any player. With enough support, anyone could get in, which is exactly what happened. Most fans had stopped paying attention to the game and watched it not for the antics that their favourite stars would perform. Ovechkin wearing a costume, Malkin dressing him up, Price facing shooters backwards. No one was taking these events seriously.

Well, no one except the NHL.

So now they had a dilemma. They asked Scott to decline the invitation, along with his current team, the Coyotes. But Scott had already decided that it would be fun to be on the ice with the best players in the league. He barely got to do that while playing the regular season. And, to top it all off, he would make $90 000 if his team won. For a player on a league minimum salary, that’s a good chunk of change.

But the NHL wasn’t done. The Coyotes took matters into their own hands by orchestrating a trade with Nashville and Montreal, where they ended up sending Scott to the Canadiens. Though a minor trade, it had huge ramifications, since Montreal is in the Metropolitan division in the Eastern Conference, while Arizona is in the Pacific in the West. Then, Montreal promptly sent Scott to the minors. If changing divisions wasn’t enough, the demotion surely was. Scott was no longer allowed to play in the ASG.

This happened all of one day ago. And, as expected, fans and correspondents are furious. Sure, Scott had no place being in a game where the NHL’s best and brightest compete against each other, and note every fan thought it was a good idea he was there, but the NHL’s fan vote allowed him to be there. It was their mistake, and rather than laugh it off and fix it next year, they decided to crush the hopes of a guy just trying to stick a roster spot in the most brutal fashion. Who knows, this might all but end his NHL career for something he had absolutely no control over. Scott never asked to be voted for. He asked people to vote for other players, because he knew his skill level. You know what’s the saddest part? He even made shirts to give his teammates, and they said, “Thanks for believing in me. Love always, The Captain.”

Talk about the nice guy getting screwed.

Now the shirts are being sold to the public and proceeds will go to some charity TBA, so all is not lost, but the NHL really made a bad situation a million times worse. Maybe it’s my fault for getting my hopes up. I was curious to see how he’d fare against the best players in the league. Are they afraid he’d injure someone? He is a specialist in hitting and punching, but why do that at the ASG? No one is going full steam, and the competition level is pretty low (for a professional sport). It’s like going to the rink with a bunch of guys you’ve known forever, along with some other friends of your friends, when a big guy, struggling to skate, comes up and asks to play with you guys. Sure, you’re hesitant at first. No one knows him, and he looks a bit rough (especially with a smile missing several teeth). But you relent when no one seems opposed, and he joins up, Turns out, he’s the nicest guy on the ice and is there just to have fun. He knows he’s no good, but if that was a deterring factor, he wouldn’t have put them on in the first place. You end up having a great time, and at the end you part ways and are left with a unique experience to remember.

I remember playing in the Briercrest rec league on a team that had this one American on it. Though he was from Minnesota (the American hockey capital), he had barely ever used skates. He still wanted to play, though, so he found a bunch of used equipment and suited up. Sure, we were trying to win games and make the playoffs, but no one had issue with him playing. In fact, we cheered him on. We helped him be a better player. And in his last game, he finally got a goal. He made us a better team, I think, because the focus wasn’t on us. It was on the team, and just going out there and doing our best while having fun. Because when it comes down to it, hockey is a game, and games are fun.
But I’m sure many of you can also remember the hyper-competitive guy on the team who ruins the fun for everyone by going way too hard. I played against a few, both on my team and against. They are all about winning, which makes everyone else more stressed and a loss seems that much worse. In Scott’s case, that guy in the NHL (or Gary Bettman, if you’d prefer a name). He wants everything to be taken super seriously to the point where no one has any fun.

But, alas, what’s done is done. I’ve lost a lot of interest in the ASG after this, and I think a lot of fans are likewise disappointed in how the NHL handled this. So shame on you for giving a poor guy hope them crushing it in his face. I hope you learn from this, and remember,

It’s just a game. 

Link to the shirt here: