May ... Such a wonderful time of year. Spring is springing. Oilers are golfing. 2 teams much better managed than us are fighting for a Stanley cup. Off-season rumours, trades, drafts, firings all in the hopes that this is the year the Oil get it right! They never do but it’s always exciting to watch. I’d say it is the most hopeful month of the year for us. We haven’t messed up the draft pick ... yet. We haven’t made an awful free agent signing ... yet. We haven’t made a boneheaded trade ... yet.
It could be argued that the playoffs to Canada Day is really the most exciting part of the Oilers season. Holland is in, MacT is out and we just fired a pro scout (50% of our pro scouting department) who has been around for every awful trade since Chia took over.
After a decade of this, I've become a huge fan of the World Hockey Championships. There is no best on best currently scheduled. The last Olympics had no pros. It always baffles me a bit that North Americans don't care as much about this tourney? Everyone seems to prefer watching teenagers play hockey at Xmas rather than pros in Spring.
During a best on best tourney I sift through dozens of articles saying that Canada could send two different teams and win it (note: They actually could). Yet when I ask why people don't like the World's my answer is usually because it isn't fair because Canada didn't send their A team. The funny thing is that the only Nations that send there full A team to the World Championships are Great Britain and Italy. This is that B team that Canadians love to brag about! With 300 or more NHLers to choose from it should be easy pickings.
Some interesting developments from an Oilers perspective. Nurse is logging heavy minutes and is doing awesome! Drai is not only carrying a line but also a full nation. A common argument is that Drai doesn’t need to carry his own line for the Oil to be successful and I disagree. He single handedly destroyed Slovak hopes of making playoffs with a dagger in the 59th minute. Andrej Sekera has been playing a lot of heavy minutes in all situations and done great as well. There might be hope for him returning to Top 4 form. Future Masterton?
In this particular tourney the Swedes are back to back champs and going for a very rare threepeat (last done by the Czechs at start of century).
The Russians got a lot of their big guns. This is near their Olympic team as they have Kuzsnetsov, Ovi and Malkin all flying around. Most likely Vezina goalie Vasilevsky in net with up and come Georgiev as well. They steam rolled a very strong pool and have looked unstoppable. At one point they had a 6-1 lead on 2 time champs Sweden yesterday.
The Swiss have also managed to get near their Olympic team as Nino just flew in to join Josi, Fiala and Nico. They have really evolved their game from trapping to be a really good and fun team to watch. They went from counter attack to just plain old ATTACK!
Another stacked team have been the State’s. They have Patrick Kane, Eichel and Gaudreau all in their lineup.
Warning - Czech rant coming up, feel free to skip over
My beloved Czechs got 10 NHlers and Filip Hronek is scoring like Marek Zidlicky. Our Top 6 is all NHL players which has not happened in at least a decade. While we are still missing some very key pieces (Mrazek, Pastrnak, Kempny, Hertl, Rittich and Krejci) we do have a strong team. In fact, 5 of the top 10 scorers in the tourney are Czech and the Czechs lead all teams in pool play with 39 goals. 39 goals is something that takes the Czechs 2 tournament to compile.
Of course, the Czechs are run a lot like the Oilers (old guard in charge, ignore young players, play the wrong goalie, poorly assess talent) and will be their own worst enemy. For instance, instead of playing 19 year old NHL C Filip Chytil we are playing Tomas Zohorna. Now we are talking about benching Jakub Vrana while playing MIlan Gulas (a mid 30’s guy playing in Extraliga). We will be benching Pavel Francouz in favour of Extraliga goalie Patrik Bartosak. We also believe in such a thing as too much talent as you can only have 6 scorers on the team and the other 6 guys have to block shots and dump and chase. The concept of Top 9 is completely lost unfortunately. I’m not sure how many more quarter finals the Czechs have to lose to realize that they need to play NHL goalies and NHL players against other NHL goalies and NHL Players? I was hoping a decade was enough. In some bright news, Filip Pesan is taking over the Czech federation and he seems to be much more advanced in his thinking and could shake things up like I am hoping Ken Holland does (okay, I wanted Hextall who definitely would’ve shook things up).
Czech Rant OVER
This brings us to the Quarter Finals which are 10am (EST) and 2pm (EST) on all the TSN channels tomorrow. They are all looking great:
Russia vs USA
Undefeated and amazing Russian team against an absolutely underwhelming (but completely stacked) US team. On paper, this could be the gold medal game. I have a theory that the States don’t care about the round robin. I think they’ll wake up tomorrow and will realize they have Johnny Hockey on Line 3 (or Jack Hughes in the stands) and will beat the Russians in a massive upset. Kane with winner.
Canada vs Switzerland
The Swiss can flat out skate and look so good on the big ice. They defend well and now they can score goals as well. This is a new modern Swiss team and they are fun to watch. They lost all 3 games against the top teams in their pool (Sweden, Russia and Czechs) but those games were consecutive and they’ve been battling for a week now.
Canada is Canada. Team is strong in all positions with no major weaknesses anywhere. They are the favourite for this and could easily win the tournament.
I’m picking the Swiss in a huge upset. They got to the Gold Medal game at last year’s World’s and have seamlessly integrated their NHL players into lineup. Nowhere near the talent but they seem to live for big quarter final upsets. Nino with the game winner.
Sweden vs Finland
I’m not sure what happened to Finland? They have been producing high end NHL player after another and have developed an amazing pool of NHL talent. However, for this tourney, most those guys aren’t here. This is very much a Finnish Liigga All Star team with some NHL (and AHL) players sprinkled in playing against a 90% NHL Swedish team. Finns have looked better in pool play while Swedes have been sluggish.
I have to go with the Swedes in this one as they are 2 time champs, rarely lose quarters and have King Henrik in net. Plus Lias Anderssen and Michal Nylander are unbelievably good (yes, I’d take Nylander for that money as an Oiler).
Czechs vs Germans
Germans have been rising since Olympic finals. They are very organized and play like Switzerland used to. Counter punch and patience. They have the better goalie (Grubauer) and the best player on the ice (Drai!). After that I feel the Czechs have every advantage but nothing sinks a ship quicker than a hot goalie and an elite talent like Drai. I’m going Czechs in OT on this one. I’d feel a lot better if we weren’t starting an Extraliga goalie. I’d feel a lot better if we weren’t benching 2 good and young NHL players (Chytil and Vrana) in favour of a 34 year old Extraliga player and a 31 year old KHL player who averages about 30 points a season (and has zero points in this tourney). Another neat Czech fact, Dimitri Jaskin is on line 2 and Vrana is on line 4/pressbox. They both played for the Caps this season and Jaskin was healthy scratched about half the season while Vrana finished 3rd in goal scoring. If you think being an OIler’s fan is tough, trying be a Czech and OIler’s fan!