In June 2004, Steve Tambellini was promoted to Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the Vancouver Canucks (as well as the GM of the Manitoba Moose). Yesterday, he was named as the new General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers. While Tambellini has long had the reputation as an up-and-comer, not a lot is actually known about how much influence Tambellini had in the Canucks head office, or what share of the credit/blame he deserves for the Canucks’ performance since 2004.
Given, however, that Tambellini was in charge of the Manitoba Moose, I thought it might be helpful to review the team since 2004, and see what his tendencies are as a manager (this assumes that Tambellini was given a reasonable amount of latitude in handling the farm team, which seems like a fair assumption). On the surface, things look really nice- here is the performance of Manitoba’s AHL team since joining the AHL:
2001–02: 39-33-4-4, 86 points
2002–03: 37-33-8-2, 84 points
2003–04: 32-35-11-2, 77 points
(Steve Tambellini takes over)
2004–05: 44-26-3-7, 98 points
2005–06: 44-24-7-5, 100 points
2006–07: 45-23-7-5, 102 points
2007–08: 46-27-2-4, 99 points
The big jump occurred the season after Tambellini’s hire; what did he change?
The goaltending stayed pretty much the same; Alex Auld was the starter both seasons, while Wade Flaherty was a very solid pickup as back-up goalie. Flaherty was so solid, in fact, that he took over Auld’s job in the playoffs, and played a significant role as a 1A/1B goalie for the next three seasons.
On defence, some of the cast (Tomas Mojzis, Nolan Baumgartner) remained the same; however, the addition of rookie defenseman Kevin Bieksa was a major boost (and one attributable to the procurement department, not Tambellini). Two minor-league veterans (Kent Huskins and Joe DiPenta) were brought aboard and solidified the team to a great extent (both have spent the last few seasons with the Anaheim Ducks in the NHL).
Up front, the Canucks had drafted a number of prospects who had key roles with the team (Ryan Kesler, Jason King, and Alex Burrows) but the biggest improvements to the team were its two new leading scorers: Peter Sarno (acquired from Edmonton towards the end of 2003–04) and Lee Goren, a former Boston prospect who has had quite a career in the minor pros.
It’s been a pattern for the Moose; while key roles have been played by prospects since Steve Tambellini took control of the team (last season, for example, Michael Grabner, Jannik Hansen, Mason Raymond, Luc Bourdon and others), he has always had veterans in key roles in all positions.
Last season, veteran forwards Brad Moran and Jason Jaffrey had key scoring roles with the team. 23-year old Colby Genoway, an undrafted college player with previous stints in the New York Rangers’ and Anaheim Ducks’ systems was acquired and also played a key role. Other veterans with NHL experience (Mike Keane, Greg Classen) held checking roles. On defence (a largely no-name group) some mid-20s players, castoffs from other organizations and undrafted college types filled in for the departures of four of the top six.
One quirk worth noting about the Moose under Tambellini: they always employed a goaltending tandem, something relatively rare at the NHL level (Minnesota, Detroit). At first I thought this might be a system designed to help prospects, but even when no prospects were in the system, Tambellini went with two guys. Even when one goalie had better performances, if the other guy was usable he got some playing time.
The only thing Tambellini failed to deliver was a minor-pro championship, but his teams did have some playoff success, with four playoff round victories in four seasons. If we can look to the Moose for Tambellini’s MO, we can reasonably assume that he’s going to be a nice fit with the Edmonton management team. He excels in a few areas that Lowe generally didn’t—he likes a reasonable veteran presence, his teams are consistent and don’t have big question marks at individual positions. He also seems to have a keen eye for underrated veteran talent, like Lowe. Amateur procurement has been a weakness in Vancouver during Tambellini’s time there, but with Prendergast as the assistant GM, it should be an easy weakness to balance, if indeed it is a weakness on Tambellini’s part.
A couple of definitive points:
- Tambellini is being hired from outside the organization, and brings not only a fresh face but also a relatively unsullied reputation to the Oilers front office
- On the balance, this hire looks like a strictly merits-based one, and that can’t be a bad thing. Tambellini has as good a resume as there is out there right now.
- I feel far more comfortable with Tambellini in this position then I would have with either Prendergast or MacTavish.