Monday, September 15

99 Seasons, But the Habs Aint One (Hundred)

Well, well, well, look who comes crawling back. Greener. You think I can just waltz back to my blog and post again? Ha! If I don't, who will? Norte? OK, yeah, for sure he will, but will I get any of the credit for it? I thought not. Truth is, with all the hype surrounding Chris Didomenico, I simply had to come back. And thanks to overwhelming support from readers like you, I'm happy to return from my blog sabbatical, where I spent my time in the depths of introspection, and doing amazing anonymous works for charity. I don't really want to say much about it, but take it from me, if you mispronounce "Quidditch" while reading to a blind person, you will get hit.

With training camp now up and running, and so many stories to get hilariously right, I thought I might just talk about something that's been bugging me all week. And no, I don't mean the email I got from Moose that was signed off with "Love always, Moose".

The NHL hype machine -seen above running at peak efficiency- has now started to swirl around the Montreal Canadiens, because, of course who deserves it more? What with all that continued success they've had, uh...ok, what with all those star players who...ok, hold on, let me rethink this. The media is so set on making this the Canadiens year (whether they like it or not) that they are coming up with new standards with which to appraise them. In their new league wide yearbook, The Hockey News gave them an overall team ranking of "A++++++++". Their manly 'D' rated a stout "700 Gold Dubloons", and their potent offense garnered a glowing "6 Angelina Jolie Breasts out of 6".

I must say this is a delightful sideways change from the past say, 5 or six years, in which The Hockey News, the entire Sun Media chain and the credibility-free, gastric by-pass failure Bruce Garrioch have all colluded to force us to drink the "Ottawa Senators will win it all" dog-shit Kool-aid. Yeah, I love fantasy too. The moral of that story is that you have to actually have a spine for someone to be able to pat you on the back.

But wait, like any senior citizen, the Canadiens deserve our respect. I mean, it's their 100th anniversary, right? Wrong. This is not the Habs' 100th year, it is, in fact their 99th. The Canadiens were birthed on December 4th, 1909. That, my lovelies, was 99 years ago. The o8/09 season is quite a bit different from the 09/10 season. Like, say, 1 year different. This annoying little fact seems to bother no one in the NHL or the hockey media that much, and they're rushing to prove their ignorance.

Like hey, in honor of the Habs 100th year, how about we gift wrap the annual outdoor game for them! Yeah, great! What? They've already been involved in one? Who cares, that was years ago, they weren't 100 then! We'll play it in Olympic Stadium! What? You say that the place is a decrepit death trap that everyone hates? That even Montrealers don't want the game? No, no, I hear you...but you didn't hear me: THEY'RE 100!!!!

Also on the Habs front, has anyone ever seen a man more miserable than Patrick Roy when he was crowbarred into his old red, white and blue #33 the other day? I mean, I don't know how to say, "I beg you, don't make me put that on!" in French, but I bet it sounds like "...something something something Tabarnack!!"
I'm assuming Roy is religious, because only someone who's made a deal with the Devil could appear so unhappy at the news of his jersey retirement.

"OK, I put on da sweater. NOW can I be da coach??"

The Canadiens are desperate to milk all this free goodwill, that they will raise Roy's number to the Bell Center rafters, along with other Montreal greats who don't despise the team. The Habs are too late on this one, as forever, Patrick Roy is an Avalanche. The same way that Mark Messier will always be remembered as a Ranger, and not an Oiler. The Rangers ingeniously branded Messier a Ranger seconds after his retirement, and the tears he cried at Rexall Place when the Oilers finally got around to honoring him years later, looked quaintly similar to his mawkish "Long Live the King" ceremony on the ice at Madison Square Garden.

A guy like Roy has a long memory. A lot longer than the Habs', who conveniently forget how they chased their last franchise player out of town, straight to the jewelers for fittings on two more Stanley Cup rings.
"Tank you, Satan!"

THE 2008-09 EDMONTON OILERS: NOW WITH 40% MORE HYPE!

We're back! Wait, I'M back! For those inquiring minds, Greener will be back as soon as he's done "penning his thesis on Richard Nixon's foreign policy." Which is perhaps the greatest euphemism for MILF porn he's ever come up with. In the meantime, our excellent friends at Melt Your Face Off asked me to "write an Edmonton Oilers Season Preview." Which you can also read below. It's finally hockey season!


Last Season: 41-35-6 88 points (9th in the Western Conference)

Owing to a late season surge that saw them go 14-5-1 in their last 20 games and a bevy of young talent performing beyond all expectations, the 2007-08 Edmonton Oilers conjured up stirring memories of glory days past. I'm talkin' Charles Pelissier in 1930 Tour de France, Greg Touney in 1999 National Spelling Bee, you know, the greatest mutha fuckin' 9th place finishers ever! Normally that kind of hype is the domain of my Maple Leafs-praising brethren here at HS/HS, but I honestly can't remember so much excitement surrounding a non-playoff team. To be fair, some of the hype is justified, as a lot of arrows seem pointed in the right direction for this team. Let's take a look:

THE SEXY

Daryl Katz: Since the end of the dynasty years (1984-90), Edmonton Oilers fans have lived under the rule of a kind of hockey fascism. Management would constantly preach that no individual was bigger than the team, as economic factors necessitated a steady export of the games best players out of Edmonton. Despite a spirit of collectivism and devotion, it still couldn't make up for the dearth of talent. No Oiler has ever been a bigger company man than Il Duce himself, Kevin Lowe. While he always towed the party line, he also lamented the plight of the proud franchise he helped build. But no more.

Enter an Edmonton-born, Oiler-loving, pharmaceutical giant, named Daryl Katz. Think Mark Cuban with a fist full of Demerol. His purchase of the Oilers and vision for their future has Lowe and fans alike creaming their jeans. (Because really, when was the last time you had a mental image of your GM creaming his jeans? You're welcome). While his economic clout may not be felt for a few years (signing big-name free agents, building a new arena, etc.), Katz's energy has given the organization, and the city, a sense that they are now the big kids on the block, instead of being, say, Calgary. It's an image make-over that almost resulted in them landing Marian Hossa this summer. Free agents that have long ignored Edmonton might now change their tune, which can only be good news when it comes time to show Kent Huskins and Mathieu Darche the big coin next summer.

Scoring: At this time last year the Oilers were so desperate for scoring they were tossing out offer sheets and scouring the Quebec Penal League for top-six forwards. A year later the question is now: Which of their seven top-six forwards is gonna have to play with Marc Pouliot? Only three teams in the West scored more goals than the Oilers (235) last year, and two of those (Detroit and Dallas) went to the Conference Finals. With the additions of Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky there's the prospect of a much improved PP and transition game, and with Horcoff, Hemsky, Cole, Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson and Penner all capable of scoring 20+ goals, there's no reason why the Oilers can't have an even more potent attack this year. Except for the fact that I just said that. Cue disaster.

The Shootout: The Oilers went an astonishing 15-4 in shootouts last season, an NHL record which may just last a while. A big reason for that was Mathieu Garon, who went 10-for-10, stopping 30 of 32 shots. If you combine that with Ales Hemsky's hands and Sam Gagner's filthy shootout move(s), the Oilers are well positioned to pick-up those crucial bonus points on most nights. 

MEH, NOT THAT SEXY

Team Toughness: I was talking to my friend (a Buffalo Sabres fan) at work the other day, and he says, "When I look at your roster there's nobody that puts the fear of Kimbo Slice into me." So I said, "Yeah? Fuck You." Then I waited until he left and Googled "Kimbo Slice". Turns out he might be right. The only thing the Oilers did this off-season to address their lack of toughness was sign heavyweight Louie DeBrusk...to be their TV Color Commentator. Raffi Torres is gone, while Ethan Moreau and Sheldon Souray are under mommies orders not to fight after injuring themselves in brawls, which leaves the burden on Zach Stortini (a.k.a "Huggy Bear") and newly signed utility player Jason Strudwick. While Stortini is willing, he's more of a light heavyweight, and the fact that Oilers tried to re-sign Georges Laraque is a sign that they recognize the deficiency.


Faceoffs: When asked about the importance of faceoffs, Wayne Gretzky once famously said "Faceoffs are just a way to start the game." Wayne Gretzky is an idiot. I suppose when you have six or seven Hall of Famers on your team and you're handing out 8-2 nut thumpings every night, that may be true. But clearly in today's game that just isn't the case, especially for a team trying to mould themselves into a skilled puck-possession squad like the Oilers. With the trade of Jarret Stoll, one of the leagues best face-off men, and Marty Reasoner walking via free agency, that leaves Shawn Horcoff as the only proven, reliable guy on the dot. One of Brodziak (51%), Pouliot (47%), Gagner (41%) or Cogliano (39%) must pick up the slack.

The Defense: The flip-side to the Oilers dynamic offense was their, uh, shitty(?), defense. They ranked 26th overall in goals against, and only the Kings were worse in the West. Admittedly, they were a young group that is now a year older/more experienced, and they played the majority of the second half without veterans Sheldon Souray and Steve Staios. The development of puck movers Tom Gilbert and Denis Grebeshkov plus the addition of Visnovsky's transition game should mean less time spent in their own zone, but the unit still lacks a true shutdown guy to play against other teams top unit. When I say, "Cory" you say, "Cross". CORY!...Too soon?

BURNING QUESTIONS

Heading into camp, here are some of the questions on the frontal lobe of every Oilers fan:

Is it time to cut Rob Schremp yet?

A couple years ago, I played on a team with an outrageously skilled guy who would spend the first half of warm-ups doing all sorts of crazy lacrosse-style stick handling moves, then the other half clearing girls panties off the ice. Problem is, when it came time to actually play in real game situations, the dude froze like Walt Disney. My point is, that circus shit isn't hockey. Yet a large faction of Oiler fans go absolutely mental when this guy gets cut every year. The guy is barely an impact player at the AHL level, yet somehow people feel he's going to set the NHL alight if only that curmudgeon, Craig MacTavish, wouldn't suppress his All-YouTube skillz. Granted, Schremp has worked hard this off-season to get stronger, faster and become a better player, but he's not gonna make a significant impact on this team, this year. Let's just give it a rest. Every time a reporter asks MacTavish or Lowe about Schremp, that's 30 seconds of their lives they can't get back. These men are husbands and fathers. Do it for them. Do it for the children.


Moose, can you get all serious and give us a "Player To Watch" for this season?:

Sure, Dustin Penner. Despite leading the team with 23 goals, Penner was somewhat of a disappointment for many. He struggled early on with his fitness (due to playing more minutes than he did in Anaheim), and playing tougher competition than he had previously. The addition of Erik Cole, and MacT's stated desire to keep the "Kid Line" (Cogliano-Gagner-Nilsson) together to start the season, will likely push him down the depth chart and back to playing against softer competition. If he still gets his PP time, 30 goals is attainable.

Finally...

What is Robert Nilsson wearing?

As you can see, the Ro-Bear has been spending a lot of time browsing The Hives MySpace page for fashion tips. That's the classic t-shirt, silk tie, and sweater look, and it really does say, "I'm pulling so much ass that I can STILL wear this." To borrow a sports term, that outfit is a "game" breaker. I don't advise you to try this at home, but if you must, check to make sure you're a young, millionaire athlete before you leave the house.

PROJECTIONS: There's no doubt the '08-09 Oilers are better on paper, and owing as much to the rest of the teams in the division taking a step backwards, the Northwest title is well within reach. More realistically, this is still a young team that will go through growing pains. I mean did you see what Robert Nilsson was wearing? I expect they'll finish with something between 92 and 96 points, and 7th in West. Until next time, kids!