Tambellini will be a good fit for the Oil

Jonathan Willis
August 01 2008 08:20AM

In June 2004, Steve Tambellini was promoted to Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks (as well as the GM of the Manitoba Moose). Yesterday, he was named as the new General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers. While Tambellini has long had the reputation as an up-and-comer, not a lot is actually known about how much influence Tambellini had in the Canucks head office, or what share of the credit/blame he deserves for the Canucks’ performance since 2004.

Given, however, that Tambellini was in charge of the Manitoba Moose, I thought it might be helpful to review the team since 2004, and see what his tendencies are as a manager (this assumes that Tambellini was given a reasonable amount of latitude in handling the farm team, which seems like a fair assumption). On the surface, things look really nice- here is the performance of Manitoba’s AHL team since joining the AHL:

2001–02: 39-33-4-4, 86 points 2002–03: 37-33-8-2, 84 points 2003–04: 32-35-11-2, 77 points (Steve Tambellini takes over) 2004–05: 44-26-3-7, 98 points 2005–06: 44-24-7-5, 100 points 2006–07: 45-23-7-5, 102 points 2007–08: 46-27-2-4, 99 points

The big jump occurred the season after Tambellini’s hire; what did he change?

The goaltending stayed pretty much the same; Alex Auld was the starter both seasons, while Wade Flaherty was a very solid pickup as back-up goalie. Flaherty was so solid, in fact, that he took over Auld’s job in the playoffs, and played a significant role as a 1A/1B goalie for the next three seasons.

On defence, some of the cast (Tomas Mojzis, Nolan Baumgartner) remained the same; however, the addition of rookie defenseman Kevin Bieksa was a major boost (and one attributable to the procurement department, not Tambellini). Two minor-league veterans (Kent Huskins and Joe DiPenta) were brought aboard and solidified the team to a great extent (both have spent the last few seasons with the Anaheim Ducks in the NHL).

Up front, the Canucks had drafted a number of prospects who had key roles with the team (Ryan Kesler, Jason King, and Alex Burrows) but the biggest improvements to the team were its two new leading scorers: Peter Sarno (acquired from Edmonton towards the end of 2003–04) and Lee Goren, a former Boston prospect who has had quite a career in the minor pros.

It’s been a pattern for the Moose; while key roles have been played by prospects since Steve Tambellini took control of the team (last season, for example, Michael Grabner, Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond, Luc Bourdon and others), he has always had veterans in key roles in all positions.

Last season, veteran forwards Brad Moran and Jason Jaffrey had key scoring roles with the team. 23-year old Colby Genoway, an undrafted college player with previous stints in the New York Rangers’ and Anaheim Ducks’ systems was acquired and also played a key role. Other veterans with NHL experience (Mike Keane, Greg Classen) held checking roles. On defence (a largely no-name group) some mid-20s players, castoffs from other organizations and undrafted college types filled in for the departures of four of the top six.

One quirk worth noting about the Moose under Tambellini: they always employed a goaltending tandem, something relatively rare at the NHL level (Minnesota, Detroit). At first I thought this might be a system designed to help prospects, but even when no prospects were in the system, Tambellini went with two guys. Even when one goalie had better performances, if the other guy was usable he got some playing time.

The only thing Tambellini failed to deliver was a minor-pro championship, but his teams did have some playoff success, with four playoff round victories in four seasons. If we can look to the Moose for Tambellini’s MO, we can reasonably assume that he’s going to be a nice fit with the Edmonton management team. He excels in a few areas that Lowe generally didn’t—he likes a reasonable veteran presence, his teams are consistent and don’t have big question marks at individual positions. He also seems to have a keen eye for underrated veteran talent, like Lowe. Amateur procurement has been a weakness in Vancouver during Tambellini’s time there, but with Prendergast as the assistant GM, it should be an easy weakness to balance, if indeed it is a weakness on Tambellini’s part.

A couple of definitive points:

  1. Tambellini is being hired from outside the organization, and brings not only a fresh face but also a relatively unsullied reputation to the Oilers front office
  2. On the balance, this hire looks like a strictly merits-based one, and that can’t be a bad thing. Tambellini has as good a resume as there is out there right now.
  3. I feel far more comfortable with Tambellini in this position then I would have with either Prendergast or MacTavish.
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Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#1 Ender the Dragon
August 01 2008, 09:07AM
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Tambo does indeed have a nice resume coming in the door with him. I hope he gets a chance to put his credentials to use; Terry Jones alludes to the fact that the real structure here may simply be fancy titles to cover up the fact that K-Lowe is still the GM, Tambo is the Assistant GM, and Kevin P is the Assistant Assistant GM. If that's the case, them Tambo may get to take the heat for what's happening on the ice but may also become frustrated if he doesn't have as much say as people think in what's going on.

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#2 Lucas
August 01 2008, 10:09AM
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He really does seem like he could be a great GM for us, but something just makes me wonder...maybe it was the complete shock of KLowe stepping away from his position. Anybody else notice TBell looks a lot like Matthew Perry?

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#3 1011011
August 01 2008, 11:14AM
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This is very interesting Jonathan, I like the angle you have taken here.

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#4 doritogrande
August 01 2008, 11:36AM
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Tambellini was never the GM of the Manitoba Moose. The job has been Craig Heisinger's for the past...god I don't know how long.

http://www.moosehockey.com/theteam/frontoffice.php

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#5 Wanye Gretz
August 01 2008, 12:05PM
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DRAMARAMA!!

doritogrande v willis

willis: Steve Tambellini was the GM of the Manitoba Moose

doritogrande: Tambellini was never the GM of the Manitoba Moose.

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#6 Jonathan Willis
August 01 2008, 08:47PM
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Well, that's embarrassing. The Canuck's official bio page (http://canucks.nhl.com/team/app?service=page&page=NHLPage&bcid=186) led me to believe that he was serving as the GM of Manitboa, when of course he simply oversees the operation of both the ECHL and the AHL team.

Additionally, I wouldn't presume toi argue with DG on the Manitoba Moose; he's a Winnipeg guy (who IIRC sees plenty of Moose games). A very poor error on my part, with my only excuse being my rather hectic workload at my day job this week (which is also why I've been quiet lately). Sorry about that.

Apparently, I now believe that Craig Heisinger is a good candidate for the Edmonton job ;)

With all of that aside, is it a coincidence that Manitoba jumped by an average of 20 points in the standings after Tambellini was promoted to responsibility over the team?

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