MEMO TO STEVE T: ABOUT PROGRESS . . .

I’m flattered the question I put to Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini Wednesday produced all that quotable stuff about expecting to make the playoffs next season, but that’s not what I was asking about.

The end of, I’ll admit, my rather rambling question — OK, it bordered on a Bryan Hall query in terms of duration — went like this: "Progress without playoffs is still a possibility?" The question coaxed a 40-second answer from Tambellini that included, but wasn’t limited to, the following:

"There’s no thought, and I know speaking to Tom (Renney), that we don’t want to make the playoffs next year. Of course we do," Tambellini said.

"There’s no one that was told inside that dressing room that our goal was not to make the playoffs. There should be that pressure every year, every night, every season regardless of new players, veteran players. There’s no excuses in the NHL to think you can’t make the playoffs.

"I expect our team to make the playoffs next year . . ." On and on went Tambellini. Fine. Good. Sound bite delivered. Now, about the progress part . . .

LONG WAY BACK

In terms of points totals and placing in the Western Conference, I believe the Oilers can make substantial progress without making the playoffs next season. At 25-45-12 for 62 points, the 15th-place Oilers finished 35 points behind eighth-place Chicago.

With that as a starting point, next year’s team can improve by 30 points — good luck with that — and still not get a real sniff of the post-season. A 30-point increase this season would have left them 11th.

Tambellini never did answer my question about progress, so perhaps our readers can take up that train of thought here. In your opinion, how much improvement in points and placing represents reasonable progress?

Is it playoffs or bust after five straight years out of the post-season? Does playing meaningful games in late-March get it? You tell me. I get into games for free. When the story is done, I hit the send button and get a cheque, win or lose. People who buy tickets, the fans who pay the freight, have a different stake in this.

Is there a placing or a points total that triggers it for you? What will it take to make you to say, "OK, this thing is on the right track?"

DOWN TO BUSINESS

Progress, obviously, involves more than a specific points total or placing in X-spot. It could be argued Tambellini could do nothing with this roster and have the team improve by 20 points, no?

Take away, or at least limit, injuries that ended the seasons of Taylor Hall, Ryan Whitney, Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner. Might Kurtis Foster and Colin Fraser have better years? Could they be worse?

What will a season of NHL experience mean to the likes of Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Paajarvi, Devan Dubnyk and Theo Peckham? Will any of them be better. How about Teemu Hartikainen and Linus Omark?

I’m not advocating Tambellini stand pat after he calls the name Ryan Nugent-Hopkins June 24. Not by any stretch. I’m just saying Tambellini could dither all summer and this team could improve by 20 points.

He won’t, of course. Tambellini has Ryan Jones to sign. He has Sheldon Souray to jettison. Tambellini recognizes, as he pointed out Wednesday, the need to add depth on defence and down the middle. Find a face-off guy, please. Free agents to pursue, etc etc.

What represents suitable progress? You tell me.

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • Mr. Brownlee,

    I’m curious. What is your opinion regarding whether the Oilers rebuild would be better served by trading Ales Hemsky vs. attempting to sign him this summer and risking running out of time?

    or would this be the subject of a whole post?

  • O.C.

    Tambellini is a slippery fish. He nevers answers a direct question directly. He dissembles when talking about results and progress. He expects fans to take his word for truth after the way he has performed or failed to perform in his job. He has described progress as a change of culture in the dressingroom. What the hell happened to changing things on the freaking ice? Exactly how is one to measure, assess or prove that rather nebulous claim? His trades and signings have been mostly failures. How does he keep his job? He likely will piss the summer away laboring over Souray’s fate while team needs go undealt with. Since wizard KLowe signed Souray let him waste his time figuring out what to do with him.

    S.T. is riding Stu MacGregor’s coat tails. MacGregor and his staff are the only positives since S.T. showed up here. That and of course the players he’s drafted.

    Tambellini has to be running out of rope after 3 seasons of dithering. If he doesn’t get his ass in gear this off-season someone should be figuring out how to tie a hangman’s knot.

  • O.C.

    Ok. After the first two night, I gotta say it. There needs to be changes that don’t allow teams to collapse five people in front of the net so that the other team is left hoping it hits a hole instead of targets.

    The game needs something like bigger nets, no shot blocking, a key like basketball where no one can stand for very long, smaller goalies, less equipment, 4 on 4, penalties for icing, a big change in the off side rule, butterfly style not allowed, something… Can’t put my finger on it.

    But right now, and last year, and the year before, there seems to be almost no breaking down the wing and taking that big shot and a miracle glove save happening. It’s all about shooting and hoping.

    Or maybe I am just grouchy tonight with a major headache. Ya…

  • Progress would be:

    1) Less players slotted into spots above their established NHL ability. Examples – Rookies on 1st line, Smid in top 4, Gilbert top 2D, Foster, Fraser, JFJ on the ice

    2) Less raw rookies in the line up. 7 Oilers got their 1st NHL goal last year. That’s too many. One, maybe two rookies top, and none expected to out play Actual NHL players.

    3) No bad UFA signings. If Garth Snow can sign players who can actually contribute so can Tambellini.

    4) Playing Dubnyk as much as he deserves. Renney, Tambellini, Stauffer, Kevin Quinn have all been quick to defend Khabby and say its still his job to lose. That’s fine for public consumption, I wouldn’t expect them to throw 2 more years at 3.75MM for the 44th best goalie in the league under the bus. But play him as much as he earns and that should be 50+ games if this year’s results are any indication.

    5) Improve the powerplay. Like others have said, with all the skill they have, their power play results must be coach driven. Fix it, and fix it now.

    6) PK and C help. Its only been 3-4 years since the great Center purge (Brodziak, Reasoner, Stoll all gone with no C coming back) 3-4 years might not be enough time to notice your face off ability sucks and your PK is also terrible. Time to address that too. The PK was better for the last 30 games, but still lacking a vet C who also PK’s. Fraser was handed the job and he handed it back.

    • I agree with pretty much all of this, Woodguy. One caveat for me is the sad fact that when you pay an older, under-performing goalie 3.75 or so you have no choice but to ride it out and hope he plays his way out of it, for trade sake, or at least some public vindication with your fanbase.

      They have no choice but to tow the company line with Khabby. You’re pretty much saying that in your post also.

      I tend to feel that the team hasn’t been given a true chance to win yet by ST. Every move he’s made has been a “win later” move. Time for a couple “win now” moves, even if the acquisitions aren’t here when we’re ready to go deep in the playoffs. He owes the kids that.

  • smiliegirl15

    As long as Mr. Dithers is assessing the situation, there will be no progress. I think his non-answer to your question, Robin proves that. He’s probably still trying to decide if the moves he made last summer are still good ones.

  • Ender

    Speaking of Khabibulin, I remember hearing that his appeal could possibly have been called into court as early as February; obviously that didn’t happen, but there’s little point in stalling it anymore. The offseason’s a-burnin’ and Nik doesn’t want to wait too long to hit the Crowbar Motel lest he find himself still enjoying creature comforts from the marshall when the rest of the team is in training camp.

    I wonder if Oilers.com will have him post a blog from the inside; that would probably be a much more interesting read than hearing about Gibby changing his hairstyle.

  • Oilers aim should be immediate and not years away for starters . Thus , i see little advantage taking RNHopkins as our first pick -to risky to begin with . Mind you, keeping Tams is probably riskiest of all . If we take Larsson or Landeskop , whose to say either might not be a franchise player as well ? Whom was the last first overall pick that never went into their team the next year anyways ?

    When Tams start to think their appears this vision/cloud of disaster and horror that shrouds/ensues with it . Delusions of grandeur and narcessism that seems to distance himself from the masses ? I see no benefit for our current team on ice taking any but a youthfull player in this years draft for starters , rather than taking one that might pan out years later and will not make team this next season .

    Other plans Tams might have are wishy washy at best . Probably because he does not even know what they are or might be . Larsson and Landeskop fill some much needed upgrades and both are as worthy as RNHopkins – probably even more so . Maybe he needs ON to help him make the correct pick like last season . No offence to RNHopkins , but i want one of the Swedes as our top pick and immediately onto squad for next season ! Then maybe you try dealing for RNHopkins or one of the other top 6 forwards with size a major criteria . What might Gagner and our second first round pick get us in moving up the draft ? Perhaps we might even luck out and get a defenceman like Musil with our 31st pick ?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Just to expand on Khabby…

    The Oilers have already made it known it’s okay to throw one of your own under the bus. They’ve shown they know how to punish and publically embarass a player, maybe now they could show it wasn’t all about the revenge and help him get back on his feet and end this debacle.

    It’s unfortunate pro sports this isn’t a little more black and white like our justice system is. The Judge isn’t much concerned about the circumstances (What Souray said) leading up to the offence, he’s really only interested in the actions of the defedant(the Edmonton Oilers hockey club) during the offence.

    Why can’t we do exactly the same thing to Khabibulin? Khabibulin has committed what is considered a serious public offense, he’s earned every right to be treated every bit as shoddily as Souray was. Lets continue this code and throw #35 under the bus as well. It’s nothing new for this once proud organization. Problem solved, then Devan Dubnyk can play 55 games next uear and we’ll all be happy…..kay.

    • D-Man

      Although I’d love to see Tambo dump Khabby’s contract – comparing him to Souray are apples and oranges…

      Souray went public and bad-mouthed the organization. Regardless of whether he was right or wrong, he aired out his and the organization’s dirty laundry… A major ‘no-no’ for GM who wants to establish a cultural change in this organization.

      Khabby,regardless of his off ice antics, has been a professional and has supported Dubnyk, even though he’s clearly lost his claim to being the #1 tender next year. Granted, he’s has a brutal contract – but throwing him under the bus will only encourage the big ticket FA’s we’ll need to come here in the next two to three years not to come.

      Completely different circumstances if you’d ask me. Khabby would also be a decent back for at least another year or two – regardless of contract. We don’t have a huge crop of goalies in our system. Roy will probably be a rookie in the AHL next year and Bunz has at least one more year of junior.

  • Ender

    I think progress is meaningful games in March next year. I don’t think we are even near as good as the Flames team this year that pushed it into April. But to not be eliminated in December? Thanks.
    If we sign a couple of steady vets and keep the kids progressing, good enough in my book. Stay the course, no RFA’s. If you ask me, an RFA offersheet is the move of a desperate GM trying to save his job.
    Also, pick a center, any center.

    • Wax Man Riley

      Progress will be a move up in the standings, and not have the season over in December.

      Progress will be keeping a healthy(er?) roster.

      I don’t think Tootoo has ever played a full season. We definitely don’t need that.

      What about Detroit D Jonathan Ericsson? Or Zherdev?

      • Wax Man Riley

        You wouldn’t love watching Jordan Tootoo go balls out against the Calgary Flames..

        Progress is in the standings yes,
        but what about the fans, wouldn’t progress be spending 200 bones for filthy seats worth while?