In a week Steve Tambellini will walk up to the microphone and announce Ryan Nugent-Hopkins as the first overall pick in the 2011 draft. Oiler fans will rejoice with the notion they finally have a true number one centre on their team, and you’ll wait patiently for him to showcase his talents in the near future. Nugent-Hopkins combined with Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Magnus Paajarvi will have many of you believing the Oil is finally on the road to credibility.
You are probably right, however, in the past four years Stu MacGregor and his scouts have deservingly earned your praise, but after Friday, it will be up to Steve Tambellini to build this team into a contender.
After the Chicago Blackhawks won the Cup everyone, including the Oilers’ brass, suggested the Blackhawks had set the model for how to build a winner; Do it via the draft. When you’ve drafted the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and a host of complimentary players like Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Dustin Byfuglien, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Adam Burish it is clear that drafting is an important building block.
It is only the first step, however, and not the only way to go.
Drafting was key for the Hawks, but free agent signings and trades put the Hawks over the top. Even though they overpaid Brian Campbell he was a key contributor in their Cup run. Same for Marian Hossa. They signed Antti Niemi as an undrafted free agent in 2008. They acquired Kris Versteeg in 2007 for Brandon Bochenski. They stole Patrick Sharp from the Flyers in 2006 for Matt Ellison and a 3rd rounder. They acquired Andrew Ladd at the deadline in 2008 for Tuomo Ruutu, and they got Ben Eager in 2007 for Jim Vandermeer.
If you look at the Boston Bruins’ roster, it seems clear that GM, Peter Chiarelli, was the main architect. He was hired on May 26th, 2006. When he signed his contract was contingent on him not being part of the 2006 draft. I have no idea how the NHL could correctly monitor that, but I wonder if he had any input when the Bruins drafted Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand in the top 71 picks.
The Bruins drafted Patrice Bergeron (2nd round, 2003) and David Krejci (2nd round, 2004) prior to Chiarelli’s arrival, but they are the only two on the Cup winning roster that didn’t involve Chiarelli.
Chiarelli had some key draft picks in 2006, but from 2007-2010 the only draft pick to play more than 25 games was Tyler Seguin. The main parts of his roster were built through free agency, trades, patience and some luck.
- June 24th, 2006 he acquires the rights to Tukka Rask from Toronto for Andrew Raycroft.
- July 1st, 2006 he signs Zdeno Chara to a five-year, $37.5 million deal.
- July 1st, 2006 he signs Marc Savard to a four-year, $20 million contract.
- Tim Thomas played 20 games prior to Chiarelli taking over, but he wasn’t sold that Thomas was his goalie. In Chiarelli’s first year, Hannu Toivenen was the starter ahead of Thomas. In 2007, Chiarelli acquired Manny Fernandez and he was pegged as the starter, but he got hurt and Thomas finally got to start. Thomas won the Vezina in 2009, and signed a four-year extension, but his played dipped in 2010 and he didn’t play a game in the postseason in 2010. He bounced back this year, regained his starting job and won the Conn Smythe. (I’d say there was some luck on Chiarelli’s part here, since their belief in Thomas seemed tenuous at best.)
- February 10th , 2007 he acquires Andrew Ference from Calgary. In March of 2010, he gives Ference a three-year extension worth $2.25 million per season.
- May 16th, 2007 he sends a 5th round pick to Columbus for D-man Adam McQuaid.
- June 22nd, 2007 he signs head coach Claude Julien.
- July 1st, 2007 he signs Shawn Thornton at $500,000 for three years. He gave Thornton a two-year extension in summer of 2010 worth $812,500/season.
- June 24th, 2008 he acquired Edmonton native, Johnny Boychuk, from Colorado for Matt Hendricks.
- July 1st, 2008 he signed Michael Ryder for three years at around $4 million/year.
- March 4th, 2009 he acquired Mark Recchi and a 2nd rounder for Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff. He re-signed Recchi to a one-year deal in July of 2009, and then another one-year deal this past summer.
- September 18th, 2009 he traded Phil Kessel to the Leafs for a 1st and 2nd rounder in 2010, Tyler Seguin and Jared Knight, and a 1st rounder in 2011.
- On October 20th, 2009 he acquired Daniel Paille for a 3rd rounder.
- March 3rd, 2010 he traded Bryon Bitz, Craig Weller and a 2nd to Florida for Dennis Seidenberg and Matt Bartowski. He then gave Seidenberg a four-year contract worth $13 million.
- June 22nd, 2010 he acquires Nathan Horton and Gregory Campbell from Florida for Dennis Wideman, first rounder in 2010 and a 3rd rounder in 2011.
- February 15th, 2011 he sends a 2nd round pick to Ottawa for Chris Kelly.
- February 18th, 2011 he acquires Rich Peverly and Boris Valabik from Atlanta for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart.
- February 18th, 2011 he sends Joe Colboure, a 2011 1st rounder and a conditional 2nd rounder to Toronto for Tomas Kaberle.
- February 26th, 2011 he signs UFA D-man Shane Hnidy to a one-year deal.
Chiarelli acquired or signed 18 of the 22 players who dressed during this year’s Cup run, and that’s not including Marc Savard.
He might not have won every trade, Ference for Brad Stuart, but he added guys along the way that fit into the mold of the type of team he wanted to build. He added lots of gritty, characters guys, but he was able to fleece some GMs along the way. The Horton and Campbell deal was huge and stealing Seidenberg for basically nothing has to be one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory.
The Kessel deal has enabled him to re-stock his team with great picks, and it allowed him to give up a decent prospect and a 1st rounder for Kaberle. Up until the Cup final, many were saying he lost the Kaberle deal, but Kaberle led Boston’s D-men with 11 playoff points, and was quietly solid in the Cup final.
When you look at Chiarelli’s timeline, it is clear that it takes time to build a winner, and realistically the Oilers are four or five years from, maybe, being a Cup contender. Between now and then Tambellini is going to have to make some astute moves to help his team. Not every move has to be earth shattering, but if he can find a few players similar to McQuaid, Boychuk and Paille then this team might be ready to compete when the skilled guys like Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi and Nugent-Hopkins have matured.
Stu MacGregor has done his part, and after Friday it will be up to Tambellini to start making small, smart moves that will help make this team a contender.