All things considered, it looks to me like Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini had himself a pretty good day Wednesday before the NHL trade deadline ticked by.
With a mandate to rebuild a team that’s near the top of the salary cap structure and languishing at the bottom of the standings, Tambellini’s task, as I understand it, is to overhaul his roster by making the Oilers younger and cheaper.
By sending Denis Grebeshkov to Nashville for a second-round pick, Lubomir Visnovsky to Anaheim for Ryan Whitney and a sixth-round pick and Steve Staios to Calgary for Aaron Johnson and a conditional third-round pick, plus plucking Ryan Jones on waivers, Tambellini got a start on that.
In Grebeshkov, he moved a ridiculously inconsistent defenceman who makes $3.15 million this season and is a pending RFA with arbitration rights.
In Whitney, the Oilers get a 27-year-old with a $4-million cap hit who is signed for three more seasons for the 33-year-old Visnovsky, who packs a $5.6-million cap hit — a gain of six years and $1.6 million on the cap.
By moving Staios, Tambellini unloaded an extra year of a $2.7 cap hit on a player near the end of the line for Johnson, a depth defenceman who can be re-signed or cut loose next season.
Not a brilliant day for Tambellini, not with Ethan Moreau and Fernando Pisani still here, but a pretty good one in my books, given the mandate and what he has to work with.
Of course, some disagree.
What do you expect?
With the moves Tambellini made Wednesday, the Oilers are younger, cheaper and better positioned to undertake the rebuild fans have said they want.
And, if you got a look at the defence Pat Quinn ran out in a 5-2 loss to Chicago at the United Center last night, it’s obvious this team isn’t going to loosen its grip on 30th place and one of the top two picks in the draft lottery, even allowing for the addition of Whitney.
Still, to listen to some fans, perhaps assuming a complete and proper rebuild would take three months instead of three years, Tambellini soiled the sheets Wednesday, particularly with the Visnovsky trade.
The love for Lubo was a thing to behold on message boards and websites as many of the same fans who have criticized Tambellini for sitting on his thumb instead of taking care of business sniffed about how he ran off the Oilers best defenceman for Whitney. Pardon?
"He could have got more," brayed some. Really. "So, we end up with Whitney for Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene. Brilliant trade. Nice asset management," others moaned. Please.
Teams sitting in a position of strength get more. Teams sitting in 30th place do not. Tambellini, for all his faults, didn’t trade Stoll and Greene to Los Angeles for Visnovsky, Kevin Lowe did. Tambellini isn’t operating under the circumstances of July 2008. It’s March 2010 and he’s trying to clean up the mess left him by the previous boss.
What’s the problem?
I get it why people like Visnovsky as a player. He’s smart. He’s productive. He thinks the game. He’s a damn good player, by far the best the Oilers have had on the back end the past two seasons.
Visnovsky is also 33, and, unless he can buck Father Time over the final three years of his contract, his effectiveness, ice time and points production will almost certainly decline. Would Visnovsky have been a significant part of an Oilers team ready to contend in, say, 2011-12?
Whitney, on the other hand, is just entering his prime. While there’s no doubt he’s struggled in Anaheim with just 4-24-28 this season (his bad numbers make him the Oilers leading scorer on defence), past seasons lead me to believe he’s better than he’s shown.
With 38-150-188 in 335 games, including a career-high 59 points with Pittsburgh in 2005-06, Whitney sits at .56 points per game to this point in his career. That, it turns out, is the same as Visnovsky, who comes in at .56 with 88-254-342 in 606 games.
So, which player will have been more productive when we add up the points the next three seasons? Whitney at $4 million or Visnovsky at $5.6 million? I know where my money is.
When 2011-12 rolls around two seasons from now with Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin or the Swiss "sleeper" the Oilers take this summer entering his sophomore season, who stands to be a bigger part of a resurgence, a 29-year-old Whitney or a 35-year-old Visnovsky?
Before Tambellini got things started by moving Grebeshkov, he was getting roasted, mocked and lampooned for his dithering. Fans, most of them resolved to enduring a rebuild (as long as it doesn’t take too long), had heard plenty of talk but precious little action. Now, they have some.
While Tambellini failed to unload Moreau and Pisani, I don’t get the consternation over the moves he made Wednesday. From where I sit, it seems some people are determined to piss and moan no matter what happens. They’re happier that way.
That inclination, given the Oilers are on the way to missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season, is understandable, but let’s not hang four years of disappointment on Tambellini, who has yet to complete his second season as GM.
Going into the deadline, I saw the next four months, March 3 to the opening of free agency July 1, as the window for Tambellini to put up or shut up. To kick-start a plan. To stop talking and start doing so fans can look ahead instead of fixating on these past four years of failure.
While there’s obviously more to do, the Oilers are younger and cheaper today than they were yesterday. That’s the mandate. That’s the process. Call me crazy, but it’s a start.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.