Sunday 25 Sep 2016

Drop the Puck
Clobber Samson

Optimism is the only moral choice

Barbara Kingslover"


Given the originally intended political context, perhaps I should have saved that quote for a more important sermon, other than a prelude to my yearly predictions on the NHL season. As Bob Dylan once succinctly opined, "the hour is getting late.”

Then again, given the numerous provincial or territorial elections going on lately and in the days to come, as well as the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests, the quote can serve a double purpose. More directly maybe, one fellow on Denman Street the other day to whom that I handed a toonie said, "What else can I do; hope's the only thing that keeps me going.”

As for moi, I wake-up in the morning thinking, "Here we go again, nothing to do but write another song. How blessed I am to be alive another day.” 

Pessimism is for the rich, because they have more to lose, although it is a head-scratcher that when the rich people's boats go under they call it a 'bail-out'; when the poor people's ships go under, they call it "foreclosure.” There’s another meaning for the word “moneyball.” It's a funny old world.

For those super-rich, like Bill Gates, good on you mate; their donations to the improvement of humankind are but private indulgences for which they receive recognition and awards. When the poor rally 'round the poor, like say on Wall Street, the actual street, they share a higher percentage of their resources that Bill and Linda do, but never appear on the cover of People magazine. Occasionally some of them have their photos show-up on-line as Wal-Mart shoppers, dressed in all kinds of skimpy or flamboyant attire, going public to display their massive amount of fatty tissue and hairy parts, with an obviously other worldly attitude that someone will ask them out on a date. Now that is 'optimism'.

Our country's first immigrants came from Ireland, Scotland and other foreign places for opportunity and obviously not for the climate. I'm not sure you'd find the following sentiment in any Canadian history books: "I'm so fucked; I think I'll sail to Canada and die of frost-bite.” What got most of those first settlers here, and through their first winters, had to be hope for something better!

Now combine hope with science, where some geneticists are 'discovering', or theorizing about, that there may be genes and/or other genetic materials and processes, that ingrain and then pass along 'culture' from one generation to the next. Ergo: we have so-called “cultural genes.”

Picture homo-erectus mates Grog, Zak and Zube on the Savannah. Zak and Zube watch Grog fumble with a stick, imitating the action within their brain matter, creating "mirror neurons,” Zak and Zube fire a few recently developed mirror neurons and pick up their own sticks. All three start grasping and manipulating, one might say 'stick-handling', their sticks, thus stimulating and ingraining connections between brain and body parts, including the larynx, which eventually leads to speech - "Shoot the fucking puck!" They all carve and take home other little sticks to put under the Christmas tree for mini-Grog et al and voila, hockey is born; it becomes part of the culture and a few generations later, there's a massive mutation and Wayne Gretsky hits the backyard ice pond.

Therefore, when Canadians say, "Hockey is in our blood," we may be saying more than one ever thought, with the gene guys nodding away, "that's right, eh.” Now, moving right along, before any scientist out there thinks I'm spinning a tale, hockey in Canada is surviving winter and, then, like bees to flowers, participating in the annual Spring dance: hockey=winter=survival=spring= optimism. 

Combining the two theories noted above, how else does one explain Maple Leafs fans? A new season; a new reason to believe and perhaps nowhere is there more signs of, perhaps fatal, optimism than in Manitoba, with the return of the Jets.

In that regard, one of my favourite Canadian movie directors is Guy Maddin; his 2007 documentary, about his hometown, "My Winnipeg,” is superb. If only for its stunning historical and visual lament for the demise of hockey in Winnipeg, it is worth a viewing. 

Whether or not the reasons for the re-birth of NHL hockey there have anything to do with factors beyond the financial expediency of Lord Gary, I'm hoping that Guy Maddin is celebrating, a little bit. For now however, let us rejoice that we have another team in our homeland.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. WASHINGTON CAPITALS - Message to Bruce: It's the play-offs stupid! Vokoun may be the difference.

2. BOSTON BRUINS - With no changes; nothing changes! TT will not repeat his excellent year of last, but Rask is ready to assume more duties.

3. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS - As Boomer says on MNF, "they could go all the way.” Jagr is back. How long will he be able to keep up? "That Russian goalie" gives them a real chance... and I'm not one to lament the loss of Carter and Richards.... yet.

4. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS - If Gino is healthy and STK comes back before Santa Claus arrives. The Pens did quite well last year with both out. The PENdulum of possibility swings wide for these guys.

5. BUFFALO SABRES - Bigger, better, stronger. Spending money does work sometimes. First the Bills and then the Sabres! Optimism is on a rampage!

6. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING - Stevie Y may have to upgrade the goaltending. Rollie will be 42 soon. C'mon man!

7. MONTREAL CANADIENS - Always a bubble team, last year the C's almost knocked-off the Bruins and who knows, might have gone as deep. Basically the same team; small is beautiful.

8. CAROLINA HURRICANES - A risk pick for 8th....based more on injuries to the following teams...

9. NEW YORK RANGERS - If 'Richards to Gaborik' becomes more of a sound byte than interviews with Brian Burke, Da Rangers have a really good shot at dancing with the Bees.. but they go in with some injuries, especially to Staal.

10. NEW JERSEY DEVILS - Hibernation is for bears. Kovalchuk has to have a better start and a better year; bringing back Sykora might work; remember the rush these guys made last year? They get Parise back but lose Zajac. Is Marty past his best before date? many questions; few answers.

11. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS - I'm thinking Ron MacLean has a much better chance of surviving winter than Ron Wilson. Connolly already hurt; Lombardi a head-hit away from tweeting Marc Savard without a Twitter account. Burkie rolls the dice.... and is looking a bit older, more grey, and worried. His ass is on the line if the Laffs don't make the dance.

12. NEW YORK ISLANDERS - One of these years and all those fine ex-rookies will gel. Might challenge for a play-off spot, if Nabby or Di Pietro are in the running for the Vezina. A real dark horse - again!

13. OTTAWA SENATORS - Many are picking the Sens to finish last. That would not surprise me. Too old and ragged on the top-end, too raw and young on the bottom; little that sets your heart pumping in the middle. No free pizzas this year Ottawa fans. Here's hoping they're hockey's equivalent to baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks. Hibernation might come early this year in Bytown. The key to the city here is Space Cadet. It's now or never Jason. Maturity sometimes takes time. Maybe the new coach - another new coach! - can get him and his cohorts to excel. Otherwise, ya might wanna just go skating on the Canal with the kids.

14. WINNIPEG JETS - After the hoopla dies down, Winter-peggers will learn what the Atlanta faithful - all three of them - knew; this is not exactly 'Swaggerville'. Go Bombers Go!

15. FLORIDA PANTHERS - Here's another pinch me if they're contending for a play-off spot team. The turnstiles may not move much for the fans but Florida made some interesting moves in the off-season. Are these guys going to turn out to be one of those previous years' predicted last place finishers who knock your team's socks off? Ah...no; but....

DARK HORSE: TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS - A lot of question marks as noted above about their two off-season pick-ups but goaltending is secure and the defence is pretty darn good. In one of those 'moneyball' stat thingys they've developed for hockey, Grabovsky registered extremely high on time efficiency with the puck, or some similar sort of rating. I understand the Conservative government is legislating an act that will disallow Ottawa fans from tearing down Leaf flags in their neighbourhood.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. SAN JOSE SHARKS - Are these guys the Chicago Cubs of hockey? Straightened-out their defence, traded Heater for Havlat, lost Setagouchi but got Burns; three good goalies..... no excuses. Ripped it up in the pre-season without much problem. Almost a lock on top spot.

2. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS - We may not see this team recover as much as predicted here but the Hawks are over their SC hang-over of a year ago. They bought some beef. Look out momma.

3. VANCOUVER CANUCKS - Speaking of hangovers..... no Kesler or Raymond for.... who knows how long; no Erhoff putting up points on the PP; the C's will not dominate. Who's dat on the 4th line?Alas, they're blessed with being in the least competitive division in hockey; some teams that don't make the dance MAY have more points. It's a long wait till April when the Sedins and this team will once again be judged.

4. DETROIT RED WINGS - Some suggest Detroit will slip back even further this year. Some thought the same about the Yankees. Get a grip. This is Hockeytown! 

5. ANAHEIM DUCKS - If Hiller stays healthy and the defence gels, the Ducks could step dance even higher. Selanne is ageless and still a marvel.

6. NASHVILLE PREDATORS - Hard to put these guys so far down.

7. LOS ANGELES KINGS - Ditto for the Kings. Gagne and Richards add new life to the offence? We'll see. Are their problems in the locker room?

8. DALLAS STARS - Just a hunch. I don't usually base much on pre-season but it seemed like these guys were scoring goals in bunches! 

9. ST. LOUIS BLUES - We keep waiting for the Blues to rock. They brought in experience to help. Halak must be better. St. Lou could finish close to the top if everything goes well

10. MINNESOTA WILD - Not because of Heater and Setaguchi although they will help put points up; more so due to goaltending and a more developed defence. Under the radar.

11. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS - Finally spent some money but they need more consistent goaltending to move my weather meter stick.

12. CALGARY FLAMES - One of these years Bouwmeester will make the play-offs..but it's likely not going to be this year. A good mix of vets, middle-aged guys, and young'uns.... a decent defence and Kipper. Everything looks good on paper but something's always missing... Backlund already hurt - for six weeks with a broken finger; Morrison still hurt. These were the guys who were going to feed Iggy. Oh ....and Iggy has a sore back. Keep your eye on Sutter..... smoke will be coming out of his ears on a regular basis.

13. EDMONTON OILERS - I just love their young guns. Too bad they have two starting defencemen out to start the season otherwise I might be tempted to push them higher.

14. COLORADO AVALANCHE - The Avs need another year of seasoning. A definite upgrade in nets will push them past Phoenix but not much further.

15.. PHOENIX COYOTES - The big swoon year for the Coyotes.

DARK HORSE: CALGARY FLAMES - As I said, looking good on paper but there's nothing new about that. Results are what count and their new GM will do everything he can to get these guys into the dance.

Just remember that there will be bad calls both on and off the ice! Start gathering your nuts. Winter is close at hand, so drop the puck!!!

Clobber Samson is a highly opinionated sports commentator, especially when it comes to Vancouver "Canucks," of the National Hockey League. Expect no balance in his columns. This is good.

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