Edmonton Oilers fire Steve Tambellini, Craig MacTavish to replace him

Jonathan Willis
April 15 2013 10:02AM

As broken by TSN's Ryan Rishaug, general manager Steve Tambellini has been fired by the Edmonton Oilers.

Who replaces Tambellini? Both TSN's Bob McKenzie and CBC's Elliotte Friedman report that Craig MacTavish will be the Oilers' new general manager and that former Columbus G.M. Scott Howson will be taking over MacTavish's role with the team.

Club president Kevin Lowe will hold a press conference at 9:30 MT, at which point it is expected the team will officially confirm the reported changes. Update: Oilers confirm all of the above.

Initial Reaction

  • The decision to replace Tambellini was necessary and long overdue. For that alone, this was a positive move.
  • The Oilers are being pilloried on Twitter for the decision to replace Tambellini with an internal candidate, but while Craig MacTavish is seen by some as more of the same, that's likely not entirely fair. He was a strong head coach, and he only returned to the Oilers last summer. His CV is pretty strong and while nobody knows how well he'll do in the top job he's a bright hockey man and a legitimate candidate.
  • Also worth noting: the last time the Oilers went outside the organization, they ended up with Steve Tambellini. Sometimes the grass isn't greener.
  • Scott Howson previously worked as the assistant general manager in Edmonton before taking the top job in Columbus, and was obviously fairly successful in the role. The perception of him has changed markedly since then, but like other former G.M.'s - Don Waddell in Pittsburgh, John Ferguson, Jr. in San Jose - he may be better suited to a depth role. Certainly the Oilers wouldn't be expanding his role if they weren't impressed with his work in a similar role previously. 
  • Why not wait until summer? The obvious answer is that the team felt they had their guy in MacTavish. With that said, I'd have preferred seeing a full search in the summer that included external candidates. It's not like the Oilers have a bunch of trades and moves to make over the next few weeks.
  • This is a plum job. Is there a team in the league - outside of the current Stanley Cup contenders - that has more raw material to work with than the Oilers over the next few seasons? 
  • The perception that Steve Tambellini was just a puppet and that nothing will change until Kevin Lowe goes is not one that I buy into. The Oilers were a better team under Lowe than they were Tambellini, and when Tambellini came in there were significant changes in how the team was run - most notably in the head coaching department, where a pair of ex-Vancouver bench bosses were hired. 

To sum up: replacing Tambellini was a necessary move, and while I would have preferred a full search over the summer for a new general manager, MacTavish would have been a legitimate candidate in such a search. This isn't an ideal decision, but the Oilers are better in the hockey operations department today than they were yesterday.  

Comments from the Press Conference

  • Kevin Lowe thanks Tambellini and his family for their service to the Oilers, says he released him of his duties yesterday,
  • Lowe: "Despite showing areas of improvement... the fact of the matter is we are not where we want to be right now nore where we should be."
  • Lowe says that Craig MacTavish "played the lead role" in acquiring Justin Schultz last summer.
  • Lowe has lots of praise for other areas of the organization - the AHL, the WHL - but sharply critical of where the Oilers are now.
  • MacTavish: "I have great faith in Scott [Howson]."
  • MacTavish: "I'm an impatient guy, and I bring that impatience to this situation, and I think we're at the stage... where we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk."
  • MacTavish: "I know every time I turn my alarm off there are 29 teams trying to beat my brains in."
  • MacTavish is on fire, hammering away on the need for the team to make immediate changes, to take some risks to get to the next level, to add depth to the organization. 
  • MacTavish: "It makes very little difference what I say today. What really, truly matters is.. what we do tomorrow."
  • Lowe, asked by Mark Spector how this represents meaningful change, says the team has much more ammunition now if what he means is that they aren't capable as a group. 
  • Lowe: "The timing didn't have anything to do with an article that was written."
  • Steve Tambellini had one year left on his deal.
  • Lowe on the 8-2 win over Calgary: "Even our biggest critics thought that we had arrived." Uh, no. 
  • MacTavish references the Oilers' five Stanley Cups when asked about how the group that made the mess that Tambellini couldn't clean up is going to do a better job than Tambellini did. That was a long time ago.
  • MacTavish says he doesn't know that he's ever failed the organization in any of his previous positions. 
  • Lowe: "You're talking about the team that came within one period of winning the Stanley Cup. Someone in the crowd: "Seven years ago."
  • Lowe: "Are you saying to me you're getting impatient after three years?"
  • Lowe says there's only one general manager in hockey who has won more Stanley cups than him, so he knows al ittle bit about winning.
  • Lowe: "The general manager makes the decisions in hockey, my position... is similar to the chairman... I'm a liaison to our owner Daryl Katz."
  • Lowe: I don't think there was ever a time when Tambellini wasn't able to do something he wanted to do, or I asked him to do something he didn't want to do.
  • MacTavish, asked about grit in the top-six: "Grit without skill, as I mentioned, is not something that's going to move the dial of our team forward."
  • MacTavish talks about acquiring "Milan Lucic-type" players, told "I don't know if you're allowed to say that." 
  • MacTavish, smiling, "Just happy times" when asked about this being the anniversary of his departure from the Oilers.
  • MacTavish: 'If you can't do the difficult things that this job requires, how can you ask your players to do them.' 
  • Lowe: "For the record, Craig stepped down four years ago... Tambi didn't fire him."
  • MacTavish: "If you're referring to the young core that we paid an exceptionally high price to acquire, we would part with those assets very begrudgingly."
  • Good news for Ralph Krueger; MacTavish says that the team's burned through four coaches and that it's very remote that coaching is the problem. "I give Ralph a lot of credit."
  • MacTavish: "My physical health is good," jokes that his mental health is open to discussion.

MacTavish came across pretty well, though as he says he's going to be judged on actions, not words. He repeatedly tossed Steve Tambellini under the bus during the press conference without mentioning his name, alluding to his impatience with the slow process of the rebuild, and talking about the need to take action, to take some risks to get ahead. The "if you can't do the difficult things line" was particularly noteworthy in that regard.

The low point was both Lowe and MacTavish referencing the Oilers' glory days victories at the press conference today. A Stanley Cup ring as a player (or five, for that matter) is a lot different than a Stanley Cup ring as a general manager - not that there isn't cross-over, but the skillset to build a team is completely different than the skillset to score a goal or block a shot. Neither man is doing a job on the ice today, and they shouldn't expect any forgiveness for a poor record in the front office based on their work on the ice. It's a different job. 

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is Managing Editor of the Nation Network. He also currently writes for the Edmonton Journal's Cult of Hockey, Grantland, and Hockey Prospectus. His work has appeared at theScore, ESPN and Puck Daddy. He was previously founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue. Contact him at jonathan (dot) willis (at) live (dot) ca.
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#151 DSF
April 15 2013, 11:31AM
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-30- wrote:

Whoever asked Lowe that question has gigantic balls. I wish more MSM would act that way and not ask the EASY questions.

Rishaug I think.

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#152 madjam
April 15 2013, 11:35AM
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Many years late , but i said they should have promoted and made MacT . Gm years ago when they let him go as coach . Finally vindicated , after being vilified by most of ON for my forsight .

Side note : I see or hear nothing about Tam responding to him being let go . Why ? Management not saying much either . Lowe fumbling around about "boys club" allegiance - looks unconfortable answering those questions .

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#153 Will
April 15 2013, 11:35AM
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Any idea on what exposing ourselves to risk is going to entail?

I mean, I think the vast majority of ON readers and posters means 'risking' a return on Hemsky and Gagner. But it could also mean losing one of the wonder kids.

Or even worse it could mean losing our first round pick.

Our biggest gaping holes are size in the top six, a back up goalie, and of course a legit top 2 defender.

So, with baited breath, I hope the bold solution to one of these problems is not to trade our first rounder.

THoughts?

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#154 Reg Dunlop
April 15 2013, 11:37AM
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Ducey wrote:

Lets say they fired Lowe and undertook a massive worldwide search to find a replacement GM.

It would come down to someone who is a retread (like Burke who has made some good moves but also some terrible ones like the Kessel trade - one of the worst in history) or someone with no real managment experience thats an up and comer.

Tambo was highly regarded and an "outside" guy from a successful organization that needed to take the next step. How did that work?

MacT has the kind of life experience (cancer, prison, Stanley Cups, being fired as a coach, MBA) that should give him the wisdom needed. He has been around the game at all different levels (even a broadcast announcer). He has Howson to help him. I also don't think he is going to take any crap from Lowe or anyone else.

Who would you put in the job instead of him?

Just how is spending time in the clink a positive? Will he get soap-on-a-rope for the shower room? While I guess we must give the convict a chance, clearly Tambo was a patsy. As long as KL remains, the fundamental problem remains. Changing coaches did nothing, shuffling GMs likely will have the same impact.

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#155 The Soup Fascist
April 15 2013, 11:38AM
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We will see if MacT can run a hockey team or not (assuming he is allowed to). I agree some of his talent usage and assessment when he coached are rightly a cause for concern.

But say what you want, the guy is a sharp dude and carries himself VERY well in these situations. MacT looks and sounds like a guy who could run a multi-hundred million dollar business. Not sure you could say that about his predeceasor or the guy to his left.

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#156 Jeffff
April 15 2013, 11:40AM
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The similarities are different.

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#157 Mike Krushelnyski
April 15 2013, 11:43AM
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Clyde Frog wrote:

Wait, what did Lowe loose?

Tambo's Magic Tie, so he could put it on MacTavish.

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#158 Kev
April 15 2013, 11:43AM
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How many losing seasons will MacTavish get ?

The more things change the more they stay the same.

Daryl couldn't fire his friend Kevin Lowe

Oilers are doomed mark my words.

Katz deserves this team

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#159 Dave Lumley
April 15 2013, 11:44AM
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Now he says, we do what ever it takes, search high and low.

What was wrong with doing that 10 days ago, you were the VP F.C.sakes.

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#160 Smokey
April 15 2013, 11:47AM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

This just in ..... Oilers have given up their 1st round pick in 2013 in order to ammend the NHL trade / acquisition deadline and have acquired Toby Pederson, Marty "Don't call me Harry" Reasoner and Liam Reddox.

Now we are getting somewhere!

At least the Toby, Marty, and Liam never quit like the shiney new first rounders

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#161 A-Mc
April 15 2013, 11:49AM
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HA what a day. At this point, i dont care what has to change as long as something is changed.

If MacT has to be the new GM then so be it. Change has to happen this summer, good or bad - I believe the pressure on MacT will get the ball rolling.

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#162 Harlie
April 15 2013, 11:50AM
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DSF wrote:

Rishaug I think.

I think it was him too.

He'll be on with Gregor sometime today so I'll be listening. Ol' Shauger Dauger likes getting into matches with MacT...haha

Should be an interesting Oil Lunch with the shill..uhh I mean Stauffer.

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#163 Rocket
April 15 2013, 11:52AM
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MacTavish: "I'm an impatient guy, and I bring that impatience to this situation, and I think we're at the stage... where we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk."

Hmmmm...risky.

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#164 Nick
April 15 2013, 11:54AM
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MacTavish will do something bold and find a 4th line player for a 2nd rd pick.

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#165 Rocket
April 15 2013, 11:54AM
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Shouldn't The Oilers have fired Tambo before the trade deadline so MacT could have made those impatient moves?

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#166 Smokey
April 15 2013, 11:57AM
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Hayek wrote:

First Tambellini, then Brownlee? That would make a great difference for Oilers, and Oilers blogoshpere!

Why the hate to Brownlee, why don't just stop reading it. Hockeybuzz misses ya.

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#167 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 11:58AM
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John Chambers wrote:

This will make for an interesting draft + summer.

Let the trade rumors fly and the good times roll!

I agree. I haven't been this excited for the off-season in ever! lol

Should be a busy one. I like it.

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#168 Scary Gary
April 15 2013, 11:59AM
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MacTavish is blaming their present position on the 80's!?

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#169 Jeffff
April 15 2013, 12:00PM
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Oilers have been a team that plays prevent defense in all of there decisions.

They will be a a team in perpetual rebuild.

Oiler fan better get use to disappointment. Much more to come

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#170 Smokey
April 15 2013, 12:00PM
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Rocket wrote:

MacTavish: "I'm an impatient guy, and I bring that impatience to this situation, and I think we're at the stage... where we have to do some bold things. We have to expose ourselves to some semblance of risk."

Hmmmm...risky.

Probably working on a Carteresk trade with Howsen where they trade our first for a bad contract and a guy who won't probably return their phone calls.

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#171 Fresh Mess
April 15 2013, 12:00PM
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Disgraceful performance from Lowe. Absolutely refuses to accept any responsibility for his lousy performance. He is truly delusional.

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#172 Romulus' Apotheosis
April 15 2013, 12:01PM
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Scary Gary wrote:

MacTavish is blaming their present position on the 80's!?

The reason they've been good to middling to terrible since the early 90s is because of winning all those cups...

makes terrible sense...

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#173 Gerald R. Ford
April 15 2013, 12:01PM
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Milhouse: "Bob, respond to the 'Old Boys' Club Accusation."

Stauffer: "Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... Game 7...blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... Pronger trade... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah....Hossa... blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah... Heatley... blah, blah... bitumen bubble."

What? What?

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#174 Dave Lumley
April 15 2013, 12:04PM
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So, the team goes on a win streak now? Shades of MacTavish in 2007, lets win a couple and get a poorer pick.

The wonder lingers, but shame remains.

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#175 Rocket
April 15 2013, 12:05PM
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Smokey wrote:

Probably working on a Carteresk trade with Howsen where they trade our first for a bad contract and a guy who won't probably return their phone calls.

Agreed.

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#176 Smokey
April 15 2013, 12:05PM
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The Soup Fascist wrote:

Right about a lot of the guys. Not sure if that is fair to say about yakupov and certainly you can't say Hall has been anything but a trooper.

Your right, I was speaking generally...

I give Yak credit, the kid cares...so they will probably bench his ass next game.

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#177 DSF
April 15 2013, 12:07PM
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Czar wrote:

I think the change of koolaid from grape to cherry will be both refreshing and satisfying.

It needs carbonation.

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#178 Rocket
April 15 2013, 12:07PM
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Czar wrote:

I think the change of koolaid from grape to cherry will be both refreshing and satisfying.

I LOVE cherry koolaid. Grape is so yesterday.

Whoops double post sorry.

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#179 Fresh Mess
April 15 2013, 12:08PM
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Lack of accountability in this franchise starts at the top.

BTW- what is the point of calling Howson "Senior VP of hockey ops" -- is there a junior VP of hockey ops?

Why not just call him vice president? Oh I forgot, this is a team that has a gm AND a "President of Hockey operations"

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#180 Harlie
April 15 2013, 12:09PM
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May as well shutdown the food court at Kingsway now..

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_W56x_LP__rg/TNwGJ_TshJI/AAAAAAAABNU/aD6YbByIKr4/s1600/tambo.jpg

And the tie...the TIE!

http://chamberofcomics.blogspot.ca/2010/02/mikes-3-of-15.html

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#181 Czar
April 15 2013, 12:10PM
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DSF wrote:

It needs carbonation.

Yes but not as much vodka.

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#182 Will
April 15 2013, 12:10PM
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The day the Oilers got into 8th in the West, Tambillini called down to Kruger and said, "what the hell are you doing? How am I supposed to build a team if you're not going to get me high draft picks? "

To which Kruger replied, "well have you explored the trade or UFA markets?"

"Listen Kruger, you didn't get hired to think and win, you got hired to be my fall guy so I can keep my 8 year plan of rebuilding through the draft alive. With the way the lottery is this year, I can do something no other GM in the history of the NHl has ever done, draft 1st overall 4 times in a row. You are not going to take that from me. So start tanking now!"

So Kruger went over Tambi's head and promptly got him fired.

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#183 Smokey
April 15 2013, 12:11PM
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Can't decide whether to listen to the Oilers Information Minister Bob "the Iraqi" Stauffer spin this BS, or to listen to the new voice of the Nation, Spec, who in my books at least today gained some major props asking the right question today at the press conference, that an old school Bob would of asked 5 years ago.

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#184 Obiwan Eberle - Team Silver Fox
April 15 2013, 12:11PM
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At least we can be sure of one thing...the rebuild is over.

that and the fresh new classic flavor of koolaid will be AWESOME!

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#185 The Other Ron Burgundy
April 15 2013, 12:12PM
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Will wrote:

Any idea on what exposing ourselves to risk is going to entail?

I mean, I think the vast majority of ON readers and posters means 'risking' a return on Hemsky and Gagner. But it could also mean losing one of the wonder kids.

Or even worse it could mean losing our first round pick.

Our biggest gaping holes are size in the top six, a back up goalie, and of course a legit top 2 defender.

So, with baited breath, I hope the bold solution to one of these problems is not to trade our first rounder.

THoughts?

Tambo, is that you?

The problem is the things you say we need are things that take 3-5 years to develop if you draft them (other than a backup goalie where we should be focussing all efforts on signing Anton Khudobin or Thomas Greiss in the offseason). Size in the top 6 = "power forward", = a minimum 4 years from drafting to dominating. See, Pacioretty, Max for a recent example. Top-2 defenders are even more rare and delicate (see e.g. Johnson, Erik, and probably Hedman, Victor for recent examples of how this can go wrong).

If we are at long-last in "win-now" mode (please, God/Vishnu/Buddha let it be so) then they should absolutely consider giving up first round picks if that is part of the asking price for established players that fit the needs.

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#186 Smokey
April 15 2013, 12:13PM
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@Eddie Shore

I would of been happier if they fired Lowe and Howsen, at least it would of been 2 for 1. Tambo was a puppet, the patsy, the fall guy, he'll be back in 3 years.

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#187 Tambo's downfall
April 15 2013, 12:19PM
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This video pretty much sums up Tambo's downfall: http://captiongenerator.com/3730/Problems-with-the-Oilers-Lineup

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#188 15w40
April 15 2013, 12:21PM
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So is discussing a "Lucic" type player considered tampering??

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#189 Will
April 15 2013, 12:24PM
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The Other Ron Burgundy wrote:

Tambo, is that you?

The problem is the things you say we need are things that take 3-5 years to develop if you draft them (other than a backup goalie where we should be focussing all efforts on signing Anton Khudobin or Thomas Greiss in the offseason). Size in the top 6 = "power forward", = a minimum 4 years from drafting to dominating. See, Pacioretty, Max for a recent example. Top-2 defenders are even more rare and delicate (see e.g. Johnson, Erik, and probably Hedman, Victor for recent examples of how this can go wrong).

If we are at long-last in "win-now" mode (please, God/Vishnu/Buddha let it be so) then they should absolutely consider giving up first round picks if that is part of the asking price for established players that fit the needs.

Fair point, but don't we have other assets that could be traded for some of these things? I mean, a LW power forward with a bit less skill but a lot more size and grit, is not the most difficult player to acquire in the NHL. One with size and skill is hard to find mind you. But I think it's reasonable to think that if Semin is getting paid 7 mill per year, then why couldn't Hemsky be shipped in a hockey trade fro someone with a bit more size, but a bit less skill?

The reason I don't want our first round traded is because of all the high end large centre men that could potentially replace Gagner, thus making him tradable for some legitimate defensive help.

Or, if our sacrifice of Tambillini to the hockey Gods is favoured, perhaps we win the lottery and grab Seth Jones. Maybe he's not a number one guy right away, but he will be. I mean, imagine our future with Jones, Schultz, and Klefbomb on our blue, and Hall, Nuge, Ebs, and Yak on forward?

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#190 Fred
April 15 2013, 12:24PM
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Great Lowe is still the president.

His 25year rebuild is looking somewhat positive.

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#191 The Soup Fascist
April 15 2013, 12:27PM
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jason wrote:

wow, that was the most gutless and cowardly performance i've ever seen. i'm no fan of tambo but for lowe and mact to get up their and act as though they had notning to do with this failure and let tambo take the fall for it all, was shameful. who the hell do you think you are lowe, without that group of guys (messsier,gretz etc) you wouldn't have won squat, if i was on that team i'd have five stanly cup ring to you clown, you were a mediocre coach and a terrible gm and president. your at best a mediocre man who rose to great heights on the backs of others and by letting other MEN take the fall for your mistakes, you gutless, cowardly insignificant excuss for a man.

Lowe has been a terrible GM / puppet master. As well you can slag him for not taking responsibility today. I agree.

BUT, the guy was a warrior on the ice. He played three rounds of playoffs one year with broken ribs. I know this for sure. I hated that he played the "six cups" card today but make no mistake, he did earn them.

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#192 Shredder
April 15 2013, 12:27PM
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Let the rants of how MacT is doing a bad job with the Oilers start (or continue from years ago)...

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#193 RDS
April 15 2013, 12:32PM
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jason wrote:

wow, that was the most gutless and cowardly performance i've ever seen. i'm no fan of tambo but for lowe and mact to get up their and act as though they had notning to do with this failure and let tambo take the fall for it all, was shameful. who the hell do you think you are lowe, without that group of guys (messsier,gretz etc) you wouldn't have won squat, if i was on that team i'd have five stanly cup ring to you clown, you were a mediocre coach and a terrible gm and president. your at best a mediocre man who rose to great heights on the backs of others and by letting other MEN take the fall for your mistakes, you gutless, cowardly insignificant excuss for a man.

Now tell us how you really feel...

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#194 LOIL99
April 15 2013, 12:37PM
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One thing that doesnt seem to be coming up is the fact that when the team of Lowe and MacT was in charge in the mid 2000's, that was the #1 reason why FA's were not signing here. Becuase that duo was a complete joke who always tried to lowball with salaries and throw players under the bus.

When Tambi came in and MacT was fired as coach there was a sigh of relief across Edmonton becaues finally we were seeing a move away from that "old boys club" that might change the way that prospective FA's viewed Edmonton.

Looks now like we are right back where we were 6 years ago as far as prospective FA's are concerned, RIGHT at the moment where we NEED FA's to sign here as we are done building through the draft.

Frustrating...

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#195 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 12:50PM
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JW writes: Good news for Ralph Krueger; MacTavish says that the team's burned through four coaches and that it's very remote that coaching is the problem. "I give Ralph a lot of credit."

Will Krueger be back next year? He might. But, there was more in that dialogue then a hardcore endorsement. I'd call it a more of a run around answer then anything. It just sounded like it was hard to endorse Krueger. JMO. The words almost didn't come out. A tell? Maybe. With 7 games to go there is no need to fire him now, but I wouldn't be surprised if he is given his walking papers next.

For arguments sake: Was Mac-T going to throw the coach under the bus?

Off-season looks ripe for movement. Just my word, yo.

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#196 Ducey
April 15 2013, 12:53PM
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RDS wrote:

Now tell us how you really feel...

And then get some treatment...

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#197 Spydyr
April 15 2013, 12:53PM
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Today Lowe said the coach is not the problem. Let us fast forward a year in time as the team looks at its 8th year outside the playoff.

We feel that we, the three amigos ,gave the coach the right players to make this team a playoff team. That did not happen so may we present Kelly Buchberger as the new coach of the Edmonton Oilers.

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#198 Spydyr
April 15 2013, 12:55PM
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Lowe "Hey I know what I'm doing I have the Cup rings to prove it. After all I hired all these guys. Huh. Oh wait......."

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#199 DigDeepNBleedBlue
April 15 2013, 12:57PM
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I just heard more love coming from Mac-T for Buchy and Smith then for Krueger.

Am I reading too much into it? We'll see.

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#200 Jason
April 15 2013, 12:58PM
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Lowe will retract what he said and say what I really meant was ……

I find it funny when public figures shy away from what they said the first time. Rule of thumb what they say the first time is the truth.

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