Steve Tambellini, The Devil You Know

Jonathan Willis
March 13 2012 12:02PM

It was suggested to me today – as it has been, off and on, for some time now – that the Oilers would be making a terrible mistake if they failed to renew Steve Tambellini. Tambellini launched this rebuild, the logic goes, and has taken a number of positive steps, and to throw him under the bus and bring in somebody new would jeopardize those accomplishments.

I’ve spent a significant amount of time the last while studying rebuilds, both successful and failed. It’s been a difficult thing to do because few teams in recent memory have performed as poorly as the Oilers, and comparisons to a pre-salary cap NHL are flawed because teams could spend whatever it took to keep their high-end collection of talent together.

The obvious, successful comparisons that everyone remembers are to Pittsburgh and Chicago.

Pittsburgh had five years of high picks before turning into instant contenders, like someone had flipped a switch. They lucked out a little bit because there was a lockout in between, but – aside from the absence of a Crosby-like talent (and arguably, given that he scored 85 points as a rookie, a Malkin-like talent) – there’s a reasonable case to be made that the Oilers are on track to imitate them.

The Chicago timeline is more difficult to match, because the Oilers are already falling away from it. Chicago had two years of being really terrible after the lockout. In their third year (where the Oilers are now) they finished with a plus-4 goal differential and picked outside the top-10. The next year, they went to the Western Conference Finals.

The other thing about these successful comparisons is that they included another ingredient. Those teams both fired their rebuild G.M. The Penguins canned Craig Patrick in the summer of 2006, replacing him with Ray Shero. The team had one last poor year and then started ripping up the standings. Chicago had more success under Tallon in a shorter timeframe than Edmonton has had under Tambellini, but there were specific concerns – his bad contracts in 2005-06 helped launch the rebuild, and specific decisions he made would eventually help to handicap the team when Toews/Kane finished their entry-level contracts, forcing the Blackhawks to dump talent after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010. The Blackhawks acted on these mistakes, demoting Tallon and handing the reins over to Stan Bowman, who won the Stanley Cup as a rookie G.M.

Other teams opted to hang on to the managers who guided their teams out of a building effort. Atlanta hired Don Waddell to guide their expansion team, and slowly the team started to improve. Sure, there were warning signs, but their early progression was highly similar to that experienced in both Pittsburgh and Edmonton. Ultimately, the team was never able to complement their high-end talent with reliable support – either through the draft or free agency. Those signs were there early on, but unstable ownership kept Waddell at the helm.

Then there were the Islanders. Unlike a lot of pre-salary cap teams, Long Island had a tight budget to work under, so it’s easier to make a comparison to them. In a lot of ways, their record under Mike Milbury looks like that of the Oilers. Ultimately, when it came time to turn the harvest of young talent into a championship team, Milbury failed – because while he was fine guiding a team down into the cellar, he wasn’t so good at lifting them back out. A trio of first round playoff losses eventually became all the Islanders had to show for years of ineptitude.

It’s important not to make this more than it really is – four teams hardly represents definitive proof that a rebuild G.M. can’t also be a championship G.M. What it does show is that the ‘devil you know’ approach is flawed – a shift in management doesn’t necessarily mean a second wave of rebuilding.

Many recent Stanley Cup winners can attest to that fact. Much of the core of last year’s Boston team (Chara, Rask, Lucic, Marchand) was drafted or acquired by Jeff Gorton, who ran the Bruins’ amateur procurement department and then served as interim G.M. Peter Chiarelli, however, ultimately guided the team to victory. We’ve discussed the Hawks and Penguins already; the champion before them was Anaheim – a team largely built by Bryan Murray, but eventually led to the cup by Brian Burke. The Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 owed a lot to Rick Dudley, but it was Jay Feaster who put the finishing touches on the team.

Again, I am not here making the case that Steve Tambellini needs to go for the Oilers to win it all.  I don't know that.  I do know that sometimes, a shift at the top part way through a rebuild leads to success that otherwise may not have come about.  In short, I do know that while Tambellini may not need to go for the Oilers to hoist the Cup, by no means does he need to stay.

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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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#51 Jason Gregor
March 13 2012, 08:07PM
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Dipstick wrote:

cap geek is not showing any NTC or NMC on the contract.

He has a no trade clause, that kicks in on July 1st. Tambellini said that at his press conference when they announced the signing.

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#52 Saytalk
March 13 2012, 08:27PM
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The comparison to Pittsburgh is a reach. You build a team around centres, defence and a goalie; not wingers. The Pens drafted Crosby, Malkin and Staal to be their top 3 centres and Fleury as their goalie. Based on this, the true rebuild didn't really start until we drafted Nugent-Hopkins and there's still a long way to go.

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#53 Fresh Mess
March 13 2012, 09:09PM
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The President of Hockey operations title is ridiculous. What a waste of money.

THe GM is the head of hockey operations. The team should have only one president.

The Oilers org is just a mess of excecutive title shuffling. Laforge is still 'team president', but is no longer CEO. Bob Black is now the senior executive who reports to Katz.

My suggestion is to promote Tambellini to President of Hockey operations. Hire a new GM. Promote Lowe to Supreme Grand Master in Principal of Hockey operations. Pay Renney a million a year to sit home in his easy chair as "Senior Hockey Advisor" and replace him at Head Coach with Messier or MacT.

The Oilers brain-trust could then follow the same logic used in Hemsky's contract and sign Dustin Penner to a 2 year/$10 million deal. We could then look forward to Edmonton bloggers telling us that according to the ShaneCorsonReal metric Penner is actually a very effective player and a bargain at $5 million per year.

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#54 Oilcruzer
March 13 2012, 10:57PM
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Blow it up again??? WtH? That's ridiculous.

This team is two players and a little maturity away from contending.

It's hard to motivate when there is nothing to achieve. Getting hurt now is dumb, so good luck equaling the effort of teams fighting for their lives.

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#55 gravis82
March 13 2012, 11:40PM
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Dman09 wrote:

Personally I would rather him stay in Russia. It is obvious that all he cares about is the money he makes. He is not good representation for the sport. Its like the whole we make a lot of money but we spend a lot of money crap. I don't care how much the insurance is on your Ferrari I still think that it is embarrassing when atheletes make more money then people saving lives and working many more hours.

since when does money not turn the world. its a business contract, not a moral contract. The cost of breaking the contract (?any?) was much less than the benefit gained from breaking the contract (i.e. going to KHL$$). He made tons of money. Who wouldn't want that. Business, corporations government, people...do this all the time. get real

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#56 Reg Dunlop
March 14 2012, 12:51AM
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Oilcruzer wrote:

Blow it up again??? WtH? That's ridiculous.

This team is two players and a little maturity away from contending.

It's hard to motivate when there is nothing to achieve. Getting hurt now is dumb, so good luck equaling the effort of teams fighting for their lives.

Yea, 2 players away. Gretzky and Orr. Even then teams that care, teams that play for each other, teams like Pitt, Nash, NYR, StL, even the Godless Flames, they would still run us.

The oil are still so far from being competitive over a full season...

Motivation? How about pride and self respect, regardless if its game 10 or 70. Players oozing pride are in short supply here. Wouldn't Glencross help in that regard now? Real good move that, saving some money to help resign Hemsky.

I'm sure many will disagree,but it was unfortunate the oil had {have} lotto picks 3years running when the draft classes had no true franchise players.

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#57 Oilcruzer
March 14 2012, 07:26AM
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@Reg Dunlop

Disagree. St Louis is another example. Two to three years ago, They had expectations that were greater than the level of maturity.

They didn't blow it up.

They are in first place now.

Chicago. Ditto.

Detroit has the luxury of being strong, so they don't rush and suffer with rookies. When they are on deck, they are ready.

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#58 TV~x6
March 14 2012, 10:14AM
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@Jonathan Willis

I really don't understand how you make such a point of Gorton being the man responsible for the Bears turn around & eventual Championship, yet you still give Bryan Murray the credit for building the base/core of the Fowl's Cup winning team before Burke even took over the Hockey Club..?

The man who built that franchise from the ground up was/is David McNab. He is the reason there is a Stanley Cup banner hanging in the rafters at the Pond, not Bryan Murray, nor Brian Burke.

If you are going to stand on your soapbox just to make sure your point has merit to it & that you firmly stand behind your view on the issue, then how about giving credit where the credit is truly due & not just what you think makes your opinion on this matter worthy to others just to suit your needs JW..?

x6

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