Craig MacTavish, like any general manager of a losing team, has taken some heat this season. The heat’s been made worse by things he said in the summer, when he sold Oilers fans on "bold moves" and promised action.
The funny thing is that by Edmonton standards, we’ve seen that action.
Steve Tambellini Mid-Season
The entire list of trades and signings made to add players by Steve Tambellini during mid-season follows below:
- March 2009: Patrick O’Sullivan and a second round pick acquired for Erik Cole and a fifth round pick
- March 2009: Ales Kotalik acquired for a second round pick
- March 2010: Ryan Whitney and a sixth round pick acquired for Lubomir Visnovsky
- February 2012: Nick Schultz acquired for Tom Gilbert
- April 2013: Jerred Smithson acquired for a fourth round pick
- March 2013: Mike Brown acquired for a fourth round pick
There’s an old line about some skaters having to play their way into midseason form after a summer spent getting out of shape; Tambellini was the general manager equivalent of that, spending the winter in hibernation and then coming to life at the trade deadline to make like-for-slightly-inferior trades or acquire irrelevant pieces for draft picks.
Jerred Smithson is the ultimate Tambellini player. Edmonton needed a centre months earlier, and the solution Tambellini came up with was a marginal fourth-liner two months after he might have been useful.
Craig MacTavish hasn’t made a midseason trade to add players yet either – though he’s shipped out Ladislav Smid and Jason LaBarbera and Mike Brown – but he did make a free agent signing to bolster his team.
Ilya Bryzgalov was signed as the solution to a problem.
The problem, of course, was Devan Dubnyk’s implosion, an implosion that cost the Oilers dearly. For all the harping about how Edmonton is no better this year than last, if Dubnyk had managed the 0.920 save percentage he did one season ago the team would be 21 goals better than it is and likely be ahead of both Calgary and Nashville. It’s an implosion that represents more than half the gap between where Edmonton is and being a break-even team by goal differential.
The difference between MacTavish and his predecessor was that he didn’t wait until March before getting proactive. He gave Dubnyk as much time as he could, and then made a move. On a team that once handed the reins over to Jeff Deslauriers after its starter got hurt, this is a novelty.
It’s also an encouraging sign. I’ve had many people tell me they can’t tell the difference between the Oilers under Tambellini and the Oilers under MacTavish. This is a big one. And while the picture’s awfully black right now, and lots more changes need to be made, Edmonton already made the most crucial decision it could have: firing the man who led the descent into the abyss, and replacing him with someone willing to make moves before March.
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