The Oilers Defensive Depth Chart

Jonathan Willis
May 21 2014 01:22PM

Defensive mess

It’s going to be bad.

There is no way around that fact. The Edmonton defence had a lot of nice pieces when Kevin Lowe handed the reins off to Steve Tambellini, and the worst general manager in Oilers history burned it to the ground. It’s going to take time to recover, and there will be major growing pains.

What can Craig MacTavish do in the meantime?

What the Oilers Have

21-Ference-6

Pairing Left Side Right Side
Contender-calibre No. 1 pair --- ---
Contender-calibre No. 2 pair --- Jeff Petry
Contender-calibre No. 3 pair Ference/Marincin/Klefbom Justin Schultz

The simplest way to explain this is to look at Chicago. Nick Leddy and Michal Rozsival is the defence pairing the Blackhawks try to hide from good players; that looks like a pretty interchangeable duo for Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz, who were the Oilers’ top pair for much of last year. Chicago’s No. 4 defenceman (currently shutting down Anze Kopitar with Niklas Hjalmarsson) is Johnny Oduya, who I’d put down as being a slightly lesser version of Jeff Petry.

That means that, by the (admittedly tough) standards of the defending champs, the Oilers have a No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 defenceman and a couple of young players in Martin Marincin and Oscar Klefbom.

Rounding out the incumbents are UFA Taylor Fedun, UFA Mark Fraser and RFA Philip Larsen. One of those guys (if I had a vote, it would be for Fedun) is a nice fit in the No. 8 slot; the other two should only be back on cheap two-way deals if at all.

It’s not a good enough group.

The Tough Job

Craig MacTavish2

It’s pretty unlikely that Craig MacTavish can grab three top-four defencemen over the summer. The big move, the one that’s going to be exceptionally difficult to pull off, is to add even one top-pairing guy.

Free agency is a pretty dicey solution – the options are sort of like the joke Gary Cole’s character on The West Wing told about the vice presidential seal: if you close your left eye and squint really hard and tilt your head just so some of the options look a little bit like top pairing guys. Andrei Markov and Matt Niskanen would both help, but the former is 35 and injury-prone and the latter was his team’s No. 4 option at even-strength and will cost a pile of money.

That leaves trade.

Dion Phaneuf’s name has been a fixture in the rumour mill for two years now, and there are a lot of ways that might be a fit for Edmonton, particularly since the Oilers have the No. 3 pick and Toronto has the No. 8. The Canucks seem a good bet to move a defender. Kris Letang keeps getting mentioned in rumours. Christian Ehrhoff and Keith Yandle are constantly speculated on, too.

Ideally, the defenceman going the other way in our hypothetical trade isn’t the Oilers only legitimate top-four defender (Petry), and ideally it isn’t one of the players with a pile of growing yet to do (Marincin, Klefbom). Given age, size, contract and level of play, Andrew Ference is the logical player to move but he has a no-move clause and the Oilers made their feelings on him clear when they gave him the ‘C’.

2-Petry-11

I’d guess Petry would be the player dealt.

The Other Free Agents

The Oilers have five NHL defenceman right now (counting Klefbom, not counting Darnell Nurse, who should probably go back to junior) which means they either need to trust in Taylor Fedun or add a minimum of two players (three if one goes away to add a legitimate top-pair player).

I’d be looking at the following free agents:

  • Brett Bellemore. Ron Hainsey’s partner in Carolina, Bellemore is the kind of player Oilers fans love – he’s 6’4”, 225 pounds, heavily physical (he led Carolina in hits) and takes care of his own end first. If the Oilers want to add a Matt Greene-type player to the back end, this is the guy to get – he’s just 25, so he should be reliable for the next few years, and his underlying numbers are excellent.
  • Mark Fayne. The defensive defenceman out of New Jersey would bring size (6’3”, 210 pounds) and competence to the Oilers’ back end. He’s played tough minutes for the Devils the last few seasons and looked awfully good doing it.
  • Tom Gilbert. The most polarizing Oilers defenceman since Tom Poti, Gilbert’s here because he can keep his head above water in tough minutes and is going to cost barely anything. Seriously, this guy was $375,000 cheaper than Mark Fraser last year while playing No. 2 minutes effectively for Florida.
  • Ron Hainsey. He could only get a one-year deal last summer, perhaps owing to his militancy during the last lockout. That should be irrelevant to the Oilers. He’s 6’3”, 210 pounds and did a nice job in a top-four role for Carolina last season.
  • Rostislav Klesla. He’d be well down on my list, but at the right price he could be a third-pairing option.
  • Andrej Meszaros. Meszaros has been in freefall over the last three seasons, which coincides with a stretch that includes back surgery (summer 2012) and a shoulder problem (2012-13). He rebounded a bit this year, and at the right price the big (6’2”, 223 pounds) 28-year-old might surprise.
  • Nikita Nikitin. The 6’4”, 223 pound left-shooting rearguard looked like the next big thing two seasons ago. He’s fallen out of favour in Columbus but might be the steal of this summer’s free agent season.
  • Kyle Quincey. He’s probably a No. 4 NHL defender; he becomes an attractive option only if he can’t get a contract early and comes on a bargain deal.
  • Henrik Tallinder. At 35 he’s a stop-gap player, but he’s a big, tough-minutes defender who might be available.

The Bare Minimum

Pairing Left Side Right Side
Tough minutes pairing Martin Marincin Jeff Petry
Tough minutes pairing "Ron Hainsey" "Brett Bellemore"
Offensive zone starts Andrew Ference Justin Schultz
No. 7 slot Oscar Klefbom

This isn’t a playoff-calibre blue line. It has a pair of No.4/No.5 defenders in the top two tough minutes roles. Remarkably, it’s a better setup than what the Oilers started with last season (Smid/Petry, Ference/Schultz, Schultz/Belov, Grebeshkov) which was itself better than what the team ran in 2012-13 (Smid/Petry, Schultz/Schultz, Whitney/Potter, Fistric).

What would a ridiculously, unreasonably good summer look like? Ference+ for a guy like Phaneuf, another top-four guy from free agency (since we’re daydreaming, let’s say Fayne), and a No. 7 who belongs in the top-six (and with injuries, the No. 7 always gets significant minutes).

What does that look like?

Pairing Left Side Right Side
Top all-situations pair "Dion Phaneuf" Jeff Petry
Tough minutes pair Martin Marincin "Mark Fayne"
Offensive zone starts Oscar Klefbom Justin Schultz
No. 7 slot "Brett Bellemore"

Even in this ridiculously optimistic scenario, young players are being counted on to play significant minutes and established NHL'ers are being asked to play above their proven level of ability. 

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

74b7cedc5d8bfbe88cf071309e98d2c3
Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet, 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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#101 Cold Hard Truth
May 21 2014, 11:46PM
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Speculation over how much authority was delegated to Tambelinni, how much involvement did Lowe have in each manoeuvre, etc. is a red-herring.

In any functional organization, a person at the top of a comand structure is responsible for all underneath him, not just the person immediately below him. If a CEO loses money for the corporation, he's responsible, even when it is an underling who is directly responsible.

Lowe may not have been directly involved with a poor decision made during Tambelinis's tenure, but that doesn't matter. As President of Hockey Operations, he is responsible for the state of the team during his tenure (which includes Tambelinni). Though I'm sure he'd like to, Lowe cannot wash his hands of Tambelinni and pretend he didn't exist during that period. Lowe must own up. If he is not accountable, then there's no such thing as the word accountable.

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#103 Oilers
May 22 2014, 12:21AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Lowe's problem was in delegating to Tambellini and leaving him in charge for so long. If you want to say that's a firing offence, I won't argue.

But the things Tambellini did - starting with the hiring of Pat Quinn as head coach - are not the things Lowe would have done.

Completely disagree. He is the leader and is/should be on top of all decisions.

Either way he knew and signed off.

So either he is completely incompetent or a terrible leader. This is why the Oilers are the worst team over the last 8 years. I wish you guys would stop making excuses.

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#104 Oilers
May 22 2014, 12:24AM
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Time Travelling Sean wrote:

If Lowe is making the final call on all decisions why isn't he the GM? I think he gives his 2cents and that's that.

So he can blame others for his incompetence.

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Oilers wrote:

Completely disagree. He is the leader and is/should be on top of all decisions.

Either way he knew and signed off.

So either he is completely incompetent or a terrible leader. This is why the Oilers are the worst team over the last 8 years. I wish you guys would stop making excuses.

Well, I'm jumping into this debate late, and haven't read the first 100 comments but, surprise surprise, half the comments on this page are discussing fire Lowe.

Can we acknowledge this much at least?

One large group of fans blame KLowe for hiring Tambellini and giving him the freedom to f* the team up.

Another huge group of fans believe that KLowe was pulling the strings all along, and that Tambo's poor choices - and there were some terrible ones - were directly made by oil' 6 rings himself.

So which is it? We can't agree if Lowe's problem was too much interference or not enough. But since so many agree on fire Lowe, it all comes together in a seemingly coherent, consensus-based position.

Meanwhile, there's a pretty cool article about the reality of the Oilers blueline and how to fix it - both in realistic terms and in terms of 'what if all of a sudden everything went our way'. Pretty neat

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Cold Hard Truth wrote:

Speculation over how much authority was delegated to Tambelinni, how much involvement did Lowe have in each manoeuvre, etc. is a red-herring.

In any functional organization, a person at the top of a comand structure is responsible for all underneath him, not just the person immediately below him. If a CEO loses money for the corporation, he's responsible, even when it is an underling who is directly responsible.

Lowe may not have been directly involved with a poor decision made during Tambelinis's tenure, but that doesn't matter. As President of Hockey Operations, he is responsible for the state of the team during his tenure (which includes Tambelinni). Though I'm sure he'd like to, Lowe cannot wash his hands of Tambelinni and pretend he didn't exist during that period. Lowe must own up. If he is not accountable, then there's no such thing as the word accountable.

Okay Kevin O'Leary, let me try one for you.

Keeping KLowe and the management team would be like paying the CEO's of major American financial institutions 8 or 9 digit bonuses using tax-funded bailout money; which was needed because those CEO's ran their companies into the ground with bad financial decisions, risks they couldn't cover and illegal sales of obviously faulty assets.

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#107 jason
May 22 2014, 02:59AM
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Are you stupid? No no not Dion Enough, at $6 millions plus a season for an over rated Dman? Why did Calgary dumped him and now Toronto? I m in Toronto, an Oilers fan, don't get Dion.

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#108 Yardbird
May 22 2014, 06:57AM
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Racki wrote:

Oh that last line is going to create some fun for people..

Hoo boy you gotta love that forward thinking .......an" old boys club" of 21 year olds Wow.

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#109 camdog
May 22 2014, 07:32AM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

From Spector:

"Souray said he never once heard from GM Steve Tambellini. Not even a courtesy call from the GM, who did not respond to a request to speak with sportsnet.ca Sunday evening. "Maybe they think I’m a black sheep," Souray said. "But it’s not about me — it wouldn’t matter who it happened to. You’d think someone would want to check on the asset, wouldn’t you? The Oilers always prided themselves in being a family. Whatever happened to that? I haven’t talked to (Tambellini) since mid-January."

Yeah, that really sounds like Lowe was Souray's problem.

As for Visnovsky, do you think he would have bailed so quickly if Tambellini's hand-picked head coach, Pat Quinn, hadn't targetted him as the problem on defence?

So you have Souray, Visnovsky and Gilbert, all on Tambellini's head. And, by odd coincidence, the Oilers are missing three top-four defencemen today.

Problem is those are NOT top 4 d-man right now except for possibly Gilbert, whom was hated in this town and signed a league minimal contract last season just to stay in the league. It's called getting old. An old Souray, an old Visnovsky and a old Staois, an old Strudwick are not top 4 d-man in the NHL.

Sitting in the minors was nobody. That defence was ready to implode regardless of whom was the GM. It's like an old trophy bull that can't walk anymore,if he can't breed he's useless. The problem in Edmonton to over value our own, that defensive corpse was not sustainable.

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#110 camdog
May 22 2014, 07:42AM
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Sorensenator wrote:

So let me get this straight, Tambellini was not at fault for the demise of the defense corps?

So who gets the blame? Are you seriously suggesting it was bad luck that Oilers defense was depleted over Tambellini's tenure as GM?

The only good moves Tambellini ever made was drafting Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent Hopkins.

I just have trouble understanding why people think that defence was going to last? Both Souray and Visnovsky were depth d-man by the time they arrived in Edmonton. To say that they have been top 4 d-man the last 3 years is just not true.

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#111 j
May 22 2014, 08:26AM
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camdog wrote:

I just have trouble understanding why people think that defence was going to last? Both Souray and Visnovsky were depth d-man by the time they arrived in Edmonton. To say that they have been top 4 d-man the last 3 years is just not true.

While that may be true, the Oil have not brought in/maintained enough veteran leadership to support the youth. The kids don't have anyone to learn from. Who is teaching Schultz how to pinch appropriately (Vis was pretty good at that)? Who is showing the kids how to unleash a wicked one-timer on the PP (Hello Souray)? Who is showing Petry how to be a good all round defender without a heavy physical presence (Gilbert anyone)? How about the scars Staios earned (Ference was brought in just last year)? I agree that none of these players were going to represent at the All Star game but they all had value that would have helped sow the seeds for the future. And we gave them all away. Good teams have great leadership throughout their line-up - whether they are stars or not.

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#112 Sorensenator
May 22 2014, 09:24AM
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camdog wrote:

I just have trouble understanding why people think that defence was going to last? Both Souray and Visnovsky were depth d-man by the time they arrived in Edmonton. To say that they have been top 4 d-man the last 3 years is just not true.

Visnovsky and Souray were top pairing defensemen while they were here in Edmonton. Souray had 53 pts in 2008/2009 good for 8th in the league among defensemen. Visnovsky had 31 pts in 50 games, and Gilbert and Grebeshkov had 45 and 39 pts respectively.

Also Visnovsky led all defensemen in scoring 3 years later with 68 pts so your argument saying he was a depth defenseman with the Oilers is completely out to lunch. Same could be said for Souray but he was thrown under the bus by management and was buried in the minors - killed his career.

This Oilers D core was the 3rd highest scoring tandem in the NHL in 08/09.

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#113 Lochenzo
May 22 2014, 09:56AM
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Sorensenator wrote:

Visnovsky and Souray were top pairing defensemen while they were here in Edmonton. Souray had 53 pts in 2008/2009 good for 8th in the league among defensemen. Visnovsky had 31 pts in 50 games, and Gilbert and Grebeshkov had 45 and 39 pts respectively.

Also Visnovsky led all defensemen in scoring 3 years later with 68 pts so your argument saying he was a depth defenseman with the Oilers is completely out to lunch. Same could be said for Souray but he was thrown under the bus by management and was buried in the minors - killed his career.

This Oilers D core was the 3rd highest scoring tandem in the NHL in 08/09.

Well, instead of saying Fire Kevin Lowe, maybe we should be saying, Make Kevin Lowe GM Again! Lowe also brought in Pronger for the record. A very good history of bringing in top pairing Dmen.

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#114 camdog
May 22 2014, 10:05AM
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@Sorensenator

I stand corrected by the time Tambelinni took control of the organisation Souray and Visnovsky were depth d-man or should have been. They haven't done much since they left. One good year in 4 is not a top 4 d-man.

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#115 Benny Botts
May 22 2014, 10:07AM
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JW,

Do you think Niskanen makes it to FA or do you think the Pens re-sign him. I'll throw out a couple options and this is just EA Sports pipe dreaming here, throwing stuff out there to see if it might stick....

Trade Petry + Prospects and a high draft pick for Phanuef and Sign Niskanen, and Fayne. Your left with

1 - Phanuef Niskanen 2 - Marincin Fayne 3 - Ference Schultz

And have whoever as your 7th. I know its a pipe dream, but man that would be a serious improvement.

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#116 camdog
May 22 2014, 10:15AM
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@j

“I had played in two organizations before Edmonton that were top shelf,” Souray said. “First New Jersey, then Montreal. They were kind of the standard. Then you go somewhere that’s less than that and it’s, ‘Wow, this is interesting.’ ”

This quote is an honest reflection by Souray after he had time to think about the circumstances, when he arrived in Dallas. Suffice to say I don't agree with JW's comment that Tambelinni alone took a respected organisation and in less than year turned it into what Souray is stating. And if he did he should have been fired sooner. The organisational dysfunctionally was inherited by Tambelinni, he didn't cause it, but then he didn't help it either.

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#117 Spaceman Spiff
May 22 2014, 10:34AM
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Good piece here. Hard to argue with any of it. The Oilers don't have enough NHL-calibre defencemen.

That said, I'm not sure if Chicago's defensive corps is a fair comparison. Realistically, the Oilers need to catch the 7th and 8th best teams in the conference. They're not catching Chicago anytime soon.

So, I think an interesting future article would be an analysis piece of the Oilers' defence as compared to that of the Minnesota Wild or Dallas Stars. The Oilers still aren't going to look very good, by comparison, obviously, but it might shed some light on what bubble-teams have in their first, second and third pairings.

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#118 j
May 22 2014, 10:43AM
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camdog wrote:

“I had played in two organizations before Edmonton that were top shelf,” Souray said. “First New Jersey, then Montreal. They were kind of the standard. Then you go somewhere that’s less than that and it’s, ‘Wow, this is interesting.’ ”

This quote is an honest reflection by Souray after he had time to think about the circumstances, when he arrived in Dallas. Suffice to say I don't agree with JW's comment that Tambelinni alone took a respected organisation and in less than year turned it into what Souray is stating. And if he did he should have been fired sooner. The organisational dysfunctionally was inherited by Tambelinni, he didn't cause it, but then he didn't help it either.

I don't think anyone is defending the organizational culture in this article. We are speaking about procurement and management of defensemen. Are the two related? Maybe to certain degree but Souray's opinion is countered by many players since and is really quite a unique one. Did Ryan Smyth have a bad thing to say about the organization? How about Hemsky? Or Horcoff? Even a guy like Cogliano admits it was his own stubbornness that prevented him from accepting a move to the wing which lead to him being traded. Whitney was really pissed off at being scratched but hasn't played more than a handful of games in the NHL since. I think the Oil have a lot of catching up to do in terms of adding on-ice leadership/certain player types. I really couldn't care less who team president is. Much like a new draft pick, MacT has 5 years to impress me.

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#119 Sorensenator
May 22 2014, 11:03AM
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camdog wrote:

I stand corrected by the time Tambelinni took control of the organisation Souray and Visnovsky were depth d-man or should have been. They haven't done much since they left. One good year in 4 is not a top 4 d-man.

You do not stand corrected, Visnovsky was a top pairing D man 3 years after he left the Oilers. It was only the one year because years surrounding it he was battling injuries.

How can you say a Norris candidate and the top scoring defenseman in the 2010/2011 season was not a top pairing defenseman, completely asinine.

Souray also would have still been close to a top pairing guy if Tambellini didn't ruin the rest of his career, probably not now, but three years ago for sure.

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#120 Tikkanese
May 22 2014, 11:56AM
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Signing/trading for a bunch of mid-pairing D and hoping one or two can shine doesn't work. Look at Brian Burke's(mostly) Leafs. He tried every year bringing in around 9-10 middling D hoping some would shine but their D never ended up being any good. Komisarek, Finger etc

Hopefully MacT can land a top pairing D or two. Even some older D that will be stop gaps while the Nurse, Klefbom, Marincin etc get better.

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#121 rickithebear
May 22 2014, 01:12PM
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JW;the league average for EVGA/60 is 2.33 the league average for tough Comp D is 2.47 EVGA/60

S. Weber with Suter 2.11 EVGA/60 S. weber with Klien 2.55 EVGA/60 S. weber this Year 2.75 EVGA/60 Martin Marincinn 1st Comp 3rd teamates 2.14 EVGA/60

Ference faced first comp and was 2.37 EVGA/60 Dman until he tore his Pec and showed a marked fall off to 4.5+ EVGA/60

Petry had terrible EVGA/60 until Dubnyk was replaced.

When I look at our Current D.

At the start of the year with Dubnyk as Starter. Ference and Petry faced 1st comp.They were 2.37 EVGA/60.

Smid was moved N. schultz was moved.

Marincin was brought in and took over the 1st comp Role with Petry 2.34 EVGA/60 and Schultz 2.11 EVGA/60

Klefbom faced 2nd and #rd comp with the toughest Zones start of any D in the league this year. 35% he was 3.69 EVGA/60

Larsen face d 2nd/3rd Comp and 3.69 EVGA/60 with Smid, Belov, ANd Fraser. Larsen was 1.53 EVGA/60 with Ference; Schultz; Marincin; Petry; Klefbom.

So we can exppect to have Ferecne; Petry; Schultz; Marincin on the team. who were better than average for Tough Comp EVGA.

I would hope Larsen is brought Back as the 4th line RW who has the abilty to slot on 3rd pair D when youth are having a bad game. Cause his 1.54 EVGA with Dmen still on roster is Elite.

Hendrick-Gordon-Larsen

Ference-Petry Marincin-Schultz Klefbom-XXX Nurse

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#122 Woogie63
May 22 2014, 02:48PM
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Trade for Myers and then pair him with Marincin and hang on for one more year, you will love the progress in 2015/16.

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#123 gk1980
May 22 2014, 04:46PM
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I agree with some comments regarding steady guys. I just want a couple defensemen who can stop a cycle in the oilers zone and just dump off the glass, nothing fancy just stop the freaken cycle. don't worry about the first pass. Just stop that damn cycle that destroys us!

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#124 druds
May 22 2014, 04:52PM
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JW, why do you keep flying the Tom Gilbert balloon? That one flew away a long time ago and as my dear grandpa said never revisit a mistake. You insist on pumping his tires just like Lowetide insists that "pancake Penner" will one day wake up and be Frank Mahovalich or whatever...Sheesh I say Its bad enough we we collect other peoples mistakes on this team lets not go back and resign ours again.

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#125 Dockstaff
May 23 2014, 10:27AM
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Hey JW, Dan Boyle is available, what are your thoughts about the Oil signing him, if they can get one or two years for 5 mil per?

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#126 Dockstaff
May 23 2014, 10:28AM
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gk1980 wrote:

I agree with some comments regarding steady guys. I just want a couple defensemen who can stop a cycle in the oilers zone and just dump off the glass, nothing fancy just stop the freaken cycle. don't worry about the first pass. Just stop that damn cycle that destroys us!

AMEN!

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#127 Strange Tamer
May 23 2014, 10:33AM
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camdog wrote:

“I had played in two organizations before Edmonton that were top shelf,” Souray said. “First New Jersey, then Montreal. They were kind of the standard. Then you go somewhere that’s less than that and it’s, ‘Wow, this is interesting.’ ”

This quote is an honest reflection by Souray after he had time to think about the circumstances, when he arrived in Dallas. Suffice to say I don't agree with JW's comment that Tambelinni alone took a respected organisation and in less than year turned it into what Souray is stating. And if he did he should have been fired sooner. The organisational dysfunctionally was inherited by Tambelinni, he didn't cause it, but then he didn't help it either.

The dysfunctionality was there in the past (Lowe's handling of the Comrie trade), not always a professional organization. Tambelinni ehnaced it, and not just with the ridiculous Souray trade, but also they way long time staffers were unceremoniously let go, and I don't think 6rings was a part of that cause one of the staffers was his brother. Tambellini was not just a puppet, his finger prints of failure are all over this team. I feel for MacT, he has a good hockey mind and is respected, but he inherited a complete mess.

The Souray debacle was the ultimate screw up of an asset as we paid a guy 5 million dollars not to play in our organization, despite being our best defenseman when healthy. Worse than that it soured the organization's reputation and discouraged future potential free agents from looking at the Oilers. And Souray's only crime was stating the truth.

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