Steve Tambellini: Not Making Sense

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Steve Tambellini’s comments on the firing of three members of the Oilers’ support staff don’t make much sense to me.

There’s a disconnect between Tambellini’s assessment of the job done by Ken Lowe, Barrie Stafford, and Lyle Kulchisky and the rationale behind firing them. Tyler Dellow picked up on it the other day (and also trashed the Journal’s John MacKinnon sloppy logic in his coverage of the move), but I couldn’t resist making some comments on it.

First, what Steve Tambellini thinks of the three men, from the Oilers official website:

  • “There is absolutely no question Kenny, Barrie and Sparky have done a remarkable job here over the past three decades and more.”
  • “These three guys have been terrific contributors to this franchise through thick and thin.”
  • “I use the words great people to describe all three, and that’s exactly what they are and all three will continue to contribute to the Oilers.”
  • “This has nothing to do with their work, their effort, their passion, or their dedication. “
  • “We all know you couldn’t find three more hard working, dedicated or passionate people in this industry.”

Great people. Hard workers. Dedicated. Passionate. Terrific contributers. Have done a remarkable job over the past three decades or more. Those sound more like comments made by a manager hiring those three then the comments of a manager firing those three.

Of course, there must be some reason to dismiss such wonderful people from the job they’ve executed efficiently for the vast majority of the franchise’s history. Steve Tambellini, again from the Oilers’ official website:

“However, at the end of the season and for some time now I have been communicating our plan for the future. Part of that plan is to change the culture in our dressing room, and this is the right moment to bring a fresh energy to the medical, training and equipment area and Ken, Barrie and Sparky understand that.” 

It’s a cultural issue. You see, to build a winning team, Steve Tambellini needs to make sure he gets the right kind of culture in his dressing room. Step One in that process is eliminating “great people” who are unparalleled in their work ethic, passion, dedication, and have a rich history of commitment to the team, through thick and thin. These are qualities that must be eliminated if the Oilers are to relentlessly climb out of the cellar and contend for the Stanley Cup.

There’s no sense to that combination of comments. People of such excellent character make positive contributions to culture – as Tambellini shows when he credits those men as contributing to the culture of teams that won World Championships and an Olympic medal, and since they’ve been contributors to the culture of Cup-winning teams in the past.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that Tambellini wasn’t being completely honest. It’s possible these weren’t such great guys, although there’s precious little evidence of that.

Another interesting point: in initial reports on this story, Oilers head trainer Ken Lowe was described as “stepping down” from his position. Robin Brownlee had Lowe’s comment on that for Oilers Nation:

"If that’s what they’re saying, then that’s what I’m going to stand by," said Lowe. "The Oilers have been good to me."

The Oilers’ latest story on the firings doesn’t contain that helpful little assertion. Steve Tambellini takes credit for ‘bringing fresh energy’ to the position of head trainer, so perhaps the initial implication was wrong.

At this point, I hope the rationale Tambellini stated publicly is different than the one behind the scenes.

UPDATE TO ADD: And, based on the comments, it appears the majority feel I’ve been too critical of Tambellini here (likely) but I think the biggest problem is that I didn’t make my point very well: the basic logic of Tambellini’s statement doesn’t make sense to me.  Praising an employee’s character to high heaven and then citing ‘culture’ as the reason behind firing just strikes me as nonsensical, and thus I’d suspect he’s being less than honest in his public statement.  Of course, he’s also under no obligation to be completely honest with the public, either, but I felt the apparent contradiction deserved pointing out. 

FINAL UPDATE: I’ve toned down the article to be less critical of Tambellini because in this specific instance I was being needlessly inflammatory.

  • Reagan

    They’re not making sense because they’re not telling the truth. They’re not telling the truth because every company lies, internally or externally, about why an long-term employee (or employees) was/were let go: It’s the decent thing to do for someone with personal ties to the company. It’s the “future endeavors” well-wishing that’s all too common in corporate life.

    In this case, Tambellini bumped them upstairs instead of firing them. That says to me that the fact they’ve overseen a group that’s suffered over 1000 man games lost to injuries since October 2006.

    At the very least, it’s a new set of eyes on a problem area and nothing changes. At the most? It’s transferring some good company men and upgrading on a department that might have been a problem area for the Oilers.

    Either way, Tambellini gushing over them was the smae attempt at class many $200 million dollar companies make when enough people care to notice.

  • Reagan

    I tend to agree with your take on this one Jonathan. Some of my reasons may differ but the general point remains.

    Right now I honestly don’t know what to make of it.

    There is part of me that thinks a complete tear down, including support staff, isn’t the worst thing for this franchise.

    There is also a part of me that looks at what Tambellini has done in his two years at the wheel (I only see one good move to date) and thinks that if he is the guy doing the tear down, it will take 10X longer for the team to get built back up and could very well be in worse shape when all is said and done.

    I have virtually no confidence in Tambellini and that is concerning enough from a player perspective, now that he is napalming damn near the whole organization it leaves me with little hope that we will see a turn around in the next few years…if at all during his employment with the Oilers. The word quagmire seems appropriate here.

    They talk about changing the culture and making the organization a place that people want to be a part of, I believe at one point they talked about creating a family type environment, for the life of me I can’t figure out how giving three long standing employees the pipe does anything along those lines. It sends a cut throat message, not a family one. Atleast two of these guys seem close enough to retirement that a “promotion to consultant” should have been the first option if there was a need to get these guys away from the dressing room. It solves all of their problems, the so called culture change is achieved, the loyalty of the employees in question is rewarded and the PR aspect is golden.

  • I think Tambo makes good sence. If you want to change the culture you generally have to change the people if they are good or bad. He is running around trying to get fresh people in by trading players and switching coaches. It seems obvoius you would try to switch the support staff too.


    I’ll chip in my two cents here.

    You’ve neglected to mention that Lowe is the one who signed Horcoff to one of the worst contracts in NHL history. He signed Moreau, Staois and Pisani to inflated 3-4 year contracts after the cup run that are plaguing us to this day.

    After witnessing the value of Pronger’s abilities on the blueline during the playoffs he tried to sign every decent puck moving d-man he could and left us paper thin on defense and in the faceoff circle. He failed to see the value in Stoll, Reasoner, and Matt Greene in return for a handful of fancy Dan’s on the blue line.

    He played chicken with Ryan Smyth and let the face of our franchise walk in exchange for Robert Nillson and Omarra.

    These ‘horrible’ trades that Tambi is allegedly making is nothing more than him cleaning up Lowe’s mess and making room for the huge list of unsigned RFA’s that he needs to sign in the off season.


    “He played chicken with Ryan Smyth and let the face of our franchise walk in exchange for Robert Nillson and Omarra.”

    How are you going to complain about the Horcoff signing and then in the same breath suggest that Lowe should have signed Ryan Smyth to a bloated contract? He was right to trade Smyth. I wouldn’t have signed him for that kind of money either.

    Yeah, Lowe made some really bad signings and trades. But he also made some good moves and good signings. His record is nowhere near as bad as Tambellinis.

    So signing Khabibulin was “cleaning up Lowe’s mess?” I’d say Tambo sh@t the bed pretty thoroughly on that one and created a much bigger mess. It would be pretty hard to find another GM that would be dumb enough to pick up that contract unless we can get Tambellini’s twin installed as a GM somewhere else. Man, I’d swear Tambellini was sent here by the Calgary Flames to destroy the Oilers.

    • “How are you going to complain about the Horcoff signing and then in the same breath suggest that Lowe should have signed Ryan Smyth to a bloated contract? He was right to trade Smyth. I wouldn’t have signed him for that kind of money either.”

      Smyth, aka Captain Canada, was at least worth the gamble of a ‘bloated contract’, unlike Horcoff whose only feather in his hat is being a PPG for half a season and in a meaningless all star game which he shouldn’t have even been part of.

      I’m not defending Tambi, I’m just trying to shine some perspective on the magnitude of Lowe’s blunders. At the time of Khabi’s signing I was one of many convinced that he was a more reliable option over Roloson but no one predicted back surgery or a DUI, or him letting in the worst goal known to man in his first game of the season.

      I just feel hes starting to actually get a kick at the cat without Lowe’s hand up his rear end, so let’s not crucify him yet.

      When the time comes, I’ll help you build the cross.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    It’s mind numbing how many people can’t grasp this.

    If you want to blame Lowe for building a bubble team, more power to you.

    Throwing out statements like

    “Kevin Lowe is responsible for the shambles that is the Hockey Operations of the Oilers. Its a train wreck. Tambellini is piecing it together.”

    however, is complete non-sense.


      But it is a train wreck and it went off the rails before Tambellini was even involved, it just finally came to a grinding halt this season. If Kevin Lowe isn’t largely responsible for it, who is?

      No one is saying Tambi is a savior, but at least hes shaking the foundation and making some much needed changes.

      The link that David S posted is a good read and quite revealing.

      • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

        How on earth did it go off the rails before Tambellini was involved? The team Lowe handed him had just finished 9th and was considerd one of the young up and coming teams in the league.

        The team is a train wreck because:

        A. No NHL goaltending

        – Tambo traded Garon and signed Bulin

        B. Hemsky injury

        – No ones fault

        C. Poorly balanced roster

        – Tambo traded 2 of proven forwards with size (one that won face offs) and brought in two more small forwards

        – Tambo had four offensive Dmen that are at a premium all coming off solid years, yet he chose to stay status quo, three of the 4 then imploded their trade value.

        – Lowe gets some blame on the roster balance, but Tambillini compounded the problem

        Lowe certainly doesn’t get a free pass and like I said, if you want to blame him for handing off a bubble playoff team then have at it. But Tambillini has been at the helm for 2 full years now (well almost). He had a disasterous summer last year. I’ve been marginally impressed with what he’s done since TDD, lets hope he can keep it up.