I’ve been a fan of Steve Tambellini for a while now, and he’s passed a few tests well (trade deadline, the draft), but the last 48 hours have not been the highlight of his time as Edmonton’s general manager. Let’s take a look at his work today, starting with his best deal and finishing with Heatley.
The Khabibulin Acquisition
I wasn’t a fan of this move at first. I’m still not a fan, exactly, but I’m coming around to some degree. Let’s try and look at both sides of the signing.
Taking advantage of the situation: With a ton of capable goaltenders on the market (Khabibulin, Roloson, Biron, Anderson, Clemmensen, etc.) and precious few homes for them, Steve Tambellini stuck to his guns on only handing Dwayne Roloson a one-year contract. Roloson signed a two-year deal with the Islanders, and Craig Anderson signed a bargain contract with Colorado. With some options left, Tambellini promptly signed Khabibulin to a contract for more money and longer term. Was ensuring that the 39-year old Roloson only got one year really worth the extra ten million dollars and two years of term for the 36-year old Khabibulin?
Khabibulin’s track record: Yes, he has a Stanley Cup, and yes, he’s coming off a deep playoff run. Does anyone remember what happened last time he signed a contract after coming off a deep playoff run? He posted an .886 SV% in Chicago and did a lot to submarine the team’s hopes. His play has been so shoddy over the past three seasons that the Blackhawks finally bit the bullet and signed another ‘tender (Cristobal Huet) even though it meant lugging around two massive contracts in a salary cap era. Khabibulin has topped a .910 SV% just once in the last four years. Of the twenty goaltenders who have faced 5000 shots since 2005-06, he ranks 16th in save percentage — among those who ranked higher is Dwayne Roloson, at 12th.
Sharing the workload: Ryan Rishaug of TSN reports that the Oilers plan to have Jeff Deslauriers play 25-30 games next season so they can really see what they’ve got in him. I suppose the 147 games that the 25-year old has played in the AHL and NHL weren’t enough for them to get an accurate read; if they don’t know already then perhaps firing the goaltending coach a few days ago was a good move. Maybe they’ve seen something that the rest of us have missed, but what I see is a 25-year old with a middling AHL track record who has been jerked from team to team since turning pro.
The positives: Despite the first two rather damning points, there is some hope here. Gabriel Desjardins of behindthenet.ca has been doing work on shot quality and expected save percentage, based on the location of shots taken (from NHL game charts). Commenter Doogie on my other site was nice enough to point out Khabibulin’s even-strength numbers over the past two years to me:
- Expected GAA and save percentage: 2.66 GAA, .899 SV%
- Actual GAA and save percentage: 2.17 GAA, .918 SV%
That’s a stark contrast, and this will be a good test case. Was Chicago’s defense really that porous? If so, than Tambellini may have a quality keeper on his hands.
The final analysis: This wasn’t the best possible choice, and the term is a little frightening. All of that said, this isn’t an albatross contract either, and the goaltending should be adequate for the next few years.
The Chris Neil Offer
Looking up and down the roster, what do the Oilers need more than anything else? A fourth-line RW from a non-playoff team who provides a nasty physical edge and minimal upside in any other area of the game? I thought so. And, heck, why not make him a three year offer in the 2-million dollars a year range? It isn’t like the Oilers already have a similar player locked up for the next few years at one-third of the money.
Yet, the Oilers were reported by TSN as one of the final teams pushing hard to add Chris Neil to their roster.
This stuff honestly couldn’t get made up, it’s that weird. To recap:
- 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley demands a trade from his team because he doesn’t get along with the new coach (under who the team finally started winning).
- Despite demanding a trade, Heatley doesn’t waive his no-movement clause; he still demands the right to determine where he gets traded.
- Edmonton puts together a package that Ottawa finds palatable, and Bryan Murray asks Heatley to waive his NMC to go to the Oilers. Heatley says (through his agent) that he wants to “sleep on it”.
- At this point, we find out that neither the Oilers nor Senators have been interpreting his contract correctly — the $4 million signing bonus that Heatley is owed won’t be due until the next night. Heatley’s agent, meanwhile, knew this the entire time (I wonder if he wants to be an assistant GM — I can think of two teams that would probably be upgrading in that slot by hiring him).
- The Oilers dream team flies out to meet with Heatley to persuade him to waive his NMC.
Heatley however, has decided not to waive his NMC to come to Edmonton, leaving Ottawa on the hook for four-million dollars. The reason though seems to have little to do with Edmonton – this from Dan Tencer’s Twitter feed:
Source: Meeting went OK with the Oilers. It’s more about Heatley trying put the screws to Ottawa.
At this point, it’s anyone’s guess as to what eventually will happen. Ottawa’s in a bad situation, and the Oilers might be able to take advantage of it. Than again, maybe Bryan Murray will return the favour and refuse to deal the winger — which takes us to our final question:
Where Do They Go From Here?
Let’s assume that the Oilers are still interested in a left-winger to play on their top line. If Heatley doesn’t work out, I imagine that Tambellini’s backup plans go something like this:
- Plan B – Sign Marian Hossa.
- Plan C – Sign Martin Havlat.
- Plan D – Sign Marian Gaborik.
- Plan E – Sign Mike Cammalleri.
Unfortunately, while the Oilers were busy chasing Heatley, the Blackhawks, Wild, Rangers, and Canadiens decided to sign virtually every high-scoring left-winger on the market. Alex Tanguay is probably the next best thing available via free agency, while it’s possible that Alex Frolov or Simon Gagne are available via trade.
Regardless, the Oilers still have some options, but a) they aren’t in the same class as the three top-end guys who signed today and b) it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll still be available when the Heatley saga finally comes to a conclusion one way or the other.
Making The Best of The Situation
All is not lost, though. Heatley may still accept a trade to Edmonton (for good or ill) and while Samuel Pahlsson and John Madden have both been taken off the market, free agent Manny Malhotra is still available and would be a good fit for the Oilers’ third line and penalty kill; he’s big, he’s strong, he can find the defensive zone without the aid of a map and multiple trail guides, and unlike virtually every other forward on the Oilers’ roster he can win a faceoff.
There’s still tomorrow.