Saturday, October 24, 2009


Battle Gameday: Sailing

"Fantasy, it gets the best of me
When I'm sailing, all caught up in the reverie"

I've being listening to Yacht Rock all day. Hence the Christopher Cross reference. Even made a Yacht Rock mix. Got me some Cross, the Michael McDonald-led Doobie Brothers, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates, Boz Scaggs, Toto, Kenny Loggins...all of it. So white. So smooth. So wonderful.

So far so good with the Oilers this year. 6-2-1 on the season. 2nd in the NW, 4th in the Western Conference. 36GF. 26GA. Dustin Penner tied (with Ryan Smyth) for 4th in league scoring with 14 points. And all this with a bunch of key players (Fernando Pisani, Sheldon Souray, Steve Staios, and Marc Pouliot) injured. Not too bad, right?

Nope, not too shabby. I'm the biggest cynic in the world when it comes to this hockey club, and even I'm impressed. At the same time, there are concerns. They've only played two games on the road. They've only beaten two teams with a winning record (Dallas and Columbus). The injuries, and a crazy case of the flu, have exposed the lack of depth at forward. They still look really bad in their own end, continually failing to clear the zone. They like to give up goals in the last minute of periods. The starting goaltender plays rebounds like he's playing a game of Pong. The coach isn't Bill Walsh. And Dustin Penner isn't Frank Mahovlich. So, you know, some perspective is probably in order.

As Matt so kindly pointed out, the 2006-2007 Oilers started out 6-2. That was the year of "The Vaunt." They beat some good teams to start the season, too, including the Flames, Sharks, Canucks and Red Wings. Then the wheels came off (on October 25th they were hammered 6-2 by the Ducks and their new defenceman, Chris Pronger). My shrink has advised me to not spend too much time dwelling on that season, but let's just say that it didn't end on a high note.

I'm not saying this season is going to go off the rails like the 06-07 season did (may the Good Lord have mercy on our souls if it does). But there's still a lot of hockey to be played, and this team hasn't really been tested. Tonight's a good test. So too are the next 12 games, 9 of which are on the road. If they can avoid a late-game screwup against the Flames tonight (wouldn't that be nice?), and go even 6-6 over the next 12, I'll be a lot more convinced that this team is the real deal. Right now it's all just a fantasy.

Prediction: What this fool believes is that Oilers ride like the wind in a 5-3 victory. Minute by minute, they take it to the streets, cycle the puck lowdown, and make my dreams come true. Ya mo be thinking Hemmer gets the hatty, and Chopper reels back the years with a pair. Sarah smiles, and the boys Lido shuffle all the way to Margaritaville to meet Rosanna for some post-game celebrations.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Potpourri for 5-2-1, Alex

Before I type this next sentence, I want to assure you that I am not on any type of drugs. Okay, here goes: Brian McGrattan was the best player on the ice for Calgary on Friday.

Yeahhhhh, let's not get carried away here, Lambert. He had a fine game -- and for Brian McGrattan, a tremendous one -- but he was the 3rd best player on his line. Prust set up two beauty chances in the high slot, the 2nd of which resulted in McG's assist when his miss was redirected into the net by Boyd. The goal came on one of the several chances Boyd created.

Full credit to McG for getting into good scoring position three distinct times. If he averages 1/3 that rate over all the games he plays this season, I'll be thrilled. But he wasn't the guy making things happen out there. And you know what? He's not going to average a scoring chance per game. Not close. It was his first goal in 91 games; no amount of improved skill and luck will turn him into a reliably competent player in the offensive end.

And it's not like this is all calculator skepticism either. In Eric Godard's third game as a Flame, on October 13, 2007, he drove the net on a 2-on-1 with Stephane Yelle and potted the game-winning goal. This spurred some chatter along the lines of ,"Well if he can chip in once in a while on the scoresheet, as well as providing some energy and a physical presence, then we might have a gem in this here heavyweight."

We didn't. He didn't score again in the subsequent (and final) 76 games of his Flames career. He scored twice last season for the Cup champ Pens, dressing for 71 of 82 regular season games and 0 of 24 playoff games. So I guess what I'm trying to say is: my expectations for Brian McGrattan's helpfulness going forward, with respect to Winning, have not been raised one iota.

**Congratulations to the Oilers; they haven't looked this good in October since the Lupul team started 6-2.

**This crossed my mind a few times in the past couple of weeks: I wonder if the NW Division is the new SE Division. It certainly seems, early on here, that every team has serious flaws -- the NW may spend this season getting bootstomped by the other two divisions, and have one of those races where the div champ gets the 3rd seed and the runner-up finishes 9th.

**Thanks to Robert Cleave for pointing out this brief blog post by radio colour guy & WHA legend Mike Rogers. First Rogers lets the cat out of the bag:
People make out that Sutter’s system is so complicated that Albert Einstein would have trouble figuring it out. Brent’s approach is no different than pretty well every team in the NHL.

I knew it! I frickin' knew it. Every time a team gets a new coach, the players gush about his new system, and say something almost exactly like, "Coach has got us playing a lot more aggressive, up-tempo game [...] we just have to make smart decisions." Accordingly, it derives straight from Rogers' comments that, within a fairly narrow range, there is a commonly-accepted "right way" to play successful hockey.
So why the problem? The system will only work as long as the individual will buy in and I believe that some of the Flames players are not willing to do so. Playing a strong defensive game is not glamorous, but scoring goals is. So what would the player rather do? I think you know the answer. Once the individual commits to the idea that everyone has to be on the same page, the team will be successful.

I dunno, Mike. If the players are being asked to do things that are "no different than pretty well every team in the NHL", then how can this be a committment thing? How did the players on the Flames roster get to where they are today if they can't do the things that are acknowledged league-wide as being important? If Jarome Iginla had 7 goals right now, but an identical number of goals against, would you suggest that he needs to commit to a strong defensive game, or that there was any problem at all? I think you know the answer.

**Get well soon, Moss. Go Flames.

Friday, October 16, 2009


If only

If only the Oilers had a Coach who put an "emphasis on determining and going with what actually leads to success (wins) . . . rather than "hamstring[ing his team's] chances of victory based on some antiquated and unproven model of success".

"There's a thousand stats and the one I look at the most is chances, for and against," said Quinn.


Ahhhh, I'm just bustin' your balls Andy.  I could care less what he looks at, so long as he keeps those Irish eyes a smilin'.

Saturday, October 10, 2009



Seems like Matt and I are enjoying the same stuff right now.

"The radio guys here protest a little … they point out that while Drew’s OPS is usually good, they aren’t sure that it has led to PRODUCTION — namely runs scored and RBIs. And this is when Theo really takes over. I bold out a few of my favorite thoughts in this wonderful little lesson:

"That’s not true. With RBIs, yes. Based on his skill set, he’s always going to have underwhelming RBI totals. I couldn’t care less. When you’re putting together a winning team, that honestly doesn’t matter.When you have a player who takes a ton of walks, who doesn’t put the ball in play at an above average rate, and is a certain type of hitter, he’s not going to drive in a lot of runs. Runs scored, you couldn’t be more wrong. If you look at a rate basis, J.D. scores a ton of runs.

“And the reason he scores a ton of runs is because he does the single most important thing you can do in baseball as an offensive player. And that’s NOT MAKE OUTS. He doesn’t make outs. He’s always among our team leaders in on-base percentage, usually among the league leaders in on-base percentage. And he’s a really good base runner. So when he doesn’t make outs, and he gets himself on base, he scores runs — and he has some good hitters hitting behind him. Look at his runs scored on a rate basis with the Red Sox or throughout his career. It’s outstanding.

“You guys can talk about RBIs if you want, I just … we ignore them in the front office … and I think we’ve built some pretty good offensive clubs. If you want to talk about RBIs at all, talk about it as a percentage of opportunity but it’s just simply not a way or something we use to evaluate offensive players.”

--Joe Posnanski, on Theo Epstein on J.D. Drew

Now, I am well aware that baseball isn't hockey. I say this to preempt the people who will want to drive home this point in the comments section, knowing full well that they will say it anyway. Baseball is not hockey. Hockey is not baseball. Baseball is not hockey. I know. I get it. And I don't care. What I care about is the broader point of Posnanski's post, and Epstein's interview, which is this: far too many professional sports teams, sport reporters, and sports fans focus on aspects of their particular game that are either secondary or irrelevant to the game's primary purpose, which is winning. They elevate things that, while perhaps fun and entertaining, haven't really been proven to exist or matter. Coaches who talk about players needing more "crust" in their game, for example. Fans who brag about a player being the team's best body-checker, for another. Reporters who mythologize a player for being "clutch" in "crunch time." Me, I'd rather people--managers, coaches, players, reporters, fans--worried more about figuring out what things actually determine success in a sport. Do I know exactly what those things are? Hell, no. But I do have some guesses.

In hockey, for example, I'm more concerned with scoring rates than hit totals. I'm more interested in who a player is playing against, and how he is doing against those players, than I am in his leadership skills. I'm more concerned with finding players who drive results, and less interested in whether or not he is really good at driving a guy's head into the boards. I'm more interested in net total shots on net and driving possession than "errors" and the plus/minus. I'm that way because I'm guessing (I've been convinced, actually) that some of these things are more important in determining the outcome of a game than the things we've traditionally looked at and used to determine outcomes (and excellence). You want to win? Have guys on your team who do these things well. Forget about how "big" his heart is, those "huge" goals he scores, and whether or not he can impale an opponent on his stick like a trident.

Listen, I like physical hockey and fighting as much as the next guy. It gets the blood up, it gets the crowd into a game, and it's just plain fun to watch. But you know what I like more than an entertaining hockey game? One where my team wins. If I just wanted physical entertainment without results, I'd watch the Three Stooges. But I want my team to win, and I remain unconvinced that having it littered with bruisers is going to maximize that result. Am I saying that "physical hockey" is unimportant? No. It may in fact be. But I don't think it's been proven to really matter as much as "scoring hockey." That's what I want first and foremost on my hockey team. Guys who score goals. Also, guys who score goals and prevent other guys from scoring goals. That's really the ideal. If they do it by playing physically, great. But that's an added bonus, not a primary concern. When I see a near historically bad NHL player getting first-line minutes because he's big and hits people, a little bit of my sanity dies. Why? Because the bottom-line is the guy isn't helping his team win when he is placed in that position. His skill set does not match up with what is required to win hockey games. And the coach isn't helping his team win, either. In fact, he's hamstringing their chances of victory, based on some antiquated and unproven model of success. And there goes my sanity, right out the window!

Then again, I may be wrong. Maybe all those traditional ways of looking at a hockey player, and his performance, matter. But I'd like to move away from the acceptance of these things simply because that's the way it's always been, and move more towards an acceptance of these things because that's the way they really are. I'd like there to be more emphasis on determining and going with what actually leads to success (wins), and less emphasis placed on what takes us back to making ill-informed and unproven observations and evaluations. If that means heart and soul and body-checking and all that other stuff really matters, rock n' roll.

And that's my thought for the day.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Battle Game Day

Flames @ Oilers, 730PM MT, RSN West. So not only have I not found time to put up much of a post today, I'm also going to be curling tonight at the Saville Centre (w/ Sacamano) and will miss the 2nd and 3rd periods. I think I'll wear my Warrener 44 jersey, so mental note, keep my head up. Two things though:

Scott Reynolds' wonderful Gospel of Hockey preview routine, now featured at Copper & Blue, reminded me of this Battle Game Day from 4(!) seasons ago.

Also, Vic and Dennis are back. Vic shows that, as recorded so far, Scoring Chance +/- and Corsi# correspond awfully closely. Dennis is kibbitzing at Lowetide's; here is his latest presented without comment in its entirety.
It seems like I am always picking up for this guy:) but even though I've never had the same injury as 78, I have been injured in that area before and let me tell you, it's pure hell.

It happened while I was at the gym and attempting an exercise on an ab machine and because I'd been doing like 150 situps-a-day for like 2 years before I even started at a gym, I figured I would be Boss when it came to this piece of equipement. Well, I set the gauge too high and when I did the first crunch, I could literally feel something tear.

This was just before christmas and I was gonna stay away from the gym for a couple of weeks anyway so when I finished up that day, I said I'd take awhile off and hopefully this would heal (I had finished my workout after feeling this tear because you never really full the full effects of an injury until the adrenaline wears off, anyway).

So, for a week I'm a little sore but then I start my christmas drinking and my stomach literally grinds everytime I take a drop and the next morning it's like I'm pissing honest-to-goodness fire.

Note: I still powered through because it was Christmas;)

Anyway, as soon as I got back to town after the holidays, I tried out the gym again and wound up in the absolute racks-of-pain for a full week. I remember going to the gym on a Monday and for the first next few days I could hardly get out of bed. I mean I had shooting pains in my stomach, groin, my balls, my ass and even in the head of my Brian Burke! The #1 and #2 bodily functions were resolute murder and I didn't know what was going on.

Note: I hope LT's daughter isn't reading this!

So I go to the doctor and he says it's likely prostatitis and it's either from a muscle pull or an infection. I get a bunch of bloodwork done - if you have this, you want it to be from an infection because that's the easiest way to treat it - but no such luck, it's a muscle pull.

So the doctor tells me no physical activity for six weeks and even when I resumed that, I should consider giving up alcohol and caffeine for an even longer period of time.

So, because I'd been in such rough shape before, I went from early Jan to early June without drinking a beer because I was fearful of bringing the pain back upon myself. And because I wasn't hungover or hungover hungry, I eventually worked out like never before and went to the gym six days a week and was in the best shape possible.

Note: my friends kept going out once a weekend but I've never been one to go out without getting hammered:)

Also, do you know what the doctor suggested would sooth flare-ups?


So, the girlfriend wasn't overly happy about that but I certainly was:D

The moral of this story is I don't know what's going on with 78 but I feel bad for the kid and I felt like sharing.

Go Oilers?

Calgary 5 (Iginla, Phaneuf x2, Conroy, Boyd) Edmonton 4 (probably the Comrie-Brule-Stone line, that looks fearsome). Go Flames.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Thought for the Day

From a piece by Chicagoan Steve Chapman, Chicago Wins By Losing: Why losing the Olympics is a blessing in disguise for the Windy City:
Here, as elsewhere, public opinion does not always matter. When the mayor and assorted corporations and interest groups line up behind something, even a grandiose vanity project, it's a good bet they will prevail over petty malcontents.

Insightful? Not particularly. True, and well said? Yep-per.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Flames Game Day

The Lions in Winter come for an autumn visit to the Saddledome tonight (7PM MT, RSN West). The reaction around Flamesland to the lads' 2-0-0 start seems to be pretty much unanimous: they don't look that great yet, but it's nice to see Kipper making some stops, and we'll sure as hell take the points.

I quite agree, and for beyond the usual reasons (i.e. better to hav'em than not hav'em, they count the same as ones earned in March, etc.). Because of the Flames' unevenly compressed schedule this season, it's absolutely critical for them to gain points when they're healthy and coming off of real rest. I may get into this again next week, but for now let's just note that in the next 8 days, the Flames play 5 games. In the following 21 days, the Flames play... 5 games.

In other words, a game like tonight's -- off 2 days' rest, at home, opponent not a powerhouse -- represents points the Flames cannot afford to get away. Because even if they're playing really well after Christmas, they have 14 games in 23 nights: what would you use as an optimistic forecast for that stretch, that includes 4 games in 5 nights twice?

Calgary 4 (Iginla x2, Jokinen x2) Lez Habz 1 (Cammo). Go Flames.

Monday, October 05, 2009


Thought for the Day

Bill James said something a while ago that I thought was about as good a thought about bad baseball teams as anything I’ve heard. He said, “The future is not a plan.” And I think that’s exactly right. Every baseball team has a future. Every one. Every team has “prospects” — Baseball America next year will list off 30 for each team. Every team is loaded down with players in Class A who, if things go well, can emerge as the next great superstar. Every team has pitchers who could, and hitters who might, and catchers who should, and base runners who conceivably can. Every team in baseball.

And because every team has a future, it’s easy to fool yourself. It’s easy to talk about how things will get better. This is not always a bad thing. This is what gives fans hope every spring training. This is what keeps players inspired. This is what keeps baseball people going forward. And sometimes, rarely, a team even might fool itself into believing that it is better than the apparent talent and play at that higher level, at least for a while.

But … more often than not, fooling yourself isn’t much of a plan for survival. And thus, The Hochevar Principle: The future comes to all teams. Some teams wait for it. Those teams finish in last place a lot.

-- Joe Posnanski, Kansas City Royals fan, today

Saturday, October 03, 2009


Battle Gameday

Don't know if Matt is throwing anything up, so I'll just give a quick prediction. I had a busy day at the waterpark that prevented me from doing anything further. I'd apologize, but it's the waterpark. That's a park, full of water slides. And a wave pool. And hot tubs. And girls far too young for me. Yeah. Exactly. BUSY.

Can any honest Oilers fan look at this depth chart and not be horrified? Who the hell are these guys? JF Jacques? Ryan Stone? WHO THE F**K IS RYAN STONE? And I haven't even gotten to Brule and Stortini yet. Or Comrie. Sweet Mother of Thor. Why did I start blogging again? Oh, right. "Flame Killer" Nikolai Khabibulin. Right (eyeroll).

Prediction: 6-5, Oilers. Gilbert Gilbert, Hemmer, Cogliano, and Scorcoff with the triple. Six fights, including a real donnybrook involving Pat Quinn and bare-knuckled boxing legend Brent O'Sutter that will be borderline erotic. Save percentages for both goalies below .800.


Thursday, October 01, 2009


Opening Night

A handful of thoughts and predictions on the cusp of the 2009/10 season:

**The Canucks might well win the NW Division again, but I'm not at all clear on why they're supposed to be better than last year (apart from Luongo starting 70+ games instead of 54). They traded in Ohlund for Ehrhoff on D, which certainly doesn't constitute a clear upgrade; they still don't have any "value contracts" on the back end.

Up front, they still have the Sedins and Kesler kicking ass, but they don't appear to be better. Demitra's hurt. Samuelsson is not that good. It's the same bunch of bleh in terms of depth.

**In fact, I think the Flames probably will win the NW. Losing Cammalleri's 39 goals (19 PP) isn't "good", but replacing those goals on the #21 PP seems a lot more doable than had it been the #1 PP.

I'm with the crowd that saw Jarome Iginla have a worse year in 08/09 than his stats would indicate, but I'm not (quite) yet worried about a steep decline from #12. I'm also with the crowd that thinks there's nowhere to go but up for Phaneuf this season. Also, you may have heard, they added the #1 UFA on the market.

I don't have much faith that Kipper will bounce back, or even stop getting worse, but the good news is that further decline can only cost the team so much. There's a certain point past which his contract and past accomplishments won't matter, and the org will try something different. Maybe McE plays well in relief and takes more and more of the workload; maybe they trade for Martin Biron or the like; who knows. At any rate, my current stance is that -- whatever the mechanism -- the Flames goaltending is quite unlikely to be worse than last year, and it could easily be better.

**The thing with the Oilers is, there's just very little basis on which to predict improvement. For every youngish guy pegged to improve, there's an oldish guy who might well get worse. While it's one thing to think Khabibulin is a better goalie than Roloson (maybe he is), it's quite another to think that Khabibulin 09/10 can outperform Roloson 08/09.

And while Quinn/Renney are clearly sound NHL coaches, there's just little or no evidence that they're going to do things much differently than Mac-T, certainly in the area of "encouraging offense and creativity". I heard Ryan Rishaug on TEAM 1260 on Monday, trying to explain how he thought Quinn's handling of the youngsters/skill players was an improvement. It made absolutely no sense, and with Jason Gregor's prodding, he ended up taking back the whole thing item by item.

**I think Chicago will be clearly better than Detroit, the rest of the Central, and the rest of the conference save for maybe San Jose (I'm not quite sure what to think about the Sharks yet). The goaltending concerns there are way overblown -- Huet's pretty good -- and among skaters, almost every one should be expected to improve to some degree. And they were a bloody good team last year. My pick for the President's Trophy.

**My breakout pick is the Kings. They added a great player in Smytty, and I think Kopitar will bust out -- the percentages weren't kind to him last year. Also, both my fantasy teams are way too dependent on this pick.

**I can't think of a single thing, off the top of my head, that interests me about the Eastern Conference. See you in June, fellas.

**Did you know:
A loss tonight for the Flames would mark their seventh consecutive loss in season openers – tying the mark for the longest losing streak in season openers with the 1972-78 Minnesota NorthStars and the 1993-1999 Anaheim Ducks.

Last season, the Flames opened their season with a 6-0 loss to the Canucks at GM Place.

I hate to go out on a limb, but I'm pretty positive that tonight the Flames will improve upon last season's Opening Night performance (vs Canucks, 8PM MT, CBC). Let's say Calgary 3 (Moss, Iginla, Giordano) Vancouver 2 (DSedin x2). Go Flames.


Tea Leaves

"The Oilers will avoid making the mistake all bad teams make, panicking, and refuse to rush into any bad decisions. They won't fire their coach and bring in a grizzled retiree who pontificates non-stop about "heart" and "soul." They won't waste months chasing the sniper who has absolutely no desire to live and play in a northern Canadian city. They won't bid against themselves and overpay for an ancient goalie coming off of a career year. And they won't sign a pint-sized centre whose greatest hockey achievement is that he was once asked by a general manager to pay back a large chunk of his contract.

No, the Oilers will avoid all of these things, instead focus on reasonably priced depth, acquiring someone who can actually win a faceoff, and making their current stadium a provincial heritage site, and remain a shining star in the NHL firmament.

4th in the Northwest, 12th in the West."

My prediction on the Oilers season, via In The Box. If you were looking for optimism or smoke up your a@%, you've come to the wrong place. Try the Journal instead.

The Flames and Canucks roll tonight. I hope both teams spontaneously combust. The Oil hit the ground running on Saturday, on Hockey Night in Canada, in the first BoA tilt of the season. It's go-time, folks.


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