Steve Tambellini & The Quest For Grit

One of the over-arching themes of Steve Tambellini’s time as General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers has been the ongoing quest to make the team stronger, grittier, and more emotional. Few skillsets have been targeted with the same zeal and commitment with which the Tambellini Oilers have pursued players who fit those descriptors.

Tambellini emphasized those points repeatedly in the press conference above (the MacTavish conference), and I think we can say unequivocally that he has attempted to live up to what he outlined:

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

People say maybe we weren’t gritty enough as a team – I agree with that.

Do we need to get stronger? Yes we do.

We need more strength. We need more grit… One thing I will not put up with is an unemotional game.

We want aggressive type of play. We want an emotional team.

Do we need to add, like I said, that type of strength and a team that should be harder to play against? Do we need that? Yes we do.

The Departed

Steve Tambellini got a lot of credit this summer for clearing out a lot of the bottom-six group over the summer, and that clearing work followed a pretty clear pattern. Here’s the list of Oilers forwards from 2009-10 who played at least 10 games but less than 1000 even-strength minutes:

Departed Retained
Patrick O’Sullivan Sam Gagner
Ethan Moreau Gilbert Brule
Ryan Potulny Zack Stortini
Robert Nilsson Jean-Francois Jacques
Fernando Pisani  
Mike Comrie  
Marc Pouliot  
Ryan Stone  

The retained list boasts one key piece (Sam Gagner), one feisty, aggressive forward who was regarded by many as a key building block (Gilbert Brule) and a pair of crash and bang fourth-liners. The only player of the four without a high-profile physical game was Gagner, the sixth overall pick in 2007.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The departed list features a variety of players, but seven of the nine have a key point in common: an underwhelming physical game. Sure Pisani went into corners and Comrie had some aggressiveness, but these aren’t players who have “grit” as the first entry on their resumes. The sole exceptions (Stone and Moreau) had other factors working against them: Stone was injured for most of his stint in Edmonton and snake-bitten when healthy, while Moreau was much maligned for his salary, diminishing performance, unfortunate quotes in the media, and most importantly his tendency to collect stupid penalties.


The Oilers have employed an impressive collection of part-time players whose primary attribute is a physical game.

Steve MacIntyre has been the designated enforcer of the Tambellini era, under both Craig MacTavish and Tom Renney; Pat Quinn being philosophically opposed to the concept of a part-time fighter. We’ve mentioned Jacques and Stortini, the latter a fourth-liner who can fight, the former a pure banger at this point in his career. Jesse Boulerice, one of the more revolting goons in the game, got a cameo, as did Tim Sestito.

It doesn’t seem like a lot until one realizes that under Tambellini the Oilers have always employed players with marginal hockey skill but a prominent physical game. All three bottom-of-the-roster options this season fit this description to some degree; in order Stortini, Jacques, MacIntyre. Under Quinn a year ago, an attempt was made to integrate these types of players more thoroughly into the team (remember Jean-Francois Jacques on the top line?) and while that didn’t work out I don’t think it happened by accident.

Each summer, the Oilers have pursued players from this general family. Chris Neil got a big-money, multi-year offer from the Oilers, but fortunately was re-signed by the Senators instead. The Oilers were also in the running for Derek Boogaard, but he opted to sign with the Rangers.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The Bottom Line

There is going to be some disagreement on how essential a prominent hitting game is to a successful team. I don’t think it is especially important; the Red Wings, among other teams, have shown that a hockey club can win without gooning it up. On the other hand, Steve Tambellini spent a lot of time studying under Brian Burke, and his clubs have always had a penchant for truculence. The best of Burke’s teams, of course, were the Stanley Cup Champions in 2007, and while Tambellini wasn’t part of that management group I doubt the lesson was lost on him.

We have spent a lot of time suggesting different models that the Oilers might be following – the ‘Hawks, the Red Wings, the Penguins, etc. – but it’s worth remembering where Tambellini came from, what he’s said, and what he’s done. I think all three point to a general manager who will always see toughness, grit and a physical game as key ingredients in a championship team.

    • Caveat Emptor

      I know the entire use of the “Fist” has been discussed ad nauseum already, but I wonder how many people stop reading this site because of this juvenile game?

      It’s one thing to include the term within an otherwise informative post, but to simply lurk on the site in the hopes of posting a one word reply of “FIST” is irksome to me. I find myself slowly but surely reading other hockey blogs or MSM and I am sure there are others who are doing the same.

    • Horcsky


      On JW’s article, I think like DMN and JW pointed out in the comments that a solid supporting cast is essential to a solid team. The thing about those guys is, it’s key to find one’s that are reliable and fill non-scoring type needs, and try and keep those guys from becoming celebrated role players (like Neil) who will demand a larger paycheque.

      Hopefully, you can accumulate a few of those guys on the cheap and keep them together as a ‘nucleus’, since it’s too difficult to keep a nucleus of skill players together for long most of the time.

  • Bedlam

    People come here to read the articles and see if there are any interesting updates/debates in the comments. These said people that are interested in hockey should be able to turn a blind eye to the “fist” comment of a post. The people that notice a good blog will see past the crap. Not all that’s posted over at Puck Daddy is srs bsns. It’s not a big deal.

  • AlbertaMan

    I propose a poll question about the “FISTing” habit on this site. That would let us know how many people are in favor and how many are not. I for one, would vote against the practice.

    Jonathan, I love having some truculence in the lineup but feel that it has been misused in Edmonton lately. Zac and Mac should never be in the lineup on the same night. JFJ can’t play hockey, hit, or fight so I’m a little puzzled what he’s around for.

  • kgo

    craveat emptor

    you and so many others regularly come here and say what you all say about the unholy tradition some of the citizens of this Nation express as ‘their right to FIST’…that’s too bad… forU

    …without you and your comment here just now, the beloved word’s been used about a dozen times MORE now than it would EVER have been used if you hadn’t visited in the fist place…

    i would suggest that many more than a few come here just to play ‘the juvenile game’…how can this be ‘irksome’ to you ?

    there’s no being irked in hockey !!!

  • O.C.

    I kind of agree with the need to have more emphasis on lines three and four, but with a twist. This league has gone a long way to get the play back to skill, instead of headshots and holding. This has opened the door for more skill players to market the game. The Sutters might just now have realized that smaller teams like montreal are successful because of that.

    Tambo n Renney have Talent coming in. A skilled third line and a pest 4th line could be the answer. Fighting is not as important as 10 yrs ago.

    They need Penner. He is a strong, skilled north south player. The Oil need a ruuttu type or Avery type as well. Glenncross maybe. My first choice would be Kyle Clutterbuck.

    Hemsky would look good in Ranger blue or in Wild green.

    Don’t feed the fist trolls.

  • Death Metal Nightmare

    the bottom 6 rebuild is just as important as the top 6. been saying this for a couple months. they need to start finding wise, fast, mean players with enough skill to make teams pay. swiss army knife guys. and of course high end on the draws at center than the garbage they have. i could care less about fighters in most senses. the fight in hockey is something that is consensual and really holds no weight to the game if you can continue to attack within the rules of play. the current group of bottom 6 guys are fairly generic. no one on the bottom 6 are players id trust to get to a cup. as much as people are worried about high end picks, they better start looking at the meat and potato players that are absolute keys to being consistent teams from wise play. the scaffolding of that part of the build is fairly invisible outside of a couple iffy prospects. and of course D needs major upgrades.

  • kawi460

    The Oilers should go after the Thrashers Anthony Stewart, he is 6’3” 230lbs he hits and can put up the points (23). He is could take a spot on the 3rd line and on the PK.

  • O.C.

    Top draft choices are what they are because of their high level of skills, being top performers and potential to be game breakers and/or elite players in the NHL. Some elite players can also be tough and mean (e.g. Messier, Clarke to name a few).

    Teams that consistently win have a balance between highly skilled or elite players and role players. Role players aren’t necessarily one dimensional and they are usually selected to make up for the balance of deficiencies of elite players, e.g. good on faceoffs, PK, PP and tough to play against (and mean when required). I’m with Quinn on the lack of need for goons like MacIntyre and Boogaard.

    Where does Fraser, Jacques, MacIntyre, Foster, Vandermere, Strudwick fit as role players? Even Cogliano and Brule? IMHO, right now the Oilers have a good hockey team, but not good enough to be a playoff contender and Tambellini isn’t providing the type of role players that are required to meet this goal.

  • kgo

    Merry Mass eryone!

    did anyone else notice, during the interview, at 20:04, when asked about wether or not the future oiler head coach must have nhl head coaching exp… Tamby replies with the word Renny, when he means to say “ready”

    I wish i would have picked this up a while ago!

  • AlbertaMan

    DonDon writes

    “…Tambellini isn’t providing the type of role players that are required to meet this goal…”

    But… first things first, we, for the most part already have some pieces, 83 10 4 14 91(23)6 49(5)(40) at least all but one or two right now to bring the top end of this team up to where it can compete & contend. Individually those ‘core types’ could very well end up being the game breakers you speak about…and you DID mention Mess…4me aka #4

    As for role players and i really like the way you describe them as being the players [who make up for the elites’ deficiencies]…they may be the harder parts to acquire because they are the kind of glue that keeps the bottom part of the club well oiled and functional so the top end can take over where they leave off during crucial points in, let’s say, Stanley Cup Final games.

    i’m thinking we need to wait up for two more gems (Couturier and Larsson types) and fill out the rooster as we go along with hand picked role players with very specific skills…again first things first yes?


  • AlbertaMan

    yo oilcruzer…Don’t feed the fist trolls…?

    …only a troll lover like you’d want a troll like Avery here? that piece of excrement would SPOIL everything!listen up Old School!
    Hemsky as a Ranger or in Minny? LMAO

    that’ll never happen!

    Penner’s the best trade bait we have bar none…packed up with a couple of our best nare-do-wells 13 & 22 we’d get another piece back and/or a 2011 draft pick…

    …and wtf is up with the loving Sutter reference?

    too lame…go back to bed

    • O.C.

      Why so serious?

      No love for the stutterites here. Pointing out to their old school mentality. They are late to the party, again.

      This teams needs a pest. I said LIKE an Avery, LIKE A Ruuttu… And Clutterbuck is my choice.

      They don’t need a fragile player (cough Ethan Moreau cough). Linus might transition into Hemskys role.

      The team needs D. They don’t walk in at age 18. They, like goalies, are projects. The draft is not the 100% answer, ask Columbus.

      And yes… Don’t feed the fist trolls.

      Merry Christmas Everyone!

      • Top Right

        Seriously? stutterites? MY Old School reference had nothing to do with anything you said but it really appears that you were waaay too late at the party last nite bub…did you go back to bed like i told you to? y’should.

        Now, as for LIKE an Avery TYPE? you’re just wrong again…NEWSFLASH too sparky the Ruutu brothers TYPES are ALL washed up…if you were old enough to remember kid you’d know for sure there’s never going to be another Finn like the Grate One and besides, we don’t Need a Pest. So genius, if, in your fantasy world, we get and it’s Cal not Kyle Clutterbuck and Minny gets 83? which other five slugs are we getting back in THAT trade? I would also suggest that you refrain from saying “Linus might” when using Hemskys’ name in the same sentence…ever again.

        oh and i wasn’t talking Dmen or goalies to you but certainly as far as Columbus is concerned and you speak about the Draft? Rick Nash hasn’t been too bad …it’s just too bad about the crappy team they have around him…but he’ll be gone from there as well some day.

        HoYo !!! Soft Hands!!!Top Right “…Don’t feed the fist trolls…” what does that even mean?

        happy birthday Jesus

        • O.C.

          You are connecting dots that I didn’t connect. I never suggested klutterbuck for hemsky. Thanks for pointing out the first name fail tho. Now I gotta google Kyle clutterbuck and see who he is if he shows up for a tryout.

          To all…
          The don’t feed the fist troll message is for everyones benefit. The more it’s talked about, the more off topic the thread.

      • Top Right

        Oilcruzer..i’m thinking i’m wrong and that you are right.what better day than JCs’ b-day for this, my ah-ha moment at my expense…
        ON is the only blog i read or post on so…

        When I see what i have now realized may be a ‘warning’ posted:

        “Don’t Feed the Fist Trolls ”

        the correct [duh] protocol says that when someone comments on ‘hating’…’questioning’ ‘denigrating’ or ‘wanting to change’ the practice of “fisting” here we simply Don’t Feed, comment back or do anything that would make the offending ‘troll’,if he/she be one at all, feel that they have got the best of our attention…therefore the haters, questioners or denigrators…will just go away as there is no feeding of the fist trolls here yes …????

        i have studied the wikipedia definition of trolls and trolling to an access and when i see the word seemingly connected to me i get indignant, i’ve been called one here and it’s hellish…i’m a lot of things but by the strict definitions i have read i am not a troll…if i offended you here in any way by what i spat back at you here today i sincerely apologize …i hope you accept…
        as for the rest of the exchanges you & me had on other sundry topics and threads?
        …let’s call them the honest dirtlumps

        not so much … have a great day sir

  • Nice work JW. I think our bottom six is what needs the work. I would venture to say we have 2 legitimate bottom sixers right now. Jones and Storts, with Mac in the pressbox. That’s a lot of work yet to do there this summer. The top six is looking nearly complete. Brule and Cogs for a legitimate bottom sixer? Can it be done?