Armchair GM III: Tambellini takes the wheel

If coaching is the only problem, everything will be just fine when Craig MacTavish hands Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz his resignation in coming days.

But it isn’t so it won’t be, and that’s why there had better be some people following MacTavish out the door if the Oilers are serious about exiting the express lane to mediocrity the Boys on the Bus have been stuck on with the pedal to the metal for far too long.

With the Oilers packing up the dressing room Monday without a playoff date to keep for the third straight season, I expect it won’t take long until we see GM Steve Tambellini handing out walking papers on a team that hit the ditch in the stretch on the way to an 11th-place finish.

Out of the playoffs five of the last seven seasons — with the second-lowest point total in the eight seasons since Kevin Lowe took over from Glen Sather as GM in the summer of 2000 — I can’t see a reason why Tambellini would want to maintain the status quo.

It’s time to take a different route.

Express to nowhere

While there’s been a perception Tambellini hasn’t been calling the shots this season without Lowe, in his new position as president of hockey operations, and Katz pulling the strings, that’s not necessarily so. Rest assured, we’ll see Tambellini make his mark on the organization in coming months.

A lot of fans, with reason, would look like to see changes start at the top with Lowe, but people wanting that pound of flesh likely won’t get it because Lowe has already taken a step back with his new position.

Yes, Lowe is the architect of what fans see now. He built this team, and assembled the hockey operations staff. The failures and mediocrity — as well as the unlikely run to the 2006 Stanley Cup final — come back to him.

That said, Lowe isn’t going anywhere. Piss and moan if you’d like, but that’s the way I see the cards playing out. What fans can expect is to see Lowe further removed from hockey decisions and Tambellini given the latitude he needs to hire and fire as he sees fit.

Make no mistake, Tambellini will be steering this thing from now on. I wouldn’t be surprised if Katz steps forward at Rexall Place Monday to make that clear — just a hunch.

The Middle Men

Unless I’ve got the wrong read on things, the most significant changes will come in middle-management and the coaching staff.

MacTavish’s decision to step aside will have the greatest impact, as that’ll not only open up position to a list of candidates Tambellini had relationships with before he joined the Oilers, but prompt changes to the rest of the coaching staff.

No matter who takes over from MacTavish — discussing candidates now is guess-work and nothing more — it’ll obviously impact the future of assistants Charlie Huddy, Bill Moores and Kelly Buchberger.

I’m told Buchberger will survive any purge, although he won’t necessarily be back behind the bench. I expect Rob Daum, who took over the mess in Springfield this season, to be in the mix, but that’ll be up to the new man. Moores? Huddy? That’s less clear to me.

What is obvious is Tambellini has to take a look at Kevin Prendergast, the assistant GM and vice-president of hockey operations, which makes him the point man for the Cal Clutterbuck that’s been the AHL farm.

Prendergast also oversees the professional and amateur scouting staff, a group that, from where I sit, needs a significant overhaul.

As for player moves, we’ll be slicing and dicing that one to no end in coming days, and that’s a whole other column or six.

I’m telling you

  • Rod Phillips is going to take some time at his off-season home in Arizona to decide whether he’s going to retire after 36 seasons as the Oilers radio voice and he’ll make an announcement in May.
    While Phillips, 67, isn’t saying which way he’s leaning, I suspect The Skipper, one of the best ever to pick up a microphone in the NHL, will decide it’s time to kick back, leave the white-knuckle flying to somebody else and retire.
    After so many years travelling with Phillips, I can yell you this much: there isn’t anybody on the face of the planet who loves this organization more than he does or who has been prouder to be a part of it.
  • If the Oilers are serious about overhauling the front office, they should make room in the mix for Ritch Winter, who is best known as a player agent and founder of the Sports Corporation in Edmonton, but has one of the sharper minds in the game.

— Listen to Robin Brownlee every Thursday from 4 to 6pm on Just A Game with Jason Gregor on TEAM 1260.

  • Lofty

    Bucky should stay so he can

    A) show Penner, Nilson, Hemer, Kotalik, Schremp, and Patty O, how to play with some heart (whichever of them stay on the team)

    Or

    B) beat the living $hit out of them for not playing with heart. Something Moreau doesnt have the balls to do… does he know what the Moose did while he was here, has he seen the door in the old dressing room?

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ elliot:
    Didn't I say that?
    I'm not talking about players today, so when I talk about the assistant GMs, middle management and the coaching staff, who am I missing?
    If you're looking for Lowe to pay for past mistakes, you're not going to get it in terms of a firing, but he's being moved away from from day-to-day decisions in favour of Tambellini.
    You want to sack Joey Moss?

  • Robin Brownlee

    @ humantorch:
    I thought LaForge might be on shaky ground with Katz coming in, but it hasn't played out that way, so I can't imagine it'll change now.

    To be honest, I don't pay as much attention to LaForge's side of the business as the hockey ops side, so I might be out of touch.

  • elliot

    Robin, I'm sorry, I just don't understand why anybody within the organization should get a pass. If the Oilers are truly serious about setting the ship upright, then they (all of them) must be considered fair game. Players and management.

    After observing what Mike Gillis has been putting into place in Vancouver, and understanding that it's only one season: What's becoming clearer is that the status-quo isn't a realistic solution for the Oilers moving forward (man, I hate that term, but it's true). Outside the box thinking and personnel decisions are what is going save this franchise from spiraling into many a seasonal mess of mediocrity and ineptitude.

    I think that writers such as yourself really need to step up and voice what many regular folks are saying: It's time to kill those sacred cows and save the team from itself.

    Player procurement/development has to be #1 fix-it.
    Honest asset assessment has to be #2…
    willingness to step up and be honest with your paying public should be #3… Private business be damned.

  • RB, any thoughts on player personnel prior to your "whole other column or six?" One guy I'd like to see them take a run at is Buffalo's Paul Gaustad. He's locked up under contract for the next 3 years at a $2.3 million cap hit, which is a bit steep, but he has size, grit, wins 53% of his facoffs, fits the 3rd line centre need, and would be the kind of "young" vet that might bridge the age gap in the locker room. Thoughts?

  • Robin Brownlee

    Jonathan Willis wrote:

    I’m told Buchberger will survive any purge, although he won’t necessarily be back behind the bench.
    As a scout perhaps, ala Rob Daum last year?

    Perhaps on the staff here, as in upstairs in the press box again, or as a roving organizational coach, although his preference is to stay connected to the bench staff here.

    Tod wrote:

    Damn Robin, I wish that last part was some thing you heard instead of your opinion. Maybe it’s a little of both?

    The last part as in Ritch Winter? Agree with his takes or not, he's got a mind for the game and he knows how to evaluate talent.

    Darren wrote:

    Agreed on everything but Rich Winter. Doesn’t he only look out for #1? I love your work and your brutal honesty, Robin, but I just don’t know about that. I am having trouble picturing him as a team player…but that said, I don’t know the guy and maybe my views of him are way, way off.
    Awesome story regarding Rod Phillips, too. Greatest commentator ever.
    Keep ‘em coming!

    As an agent, Ritch's job is to look after his clients first and he's been very good at that. When his job description changes, so will his priorities. You want Ritch W on your side.

    Chris wrote:

    Remove Predergast and Lowe from all player personnel decisions ASAP! I used to be a believer…A believer of all the excuses that they made… The reign of mediocrity must end.

    I'm thinking you'll get your way.

  • Chris

    Remove Predergast and Lowe from all player personnel decisions ASAP! I used to be a believer…A believer of all the excuses that they made… The reign of mediocrity must end.

  • Harlie

    Winters is a smart and honest man. I gained new respect for him after reading his role as being one of the first people to question Alan Eagleson's business dealings and handling of the NHLPA and he helped bring him down. Winters goes back a long way on the NHL. I think he could bring a lot to the table. And hey, he lives here!

  • Darren

    Agreed on everything but Rich Winter. Doesn't he only look out for #1? I love your work and your brutal honesty, Robin, but I just don't know about that. I am having trouble picturing him as a team player…but that said, I don't know the guy and maybe my views of him are way, way off.

    Awesome story regarding Rod Phillips, too. Greatest commentator ever.

    Keep 'em coming!

  • Dan

    @ Milli:

    Yeah I drank the koolaid too, until I saw the line combos and role situation coming out of training camp. Then I put the koolaid down. I thought they'd eventually figure it out, but they never did.

    To me, the botched training camp and early success really handcuffed this team. They were getting the results, but you could see there was something seriously wrong.

  • Milli

    This sucks. I still remember the 06 hangover, man, it's starting to seem so long ago. I think if I hadn't drank so, so much of the oil koolaid last summer, and been so pumped for this year and all the sucsess we where finally gonna have…..THIS SUCKS!!!!

  • DonDon

    If Tambellini is to become the Oilers' GM and hockey operations boss in actual fact, I can't imagine he will be moving on a replacement of Craig MacTavish until the end of the playoffs. If this is the case, he should give consideration to Brent Sutter as coach. Apparently, Sutter's contract with New Jersey expires this season and he wants to move back to Alberta to be with his family. The Sutters live in the Red Deer area and Brent's original home was Viking. Edmonton is very close to home. Sad to say, for some reason, the Oiler management in the past has stayed away from the Sutters. Brent is a very bright, successful and tough taskmaster. He can operate successfully at the junior hockey level teaching young players and the NHL directing old pros. This isn't a time to be hiring old hockey buddies, not after 7 terrible seasons of mediocre performances and missed playoffs!
    As noted on the posts, the most exciting time for Oilers' fans has been the offseason. Says a lot about the regular season and missed playoffs.

  • SkinnyD

    Could you elaborate on why Buchberger is going to 'survive the purge'? Is he a closet hockey genius or something? I don't get it…(to be fair, I don't get much).

  • Never thought of that Robin, in regards to Winter. That would be a brilliant move. IN the past he has been the most vocal in answering the question"why do players not want to play here". Would he accept that challenge? He could make an instant impact with his former clients.

  • Agreed…Winter should take KP's job. Like him or not, he would be an excellent person to have in the braintrust. Nice work here RB, especially the kind words about Rod. Living outside of Alberta the last couple years with limited cable made me more dependent on listening to his commentary online then I had been in years with all the televised games in Edmonton. He was the voice of the team, and had more heart and passion in his broadcasts then the entire team had on the ice some nights. If his time has truly come, he will be missed by everyone who calls themselves Oilers fans, and by many who are simply fans of the game.

  • Archaeologuy

    Why is it that the offseasons in Edmonton have been more exciting than the actual season?

    Buchberger is the new invincible guy on the team? Maybe Buchy can be Daum's asst in Springfield next season. Or he can teach Big Mac how to get punched in the face over and over without getting seriously hurt…that was his specialty in the NHL was it not?

  • Rick

    I hate Winters but agree that he seems like a pretty sharp guy.

    It would be interesting to see him in the organization but I doubt his ego would allow him to be part of any team in a capacity lower than GM.