Blame Steve Tambellini

Jonathan Willis
November 01 2013 07:55AM

There’s a long list of things wrong with the Oilers right now, but somewhere near the top of the list has to be the state of the defence corps. With the exception of Jeff Petry (and possibly Anton Belov) there hasn’t really been a positive story on the Oilers’ blue line this season, and the only way to really address the problem is with top-pairing talent – something that can be extremely difficult to find.

It’s something the Oilers once had.

The Kevin Lowe Blue

Kevin Lowe isn’t a popular figure with the fanbase these days, and that’s understandable – whatever his exact duties with the team, he’s the one prominent figure that still has a job after years and years of losing, and it doesn’t help that he occasionally says tone-deaf things. But whatever his state of popularity, the blue line that he left Steve Tambellini in the summer of 2008 was pretty solid.

Here’s that group, then and now:

  • 1. Sheldon Souray. Played just under 25 minutes per night, adding snarl and offensive production (53 points). He’s hurt now but played 21 minutes per game for Anaheim last season and did many of the same things.
  • 2. Lubomir Visnovsky. Played 23 minutes per night and added a brilliant puck-moving presence. He did exactly the same things for the playoff-bound New York Islanders last season.
  • 3. Tom Gilbert. Played 22 minutes per night and recorded a career-best 45 points. These days he’s Florida’s number two defenceman and one of only two guys with an even-or-better plus/minus on the team.
  • 4. Denis Grebeshkov. Played 21 minutes per game, posting 39 points and a plus-12 rating. Edmonton just waived him after bringing him back from the KHL in the summer.
  • 5. Steve Staios. Played 20 minutes per game in the twilight of his career; retired these days.
  • 6. Ladislav Smid. Played 15 minutes per game in 2008-09 and is a top-four NHL defenceman for the Oilers these days.
  • 7. Jason Strudwick. Edmonton’s seventh defenceman in 2008-09 has since retired and WHAT’S THAT HE WRITES HERE!

That was an awfully good group five years ago, and (if Souray were healthy) four of those guys would still be useful NHL players. What happened?

Summers of Steve

Basically, players got moved without ever being replaced.

Sheldon Souray got hurt, clearly felt slighted by the team, and went public with his feelings. The Oilers, not wanting their impressionable young players to be unduly influenced by Souray’s opinion that management would struggle to differentiate between an arse and an elbow, first exiled the defender to the minors and then bought him out entirely. In the years since, Souray had a really good season in Dallas for pennies on the dollar and then a pretty good one in Anaheim. Essentially, the Oilers alienated a useful player whose skillset was a strong fit for the team and then flushed him for nothing.

Lubomir Visnovsky drove old-timey coach Pat Quinn nuts with crazy things like “puck movement” and “occasionally pinching in the offensive zone” so Tambellini dumped him to Anaheim in exchange for Ryan Whitney. Visnovsky’s still a useful top-four defenceman, while the much younger Whitney is now a frequent healthy scratch in Florida.

Tom Gilbert drove the fan-base crazy by being soft, so the Oilers traded him to Minnesota. Nick Schultz, the player brought in to replace him, is a third-pairing defender these days. Gilbert has had his problems – including a buyout in Minnesota after a dreadful PDO season last year – but he’s a number two defenceman with the Panthers today.

Denis Grebeshkov and Steve Staios were moved for picks in solid trades, while Ladislav Smid still plays for the team.

Add it all together, and the Oilers managed to turn a solid one-through-three group five years ago into Nick Schultz today. That isn’t the whole answer, but it’s the single-biggest reason why the defence corps is the mess it is right now.

Around the Nation

Just a reminder to sign up for StreakCred. There's a great new monthly prize for November, and a portion of the proceeds go to charity. Sign up here to compete.

Also, feel free to check out some of my recent articles:

Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
#101 Wax Man Riley
November 02 2013, 01:47PM
Trash it!
Fresh Mess wrote:

Well yes, I do think Milbury or Maclean know a hell of a lot more about the game than you or certainly me. Doesn't mean I always agree with their judgement.

And was Quinn the worst coach, or was he just saddled with the worst team ever assembled in franchise history? He did not have the benefit of icing Hall, Eberle, RNH etc. His core was a past-best Ethan Moreau and Shawn Horcoff. That teams elite scorers were a rookie Ganger and Ales Hemsky (lol).

By the way, how did things go after they got rid of Quinn and brought in Renney? Kreuger? Now Eakins with a supposedly much better team?

My interpretation of your remarks was that you were suggesting Quinn was a foolish old man, which I found to be incorrect and disrespectful. Fair game to be critical but references to age related feebleness are offside. Maybe I was reading something that wasn't there.

I will submit that this team would be much better off now had they fired Lowe et all and made Quinn GM to manage this 'rebuild'

I do think Quinn was the worst head coach in Oilers history. There were times he didn't know game days or times or even which players he had playing that night.

great for a quote tho.

#102 Wax Man Riley
November 02 2013, 01:49PM
Trash it!

Also, for the record, it was Tambo's fault. All of it.

He was the perfect patsy.... dress him up like a puppet and trot him out in front of the cameras. Probably the worst GM in history. If you go back and watch Oil Change or any interview he was ever in, the guy didn't know the mic from his wiener.

Comments are closed for this article.