It’s A Dive For Five Miracle!

Jonathan Willis
January 25 2010 08:10AM

With the win highlighted above, the Carolina hurricanes have moved out of 30th in the NHL, passing the hapless Edmonton Oilers, whose recent and not-so-recent stretches of futility have plummeted them to the bottom of the National Hockey League.

We could revisit the series of actions that have brought the Oilers to this point; starting with the firm foundation of poor contracts and Swiss-cheese style roster-building that Kevin Lowe laid for Steve Tambellini. We could look at Tambellini’s lovely series of finishing touches, which were so eloquently described by Lowetide over the weekend:

 

The problem is that management can't identify need, doesn't have a clue about finding balance and are prone to ignoring items of huge importance (faceoffs, veterans, 12 small angry men up front at a time, a daycare up front) even when it is staring them in the face.

 

Finishing off this series of errors were a pair of injuries – Ales Hemsky’s season-ending incident, courtesy of a dirty hit from Michal Handzus, and Sheldon Souray’s concussion (Khabibulin’s isn’t included, because that falls into the “management stupidity” section given his age and injury history), injuries which have helped the Oilers be usefully useless rather than just playoff-missing.

Things have gotten so bad that the local media have jumped on board. Don’t get me wrong, there are always a few people ready to make snippy comments about the team – for instance, Robin Brownlee was vehement in his criticism of the way the Heatley deal went down – but by and large the local media peddles hope in the off-season, because that’s all fans want to hear.

The Khabibulin contract was a nice, shiny example of this. While certain sections of the internet were raving about the obvious stupidity of signing a guy who a) is an average starter, b) is over 35 and c) has basically been walking wounded since the NHL lockout, the media was deafening in it’s silence (or even praise; the local TSN guy bizarrely lauded Khabibulin for his "durability" and the way he's kept his GAA under 3.00). Even the columnists, distracted by the Heatley trade, failed to call Tambellini out for the most asinine move he made all summer. Rob Tychowski, famously critical of amateurs who “cover the Oilers from home” made a passing comment about Khabibulin’s injuries a week or two ago that was, to the best of my knowledge, the most critical comment ever made on the record by a member of the local contingent.

That’s fine, of course. With the exception of Dan Barnes in the Edmonton Journal, the local media has been much longer on stenography than they have been on analysis, and I’ve come to expect nothing more from them.

When the Oilers are in the tank at midseason, however, a sharper edge comes out, because it’s now safe to criticize the team. Terry Jones, for instance, was critical of the team in a recent open letter to Daryl Katz, although he spent too much time lambasting the owner’s reluctance to talk to the media, and still seems unable to understand that cap hit, not salary, is the important number in today’s NHL. In fact, he’s wrong on almost every point (three more years of tanking, not one mention of Khabibulin, etc.), but at least his anger’s in the right place. Even that hasn’t been enough for some of the media men who take an Oilers’ paycheck; people like Dan Tencer tweet about injury figures (damnit! If only Pouliot, Jacques and Stone had been healthy all year!) and even Bob Stauffer, who has more edge than most of the people Brownlee affectionately calls “fartcatchers,” is more prone to making excuses now than he ever has been in the past.

Not that we’ve really seen anyone lay into Steve Tambellini yet. Even as he mumbles that Nikolai Khabibulin is the team MVP (despite the fact that he’s been an above-average starter exactly one time in five post-lockout seasons) and Jim Matheson reports that they’re going to watch Jagr in the Olympics to see if they want him, the blame still gets distributed to the owner and Kevin Lowe while Tambellini somehow gets a pass. Speaking of passes, I’m not sure how the coaching staff has gone without criticism, given a series of errors which has included J-F Jacques on the first line and waiting until game 45 to start line matching. I’d guess that it is because it gets uncomfortable at the rink for guys who criticize the coach and the G.M.; maybe it’s better to leave that to the cover-from-home crowd, who can safely say these things without serious repercussion.

And, as before, that’s fine. I’m happy with what I can get, and right now I have two DFF miracles: the Oilers on pace for the best pick in this year’s draft, and a local media belatedly showing some teeth. It’s a good day.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 oilguyry
January 25 2010, 08:20AM
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Why are we still talking about the old goalie where is THE LIST brownlee gregor Wayne break this story were waiting

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#2 BingBong
January 25 2010, 08:20AM
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Great post, a fun read. Nice to see the mighty Oilers in last place where they belong this year.

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#3 Vanguard
January 25 2010, 08:22AM
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Well done JW!

Calling a spade a spade can be a dirty job but it's good to see the fine writers here on the Nation have the balls to do it.

Thank god (or Wayne) for the DFF and the Nation, for without them I may have lost complete interest in my beloved Oil this season.

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#5 oilguyry
January 25 2010, 08:28AM
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Above comment made in jest mostly good post JW but I have accepted his contract as one we won't move so I have put khabby in the wait and see category

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#6 The Towel Boy
January 25 2010, 08:34AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@oilguyry:

Oh, we're just getting started talking about the old goalie. There's going to be three more years of that.

Thanks for reminding me. :(

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#7 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 25 2010, 08:36AM
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I really don't get everyones infatuation with the "MVP" comment from Tambellini. It might have been a small stretch on his part, but Bulin was arguably the teams MVP during the first 20 and would have been unarguably a finalist.

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#9 oilguyry
January 25 2010, 08:47AM
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.910 isn't elite in the NHL but its capable and that's all you really need in goal

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#10 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 25 2010, 08:48AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Original Ogden Brother:

A goaltender with a .910 SV% is a below average starter in the NHL. For Tambellini to call him the MVP over someone like Hemsky or Visnovsky is just wrong.

Other then a few big games, I don't remember Hemsky being that impressive to start the season. Anyways, like I said Bulin was certainly one of the teams 4 best while he was playing... probably the teams 2nd/3rd best.

It's nit picking, and frankly should be next to irrelavant when evaluating his performance as a GM.

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#13 Reggie
January 25 2010, 08:55AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Original Ogden Brother:

The reason I keep bringing it up is it because it shows that Steve Tambellini doesn't know what an elite starter looks like. The rational all along for this summer was that Khabibulin could be that elite guy; he hasn't been, but Tambellini thinks he is.

The original mistake is the critical item in an evaluation of Tambellini, but the fact that he continues to believe he made the right decision is far from irrelevant.

I think it was an annoying comment from Tambellini as well. I think the MVP comment was thrown out there in defense of himself. i.e. See our best player (who I signed) is out which is an excuse for why we can't win and why we have two rookie goalies, blah blah blah.

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#14 Hemmercules
January 25 2010, 09:15AM
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Sadly I have drifted from the oilers this past few weeks. Still try to catch games but I'm not scouring the net for articles like I did before christmas. Always good reads here though.

Tambellini calling Bulin the MVP and the mention of Jagr again tells me this team is doomed for years to come under the current management. I'm going to call 7 years out of the playoffs right now.

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#15 BBOil
January 25 2010, 09:22AM
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.910 may not be an elite goalie number, but 3.75 mil is not exactly elite goalie money either.

I get what JW is saying and understand that there were other goalies on the market that could have done the same for cheaper, but I think the oil payed him what they did for name recognition, and experience value.

I think I am also going to take the wait and see approach. Easy to throw stones when he goes out for the season 20+ games into the season. Next year he could have an ok season sharing time with one of JDD and DD, who also are not going to get elite money or put up elite numbers. So hopefully in the end we have one young and one veteran goalie sharing time, putting up decent numbers, getting paid average money. By the time Bulin is done maybe whichever of JDD and DD that wins is good enough to be the man. If not, we'll have some money to play with.

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#16 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 25 2010, 09:24AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Original Ogden Brother:

The reason I keep bringing it up is it because it shows that Steve Tambellini doesn't know what an elite starter looks like. The rational all along for this summer was that Khabibulin could be that elite guy; he hasn't been, but Tambellini thinks he is.

The original mistake is the critical item in an evaluation of Tambellini, but the fact that he continues to believe he made the right decision is far from irrelevant.

I don't know man, I think you take what these guys say publicly, too litterally.

Just because his public statments indicate he still feels he made the right decision, doesn't mean that's actually what he believes. 99.999999% of the critism should fall on the signing. .0000001 should fall on his tap dancing skills during interviews.

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#17 Lofty
January 25 2010, 09:24AM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

I really don't get everyones infatuation with the "MVP" comment from Tambellini. It might have been a small stretch on his part, but Bulin was arguably the teams MVP during the first 20 and would have been unarguably a finalist.

Rolli was the MVP for all of last season and he could have been kept for a shorter term and less dollars... just saying replacing your MVP with another supposed MVP that is more expensive is still not smart.

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#18 VMR
January 25 2010, 09:28AM
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This article by Robert Tychkowski is quite good. http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Hockey/NHL/Edmonton/2010/01/24/12593306-sun.html

The Oilers really need to straighten out their organization drafting and player development before they can even hope to move forward. The fact that every team in the organization is not just a loser but one of the worst teams in their league, whl, echl, ahl, nhl shows how poor they are at developing and building talented hockey teams.

The article says the Oilers can be a top team again in 7 years if they get everything right. I think it's possible they can do it a bit quicker but dont expect next season or even in two years. Hemsky and Penner will likely be gone via free agency before this team starts turning things around, they should be on the trading block as well.

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#20 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 25 2010, 09:31AM
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Lofty wrote:

Rolli was the MVP for all of last season and he could have been kept for a shorter term and less dollars... just saying replacing your MVP with another supposed MVP that is more expensive is still not smart.

I disliked the signing since it was first announced (though I do understand why it was made).

My point isn't defending the signing, it's about people still bringing up an interview from a couple of weeks ago that

A. Wasn't that far off the truth

B. Like all public interviews needs to be taken with a grain of salt

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#22 Racki
January 25 2010, 09:50AM
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I wouldn't have problem with Khabibulin being our starter this year if he could actually stay healthy. But, definitely, the contract is horrible. I was fairly happy to hear he signed here, but when I heard the terms I was pretty much begging for Roli back. I thought were were done with the horrible contracts.

Anyways, coaching gets more of a free pass because they've shown an actual GAME plan with the lines, rather than just randomly throwing stuff together. While it should have been Penner, JFJ was on the top line because the plan was to have a big body on every line. It looked good at first, but as the flu bug started to hit and bodies started to fall, things fell apart. The top line wasn't playing like a top line though during the beginning, likely because of both Horcoff and Jacques on it. So I do agree it wasn't a good choice. But for once we were seeing scoring from other lines.

Quinn wasn't line matching because the lines were supposed to be balanced. It did work out for a bit, until, again, things fell apart in the line up.

And I'm far from one to make excuses, but it's hard to expect great results when you've lost your top forward AND your #1 goaltender for a large chunk of the season, as well as some other filler players.

Management doesn't get a pass from me though because: a) they chose Khabi over a few other capable goaltenders (take your pick) and worse yet, signed him to a ridiculously bad contract and b) when players started to get injured, they sat on their hands.

So, time for Steve to fix things. Get ugly, Steve... I don't care if you have to waive players or bury them in the minors, but next year better be a fresh new team free of almost everyone that was in the lineup in 05/06.

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#23 BBOil
January 25 2010, 09:55AM
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I'd also be interested if the Oilers contacted any other goalies in the summer. Just because there were other goalies in the market doesn't mean they were willing to come here.

Anybody have any details in this regard?

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#24 VMR
January 25 2010, 11:05AM
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I think a two year turn around is very optimistic and contending in four is almost impossible. Unless some of the guys we already have in the system are going to suddenly get dramatically better I dont see it. Our defence is our weakest hole. Gilbert and Grebeshkov are not solid enough defensively, I dont think they can turn around and become Keith and Seabrook. Vishnovsky is ok as an offensive specialist but he's not solid defensively either.

Up front Gagner looks good but who else? Cogliano has shown some signs but it's a longshot that he'll turn into more than a supporting player rather than a core piece of a championship caliber team. Who else? Eberle, Omark, MPS, that's a lot to hang on guys who havent played in the NHL yet.

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#25 Archaeologuy
January 25 2010, 11:19AM
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@VMR

How can you say that Vis is not solid defensively? What makes you say that, because his numbers suggest very much the opposite of that claim.

Your other points are very realistic but that one seems way off to me.

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#26 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 25 2010, 11:24AM
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VMR wrote:

I think a two year turn around is very optimistic and contending in four is almost impossible. Unless some of the guys we already have in the system are going to suddenly get dramatically better I dont see it. Our defence is our weakest hole. Gilbert and Grebeshkov are not solid enough defensively, I dont think they can turn around and become Keith and Seabrook. Vishnovsky is ok as an offensive specialist but he's not solid defensively either.

Up front Gagner looks good but who else? Cogliano has shown some signs but it's a longshot that he'll turn into more than a supporting player rather than a core piece of a championship caliber team. Who else? Eberle, Omark, MPS, that's a lot to hang on guys who havent played in the NHL yet.

Things change quickly in the NHL, 6 of the 16 teams currently in a PO position missed last year.

5 years ago 4 of the bottom 5 teams in the league were the Bruins/Hawks/Pens/Caps.

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#27 Chris.
January 25 2010, 11:29AM
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VMR wrote:

This article by Robert Tychkowski is quite good. http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Hockey/NHL/Edmonton/2010/01/24/12593306-sun.html

The Oilers really need to straighten out their organization drafting and player development before they can even hope to move forward. The fact that every team in the organization is not just a loser but one of the worst teams in their league, whl, echl, ahl, nhl shows how poor they are at developing and building talented hockey teams.

The article says the Oilers can be a top team again in 7 years if they get everything right. I think it's possible they can do it a bit quicker but dont expect next season or even in two years. Hemsky and Penner will likely be gone via free agency before this team starts turning things around, they should be on the trading block as well.

Really interesting read... I've always agreed with the theory that a team needs a solid top 10 goalie, and four or five special players* to contend for the cup. In 2006 the Oilers (after the deadline) got solid goaltending from Roli. Pronger, Smyth and Hemsky were special players... and Pisani played like one. If the Oilers had had just one more key piece; the end result may have been different...

Pronger/Smyth were both delt without anyone particularly special coming back... the results are self explanitory.

* Special players can be defined as differnce-makers... Guys who regularly and consistantly distinguish themselves from the pack.

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#28 David S
January 25 2010, 11:50AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Original Ogden Brother:

The reason I keep bringing it up is it because it shows that Steve Tambellini doesn't know what an elite starter looks like. The rational all along for this summer was that Khabibulin could be that elite guy; he hasn't been, but Tambellini thinks he is.

The original mistake is the critical item in an evaluation of Tambellini, but the fact that he continues to believe he made the right decision is far from irrelevant.

Tambellini was SELLING the idea that Khabby was an elite guy. In theory, that's why they went after him. I think we underestimate how much selling a GM actually does as part of his job. We as a group may be making the mistake of interpreting the sell job as what he actually thinks. Myself, I think the Khabby signing was another example of the "big fish" strategy this organization has been obsessed with over the past few years.

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#29 dunciano
January 25 2010, 12:12PM
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Prendergast gotta go?

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#30 Milli
January 25 2010, 12:53PM
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I have only one comment: please fire tambo and promote Pat Quinn now. He is the only guy I get the feel actually understands this teams weaknesses...well, him or MacT.

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#31 jeanshorts
January 25 2010, 02:18PM
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VMR wrote:

I think a two year turn around is very optimistic and contending in four is almost impossible. Unless some of the guys we already have in the system are going to suddenly get dramatically better I dont see it. Our defence is our weakest hole. Gilbert and Grebeshkov are not solid enough defensively, I dont think they can turn around and become Keith and Seabrook. Vishnovsky is ok as an offensive specialist but he's not solid defensively either.

Up front Gagner looks good but who else? Cogliano has shown some signs but it's a longshot that he'll turn into more than a supporting player rather than a core piece of a championship caliber team. Who else? Eberle, Omark, MPS, that's a lot to hang on guys who havent played in the NHL yet.

Maxime Talbot = supporting player.

Maxime Talbot = core piece of a championship caliber team.

Just saying....

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#32 Mowzie
January 25 2010, 04:31PM
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Finally! I've felt like a 5 year old on a long and smelly drive in my dad's Buick.

Are we there yet?

5 more minutes son?

Are we there yet?

5 more minutes son?

Are we there yet?

5 more minutes son?

Are we there yet?

5 more minutes son?

Carolina musta stunk something fierce early on because it seems like they've been playing .500 hockey for over a month now.

Now to get some distance between us and pad our lead.

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