Friday, September 30, 2005


On the side

I quite enjoyed this prediction from the Puck Stops Here -- Oilers finish 5th in the Northwest Division:
Kevin Lowe learned from Glen Sather. As soon as he got a chance to spend money, he did, and not necessarily in any smart way. The team still lacks any great goaltending, or any really big time scorers, or much defensive depth beyond Chris Pronger. Their other big addition, Mike Peca, is probably just an expensive downgrade from Mike York. The Oilers offseason looks too much like the Rangers many times unsuccessful strategy for me to buy into it.

Clearly, more plausible than two-thirds of the things I've heard since August 1st.


NHL Brainstorm!

[Update: Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, Finale (Part 5) here.]

sacamano and I come from the world of general interest/current events/political Canadian weblogs. Naturally in Canada, some of that general interest is hockey, and as I noted when introducing this site, there are lots of general purpose Canadian bloggers whose hockey takes deserve a hockey audience.

In that spirit, we’ve invited several of Canada’s finest to lay out some predictions for the upcoming NHL season. Starting today, and for the next four days, we’ll be publishing their (and our) responses to five hockey queries. First, the introductions:
Here's the challenges we posed:
  1. Name one thing that's widely expected (or bit of conventional wisdom) about the upcoming NHL season that you doubt will happen.
  2. What is the biggest unknown for you in the upcoming season, or what will you be most curious to see?
  3. A) Pick one player who you think will break through, and B) pick one player whose performance will drop off considerably, relative to what we're used to
  4. A) Pick one team who you think will break through, and B) pick one team who has been good recently who you think will be bad this year
  5. A) What will the results of the Stanley Cup Finals be, and B) how is *your* team going to do.
Enough preamble! Here's our experts' takes on #1:

Name one thing that's widely expected (or bit of conventional wisdom) about the upcoming NHL season that you doubt will happen.

The Calgary Flames will NOT do well. They will return to relative obscurity, despite all the hype.

The new goalie equipment is, I think, widely expected to ruin Jean-Sebastien Giguere's career. I think he will surprise everyone and remain a world-class goalie even with smaller pads. I realize much of his skill has been attributed to his artificial Hulk-like size, but I've always had the sense that it had as much to do with preternatural puck anticipation. He has the tools to survive.

I think that zero tolerance will fail, as it has so many times before.
Scoring will not increase substantially, and coaches will find it difficult
if not impossible to wean themselves from clutch-and-grab hockey. It feels a
bit like the old Lucy bit. "This year we're cracking down. We mean it.
Really. We're getting tough. Watch out...." And then the big cave.I thinking
by Christmas.

As an aside, I think the one change that will bring work is the renewed
focus on regional play. I think playing divisional rivals more often will
have the desired effect of adding tension and excitement to the season.

Matt is going to hate me for this, but I am going to have to go with the expectation that the Calgary Flames are a top 1-3 team in the Western Conference. Calgary was the sixth best team in the Western Conference the last time the NHL was in session, and the twelfth best team in the league. I just don’t see the additions of Tony Amonte and Darren McCarty as pushing the Flames over the top. I have to give the Flames credit for making it to the Stanley Cup Finals two years ago, but it won’t even be close this year. Todd Bertuzzi is back in Vancouver, and Martin Gelinas is gone. Welcome to going down in the annals of Stanley Cup history with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers as teams that overachieved and never made it back, Flames fans.

I can't imagine that scoring will be up that much this season, but all the cool kids seem to be all over that prediction already, so here's one that I haven't been seeing much else...

For this season at least, the new CBA isn't going to change the playoff bound teams.

Sure, not all 16 teams from 2003-2004 will be there, but like every playoffs for the last ten years, 12 will be repeat playoff teams, with up to 4 teams dropping out to be replaced with 4 teams coming in. And the teams coming in (with the exception of Atlanta), were all in the playoffs at least once in the last three seasons.

Were I a betting man - and I've been accused of that in the past - I would bet that it looks something like this (though how they rank, I don't know right now).

Eastern Conference:
Ottawa, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, and Boston are in for sure. I don't think Toronto or New Jersey will play so badly that they'll fall out. The New York Islanders, Montreal, Pittsburgh and Atlanta will contend for the final two spots.
Western Conference:
Calgary, Detroit, Vancouver and San Jose are all likely staying in. I like Nashville to stay in, as well as Dallas. St. Louis is an automatic drop from playoffs, but Colorado stays in the hunt, along with Edmonton, Phoenix and Anaheim for the final two spots.

So that's it. This first year out, only 19 teams have a real shot at playoffs. Some, like Columbus in the west and Florida in the east, could take run, but I don't see them there at the finish line.

The idea that intra-division blood-feuds will erupt as a result of the eight game scheduling and increased back-to-back series. Playoff histories will continue to feed the best rivalries. Of course, suckering a division rival's player out of the league doesn't hurt either (is Colorado/Vancouver the new Colorado/Detroit?).

I don't know how widely expected is, but I hereby predict that the mobility restrictions on goaltenders will either have no effect on play or they will do the opposite of what they were intended to. Goalies remain untouchable no matter if they're in their crease (which is good for exactly what these days?), in their ridiculous trapezoid or roving around on the white ice. If anything it will work to the advantage of goalies like Brodeur and Belfour — they'll be that much closer to the red line when they skate out, unmolested, and redirect the dump-ins up ice.

I'm guessing that the new rules for goaltenders will not result in goalies handling the puck less than they did in the past. Instead, I bet we are going to see a lot more goalies rushing out to catch the puck before it crosses the back line. This has the potential to create some interesting races, and I predict in the first month we see at least 3 classic highlights of goalies misjudging their own skating ability and giving up embarrassing goals (Belfour x2 and Cloutier).

The consensus seems to be that the defending Stanley Cup champions are going to drop back to become just another above-average team, which is bloody confusing. They won the East in the last regular season, then won the Cup, but because they lost the Bulin Wall (Stillman? Lukowich?), now they’re back in the pack? Bollocks!

Khabibulin obviously made a non-trivial contribution to the Cup win, but the young core of the champs remains. And the record shows that even last season, John Grahame had a better GAA, SV%, and WIN% than Bulin, and played in over 1/3 of TB’s games. As far as I can tell, skepticism about the new Lightning comes from too many people never believing they were the real deal in the first place; their Cup win makes this belief indefensible.

Tune in tomorrow for responses to #2, and keep coming back for the rest. I've scanned the rest of the contributions, and I think you'll find them a hell of a lot of fun to read. Also, be sure to check out all the sites of our contributors - they really are some of the best teh intarweb has to offer.



Over at the Battle of Ontario, the Sens' pimps have the early lead in the Smack department. Here's Don on the Leafs blueline crew of McCabe, Kaberle, Khavanov, Berg, Colaiacovo, and Belak:
The downside is that when you have this many Norris contenders on one team the votes tend to get split.

Pow - I wish I had thought of that (there's an Oilers goaltending analogy in there for sure).

Jim Rome's hilarious Jungle Smacktionary here. Check it to at least 'D' (for "Dionne Ewing"); if you're not laughing by then, you're probably not having a good day.

Last thing -- Eric McErlain notes the origin of the Three Stars. I'm a hair too young to have known it from direct observation, but I doubt that it's common knowledge among any age group.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Hockey Canniversary

I can't believe we missed this yesterday. I feel like my citizenship should probably be suspended or something.

Sometimes the actual footage doesn't come up. Keep clicking until it does. Just watching the tension on the faces of those fans makes me a little queasy. Of course, then it goes into just a Ra-Ra Canada baloney. Black magic vs White magic? WTF?


Payday in June?

My bookie is offering a few interesting proposition bets on the upcoming season (screencap below; you need an account to view odds).

Propositions Posted by Picasa

First we have "The Winner of the 2006 Stanley Cup will be from": USA (-380), Canada (+300). So, if you're sure the Sens, Flames, or Canucks will win the Cup, but can't decide which one, you can still quadruple your money here.

We also have "Team to get Most Points": Montreal (+130), Toronto (-150). This seems more than a little out of sync with just about every NHL preview I've seen, which are at least somewhat optimistic about Les Habs, while uniformly pessimistic about the Blue & White.

Strangest to me, though, is "Will Sidney Crosby win the Rookie of the Year?": Yes (-400), No (+320). I don't think you have to be overly skeptical of Crosby's prospects to say that this is nutty. If I bet No, then any other rookie in the league can slightly outperform him to win the Calder, and I more than quadruple my money. If I'm positive that this won't happen, I have to bet $40 just to win $10.

I'm sure most readers have seen more of Crosby than I have, and maybe this seems reasonable to you. Me, I wouldn't even lay money at -400 that he'll be healthy for 70 games this year; it just seems like a bad bet.


Encouraging Signs Dept.

Apart from Kipper's fairly solid preseason (3-0-0, I believe), I'm also liking the number 4. That is:
The roughly 4% PP success rate is less exciting, but whatever.

You can have your Saddlemorgue blasts, Oil fans. I recall at least one season in the late '80s, when that characterization would have been much more accurate, when the Flames went 35-5 at home. I don't care if it's the loudest building in the NHL, only if the Flames are comfortable playing there, and feel like it gives them an advantage. Even through the playoffs last season, they won games more reliably on the road than at home. If the Flames become a strong home team, topping the Northwest Division seems like an inevitability.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Kip-per! Kip-per! Kip-per!

That's it, really. Hey, when's the last time you remember a goalie's save percentage over the course of an entire period being 20%?

Premium memberships still available, Oil fans.


The sincerest form of flattery

Hey, we're barely two weeks in, and we've already spawned our first imitator! The trash-talking group blog is a venue made for Jardine, evidenced by his first post, where he smacks Bob and Harry AND gets off a "Leaf fans living in their parents' basement" blast [/JimRomeLingo].

One Senators fan vs. two Leafs fans: based on the consensus of how the teams will fare this year, they may want to add a couple more Leafs fans to make it a fair fight. Good luck, lads.


Oil Drips

It sounded like the Oilers played a solid game against a beat-up bunch of second-stringers last night. The good news is that Hemsky again sounded fantastic, as did Morrison who is, apparently, our #1 goalie at the moment.

I'm also amused by the fact that the Flames have made it onto the cover of Sports Illustrated - or they've at least been tagged to win the cup. We all know that a prediction from SI is the kiss of death.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005



So: is the Flames roster stronger than last year? Without looking at things too closely, you can easily take either side of this argument. "They added Amonte, McCarty, and Hamrlik to a team that made it to the Finals - of course they're better!" Or is it, "There's been a lot of turnover on a team that succeeded through playing as a team - this can only end badly!"

As it happens, it's rather straightforward to look at the positions on the team (or rather, roles) and pair up the players deleted with the players added. This should enable us to get a clearer idea of just how the team has changed. To wit:

Delete: Craig Conroy and Add: Daymond Langkow
Delete: Martin Gelinas and Add: Tony Amonte
Delete: Ville Nieminen and Add: Darren McCarty
Delete: Chris Clark and Add: Jason Wiemer
Delete: Oleg Saprykin and Add: Steven Reinprecht

Delete: Toni Lydman and Add: Roman Hamrlik
Delete: Denis Gauthier and Add: Dion Phaneuf

Delete: Roman Turek and Add: Flip Sauve (or Brent Krahn)

From the pipes out, I think for starters we have to assume that the Flames have downgraded at backup goalie. I wouldn't be startled if Flip or Krahn proved otherwise, but given their NHL experience, it's a fair assumption.

The changes on D I see as almost definitely an upgrade. I don't have high expectations for Hamrlik, but nevertheless I doubt he'll have me pining for Toni Lydman. If Dion Phaneuf's not already better than Gauthier, he surely will be by Grey Cup time. Also worth noting here is that Lydman and Gauthier were injured for over 3/4 of the 2004 playoffs, so in a sense, Hamrlik and Phaneuf are replacing Commodore and Montador. I like that trade (although I also like Montador, & he'll presumably be remaining with the team as the 7th defenceman).

Up front, it's a little tougher to tell. I love Conroy, and I think he'll be missed, if not his 8 goals. Langkow seems pretty well-regarded and has 5 years on Conroy (Happy Birthday, Daymond!), but why is he on his 4th team in 7 seasons? That is not a chronology associated with great young players.

Tony Amonte is a downgrade from the 2004 Playoffs Marty Gelinas. But then again, so is Marty Gelinas. He's been in the 13-23 goal range since 1997, whereas Amonte has scored 35 as recently as 2001. I think they're at about the same point on the downslopes of their careers, but Amonte's peak was higher to begin with, so this should be a wash at worst.

Reinprecht is only an "addition" in the sense that he missed the last half of the season (his first with the Flames) plus the playoffs due to injury, so he might as well be a new player. Saprykin may turn out to be a 30-goal guy with Phoenix, but it just seemed like it was never going to happen with the Flames. He ought to have been a core player by 2004. I'm very comfortable with Reinprecht taking his place on the roster.

Nieminen has more offensive upside than McCarty in my eyes, but then again, he had 2 goals in 60 games with the Hawks before being traded to the Flames in '04. I stuck up for Nemo when he passed through town, but he will not be missed.

And lastly, Wiemer v. Clark. I never gave Chris Clark much thought, one way or another. Decent player. Wiemer, based on his last tour here, is my least favourite Flame ever, tied with Rob Niedermayer and Trent Yawney. This time, he will be slotted as a 4th-liner instead of a 1st-liner, so I assume he won't be capable of frustrating me as much this time around.

In sum, I'd say there probably is some cause for concern with the roster turnover, at least at the forward position. That said, quite a bit of faith is owed to the Flames' coach and GM. He has, by his own account, selected his new players pretty carefully, to minimize the dressing room discombobulation factor (DRDF?). I think a guy can go too far with the whole, "Another good Western Canadian boy, blah blah", but I'm inclined to trust his judgement - at this point, how could anyone not?

And lest we forget, the Flames still have the best all-around forward in the league, a defence that is by all accounts the top young group in the league, and a goalie who posted the lowest GAA of any season in the modern era of the NHL. And, there's that whole "making the Stanley Cup Finals" thing. I'd say high expectations aren't just appropriate, they're sensible.


"We dropped the gloves and that was it."

Friendly advice: if you don't generally read the comments at blogs, you should probably suspend that policy here, because you actually get more content, not merely pissing matches (although there's plenty of that, too).

Sacamano suggested in the comments here that if we rework the look of the page, we ought to include this picture:

Hands of cement, x4 Posted by Picasa

I couldn't agree more. It also occurred to me that we should change the tagline from "Hockey takes & trash talk [etc.]" to, "How's about you and me go for a ride in a canoe."

Buy Dave Semenko's rookie card on eBay here (1 bid, C $0.59).
Read about Tim Hunter's transformation into a computer geek here.
Source for quote in post header here.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Some Keen Observations

Brushback at sidearm delivery makes some keen NHL observations that made me laugh out loud:

"If Gary Bettman thinks it's a good idea to herald the NHL entering a brand new age in 2005-2006 with ads that look like one of Ratt's music videos from 1984, then good luck with that I guess. Seeing an ad of a woman in a locker room helping a hockey player get dressed reminded me of the promotional ads that the XFL used to produce, showing cheerleaders doing pole dances in the kitchen while chopping up cucumbers and crap like that. Hey, maybe Jeremy Roenick will wear a jersey this season that says "He Hate Me" on the back? Or (even worse) Keith Tkachuk wearing one that has a picture of a pot roast and says "He Ate Me" on it. Well, it was just a thought. "

"Speaking of thoughts, has anyone else besides me noticed that the URL of New York Rangers UK spells out "NYRangerSuk"? Okay, I was just asking."

As principle Skinner would say, "Ohhhh, mercy"


"Don't get me mad. You won't like me when I'm mad."

The whupping laid on Brantt Myhres Friday at the hands of Big Georges brought to mind another Great Moment in BofA History (TM). Readers may or may not recall that when Stu Grimson was an up-and-coming goon, it was in the Flames organization. He spent a couple of seasons with the Gulls of the IHL, occasionally (mostly in exhibition games) tantalizing Flames fans with a willingness to Go Anytime, usually with pretty good success.

Then, late in the 1990-91 preseason (as I recall), the Flames played the Oil, and Grimson got absolutely, utterly pummelled by Dave Brown. He had been expected to make the Flames roster that year, at least as an occasional lineup insert; as a result of the beating (and consequent injuries), he never played another game in Flames colours. He was traded to the Hawks midway through the season, and went on to a decent career for a fighter (stat line: 729GP, 17G, 2113PIM).

Everyone loses a fight once in a while. But sometimes the circumstances (vs. a hated rival) and the decisiveness (say, a broken orbital bone) mean, that's it. I hope for Myhres sake he gets another chance, and has some success. I sincerely doubt it will ever be in a Flames uni.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


Rem the Gem

A nice story on Rem Murray's attempted comeback with the wings (ÞMirtle).

I always liked Rem during his time as an Oiler, and if he does make it back this year, you might as well engrave Masterton.


Preseason Prefight

Apparently Brantt Myhres didn't learn from Rob Ray that Georges doesn't like pre-fight jibba-jabba in the media. Ouch.


I'm tired of pre-season already

D-mac seems to think that the ALI line scoring a few goals on a teenager is something to jump up and down about. I don't know, I find it difficult to get even mildly worked-up after these pre-season games. Like Mike W over at Covered in Oil, I find it especially difficult when the only thing I have to go on is Rod Phillips radio call.

Goaltending is a worry. Conklin's groin is apparently not yet healed, and Jussi still isn't back from his broken clavicle. We all know from last season that weak goaltending early in the year can kill your chances right out of the gate.

What do do with Schremp, Pouliot, Winchester, Rita, and Stastny, is another pleasant problem.

The Edmonton media have loved Schremp since the day he was drafted, and he has been getting lots of ink during training camp - so much so that it might be difficult to send him back to London. The trick here is that by keeping him up, you burn a year of free-agency, and if he isn't doing much more than just sitting in the press-box and getting some limited 4th-line duty you have to wonder if that year was really worth it. Of course, if you send him down after having such a terrific camp, maybe it cheezes him off so much that he goes back to London and sulks for a while, or worse goes back into the draft and the team loses him for good.

The other problem is who do you get rid of to make room for him. At this place, there has been all sorts of crazy talk about trading Horcoff, Reasoner, or Stoll. I think this is absolutely nuts. All three of these guys are good players and, to date, we have no clue what kind of player Schremp will be over an 82 game NHL season. Sure, he has looked ok against a pre-season university team, and he has played fine in a couple of pre-season NHL games; but, Dan Cleary always looked like a Hart Trophy candidate in pre-season too.

Pouliot and Stastny can both go back to the AHL; but, Rita and Winchester have one-way contracts, which makes it more difficult. Not only that, Pouliot, Rita. and Stastny have all had strong camps as well, although they are getting less press than Schremp. Given the contract situations, maybe it makes more sense to keep Rita around - especially since he is more comfortable on the wing than Schremp.

However, given the Oils powerplay woes, they definitely need someone who can play the sideboards. In pre-season, Schremp has done this pretty well. Maybe 4th-line duty with lots of powerplay time is worth it.

My guess is that he will be up for 10-games and if the powerplay is appreciably better with him, then they will find a place for him - probably at the expense of Rita. If not, he goes back to London and we all hope that Rita finally has his long awaited breakout year.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Funniest thing I've read about the "My NHL" promo

Steven Ovadia at Puck Update:
I actually worked on some of the brainstorming for the campaign. I can talk about it because none of my pitches were accepted. And they were all pretty good:
  • Your NHL
  • His NHL
  • Her NHL
  • Their NHL
  • The NHL: Take That Lacrosse!
  • The NHL: You Weren't Liking Our Striking
  • Gretzky's Back! And This Time, He's Wearing a Tie!



"quelled the passion, blah blah"

You know, I don't expect every sportswriter to come across like Ernest Hemingway or Steve Rushin, but this Steve Simmonsy-sounding piece on NHL rivalries, from's Shawn P. Roarke, leaves a lot to be desired (ÞOddMan):
With both teams making serious additions this summer, the next installment of the Battle of Alberta will apparently be as exciting as past editions.

Oooooh - can you feel the apparent excitement, folks? I can!!! (Although I wish the Flames' additions weren't so darn serious...)


Preview 2/4, tonight @ 7PM

As the Flames and the Oil prepare for their 2nd preseason encounter tonight at the 'Dome, I find my thoughts drifting toward Whyte Avenue, as in:

Do you realize that most of the Utes that will pour into Whyte Ave bars tonight have absolutely no memory of the Edmonton Oilers winning the Stanley Cup? Or even of the Oilers as an elite team?

We all treasure our memories of the big wins, and there are certainly a lot of sports arguments that can be settled with one word: "scoreboard". Those banners in the rafters of SkyRex Coliseum aren't going anywhere. But it's time to get over it. The Leafs have more Cup rings than (most of) their fans have fingers, but anyone who would show them off as evidence of the franchise's cosmic superiority has spent too much time drinking overpriced draft at 99 Blue Jays Way.

It would seem that the Muslims of Edmonton are attuned to reality:
Most of us may have seen the "Welcome to Edmonton, City of Champions" sign which welcomes every motorist entering the city of Edmonton. For many, this sign may no longer have any bearing.

Thank you! The sign surely has value -- as kitsch, as a snapshot of days gone by, as a monument to kharma sabotage -- but it's over. The Edmonton Oilers can no longer be considered a championship franchise. Haven't gotten out of the first round since 1998. Haven't gotten out of the 2nd round since 1992. Haven't won the Cup since 1990. Haven't won their own division since 1987!

With the presumable exception of Glen Sather, the legacy of the individuals involved with the 5 Cups is secure. It's time for Oil fans to stop gripping at the distant past, and worry about the team escaping the utter mediocrity of the past 15 years. Move along, people!

Thursday, September 22, 2005



I know there's a lot to chew on and talk about during the preseason, but I'm still a little surprised that I haven't heard any discussion at all about points: how many points will be needed to make the playoffs, win the division, the conference, etc.

I've linked this old piece of mine about a dozen times now. To recap briefly: there's no more ties in the new NHL, so every game tied at the end of regulation will be a 3-point game, and this will have a rather profound effect on the number of points associated with every level of success (or lack thereof). The average number of points per team in the NHL will be 92.5, based on the same number of games being tied (25.6%) after the end of regulation as in '03/04. Even if you think the new rules and crackdowns will create a lot more scoring, and thus fewer ties thru 60 minutes, 20% is probably the best (lowest) number you can hope for.

(In 1981/82 -- when the Oilers scored 417 goals and most goalies were hardly better than a Shooter Tutor (sorry Liut), 17.6% of games were tied.)

I bring this up again after considering the interesting pattern the Oilers have established in the 1st three preseason games (SO win, SO loss, SO win - tied thru 60 all three games).

Consider a mythical team that is tied thru 60 in every one of its 82 games. In 1982, this team would have 82 points (record of 0-0-82, 82pts). In 1992, before the OTL point was introduced, this team would also have 82 points, again assuming that they score an OT goal as often as they gave up one. (Based on the longterm consistent data that about 44% of reg. season OTs end with a goal, this team's record would be about 18-18-46, 82pts). Both these teams would roughly be on the playoff bubble, since they're mathematically average.

Now take this same team in 2002, where the standings show W-L-T-OTL. They're still winning 18 games in OT, losing 18, and tying the rest, but now their record is 18-0-46-18, 100 pts. This team is solidly in the playoffs, if maybe a hair short of "elite".

In 2005, the standings will show W-L-(OT/SO)L. This team's record will be 41-0-41, for a whopping 123pts, and they win the President's Trophy.

I'm not sure what can practically be taken from this exercise. Maybe two things:


Top XX Reasons Part Deux

First off. Congratulations to Calgary for getting the bandwagon to the Dome on time for the almost sellout - too bad that your fans weren't really interested in watching hockey:

"Despite the efforts of those lusting for the vibe that gave birth to the Red Mile and its Sea of Red, the best the fans could do was a half-hearted Go Flames Go to open the evening.
They tried it again in the second period and again in the third. Although more than a third of the 17,439 on hand (OK, so there were a few thousand empty seats) wore the Flaming 'C,' the chants didn't catch on . . . Like the old days, last night's crowd noise was spurred on [as much - sic] by Harvey the Hound's drum or the Smooch Cam as it was by the team

Given this description, I couldn't agree more with Eric Francis' conclusion that, "there's no way any other NHL city could match the pre-season noise or enthusiasm offered up last night." BWAH-HA

On to happier things. Flames fans around here seem obsessed with scoring, so let's talk about it.

Despite common wisdom, and the uncommon idiocy of Eric Francis, the Oilers did not have any trouble scoring last season. Sure, sure, there is all kinds of talk that Edmonton has no pure scorer, no sniper, no one-shot scorer. Fact is, we didn't need one.

2003-2004 Stats

Edmonton was 9th in the league in goals/game, while Calgary was 19th
5 on 5: Edmonton was 6th in the league, Calgary was 20th!
4 on 4: Edmonton was 5th in the league, Calgary was 13th

Edmonton outscored the Flames:

This year that Oilers should be even better since they've upgraded scoring on both sides of the blue line. Oh, there is lots of talk that Peca is a downgrade from York; but, the stats tell a different story. Over the last three years, they have had very similar numbers, despite the fact that York has had 1st line ice and huge powerplay time with the Oil, while Peca was getting the dirt minutes playing nursemaid to Yashin. The list of players whose stats on offense are better with the Oil than wherever else they go gets longer by the year (Comrie, Guerin, Weight, Carter, Marchant, Poti, etc.). I have no doubt whatsoever that with the quality ice time he gets here Peca will outscore York this year.

Now, how about that balance.

Matt suggests that "balance" implies that the Oiler have no one who can score 20+ goals. If that is the definition of balance, the Oilers were 3 times as balanced as the Flames, having three players with 20+ goals to the Flames 1 player. But, let's look at the numbers more generally.

Both the Oilers and the Flames had 14 players with 20+ points; but, the Oilers had more players with 30+ points than the Flames, more players with 40+ points than the Flames, and more players with 50+ points than the Flames.

What the Flames did have is the best player in the world.

Top Scorer Calgary (Iginla) scored 20.5% of the team's goals.
Top Scorer Edmonton (Smyth) scored 10% of the team's goals.

Top 3 scorers for Calgary (Iginla, Donovan, Simon) - 38% of the team's goals.
Top 3 scorers for Edmonton (Smyth, Torres, Moreau) - 28.5% of team's goals.

I really hope for both Iggy's sake and Team Canada's sake that he doesn't get hurt. It sure would suck for Flames fans too.

Conclusion: the Oilers score more goals than the Flames, and the scoring comes from a greater diversity of players on all four lines. That, my friend, is balance.

*Special Teams will be discussed in another post since they provide the source of both the Oil's greatest weakness last season and their greatest improvement this season.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


Keep your comments on my parenting to yourself...

Did somebody mention getting on the bandwagon early? Meet the Jr. Fenwicks, decked out in honour of the 1st game night at the 'Dome in 15 months. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Top XX Reasons

Top XX Reasons I'm Optimistic that the Oilers will Finish Higher in the Standings than the Flames

While I was going to wait until pre-season was over to run down this list, the fact that there is jack-all to do in Lethbridge has allowed Matt to outpost me by a wide margin.

As a result, to ensure that this blog doesn't become a Potemkin village for the Flames fans, I've been forced to up the schedule. I currently have no idea how many items the list will include (off the top of my head, it seems endless); but, for the sake of convention, I'll start counting down from #10.

Reason #10 the Oilers will be better than the Flames this season:
"The Oilers were not that bad last season, and the Flames were not that good*"

2003-2004 Stats
Calgary: 42-30-7-3 = 94
Edmonton: 36-29-12-5 = 89

In terms of overall points, it was pretty much a wash. Calgary had only one fewer loss than Edmonton. Peanuts.

For fun, let’s assume that each team would have won 50% of its ties in shootouts (a fair assumption for the moment), in which case Edmonton would have had another 6 points and Calgary another 3.5. This leaves us with a 2.5-point gap - so much more peanuts.

Now, let’s take out the head-to-head match-ups and the respective records were:

Edmonton: 35-25-11-5 = 86
Calgary: 38-29-6-2 = 84

That's right, Edmonton was, in fact, the better team against the rest of the NHL.

Conclusion: at the end of the day, the Flames and Oilers were basically equal in terms of regular season points, so it really all comes down to who improved more since last season . . .which will be summarized in the remainder of the list (hint: it wasn't Calgary).

*I fully acknowledge that this isn't a reason the Oilers will be better than the Flames, per se; but, it does provide necessary background for the remainder of the list


A brief serious note...

Best of luck to Joe Sports, who has been diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia. He has been the host of the afternoon sports show on The Fan 960 for a few years, and has been a fixture on Calgary radio and TV for a decade.

Our prayers are with him and his family.


Get your personalized membership card now!

It's not hard to see why Oil fans are so excited, with a #1 goalie like this guy:

No.1, baby! Posted by Picasa

Look, there's even a club you can join:

Posted by Picasa


Take your best shot, indeed

Here's the Calgary Sun, on yesterday's shootout drills at Flames practice:
Only one puck got past Kiprusoff -- a top-shelf shot from Brandon Prust. The Finn looked great gliding from side to side, kicking away some attempts and poking away others.
"Kipper is amazing. He's so quick and he reads it well," said Iginla.

Early prediction: the Hart Trophy winner for the 2005/06 season will be a goaltender.

As I've noted previously (and I think this is obvious to the statistically literate), the large majority of NHL teams will be pretty close to 50/50 this year in shootouts. Insofar as it's an executable strategy, getting to the end of regulation with at least a tie will be much more important than being an excellent shootout team.

That said, some team in the league is going to have the best shootout record, and some team will have the worst. Furthermore, even if the distribution of shootout wins is random (i.e. non-talent-related), it's better than even money that one of the Top 3 shootout teams will also be a division winner - one of the league's best teams (let's call it, um, Team F).

On top of the credit Team F's goaltender would already get for a strong team record, now he will also be getting a tremendous amount of extra love for stoning all those breakaway shooters for the extra point.

The Hart Trophy winner this year will be a goalie for a high playoff seed whose team is something like 10-3 in shootouts. I don't see any way around it.

GRATUITOUS ADDENDUM: I see someone's not too anxious to position himself as a frontrunner for the Hart.


Random Stuff

I find it disturbing that tonight's Oilers-Stars game will be televised in Texas but not in Edmonton.

So far, based on Rod and Morely's call, it seems like the guys that need to step up are doing so (Horcoff, Hemsky, Torres, Rita, Schremp).

I also love the sound of BG's offseason training, and I love even more that he recognizes the potential of the new rules to help him:

"But down in the corners, guys can't hold me anymore. With the new rules, I can really help the way I take the puck to the net. In the past, I'd just get frustrated, so I knew I had to be serious, that I had to take advantage of this."

One guy that I really liked last year, and who I'm predicting will make some noise this year, is Edmonton's Own Fernando Pisani. He came out of nowhere (drafted #195) to pot 16 goals and 14 assists in 76 games last season (and basically the same rate the year before in half the number of games). He has terrific hands and would make a nice sleeper pick in any hockey pools.

Sunday, September 18, 2005



Yes, I was taken aback by the fact that the Oilers sold out their opening preseason game against the Flames. I can't believe it, but I think I may have underestimated just how psyched Albertans are about the hockey season.

There was--and is, I suppose--a legitimate concern that there are NHL fans who discovered during the lockout that, in Ken Dryden's phrase, hockey was a habit, not a passion. No question: there is a non-zero number of Flames fans who discovered during the lockout that they got more enjoyment out of the theatre, or minor home renovations, or walks through the neighbourhood than they did out of going to games. (And no doubt Edmontonians who have rediscovered their love of role-playing games and online bingo).

There is also some small number of fans who have closed their wallets on personal principle - people who are roughly thinking, "Pigs will fly and the EPS will get an honest chief before that bitch Cal Nichols (or Gary Bettman, or Ted Saskin, or Trevor Linden) gets one cent of my money".

The lesson learned from Friday night, though, is simply this: there is no substitute for winning. Franchises can do all sorts of things to add value to their tickets, or they can make all sorts of mistakes, but nothing breeds success at the bank like success on the ice.

Oilers fans at the margin think their team is going to be great this year, and want good seats on the bandwagon. God bless 'em.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Ice Ballet

Is Eric Francis serious? I mean, really, is he serious?

As they danced across the ice in trios, the second line has Steve Reinprecht centring Chuck Kobasew and Chris Simon -- another potent line capable of scoring in bunches.


Oilers Preseason

Things I'm watching for:
Last season the Oilers were 9th in goals for. Scoring was not a problem - especially considering that Comrie sat out for the first part of the season forcing Smyth to play out of position. The important stats here are that they were 6th in 5 on 5 scoring, 5th in 4 on 4 scoring, 13th in 3 on 3 scoring and 29th on the powerplay. At the end of last year Bergeron showed some potential at being able to quarterback, and there is no doubt that Pronger will help. The only remaining questionmark is who will step up and actually put the puck in the net. I'm looking for D-vo, Hemsky, Horcoff and Peca to step-up.

Last season the Oilers were 27th in the league in penalty kill percentage; but, much of this rests with the fact that we had a goalie with the yips for most of the season. I'm pretty confident in the Jussi/Conklin tandem, and there is no doubt that Pronger and Peca will help destroy this stat

First, will there actually be any changes. Second, will BG be able to take advantage of the changes. Third, how quickly will Smith, Staois, and Pronger be able to adjust to not cross-checking in front of the net.

Definitely the biggest question mark. Will Horcoff/Peca be effective on the first two lines. The buzz is that Horcoff is playing with new confidence after his season in Europe, and he did look very solid in the Joey Moss Cup. Also, will Reasoner be able to come back after his knee injury. He was, for much of last season, the team's best forward. In speed tests yesterday, he was blazing, which is a good sign.

Will Rita finally get it. He has been kicking around the organization for too long to think that this isn't his final chance to get something done.


Absolutely Unmerciful

After watching this video illustrating the new rules, I have to ask: is anyone going to be able to handle BG?

When Georges gets it along the boards behind the net, he's an absolute beast and can often kill an entire shift playing keep away while bowling down d-men; but, if there is one thing that has frustrated Oil fans for the last few years, it is his unwillingness/inability to get the puck to the front of the net.

Part of the problem has been that every time he tries, he gets absolutely mugged, and in the past he hasn't received the calls. If the new rules are called the way the video illustrates, then I'd wager BG will draw something close to a penalty per game.

Of course, we already all know about this part of Georges game.


First engagement, tonight @ 7PM

My disinterest in the scoreboard results of pre-season games is unmitigated; however, the puck drops tonight in the first of 12 encounters this season between the Flames and Oil.

It's so early, I'm not even sure what I'll be watching for (or rather, listening for). Over the course of the exhibition season, though, these are a few things for which I'll be checking for encouraging signs:
Hamrlik's success will be interesting to track. I think the expectations of some in Flame-land are excessive, considering the eyewitness accounts from his time in Edmonton:
I think Hamrlik, with his wonky knees and shoulder, will be the whipping-boy in Calgary at 7m/2 years.

He has always been a bit on the flakey side (Sutter's favourite), taking mental breaks that can last for a shift or a month. Plus, he hasn't thrown a hit in his own end in three seasons.

Oilers fans know well that Hamrlik simply loses the plot 30-40 nights a season.

My modest expectations are that he won't make me miss Lydman; I sincerely hope I'm setting the bar low enough. And I got some encouragement on the radio this morning; Peter Maher claims that in the intrasquad game yesterday, Hamrlik blocked a shot.

Searching for evidence of Hamrlik's competitiveness! No anecdote too insignificant!

Thursday, September 15, 2005


It's heartbreaking, really it is...

In case you missed it, here's an unfortunate Oiler fan cursing the fact that Dion Phaneuf appears destined to wear Flames laundry right from the get-go:
It would actually be touching to see another Edmonton-area star product enter the league just as our very greatest player is leaving. But these Edmonton hockey players keep turning up in the wrong goddamned colours.

[blink] Is it a little [sniff] dusty in here?


What is this blog?

Point: For the first time since the autumn of 1990, both Flames and Oilers fans are approaching the upcoming season with the belief that their teams are going to be really damn good.

Point: if there's anything that Flames and Oilers fans like more than watching their team, it's talking about it.

Point: Fans of both teams take special pleasure out of revelling in the struggles and limitations of the other.

Point: While there are many, many outlets for Flames and Oilers fans to rant, many of these outlets also suck, and none are set up to give both sides equal standing. (For example, if I was a regular commenter here, I'd be a troll, plain and simple).

Point: There are many good bloggers in Alberta who generally focus on other things, but whose musings on hockey deserve a hockey audience.

The Battle of Alberta group blog has been established as a nod to these five indisputable points. To begin, we have one contributor from each side of the fence.

On the south side, we have me: Matt Fenwick, live in Lethbridge, lived in Calgary from 1973-1998. I was on the players' side during the lockout, and have been a Flames fan since Nelson Skalbania moved them to Calgary in the summer of my 7th birthday.

On the north side, we have sacamano: lives in Edmonton (since 1996), full blown Oilers fan since they upset Colorado in 1998. He may be monitoring the 2nd half of the season from Merry Olde Englande.

The success of this weblog will be determined by the enthusiam both of the contributors and of those who choose to say their piece in the comments, which are open to all.

The other potential pitfall for this site is the very real possibility that the Oilers will suck right out of the gate, and turn this whole deal into a pretty one-sided argument...

**Update, November 2006**:

Sacamano has indeed moved on to be Contributor Emeritus, from his new home in Sheffield. The role of North Contributor is now filled by Andy Grabia, King of All Blogs. Occasional guest appearances are also made by Colby Cosh.

The site has gotten love on dead trees from the Globe & Mail and Vue Weekly, and in web features on and Newsweek. The best love, though, is still the love in the Comments, which generally kick ass and are substantially funnier and more interesting than the main posts.


Too old to be a Leaf? Pah!

Although Ron Francis has retired, and was respected by all, he will not be missed. The most overused word in discussions about Francis is underrated; when this theme goes on for 15 years, it becomes self-evidently ridiculous. History will hold him in the exactly the regard which he is owed: talented, durable, good character, and not one of the giants of the game in the slightest.

Earnest Hartford Whalers fan site here; listen to Brass Bonanza here, or one of 13 other versions here.


Have they?

If you don't get the bi-weekly Western Standard magazine, one of the handful of things you're missing is the sports column by Edmonton's own Colby Cosh. Low on outrage, high on original thought - basically the polar opposite of most sports opinion. (And when you do get outrage, it's unadulterated).

I bring this up because the concluding paragraph of this issue's column, on the prospects of the three western Canadian NHL teams this season, got me thinking a bit:
Surveying the whole picture, I make the order of finish for this season to be Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton [sounds about right to me - ed.]. The really good news is, they might just end up the top three teams overall in the conference. Stranger things have happened.

My instinctual reaction to this is "not bloody likely", but have stranger things happened? I think the answer is probably Yes - you make the call.

The new NHL schedule is fairly unbalanced: each team plays the other 4 teams in their division eight times (32); the other 10 teams in the conference four times (40); and 10 teams in the opposite conference once each (10), for a total of 82 games. (This year, Northwest Division teams play a home game against each team in the Northeast, and visit each team in the Atlantic; the only way the Flames and Lightning face each other this season is in a Cup rematch).

The important number here is the 32 games in-division, which have a zero-sum outcome**. 32/82 = 39% of games are against division rivals. Is it possible for three teams in one division to lead the conference under these conditions? Let's try some dreaded research.

In 1997, four teams from the NFC Central made the NFL playoffs - there was the 3 NFC division winners, and the other three NFC playoff teams were all from the Central division. Back in the 30-team, 6-division NFL, teams played 8/16 games (50%) against their own division.

In this year's National League East, all five teams have been above (or at least around) .500 for the bulk of the season, despite the fact that 76/162 games (47%) are played against each other.

It's hard to find relevant precedent in the NHL. For example, in 97/98, the top three teams in the West were all from the Central Division; however, there were only two divisions then, not three, and the schedule was not as unbalanced then as it will be this season.

The sense I get browsing around (and from memory) is this: good teams will be good, regardless of schedule balance. If there are several good teams in a division, they will split up most of the intra-division wins, and make a lot of hay with the non-division portion of their schedules.

But to end up with the result Cosh proposes, that's just not enough. A good team in another, weaker division will dominate its intra-division schedule, and pile up too many points for the 3rd team in a stronger division to match.

That said, this is not an easily searchable query. If anyone is aware of any historical precedent that would suggest that the Flames, Oil, and Canucks could have the top 3 point totals in the West this season, I'd be damn interested to learn about it.

And there is one final point to be made here: for this to have any chance of happening, Colorado and Minnesota will have to be bad, bad teams, at least to the extent that they are dominated by the Canadian teams (much like the Bears went 4-12 in '97, 1-7 against their four division rivals who made the playoffs). I'm not at all prepared to write off the team that's won 8 division titles in the past 9 years, let alone Jacque Lemaire's boys. In fact, it feels very wrong, right down to my cockles, to stand behind any prediction that places the Avalanche 4th in their division.

**Footnote: the point for the OT/SO loss (i.e. the "3-point game") makes mincemeat out of the numeracy underlying the zero-sum concept. However, since it doesn't do it in any foreseeable way (we can't, nor should we, predict that games the Flames, Oilers, & Canucks play with each other will be tied after regulation), it's still roughly useful as a concept.


Messier retires: Coda

The lads at Sports Matters have noted that with the retirement of Mark Messier, there is now no active NHLers with more than three Stanley Cup rings (there's 12 with exactly three).

Scanning the same source page, it would appear that this hasn't been the case for at least 50 years, and possibly 75. I guess there really is no such thing as a dynasty anymore.


Joey Moss Cup

I like Calgary a lot, I really do. But after living in both cities there is no doubt that Edmonton is a better sports town.

The latest example:

Last night's Oilers' Intra-Squad game (aka the Joey Moss Cup) drew 6, 423 fans which, as Shawn Horcoff noted, was more than "we drew in Sweden for any home game last year."

Perhaps a better indicator is that the largest cheer in the shootout occurred when Rob Shremp was announced as a shooter. The guy has never played a game in the NHL, and yet it was obvious that most of the 6,423 fans already knew who he was. That's a big scouting department.

The other indicator was that Chris Freakin' Pronger got booed . . . in an intra-squad game . . . and he deserved it.

It was a typically ugly game, but one thing that should warm the heart of all Oil fans is that Horcoff looked terrific. K-Lowe and Mac-T seem to believe that he will cut the mustard as our 1st line center . . . maybe they are right.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Old thugs don't retire, they just skate away

So Mark Messier has decided to retire. Hilarious comment on the "timing" from Tom Benjamin - I'm italicizing his sarcasm in case it isn't sufficiently obvious:
It has become painfully obvious that we're all going to pretend that Mark Messier is choosing to hang up his skates. Fair enough. That won't be nearly as hard as pretending he has been an NHL player for the past eight years and I'm willing to play along.

I'm glad Mark decided to pack it in while he still had some gas in the tank. It's his life, his talent and his legacy, but I always think it is sad to see great players stay on past their due date. I'm usually happier to see guys go before they wear out their welcome and therefore I think Mark is making the right decision. Better to go now than risk tarnishing one of the greatest careers in NHL history.

Good luck, Moose.

I made my opinion of Mark Messier clear last September:
Mark Messier is absolutely the dirtiest player in NHL history who is best known for something besides his thuggery. There's a laundry list of NHL retirees with permanent back problems, post-concussion syndrome, and general pain who will back me up on this.

Here's some of the laundry list, by the way:
Suspended one game by NHL during 1983-84 season for receiving three game-misconduct penalties during course of season... Suspended six games by NHL during 1983-84 season for hitting Thomas Gradin over the helmet with his stick during Edmonton's Jan. 18, 1984, game vs. Vancouver. Gradin suffered a mild concussion... Suspended 10 games by NHL for cracking Jamie Macoun's cheekbone in a fight during Edmonton's Dec. 26, 1984, game at Calgary. Messier was retaliating for having been boarded by Macoun earlier in the game, but the NHL ruled that he had instigated the fight... Suspended six games by NHL during 1988-89 season for hitting Rich Sutter in mouth with a high stick during Edmonton's Oct. 23, 1988, game at Vancouver. Although Messier was not called for a penalty on the play, Sutter suffered four broken teeth... Suspended without pay for three non-game, non-travel days and fined $500 by NHL for stick-swinging incident with Ulf Samuelsson during N.Y. Rangers' March 5, 1993, game vs. Pittsburgh... Suspended two games and fined $1,000 by NHL for hitting Mike Hough from behind during second period of N.Y. Rangers' Oct. 6, 1996, game vs. Florida
"Cracking Jamie Macoun's cheekbone during a fight"? You could put it that way; you could also say Todd Bertuzzi broke Steve Moore's neck during a fight, and be no less accurate.

When I first wrote about Messier, Colby Cosh got a little cranky ("...any Flames fan wishing to convict Mark Messier of dirty play had better at least mention the words 'Gary Suter', or be prepared to be dismissed as a five-Cup-envying whiny little bitch..."). I wrote another bit about Suter, the key graf being this:
Unlike Messier, Suter's thuggery is and will always be the lede in his hockey obituary, and rightly so.

This was borne out; Suter was eligible for the Hall of Fame this summer for the first time, and I listened to several hours of sports talk on the topic. Caller after caller - in Calgary, and against the objections of the host - expressed that they thought what he did to both Gretzky and Kariya should be held against him. I'd have to agree; if non-statistical "intangibles" are supposed to bolster the case for putting Paul Henderson (or Grant Freakin Fuhr) in the Hall, then why shouldn't they scuttle someone else's hopes?

Anyway, the real obits for Mess will sound a lot like Tom Benjamin's fake one. Mine goes something like, "Talent for 15 years, bum for 8, dirty attempting-to-injure cheater for 25."

Of course, I will repeat my previous equivocation:
...if you want to see me be a whiny little bitch, just send Messier to confront me! I ran into him (not literally, thank God) in a golf shop in the late '80s. TV fails to do this guy justice. He was wearing Dockers and a windbreaker, and he still looked like he was carved out of granite.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?