The Peak of the Era

9729738Well, you all know it was leading up to this.  If you’ve been reading these all week, you knew this one was coming.  Save the best for last, and in hindsight this group really did.  Ryan Smyth was the only guy left on the roster from that amazing upset of the Dallas Stars in 1997.  This was Smyth’s last full season as an Oiler (until his return of course in the 2011 offseason).  But the identity over the now past nine years (eight seasons) hadn’t changed one bit.

 

Smyth, Ethan Moreau, Jason Smith, Shawn Horcoff, Fernando Pisani, Steve Staios, Jarret Stoll, Raffi Torres, Marty Reasoner, these guys were the identity of this team.  And now you had Chris Pronger and Mike Peca entering who fit that mold perfectly.  Ales Hemsky was this teams only highly skilled player and big things were expected of him after a big season playing for Pardubice back in the Czech Republic.  They were a real solid team top to bottom, but while Conklin and Markkanen were upgrades in 04, they were huge question marks entering the 06 season.

 

It took little time for that question to be answered.  After a 3-0 start that included an awesome Saturday night game against Vancouver where they tied it with under 20 seconds left and then won it in the first shootout in Oilers history, they proceeded to lose seven in a row.  That was REALLY the time where fans started clamouring for Craig MacTavish to be fired, which was something that continued for much of 07, 08 and 09.  But out of all places for the losing streak to end…in Dallas where they NEVER won.  This was the first of five straight, and things were back on course.  Something else that needs to be pointed out in this time, is after the first two games at home, the Oilers never played back to back at home again until MID NOVEMBER!  That’s basically like a five week road trip!  And they were 10-9-1 when it was finally done.  Not bad!

 

On November 29th, the Oilers played the Avs.  They lost on the scoreboard 3-2.  But what was worse, I missed the 50/50 that night by four numbers.  A devastating loss.

 

That game actually was only one of two games in the midst of a 17 game stretch where the Oilers didn’t get points.  12-2-3.  Near the end of that stretch was a phenomenal game in Vancouver that saw the Oilers come out with a 7-6 win.  One of the goals was one of the two or three times the Ryan Smyth clapper down the wing ACTUALLY worked.  Man that thing was ugly.  The final game of that run was December 23rd where they beat the Kings at home and went into Christmas leading the Northwest division.

 

After that though, things got dicey for the fan base.  That was the high point of the regular season for the Oilers and the holes on the team were very obvious.  Needed a goaltender, just as badly need upgrades on D because Igor Ulanov and Cory Cross could no longer keep up with the “new NHL”, and they needed to add more skill up front.  It sounds bizarre to say it now, especially with how much I’ve crushed the guy for his tenure as GM, but Kevin Lowe did an amazing job leading into the 2006 trade deadline.

 

In January he acquired Jaroslav Spacek and Dick Tarnstrom for essentially nothing (Cross went in the Tarnstrom deal).  The big one for Lowe was the goaltender though, and people were scratching their heads as to why it was taking so long to get done.  Curtis Joseph was available and was having a big season in Phoenix.  But the Coyotes asking price was ridiculous (I believe it was a teams top prospect and a 1st round pick for an impending UFA…wonder why Mike Barnett never got another GM gig…)  Ed Belfour was available, wouldn’t that have been ironic to see Belfour in Oiler silks.  But he was a shell of his former self by then.  Some believed Robert Esche would be the guy to get.  Yep.  They did.  Morons (actually it was only one guy, but I won’t say that it was Pierre McGuire).  But there was one guy who appeared to be higher on Lowe’s list than anyone, and that was Olaf Kolzig.

 

Thought I was going to say Roloson didn’t you?!  There were a lot of options available to Lowe and while Roloson was on that list, he was never expected to be the guy the Oilers chose to get.  But finally, on the eve of the trade deadline Kevin Lowe pulled the trigger and sent a 1st round pick to the Wild for Roloson.  I was torn on it.  I really felt like Roloson looked good in a Jacques Lemaire system and didn’t know how he would work.  First game out of the gate was in San Jose.  They lost, but Roloson didn’t look bad.  The next game was in Columbus, a bottom feeder, and in OT he had a mix up with Marc-Andre Bergeron and they lost.  It wouldn’t be the last time these two were in the middle of things, and it wouldn’t be the worst time a goaltender and D-man had a miscue.

 

The day after Roloson was acquired, most thought Lowe was done.  But very literally at the last minute, he made one more big splash in the trade market acquiring the undersized but highly skilled Sergei Samsonov from the Bruins for Marty Reasoner, Yan Stastny (man, I really should have an entire piece dedicated to Yan), and a meaningless 2nd round draft pick….that turned into Milan Lucic.  It was tough to see Marty Reasoner go.  The guy was such a fan favourite, so great on the PK, and in the dot, what Reasoner will be maybe most remembered for that season was being the faceoff man with 2.2 seconds left on January 29th in Phoenix.  Down 3-2, Reasoner wins the draw, Pisani taps the puck back to Pronger and the Oilers managed to tie the game.  But the fact was, Rem Murray had returned, signed off the scrap pile, Horcoff and Stoll were having career years, Peca wasn’t what he had been but still incredible defensively and in the dot as well, they just didn’t have a big need for Reasoner and could afford to put him in that deal.  And they really needed more skill up front.

 

I’m 1,000 words in and haven’t even got to the playoffs yet…this will be a LONG one.

 

Down the stretch, it was a battle for 8th between the Oilers and Canucks, and who wanted it less.  Yes, less.  I recall everyone had games in hand on the Oilers.  I believe the Canucks until late in the year always had three games in hand.  So while the Oilers would be two or three points up, they really weren’t.  The Oilers lost 12 of 19 down the stretch.  Mind you, five of the 12 loses were in OT or a SO, but you just wondered what in the f*** was wrong with this team?  They had been solidified in every area and yet were as bad as they had been since the seven game losing streak.  Going into game 81, they had a chance to clinch the final playoff spot with a win combined with a Canucks loss who were in San Jose to play the scorching hot Sharks.  Ales Hemsky scored with 30 seconds to play against Anaheim to give the Oilers a vital 2-1 in a game where they looked better than they had in weeks.  And then later that night, the Canucks lost in San Jose, blowing a 3-2 lead entering the 3rd period.  So despite the rollercoaster, the Oilers were in.

 

Myth: Nobody gave the Oilers a chance vs the Red Wings and it was one of the biggest upsets in NHL history.

 

Fact: Just about everyone in Edmonton knew the Oilers could and probably should win the series.

 

This wasn’t a homer point of view.  It was a fact that the Oilers always gave the Red Wings fits, the Red Wings were shaky in net, and the Red Wings had underachieved in the playoffs the previous two seasons.  Also, this was before analytics were mainstream.  But analytically the 2006 Oilers were much better than their 8th place standing showed.  They simply didn’t have good goaltending all season.  So the x factor was Roloson.  He hadn’t been too much of an upgrade to that point, and people in Edmonton were REALLY questioning the trade.

 

No doubt that Detroit got the better of the play in the series.  But the Oilers game plan was the same as everyone’s game plan against Detroit.  The Wings wanted to play a puck possession game, so teams would let them, and just make sure they kept them to the outside.  40 shots on net seemed like a lot, but everything was coming from 20+ feet out.  This led to a split of the first four games.  Game five was really the first game in the series where the Oilers took it to the Wings and even though they just about blew a 3-0 lead, they held on for a 3-2 win and a 3-2 series lead.  You think Matt Hendricks is tough, Shawn Horcoff threw his face in front of a Nik Lidstrom shot in the dying seconds…mind you Hendricks doesn’t do PED’s…

 

You would think with a chance to wrap up the series and coming off a good performance the Oilers would be sky high for game six.  For the first two periods of that game, that team was as flat as could possibly be.  Steve Yzerman’s final point in the NHL came off a feed to Robert Lang late in the 2nd to give the Wings a 2-0 lead headed to the 3rd.  The 3rd, that’s where Fernando Pisani went from solid 3rd line player to unlikely playoff hero.  It was a crazy period of hockey.

 

Pisani got two and the Oilers had it tied with 13:20 to play, just a completely different team than what fans saw in the first 40 minutes.  Johan Franzen gave the Wings back the lead back however with just under 10 to play and once again it looked as though the Oilers had blown an opportunity.  Then Ales Hemsky, who had really done nothing all series stepped up.  I don’t know if you call the first one a fluke, but it definitely was a bizarre bounce.  The review of the goal was at least five minutes long, and finally they determined Hemsky did nothing illegal to put it in.  Tie game, just under four to play.  Then he got the goal MANY Oiler fans remember.  And it really wasn’t a good play.  Hemsky tried to go 1 on 5 and lost the puck, which a lot of the time is a turnover at the blueline which see’s an odd man rush going the other way.  But lucky for him, Samsonov was following up the play, found him now back door, and that was it essentially it.  1:06 to play.  They knocked off the Wings.

 

Onto San Jose.  So they had gone from the President’s trophy winners to the hottest team in the league.  I fully believed they COULD beat the Sharks, but not nearly as confident.  I had picked an Oilers/Sharks conference final before the playoffs began, and I had the Sharks going on.  This was pre San Jose being playoff choke artists.  This was “the NHL’s next great team” version of the Sharks.  Having humiliated the Bruins for Joe Thornton, the Sharks really did look unstoppable.  They were a good team prior to getting Thornton (Western conference finalists in 04), they were now easily the best young team in the league and obliterated seemingly everyone after acquiring the soon to be named league MVP.

 

But those first two games in San Jose…the Sharks weren’t impressive.  They won both by a score of 2-1, and maybe it was me being a homer, but it felt much more like the Oilers lost and were playing nowhere near their capabilities than the Sharks being that dominant team.

 

Game three in Edmonton was the turning point for the Oilers.  One of the most dominant 1st periods you’ll ever see in a game both in terms of shots on goal and hits.  They beat the piss out of the Sharks, but only had a 1-0 lead to show for.  Sure enough, the Oilers had a massive let down entering the 2nd and it was 2-1 Sharks going into the 3rd.  And again, the Sharks weren’t impressing.  Looking back I can say it was a case of the Oilers having trouble finding their game again after a long layoff and the Sharks confidence being sky high.  But in the moment, it just didn’t feel like anything would stop that momentum.  Then Raffi Torres delivered. 6:47 to play, perfect shot coming down the left hand side, beat Vesa Toskala over the glove.  Tied game, a lengthy OT would ensue.

 

It was done at 7:05 of the 2nd OT.  Like, it wasn’t, but you knew it was.  2 on 1.  League MVP with the puck on his stick, Richard trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo….yes, Richard trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo…ready to receive the pass, and the pass was perfect on the tape of Cheechoo.  Well, it’s been a great season, they tried hard, we’re set for years to come with Pronger locked into a five year deal, oh well.  3-0 San Jose.

 

But the funny thing is, with 7:01 to play, they had a faceoff in the Oilers zone.  That was REALLY bizarre since the game was done.

That really was the turning point in the series for the Oilers.  Everyone said it was the turning point for the series, period.  I felt like the Oilers got the lift from that stop, but the Sharks were still as confident as could be.  Oh yeah, Shawn Horcoff thanks to his PED’s won it in the 3rd OT to get the Oilers back in the series.

 

Then game four was as wild of a game you’ll ever see.  Both teams gassed from game three, it was 3-1 Sharks midway through and things looked again like they did in the first three games, people forget this.  And people would say the Raffi Torres hit on Milan Michalek in game two was the turning point in the series because that line of Michalek, Marleau and Bernier was going so good.  Nope, that wasn’t it.  The Roloson save.  That was what gave the Oilers a lift.  But the turning point in the series for me was this goal.  After Mike Peca cut the Sharks lead to 3-2, the Sharks went on the PP.

That was the goal that sunk the Sharks.  They weren’t the same team after that.  The Oilers dominated the 3rd and tied the series at two with a 6-3 win.  Game five was actually pretty similar, though in this one the Oilers never trailed.  In fact, they were the ones who blew the 3-1 lead, but bounced back with 3 more and went back to Edmonton with a 3-2 series lead.

 

Ok, so I have no way of proving this, but I swear on my life this is true.  I’m at game six, and I’m nervous before the game.  Because some of the fans in San Jose for game five were booing the Canadian national anthem.  At 23 and one day old, I buy media hype.  And the media hype was suggesting Oiler fans may retaliate.  I was big into HFboards at the time and constantly on the message board like a moronic 22/23 year old would be.  And guys on there were talking like Oiler fans should give it right back to them.  This, no joke, and it’s embarrassing now, but this scared me that Oiler fans in the house for game six might do something that embarrassing.  So when the Star Spangled Banner began (at the eight or nine second mark), no joke it’s me that you can hear start this, because this is taken from the section our seats were in (122).  I actually never knew this clip existed until writing this.

Oilers played air tight that night and won 2-0.  You knew at this point they were the team to beat for what was left in the playoffs.  The Mighty Ducks, Hurricanes and Sabres all wrapped up their series prior to this game, so you knew who was left and you knew the Oilers had the best team top to bottom with Roloson so hot and Pronger playing his best hockey of his hall of fame career.

 

Man, that game three against Anaheim, specifically the 3rd period, that place was a mad house for about four minutes of game action, and about 20 minutes of real time.  Should add, this was the first game the fans sang the national anthem, and while this was a stolen idea from the Canucks…much like everything else, the Oilers were able to finish the job that the Canucks never could…

 

The Oilers came home up 2-0, and led 1-0 heading into the 3rd.  That’s one of the craziest periods of hockey you’ll ever see.  I remember thinking when Pronger scored to make it 4-0 how damn hot it was getting in the building, because the fans were going ape shit for lack of a better term.  I start it at the 20:40 mark to show what I’m talking about in case your memory is a bit foggy.

I don’t know how the hell they held on that night to win that game, but they did and despite being decimated by the flu according to most, they led the series 3-0.  They didn’t finish the job at home, but game five on a Saturday night in Anaheim, they did.  They somehow survived a six on three with just over two minutes to play, and the Mighty Ducks, in their final game before becoming just the Ducks, couldn’t cash on a six on four for much of the final 2 minutes.  Conference champs for the seventh time and first since 1990.

 

Onto Carolina, and the Oilers felt like the favourites, especially after the Hurricanes went seven games with the Sabres.  They rolled into the final with no injuries and if I recall correctly a nine day layoff.  That no injuries thing obviously didn’t last long into the series.

 

3-0 lead in game one, they were cruising.  Before you knew it, Carolina was up 4-3.  What the hell happened?!  Hemsky scored a beauty on a PP with 6:29 to play to tie it.  And then…Andrew Ladd happened.  Marc-Andre Bergeron happened.  The play that cost the Oilers their 6th Stanley Cup happened.  It wasn’t a dirty play by Ladd, it wasn’t a dumb play by Bergeron, it was just horrible luck for the Oilers, and I’m sorry if you’re a Hurricanes fan but yet ANOTHER opportune injury for the Canes.  Round one vs Montreal, Saku Koivu.  Round three vs the Sabres, three of their top four D-men.  And now Roloson.  And if the Canes didn’t get enough bounces in their run already, they were about to get a gift from Ty Conklin with 30 seconds to play.  4-3 Canes win game one.

 

Game two was a Carolina shit kicking.  The combination of losing Roloson for the series and blowing game one had all the momentum against the Oilers and they were blown out 5-0.

 

Prior to game three I finally bought my 60 inch hi-def TV I had been wanting for a year now.  With 4K now out in full force, I think it’s a good time to remember when hi-definition was all the rage…now get off my lawn.

 

Game three was an Oilers win, but man they still didn’t look like the same team.  Scraped out the 2-1 win, but you didn’t have the feeling they were coming back in this series.

 

Game four looked promising.  Samsonov scored a beauty of a goal to open the game and I had the feeling that maybe I was wrong after the third game and they were actually getting their game back.  But after that it was as bad of an effort as game two, and it was 3-1 Canes going back to Raleigh.  Series DONE in my mind.   And Markkanen, who had been named the starter for the rest of the series after the Roloson injury, and the Conklin disaster, had been doing fine.  They were getting good enough goaltending.  But they looked done.

 

Seriously, I didn’t even give thought to watching game 5 heading into it.  I recall going home and forgetting that the game was starting.  So when I remembered I thought “well, it’s their last game of the year” so the fan boy in me felt I shouldn’t bail on the team.  I probably did bail on them six or seven times that night.  Up 1-0 16 seconds in, down 2-1 late in the 1st and the PP just couldn’t do ANYTHING in the series.  Finally it got going with an Ales Hemsky one timer to tie it, and then Hemsky made a good play taking the puck to the net with under 30 seconds left in the 1st which Mike Peca shovelled it in and they were up 3-2 after one.  I’m back on the bandwagon.

 

Eric Staal ties it in the 2nd, and once again I’m off the bandwagon.  Pretty sure I got off and on six times each in the 3rd, despite no goals being scored.  3-3, OT.  Oilers come out to start OT and are dominating.  They aren’t holding back at all, like you would assume a team about to lose the Cup would.  Mike Peca puts one off the post, and the play goes back up where sloppy Steve…or as others called him steady Steve Staios puts his stick in the feet of Mark Recchi.  Ball game.  Canes PP, and the Oilers aren’t killing this one off.  A pretty weak call that’s going to end the Oilers season…or, give it new life.

For the first time since game one, you had the feeling that the Oilers got their game back going into game six.  I was in the house for game six, and I remember my brother going back into his house to grab his camera before we left.  And I said “why?”  It very literally never dawned on me that the Cup could be won that night.  Because you knew the Oilers were winning that game.  And it was a Saturday night, so there was some serious tailgating going on that day in Edmonton and thus the fans were in terrific “spirits” that night.  Man what an ass kicking game six was.  But in hindsight that likely hurt the Oilers more for game seven then helped.  It’s always easier to rebound from an ass kicking then a tight loss.

 

Game six, played Saturday June 17th, 2006 will mark the last playoff game ever played in Northlands Coliseum/Edmonton Coliseum/Skyreach Centre/Rexall Place.  Tough to believe.

 

But game six, I remember the people who also had season tickets in our section saying goodbye to each other mid celebration.  We had never done that before.  I had been there for the final game/home game from 98-2003, and everyone just kind of left somber.  And you get to…not really know the people around you, but you start chatting them up at the games.  So a guy named Perry Gill was on my left, and he bought me a beer during game three of the Detroit series, I think the guys name was Mike who sat behind us with his girlfriend most games and by the playoffs that season it felt like anytime we both had our girlfriends their we were on a double date, then a real nice guy whose name I never got had four seats a row down from us and was always there with his wife and 2 kids.  My girlfriend at the time compared me to Jimmy Fallon’s character in Fever Pitch when he goes to the Red Sox games and knew everyone sitting around him.  It really was similar!  But that had never happened and our seasons were in section 122 for at least eight seasons to that point.  Everyone was just on cloud nine, and everyone knew there was a parade to come.

 

Prior to game seven I’ll never forget EVERYONE in the media had the Oilers winning it.  Bob McKenzie said pre game he never recalled a bigger road favourite going into a game seven.  They had recovered from the Roloson injury, and they had taken over the series.  Little doubt they were winning the Cup in game seven.

 

Yada, yada, yada nothing real good happened until April 18th, 2015…

 

Nothing at all against Cam Ward, that Conn Smythe trophy should have been Chris Pronger’s.  The guy was incredible.  Maybe the best performance since Mario carried the Pens in the early 90’s to their Stanley Cups.  The man single handily carried the team.  And then of course, it was BRUTAL what happened with him in the weeks to follow.

 

My issue was mainly with the fact that he never came out and did it in a classy way.  Had he just decided to hold a press conference, or even release a statement.  The guy didn’t even have to be honest for why he wanted out.  But Chris Pronger is an asshole, and I don’t mean that in a bitter way.  You love the guy as a player because he is such an asshole.  But with the good comes the bad, and when it comes to a situation like this Pronger showed he couldn’t have cared less about the fans (which in a lot of ways I understand), and had all the dirty work done for him.  Pat Morris (his agent) decided to leak it because they were worried Lowe wasn’t going to act on the request which had originally been made in February, which if you’re Kevin Lowe why would you deal a guy who JUST signed a 5 year deal to play for your team?  Oilers fans went from having the time of their lives to having their hearts ripped out and repeatedly stomped on.  I don’t know if the word BRUTAL does it justice.  A fan base might not ever again go from being so high to so low in just days ever again.

 

Tough to believe this was all now 10 years ago.

 

The days of the Oilers having the grittiest team in the league are long gone.  Nobody topped the heart those teams from 97-06 had.  Easy to take it for granted at the time but now you look back on it and you yearn for players like that on today’s team.  Give me another Doug Weight, Bill Guerin, Ryan Smyth, Curtis Joseph, Luke Richardson, Jason Smith, Janne Niinmaa, Ethan Moreau, Dean McAmmond, Mike York, Mike Grier, Todd Marchant, Marty Reasoner, Jarret Stoll, Mike Peca, Georges Laraque, sloppy Steve Staios, Igor Ulanov, Eric Brewer, Kelly Buchburger (the player, definitely not the assistant coach), just guys who would do ANYTHING to win.  They so rarely had a player who you didn’t love.  They just never had that guy who could take them to the next level until they got Pronger, and then he did.  How, or why Kevin Lowe got away from building THIS kind of team, I’ll simply never be able to understand why.   Hopefully Peter Chiarelli is going to right that wrong.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

For Once, They Acquired The Star

pecaprongerWe won!  We won!  WE WON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

For an Oiler fan in 2005, that’s what it felt like when the news came down that the lockout was over and the NHL got it’s salary cap.  Salaries were now linked to revenues.  This was massive for a team like the Oilers.  NOW we’ll see what they can do with a level playing field (yes, that’s what we thought).  But when free agency began, it started as a bit of a disappointment for me.

 

This was when it first hit me that Edmonton wasn’t a destination for anyone.  I knew this prior.  When I was doing my practicum at the TEAM 1260 in 2004, I went for pizza and beers after a show one night with Mark Spector and I asked Spec that night if guys liked playing in Edmonton or not.  He basically said the the real family oriented guys did.  But free agency opened, and I thought…still…they were going to scoop up some big time players.  Nothing.

 

It would be a great trivia question, though I’m not 100% sure on this but I’m 99.99999% sure that Adam Foote was the first UFA to sign in the “new NHL”, going to Columbus.  Peter Forsberg was 1 of 2 big fish (Scott Niedermayer the other), he signed in Philly.  Sergei Gonchar went to Pittsburgh.  Markus Naslund re-signed in Vancouver.  Alex Kovalev re-signed in Montreal.  And the Oilers just didn’t seem to be in on any of these players.  It wasn’t just that a lot of guys signed elsewhere, but also that the Oilers just seemed nowhere to be found.  It was Tuesday night, August 2nd.  For whatever reason, I decided to be responsible for once and go to bed around 9:30-10 PM.  Oops!

 

I’ll never forget where I was…mind you I remember a lot of pointless things, but I still recall exactly where I was, right around where Can-Do is now in Lloyd, we were building that area (get off my lawn).  I just couldn’t believe what I heard.  Well actually, I didn’t get what they were talking about at first.  That’s a LATE move in the NHL.  10 MST is midnight in the East.  So I was trying to listen to 1260, and it wasn’t coming in well, but I swore I heard them say Pronger’s name.  My thought was “that’s dumb, the Blues aren’t moving him, they’ll deal Tkachuk and Weight”.  But I kept hearing “Oilers” and I kept hearing “Pronger”.  So I turned it to the GOAT for the now 8 AM news (before smart phones, facebook, twitter, why are you still on my lawn…) and sure as shit I heard it right!!!

 

Chris Pronger was my favourite player in the league not wearing Oiler silks.  This was unbelievable and as I made reference to in the last paragraph, the Blues weren’t expected to move him.  It was thought the move for them would be to offload Keith Tkachuk and/or Doug Weight because they were going to be WAY over the cap and had nothing in the system.  Now my reaction to the deal when I heard all the details was “it’s a BIT steep, I wish Brewer could have been kept because he seemed to be coming on in 04, but they just got Chris Pronger!!!”

 

The others in the deal?  Jeff Woywitka whom I had grown up playing against and at the time was a real nice piece that came over in the Mike Comrie deal (27th overall for the Flyers in 01), and Doug Lynch.  Lynch was a 2nd round in 2001 and was a hot prospect for a while.  I recall MANY comparing him to Jason Smith.  As it turned out, he wasn’t even Geoff Smith.

 

But it’s unfair of my to give you my reaction to the trade, so I found something else.  In doing a little research to get my dates right, I found a post that broke the trade on some website.  The comments section was AWESOME that night:

                                                                                                                                                     

habswinthecup-again says:

That would be a totally stupid move Edmonton.

 

tml28 says:

Never saw that coming, what a waste what a bad fit, do they even have a goalie… that just ruined prongers career, Lalime is probably crying right now. What a waste of an all star

 

habs_punk says:

They gave up way too much. 5 or 6 years down the road, St. Louis is going to have won this trade in a landslide.

 

jacosta says:

All of these teams that have never had money are doing some big time stupid moves. It’s like the cash is just burning a hole in their pockets.

Look at all the guys signed… Colombus, Florida, Edmonton.

Not saying that I wouldn’t love a Pronger, but when the guy is getting max money and could be gone next year and you still have to sign a bunch of guys, it doesn’t look good

You can’t buy a team and expect instant chemistry. (Rangers).

Sure you may have only 4 guys signed but your whole team is new to eachother after a year off.

welcome to the new NHL

 

NemiNA says:

Damn. St. Louis won this one by a landslide.

Pronger will take alot of money.

Brewer Lynch and Woywitka will al substantially improve St. Louis’s blueline, and will make them strong for many years to come.

Looks like St. Louis will be winning another Presidents trophy 5 years down the road.

All they need to do now is bulk up their offense.

 

nordiques100 says:

dont forget they have jackman and backman on defence and young schwarz in goal. they are deep on the backend

 

NemiNA says:

Yeah, I was thinking that, but forgot to mention it. St. Louis will be a serious cup contender in about 3 years. Scary.

                                                                                                                                                     

These were all the initial reactions!  All of them, just shitting all over the Oilers for doing the deal.  I really don’t know which one is my favourite, all of them are just GOLD!!!

 

It was so awesome.  Those morons had their heads planted firmly up their asses, but most people understood that this move made the Oilers contenders in the West, and they really didn’t give up anyone of serious value.  Of course Kevin Lowe wasn’t done, as he went out and acquired Mike Peca from the Islanders, another one of Tyler Campbell’s favourite players outside of Edmonton.  So now, even though the Oilers didn’t really improve their skill, they brought in 2 guys who only enhanced this already tremendous reputation of being a team that played an honest, hard working, gritty, 2 way game.

 

Things had actually changed.  The dream had become a reality.  August 10th, 1988 was the day the Oilers began selling.  August 3rd, 2005 was the day it stopped.  And for the first time since 1992 for Oiler fans, the Cup was no longer just a pipe dream.  They had the makings of a team that could win it all.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

From Sellers to Buyers

Cujo, Weight, Guerin, BoboI hope everyone is enjoying these because I’m loving writing them.  It’s funny how much stuff you start remembering.  When I write these, I figure I can knock them out in 1,200 words and that takes about an hour or so.  Then I start writing, and keep writing, and don’t want to stop writing.  Please take me back to my youth and bring back this team!

 

The hot topic at the 98 trade deadline was Curtis Joseph.  Trade him or keep him?  It was pretty much a lock that Cujo would be leaving Edmonton after the 1998 season.  But at that time, those playoff gates were a BIG deal for the Oilers.  Cujo proved in 97 that he could get the Oilers to the 2nd round and could get them 5 or 6 playoff gates.  That was a big money.  So it was a tough decision for Glen Sather, and he elected to go with the latter.  Cujo stayed, he got the team 5 playoff gates, and found himself in Toronto the next season.

 

It was a sad day when Curtis Joseph signed with the Leafs.  You knew it was coming, but at least for a teenage kid you held out hope that MAYBE Cujo would want to stay.  MAYBE he would take that 2 million dollar discount to stay with a team he’d had some success with.  As an adult, what a selfish way of thinking I had.

 

The next year it was a lock that Boris Mironov was going to be gone.  All season it was rumoured that the man known as Bobo would be on the go-go (see what I did there?!  HYSTERICAL).  He finally was dealt that Saturday which I was at provincials in Red Deer (what do you want from me, to look it up?!?)  Mironov wasn’t a potential UFA though, which is why they managed to get such a nice haul from the Blackhawks of Ethan Moreau, Chad Kilger, Christian LaFlamme and Dan Cleary, though Dean McAmmond went with Mironov.  It sucked for me just as bad to see McAmmond go.  I don’t know what it was, but I found McAmmond to be such a beauty of a player (side note: I just now remembered I didn’t mention Scott Fraser yesterday.  Remember Scott Fraser?!  Amazing the last month of 98, never to be heard from again).

 

The Mironov trade because of the haul and because Tom Poti had emerged that season was easy to swallow.  Also, Mironov was insanely talented.  6’3, 220, good skater, played physical, had a cannon from the point and a righty shot which was RARE to find in those days.  But a guy who always left you wanting more.  When he 100% all in, he was a number 1 D-man.  But he was rarely 100% all in.  75-85% most nights.

 

The next offseason at the 2000 draft, Roman Hamrlik had to be moved which was actually Kevin Lowe’s first trade as GM after Glen Sather had left.  And for that first season especially, it looked like highway robbery believe it or not.  Hamrlik was coming off what would be his 3rd best statistical year of his career.  They had to move this guy right when it looked like he was about to reach his 1st overall pick potential.  But Eric Brewer stepped in and was maybe better defensively, bigger, moved just as well, and seemed like a kid who would become a true number 1 D-man.  In the 01 series against Dallas, Brewer was unbelievable (something else I didn’t mention yesterday).  Not to mention, Lowe also got the Islanders 2nd round pick (Brad Winchester), and Josh Green.  Green was a good prospect.  Had a lot of injury issues that prevented him from ever keeping a job in the old NHL, and once the rules changed he was screwed.  Wasn’t a good skater.

 

Early in the 00-01 season, with the line of Smyth-Weight-Guerin tearing up the league.  Guerin and Weight looked great when Guerin first arrived during the 98 season (it was on a Sunday afternoon, they lost…can’t recall to whom, and the trade was announced after the game).  But then Weight held out to start the 99 season, and then I BELIEVE he tore his MCL shortly after (it was something to do with his knee, can’t find anything on it though, only played 43 games that year).  So while Guerin put up 30 goals, it was basically a solo act.  In 2000, Guerin held out and never really got his game going.  Smyth got back to what become his norm after 2 down years in 98 and 99, and Weight had a big season with 72 points, but Guerin despite having 22 goals never seemed comfortable.  To open the 01 season the trio was on fire though, and then Guerin was dealt.

 

Part of Kevin Lowe’s rationale for making the move he did was to screw the Canucks a bit.  The thought at the time was Lowe beat Brian Burke to the punch on Anson Carter.  Todd Bertuzzi was holding out at the time, and most were anticipating a Bertuzzi for Carter swap (Carter I believe had been holding out as well, much like tying an onion to your belt…it was the style at the time).  So Lowe, knowing he needed to move Guerin before the trade deadline to maximize his value, did the deal with Boston of Guerin for Carter, with an added stipulation of the Oilers having the option to flip 1st round picks.  That was no small addition because that stipulation netted the Oilers Ales Hemsky, and the Bruins Shaone Morrison.

 

If more GM’s operated like a small budget team they would be so much better off.  Kevin Lowe’s first 2 trades as Oilers GM were real good.  One of his first signings was Steve Staios for basically nothing.  He was pretty solid when he couldn’t spend money, and tried to keep his team in the playoffs every year.

 

But as a fan, it sucked because while they were getting great value, they were having to move on from all these guys JUST as they were getting good.  And then the worst one happened.

 

July 1st, 2001.  I was at Turtle Lake with some of the boys, got home around 2-3 in the afternoon.  TV was on Sportsnet.  Free agency day wasn’t like it is now, no specials on, just waiting for the desk shows.  Could have looked it up on the internet, but I remember not expecting it.  I knew it was coming at some point because Skyreach (at the time) needed 14 million in renovations done.  So if they couldn’t afford players already, a few more guys would be gone.  Anyway, knew it was coming but for whatever reason the news caught me off guard.  And for only Reasoner and Hecht?!  The guy was coming off a 90 point season, 5th in scoring, still a year away from UFA, and all you got was a failing prospect and a potential 2nd line winger?!?  I never understood the hype around Jochen Hecht.  He was solid, that’s it.  Yet at that time people had it in their heads that the Blues prospects were amazing and on the cusp of greatness.  Handzus, Nagy, Hecht, Bartecko, shut up.  How’s that working out guys?

 

Anyway, Kevin Lowe bought this hype.  And as I said yesterday, Marty Reasoner ended up become a favourite of mine and many other Oiler fans.  After about a year and a half of failure, he was put on waivers.  Never claimed and after a stint in Hamilton he came back up and turned into a damn good 3rd line centre.  One of the best penalty killers in the league.

 

Finally in 02 Oiler fans didn’t have to endure a key player leaving, and Tommy Salo had a career year, and Mike Comrie emerged as a suitable replacement for Doug Weight….and the rest of the Western conference became amazing and the Oilers ended up 9th, missing the playoffs.  92 points.  Carolina was the 3rd seed in the East and went to the final.  They had 91 points.

 

Never fear though, in 03 the exodus was back on.  Leading up to the trade deadline, pretty much everyone knew both Janne Niinmaa and Anson Carter were about to be jettisoned.  It was thought at the time they had replacements for both in the system.  Ales Hemsky was starting to emerge towards the trade deadline as an elite talent.  They also had very highly touted prospect Alexei Semenov.  1 of these players panned out, do you know who?  Regardless, Niinmaa netted Brad Isbister and Raffi Torres, while Carter brought back Radek Dvorak and Cory Cross (who, say what you want, was real solid for them down the stretch that season and in 04).

Oiler fans were high on the Brad Isbister acquisition
Oiler fans were high on the Brad Isbister acquisition

Again, neither deal hurt the team in the end.  But it was always just such a harsh buzz kill to see so many of these guys leave, and 1 more should have happened at the 03 deadline but didn’t.

 

This will sound a bit ridiculous coming from me, but it was a pretty solid source and I would LOVE to ask Darcy Tucker about it someday (had the chance 2 years ago, forgot, I failed).  So the day before the 03 trade deadline, the Leafs were in town to play the Oilers.  Darcy Tucker wasn’t getting ready for the game as much as he was house hunting, because his agent was adamant that Tucker was about to be dealt to the Oilers for impending UFA Todd Marchant.  Marchant was in the midst of a career year, and even though he was very highly thought of as an Oiler, he was a guy nobody was overly sad to see go.  He was going to be overpaid as a UFA, and truly was only a 3rd line centre.  Anyway, I was never told who backed out of the Tucker for Marchant deal, but obviously it never went down.  Marchant signed with the Blue Jackets that offseason and as expected was right back to being a solid 3rd line centre (60 points in 03, highest output after was 34).

 

This whole piece to this point has been a massive downer hasn’t it?  It’s about to pick up.

 

But not before I talk about the Comrie mess!  I remember the rumour that the organization essentially blamed Mike Comrie for the loss to Dallas that spring.  Comrie was having a big season, was becoming the face of the franchise halfway through the 03 season, and then I believe it was a night in San Jose, he broke a finger or his hand…something along those lines, and missed a large part of the 2nd half, and never got his game back that season.  Didn’t help that Comrie played 1 way for a coach who refused to give ice to anyone that didn’t play 200 feet.  So all this combined for the Oilers to make Comrie the scapegoat, and by the draft (according to most), it was becoming common knowledge in NHL circles that Comrie wouldn’t be back in Edmonton.

 

Here we go again, ANOTHER guy about to emerge that has to be moved.  But something started to happen in that 04 season.

 

It kind got going largely because of the Heritage Classic.  60,000 people packing Commonwealth Stadium for the 1st ever outdoor game in NHL history.  I was 1 of them.  6 hours, -25 weather.  When asked how it was after the game, my exact words were “so glad I experienced that…never f***ing again”.  My brother went to the concession at 1 point which because of the weather was a FREAKING zoo.  He got me a hot dog, probably took 7 or 8 minutes to get back to our seats.  Hot dog was ice cold by the time it got to me.

 

But my suffering along with the other 59,999 that day allowed the Oilers to sign Adam Oates.  This wasn’t Adam Oates circa 1994, but he was coming off a pretty good season and was very key in the Mighty Ducks reaching the 03 final.  He could still dominate in the dot, and still was an elite playmaker on the PP.  It was basically all for not, although Adam Oates has confirmed that he paid back the team some of his money that season because he felt he did not live up to expectations.  But that’s not the point.  The point was, the Oilers were able to go out and get someone!  And they weren’t done.

 

But first they went through an awful stretch.  Heading into the Heritage Classic that season, the Oilers were hot.  Tommy Salo was awful to start the year but had got hurt, and it was clear Ty Conklin was the better goaltender and really solidified the team.  So even without Comrie and Oates yet to come, they were hot.  Won 5 of 6 going into the Heritage Classic.  For whatever reason though, that’s when it really fell apart, and they didn’t get right until one night in February against the Atlanta Thrashers.

I was there that night.  The camera’s never did show the best fight Georges Laraque ever had.  Francis Lessard…oh my…he got the absolute F*** beat out of him.  Laraque was pissed, I believe because Lessard wouldn’t let him go after Sutton when Sutton went after Brewer.  So after Georges quit chasing he took it out on Lessard and Lessard wasn’t leaking, but he wished he had been.  As he left the ice I remember his face just had welts all over it.

 

So that was the night that sprung the team back to life and they were playing well, but realistically the playoffs seemed out of reach.  But thanks to money from the Heritage Classic, Alberta emerging economically, and the lockout on the horizon, Kevin Lowe went out and got Petr Nedved and Jussi Markkanen, essentially for nothing.

 

Markkanen may not have seemed like much of a goaltender, but the biggest reason the Oilers went to shit that season was because of Tommy Salo.  So the duo known as “Conkkanen” took over in net and solidified things.  But Petr Nedved was huge too.  While Nedved appeared to be fading in New York, he found new life in Edmonton to end the 04 season (as a lot of players seemed to do during this era).  15 points in 16 games, and the Oilers who were completely dead going into the 5-1 beat down both on the scoreboard and in the ally against Atlanta, weren’t eliminated until game 82 when they lost in Vancouver 5-2.

 

What the hell?!  Even though they missed the playoffs and the 05 lockout was coming, things really were looking up for the Oilers.  The main thing the NHL was fighting for in the 05 lockout were teams like the Oilers.  They saw how good parity had been for the NFL and they wanted that.  And Oilers fans wanted that.  Careful what you wish for because if there were no cap today, the Oilers would be among the biggest spenders with Daryl Katz money.  But that’s besides the point.

 

No longer would the Oilers have to sell off the players they developed.  They could be buyers, and once the NHL got their cap and got salaries under control, the Oilers could be buyers and they were going to buy big.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Dallas v Edmonton: The Empire Repeatedly Strikes Back

NS_27Winninggoal

This was more than just teams that met every year in the playoffs.  This was looked at in Edmonton as “good vs evil”.  As what was so fundamentally flawed about the NHL.  The big market, big spending, sun belt team vs the small market, can barely survive, Canadian team.  Built vs bought.

 

Obviously there is no need to go into great detail about what went on in 97 as I did that yesterday and if you didn’t read it, you’re an asshole.  And how then would you know about what I’m going to tell you.  You need to read chapter 1 before you read chapter 2!

 

Chapter 2 looked like it wouldn’t happen.  98 was a very dramatic season for the Oilers.  Started horribly, Jason Arnott started worse which led to him being moved to New Jersey for Bill Guerin and Valeri Zelepukin.  Shortly after, Houston Rockets then owner Les Alexander attempted to buy the team.  There was a 30 day period to come up with 70 million American to keep the team in Edmonton, and Cal Nichols managed to bring in what would become known as the E.I.G. to keep the team in Edmonton.  They went on a 2nd half surge and found themselves in 7th once again heading into the 98 playoffs, this time drawing the 96 Cup champion Colorado Avalanche.

 

It didn’t start good either.  After taking game 1, the Oilers fell behind the Avs 3-1 headed back to Denver.  That was easily one of the greatest comebacks in league history when you consider how big of underdogs the Oilers were in that series.  The Oilers were likely bigger underdogs considering the Avs were just 2 seasons removed from a Cup.  The season previous they were the President trophy champion.  But after looking nothing like the Cujo of 97 in the first 4 games of the series, Cujo looked better than ever as the Oilers won 2 of 3 in Denver en route to the amazing 3-1 series comeback which setup a rematch with the Dallas Stars.

 

If 97 had the fire started for this rivalry, then Oilers head coach Ron Low decided to pour a jerrycan full of gas on it by telling his team after the game 7 victory in Denver “The fat man wants us – well, he’s got us!”  Thank you Terry Jones for publishing something said behind closed doors!

 

In 97, the Oilers were spent by the time they got the Avs.  It looked a lot like last year’s Ducks and Flames series did.  The Oilers competed hard, but they just weren’t in the same league as the Avs.  In 98, while you had a feeling it might be the same story against a pissed off Stars team, you also knew the team was more experienced, had a better blueline than the year before with the additions of Niinimaa and Hamrlik, and the Stars didn’t have the offence the Avs did.  Cujo just came off back to back shutouts to end the series against one of the top offensive squads in the game and he did it to the Stars the previous year.

 

The Stars had an addition too though.  Goaltending was the story in 97 for Dallas too, namely Andy Moog letting in a lot of weak goals.  Enter: Ed Belfour.  Those Ryan Smyth clappers weren’t going in this time around.

 

The turning point of this series without a doubt was game 3.  Series tied at 1, game 3 at the Coliseum and the Oilers dominated the play.  They were all over the Stars in game 3…but couldn’t cash.  0-0 into OT.  I recall the Oilers dominating early in the 3rd and watching the game with my impartial brother in law with him saying “if they don’t score soon they’re done”.  Sure enough, they didn’t, and the Stars closed it in OT.  In part thanks to Benoit Houge.  In part thanks to Janne Niinmaa turning the puck over twice in the same shift.

 

That was essentially it for that series.  I was in the house for game 4 and the Oilers never came close, then game 5 back in Dallas Greg Adams scored late to essentially seal the series (despite a late push from the Oilers).

 

This was the final game Curtis Joseph played in an Oilers uniform.  As a fan you held out hope that they could find a way to sign him, or that Cujo would be such a team guy that he would take a massive home town discount to stick with the team, but it was not to be.  In 99 the Oilers would be searching much of the season to fill those massive shoes.

 

Bob Essensa?  Nope.  1993 1st round pick Eric Fichaud?  Nope.  Future 2x Vezina winner and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas?  Nope. Mikhail Shtalenkov?  Nope.

 

They started off that season red hot.  I remember going to a Friday night game in early November against the Avs that was for 1st place in the newly formed Northwest division.  They lost, 5-2 I believe, but they were playing great.  The next game I went to was in early December as I got to do a job shadow with Rod Phillips.  Such an amazing experience for a 14 year old kid, until they lost to the league worst Tampa Bay Lightning.  Rod wasn’t too pumped after that one, the players weren’t too pumped after that one, Joey Moss I specifically recall being PISSED as I walked into the room after the game.  The Oil managed to hang around 8th from December until mid March, but they were disappointing a lot of people despite having lost Cujo.

 

I can’t recall the date, but remember exactly where I was when Glen Sather decided to shake up the club.  It was a Saturday, and my team was at provincials in Red Deer (Eckville to be specific but we stayed in Red Deer, don’t you love how detailed this is?)  2 separate deals.  Boris Mironov and Dean McAmmond went to Chicago for Ethan Moreau, Chad Kilger, Dan Cleary and Christian LaFlamme and believe it or not I swear I did not look that up!  So there might have been more to the deal but it is more fun for me to write this stuff off memory alone.

 

Slats also dealt Mats Lindgren to the Islanders to somewhat solve the goaltending issue, acquiring Tommy Salo.  I say somewhat, because Salo was kind of a curse.  He was good enough that he never hurt the team, but never good enough to steal them a game.  He was good enough to not look for an upgrade, but not good enough to not be aware they needed an upgrade.  A few days later at the trade deadline, Slats pulled off one of his greatest heists of all time acquiring Jason Smith from the Leafs for a 99 4th rounder and a 2000 2nd.  Maybe the most underrated Oiler of all time.

 

So the Oilers entered the playoffs red hot, but only had the 8th seed.  Stars again, this time with Brett Hull added to the fold.  No problem for the Oilers right?

 

The good?  Every game was a 1 goal game.  The bad?  The Oilers failed to win a 1 goal game.  The Oilers couldn’t have played the Stars tougher in the 4 games.  For 4 games the game plan was to simply PUNISH the Stars at every turn and hope to wear them down.  It was awesome to watch, but really didn’t do anything.

 

I was at both games 3 and 4 of the series.  Game 3 was the debut of the goal horn.  The newly named Skyreach Centre decided to join the party in the NHL and get a goal horn.  That goal horn went off 5 times that night.  Only twice was the horn correct in going off.  Not because the puck didn’t go in the net, but because of the beloved foot in the crease.  Man, the Stars REALLY benefitted from that rule didn’t they?!  Actually, 1 of those goals was called back because of Pat Falloon lightly bumping into Ed Belfour about 20 feet out of his net…not that I’m still bitter….Anyway, the Oilers blew a 2-0 lead in the 3rd to lose 3-2.  Game 4, Gretz was in the house for the first time since retiring.  Game went to the 3rd OT.  I made my old man stay for it all…including the handshakes because the Stars won on a Joe Nieuwendyk tip in and even though the scores all looked good, it felt like the Stars kicked the Oilers ass for the 2nd year in a row.  This would be Ron Low’s last game as Oilers bench boss.

 

2000 saw Kevin Lowe take over as head coach (let the good times roll…), but more of the same.  Oilers got in the playoffs once again as the 7th seed, and once again got the Stars in the 1st round.  Back to back ass kickings yet again in Dallas, back to Edmonton down 2-0.  It’s kind of funny I have yet to talk much about Doug Weight.  From 96-01 this was Dougie’s team.  Doug Weight was the FREAKING MAN for a kid who was an Oilers fan in the late 90’s/early 2000’s.  He was cool, he played with his heart on his sleeve, and he was really the only skilled guy the Oilers had.

 

Weight was under the gun heading into game 3 of this series with the Oilers now having lost their last 9 games to Dallas in the playoffs.  Weight and to a lesser extent Bill Guerin hadn’t done shit in the first 2 games in Dallas.  Game 3 of the 2000 series was Doug Weight’s best game of his career.  This was for once an ass kicking dished out by the Oilers.  One of the loudest the barn has ever been.  Again, in Edmonton the Oilers fans HATED everything the Stars represented.  So add to that 9 straight playoff loses to that hate.  Oilers win 5-2 thanks to the hat trick turned in by Doug Weight.  A young Sid Sixerio will walk you through this one.

Game 4, and once again a spoiled Tyler Campbell was in the house.  This one felt different.  This one felt like perhaps the Oilers had turned the corner.  The Stars jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, Oilers tied it before the end of the first, both goals by Guerin.  The Stars took the lead back in the 2nd, and once again the Oilers tied it, once again thanks to Guerin’s now hat trick.  They don’t comeback on the Stars, nobody does!  This one felt different.  This one felt like they had finally figured these assholes out!….Nope.  Guy Carboneau.  A guy who was playing with a guy dating his daughter.  And before you say it…she was legal.  Series goes back to Dallas at 3-1 and you know how it ends.

 

By 2001, this is getting real old for Oiler fans.  But 01 is finally a pretty big improvement.  01 was probably the best season of Doug Weight’s career (yes, better than the 104 point season in 96, scoring was dramatically decreased by 01).  01 saw the Oilers set a record of 10 consecutive wins, and only fail to win 11 after an amazing back and forth Saturday night tilt with the defending Cup champion New Jersey Devils who were on their own 10 straight run.  6-5 in OT, Patrik Elias got the winner I believe.

 

Despite the improvement, despite Craig MacTavish now in charge as head coach, despite finally having a 2nd line centre in hometown kid Mike Comrie, despite Eric Brewer stepping in and really outplaying the man he’d been traded for (Roman Hamrlik) and Igor Ulanov having a career year and thus the 2 of them really solidifying the blueline, despite an improving Tommy Salo, the Oilers only finished 6th.  And you know who dropped to 3rd.

 

This one literally felt different.  Like game 4 the year before felt different, this felt and actually was different.  Game 1 went to OT…the Stars won.  Game 2 the Oilers FINALLY won in Dallas.  A crazy game that saw the Oilers leading 3-2 (a RARE occurrence in those days, especially in a Stars playoff game) and hanging on for a 4-3 win.

 

Game 3 was boring as could be for about 58:55.  The Stars played the perfect game and led 2-0 late.  But then Ed Belfour made a critical mistake, coughing up a puck to Georges Laraque coming hard on the forecheck.  Instead of taking Belfour out, Laraque stole the puck and centred it for Ryan Smyth who had an open net the Oilers all of a sudden had life.  Then with 5…..7 (?) seconds left, Rem Murray tipped an Eric Brewer point shot to tie the game at 2 and Skyreach Centre was in a frenzy.  But the frenzy didn’t last thanks to Benoit Houge.  The man who ended game 3 in 98 on the same ice did it again 3 years later and once again the Stars had a 2-1 series lead.

 

Game 4 wasn’t as boring as the score indicates.  Doug Weight got tossed early for hitting Richard Matvichuk from behind.  The physical play didn’t stop there as Jason Smith was a 1 man wrecking crew all night, laying massive hits on Houge and Brett Hull.  Like games 1 and 3, game 4 went to OT but not before Mike Modano nearly ended it in the dying seconds of regulation.  Finally though, the bounces went the Oilers way.  On a PP, Ryan Smyth attempting to setup behind the net had the puck roll off his stick and it went right into the slot, right to Mike Comrie and for the first time since 97, the Oilers and Stars were tied at 2.

 

Down 2-0 going to the 3rd in game 5 the Oilers looked done.  Had they lost 2-0, 2-1, 3-1, nobody would have been that down.  But man, the way they lost, coming back to take the lead early in the 3rd with a flurry of sheer domination, only to let off the gas once they took the lead.  The grumpy old men line of John McLean, Kirk Muller and Mike Keane just killed the Oilers all series and produced both the equalizer, and then the OT winner.

 

For 17 year old Tyler Campbell it was sheer agony.  The worst trip to Spain ever as it cost me watching the first 5 games of the playoffs.  Myself and some of my buddies on the trip desperately scrambled to find the highlights anyway we could (which resulted in me being kicked out of my room one night, rocking nothing but my boxers).  But we flew into Edmonton on the Friday night and I made sure the old man and myself had the tickets to game 6.  No way the Oilers were losing this one.  This series had been so amazing, it had to go 7.  Ryan Smyth scored early and the Oilers carried that 1-0 lead into the 3rd.  Game 7 was on the cusp of happening.

 

There was a moment in the 3rd period of that game that just made the whole crowd go “uh oh”.  Tom Poti rushes the puck up ice, real good individual effort.  And after his shot on net, or maybe he didn’t end up getting a shot but after the opportunity he came up what is the far side wall on TV, over by section 134, and got absolutely destroyed by Derian Hatcher.  That hit took the life and energy that was in the building and put it all in the Stars bench.  Hull ties it, Nieuwendyk snipes late, Modano empty netter and just like that a great series that seemed destined to go 7 was done in 6.  This time though, the Stars definitely felt the series as they were dominated and swept by the Blues in the next series.

 

That was Doug Weight’s final game as an Oiler.  July 1st, 2001 was not a happy Canada day for me.  Weight for Marty Reasoner and Jochen Hecht.  Just an awful return even though I grew to love Marty Reasoner.  Dougie is somewhat forgotten now days.  Not a hall of famer but a damn good player who embraced the team and the city.

 

2002 was the first season since 96 that the Oilers and Stars didn’t make the playoffs.  It was also the first time since 96 that the Oilers finished above the Stars in the standings as the 2 teams were in one of the most insane playoff races of all time.  4th-10th in the West were separated by about 2 points for the last month of the season, and none of the teams seemed to ever lose.  The Stars and Oilers met on a Saturday night late in the season that the Oilers won 1-0 on a goal with exactly 1 minute to play by Mike Comrie, after a LONG video review.

 

After the game I met Greg Millen for the 2nd time in my life, this time in the pisser.  He fit in well with the rest of the dicks in there.  This wasn’t a case where we were each taking a piss and I was trying to chat him up, and I wasn’t drunk, this was as we were washing our hands and I said hi and told him that Gord Redden had introduced us 2 years previous.  He was a dick…and then Chris Cuthbert who was already my favourite play by play man stepped up to the sink without me knowing, and seeing that Millen was an ass, struck up a conversation with me.  Chris Cuthbert is a better guy than play by play man, and he’s the best play by play man.

 

Nothing about that story applies to this, but it’s a decent story.

 

So finally we have 2003, and by now all the any hope for an upset that 1997 gave Oiler fans was gone.  97 wasn’t happening again.  And the Stars had LOADED up in the 02 offseason.  Arnott and Guerin were now on the other side (even though Guerin was hurt that series).  Belfour was thankfully gone, but Marty Turco had a G.A.A. under 2.00 that season.

 

The high point of this series for the Oilers was the game 3 comeback.  Series tied at 1 headed back to now Rexall Place, the Stars like most game 3’s dominated the first 2 periods of the game.   It got wild in the 3rd (for that era of the NHL anyway).  Georges Laraque tied it on a great individual effort.  The Stars took the lead back, but shortly after a rookie named Fernando Pisani got his first of many playoff goals.  Then with the building still buzzing, Radek Dvorak found some hands to go with his speed for the only time in his career…and somehow I can’t find a clip of this goal.  One of the nicest goals in Edmonton Oilers history and there isn’t a clip of it anywhere.  Everyone lost in the Anson Carter deal (well, the Rangers eventually won it when Carter turned into Jagr), but the Oilers won the deal that night.  Oilers held onto the 3-2 lead the rest of the way.  One of the other cool things about that night was around the final minute of play.  There was a massive delay, I believe it was a clock issue.  Everyone in the building was standing and going insane.  And this must have lasted close to 5 minutes.  I remember seeing a replay of the game later on and a shot of Kirk Muller’s face during it, he just couldn’t believe the noise.  5 minutes of it…long time to be that loud!

 

But that was it for the series highlights from an Oilers POV.  I guess Marc-Andre Bergeron became a bit of a folk hero for his play in game 6, specifically when he laid a beauty hip check on Brendan Morrow.  But the Stars were just head and shoulders above this Oilers group, especially with Tommy Salo being a shell of his former self.  Beat down.  Stars in 6…again.  Stars win the best of 9 series of series 5-1.

 

Someone is going to read this piece and laugh.  They’re going to mock me or Oilers fans for glorifying loses, better yet, ass kickings to Dallas.  Fair enough.  But you have to remember what it was like at that time in sports.  Small market teams didn’t win shit.  There was no formula for small market teams to follow.  And you sure as hell couldn’t win playing up tempo as the Oilers did at that time.  They were one of VERY FEW teams that played what you would call an honest game.  They didn’t play chicken shit hockey.  Think about the 03 Anaheim Mighty Ducks.  That team played chicken shit hockey, as boring as could possibly be.  Sure, they made it to game 7 of the final in 03, and not one person around the game will ever bring it up as an accomplishment because of the way they played to get there.

 

Those teams didn’t win anything substantial, but they didn’t short change anyone.  They embodied the personality of the city and the region.  As blue collar as it got.  They redefined playing “Oilers hockey”, and they set the table for what was to come just 3 years later.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

“And the Edmonton Oilers, Are Gonna Move On”

19971I can’t recall exactly where I was when this crossed my mind, but I thought about it the other day.  Something very depressing.  I was at what will go down as the final playoff game ever seen at Northlands Coliseum/Edmonton Coliseum/Skyreach Centre/Rexall Place.  If you would have told ANYONE that night it would be the last playoff game ever in that building, it would be unimaginable the laughs, looks, and mocking you would take for suggesting that.

 

Back in those days (get off my lawn) my family had season tickets…good season tickets!  I had gone to 3 playoff games in the early 90’s at the end of the dynasty, but during what could be called the Ryan Smyth era, I was there at least twice every spring.

 

So with it being the final days of Rexall I figured it would be a good time to do a whole week of retro pieces on the Oilers and instead of talking about the dynasty years that while I lived through I don’t really remember much of it pre 1990 and everyone knows everything about that team.  Then, I could talk about the rebuild, but I’ve gone down that memory lane a ton including one piece a couple weeks ago.  So I figured I would talk about what again is essentially the Ryan Smyth era (96-06).  Maybe call it the “Rock n Roll All Night” era?  They did use that song a lot during the playoffs in those years.  In 99 they used Dragula for the team entrance….and used it for every period, not just the initial entrance.  So you could imagine my pain by the 3rd OT in 99, game 4 against Dallas.  But I digress.

 

So here we go, this is the first of 5 pieces I’m doing to that plucky underdog and oh so loveable team that never won a Cup but was one of the most popular teams in the league and believe it or not was considered amongst the most well run organizations in all of a sports for a time.

 

Things had changed a lot in Edmonton since 1992.  It looked as though in 92 that the rebuild was essentially over and that “the team of the 90’s” was here.  Led by Bill Ranford, Vincent Damphousse, Joe Murphy, Bernie Nicholls, and Dave Manson the Oilers went to the Campbell conference final in 92, knocking off the Kings in the process.  And Don Whittman said during the handshakes of that series “the team of the 80’s knocked off by the team of the 90’s”.  But that SO wasn’t to be.

 

The exodus that looked as though it was done after the gutting of the roster on the eve of the 91-92 season continued.  By the end of 93, the entire top line of Damphousse, Nicholls and Murphy were all gone.  Kevin Lowe who Glen Sather thought would be the 1 hold over from the dynasty, also wanted out.  93 and 94 were as dark of years for the Oilers as the last 6 have been.  95 and 96 they made playoff pushes.  They couldn’t find a way into the dance in either year, but you could see they were coming and entering the 96-97 season you had the feeling it could be the year they broke through.

 

But breaking through meant making the playoffs, not going anywhere.  Little did we know, internationally things were about to get worse for Canada, but the feeling in October of 96 was that hockey in Canada was fading fast.

 

Canada lost the World Cup of Hockey to the Americans, and no Canadian team made it past the first round of the playoffs the previous spring.  1990 marked the 9th straight year a Canadian team (everyone of those years it was at least a Western Canadian team) had made the final.  6 years later, no Canadian team made it out of the first round.  Then of course the previous 2 seasons were the last for the Quebec Nordiques and the former incarnation of the Winnipeg Jets.  The combination of no revenue sharing, no salary cap, and a horrific Canadian dollar was crippling every Canadian team.  It felt like Canadian hockey was in free fall.

 

But for Oiler fans, they would be happy just getting in the dance.  And there was a certain energy around the team.  The new jersey’s were a big hit.  As a kid at the time, they felt like the hip/cool team.  Sick new uni’s, that was the first season they came onto the ice through the oil derrick, they were really young and had a lot of talent.

 

Most importantly, they really took on the personality of their head coach, Ron Low.  Low wasn’t an X’s and O’s guy…not even remotely close!  Ron Low had bite, and Ron Low was as straight of a shooter as you could find.  The type of guy who maybe wasn’t going to start the fight, but he would welcome it.  There were no fly by’s on his hockey team.  If you had the chance to lay the body, you better do it.  Otherwise Glen Sather might be trading you the next day.

 

It was a hell of a year.  If I’m not mistaken at one point around mid season they sat 3rd in the West.  If they didn’t, they came real close to catching Detroit in the standings.  They spent a lot of the season in 4th and looked headed for home ice.  But they began to fade late in the season, and really faded once they clinched a playoff spot on a Saturday night hosting Vancouver (no lie, didn’t need to look that up, Canucks tied the game with a second to go, ended in a tie).

 

They ended up 7th and played Dallas.  I really thought with the way they ended the season and all the vets the Stars had that they had ZERO chance to win that series.

 

I remember being surprised they were even in the first game.  Mike Modano sniped late to give the Stars a 4-3 win, and my thought was it was the Oilers best chance to win and it would be done in 4 or 5.

 

Game 2 was the Bryan Marchment game that I really thought at the time would be well remembered.  Marchment for those who don’t know or don’t recall, lost his balance dumping a puck into the Stars zone and as he was falling Guy Carboneau’s penalty was expiring, so the door was open.

It was pretty scary at the time.  Anyway, the Oilers used this a rallying cry and actually dominated the remainder of the game, winning 4-0.  All of a sudden I felt like it was going to be a respectable series as it moved back to Edmonton.

 

But game 3 the Stars finally woke up.  For 56 minutes the Stars completely dominated the Oilers.  It was an awful and frustrating game to watch.  3-0 Dallas.  Of course, games are 60 minutes long and the greatest comeback in Oilers history was about to take place.

 

Doug Weight on what seemed like a meaningless back hand.  Then Andrei Kovalenko on a power play, followed very shortly by a Mike Grier tip in.  1:56, 3 goals, and it was tied at 3 heading to OT, where captain Kelly Buchberger ended it.  At this point I remember thinking the upset was coming.  The Stars were having trouble beating Joseph, their PP was awful, and the Oilers just had nothing to lose.

 

Game 4, Dallas bounced back and tied the series but game 5 was when Cujo really took over the series.  The game went to double OT, and the Stars couldn’t get anything past him.  Then Ryan Smyth scored, with a shot that would be both a blessing and a curse to Oilers fans.  Smyth had one of the worst clappers in league history, but after he got a bad one past Andy Moog on this Friday night in April of 97, he believed he was sniping one like that every time he had a little room coming down the left side.  So while it was great that this shot put the Oilers up 3-2 in the series going home…I’m not sure it was great for Oiler fans after that.

 

Once again though in game 6 the Stars bounced back, and like so many times in what would become a rivalry (which I’ll be going more in depth about tomorrow), Mike Modano.  2nd time in the series Modano comes up huge for the Stars late in a game, to give Dallas a 3-2 win and taking the Oilers back down South for game 7.  After this one I remember once again thinking “they’re done”.

 

I had not got used to a team that wouldn’t quit.  I actually played on a team like that in 97, we came back in both our first 2 playoff series that year, from 2 goals down in the first one and from 3 down in the second, winning both series in OT (2 game total goal).  But watching the Oilers be that team, I really wasn’t used to it.  They were either the heavy favourites like in the late 80’s/early 90’s, or they were horrible.

 

Never were they the plucky/loveable underdog who never would quit.  Game 7, Stars get a 1-0 lead, Oilers tie it 10 seconds later with a Rem Murray goal setup by Joe Hulbig and the never forgotten thanks to how Shane Doan’s career has gone Steve Kelly.  The Oilers see a 2-1 lead turn into a 3-2 deficit late in the 2nd and again I’m thinking “now they’re done” and REALLY thinking that when Mike Modano got Cujo 1 on 1 with 30 seconds left in the 2nd and Joseph completely robbed him.  Seconds later, Marchant to Kovalenko and it was tied again.

 

Of course you can’t speak of the goal without speaking of the save.  The save late in the 2nd on Modano might have been better…MIGHT…but it wasn’t as clutch.  When Brendan Morrison scored in the 3rd OT to be the Flames in 6 of the 2004 playoffs, Chris Cuthbert’s call was “Brendan Morrison, a silencer…”  That might have been true, but never have I heard something make a building go quiet like Cujo’s save on Joe Nieuwendyk.  I don’t think I’m over exaggerating that either.  The crowd noise goes from the anticipation of the series winner going in, to “what?”

I remember just being in shock.  In my parents living room, 13 years old, undercut flying everywhere, probably wearing an “I AM CANDIAN” t-shirt and some really baggy tanned cords, just going absolutely ape shit at what I was witnessing.  This team should have been done about 15 times by now and still Cujo was keeping them alive.  Then the puck dropped to resume play, and the Stars got another chance that Cujo kick aside.  And Bob Cole says “he looks like he’s in that zone again by the looks of it”.  And that was it.  It was the last shot the Stars got on goal, because this happened.

That goal along with the Pisani goal is the most replayed Oiler goal outside of the dynasty years.  Something else to add is that until that goal, Marchant NEVER scored on breakaway’s.  EVER.  He couldn’t have picked a better time to do it.

 

Need more of that save and that goal?  I got this clip from a TSN Top 10 (goaltender saves).  Starts at 1:02.

Chills.

 

But back to the goal, and again some might wonder why that goal was so massive, but you have to remember where things were at.  The Oilers were maybe the poorest of the poor Canadian teams.  I’ve heard Bob Stauffer say it about the 04 Flames lots that he felt it changed from the battle OF Alberta to the battle FOR Alberta.  Well this season was really the start of that and not just Alberta, but Canada.  At that time, of the 6 remaining Canadian teams, none of them were anywhere near the top of the league.  It was dominated by the big market U.S. teams like Philadelphia, Detroit, Colorado, the Rangers and of course Dallas.  And here was the poorest of the poor, the Oilers, going into big market Dallas and knocking them off on their ice no less.  It was huge.  Ironically, scored by an American.  Assisted by an American.

 

It really seemed to stop the bleeding so to speak too.  Not internationally.  Of course Canada lost the 98 Olympics, 97 was the last year before 05 that Canada won gold at the WJC, but life for the Canadian teams seemed to improve after that.  The next season, all 3 that got in the playoffs went onto the 2nd round.  In 99 both the Sens and the Leafs became powerhouses, and things were really never as bad again.  Even today, while there is a threat of seeing no Canadian team in the playoffs this season, no team is on the move, 6 of 7 don’t need new buildings (and Calgary will get theirs), and the cap ensures everyone has a chance as long as the right people are running a team.  No team may make it this season, but 5 of 7 made it last season, and I would say 6 of 7 are in great shape for the years to come.

 

A massive goal, at just the right time, that kicked off one of the league’s hottest rivalries.

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Conference Championship Picks ATS

brady-manning-newton-palmer-football-americain_9ea543d2ff4be242c55802fe97cc24b63-1 weekend!!!  ONCE AGAIN I am awful picking games on wildcard weekend, and damn good on divisional weekend (I don’t know what else to call it, divisional round weekend sounds weird too).

 

So here we go, just 2 weeks left of football to enjoy.  Even with how shitty this season was, it’s still football.  Life just is never the same without it.  You go through withdrawal on Sunday’s.  Sometimes you get the shakes.  You find yourself trying to fill the void watching past Pro Bowl’s and the 1998 Tennessee Oilers highlight VHS.  Embrace it while you can.

 

New England at Denver

Broncos +3.5

Everything says to take the Pats here.  Brady at this point is far superior to Manning.  Billichick is far superior to Kubiak.  But the Broncos have been getting pissed on all season and just love it.  Every week they can legitimately play the “we don’t get any respect/nobody believes in us” card.  Last year after the NFC title game, Doug Baldwin said in a post game interview “nobody believed in us!” or something to that affect.  Sure Doug.  I didn’t hear anyone in the media, any fan, literally anyone take the Packers in that game, or take anyone else going into the playoffs other than the Seahawks to win the NFC.  It was so ridiculously fabricated.  But this is legit.  All season everyone has been more than happy to say the Broncos are doing this on smoke and mirrors.  But everyone overlooks that defense.  That D is elite.  Tom Brady for whatever reason can’t win in Denver.  And Peyton Manning has defeated Brady in the playoffs the last 2 meetings.  For all the sheer HATE that Manning gets from his detractors, he wins today, he’s 3-1 in the AFC title game vs Brady.  And the weather isn’t expected to be bad.  A little windy but not near as bad as last week and +7 (44.6F).  That is a real good thing for Manning.  I don’t like people who are apologists, but I do tend to side with those backing Manning right now.  The hate for Manning just seems to have gotten ridiculous.  His receivers were dropping balls and it was extremely windy last weekend.  It isn’t an excuse when it’s a fact.  People over use “excuse” these days as bad as they do with “he just wins”.  “Well he needed a fumble to win the game”.  And when he had a kicker miss a makeable field goal 10 years ago did you forgive Manning for that?  What about when his D allowed Mark Sanchez to march down the field with a minute to play 5 years ago?  That was Manning’s fault too wasn’t it.  Again, Manning isn’t what he was.  But with a solid run game and the best D in the league he is capable of putting 20-27 points on the board today which would give the Broncos a great chance to win with that D.  Having said ALL of this, I’ll still say the Pats win this one by 3, but I think it’ll be a tight game and the Broncos have a much better chance to win then people are giving them.

 

Arizona at Carolina

Panthers -3

The Cardinals benefit greatly from playing at home.  Carson Palmer has a messed up finger right now that really seemed to effect him last weekend.  And while yes, the Panthers nearly blew it last weekend, they didn’t.  They have done this a lot all season.  The same thing happened against Green Bay, happened against the Giants, it’s just what they do.  They get a big lead and they relax, especially Cam Newton.  That is Newton’s personality.  I’d love to crush him for it…but he always gets away with it so I guess it’s working.  Let’s not forget too, the Seahawks needed to execute a fake punt, and Russell Wilson made some unbelievable plays to keep the Seahawks alive in that game.  I love Carson Palmer, but he’s not the QB Russell Wilson is, and has yet to prove he is anywhere near as clutch as a guy like Wilson is.  At home, only getting 3 points, I love the Panthers.  I honestly don’t think it’ll be that close of game.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups 

One More For the Road

Tom-Brady-Peyton-Manning5This is the weekend we’ve all been waiting for!  All year, us diehard fans live for the build to this weekend, this day.  And here it is.  Yes, it’s the Royal Rumble.  Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, the Rock, the legends of the sport all built their legends by winning the Royal Rumble.  Who will write their name in the history books next?  We’ll soon find out!  Oh, and some football game is coming on in a few hours staring some ok QB’s, but that stuffs all scripted.

 

I intended to write this piece last Sunday night, have it up Monday morning and I got lazy and told myself “do it next weekend”.  Then, everyone started jumping on this narrative.  You’d think I’d have the wherewithal to know that was coming….you’d think.  Anyway…

 

Can someone explain to me why exactly some people reach record levels of sheer ecstasy whenever Peyton Manning does something wrong?  Maybe people just are sick of him, but it’s not his fault he’s offered to pitch every product and the media adores him.  I don’t get everyone being so eager to point out his struggles in the playoffs and completely ignore the team aspect of football.  It couldn’t be more of a team sport, yet it falls on the QB all the time.  Tom Brady tied a record on Saturday, most 300 yard games in the playoffs.  Who did he tie?  Peyton Manning.  Would that not suggest that Peyton is doing his job?  Nobody ever talks about poor defenses, poor running games, average coaches.  Nope.  All on Manning.  Not to say he is without blame, but it is just insane the beating he takes from some people.  Should he win this next game, he will move to 3-1 in AFC title games against Brady, 3-2 in the playoffs.  If it’s all about the QB, then why is Manning beating Brady in the playoffs more often?  It ISN’T you stupid f***s!

 

In case that line didn’t tell you, nothing pisses me off more than someone who just wants to look at a QB’s win-loss record and nothing else.  You couldn’t have anymore of a TEAM sport, yet so many dip shits want to make it out to be QB vs QB.

 

And I think Brady is better than Manning, I believe most do.  But one has the best coach of all time, one has never had that guy….in a coaches league.  Why is it that because Manning hasn’t been as good as maybe the best QB of all time that must mean Manning is shitty?  Give it up.

 

Enjoy this, because this is it for this rivalry.  And for once, you have an underdog that nobody believes in.  Brady started out as that guy, but by 2003 when they first met in the playoffs Brady had a Super Bowl and was on his way to a 2nd, people believed in him by then.  Everyone believes that Brady and the Pats are going to hammer the Broncos.  And they might.  But what a story it would be if Peyton Manning had 2 more big games left in him.  I really don’t have a routing interest in this game, both are great stories heading into the Super Bowl.  Pats and Brady win, the story is can they repeat and can Brady get the record setting 5th Super Bowl ring.  Broncos and Manning win, the story is the punch drunk fighter getting up off the mat one final time.  Like Rocky coming out for…well I guess he was supposed to be done in just about all those movies wasn’t he?

 

If the Pats lose, Tom Brady’s legacy won’t be hurt.  He’s going down as the greatest QB of all time except in San Francisco, Denver, Indianapolis, and with anyone who loves Tim Tebow.  But a Broncos win, and then again in 2 weeks, it would shut the detractors up who think Manning needs 2 Super Bowls to justify his career.  Had he won his 1 Super Bowl 2 years ago and not in 2006, this wouldn’t even be a topic.  People would give him the credit he deserves.  But because that Super Bowl win was 9 years ago, he now has to win a 2nd.  Can you tell all the media and fans piling on Manning this season has made me snap?!  Yeah, he’s not what he was, does that somehow make his career garbage?

 

It’ll go down as one of the greatest sports rivalries of all time.  The 6th round pick nobody believed in vs the 1st overall pick who comes from football’s first family.  Mr. GQ vs Mr. Papa John’s.  They couldn’t be more opposite, and that’s what makes it so perfect.  Here’s hoping the final showdown is a classic.

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

He’s Everything They Don’t Want

jordan-eberle-oilersI never want to be an Oilers apologist, and I know they got lucky as can imaginably be when they won the lottery last spring….but can the Oilers get a freaking bounce?!  Top 2 centres and 2 top 4 D-men are out.  Pucks are finding every fluky way imaginable to get in their net.  Guys are taking pucks off their nuts.  I get that winning the right to draft McDavid was insane, but the Oilers have had boat loads of injuries and boat loads of piss poor luck for 10 seasons now!

 

So last night was the breaking point for me.  Been talking about it with buddies lately and we all seem to agree.  If you listen to Peter Chiarelli in interviews discuss what kind of team he wants to build in Edmonton, it is just so very clear to me that Jordan Eberle is as good as gone.  And I don’t believe this will be a case where he’ll be shipped out for a defenceman.  I think he’s gone for the best offer, because he has never developed his game.

 

He has ELITE hands.  It is insane how great his hands are.  But what else does he do?  Awful in his own zone, awful on the wall and in the corners, hates going into traffic, he’s not at all physical, the next time he strips someone of the puck will be the first time, he can’t carry a line offensively, what is the freaking point of keeping the guy?  He is completely useless.  Sure, he can score when he plays with good linemates.  Congrats, the New Jersey Devils got Lee Stempniak off the scrap heap this fall.  They’re the exact same guy, only Eberle is getting 6 million a year and Stempniak is getting 850k.  Actually that’s a lie, Stempniak isn’t terrified of traffic.

 

Am I pissed?  Yes I am, because I like the kid.  He grew up an Oiler fan.  On draft day all the kids have big smiles on their faces, but Eberle just seemed to be a different level of giddy than most kids are.  This is the full clip of him being drafted in 08, but his interview begins at the 5:40 mark.

The innocent kid that day has seemingly turned into a guy who couldn’t give a damn about anything except scoring a highlight reel goal.  Something I notice with Eberle is if he gets the puck in a good scoring position, he quite often looks to make another move rather than take the shot.  The kid has all the confidence in the world in his shot, so don’t tell me he’s just looking to get into a better position.  This guy is worried about having the highlight of the night, not winning.

 

You won’t hear much of this about Eberle because people like him.  Just as people liked Sam Gagner.  Eberle was the World Junior hero, twice.  In victory one year, in defeat the next.  But you have to be honest about it, and Eberle has had 4 years now to take that next step.  He had a terrific 76 point season in 2012, but his game has never expanded, and he hasn’t matched that output.

 

I’m guessing that what will happen is that he will play with Connor McDavid the rest of the season.  It’s only smart, put Eberle with McDavid and run his numbers up.  And he will produce with McDavid.  I won’t be surprised to see Eberle get 19 goals in the final 32 games should he and McDavid stay healthy.  Sounds great doesn’t it, why move a guy who puts up those kind of numbers with McDavid hey?  Because everyone will.

 

Yakupov looked terrific with McDavid, and Yakupov has been horrible without him.  So why not trade Yakupov?  Because Yakupov shows a willingness to play the type of game Chiarelli wants to play.  Yakupov is on a good contract for another year.  And Yakupov won’t bring in what Eberle will.  This isn’t to say I believe Yakupov will be with the Oilers next year either, but I’m focusing on Eberle today.  Eberle’s skill will still entice another GM to say “I can change him”.

 

A D-man would be nice to get for him, but a team isn’t going to give up a high end D-man for the guy.  Maybe you package him with Griffen Reinhart?  That would no doubt get a good return, but I still doubt it would net them the D-man they need.

 

But as I said off the top, I don’t think that’ll stop Peter Chiarelli from moving him and just getting the best return he can get.  If he can get a 1st round pick at the deadline for him, I believe he’ll do the deal.  It would be criticized, but that 1st round pick would be pretty damn valuable trade chip come June.  Eberle is just everything Chiarelli doesn’t want this team to be.  He’s everything that’s been wrong with the Oilers the last 6 seasons.  Too small, not good enough wheels, and unwilling to play anything but a 1 dimensional game.

 

With the 6 mil cap hit off the books, Milan Lucic, Andrew Ladd, David Backes, Loui Eriksson, Radim Vrbata, Jiri Hudler, David Perron, Mikkel Boedker, Kyle Okposo.  All are UFA’s, all are better options for the Oilers than Eberle.  Maybe a guy like Vrbata will make you say no.  But Vrbata won’t be 6 million per, and he’s a better skater.

 

It reminds me a lot of the Phil Kessel situation.  The Leafs haven’t been any worse without Kessel, and the Pens haven’t been any better with him.  A 1 dimensional player just doesn’t have any impact on a team.  Remember when Peter Chiarelli had 1 dimensional Phil Kessel?  His ass was gone in a hurry.

 

I could easily be wrong about this.  Won’t be the first time and it won’t be the last.  But I just can’t see a scenario where Jordan Eberle is in an Oilers uniform next season.  With the player he’s become, they’ll be better off.

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Going to Another Level

569baf3a60a40.imageThat was his moment.  The Packers didn’t win the football game, but it isn’t going to matter.  You know that when Cris Collinsworth makes the noise he made when that ball was caught, you just witnessed something amazing.  And that was the throw Aaron Rodgers made to send a classic game into OT.

 

How good was it?  I’m doing a freaking blog on it!  Not on the game, on 1 pass.  But it was that 1 pass that will never be forgotten, and people will remember Rodgers for when it’s all said and done.  Roger Staubach is more well known for his 1975 hail mary, the original, it’s where the play gets its name, then he is for his 2 Super Bowls.

 

And it’s one thing if this was a one off.  A lot of QB’s have them, they’re like a hole in 1.  Sometimes you’re just lucky enough to have it happen to you.  Rodgers has done it twice in a little over 6 weeks.  And he had another amazing throw to keep the game alive right before the latest one.

 

Rodgers isn’t like most elite QB’s.  Most elite guys are beloved by their teammates.  You never heard one bad word about Montana, Elway, Marino, Favre, Brady, Manning, you don’t hear a single bad word about any of them from ex teammates.  That isn’t the case with Rodgers.  A few guys have come out and ripped him.  He is very demonstrative and won’t hesitate to show up a guy for running the wrong route or dropping a ball.

 

So while he isn’t the greatest leader the sport has ever seen, the combination of intelligence, arm strength, arm accuracy and mobility is very likely the best we have ever seen.  The only other guy I can think of that had that combination was John Elway.  I want to say Roger Staubach is in that class too, but I never saw Staubach play.

 

But while Rodgers has been considered the best QB in football for the last couple of seasons, nobody has been talking about him as one of the all time greats.  That’ll change now.  He has a signature play, in a massive moment.  The fact that all those attributes I talked about last paragraph were on display with the game on the line is why.

 

You’ll get the morons who’ll say “yeah, but he’s only won 1 Super Bowl”.  Some how much like Peyton Manning, until Rodgers wins a 2nd Super Bowl you’ll get those morons who’ll say “yeah, but Eli Manning has 2 Super Bowl’s” and stupid shit along those lines.  Football is a team game, and the NFL is a coaches league as much as it is a quarterbacks league.  How is it anything of Rodgers fault if the Packers offensive line is bad, or their defense is bad, or they have awful special teams (hello Brandon Bostick)?

 

This is one of the all time greats we now get to watch in his prime.  Let’s enjoy it.  Don’t nit pick things like how many Super Bowls he’s won.  Enjoy the fact that we get to see amazing things like what he did on Saturday night.  Staubach had his in 75, Elway had the drive in 86, Montana had drives both against the Cowboys in 81 and then against the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII, and now Aaron Rodgers will have that throw.  It is a bit of a shame that it wasn’t to win the game, but a coin toss and subsequently his defense let him down.

 

He’s in the club now.  Unitas, Staubach, Montana, Elway, Marino, Favre, Brady, Manning, and now Rodgers.  Debate the list all you want, but the fact is that he is now on the list, and at 32 we need to enjoy this while we can.  It’s something special to watch.

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