EVERYONE REMEMBERS WHERE THEY WERE A DOZEN YEARS AGO TODAY WHEN THE WORLD CHANGED FOREVER AND A NEW CHAPTER IN

English: World Trade Center, New York, aerial ...

English: World Trade Center, New York, aerial view March 2001. Français : Le World Trade Center à New York. Vue aérienne datant de mars 2001. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

OUR HISTORY BEGAN

            “I’ll tell you what, I’m glad I’m not one of those poor bastards in New York.”

            That was how my September 11th began a dozen years ago today.  Not the day itself, but the experience the world has come to know simply as 9/11, the most infamous day in the modern history of the Western World and a day that was about to change our lives, our entire civilization, forever.

            It was a Tuesday morning and I was working at the downtown smoke shop I’d been managing since the previous spring.  I’d killed the store’s stereo earlier (it barely worked anyway) when the shop’s owner, a grossly overweight convicted drug dealer who took pride in his ex-con status (a tasty morsel I had not yet discovered, but that’s a story for another time) had come in, working himself up into one of his regular temper tantrums and strutting like he was Ottawa’s version of Tony Soprano.  One of my regular customers had come in to purchase his daily package of coffin nails and over the course of our typical early morning conversation he spoke the aforementioned sentence.  My first thought was that somehow a Cessna or other similarly small aircraft had somehow flown into one of the massive towers’ and was probably smeared across its side like a bug on a giant windshield.  The shop’s owner said that was a sight he wanted to see (if there was anything other than screaming that the Neanderthal was addicted to, it was human suffering) so I hooked the shop’s ancient computer up to the phone jack to see what news the Internet had to offer.  My first clue that something big was happening was that the first site I tried had crashed from enormous traffic.  So had the second.  Unable to immediately satisfy his appetite for bloodshed and tragedy, the owner grew bored and left.  As soon as his car pulled out of the parking lot, I turned the radio on hungry for news.  I wasn’t disappointed.  The radio was tuned to 106.9 The Bear, and it was no more than a minute or two after I hit the stereo’s power button that a shaken voice broke into the music and announced a second plane had crashed into the opposite tower.  Ottawa’s self-proclaimed best rock station was an all-news one for the rest of the day.

            Once news broke that a second passenger jet had crashed into the World trade Center, there was little doubt this was some kind of an attack, but short of that, no one knew anything.  My stereo cut in and out, the rising sun messing with it’s reception, and most of the web sites I tried desperate for information were down or my dinosaur of a computer was taking forever to log on because of the traffic.  It turned out that was just as well, whatever was passing for news that day was little more than speculation and rumour.  Most of the information I gathered was from Ebay, where I spoke with sellers and buyers alike for most of the day, swapping what little info we had, offering support and even condolences when necessary.  I didn’t have a lot of customers that Tuesday, but what few I did have shared a nugget or two of info as well, most of it cheap gossip.  All of Manhattan was covered by clouds of ash and smoke, both Towers had collapsed, the death toll was a quarter of a million people, the Pentagon was on fire, the White House was under attack; it would be days before anything resembling actual information was available.  But by that afternoon, downtown Ottawa was completely empty, most of its businesses had closed up shop because of the absolute absence of customers (unless you counted the police patrolling the streets or the fully armed Marines stationed in front of the American embassy).  I didn’t see the infamous pictures of the jet liners slamming into those impossibly high towers until I got home, and I have to admit, to this day I still flinch whenever I see them.  The pictures of people hurling themselves off the Center’s roofs to escape the inferno’s hungry flames, choosing suicide over being burned to death, cost me some sleep as well.  But the one image that disturbed me the most, that troubled me to the centre of my being, was of the first responders after the Towers finally failed and collapsed.  My father was a firefighter for thirty years and the images of exhausted New York firefighters walking out of the toxic cloud the Towers had vomited up as they died, covered in ghostly ash, their faces wet with tears as the horrible knowledge that hundreds of their friends and brothers had been buried alive set in, those images will haunt me for the rest of my days on this Earth.

            I had a history teacher tell me once that the entire planet was now a village, and in some way or another, we’re all now connected; the infamous six degrees of separation.  If I hadn’t learned that lesson before, I learned it that week.  I talked away a number of afternoons in the shop with a gentleman from Phoenix who’d been in Ottawa on business.  With all commercial air traffic grounded following the attacks, he found himself literally trapped here and many of the lines of communication we take for granted were swamped, cutting him off from his family and isolating him even more.  I was more than happy to offer him a free cigar or two and be his sounding board.  It was all I could really do.  The week before 9/11, I’d sold a specialty Zippo lighter to a Port Authority worker in Florida on Ebay.  Following the attacks, he and I briefly became digital pen pals; he was working 24-hour shifts and he didn’t have any family.  He confided in me that for those few days, even though I was thousands of miles away, I was the only one he had to talk to.  Then Prime Minister Jean Chretien declared the following Friday an official day of mourning in Canada, and that afternoon thousands of people descended on Parliament Hill to honour New York’s fallen, singing the American national anthem at the height of the ceremonies.  Shortly after the mid-day vigil concluded, an American couple who’d been touring Canada in their RV came into the shop looking for relief from the persistent summer sun.  They, like my friend from Phoenix, were trapped in a friendly yet foreign land while their own wounded country grieved.  The only thing that made it bearable, they said, was the support and generosity they’d been given by their Canadian hosts and the scene on Parliament Hill that day moved them to tears.  In that moment, I have never been so proud to be Canadian (a sentiment that was tarnished a few weeks later when our esteemed Prime Minister dismissed the idea of a monument built in memory of the 26 Canadians who died in the attacks, saying “these things happen”).

            My mother often told me she remembered where she was and what she was doing the exact second she heard President John F Kennedy had been assassinated.  She used to tell me she heard the same thing from her mother about Pearl Harbour.  Every generation has it’s “where were you moment,” a pivotal event that hijacks the world’s attention and redirects history, usually with violent, tragic consequences.  A moment that almost always signals the dawn of a new chapter in human history.  September 11th was ours.  It changed the world forever and virtually every human being alive then or since has been touched by it.  It resulted in two conventional wars in distant lands (wars that the West is still mired in), the largest global manhunt in history that came to an end nearly a full decade later when Navy Seal Team 6 killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, and a War on Terror that has seen the West shake hands with tyrants and get in bed with butchers in an attempt to defeat an enemy it can’t always see let alone name.  Invasive inspections at airports across the globe, NSA spying, unmanned assassination drones, the Patriot Act, rendition and waterboarding, slowly disappearing freedoms and liberties, friendly borders that now take twice as long to cross, unconstitutional pat down laws, increasingly militarized police forces, all of these happened literally overnight because of those planes and the evil men who turned them into weapons of mass murder.  9/11 cast a veil of fear and paranoia over the entire planet, one that has sunk into almost every detail of our daily lives.  The world went a little insane that wretched day (or a little more depending on your point of view), and we all discovered an ugly new bogey-man hiding in our closets.  It’s little wonder then, that we all remember that day, where we were and what we were doing, with brutal, vicious clarity.  After all, it’s tough to forget the moment you witnessed the birth of a new, dark chapter in human history.

Shayne Kempton

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DAY ZERO

THE PUBLIC REACTION AND ANGER OVER THE HUMAN RIGHTS COMPLAINT FILED AGAINST THE NEPEAN REDSKINS IS REFLEXIVE AND RASH.  IT’S ALSO WRONG.

     Words have meaning.  Words can hurt.  It doesn’t matter if you grasp their full meaning or if have any intent to hurt someone with a particular word, their meaning is fixed and absolute. Don’t believe me?  Try walking into the Ottawa airport and shouting BOMB really, really loud.  Try the same thing at the front gates of the American Embassy.  Oh, here’s a good one, I dare you to walk right up to your wife or girlfriend or significant other with a big smile on your face on call her the infamous B word (but be sure to let her know its only word).  Better yet, walk into Harlem and yell the N word at the top of your lungs, then get back to me and let me know how well any of these experiments turned out.  Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, take a trip to Russia, walk right into the middle of Red Square and scream GAY PRIDE over and over (just don’t send me your dental bill).  So when someone complains that the name of a sports team is discriminatory and their logo racist, everyone should take a moment to think it through a little before resorting to their reflexive eye roll and false indignation.

On Tuesday, Ian Campeau (an Ojibway Aboriginal and member of Polaris nominated band A Tribe Called Red) filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal objecting to the name and logo of the Nepean Redskins minor league football team.  He feels the branding is discriminatory against Canadian Aboriginals (and he’s right, but more on that later) and this story is painfully similar to the protest that resulted last February when Ottawa’s new National Basketball League of Canada franchise announced they were going to be called the Tomahawks (which was probably nothing more a marketing stunt to get everyone in Ottawa talking about basketball for a day instead of hockey-why else do you think they were able to unveil a brand new name and logo just a few weeks later?).

A lot of the public feedback on this story resembles the same recycled arguments from many previous arguments on the same topic.  People are tossing out the reliable “politically over-correct,” and “language police” criticisms and the “its only a word, it only has the power we give it” line has been thrown around more than the proverbial football.  And I’ve read a lot of comments actually arguing the validity of the word redskins as a racist term or outright mocking of Campeau’s complaint.  And if someone hasn’t tried to assassinate Campeau’s character yet, it’s only a matter of time.

Look up redskins in any dictionary you want and it will tell you, by its very definition, the word is a racially derogatory term for all First Nations Peoples.  Not one dictionary that isn’t written by a neo-nazi will tell you it’s an acceptable word.  And whether or not someone knows it’s meaning, it’s history or even the intent behind using it is irrelevant.  If your child were to yell out the N word in the playground, would you laugh it off and dismiss it with a “kids will be kids smile?”  What if they used it while talking to someone who was black, despite not knowing what it meant?  Would it be acceptable?  And would anyone defend a team name that included the N word (or any other racially offensive term for any other identifiable group)?  Of course they wouldn’t.  And while some members of the Aboriginal community my accept the term, there are many who are offended by it, and consider it just as offensive and degrading.  So why is calling a football team played by teenagers redskins acceptable?

You’re going to find the majority of people who are up in arms over this complaint are mostly white, which makes my next point even more potent.  Like it or not, Canada (and the United States) inherited a legacy of genocide.  Each and every First Nation in North America was brutally slaughtered by invading white, European imperialists.  Canada’s methods weren’t always as brutal as the Americans, but just as lethal.  Our preferred methods of cultural erasure included starvation, biological warfare (giving Aboriginals blankets infected with fatal diseases) and addiction.  Historians are in agreement that well over 120 million aboriginals were massacred by the territories and colonies that would become Canada and the United States (Stalin’s Soviet Union and Hitler’s Nazi Germany pale by comparison).  Canada’s Residential schools, responsible for the deaths of an estimated 3000 children and an unacceptable amount of sexual, physical and emotional suffering, typifies the abuse and neglect we’ve visited upon the descendants of the cultures our ancestors tried so hard to exterminate.  The Canadian and American reserve system was even studied by South Africa as a model for their Apartheid system.  Yes, Canada’s treatment of its Aboriginal community was almost inspiration for one of the greatest humanitarian crimes of the twentieth century.  Given that blood soaked history and the deplorable conditions faced by Aboriginals today (a shockingly high teenage suicide rate among them), maybe we should back away from using racist names for minor league sports?  After all, how tasteless would it be if a German minor league football team named itself The Jews?  Or one in Mississippi called itself The Negroes?

Campeau didn’t accuse the team of outright racism, and he isn’t seeking any damages or demanding that the team stop playing.  He simply wants them to abandon the name and logo many members of the Aboriginal community find racially offensive (and he’s backed up by every dictionary on the planet).  He’s even said he’d be willing to raise money to help them buy new gear.  But let’s reverse the question; what if there was an Aboriginal team (or Black or Hispanic or Asian) that called themselves the Krackers (or Honkeys or Klansmen)?  Don’t you think a lot of white people would be a bit pissed?  Or would the names merely be words, invested only with the power we give them?

Shayne Kempton

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STICKS AND STONES

A NEW SCHOOL YEAR IS UPON US AND THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS WILL BE CALLING OTTAWA HOME FOR THE NEXT EIGHT MONTHS.  HERE ARE 5

English: Canadian parliament from the Musée ca...

English: Canadian parliament from the Musée canadien des Civilisations in Gatineau Français : Parlement canadien depuis le Musée canadien des Civilisations à Gatineau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

RULES I’VE LEARNED DURING MY TIME HERE THAT MIGHT MAKE THE STAY A LITTLE EASIER

     So here it is September and the Nation’s Capital has once again welcomed its annual wave of new residents, all prepping for the new school year.  The Labour Day weekend came and went as they always have here in Ottawa, with legions of students enrolled at one of our numerous higher educational institutions moving into their temporary addresses, parents and boxes in tow.  Yes, it’s that time of year when the next eight months are looking bright and shiny and new, seen with a breed of fresh optimism that will evaporate the second the first professor deals out the first homework assignment.  For those of you returning, and many more who are favouring our fair city for the first time, here are five pieces of wisdom I’ve collected during my time living in Ottawa, shared here for your benefit.  You first time residents may find some of this helpful, returning ones humorous.  But either way, drum roll please . . .

5.  Behave Yourself:  When the need strikes to cut loose a little bit and sample some of Ottawa’s night life, you’ll find you have plenty of options to choose from.  But keep in mind, Ottawa is a fairly close-knit town, and the employees at one bar or club may find themselves working at another establishment in the near future.  Or they may already work at two places at the same time.  There’s also a good chance they know people who work at the club across the street or the bar by the same name across town.  My point is, if you get in a bouncer’s face or offend a waitress or get kicked out of one place, there is a very, very good chance many other drinking holes in town will know your name and face in the amount of time it takes to send a Tweet or update a Facebook status.  So have fun, but remember to behave yourself and tip your waitress on the way out.

4. By-Laws R Us:  Ottawa isn’t merely Canada’s capital, but we’re also the country’s unofficial by-law capital.  Whether it’s because we have so many government offices and branches from so many different levels co-existing within one town or that we have the National Capital Commission sticking their bureaucratic fingers in every pie or that Ottawa is just more anal, we seem to lead the continent in by -aws.  Ask your favourite business owner or landlord sometimes about the jungle of red tape in this city compared with other Canadian burghs.  Suffice to say, there is an army of uniformed by-law officers waiting to pounce and hand you a hundred-dollar ticket (or more) for some minor infraction or offence.

3: Behave Yourself 2:  Ottawa isn’t just home to Canada’s Parliament, but also to its Supreme Court, various Ministries, foreign Embassies and the headquarters of a number of federal departments.  And suffice to say, with that much political capital lurking Ottawa’s streets, the Nation’s Capital attracts it’s fair share of CEOs and corporate profiteers for regular visits.  So with that many politicians, ambassadors, diplomats, supreme court justices and other assorted power players and rich guys, you can imagine how much security is wandering around this town.  There’s the Ottawa PD, the Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, an over abundance of Canadian Forces troops, private security, etc. etc.  Just ask yourself how many marines are hanging out in the America Embassy on a regular basis.  You may not see them, but trust me when I say they’re there.  When 9/11 went down, they were on the streets outside the embassy in a matter of minutes in full fatigues and carrying serious firepower.  Odds are, if you’re doing something wrong, half a dozen pairs of eyes are watching.

2 From Point A to B:  Ottawa has one of the best public transportations systems in North America, and the majority of its drivers and other employees are genuinely good guys doing an often thankless job.  Now having said that, make a habit to get to your bus stop at least five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive and don’t be shocked if it’s five minutes late. Or more.  And you’ll soon discover that it isn’t altogether uncommon for a bus to never show up at all.  This city wasn’t designed to handle the amounts of traffic it currently sees, and when it’s “was only supposed to last the summer” construction projects stretch into September, October and even November, things get even more complicated.  And while the most of the drivers are cool, it’s an absolute guaranteed fact of life that the one time you decide to snap on a driver, you’re going to do so one the biggest ass hole on the schedule that day.  And when winter arrives, Ottawa traffic, a nightmare of binge drinking proportions normally, becomes even more brutal.  And speaking of winter . . .

1 Winter Is Coming.  And Yes, It’s Cold:  Depending on who you talk to (and there is some debate on the matter) Ottawa is the second coldest capital in the world.  Only Moscow is colder (and we’re not just referring to the hospitality) so you can expect three or four frigid months of misery in the coming year.  Not even going to try to sugar coat it.  There are going to be days when it’s so cold that when you sneeze it’s going to come out as slush.  There are going to be times that you may be tempted to slash certain portions in your yearly budget to afford an extra night or two out on the town, but trust me, you do not want to shave a single penny off your budget for winter clothes, boots or home heating.  And other than snow, politicians and by-laws, you know what Ottawa doesn’t need more of?  People flooding social media to give the rest of us a weather report.  Between December and March, your local meteorologist of choice will do a fine enough job telling you how low the mercury is going to plummet on a daily basis.  We don’t need 842 000 Facebook statuses telling us every day that it’s cold.  If it’s February and you’re in Ottawa, odds are you won’t be breaking out the sun tan lotion.  I don’t need this universally accepted fact Tweeted at me three hundred times a day.  Because it’s just going to piss me off more.  Bitching about the weather doesn’t change it and it really just makes everyone around you want to face palm you.  With broken glass.  And fire.  Besides, with global warming rearing it’s fierce-some head more and more, real winter may soon find itself facing extinction.  And when you curse the cold and wish it was sunny and thirty degrees all twelve months of the year, just remember the Chinese proverb about being careful what you wish for.

So there you have it, five simple suggestions and observations I’ve amassed from my two decades here.  And for the most part, they’re simply the product of common sense. Ottawa can be a good town, if you know how to treat her right.  And knowing some of her more eccentric personality traits doesn’t hurt either.

Shayne Kempton

CAPITAL LIVING

CANADIANS MAY ADMIRE THE GRASS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORLD’S LONGEST FRIENDLY BORDER, BUT WHEN YOU SEE HOW OUR

English: Wells Fargo Center in Los Angeles, Ca...

English: Wells Fargo Center in Los Angeles, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SOUTHERN NEIGHBOURS ARE BEING ABUSED BY THE PEOPLE THEY TRUST WITH THEIR HOMES AND LIFE SAVINGS, THE GRASS IS TRULY GREENER IN THE GREAT WHITE NORTH

     I recently found myself in a store that had a talk show on the radio that was discussing the city’s plan to use a scarecrow (or a man dressed up like one) to scare seagulls or crows or some form of avian nuisance away from one of Ottawa’s monuments or parks.  I honestly can’t recall the specifics because it wasn’t the story that grabbed my attention, rather it was the host, who seemed to be working himself up into a ballistic lather over the issue.  He was beyond enraged that the city was contemplating spending money on such an outrageous idea and I found myself briefly wondering if they had paramedics on standby in the studio when he went into cardiac meltdown.  He painted the idea (in very loud audio colours) as an affront to democracy and Ottawa taxpayers needed to rise up and punish their elected officials for such a travesty.  In all honesty, I have no opinion on the matter that got him so riled up, but it was the degree to which a minor issue (in my opinion, anyway) provoked him so dramatically that got my cranium’s wheels turning (not to mention the language he used to vilify both the proposal and those who hadn’t even voted on it yet).  He genuinely sounded like he was the only chicken who knew that it was raining chunks of sky and he was determined to warn the rest of the barnyard.  I actually found it more than a little amusing.

Then later that day I came across a story I had to triple check to believe.

Returning home after being out-of-town for two weeks, Katie Barnett of Vinton County, Ohio discovered that not only had her home been burglarized, but that the locks had been changed and she was locked out.  The culprit?  Welston First National Bank, who was foreclosing on a home.  Not hers, because the company that was responsible for collecting and removing the possessions in said house got the address wrong.  No, you didn’t misread that-the bank, an institution that is supposed to protect money and perform dozens of complicated financial transactions on a daily basis-emptied the wrong house (one of the reasons they gave was that her lawn hadn’t been mowed so obviously she had to have been the delinquent homeowner in question).  But while that may have given you a chuckle or two, the story quickly becomes a downright knee slapper.

When Katie contacted the bank to get her stuff back, they had already sold it.  When she kindly asked that the bank reimburse her for the stuff that they had essentially stolen and then fenced, she was met with attitude, bank president Anthony Thorne gruffly told her that she wasn’t going to get retail value for her possessions.  You know, the ones the bank stole.  The local police pretty much shrugged their shoulders after initially accusing her of being a squatter and Katie quickly discovered she had few options.  The bank had robbed her of an estimated eighteen thousand dollars worth of stuff, and no one apologized, was held accountable or was going to fix it.  And stories like this are becoming frighteningly common in the good old U S of A.

By the end of 2012, there had been more than 50 lawsuits filed against big American banks for improper foreclosures (perhaps that’s why the banks have begun using SWAT teams to deliver routine foreclosures notices), they’ve made a habit out of foreclosing on homes they don’t even own the mortgage on and have even foreclosed on homes where the owner’s crime was making the monthly payment early.  Last week, a court overturned the foreclosure on a woman’s home because she was a mere six dollars short and American banks have recently paid a handful of punitive fines without disputing the charges because it wasn’t worth their time (and the fines amounted to little more than a few minutes worth of revenue for them anyway).  It is estimated that banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citibank (among others) have foreclosed on over 700 veterans, many of them while they were on active duty overseas, in defiance of American federal law.  American banks have also come under fire for knowingly laundering billions of dollars for international drug cartels (it’s estimated that Wachovia, now owned by Wells Fargo, laundered an amount worth approximately one-third of Mexico’s entire GDP) and lawmakers have been pretty candid that America’s banks have returned to the greedy, negligent behaviour that lead to the economic meltdown of 2008, a collapse that caused catastrophic damage across the entire planet (current lawsuits and investigations against the U.S.’s big banks easily number in the double digits, if not triple).  And for those keeping score at home, you can count the number of American CEOs and major banking figures that have seen the inside of a courtroom for their role in the second greatest economic crisis in history on one hand.   Instead, many of them took multi-billion dollar bailouts, gave themselves bonuses and proceeded to lay off thousands of workers.

Last Canada Day, I wrote a mostly tongue in cheek piece about why we’re fortunate to live in Canada, taking a few good-natured jabs at our American friends along the way.  But the reality is, when it comes to our financial and banking systems, Canadians are truly far better off.  That isn’t to say Canada’s banks are angels.  Last spring the Royal Bank of Canada made headlines when it was discovered that they were laying off 45 Canadian workers and replacing them with cheaper, foreign labour.  To add a little extra insult to injury, the Canadians who were being discarded were forced to train their replacements.  Public outcry was fierce and the government moved swiftly to address the situation, promising to close loopholes RBC had exploited.  Now odds are there were probably a handful of government officials who knew what was going on and may have looked the other way every now and then, but once the story broke, the government at least made the appearance of correcting the problem.  In the land of the Stars and Stripes, banks routinely prey on their customers with neither apology nor regret and the American government rewards their predatory behaviour with obscene subsidies (it’s estimated that the United States facilitated implied subsidies of 83 billion dollars to it’s ten largest financial institutions last year).  Perhaps the most telling fact?  Since the late nineteenth century, the United States has suffered 16 crashes.  Canada has suffered a grand total of 0.

The moral to this little rant?  Well, suffice to say, if I could have put a little birdie (or crow) into the ear of the radio personality who seemed to consider the possibility of Ottawa’s decision to spend a quarter of a million dollars on a glorified scarecrow as a genuine threat to the Canadian way of life, I’d have suggested he calm down and take a breath.  Because if that’s the biggest problem we currently face in our day-to-day lives, we have it much better off then our American friends, who are getting mugged more and more by the guys in the three-piece suits these days then the ones hiding in the alleys.

Shayne Kempton

 

BANKING ON CANADA

THE WOUND MAY STILL BE A LITTLE FRESH SENS FANS, BUT WHILE MOST OF YOU HAVE DEALT WITH DANIEL ALFREDSSON’S DEPARTURE, THERE ARE STILL SOME HATERS OUT THERE WHO NEED A STRONG DOSE OF TRUTH

Daniel Alfredsson

Daniel Alfredsson (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s been an entire week now Ottawa; how do you feel?  You’ve had seven days to accept the fact that Daniel Alfredsson will play the 2013-14 season-likely his last-wearing another team’s jersey.  Most Sens fans, though left winded and heartbroken, wished nothing but the best for their former captain, his family and even his new team, the Detroit Red Wings.  But there are some Ottawa fans who choked on the bitter pill that was Alfredsson’s departure; behaving like jealous, jilted lovers they swarmed to the internet, their grief spilling across chat rooms and fan forums like so much venom and bile, insulting No. 11 and accusing him of being a traitor (one disgruntled Sens fan took to Twitter, wishing Alfie the best of luck selling his house once it was covered with egg).  And those fans, well, you’re the ones here to get bitch slapped.  Shall we begin?

I have to be honest; I never thought I’d see Daniel Alfredsson leave the Nations Capital to join another team.  I heard the rumours leading up to last Friday’s free agent feeding frenzy, that Alfie (who’d just confirmed he would play one more season the week before), was being courted by other teams (with the Boston Bruins topping the list).  But in all honestly, I thought it a game his agent was playing to nudge the value of his final contract up just a little more.  And why not?  Alfredsson had accepted a hometown discount for a large part of the seventeen seasons he wore a Senators jersey (fourteen of them with the captain’s “C” on his chest), even giving up some paycheques when the team was bankrupt and flirting with relocation.  Besides, that’s what agents do, they get the best possible deal for their clients.  And the Senators had pretty much made it clear that they were prepared to offer the heart and soul of their franchise a blank cheque to keep him in Ottawa for his final season, so any contractual foreplay seemed a moot point.  But there we all were last Friday afternoon, shocked to find out that Daniel Alfredsson had joined the Detroit Red Wings.  That enormous crashing sound coming from the Nation’s Capital last Friday wasn’t Bluesfest getting under way or another earthquake shaking Ottawa, it was the collective hearts of the Sens Army breaking.

And as I said, for the most part, Sens fans have been very understanding, and while disappointed and emotionally exhausted, many have wished Alfie all the best with his new team.  For his part, Alfredsson said all the right things last Friday, heaping genuine praise on the Ottawa Senators organization and it’s fans.  He even offered an olive branch to the angry, unforgiving ones, saying he understood their anger, giving them permission to vent their hatred.  He’s a big man, that Daniel Alfredsson.  Me?  Not so much, and I’m still going to slap the trolls like the bitches they are.

Daniel Alfredsson has nothing to apologize for.  His primary reason for signing with the Red Wings was to win a Stanley Cup, it’s what every professional hockey player dreams of.  And doesn’t one who’s played in the NHL for seventeen seasons at an elite level deserve that shot?  Alfredsson worked tirelessly to realize that dream with the Ottawa Senators, he demonstrated exceptional loyalty to both the team and the city of Ottawa (see my previous point about him playing for free before the Sens were rescued by Eugene Melnyk), investing almost as much time in charitable causes within the community as he invested on the ice in his quest to win the Cup.  He’s earned the right to be loyal to himself for a change.

Now here’s the part where you’re going to tell me that Detroit and Ottawa’s chances of winning Lord Stanley’s coveted chalice are the same.  Both teams finished seventh in their respective conferences last season and both were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs, so abandoning the Senators for the Red Wings makes about as much sense as dumping a bikini model to date a lingerie one.  Except the Red Wings were (and remain) stronger contenders for the Cup then the Senators.  Yes, Detroit was knocked out in the second round last season-same as the Sens-but they were eliminated by the Chicago Blackhawks, the eventual Stanley Cup champions.  That series went seven games, with the Red Wings staking a 3-1 series lead at one point, and the decisive game seven needed overtime before it was settled.  No other team pushed the Blackhawks so close to elimination; not the defending Stanley Cup champion L.A. Kings in the third round and not the Stanley Cup finalist Boston Bruins.  And if the Red Wings had won that pivotal game seven a few months ago, they could very well have been the ones sipping champagne out of the Stanley Cup when all was said and done. After defeating the highly favoured Montreal Canadiens in the first round,  the Senators on the other hand, proceeded to get an education in playoff hockey from Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Even Sens coach Paul MacLean joked about Ottawa owing the Pens money for the clinic they put on at the Senators expense.  The same Pittsburgh Penguins who would go on to be manhandled by the Boston Bruins in the following round, the same Boston Bruins who were then defeated in six games by the Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup final.   The simple truth of he matter is that the Red Wings were contenders and the Sens pretenders.  Even now, bookies in Vegas are probably giving the Red Wings more favourable odds to win the Cup.  And after what we’ve seen Detroit, recognized by most in the business to be the most efficiently run organization in the NHL, do these past few weeks, can you blame them?

It’s a hard fact to face Sens fans, but Alfie has a better chance at hoisting the Cup in Detroit than he does here in Ottawa,  And isn’t that what you want for a captain that worked so hard and played so tirelessly for you for the better part of two decades?  It isn’t too much to ask, is it?  And as for the haters out there, maybe you should direct some of that restless contempt of yours at the Sens organization.  There are some rumours that Mr. Melnyk’s pockets are no longer quite as deep as they once were, and the blank cheque Sens management guaranteed fans would convince Alfredsson to remain a Senator may not have existed at all.  And if Ottawa did lowball Daniel Alfredsson after all he’s done for them, doesn’t it make poetic sense for him to take his considerable services to one of the best franchises in the NHL?

So good luck Alfie.  No hard feelings and all the best for you and your family.  If the Sens are smart, they’ll retire your number 11 to the rafters of the Canadian Tire Centre (Dumbest.  Name.  Ever.) as soon as possible and offer you a job upstairs.  The city will embrace you because most of your fans are sensible, reasonable people (well, as much as any sports fan can be).  As for all the spiteful trolls out there, just remember, with Detroit moving into the Eastern Conference next season, you’ll still get to see plenty of Danny.  And between you and me?  Deep down, we both know that when he scores, even if it’s against the Sens, you’ll still be cheering a little.

Shayne Kempton

 

CAPITAL LOSS

HERE’S A QUICK LOOK AT HOW CANADA’S TEAMS LOOK AFTER A HECTIC FEW WEEKS IN THE NHL

English: Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karls...

English: Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson prior to a National Hockey League game against the Calgary Flames. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now wasn’t that an interesting couple of weeks, hockey fans?  From a draft that was considered deeper than any other in the past decade, to a free agent pool that was originally considered weak but picked up steam as teams shed salaries via compliance buyouts in the days leading up to the June 5th free agent feeding frenzy with an interesting trade or two thrown in for good measure, there was plenty for hockey junkies to sink they’re teeth into.  Many teams aren’t done yet, there are some who shouldn’t be done yet and still more who should call it quits (but probably won’t), but for the time being I’ve decided to take a look at some of the big changes made by the Canadian teams so far this summer and how they’re looking now.

CALGARY FLAMES:  Flames GM Jay Feaster had three first round picks headed into the entry draft and a cupboard bare of elite prospects.  Feaster kept his picks, using the sixth overall selection to nab Sean Monohan, a player that made Flames’ management drool.  The Flames have made no secret that the former Ottawa 67s captain will probably be in their lineup next opening night, possibly joining Corban Knight, a promising college prospect the Flames pried away from the Florida Panthers just before the draft.

But what should concern Flames fans is the lack of depth Calgary has to surround their young building blocks with.  The Flames sent forward Alex Tanguay and defenceman Cory Sarich to Colorado for forward Ryan Jones and defenceman Shane O’Brien, arguably downgrades at both position.  They added T.J Galiardi and tough guy Brian McGratton to beef up their shallow forward corps, but neither one is going to appear on the score sheet often (or in McGratton’s case, the lineup).  The Fames D is looking pretty weak in the post Jay Boumester era, despite adding Kris Russell.  Unless Karri Ramo miraculously morphs into the next Martin Brodeur between now and October, the Flames are going to be seeing a lot of rubber filling their net next season.  Neither the young Finn nor veteran backup Joey MacDonald appear up to the challenge of adequately replacing the recently retired Mikka Kiprusoff.  Right now, it looks like Year One A.I. (After Iginla) is going to be a long, painful one for the Flames and their fans.

EDMONTON OILERS:  Newly minted Oilers GM Craig MacTavish told long-suffering Oilers fans to expect bold things in the near future.  They didn’t have to wait long.  MacT resisted the urge to trade the seventh overall pick for immediate help or to use it to take yet another skilled forward, opting instead to draft promising young defenceman Darnell Nurse, a future cornerstone of the blue line.  Then things got interesting.

MacTavish managed to move captain Shawn Horcroff and his considerable salary to Dallas in return for young depth defenceman Philip Larson and also signed promising young defender Anton Belov out of the KHL.  He signed Jason Labarbera and Richard Bachman to solidify the Oilers goaltending behind Devan Dubnyk and added veteran Andrew Ferrence to stabilize their shaky blue line (though he raised more than a few eyebrows by signing the 34 year old to a four year deal that included a No Movement Clause).  Free agent addition Boyd Gordon is the defensive minded faceoff specialist the Oilers have needed for years and MacTavish followed his free agent adventures by trading for left-winger David Perron to increase the Oilers firepower.  But perhaps the Oilers biggest move was replacing head coach Ralph Krueger with the highly sought after Dallas Eakins, a former AHL coach who has a record of getting promising young players to perform.  On paper, the Oilers may be a better team than they were two weeks ago.  But two weeks ago, they were really, really bad.

English: Edmonton Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff...

English: Edmonton Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff prior to a National Hockey League game against the Calgary Flames. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

MONTREAL CANADIENS:  The Montreal Canadiens went into the off season with two objectives in mind; get rid of Thomas Kaberle and his ridiculous contract (check) and add size to a forward corps that, while deep and fast and skilled, was too often pushed around, particularly by the Ottawa Senators in the 2013 playoffs.  That last one looks like it will still need some time.

Bergevin went with size and character at the draft, adding prospect Michael McCarron with the 25th overall pick, but his decision to bring in skilled but undersized Danny Briere after the Philadelphia Flyers bought the veteran out left a few Montreal fans scratching their heads.  There’s no doubt Briere brings an abundance of talent and heart to the Habs, but he’s collected quite the list of injuries over the last few seasons (including a handful of concussions) and at five-foot-ten, the fragile forward could find that regular contests against Boston and Toronto and Ottawa’s blue lines might drive him to drink.  The Habs brought in pugilist George Parros, but he’s a thirteenth or fourteenth forward who will be of little use when the Habs need talent on the ice as well as grit.  Vincent Lecavalier would have been the perfect addition to this team, and you have to wonder what went wrong with the Habs plans to sign him.  Or if they had any plans to sign him at all.

OTTAWA SENATORS:  No other Canadian team saw as much drama on July 5th as the Ottawa Senators.  Sens fans were thrown for a Mount Everest sized loop when Daniel Alfredsson, the face and heart of the franchise, a Sen for the past seventeen seasons and the team’s captain for the past fourteen, decided to play what will probably be his final season in the NHL wearing a Detroit Red Wings jersey.  While Ottawa fans were digesting that bitter pill, Sens GM Bryan Murray pulled off the biggest trade of the day, acquiring Bobby Ryan from the Anaheim Ducks in return for young forward Jacob Silverberg, prospect Stefan Noesan and a first round pick in 2014 (a bit of an overpayment in my opinion, but when a GM’s just lost his franchise’s most popular and beloved player, I guess he isn’t in his most logical frame of mind).  The Sens also added skilled grinder Clarke MacArthur from the rival Maple Leafs and essentially replaced Sergei Gonchar on their blue line with former Sen Joe Coro (at about the fifth of Gonchar’s price).  The Sens are probably set for now, even though they have plenty of cap space left.  The franchise will probably spend the rest of the summer signing their few restricted free agents and answering questions about both Daniel Alfredsson’s abrupt departure and some uncomfortable rumours about Eugene Melnyk’s finances.

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS:  While Ottawa may have had the most dramatic off-season so far, the Leafs have had the busiest.  Toronto GM Dave Nonis

Toronto Maple Leafs

Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

surprised more than a few pundits and fans alike when he acquired goalie Jonathan Bernier from the L.A. Kings just before the draft, but when he stole centre David Bolland from the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks and selected hulking forward Pierre Gauthier 21st overall, he laid out the schematic he hopes will lead the Toronto Maple Leafs back to Stanley Cup glory.  And while everyone expected the Leafs to buy out expensive AHL defenceman Mike Komisarek, Nonis had another trick up his sleeve by buying out popular centre Mikhail Grabovski as well (Grabovski had more than a few colourful parting shots for Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle on his way out of town).  Nonis then won a bidding war against the Ottawa Senators and Edmonton Oilers for free agent power forward David Clarkson and he brought back forward Tyler Bozak for a much more reasonable price than what Bozak had originally been demanding.  Nonis and the Leafs will now probably spend the rest of the summer getting Nazem Kadri and their other restricted free agents signed to new deals.  And that ticking you hear?  That’s the countdown for the beginning of the Dion Phaneuf trade rumours.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS:  To put it simply, this franchise is a mess.  The Vancouver Canucks got the ball rolling by firing head coach Alain Vigneault, eventually replacing him with people person John Tortorella.  The Canucks upgraded the bottom six of their forward corps by replacing Ian Laparierre (who signed with the St. Louis Blues as a free agent) with Brad Richardson and adding depth forward Mike Santorelli.  They added blue liner Yannick Weber while buying out veteran defenseman Keith Ballard to free some cap space, easing pressure to deal someone expensive like Alex Edler.  Now, could there have been anything else on Vancouver GM Mike Gillis’ to do list?

Oh yeah, solve Vancouver’s prolonged goaltending saga.  Gillis had all but guaranteed that embattled starting goalie Roberto Luongo would be starting the 2013-14 NHL season somewhere other than Vancouver.  Whether through trade or a compliance buyout, everyone and their second cousin figured Luongo was going to be forwarding his mail to a new address sometime very soon.  And to solve all his crease problems, Gillis dealt goalie Cory Schneider to the New Jersey devils for the ninth overall pick in the 2013 entry draft (and used said pick to select Bo Horvat).  Yep, after everything that’s happened, Roberto Luongo remains a Vancouver Canuck (you can see my additional thought on the whole shebang here https://ottawaedge.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/net-gains/).  Who else is willing to bet real money that emotional bull-in-the-china-shop, “my guys stink” coach John Tortorella is just the man to rebuild all the burnt bridges and heal the damaged egos in Vancouver?  Anyone?

WINNIPEG JETS:  The Jets could literally smell a playoff spot last April before blowing their last few games and falling just outside the post- season bubble.  But the Jets positioned themselves well for this free agent season and have taken advantage of teams looking to unload heavy contracts to squeeze under the reduced cap (like prying Devon Setoguchi away from a cap stressed Minnesota Wild or Michael Frolik from the Chicago Blackhawks for instance).  While disgruntled forward Alex Burmivstrov is headed back to his native Russia for the next two years (at least), the Jets added gritty forward Matt Halischuk and depth defenceman Adam Pardy.  Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff also managed to add excellent blue line prospect Josh Morrisey with the thirteenth overall pick at this year’s entry draft while defenceman Jacob Trouba, their top pick from the 2012 draft, is expected to make an immediate impact on an already deep Winnipeg blue-line next season.  The Jets have plenty of cap space left after letting the likes of Nik Antropov and Ron Hainsey go via free agency, although they’ll need most of it to sign their own RFAs.  Still, you get the feeling Cheveldayoff isn’t done yet.  The Jets are one team to keep your eye on for the rest of the summer.

Shayne Kempton

WINDS OF CHANGE

IMG_0247A HEARTFELT APOLOGY TO THE OTTAWA SENATORS

     Let me begin by saying I like the Ottawa Senators.  I really do.  I am-and remain-an Edmonton Oilers fan, which is why when I moved to the Nation’s Capital I promised myself I’d resist the urge to make any sort of emotional investment in the Senators.  You see, at the time the Sens were coming off their second season since rejoining the NHL as an expansion team and were the joke of the professional sports world.  Seriously.   Not only had they finished last both years (by a country mile), but had captured records for sheer awfulness. They finished dead last their third season as well.  And they’re fourth for those of you keeping score at home.  My point is, when I decided to uproot myself and make Ottawa my home, the Sens weren’t just bad, they were historically bad.  Adding insult to injury was the fact that they were still sharing a building with the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s (the Civic Centre, capacity 10 585), and would continue to do so until early 1996.  And the Oilers at the time, weren’t far behind in the punchline category.  In fact, one team the Senators usually had some sort of chance against in those dark, early years, were the Edmonton Oilers.  When pondering whether or not I should follow the Sens, as an established Oilers fan, did I really want to do that to myself?  I mean let’s face it, if I was going to split my loyalties, why follow the biggest punching bag in all of professional hockey when I was already following one of the worst?  Why not follow Detroit or Pittsburgh or the Montreal Canadiens, who claimed much of Ottawa’s relatively virgin fan base  (while Toronto claimed much of the rest)?

But the truth is, the Senators grew on me.  And why not?  There were plenty of similarities between the two teams back then, aside from their dismal records.  Both were small market Canadian teams trying to compete against much richer squads in the days before the salary cap, when the Canadian Loonie could buy you an American nickel.  Both had a handful of shiny young players they were pinning their future hopes on-Ottawa boasted talented superstar centre Alexei Yashin, Alexandre “the Second Coming of Mario Lemieux” Daigle and the highly touted Radek Bonk while Edmonton’s prayers included names like Doug Weight and Jason Arnott.  Ironically, both teams ended their losing ways at the same time, the Senators making the playoffs for the first time in 1997 while the Oilers ended a five year playoff drought that same year.  Both teams flirted with relocation (the Sens sinking as low as bankruptcy before being rescued by billionaire Eugene Melnyk) and both teams flirted with greatness, with Edmonton making an improbable run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006 and the Ottawa Senators doing so in 2007.

So yes, I like the Ottawa Senators.  I like to see them do well.  Make no mistake, when they play Edmonton my ultimate loyalty remains with the Oilers (but cheering for an Edmonton win in overtime allows the Oilers to claim a rare victory while it allows the Senators to steal a point in what has become a claustrophobic Eastern Conference), but I have watched the Senators grow and have taken pride in their achievements and shared their sorrow during their defeats.  I was happy for them when they made the playoffs for the first time in 1997.  I swore at the TV whenever Alexei Yashin decided to wage another contractual temper tantrum and I cheered for them in 2003 when they advanced to the Final Four and again in 2007 when they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final.  I despised Dany Heatley as much as any Sens fan when he turned his back on the franchise that had welcomed him after his life and career became a literal train wreck in Atlanta (even more so when he snubbed the Oilers repeated attempts to trade for him) and I felt the swelling bitterness when Ottawa was driven from the post season by the hated Toronto Maple Leafs not once, not twice, not even thrice but four god forsaken times.  Living in the Ottawa during all of those ups and down probably had a thing or two to do with my growing affection for the team as well, but as an Oilers fan, I became enamoured with underdogs.  And whether it was luck or design, the Sens have been underdogs more often than not.

But being a fan has never completely blinded me to reality.  OK, well, it has on occasion, but we’re talking less than 50/50 here.  After all, I AM an OILERS fan.  Delusion is part of the package.  It’s how we cope.  But it also equips you with more than enough pragmatism to look at a situation subjectively and size it up.  It’s either “we’ve got a real shot here,” or “yeah, we’re totally boned.”  I’m sure you get the picture.   And last winter, I took a look at Ottawa and figured they were destined to miss the playoffs (if there’s one thing an Oilers fan is an expert at, it’s failure and post season futility).

I don’t think I was too out of line.  Ottawa qualified for the 2012 playoffs by capturing the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, and they had the fewest points of any team that made the post season that spring.  And that modest level of success exceeded most people’s expectations for Ottawa that year (the Sens missed the playoffs in 2011, and most predictions for the 2011-12 season leaned towards them missing the post-season again and participating in the Nail Yakupov sweepstakes).  And some of the teams that trailed Ottawa by a handful of points in the East made some significant gains last summer.  Carolina, who finished ten points behind the Senators, added top six forwards Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin.  Steve Yzerman, whose Tampa Bay Lightning trailed Ottawa by 8 points come season’s end, added free agent blue liners Matt Carle and Sami Salo to his weak defense corps and bolstered his struggling goaltending staff by acquiring (then) highly sought after netminder Anders Lindback.  But the team I felt represented the biggest threat to the Sens playoff presence was the Buffalo Sabres, who despite losing over 300 man games to injury and enduring a sub par year from franchise goalie Ryan Miller, finished a mere three points beneath the Sens.  And none of that takes into account the Toronto Maple Leafs inevitable (some might say overdue) improvement from a basement team to a playoff one, or the remarkable turnaround  of the Montreal Canadiens, jumping from dead last in the Eastern Conference to second place.  What was Ottawa’s big move?  Trading Nick Foligno to Columbus for defenseman Marc Methot.  In fact, the only team I considered in more jeopardy of losing their playoff berth was the New Jersey Devils (well, I swung an even .500 on that one).

And all my crystal ball gazing came before the Senators avalanche of injuries.

Defenceman Jared Cowen underwent season ending surgery in November to repair a hip he injured playing for the AHL Binghamton Senators during the early days of the NHL lockout (though he made a surprising comeback at the end of April).  Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson returned to the lineup during the first round matchup against Montreal after missing over two months with a sliced Achilles tendon after a run in with a reckless Matt Cooke in February (Karlsson wasn’t expected back until next October).  Jason Spezza was on the shelf between January and mid May with a herniated disc and Craig Anderson, easily the team’s MVP this season (whose absence from this year’s Vezina nominees has raised a few eyebrows) and sniper Milan Michalek have missed considerable chunks of time.  Taking all that into account, would any sane man have bet on the Senators playoff chances?  In fact, I know a lot of Senator fans who thought they’d be in the hunt for the first overall pick after the injuries started piling up (could you imagine adding Seth Jones to a blue line that already included Erik Karlsson, Jared Cowen and potentially Codi Ceci?).  And I did go so far as to bet a co-worker lunch that the Sens would fail to qualify for the post season.  Don’t worry Matt, I haven’t forgotten, although if you insist on McDonald’s I reserve the right to yak on your Senators jersey.

So here’s my apology Senators, because the one thing I should have learned about this team from the time I decided to begin cheering for the rare win while they were still playing on OHL ice, to this year’s Cinderella bouncing of the highly favoured Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs, is to never count this team out when the odds are against them.  Make no mistake, there have been plenty of times this team has choked.  There were years when they skated into the playoffs as the favourite to win the Cup, years where they had dominated the regular season, only to crumble under the pressure.  But when they’ve been counted out before a single regular season game has been played, or before a single skate blade touched playoff ice, that’s when they’re dangerous.  That’s when they’re most effective.  Especially this year, when catastrophic injuries forced them to play playoff hockey all season long.  And while things may not look so good for them against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins right now, the fact that they managed to make it this far, often with a roster that resembled an AHL team more than an NHL one, is no small victory in itself.  So sorry Sens, in the future, I hope I’ll know better.  You earned this.

Go Sens Go.

Shayne Kempton

A HEARTFELT APOLOGY TO THE OTTAWA SENATORS