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.