TAMBELLINI: TIME TO STEP UP

MINNEAPOLIS, Minnesota. — The honeymoon, if there even was one, is over for Steve Tambellini. The Oilers’ GM will celebrate his 3rd year as GM on July 8th, and while he was a quiet observer for the first nine months, he has been the decision maker since he announced Craig MacTavish wasn’t going to return as head coach on April 15th, 2009.

Up until now he’s made moves that most people felt were necessary, and like every GM he’s made some good moves, Steve Staios trade, Ryan Jones pick up and drafting, and he’s made some bad moves, Nikolai Khabibulin signing and Pat Quinn hiring. His next moves will be more difficult and much more impactful on the longterm direction of the organization.

Tambellini will need to be decisive and confident like he was when he banished Sheldon Souray to the minors. Some didn’t agree with that move, me included, but Tambellini never wavered from his decision and that showed guts. He needs to show that same fire and resolve this weekend and throughout the summer.

No one should expect him to be a miracle worker and make the Oilers instantly competitive, but the time has come for him to start shaping this team for the future.

The fans desperately want to believe that Tambellini can steer their team in the right direction, but he needs to give them a reason to believe. The Ryan Smyth scenario is shaping up to be the first big test for Tambellini. The majority of fans want Smyth back. Maybe their excitement is based more on nostalgia and a love for a lunch-bucket-hockey-hair-wearing, give-you-everything-you-have type player, but Tambellini needs to act on this deal one way or the other.

If he doesn’t want Smyth, then he needs to stand up and tell the fans why. Many of you will hate the answer, especially if #94 ends up in Calgary. If he wants him then make the deal happen, because he won’t have to give up much to get him. I know there are many factors that go into bringing Smyth back, and the main one is how will it impact the development of Linus Omark, Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Jones. I’d argue this team needs more leadership, especially a player who brings a consistent effort, and Smyth’s presence would be just as valuable off the ice as it be on the ice. 

The Smyth case is interesting because it is rare that a veteran player publicly states he wants to come to Edmonton. We all the know the history of players wanting out of Edmonton, but can you remember one saying they want IN. The fans won’t stop cheering for the Oilers or selling out Rexall if Tambellini doesn’t land the former first rounder, but if he lets him go to Calgary he has to know his rating amongst fans will be at an all-time low. Conversely, if he brings Smyth back to Edmonton his approval rating will increase.

This deal doesn’t need to happen today though, but his decision will have a major impact on how Oiler fans look at their GM.

PERCEPTION MATTERS

The perception, whether fair or not, is that Tambellini is too indecisive at times and fans are wondering if he has the gonads to make a splash at the draft or in free agency. I don’t think any sane fans expect him to sign Brad Richards, or anything crazy like that, but he needs to get in on some of the action.

Prior to heading to Minnesota, Tambellini said he would be aggressive and try to move up from #19. If that doesn’t happen later today, many will want to know why. I don’t think the Oilers need to move up a few spots to make this draft appear successful, but if he elects not to move up he needs to tell the paying customers why he didn’t. "The asking price was too high," won’t cut it this time around.

Last year was the "Summer of Steve," and Tambellini did okay. He rid himself of some older players who weren’t going to help the team, however the guys he brought in didn’t perform very well. He can’t afford to have another summer like that.

Starting now the decisions to mold this team become more difficult. The moves he makes this summer don’t have to make the Oilers a contender now, but they have to improve the team. It is clear this team needs to be more consistent, become harder to play against and, most importantly, he needs to acquire players who can play specific roles.

PARTING SHOTS

  • I’m 99% certain the Oilers will take Ryan Nugent-Hopkins today. I’ve said that since March, and I think it is the right epick. Almost Every scout, agent and media guy that I’ve talked to feels the same way. What the Oilers do after that remains to be seen. Discussions about trading up will heat up once we get past the first few picks. 
     
  • The Phoenix Coyotes seem like a likely destination for Corey Schneider. The Yotes need a goalie, and I wonder if the Yotes would exchange their 20th and a later pick for the Canucks 29th? Mike Gillis wants to move up and this deal would make sense for both teams, so we’ll see if he gets it. Last summer the Habs did get a first rounder, Lars Eller, from St. Louis so don’t rule out a first-rounder being involved, although Jaroslav Halak played more.
     
  • I don’t expect the Oilers to take Joe Morrow with their 19th pick. There is tons of pressure for local kids to perform in Edmonton, and while they like his skill sets, I suspect the hometown factor will come into play. They like Oscar Klefbom and Duncan Siemens and might try to move up to get one of them.
     
  • Keep hearing the Devils are really high on Mika Zibanejad. If Larsson is available at four they take him, but if he is gone, they might trade down a spot or two because they feel they’d still get Zibenajad. There wasn’t a trade last year until the #15 pick, but I suspect you will see a few more prior to that this year.
     
  • I’m setting my line for trades involving first rounders at 9.5. Will you take the over or the under? ***I mean trades today, not ones that include prior to today.***
     
  • The San Jose Sharks and another team have expressed interest in Robyn Regehr. Regehr would prefer the Sharks over Buffalo and it sounds like that deal could occur during the draft.
     
  • One other crazy rumour has Carolina acquiring Regehr and then sending him to Vancouver.