Apparently The Detroit Model Doesn't Work

Jonathan Willis
January 29 2010 12:01PM

Edmonton Oilers v Vancouver Canucks

Steve Tambellini was warmly welcomed by pretty much everyone in Edmonton – not just by the people who hired him, but also by the fans, the local media, and even sceptics like myself. He was part and parcel of the new era promised by Daryl Katz’s ownership, a man unconnected to the Oilers glory years and with a ton of experience as an NHL executive.

John MacKinnon was perhaps the most effusive (although it’s once again worth noting that he wasn’t alone) in a piece that comes across as comical in retrospect. Right from the opening paragraph, where Kevin Lowe is described as “the smartest guy in the room”, “wise” and “secure” it’s hard not to laugh at what gullible rubes we all were. The “three day” decision to hire Tambellini also serves as a fun contrast to his constant calls for patience and time to assess.

The kicker, though, is this paragraph:

 

In hiring the classy, well-respected Tambellini and adding "assistant GM" to Kevin Prendergast's existing title of vice-president, hockey operations, Lowe has bolstered the hockey office that lost the capable Scott Howson, who left for the GM's job in Columbus in June 2007. By design or not, the Oilers front office begins to resemble the gold standard, that of the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

 

For all the sick humour any fan looking at the standings now can find in that paragraph, it is right about one thing: this year’s edition of the Edmonton Oilers has been a group failing. I wrote defending Kevin Lowe the other day because I don’t think it’s remotely fair to blame just him. Don’t get me wrong; he deserves to be fired too for a host of sins since July of 2006. Even ignoring the Pronger trade, the offers to Thomas Vanek and Michael Nylander on their own merits should have been enough to get him fired.

I’m going to take a minute to focus on Kevin Prendergast, the man responsible for the Springfield Falcons. There’s more to it than simply looking at the diminishing returns of the AHL team, but let’s do that anyway:

  • 2007-08: 35-35-10
  • 2008-09: 24-44-12
  • 2009-10: 15-24-10
  • Totals: 74-103-32

In two and a half years of affiliation with the Oilers, the Springfield Falcons have won just over one-third of their games. There’s no lottery pick for finishing last in the AHL, and pretty much every highly-touted prospect the Oilers have assigned to the team has struggled. Expensive minor league veterans that do get signed either implode or get hurt; the franchise has been an inexcusable disaster ever since becoming affiliated with the Oilers.

I see no reason why Kevin Prendergast should be allowed to remain in a hockey operations job, given the record of the team he is responsible for overseeing – both in terms of games lost and prospects drowning in the deep.

Rick Olczyk is a more difficult person to assess. His responsibilities include “player contracts, negotiations and other CBA related issues.” It’s difficult to know how much say he actually has, and the Oilers have signed some bargain contracts during his time with the team (Mike Comrie, and ummm... Mike Comrie). That said, one of the Oilers’ multitudinous problems is their inability to manage the cap, and that reflects poorly on Olczyk. Getting caught by surprise on the negotiating window for Heatley may or may not be Olczyk’s fault, but it reflects badly on him too. Jason Gregor may or may not have misinterpreted Olczyk when he said that Gilbert Brule wasn’t waiver eligible (he was) but again it reflects badly on Olczyk. Essentially, there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence and very little concrete evidence here, and it would take an insider to know whether or not Olczyk should go.

That brings us to the final member of the Oilers management quartet, Steve Tambellini. Lowetide and I have both commented on how the bar keeps moving for Tambellini, which adds some nuance to trying to establish his performance. I’ll explain:

  • July 31, 2008: Steve Tambellini is officially hired as Oilers GM
  • April 13, 2009: Jason Gregor tells us that the plan was to bring Tambellini in for a year to “assess” but that he’s in charge at this point.
  • April 13, 2009: Robin Brownlee tells us that Kevin Lowe stepped back from the day-to-day when Tambellini was hired, and that it will be up to Tambellini to “orchestrate the changes.”
  • May 30, 2009: Terry Jones tells us that “this very much became Steve Tambellini’s hockey club with the hirings of Quinn and Renney.”
  • January 28, 2010: Steve Tambellini says that Daryl Katz “has given me complete authority” over the team and Dan Barnes stresses that Lowe is responsible for the predicament up to this point.

Personally, I don’t think it’s that complicated. Kevin Lowe stepped back on July 31, 2008. That’s when Steve Tambellini stepped in and took over day-to-day operations. That’s the date Steve Tambellini should be accountable from, and since that date the Oilers have gone 54-65-15. The Oilers penalty-kill has been disastrous since day one, and Tambellini has made no moves to address it. The team has been unable to win faceoffs and prior to Marc Pouliot’s return had exactly one centre on the team born prior to 1987.

Tambellini’s moves are rarely blatantly bad in themselves (particularly his trades) but two key exceptions stand out: his acquisition of Nikolai Khabibulin, and his love of “grit.” I’ve gone into the Khabibulin in detail time and again, and it’s a firing offence all on its own: Tambellini gambled $15 million that Khabibulin would be both healthy and competent, despite his age, his injury record, and his inconsistent work in Chicago. That’s nearly seven percent of his total player budget for the next four years, gambled on a 36-year old who averages just under 20 missed games per season and has a grand total of one good year in his last four. When Khabibulin was dehydrated and had to leave a pre-season game, Pat Quinn stated that the team didn’t know it but that had also happened in Chicago. That’s the sort of simple thing a G.M. is supposed to find out before committing massive money and term to a player; the fact that the Oilers didn’t dig too deeply into Khabibulin’s medical history shows an astonishing inability to perform basic due diligence.

As for Tambellini’s love of “grit,” it’s a less important but also interesting point. He brought in Steve MacIntyre, and then he brought in Jesse Boulerice; apparently the fact that neither could play hockey and that the latter has twice jeopardized the careers of opposition players were immaterial. More serious was Tambellini’s pursuit of Chris Neil; the fact that he offered the Eastern Conference version of Zack Stortini a three-year deal in the neighbourhood of $2.0 million per season is a frightening reality. It’s also a mark against the notion that Tambellini was hamstrung by Kevin Lowe-era contracts; for those keeping track, between Neil and Khabibulin Tambellini offered more than 10.0% of his cap space in two ill-advised contracts.

The flaws in this hockey club are exactly the same as they were the day Steve Tambellini was hired. The Oilers are inexperienced at centre and throughout the forward corps. The Oilers lack players who can, as Steve Yzerman put it, play a 200 foot game. The Oilers lack competent penalty killers. The Oilers lack top-six players who can play a physical game. The Oilers lack a defenceman who the coaching staff can rely on to play against the Western Conference’s big guns. The Oilers have an over-abundance of small, unidirectional forwards and management has been loath to make a decision on any of them – a problem exacerbated by the fact that the team’s most NHL-ready prospects are either incomplete (Paajarvi-Svensson) or incomplete and small (Eberle, Omark). The Oilers lack a single goaltender who can be relied upon to a) stay healthy and b) stop pucks (the guy they had left town because the team apparently decided that multi-year contracts to old goaltenders were a bad idea).

In a year and a half on the job, Steve Tambellini has done precisely nothing to fix the Oilers key problems, and in a few cases he’s managed to make those problems worse. The most likely explanation is that he simply doesn’t understand what those problems are. Yesterday he told Dan Barnes that the first step in fixing the problems he has now would be to find out “who truly wants to be an Oiler.” I’m not sure if it’s sadder that he thinks that should be goal one or that after a year and half with the team he’s still asking the question, unsure of the answer.

The problems with this hockey club are directly traceable back to the four men making the decisions. Given that the problems are both numerous and those men show no public indication of even understanding them – let alone fixing them – it’s time to clean house.

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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 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 29 2010, 12:09PM
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Another good write up.

I remember how happy everyone was that the new GM/coaching weren't old Oilers, and how strongly so many felt that those "old Oilers" were the reason the team was mediocre.

So much for that idea.

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#2 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 29 2010, 12:12PM
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I'd also like to note that the original "Detroit model" also seems to be falling flat on it's face.

Judging managment isn't black or white. Your a hero one day and a goat the next.

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#3 SirFozz
January 29 2010, 12:14PM
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*tear*

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#4 Kevin
January 29 2010, 12:45PM
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Here Here! well said Jonathan ! you really hit it on the head in all accounts and more Directly with the word "Its time to clean house" You are bang on with KP and the fact that he is still collecting a fat check with the Oil tells one that someone at the top does'nt have a clue. Clearly your points are well taken with regards to Tambo as well. Everyone including the kitchen sink knows about our needs and shortfalls yet nothing has been done to address these issues. How much more assessing does he need and why is he looking at currrent rostwer players who want to stay on this team. Clearly, these players are not NHL calibre. Tambo, please wake up to this reality. Further more our farm team has nothing to offer. All said, this trade deadline better be - out with the old and in with at least some draft picks and or prospects. Anything short of this would rate Oil brass an F for fail and would suggest a complete house cleaning. March 3 will be a key day in Oiler history going forward. Either we make positive steps forward or we continue assessing and continue down the road of mediocricy. No better time than now, to move contracts and accumulate picks/prospects. No one should be untouchable and why should they be ? Look no further than our current and passed standings. Tick tock-tick tock.....March 3 could'nt come soon enough ! Lets hope are scouts are ready and Management steps up !

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#5 Crust
January 29 2010, 12:54PM
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To Jonathan: Exactly!

To Dithering Tambolini: Don't know what to do? Ask the fans man, the fans know.

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#6 Ryan
January 29 2010, 12:55PM
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Great write-up Jon.

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#7 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 29 2010, 01:05PM
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November 1st of 2010 is the date I will be ready to rip Tambo. I think that if he can't make some moves to show that he knows what he is doing then I will turn on him. For now I give him the benefit of the doubt.

As for Tambo's "who wants to be an Oiler" not sure that will work. Watching how guess are playing it's as if the only guys that want to be here aren't exactly the answer.

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#8 Guy
January 29 2010, 01:07PM
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Jonathan

Wow great read.

I am all for a rebuild but why should we trust this manangement team.

It starts from the top, I would replace Lowe and start there.

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#9 Dan the Man
January 29 2010, 01:09PM
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~Can you please just clarify where you stand on this Jonathan?~

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#10 Tapdog
January 29 2010, 01:11PM
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Amen, Great write up..

Post #4 Kevin??? Ironic isn't it but well said!

Let's hope the wait isn't until March 3rd. Start making the moves NOW please!

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#11 CowboyBillFlett
January 29 2010, 01:13PM
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Guy you are correct. Katz is a business man he needs his "Hockey Operations" guy to tell him who should go and stay in management. He needs to make one key move to start the cleansing and that is clearly get rid of Lowe and get an advisor/manager that can knows whats going on.

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#12 The Towel Boy
January 29 2010, 01:14PM
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I just got a text from Katz...it just says "Tambo is going nowhere!"

So, I expect we will see him fired by the end of the season.

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#13 FS
January 29 2010, 01:15PM
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Tambellini gets fired end of season, Quinn moves up to GM, Renney becomes coach, Lowe continues to have a bad comb over.

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#14 shanetrain
January 29 2010, 01:16PM
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Unless the brass can find a way to move Moreau and Staois ASAP, I dont take anything Tambellini says seriously.

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#15 Mr DeBakey
January 29 2010, 01:21PM
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We'll get another chance to see the anti-Detroit model in action next fall when Eberle, Pajaarvi & Seguin are all in the '10-'11 starting line-up.

"Hello, my name is Hope and I'll be your server tonight"

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#16 The Real Scuba Steve
January 29 2010, 01:23PM
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Jonathan, great read you hit the nail on the head, but I am sure Tambo will disagree with you on everything you put in your article even when you speak the truth. I still think KLowe is still calling the shots in some degree and with that I have no confidence in the Oil management. I wonder if he even reads posts like OilNation he might learn something on why he is so unpopular, but I'm sure he doesn't.

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#17 El Duke
January 29 2010, 01:23PM
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Yesterday he told Dan Barnes that the first step in fixing the problems he has now would be to find out “who truly wants to be an Oiler.” I’m not sure if it’s sadder that he thinks that should be goal one or that after a year and half with the team he’s still asking the question, unsure of the answer.

Shouldn't it read more like "First step is to figure out who we want to keep as an Oiler"

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#18 shanetrain
January 29 2010, 01:24PM
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If MPS comes to camp and shows well, how the hell can you not put him in the lineup?

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#19 The Real Scuba Steve
January 29 2010, 01:26PM
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El Duke wrote:

Yesterday he told Dan Barnes that the first step in fixing the problems he has now would be to find out “who truly wants to be an Oiler.” I’m not sure if it’s sadder that he thinks that should be goal one or that after a year and half with the team he’s still asking the question, unsure of the answer.

Shouldn't it read more like "First step is to figure out who we want to keep as an Oiler"

Scuba Steve? Is that You?

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#21 The Towel Boy
January 29 2010, 01:31PM
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Does anyone know how to cancel a bid on E-Bay?

I put in a bid for a "Mickey Mouse Outfit", and now it seems I am only six minutes away from owning the EDMONTON OILERS!

halp!

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#22 JeffG
January 29 2010, 01:32PM
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Yes, it is scary that Tambellini is sitting on his hands while all the other GM's in the NHL are making the key moves required to make their teams better.

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#23 The Real Scuba Steve
January 29 2010, 01:33PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

@ Someone stole my display name:

The first step now should be to move out surplus players for guys who can help the team next year and draft picks.

There shouldn't be any figuring involved; the plan should have been more or less complete by the 2008-09 trade deadline.

We still need to keep one of our puck mover defense men, but which one?

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#26 DanH
January 29 2010, 01:43PM
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What about wasting a third round pick on abney. Doesnt even get playing time in the dub. i dont know maybe guys like that are harder to come across than i think but there are fighters on the waiver wire every year. And When they need face off guys for some reason Kyle Brodziak isnt on this team anymore

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#27 Tapdog
January 29 2010, 01:44PM
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The Towel Boy wrote:

Does anyone know how to cancel a bid on E-Bay?

I put in a bid for a "Mickey Mouse Outfit", and now it seems I am only six minutes away from owning the EDMONTON OILERS!

halp!

Awesome!

This read is making my Friday:)

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#28 OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F
January 29 2010, 01:49PM
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@JeffG

Sarcasm?

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#29 Mr DeBakey
January 29 2010, 01:51PM
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"If MPS comes to camp and shows well, how the hell can you not put him in the lineup"

Of course he's going to show well in TC, so will Eberle & Seguin. As did Gags & Cogs, though they haven't helped the Oilers win too many games.

Datsyuk was 23 when he started playing in the NHL Zetterberg was 22.

Zach Parise left NCAA and played a full year in the AHL at 20

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#30 Harlie
January 29 2010, 01:53PM
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I agree...Ted Turner Prendergast should be canned.

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#31 rubbertrout
January 29 2010, 02:01PM
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Unfortunately us talking about who should be canned won't do anything. Until Daryl "Mac-T isn't going anywhere" Katz decides that it's time to clean house the status quo will continue.

The tough thing is that for people that have hung out on the waiting list for years to get seasons tickets, giving up the tickets isn't really an option. By the time the Oil turn things around who knows how long you'll have to wait to get tickets? All it takes is one round won in the playoffs to get the bandwagon rolling. By the time you get your tickets back you may be looking at a sh*tty team once again.

All I know if one thing, one losing streak will end on Saturday! I want the Oil to win there. The Canes are ahead of us by a few points and the prospect of the Flames being out of the playoffs with no first or second round picks makes my naughty bits quiver.

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#32 dragon
January 29 2010, 02:04PM
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good read, JW.

now, what do you think are the chances of Mr. Katz taking action?

it would be unbearable to see Tambo piss away a solid chance like this for re-building of this great team...

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#33 dragon
January 29 2010, 02:08PM
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DanH wrote:

What about wasting a third round pick on abney. Doesnt even get playing time in the dub. i dont know maybe guys like that are harder to come across than i think but there are fighters on the waiver wire every year. And When they need face off guys for some reason Kyle Brodziak isnt on this team anymore

correct. and Brodziak plays now with Havlat in Minnie.

Way to go Tambo!

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#34 Jmask5
January 29 2010, 02:10PM
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Fire KP. Give Tambo one more Summer. At the time I really liked the trade he made for POS and Kotalik I thought it was creative. Obviously now the trade looks bad with POS being a healthy scratch on a last place team. But hind sight is always 20/20 isn't it??

If Tambo is going to be fired I'd think outside the box in terms of who should replace him. Guys that come to mind are Mark Messier, and Bob Mackenzie (Yes that Bob Mackenzie). The guy is a hockey genius.

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#35 Jasmine
January 29 2010, 02:15PM
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I have no trust whatsoever in Tambi. I'm worried that Tambi will screw up at the draft and trade the first rounder.

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#36 Twiggs
January 29 2010, 02:24PM
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@ Jmask5 and the Bob MacKenzie comment:

No.

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#37 JeffG
January 29 2010, 02:29PM
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OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F wrote:

Sarcasm?

How many moves have you seen lately?

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#38 Jmask5
January 29 2010, 02:29PM
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@Twiggs

LOL. It could work if he had a really good assistant. Last year Minnesota interviewed Pierre Mguire for their GM spot and at the time I wondered why they didn't interview Bob Mackenzie since he knows a lot more about Hockey than Pierre. I believe there is a GM in one of the Pro leagues that used to be a Media guy but I'm not sure.

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#39 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 29 2010, 02:29PM
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@Jmask5

Why Messier? The guy has proven absolutely nothing as a non-player in the NHL. It's not like his help has put the Ranger anywhere better then they were last year.

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#40 JB
January 29 2010, 02:30PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Worth reading, another defence of Kevin Prendergast by Guy Flaming. I'm not in total agreement, but there are some good points there and I agree that in terms of substantive change Tambellini will probably axe Prendergast and the scouts and claim to have fixed the problem.

Having read this, I must say I'd be choked if Stu McGregor was s&*t-canned. What's your take on the Oilers drafts the last few years? I think they've made the most of their drafting the last few years...

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#41 rubbertrout
January 29 2010, 02:31PM
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Jmask5 wrote:

Fire KP. Give Tambo one more Summer. At the time I really liked the trade he made for POS and Kotalik I thought it was creative. Obviously now the trade looks bad with POS being a healthy scratch on a last place team. But hind sight is always 20/20 isn't it??

If Tambo is going to be fired I'd think outside the box in terms of who should replace him. Guys that come to mind are Mark Messier, and Bob Mackenzie (Yes that Bob Mackenzie). The guy is a hockey genius.

Mark Messier? No freaking way.

Bob MacKenzie? Better than Pierre Mcguire but still no. I don't think Bob wants to take sh*tty job that has no security when he has about the best gig going.

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#42 JeffG
January 29 2010, 02:32PM
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I think the trade for POS was done with a pre-salary cap mindset.

I think team management "style/methodology" is a moving target as the salary cap imposes itself on teams (and teams learn)

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#43 rubbertrout
January 29 2010, 02:34PM
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Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach wrote:

Why Messier? The guy has proven absolutely nothing as a non-player in the NHL. It's not like his help has put the Ranger anywhere better then they were last year.

~well putting together a World Hockey Championship team out of all stars who don't make the playoffs is the same as running an NHL franchise~

Steve Yzerman gets the same criticism. Even if Canada wins gold (or doesn't) putting that team together is a very different thing than running a franchise. Working for the same franchise as Ken Holland doesn't make you Ken Holland. Not that Detroit looks so good at the moment.

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#44 PaperDesigner
January 29 2010, 02:41PM
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Willis, you certainly lack some perspective. Do you know how many GMs would be fired for "firable signings"? ALL of them. There is not a GM in this league who does not have at least one bad signing to his credit that has been around for a while.

Simply, you CANNOT fire your GMs for mistakes, because all GMs make mistakes. You can fire teams for making too many, but if you want to "fire" Kevin Lowe, then pull up a list of all the moves Lowe has made, then show how they've done more harm than good. Same with Tambellini.

Also, you want to fire Tambellini for a contract that is a quarter way through. Where were we with Dustin Penner's contract a quarter way through that? Or Souray's? It may not change, but history shows that it certainly can.

In your own way, you've let yourself fall victim to the general whirlpool of negativity that everyone else has had.

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#45 Jmask5
January 29 2010, 02:41PM
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They won't fire Stu that would be preposterous.

@rubbertrout Interesting point about job security. If he were hired and fired I'm sure he would have plenty of job offers to go back to media. Anyway its just an idea because all the great GMs still have jobs.

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#46 Twiggs
January 29 2010, 02:44PM
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@Jmask5

I definitely agree that Mackenzie would be better than Mguire. Mguire would be a NIGHTMARE!

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#47 Moop
January 29 2010, 02:48PM
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Jmask5 wrote:

They won't fire Stu that would be preposterous.

@rubbertrout Interesting point about job security. If he were hired and fired I'm sure he would have plenty of job offers to go back to media. Anyway its just an idea because all the great GMs still have jobs.

Unfortunately, just because an idea seems (and very likely is) stupid, I don't think it's safe to assume they won't do it anyway.

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#48 rubbertrout
January 29 2010, 02:50PM
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PaperDesigner wrote:

Willis, you certainly lack some perspective. Do you know how many GMs would be fired for "firable signings"? ALL of them. There is not a GM in this league who does not have at least one bad signing to his credit that has been around for a while.

Simply, you CANNOT fire your GMs for mistakes, because all GMs make mistakes. You can fire teams for making too many, but if you want to "fire" Kevin Lowe, then pull up a list of all the moves Lowe has made, then show how they've done more harm than good. Same with Tambellini.

Also, you want to fire Tambellini for a contract that is a quarter way through. Where were we with Dustin Penner's contract a quarter way through that? Or Souray's? It may not change, but history shows that it certainly can.

In your own way, you've let yourself fall victim to the general whirlpool of negativity that everyone else has had.

Did you read his previous article in defence of K-Lowe's previous moves? The fact of the matter is that although he has made some positive moves in the past he is so far removed from them that he needs to go.

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#49 Ogden Brother Jr. - Team Strudwick for coach
January 29 2010, 02:53PM
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@rubbertrout

Messier hasn't even put a team together yet has he?

To me the reason guys like Messier and Yzerman get the jobs for team canada is for their name and because the more qualified people have bigger positions in the NHL.

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#50 jeanshorts
January 29 2010, 02:59PM
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I wrote this on my own website, but since no one reads it, I'm going to write it again on here. Ahem:

I like to compare the Oilers under Steve Tambellini's watch to a burning skyscraper. Basically, Tambo rolled up, looked up and saw that the building was slowly burning at the top. Someone tried to run and call for help but he stopped them and was all like "Wait, let's just see where this goes".

And right now that same building has basically been reduced to a pile of smoldering rubble, and someone asked him what they should do now, to which he responded "Let's just see where this goes".

I'll give it to him, the man has some serious patience.

*curls up in the fetal position*

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