Steve Tambellini: It's Injuries, Guys

Jonathan Willis
November 22 2009 10:16AM

Vancouver Canucks

There's an interesting article up on NHL.com this morning, and Oilers' GM Steve Tambellini talks at some length about his team and the problems facing them.

I should warn you: he sounds pretty happy with his team.

Tambellini starts by explaining the injury situation his team has had to slog thorugh; H1N1, concussions, etc. But then he says something that I didn't expect at all. 

"We had a really good camp and a very strong start and I like the look of our team and I like the balance of scoring and grit. The focus now is keeping the group together."

That would be the Oilers 6-2-1 start to the season that Tambellini is referring to with those comments. It's identical to the argument David Staples made the other day, an argument I had an in-depth look at here. The short story is this: during that 6-2-1 start, the Oilers were getting outshot by even worse margins than they are now. After looking at the injuries, Dan Rosen of NHL.com said, "It's no wonder they were allowing nearly five more shots per game than they were taking", but the fact is that during that 6-2-1 start the Oilers were allowing eight more shots than they were taking. Maybe Tambellini's playing PR here, but if he honestly believes that his team's play warranted a 6-2-1 record, he ought to be kicked out of the GM's seat right now — or at the very least forced to listen to his coach's post-game press conferences over and over until he realizes that this team wasn't the picture of perfection indicated by that record.

Tambellini went on to explain what he expects to happen when the Oilers get back to (relative) health:

"The scoring will come when we have more balance in our lineup and that's just getting some bodies back,"

The only problem with that logic is that the scoring has actually been okay. The Oilers were ninth in the NHL in 5-on-5 offence and 12th in the NHL on the power play going into last night's game against Chicago. Those are playoff numbers.

No, the problem has been the teams goals against (25th in the league), penalty kill (just 1.5% better than last year's miserable number), 5-on-5 goal against (26th in the league), shot differential (27th in the league) and faceoffs (dead last in the NHL).  None of that has to do with scoring; it galls me that when listing the problems caused by injury the first thing that comes to Steve Tambellini's mind is scoring. Next quote.

"When you're watching the game from up top you can see overall energy in the team. You can see the way people move and sustain it, and the last couple of games you're starting to see signs of that coming back."

Presumably that comment was made before last night's game, a low-energy affair (aside from a few shifts by the fourth line) that saw the Oilers not only picked apart but also outworked by the Blackhawks. Finally:

"You want to see what your team looks like when you're healthy. That part I am really looking forward to."

In short: stay the course. If Steve Tambellini believes what he's saying here, there isn't going to be a move to fix the personnel problems on this team any time soon.

Meanwhile, Lowetide suggests that Tambellini's inertia will cost him his job.

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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 bingofuel
November 22 2009, 10:26AM
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Koooooooooooooooool-Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaid

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#2 Antony Ta
November 22 2009, 10:31AM
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For a guy who had a such an infamous speech about how he was going to change the team and make it bigger, tougher, and harder to play against, it is ironic that his only major acquisition was Nikolai Khabibulin.

I don't know whether to take Steve Tambellini seriously anymore.

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#3 Librarian Mike
November 22 2009, 10:33AM
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Jonathan, was there anything in the report about whether Kevin Lowe's lips were moving during the interview?

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#4 Milhouse
November 22 2009, 10:35AM
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This team needs changes, starting with Hemsky. It will go no where as long as he is on the team. We don't need a winger to play with hemsky, we need a center to play with Penner. Hemsky should start crying any minute and will be asking for a trade. Does he remind you of anyone from the Rangers last year? Maybe Renny seen it and figured it's time I kicked this so called future star in the arse and try get him on track. Renny failed with Zerdev so maybe he can save Hemsky, if not trade him before he loses value.

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#6 Senator Theo
November 22 2009, 10:50AM
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Part of me thinks we would be better off with Jeff Tambellini running this team.

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#7 jave_911
November 22 2009, 10:56AM
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doesn't sound like anything's gonna get better any time soon

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#8 BK16
November 22 2009, 11:04AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Remember how it was impossible for any team to win the Cup with Brett Hull?

This doesn't come down to just one player; Hemsky can be a useful piece of a winning team, but he's only one piece. This team needs to address systemic problems, rather than pick on one star.

It's not Hemsky's fault this team can't kill penalties. Or win faceoffs. Or keep from getting scored on. He's one of the few players the Oilers have who are capable of carrying the play against the opposition.

Well said JW. This team spends so much time chasing and part of that is not gaining possession from a faceoff. I don't think I would undo the Visnovsky trade, but Jarret Stoll would really look good in this line-up right about now.

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#9 Milhouse
November 22 2009, 11:10AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Remember how it was impossible for any team to win the Cup with Brett Hull?

This doesn't come down to just one player; Hemsky can be a useful piece of a winning team, but he's only one piece. This team needs to address systemic problems, rather than pick on one star.

It's not Hemsky's fault this team can't kill penalties. Or win faceoffs. Or keep from getting scored on. He's one of the few players the Oilers have who are capable of carrying the play against the opposition.

So what about Penner? If Hemsky had the same motivation then maybe he will reach that star status, instead he leads the Oilers in giveaways, second to Tom Eugene Gilbert. No playoffs this year Oiler fans, too ba Scot Howsen left the team for the jackets. Lowe screwed this team and now Tambilini is picking up the condoms and reusing them.

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#10 Ogden Brother
November 22 2009, 11:10AM
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Good read, but to be fair, scoring has been an issue (for most) of the past 10 - 12 games.... remember that 0 goals in 3/4 games (or whatever it was)

The majority of the scoring came in the first 9 games, and then in a handfull of blowouts (predominatly ... if not exclusively against back-ups)

The numbers might not show it, but scoring is an issue on this team.

That said, the other issues (should have been) far cheaper and easier to fix, yet they weren't.

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#11 sizzler
November 22 2009, 11:11AM
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For all I am concerned they could lay off Stevie. T

There is not room in salary cap. Can't make trades these days. Not going to change coaching staff.

Anybody can come out and announce injury updates.

On a positive note Jordan Eberle is leading WHL scorer now.

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#12 Zamboni Driver
November 22 2009, 11:14AM
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Don't get me wrong, I think the inertia he has displayed (and the hopeless fixation on 'big fish' over the last two years has shown him to be a LOT naive) has been a huge problem.

But really, what's he going to say?

"Our team is really crappy, especially because our 'star' player is a pu$$y?"

Painting a happy picture will only marginally help to maintain any trade value of the hopeless collection of shleps wearing *sigh* orange and blue (Hey, Steve...here's one good decision....please PLEASE make the horror of the 80s jerseys stop).

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#13 Ogden Brother
November 22 2009, 11:15AM
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@ Milhouse

Hilarious that Penner is now being used at the measuring stick to measure his teamates on... lets keep perspective here, the guys had 22 good games.

The glaring issue the last couple of years was that we had one legit 1st liner (Hemsky)and a pile of 2nd liners... the battle cry: "Get another 1st liner for Hemmer!!"

Now we've got 2 first liners..... and people want to dump one of them??

At this point, the first line isn't the issue people... the team needs proper balance elesewhere.

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#15 Moop
November 22 2009, 11:17AM
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Milhouse wrote:

So what about Penner? If Hemsky had the same motivation then maybe he will reach that star status, instead he leads the Oilers in giveaways, second to Tom Eugene Gilbert. No playoffs this year Oiler fans, too ba Scot Howsen left the team for the jackets. Lowe screwed this team and now Tambilini is picking up the condoms and reusing them.

Now there is a disturbing mental image...

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#17 Gerald R. Ford
November 22 2009, 11:20AM
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You have to be deep enough, talent-wise, not to have to depend on a perpetually healthy lineup. As has been mentioned many times, all teams have injury and health problems. Really, if every team were able to play their optimal lineup, then, relatively speaking, this team would still be as bad. It's troubling to see excuse-making instead of solution-finding. "IF"s don't cut it, Steve. In the immortal words of Nathan Arizona:

"If a frog had wings, he wouldn't bump his ass a-hoppin'."

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#18 Shaun Doe
November 22 2009, 11:32AM
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I have to admit, against my better judgement I was casually optimistic about Tambo comming in to replace Lowe. Although, I think I was mainly intruiged based on the change for the sake of change theory. However, living in Vancouver I should have seen this comming. Dave Nonis got canned for being one of the most innactive GM's in the league for several years. Steve, being his underling for those years, may be accused of having his apple fall too near the tree. This thought did pass through my head as I listened to the reporters announce the signing, I guess I should have given it more thought.

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#19 Rick
November 22 2009, 11:37AM
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When I look at that picture of Tambellini all I can think of is a blissfully unaware Homer Simpson with circus music running through his head.

Do do do-da-loo do do doooo dooo....

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#20 Milli
November 22 2009, 11:54AM
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That is pretty disappointing quote from a GM with a team that is playing with the same problems it has had for at leat 1 entire season plus 22 games this year. Puppet or not??? The only reason I hold out any hope for this team is because of Quinn. I'm not a fan of hemmer, the play dies with him way to often, that said, he is not the one bringing down our team, we are undersized and unwilling to do what it takes to win in to many positions. Is Stone back going to propell us back into the winning ways? Unfortunatley, we are relatively healthy right now ( minus Khabby).

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#21 Ogden Brother
November 22 2009, 12:03PM
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Comment on the endless whining about "overpayments" "bloated contracts" etc etc.

I think most would admit that even though this team (as currently assembled) is a 7th/8th place at best, it also isn't likely be be quite as bad as it's current record indicates... ie the team should probably finish somewhere in the 15 - 20 slot league wide.

What is the Oilers projecte payroll at this point? 57.4 million

What are the payrolls of the 15th - 20th highest paid teams? (ie "value for money"... a favorite game on the internet): 55.75 million - 54.5 million....

ie: is this team a 2 - 3 million dollar player away from being a legit contender?

Another way to look at it: Drop Nillson and all of a sudden the teams payroll lines up with what it's expected results.

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#22 Dan the Man
November 22 2009, 12:04PM
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When you look at what Tambo did over the summer you could argue that he actually made the team worse.

Signed Kahabibulin - He's played well but not a whole lot better than Rollie did last year.

Traded away Brodziak for a pick - IMO Brodziak would have been a hell of a lot more useful that Nilsson, Pouliott or MacIntyre.

Did not sign Kotalik - He may have been useful to keep as he brings something a little different from what we have. Currently he has 17 points in 22 games which would make him 3rd on the Oil. He is also a team worst -10 mind you but he is also money in shootouts which we could have used on a few occasions, the big downside to him is the 3 Mil cap hit he signed for.

Signed Comrie - Hard to completely evaluate since he's missed so much and hasn't really been healthy. I didn't mind the signing but he really wasn't what the Oil needed.

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#23 Mike Krushelnyski
November 22 2009, 12:05PM
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Don't worry, it's all part of a clever scheme of accumulating #10-14 draft picks, thus becoming unstoppable. Stay the course!

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#24 Robin Brownlee
November 22 2009, 12:07PM
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I'm not so sure suggesting Tambellini's logic is questionable is fair or warranted, based on Dan Rosen's story.

If Tambellini was asked about trouble with secondary scoring, or scoring in general, over the past stretch -- and I'm guessing he was based on how Rosen led into the quote -- is Tambellini supposed to answer by talking about goals-against, face-offs and special teams?

Those are real issues, as you point out, but you can't hang not addressing them on Tambellini if he wasn't asked about them.

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#25 qaz
November 22 2009, 12:25PM
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I call shenanigans. Tampon has done little to improve this team and his big signing will be a millstone come a year or two. How f--ing hard is it to find some schmo in Europe or the AHL to win face-offs? I've heard him be called overly cautious by other GMs. Grow some balls man and make a trade! He could have dangled SMac and a pick or one of the many small forwards to get what he needs. Sitting on your hands wishing everyone was healthy does not make it so. Just like me wishing for the Oil to not be perpetually sh*t doesn't make it so.

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#26 brucechris
November 22 2009, 12:27PM
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I'm not sure if Tambo's job is in jeopardy... the illnesses/injuries are a GREAT excuse if he has to plead his case in April...

But Lowetide makes an excellent, almost "goes without saying" point:

"His pursuit of Dany Heatley (after the Khabibulin signing) flushed all other priorities (and they were obvious) and we are now left with another season of wasting veteran seasons while watching the kids learn on the job."

He played whack-a-mole and focused on the one in the middle the entire time... and the team is probably worse for it.

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#27 MrOiler
November 22 2009, 12:39PM
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There are two rules about quotes that I adhere to:

1) never take a GM's comments at face value 2) never take a quote that you didn't hear directly at face value

Taking Tambellini's comments from NHL.com is akin to reading tea leaves. Stick to the statisics Mr. Willis, they are much more realiable and predictive.

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#28 deepoil
November 22 2009, 12:40PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Remember how it was impossible for any team to win the Cup with Brett Hull?

This doesn't come down to just one player; Hemsky can be a useful piece of a winning team, but he's only one piece. This team needs to address systemic problems, rather than pick on one star.

It's not Hemsky's fault this team can't kill penalties. Or win faceoffs. Or keep from getting scored on. He's one of the few players the Oilers have who are capable of carrying the play against the opposition.

JW - didn't the stars win the cup with hull in 2002 ? I disagree noting that Hemmer is more passenger than leader.... seems like he adores the long term deal, that some scribes had a hard time with.... if Hemsky performs, you have great value, long term if he rides the pine, you have white elephant contract that is more give than take....

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#31 Chaz
November 22 2009, 01:07PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

That's a very good point, Robin, and one I hadn't thought of. I might be guilty of taking these quotes way out of context, given that I don't know what Rosen asked to get them.

Thanks.

Not only that, but a good GM isn't going to rag his team in an interview at this point in the year is he? What's the point? You upset the team and make yourself look like you're pointing the blame elsewhere. I'm sure Tambo is aware of this team's shortcomings, I just don't see the value in bringing these things up in an interview.

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#32 Rimpig
November 22 2009, 01:16PM
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The more things change the more they stay the same.

Sadly it seems that way. Damn, I wish someone would have the foresight to blow this team up and rebuild from the ground floor.

Living in mediocrity all these years is like living in limbo. Not good enough to make the playoffs not bad enough to get great draft picks.

Although, with our history of drafting while Kevin Lowe was at the helm, would it have made any difference?

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#33 JackBauer
November 22 2009, 01:18PM
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This current management regime has had a history of keeping everything close to the vest. Nothing that Tambellini said surprises me.

Ill ask this question, what else could he have said? If he blasts his team for all the problems he has to know they have, then its in the papers, the reporters are asking the players, coaches, waterboys about what Tambellini said. Instead he gave a perfect PR piece and nothing more will come out of it.

And quite honestly this team wasnt god awful the first 10 games of the year. Those 2 loses dont reflect how they played those games any more or less than the 6 wins do.

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#34 Ducey
November 22 2009, 01:21PM
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Ah, the combined intelligence of sports fans.

Hey guys, I thought Marty Reasoner was the problem, then Stoll? They got rid of them. Now you want them (or their equivalent) back.

A few years ago all the hip kids dumped on Smid; when Souray was injured it was brutal signing; the Penner offer sheet was an embarassment. Now not so much.

Are you ready to write off Cogs, Gagner, Patty O, Gilbert, Brule, Grebs etc. because they are not performing well this week, or month ?

Its going to take them a while to develop. In fact, if Willis is right and the goal scoring is not the problem, then you can expect this same team to mature and improve just over time. Defensive zone coverage has to be learned - often the hard way. Same with faceoffs.

There are no trades out there. Period. This is, unless you want to bring a player for some first round picks. How is that working out for Toronto? In fact, I suggest you remember the Leaves. They are the team that has constantly churned through players for the last 40 years.

Thank God our GM has patience.

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#36 BarryS
November 22 2009, 01:40PM
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Suggestion to maarketing department. Crying towels for supposed Oiler Fans blogging this site. Flying dollar signs on a field of spilled whine.

This is getting tiring. The team is what it is and given the cement NHL rosters seem to be set in, not likely to change. All the whining about what was or was not done yesterday won't change a thing. Get over it.

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#37 brucechris
November 22 2009, 01:47PM
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@BarryS

You're right. Public dissent never changed anything.

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#38 BarryS
November 22 2009, 01:56PM
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brucechris wrote:

You're right. Public dissent never changed anything.

The only people with the power to change things in this matter are those with an economic investment(power)in the team. The ticketholders, the sponsers and the owners. So, in stead of whining what is anyone here going to actually do about it?

Let see, good rating are what, 10 to 15 percent of tv's on a channel? Given the actual position of sports and other entertaiment in the everyday life of the majority of the people of Canada, not much, guess what will be done?

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#40 jeanshorts
November 22 2009, 02:14PM
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Could be worse; he could have traded away 2 first rounds picks to land a guy who would end up being the only good player on a last place team.

I'm going to try and look at the silver lining here. Two years in a row Tambo has spent all his time and energy looking to land that elusive "big fish" and failing miserably. Hopefully now he'll realize that the Oilers aren't going to land the hottest girl at the dance, and he'll start focusing on the mediocre girls with great personalities.

And this whole trade Hemsky nonsense; Ovechkin has been looking fairly lackluster since coming back from his injury. You think the Caps will trade us straight up?

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#41 jeanshorts
November 22 2009, 02:21PM
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@Ducey

So this is what it's like, when doves cry!

"Are you ready to write off Cogs, Gagner, Patty O, Gilbert, Brule, Grebs etc. because they are not performing well this week, or month ?"

Try game. Have to blame someone right? Why keep youth if they're not scoring at a Kovalchuck-esque pace, when you can trade them for half a seasons worth of a veteran NHL'er! That's way better for the team!

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#42 BarryS
November 22 2009, 02:30PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ BarryS:

So what's your suggestion? Stop looking at what needs to be done, and start researching which top prospect you hope they pick up with their top-10 pick?

The problem is all we see and know is tightly controlled by the team. Are Sam Gagner and Ales Hemsky more hurt than we are lead to believe? How about Grebs, now injured, or is Gilbert? Might he be nursing a secret injury at the moment, he sure is playing like something is distracting him at the moment. For instance is Souray actually over his concussion or only enough to play?

Given the number of own goals we've scored on ourselves this year, it is impossible to judge the goal tending, other than to say they seem to be resiliant to them. The rest of the team, I'm not so sure. It is within the bounds to question the goalie use this year, given one goalie has played to much and is now hurt.

The problem is not JDD might be rusty, the problem is the goalie runs the defence on ice, or should, and there is clearly not much clear communication between goalie and dmen. You can see this by all the overplaying in the D zone, nobody trusts nobody inside our own blue line.

All these band wagon jumpers have to understand it takes time to build a team and every change due to trades, injury replacements, demotion or promotions, adds more time to the trust between team mates which is the hardest part of team building.This applies to teams and their coaches as well.

Yes their are problems, yes I'm as flustrated as everyone else, but given all the internal changes, you know "culture" changes needed, it will take time. Last time I went through a culture change at my previous work place, most of the previous staff, including me and most of the management who decided we needed a culture change, were gone inside of two years and we never had guaranteed contracts. The problem in sports is those staff changes mostly need to wait until guaranteed contracts expire, no matter how big or small they are, unless fools or desperate GM's can be found to take them off our hands and their are none to be found in the league at the moment.

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#43 Ambassador humantorch
November 22 2009, 02:35PM
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Tambo. Is. A. Bad. General. Manager.

When will someone else in management (looking at you, Mr. Katz) wake up and realize this?

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#44 jeanshorts
November 22 2009, 02:38PM
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@Ambassador humantorch

Well he's not bad per say, but, he's not good either.

Hey, that sounds awfully familiar.

Strive for mediocrity!

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#45 Ambassador humantorch
November 22 2009, 02:42PM
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@jeanshorts

That's how the Edmonton Oilers roll. Fill every open position (on or off the ice) with someone barely mediocre, wait and see what happens, and then lather, rinse, and repeat until dead.

I swear to God, sometimes cheering for this team seems less fulfilling than just randomly punching myself in the face every few minutes would be.

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#47 Ogden Brother
November 22 2009, 02:51PM
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@ Barry S

You've got some good points for sure, but their have been (many) teams that seen significant change and suceeded right away.

Cut through all the intangibles (Gelling/Chemistry/practice/hard work/crust/jam trust/systems/positioning etc etc ect)and you still have the core problem, the team simply isn't talneted enough (in all three zones) to get off the bubble (or even to the top of the bubble apperantly)

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#48 sizzler
November 22 2009, 03:04PM
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@Jonathan Willis

There is no Quick fix. If you just want to make the playoff, yeah you can fill a few hole. But if you want to compete for the cup you need to address a lot of issue's -Dumping bad contracts would be a start.

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#49 The Real Scuba Steve
November 22 2009, 03:06PM
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It is going take the Oilers missing the playoffs AGAIN for him to admit there was a problems with the roster.

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#50 RossCreekNation
November 22 2009, 03:29PM
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OFF TOPIC...

... but, I know we've been going with The Delorean for Deslauriers, and its cool and all, but late last season my buddy came up with a nickname for him and I think its time to share...

What do y'all think of Du Maurier?

Jeff Drouin Du Maurier.

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