Poker Face

June 30, 2011:"I don’t know if anything is going to happen. We already have some young players in some profile spots. If I can find a player or two who gives us some of that poise and experience or some grit we’ll do that. I don’t know if it’ll happen July 1 or July 20." Steve Tambellini.


Sometimes life delivers a real surprise, and yesterday was exactly that for Oilers Nation. Steve Tambellini followed up his Ryan Smyth fleecing (apparently Fraser’s hurt too; send them a three legged table next time, Tambo!) of Los Angeles with several moves that were (in no particular order) impressive, dogged and risky. Here’s a quick take on each acquisition.

  • Eric Belanger replaces Colin Fraser. Actually, he’s higher up the depth chart, so this signing has all kinds of implications for the roster. Belanger is an ideal 3line C who can check and score. A steady diet of own zone faceoffs is in his future, and that means that Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, RNH, Andrew Cogliano and Anton Lander make for a crowded house at center. Three year deal means he’ll be here awhile, although it is such a cap friendly contract ST will probably be taking phone calls on him every deadline.
  • Ben Eager replaces JF Jacques. Truculent and more skilled than JFJ, Eager is one of those players you hate until your team acquires him. The Oilers bought a guy who can actually play the game, agitate and perhaps as important may have a screw loose. The Oilers have been far too predictable for some time now and Eager is anything but, plus he can help some on offense (3rd in 5×5/points per 60 among Sharks LW’s a year ago, he posted even strength offense about as often as Ryan Jones). Another longer term deal that should be easily cashed if required.
  • Cam Barker replaces Kurtis Foster. This is a risky signing, reminding me of the old Glen Sather days when he’d airlift one of two of these guys into town every summer. Barker is an offensive defenseman with a bomb for a shot, but has had only one really good NHL season in that role. He played 2.5 minutes a night for the Hawks a few years ago and that PP was so efficient (Barker had a high number of 2nd assists) the youngster’s numbers were pulled into elite territory. I don’t know that he can get back there, but that’s the bet. I’ve read a few people saying "there’s no risk, he’ll either play well or be gone after one season" but there’s playing time involved and youngsters in need of that playing time. Jeff Petry comes to mind. I’m hopeful Barker can make a difference–he was a high pick–but Oiler fans should be aware Barker’s NHL history doesn’t contain things like success against tough oppenents or a long running tradiiton of contributing to an effective powerplay.
  • Andy Sutton replaces Jim Vandermeer. Huge defender will be used in more of an enforcer’s role and as mentor to the depth kids. In Ottawa in 09-10, he played tougher opposition and struggled, last season he was on easy street and performed better (in Anaheim). I’d guess he will be a third pairing defender and earn his keep by helping on the PK and as an enforcer.
  • Darcy Hordichuk replaces Steve MacIntyre. Massive upgrade in hockey ability. Hordichuk is a willing fighter and can play the game. Strictly 4th line, his CorsiRel (I know) of -.5 was 8th best among Florida forwards a year ago; this compares with MacIntyre’s -29.1 in 10-11. I’m not trying to be mean here, but the difference is several miles. Hordichuk is a game rooster who plays with energy every shift. Oiler fans will love him.


Putting together line combinations is a lot of fun today. Adding Ryan Smyth and Eric Belanger to the top 9 means the Oilers have traction against the tough opponents or a quality mentor for every young player. In this way, Oiler fans should be very pleased with Steve Tambellini’s summer. It isn’t over–that blueline needs another player and the goaltending is still fluid, but the 5 bets above (taken as a whole) should give all Oiler fans a good feeling moving forward.

This isn’t a playoff team, they might not leave lottery territory in 11-12; but the days of watching wingers who cannot take or make a pass is over. No disrespect to those players, but the new group should be an enormous help for the goalers.

Nation Radio hits the air today at Noon on Team 1260. Scheduled to appear:

  • Scott Cullen from tsn. He tracked the UFA signings yesterday and that my friends was a full time job. We’ll discuss the Oilers moves, the Leafs lack of moves and Calgary’s chances of acquiring Brad Richards. 
  • Kent Simpson from Team 1260’s Edmonton Oil Kings broadcasts. We’ll discuss the importance of playing in an advanced league like the WHL for young European players. Kent had a bird’s eye view of Kristians Pelss and his impressive development and we’ll discuss it and project new Oiler and Oil King Martin Gernat.
  • Kirk Luedeke from Bruins draft Watch. Kirk LOVES the Oilers draft and we’ll ask him to give his overall impressions. Kirk probably has some good behind the scene stories from the draft action so we’ll try to pry those out too.
  • Mike Spiedel from Hockey Symposium. Mike has taught me a lot about the draft and value picks over the years, and we’ll get his insight into just how many Oiler selections were "value" picks.
  • Matt Bugg from Dobber Hockey. I interviewed Matt last weekend about the Oilers picks and will touch base on the subject again. I’ll also delve a little into the players not selected and ask if any of them might be worth signing to pro contracts.

Emails welcome at and I promise to announce the draft prediciton winner.

  • Love Monkey

    “developmentally raped at a young age”

    Couldn’t agree more.

    Now that Sam doesn’t have to play shut down every night and some pressure is off, let’s see what the kid can do. He was having a pretty good year last season before Jones sliced him. I’m excited to see what he’s got now that we have a bit more depth.

  • Blue Blooded

    Dare to dream?? How about Tambo puts an offer in on Stamkos?!?

    **creepily makes shooting gun gesture with hand while simultaneously winking, raising left eyebrow and shotgunning a pilsner**

    • P-G
      Butter face=but her face? Often silently uttered in licenced establishment at closing time when making a silent but important evaluation. I thot it was very funny at 5:30 am this morning. Apologies.

  • paul wodehouse

    …i’m thinking it’s going to be a week where more is going to happen … stuff we thought would never happen … first omark and a first round pick for a Dman that’ll make us all go a little bit crazy …

    in a good way …

    Mr. Tambellini has one more great get to round out his work before training camp…

  • Oilers89

    LT – Just wondering. Would Detroit be at all interested in Horcoff? He lives in Michigan in the off season and I remember him saying that’s where his wife is from there and he said once he works out in the off season with Red Wing players. To go there he might drop his NTC? Do you think there would be any interest on either the Oil/Horc/Red Wings side for something like that to happen? Either this year or in future?

    This line of thinking is probably due to the hour but given the youth movement might that be a possibility?

    • Lowetide

      I think Horcoff is a Detroit type play (intelligent 2-way guy with a nice range of skills) but there are two things that would hold back a deal imo.

      First is money (Detroit has a strict salary structure) and the second is that Horcoff has a lot of miles now. He’s not as fast as he was and he breaks down quite a bit.

      In terms of player type, he’d make sense though.

  • Skidplate

    You and me both. 4:00 am comes awful early, can’t find myself staying up past 10:00 most nights. There are some good things about getting seasoned, and some bad things….