While I’m not euphoric over the recent moves made by Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini, they do show a certain willingness on his part to get his hands dirty and do what needs to be done, and as a result the Oilers approach July 1 in a better position than might have been expected only a few short weeks ago.
Now, a lot has happened over the last week that I haven’t had a chance to comment on, so I’m going to go through some of the changes in rapid-fire succession without lingering over any of them. It’s important to do so now, before free agency hits and more action comes.
– First, on the removal of Pat Quinn and the instalment of Tom Renney as head coach: I think it needed to be done. From the tidbits the beat writers pass along and from the way the bench was managed this year, a change needed to be made and I’m glad it was. It seems likely Kelly Buchberger will remain on the staff given his survival of the previous year’s purge, but while I’m agnostic on that count I hope the team continues to employ Wayne Fleming, who I’ll stubbornly insist helped with the power play.
– The qualification offers to both Devan Dubnyk and Jeff Deslauriers, as well as the fact both remained Oilers property through the Entry Draft surprised me, and I’m not quite sure how to take it. It’s possible the Oilers wish to retain an insurance option until they’re sure whether Nikolai Khabibulin will be available to start the year, and it’s also possible the market for whichever one they wanted to move was decidedly limited.
– Speaking of surprising qualification offers, the continued employment of Jean-Francois Jacques, Liam Reddox and Ryan O’Marra surprised me. Jacques had his name mentioned by Tambellini in his end of season press conference, so he’s perhaps the least surprising, but despite his physical attributes the combination of chronic health issues and lacklustre offensive/defensive play had me wondering if he’d get the axe. Reddox was a pleasant surprise; he’s a good AHL depth guy who can play NHL minutes if he needs to. Meanwhile, the organization still sees enough in O’Marra to keep him around, presumably in a similar role to Reddox after his (career-best) 18-point AHL season. Given how high his NHL salary is if he’s called up, I’d half expected the Oilers to pass on qualifying him and try to negotiate his price down a bit on a two-way deal.
– The departures of Ryan Potulny and Marc Pouliot also caught me a bit by surprise, and while I’m saddened to see them go I’ll admit the odds are fairly decent the Oilers aren’t going to be regretting the decision for years to come. Potulny’s a good depth option who just got caught with a somewhat redundant skill-set for this team, and I hope he does well elsewhere. I was more surprised that Pouliot was cut loose; to my eye he played excellent hockey after coming back from injury mid-season, with some offence and a greater willingness to battle and handle checking duties. I think he could have helped the team in a depth role, and that it was a (possibly negligible) mistake to let him leave.
– That said, the guy who seems likely to replace Pouliot – newly acquired Colin Fraser – is a player who at first glance looks like a very nice addition. He brings the grit that this team wants to acquire, but he can play the game too and he’s spent a lot of time on the penalty kill the last few years. His faceoff numbers are not so hot (less than 50.0% both of the last two years) but given the number of PK draws he’s taken he’s probably at least an average faceoff man (as a player is less likely to win a PK faceoff).
– I wasn’t a fan of the Ethan Moreau buyout, simply because I’d have preferred to see his salary eaten in one year rather than stretched out down the road when the Oilers should be moving towards respectability, so seeing Columbus pick him up on waivers was very nice. I’m sure Scott Howson is thinking back to 2005-06 Moreau rather than the edition from this past season, and I don’t see how this move is going to work out for the Blue Jackets (who don’t have all kinds of dollars to overpay depth players like Moreau) but it was nice for the Oilers, and helps a guy who has done a lot for the city he plays in look a little better at the same time.
– I was on board with the Nilsson/O’Sullivan buyouts, and on the whole I like the trade of O’Sullivan for Jim Vandermeer. Vandermeer’s overpaid relative to his skill level (keep in mind the Coyotes planned to pay him to go away) but his particular skill-set is needed on the Oilers, and he’s a legitimate NHL defenceman. Besides, if things go really badly, his contract expires at the end of the year. Both Steve Tambellini and Don Maloney fared well on this deal.
– The departure of Riley Nash on draft day was not a surprise, and probably will work out best for both parties. For all the talk about Nash’s lack of interest in the Oilers (and more specifically, their AHL franchise), the Oilers never seemed to have a handle on the player. It’s interesting that Carolina was willing to gamble on him; they had problems with another player who liked the college life who they eventually dealt (Jack Johnson) after being unable to get him signed and one would think they’d prefer to avoid that scenario here. That said, Carolina’s farm team last year (Albany) was a strong one despite a less than impressive depth chart at centre, so perhaps it’s a more attractive option for Nash.
– All in all, a pretty good week for the Oilers. I’ve been as critical of Tambellini as anyone, but while I don’t think he’s been perfect he deserves credit for making some tough decisions and making it clear that he does have a plan (whatever that plan may be). If he can follow up this ground work with some solid depth free agents and a successful resolution to the Sheldon Souray issue (more on that here), we’ll have some reason for genuine excitement.
– I can’t help but make some comments on 630 CHED’s coverage of the second day of the NHL draft. I listened to the entire program, and I had to laugh when Bob Stauffer suggested Carolina might acquire Nash, Dan Tencer shot him down, and the Canes promptly made the trade. There’s no question about Stauffer’s access, so I couldn’t quite get a handle on why Tencer was so adamant. It wasn’t a great day for Tencer (side point: I’ve had both positive and negative encounters with him, and have no particular axe to grind here) who had no clue who Martin Marincin or Curtis Hamilton were, suggested that Ken Hitchcock might be forced to accept an assistant coaching job if he wants to stay in the game, and said that a Steve Ott-type player was a disappointing turnout for a late first-round pick. In the first case, if one is covering the NHL Draft, he should take the time to flip through one of the prospect magazines – I recommend McKeen’s, but THN’s product is reasonable too – where both of those players were listed. Both players were consensus second round guys who didn’t exactly come out of nowhere to get selected. As for Hitchcock, yes he’s been fired but he’s also a Stanley Cup-winning coach with an impeccable junior record who guided Philadelphia well prior to their 2006-07 collapse and who was the man behind the Blue Jacket’s only post-season appearance. He won’t be forced into anything. Finally, the disparaging of Ott just shows a gross lack of knowledge about the average career of a late first round pick – as a quick glance at the bottom third of (almost) any draft’s first round shows. It was the kind of day that an hour or two of research the week before would have made a lot more bearable.
– Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on Wanye’s big announcement one article down. Lowetide was the first guy I ever read in the blogosphere, a place to get an Oilers fix when nobody else was talking about them. But he’s more than that: he’s relentlessly sane in a hyperbole-rich environment, he’s good natured in a place where there’s a rush to take offence, he’s got tradition and history on his side but also a willingness to explore new ideas. I wouldn’t have ever started a blog if I hadn’t had his example to start from.
– Oh, and very last: I’ll be back on the Nation starting regularly this month; not every day as I have been in the past, but multiple times per week every week. Well, for as long as Wanye puts up with me, anyway.