I just got back from a little downtime in New York. It was the first vacation I've had in nearly two years, although sometimes when the need arises I just let Greener's calls bounce straight to voicemail - it's like a week in Hawaii.
Monday, August 4
The main purpose of the trip was to take in a Yankees game before the closing of the old ballpark, but the weekend had a decided hockey flavor to it, courtesy of a few stops while trolling around Manhattan.
The girlfriend wanted to stop off in the NBC gift shop in Rockefeller Center, looking for a little merch to scratch her Brian Williams itch (see: weird crushes on news anchors). While exploring the huge multi-level store, my ears were drawn to a raucous sound coming from downstairs. I turned to see a battery of television sets with...hockey?!?!? Oh yeah. Now THIS is the NHL on NBC!
Don't try and tell me hockey isn't thriving in America...in a stairwell...behind a rack of Fear Factor onesies. I pulled myself away from the continuous loop of six highlights from 2006, and we headed out back to the streets.
I was on my third ice-blended lemonade and green tea, when we accidentally stumbled across the NHL store on 47th. Normally I'm not a big fan of buying hockey apparel, as most of it is hideously designed and just about unwearable outside the confines of your local hip-hop video shoot. But this was the NHL store in Manhattan, and who doesn't love paying $44 for a 100% cotton Oilers t-shirt? Not me apparently. Upon entering, I was immediately bombarded by an advert for the NHL's already passe showcase:
I get it. It's a hockey game outside. It's cold. It's also the only game NBC will telecast this season until the Stanley Cup Finals. I think I made my feelings about the Winter Classic pretty clear in the latest podcast - which you should all be downloading on to your iPhones and rocking to on the way to work.
I browsed for a bit and two things became readily apparent: 1) I was going to need an equity loan to pay for this stuff, and 2) there seemed to be some correlation between the amount of available merchandise and the crapness of the team. I have no statistical evidence to back that up, I'm just wondering if I really need all 3 versions of the Columbus Blue Jackets fridge magnet, ya know?
After spotting a pair of Toronto Maple Leafs Reebok's, I thought to myself, " Greener might like those." Plus they seemed like something that would go well with whatever was on the cover of this months FHM, or Stuff, or whatever other softcore "mens" magazine is spread across his mail-order coffee table. So being the good friend that I am, I called to ask his shoe size which garnered a wholly ungrateful response. That turned out to be a blessing because now I had more money to spend on Norte. By the way ladies, Greener's shoe size is five - make of that what you will.
After snapping up a few items and measuring myself against the Alex Ovechkin height chart, I overheard the following conversation between a customer and sales girl:
Customer: "Why you ain't got the new Steve Stamkos (pronouncing it staymkoss) jersey?"
Girl: "Who is that?"
Customer: "He's supposed to be the next Gretzky. I seen him play in Canada (no he didn't). He's okay."
Girl: "Just okay? Well if it's just 'okay' you're looking for, I've got a bunch of these left!"
Tambellini and Bowman
A couple hours later, we got back to the apartment where I soon heard that the Oilers had hired Steve Tambellini to be their new GM. Initially I was shocked, but was put at ease somewhat when I learned that it was more of move to reduce the workload on a drained Kevin Lowe. This essentially expands the front office personnel, and moves the Oil towards a management team setup, which has become the rage these days. Lowe will become the Director of Hockey Operations and will still have the final say on all hockey related decisions.
While many people are happy that the hire is a change from the the "old boys club" that the Oilers have been accused of being, its worth noting that Tambellini worked extensively with Lowe and MacTavish with Team Canada. So there is a level of comfort and a history there. It's always positive to get a fresh mind, with different ideas and different contacts from another organization, but there is some question as to what exactly Tambellini's influence was with the Canucks. After all, Vancouver is an organization that doesn't have a history of great success. Without really knowing what he did, it's hard to analyze the move using anything other than his reputation within hockey circles which, by all accounts, is very good. I trust Kevin Lowe. He's rebuilt the Oilers faster than I expected and assembled what looks like a good team (on paper) this off-season. It will be interesting to see when and what kind of personal stamp Tambellini will, or is allowed to, put on this team.
As for Scotty Bowman bolting to the Chicago Blackhawks, it's an interesting move to say the least. I think some Leafs fans might see this as a snub, but really this is Bowman's M.O. He's not a builder. In football you have a guy like Bill Parcells who loves nothing more than the challenge of taking over a last place team and turning them into winners. But Bowman has always preferred to take the path of least (or less) resistance. If you look at the places he's gone in his career, the only "step down" he took was when he left Montreal for Buffalo in 1979. Otherwise Bowman has made a habit of choosing just the right situation with burgeoning teams and legitimate Cup contenders: Montreal (from St. Louis), Pittsburgh, Detroit, and now the Hawks, a team that appears close to contending themselves. That's no knock on Bowman. He's a great hockey mind and, without question, the greatest coach of all-time. But just once, it would have been nice to see build a team from the ground up.
I would be remiss if I didn't give a long overdue mention to the Edmonton Sun. It appears the headline writers over at our favorite tabloid are already in mid-season form. A few weeks back, Shawn Horcoff's 6 year, $33 million contract extension produced this headline gem: "Shawn of the Bread."
Oh it hurts.