Wednesday, January 21


"Ales is probably the smoothest player in the league today when he's got the puck...when he's stickhandling, nobody's close. You had Gretzky here, now you've got this guy."
- Joe Sakic on Ales Hemsky

Normally I don't put much stock in comments from a guy who maimed himself in a one man snowblower accident, but I'll cut Joey some slack. Plus, he's right. You see, this is Ales Hemsky, he plays for my team. You wish he played for your team. 

He's just different. It's the way he moves - the composure, self-assuredness, and that rare dynamic quality that brings an expectation that something is going to happen every time he touches the puck. But it's more than that.

You hear a lot of broadcasters or fans say a player is "a joy to watch." Usually that's applied to a guy who scores a lot of goals or does things at a high level, without regard to the WAY they do it. Ales Hemsky is a joy to watch aesthetically. If Hemsky never scored a goal - and believe me, there used to be many nights when you thought he was intentionally trying not to - he would still be worth watching. There's a rhythm to his game, a fluidity of motion, that's unlike anyone else in hockey. Nearly every Hemsky goal, even a wrist shot from the slot, is "highlight reel" quality, because of the buildup to it and the grace with which he does it. I'll admit it, I've thought about what his lips would feel like, pressed against mine. Don't judge me.

For all you non-Oiler fans, if I could compare Hemsky to another player it would be Johan Cruijff. You know, the great Dutch footballer of the 1970's? 
(At this point, Greener is fuming, because not only am I not waxing poetic about him, I'm now talking about football...and not calling it soccer). 

Cruijff was the most elegant of athletes, a near perfect blend of speed, quickness, balance and agility, complimented by a limitless footballing I.Q. The great Rudolf Nureyev was fascinated by his movements and loved to watch videos of Cruijff playing. Nureyev's assistant once hypothesized that it was because Nureyev thought Cruijff would be a better dancer than the legend himself. Cruijff and Hemsky share that same balletic quality. They almost look out of place playing a sport.

With Hemsky it's those three crossovers in the neutral zone gearing up to top speed, the shoulder drop to freeze the d-man, the half push-off (in lieu of a full stride) that kicks him clear when turning the corner, and his puck control in traffic while under pressure. Put it all in one package with innate hockey sense, vision, and fearlessness, and you have a very special player.

Hemsky used to be a "potential" guy, the prettiest 15 goal, 70 point scorer in the league. This year he's taken his game to a new level and become the unquestioned leader of this team. It's not just aesthetics anymore. In the next four years (the time Hemsky has remaining on his current contract), Ales Hemsky's play will determine the success of the Oilers. If Shawn Horcoff and Dustin Penner live up to their fat contracts it will be because of Ales Hemsky. If the Oilers are going to win a Stanley Cup, it will likely come during that period as Hemsky begins his prime and graduates to elite status.

Others may be better, but no one is better to watch.

Saturday, January 10


As I was heading out to lunch yesterday, I received a barrage of e-mails on my phone from the Edmonton Oilers Hockey Club. The headlines to the various messages went something like this:



Ales Hemsky placed on IR


Whoa, whoa, whoa...what was that? I haven't seen a lead buried like that since the day after 9/11 when Sean Hannity asked George Bush, "What happens to the goat?"

In case you haven't noticed, Ales Hemsky is kind of important to this hockey team. Truth be told, he's too important. So what began as a "mild concussion" (whatever that is) and a day-to-day status, has landed the Oilers best player on the injured reserve list. It's just like brain trauma to not give a shit about my needs.

The Oilers are 2-4 since Hemsky's injury. In this stretch of the schedule heavily-laden with home games, they were supposed to be solidifying a playoff spot. Instead, they've been spinning their wheels and still find themselves amongst a throng of tightly bunched teams outside the top eight.

His injury casts a bright light on the lack of reliable scoring throughout the lineup. Without his playmaking, his usual linemates (Horcoff and Penner) simply aren't as effective, and the likes of Cole, Cogliano, Gagner and Nilsson see tougher defensive match-ups. Few, if any, teams are as reliant on one player for its offense as the Oilers are.

Since the day he traded Chris Pronger, Kevin Lowe has been on the prowl for another superstar, namely an elite offensive player, and it's starting to become clear why. While Hemsky is on the cusp of attaining elite status himself, he needs help. There are many armchair GM's who wiped their brow in relief and questioned Lowe's judgement in trying to overpay for Marian Hossa last summer. How 'bout now? "We would've had to dismantle the entire roster to pay Hossa!!!" Really? Like Dustin Penner and Robert Nilsson? Oooooh, ouch! I'll give you two hands to count the players the Oilers wouldn't trade for Marian Hossa, and I'll bet you don't get past three fingers. But hey, let's keep yearning to acquire Mike Sillinger, lament the loss of Curtis Glencross, and devise lame trade scenarios that can *fingers crossed* land us Antoine Vermette!

The Oilers lack that 1-2 punch that most true Cup contenders have. That 1-2 punch that, unless you have an elite goaltender, most Cup contenders HAVE to have. Simply put, not only does having another offensive star insulate you from injury to one of them, you're going to win more hockey games. How so? It's just a case of logic and mathematics. First liners play more than second liners who play more than third liners and so on...because they're BETTER players. Is there a worse hockey philosophy than the one that says "we're gonna roll four lines"? There's only 60 minutes in a hockey game. If the best players are playing 20+ minutes (roughly a third of the game) doesn't it stand to reason that the team with the better players on the ice for the most amount of time is going to win on most nights?

The Oilers need some additional star power, and if some of the names currently circulating in the rumor mill (Lecavalier, Kovalchuk, etc.) hit the trade market you can bet the Oilers will be making that call. If not, you can be sure that Katz, Lowe, and Tambellini will be pulling out all the stops again this summer to make another run at the likes of Hossa and Gaborik. Will they land one? Who knows, but watching these Hemsky-less Oilers over the last six games has made me realize they're right for trying.

Oiler fans are among the most knowledgeable and passionate in the game. Because of that they sometimes have a difficult time accepting that Kevin Lowe might know a little more about hockey than they do. Maybe this one time we should trust his plan and vision for this team. I mean the guy just cured cancer!

Thursday, January 8

Hypocrisy 1, Leafs 0

It takes a big man to say a bunch of meaningful things in front of a ton of reporters running devices like cameras and microphones, and then, six months later, do EXACTLY the opposite. How big? Oh, about 6'5, 231 lbs.

Mats Sundin leapt straight into the race for the Stanley Cup by playing his first game last night with the Vancouver Canucks. A team that features... uh... that guy... and, um... those dudes with the goatee's... oh, and Kyle Wellwood! Hmm, with the exception of the (injured) Roberto Luongo, sounds a lot like last years' Leafs; the team he left.

Sundin was always a good politician - saying only what was necessary to say, in polite, flat tones - and like every successful politician, he knows what to say to get all the suckers out there to support him, in spite of the fact that he was made by an elderly woodcarver and hangs out with an sentient cricket.

Don't get me wrong. Posts like this one aren't howling because Sundin went and dared sign with a club other than the Leafs. Look, I get it. Sundin had a NTC and had every right to use it. And naturally, any player has the right to sign with whomever he wants upon contract expiration; that's why contracts aren't for life. The problem with Sundin are the sweetums he uttered which millions of us stood behind, even though we knew it was costing the Leafs dearly. The most notable of these bon mots being:

"I have never believed in the concept of a rental player. It is my belief that winning the Stanley Cup is the greatest thing you can achieve in hockey but for me, in order to appreciate it you have to have been part of the entire journey and that means October through June. I hope everyone will understand and respect my decision."
Well, we sure did then. We respected this man's desire to stay a Leaf. Most of us (ok, I) applauded him for wanting to stay and fight it out in a Toronto sweater, when a lot of lesser players would have headed to San Jose, or, (gasp!) Montreal.

But he didn't. He stayed, denied the Leafs an astonishing bounty of picks and players a trade would have brung, then he fucked around over-fishing Lake Blörk Blörk until he got bored and decided to rejoin the NHL but not from October through June. More like January till whenever the Canucks get knocked out of the first round. Yup, that's meaningful.

Tuesday, January 6


Oilers 3, Islanders 2

One of Craig MacTavish's favorite lines used to be "never critique a win." I'm assuming that's because critiquing the losses got so monotonous. Well, last night the Oilers got away with one against the league doormats, the New York Islanders, who were without Doug Weight and John Tavares. It was a win that needs critiquing: "Two thumbs down. If you fast-forward through one Oiler win this year, make it this one." It was ugly...but maybe that's a good thing.

In the last month, the Oilers have watched the Florida Panthers AHL affiliate shut them out on home ice, and lost to a gutless Ottawa team that was winless in 12 consecutive road games. Against the leagues worst team, also riding a 12 game road winless streak, the Oilers were down 2-0 at the end of the first, thanks to more sloppy play and their continued refusal to get dirty. But they got bailed out by their fourth line (Brodziak, Stortini and Strudwick), who gave the rest of the team a template for how to play when things aren't going your way. They won battles, simplified the game, threw pucks to the net and got two garbage goals because of it. Cogliano got the game winner in similar fashion, hopefully suggesting that the message was received by the rest of the team.

The problem with the Oilers, on most nights, is they don't have a Plan B (Note: Plan A is to skate around making drop passes and one arm dekes in the neutral zone, while avoiding as much physical contact as humanly possible). You have to be able to win a game in more than one way. When they don't score on the rush they seldom revert to a simple game that requires them to compete in the tough areas of the ice.


This was a team that boasted about its glutton of top six forwards, yet they sit 9th in the Western Conference in Goals For and 19th overall. Why? Because they have no consistent fallback game. With the games only getting tougher as the playoffs draw closer, this team's character will be severely tested if the roster remains as is. I don't wanna say the Oilers are soft, but they just called-up this guy from Springfield.

If you're going to have guys like Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson, Brule, Schremp and Reddox on the roster, you need to create space with some physical presence. It's no accident that Gagner's game has picked up since being paired with the net crashing Erik Cole.

This team has plenty of parts on it's shopping list, but another scorer who will get to the ugly areas should be a high priority. Mike Knuble? Nathan Horton? Yes, please.

Saturday, January 3


The truth is, I'd rather take a hot one in the grapes than write an article about Mats Sundin. Quite frankly that's one of the reason's I haven't been appearing as much here on HS/HS. I'm sorry if you think I'm avoiding you.
I could also make excuses about how busy I am or tell you that at this very moment I am infected with something, that when expectorated, looks like it was designed by H.R Geiger. And that when you spend some of your day coughing so hard you wonder if you'll die, wanting to compare Ian White's moustache to that of a pederast suddenly takes a backseat.

I'm on various pills and unguents.


I don't know much, but I know that urine is not supposed to be the colour of Mexican crockery.

Also; tis the season, and this one, especially as a parent, has a way of robbing, not only your money, but your time. A few days after Christmas I found myself weeping at the realization that it was almost 2009 and that I had just spent 45 minutes trying to find parking.
The truth is I haven't seen a Leafs game in weeks. Missing even the Kings game where our very own rink bunnies 'Greener and Moose' made their appearance. Proving, once again, that like Transformers, there was more than meets the eye.
I was kind of hoping Greener would have tackled the Sundin "issue" in that way he has; concise, funny and relevant. With a visual joke only slightly less funny that I would do. Something like this.He would have something that made us shake our heads and think, hey - I never thought of it like that.
Of course since I have the relevant timing of a pre-mature ejaculator, I'm sure by the time you are reading this, Mats will already have made his triumphant return and ratched out his groin. Or maybe I am so bogged down in the mists of a Nyquil high that it's already happened and I just spooged on your thigh.
Either way, everyone knows its now or never for the Canucks and I'm thinking Antropov for Hodgson sounds about right.

And the less said about Avery the better: although I will say this. Sean Avery is so classless that he asks Joey Buttafuoco to tie his tie. Who in himself is so terrible that he was once portrayed by Jack Scalia.

I feel lightheaded.

Thursday, January 1


Part 1 of our 435 part series: "Better Know What's Wrong With The Edmonton Oilers"

The Edmonton Oilers like to play hard to get. But I get it. Sure they'll tease you with the odd two or three game winning streak, only to be inevitably followed by a two or three game losing streak. I'm not fooled anymore. They are a decidedly average hockey team. The larger problem is that they've tricked management into believing that a break-through is imminent, which only delays what truly needs to be done to fix this team.

The Oilers have been cut a lot of slack this year, by fans, media, and to a greater extent, by their two-headed GM. Sophomore slumps, lack of confidence, tough schedule...all excuses. About the only person who hasn't accepted their mediocrity is Craig MacTavish, and yet everyone is calling for HIS head? Weird.

What ails this team has little to do with coaching and a lot to do with the composition of the roster. It's flawed and littered with holes, among them: terrible penalty killing, inability to win faceoffs, and a lack of grit and physical play. We're 36 games into the season, it's time to accept that this team is what it is, and right now that's a non-playoff team. At a certain point "slumps," "poor confidence," and "bad breaks" are states of reality, not transient periods of time. Did I just get all deep on you? Every time they look like they're about to turn a corner, they fall back into...well, being the team they really are. That's because asking a bunch of small skill players to play outside their natural comfort zone (i.e. gritty, more physical) is not a sustainable practice. At some point they will revert back to what they know - their natural style. After all, that's what got them to this point. They're being asked to change their stripes to compensate for the deficiencies of the roster, and that falls on the GM. It's time to change the makeup of this group. If they're serious about making the playoffs, waiting another 15-20 games will be too late.

The other day I was looking at the Oilers depth chart, and I thought to myself, "Boy this team could really use a healthy J.F. Jacques." Let me tell you something, that scares the shit out of J.F. Jacques, not to mention me. I've reached THAT level of exasperation and desperation with this team.

I received an e-mail this morning from a journalist in Edmonton with a couple of Oiler -related trade rumors. I should probably clarify that by "journalist," I mean Washingtron. Some of you may remember him as a writer for this blog, and by "some of you," I mean Washingtron. It went as follows:

Hey man, here are the rumblings from around here... one of which, the second, is from a reputable lawyer who hangs with agents...

1 -
Visnovsky for Spezza
2 - Gilbert and
Horcoff for Kovalchuk


First off, it should be said that Washingtron does run in a pretty connected circle. I mean, if you know another Oiler blogger who used to play G.I Joe with Zach Pocklington, speak up. I'm not making any of this up, because 1) the Internet isn't big enough for TWO fake rumor sites, and 2) does this blog really need LESS legitimacy?

My thoughts? Neither of those trades fix what's wrong with the Oilers, especially the Kovalchuk deal. But, Kevin Lowe is so fixated on bringing a superstar to Edmonton, I could actually see that one happening. Yes, the Oilers could certainly use another legitimate front-line scorer (so could 29 other teams), but the truth is the Oilers would be a playoff team if they could simply win more faceoffs and not give up a power play goal every night.

Faceoffs: There are only 50 or so guys in the NHL that are over 50% in the faceoff circle, so finding them isn't as easy as it sounds. Back in September I got into a little discussion about acquiring a third line faceoff guy, and threw out Radek Bonk's name. Well, look who's sitting atop the league with a Yanic Perrault-vian 63% win rate. Sure he has flaws, but anybody you're acquiring to fill that role has flaws, otherwise they'd be first line centers. Some other guys that can probably be had? Antoine Vermette (62%) would be a good fit. Kamil Kreps (53%) in Florida is a good young defensive forward. For a twist, how about Jussi Jokinen in Tampa? He's 53% with over 450 draws taken, and given that he's played the wing for large stretches of his career, you could stick him on the wing with the faceoff-inept Cogliano and have him take draws, without creating a log-jam down the middle. He just cleared waivers so he'd likely be available for near nothing.

Penalty Killing: How has one of the leagues best penalty killing teams each of the two previous years become almost automatic to relinquish a big PP goal every night? It's laughable. Tangent: How the fuck are the Maple Leafs and Thrashers worse than the Oilers? Sure winning a defensive zone faceoff would help, but that's just part of it. I went to the Kings-Blue Jackets game on Monday, and I was amazed at how many shots the Blue Jackets blocked on the PK, and I don't mean guys throwing themselves recklessly all around the zone. I mean being aggressive, getting sticks and legs into lanes, defenseman fronting shots before they got to the goaltender. This was from the 15th ranked unit in the league! On most nights, that aggressiveness and willingness is missing from the Oilers. Given that the Oilers have been so good in years past, you'd think that's coachable. If not, the only explanation for the sudden decline is the loss of personnel (Jarrett Stoll, Marty Reasoner, Matt Greene) and if that's the case, they need replacing.

It's time to make a deal. Steve Tambellini has yet to put his stamp on this team, and there's no better (see: more necessary) time than now. The next time I log on to I don't want to see anymore of Crystal Leriger (with clothes on), or Ladislav Smid playing roving reporter, or Erik Cole sharing story time with the kids. I want a fucking deal. 

I get just fix it.