Bewitched

Talent can be found in the most unusual places. Sports history gives us many examples of teams adding talent at little cost. Green Bay’s Packers of the 1960s, the Whitey Herzog Cardinals baseball team 82+ and hockey’s NY Islanders from 1974-83 are all great examples of finding talent buried in other organizations or the deep minors.

The NY Islanders of the early ’70s kept adding qualified hockey players via the draft, trade, WHA, everywhere. They overdrafted the WHL, but used every Canadian junior league and Europe when the opportunity presented itself. The NYI seemed to win out all the time; an example was John Tonelli–originally stolen from the clutches of the NHL two years before he was draft eligible by the upstart WHA–he was eventually drafted much lower in his eligible year by the Islanders. Had Tonelli been a normal graduating junior he would have been selected much higher, but the Islanders showed some faith in the big man’s future.

Incredibly, a year later one of the WHA’s strongest franchises on the ice–the Houston Aeros–folded and the Islanders swooped in to grab him. As a historic footnote, at the time of the Tonelli signing the Islanders were in terrible financial condition, and in today’s NHL one doubts if they would have had the wherewithal to make the signing.

The Islanders found players everywhere, and serve as an excellent example of how to procure talent. GM Bill Torrey had some outstanding help–Gerry Ehman among them–and delivered  a cluster of talent 1973-80 that the NHL has rarely seen in its history.

This fall, the Oilers are showing some signs of having scouting staffs that can procure talent outside the typical avenues. Here are some examples:

  • C Eric Belanger, value free agent signing. Has a huge chance to trump his contract and could be the best free agent acquistion of ST’s career as Oilers GM.
  • C Anton Lander, drafted outside the first round and forced his way onto the roster at age 20. Twenty of the 39 picks who came before Lander made their NHL debut before the Swedish C, but his skill set suggests he will have greater value than many of them should he deliver on promise.
  • R Lennart Petrell, a Euro free agent who could end up being a quality free agent signing.
  • D Taylor Fedun, a fine prospect whose injury flushes a season. Still, the Oilers aggressiveness with college kids is a very good sign for the future.
  • D Corey Potter, a minor leaguer who has put in lots of time in the AHL in an effort to secure just this opportunity. He could deliver beyond expectations and comes at zero risk.

The Oilers added a bunch of guys (RNH, Smyth, Eager, Hordichuk) over the summer beyond this group, but I think the 5 men listed represent a renewed effort to look under every rock. A journeyman free agent ideally suited to team need (Belanger), a second round pick properly developed grabbed an NHL job at least half a year early (Lander), a quality European free agent who can help in a specific area (Petrell), a college grad (Fedun) and a minor league free agent who also addresses need (Potter).

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

Whitney Herzog always treated talent like it was readily available and Bill Torrey held on to his draft picks and spent them wisely. The Oilers have improved their amateur scouting staff since Stu MacGregor took over the lead job, and with signings like Belanger, Petrell, Fedun and Potter the organization is showing signs of returning to a previous time. A time when Finland, canadian colleges and projects were the norm for training camp in this town.

The day Edmonton signed Lennart Petrell it didn’t appear above the fold, below the fold or near the fold. I don’t think most Oiler fans thought he’d be a late cut let alone make the opening night roster. No wonder, since the Oilers as an organization have had so few pro free agents from Europe come in and force their way up the roster over these past few seasons.

Steve Tambellini’s process is not swift, but there are signs that the lessons offered by the past have not been wasted on him. I don’t know that he’ll survive another losing season–the inertia over addressing this blue is baffling–but the foundation is there and there are some good signs.

  • BArmstrong

    How’s about a mature Finn (a la Lennart Petrell) for the blue line. Does a 4,5,6 d-man lurk in the Finnish league somewhere? Maybe Reijo Ruotsalainen knows where the Oiler can find him:)

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    tambo needs to go,our forwards are set for years to come but our defense is terrible and goaltending is worse,if he does not trade or pick anyone up from the wavier wire tommorrow our season is shot.please get us something done to at least give us some sort of hope this season or all of us oil fans will be hearing steveo saying”the edmonton oilers are proud to select first overall” once again.

  • unca miltie

    Tambellini doesn’t have a clue how bad his defense is even when healthy:

    “We do have lots of forwards and we’re banged up a bit on the back-end, at least on the short-term,” said Tambellini. “I’ve had discussions with other general managers but nothing that makes sense now. Our depth (defence) when healthy is pretty good. We could use a top three defenceman in a trade. But is that going to happen? I don’t see that.”

  • Quicksilver ballet

    The extension Steve signs this season is basically be a severence package. Have to believe he’ll be gone at seasons end. He’s accomplished what he was brought in here to do.

  • Stone Hands McOsta

    Was just saying to a buddy – things could really be different today. I watched the ’07 draft and was begging for Alzner at 6 and Shattenkirk at 15. Both went the pick before. Both would look pretty nice today. I also wanted Angelo Esposito at 15 after Shattenkirk was taken, so time makes fools of us all.

    And not to be a smartass, but Petrell was drafted, onceuponatime, by Columbus. Not that it makes a lick of difference really, but he’s not truly an undrafted free agent.

  • Lowetide

    @LT

    Well he didn’t do much under the circumstances.

    He brought in a 3rd/4th line centre and replaced a bunch of junk with a bunch more junk.

    Fans tend to get too focused on slight, apparent, improvements and think all is going to plan.

    When that scenario plays out year after year, it is very apparent that the team is just not that much better.

    That would be acceptable for a team that was competitive but a team that has missed the playoffs five years, going on six, should be loaded for bear.

    The Oilers have some nice forwards but they still have three or four that are AHL calibre and the defense and goaltending are the worst in the league.

    If time wasn’t of the essence, that might be acceptable, but that is not the case.

    The Oilers are burning through value ELC’s at an alarming rate and hoping that their young players (and their agents) will be patient is just goofy.

    Shea Weber, for example, is about to bolt from a a perennial playoff team because he sees there is no chance to win the cup.

    Do you really think Hall, Eberle, RNH, et al will see the world differently while Mr. Dithers tries to figure out how to build a winner?

    • Do you really think Hall, Eberle, RNH, et al will see the world differently while Mr. Dithers tries to figure out how to build a winner?

      Probably not as the ridiculous contracts given to doughty, myers, schenn etc. coming out of ELC’s means the dark knight will be losing some of them anyways, because the pockets arent that deep and the supporting cast too weak to risk “cup run” kind of spending.

      The obvious pattern established in cup winners in the past few years is guys playing way over there contract value, chicago had sharp, bolland, alphabet etc. deliver huge upside for bargain money. Then when the money truck arrives………. many are gone.
      Boston got some great value out of seguin, marchand etc. last spring as opposed to vancity who spent large on the jar heads and got poor value in comparison.

      Its a dynamic balancing act but given that Edmonton is in a position where overpayment is the norm for adequately competent pluggers the window of opportunity to capitalize on these “kids” while cheap is horribly short.

      Sadly

      • raceguy

        Ehrhoff, Hejda and Hannan were all available, for example.

        How much better would the Oilers’ defense look with 2 of those 3 rather than Barker and Sutton?

        It’s a a league where you go big or go home…Steve went home.

        Won’t even get into goaltending where there were scores of options available and the Oilers go into the season with perhaps the worst tandem in the league.

  • Stone Hands McOsta

    @DSF

    Who are your three or four AHL-calibre forwards? There’s enough to dislike about the Oilers’ current composition and direction without overstating the case.

  • a lg dubl dubl

    Its not that I expected Mr.Dithers to go out and get a Doughty or a Weber and sign them to an outragous contract(that we’d all b*tch about) this past July, but I did expect him to get a dman or 2 that would hold the fort while Whitney was working his kinks out and overshadow Gilberts misgivings in front of the net so he doesn’t look totally lost out there(if thats possible). For ST to just “assess” the situation and say “when healthy our d has depth”…REALLY!?…dont get me wrong Im all for bring in a guy from OKC and let him learn but a team HAS to have veteren NHL dmen to properly show him the ropes and cover for him as needed, even sweet baby Jesus knows Gilbert cant do it 25-30min a night, last yr proved that.

    I just dont think the likes of Gilbert, and a slew of 5-6 demn can get it done since Tamby himself said we SHOULD make the playoffs his yr.

    Do I think the Oilers can make the playoffs yea but ST has to make the d better and offering this yrs 1st round pick* in a trade could get it done IMO.

    *the Oilers already have enough back to back ELCs with HOPE and RNH.

  • LT,

    Is it giving ST too much credit to suggest that he is leaving the blue alone because he WANTS this team to tank again? Of course, he can’t SAY that, so he has to talk about “evaluating” and so forth. But we all know this team isn’t going to win, and if we aren’t going to win, then the best thing to do is to tank, no?

    • Lowetide

      Based on the verbal, I don’t think he’d survive another 30th place finish. The Oilers are framing the season as being a better one, and I can’t see ST coming back for another year after 3-30’s in a row.

    • book¡e

      I think he wants to see improvement enough to keep the fans coming (so exciting 25th place hockey is my guess), but really wants one more stab at a decent draft pick so he sees no need to make improvements at D. All of the key players, except Hemsky are tied up beyond this season so while they may be disappointed, they will be back here next year.

      The team is not going to win the cup this year, and the arena will be packed with fans. Why go out and grab a top 3 d-man just so you can finish 20th instead of 25th?

      I think there is tremendous value in making the playoffs (financially and in terms of development) and I think trying to make the playoffs this year would have been a good plan. However, it looks to me like ST4.0 has decided that one more year of good drafting will go over ok with this team and in this city. As such, he is going for the draft pick.

  • Dan the Man

    I remember in the summer that someone over at Copper’n Blue predicted that Petrell would make the team out of camp and I remember thinking “You’re sniffing glue, dude”.

    Well, who’s sniffing glue now?

    I guess I am.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    ST should have signed Nik Lidstom and Shea Weber, fire him.

    If Taylor Hall doesn’t score 80 goals this year we should trade that bum.

    If Omark doesn’t get 100 assists this year we should send him to the farm.

    If Horcoff doesn’t get his lazy eye fixed, Hemsky will get injured 6 games in, we should trade them now for Brad Richards and Henrik Ludqvist.

    If I don’t hate on someone I’m not a true fan.

    If i have sex with one girl it’s called a “twosome”, with two girls, it’s called a “threesome”. Too bad most of the time, i’m “handsome”.

  • raceguy

    @DSF

    I have a challenge for you: For just one day, try to be positive. Just ONE day! That’s all I ask, and you might even surprise yourself by discovering that life is a lot more enjoyable and refreshing when you don’t crap on everything.

    Jeepers, some fans annoy me with their constant complaining and criticism. Let’s just see how the season plays out- I really think these young Oilers could surprise people. And Gagner would NOT be hardpressed to make ANY team. /facepalm

    • longbottom/P.Biglow

      Tell you what…when the Oiler brain trust starts hitting .250 against major league pitching, I’ll be all sweetness and light.

      But lets look at the recent past.

      Now, we don’t know when Tambellini actually took over but if you concede Lowe is still involved it doesn’t matter much.

      Horcoff contract: whiff

      Heatley offer: whiff

      Vanek offer: whiff

      Hossa offer: whiff

      Khabibulin: whiff

      Cole: whiff

      O’Sullivan: whiff

      Souray: whiff

      Nilsson: whiff

      O’Marra: whiff

      Cogliano: whiff

      Visnovsky: whiff

      Whitney: whiff

      Foster: whiff

      Fraser: whiff

      Penner trade: whiff

      Brule: whiff

      Jones contract: whiff

      Now, because they’ve been a lottery team they have drafted well but, in reality, that’s chimp work.

      Can you point me to any solid singles or ground rule doubles he’s hit?

      Maybe Belanger?

      • raceguy

        And if Tambo signed Ehrhoff till he turned 39 and Hejda till he turned 37 you would be roasting him even more.Yet you cite those two as missed opportunities.
        Maybe Hejda was offered a two yr contract and turned it down for 4 yrs in Colorado.
        You have no clue what goes on behind the scenes.It’s easy to armchair.

      • Peterborough

        Visnovsky: whiff– not a bad trade, he is a great player and played well here.

        Whitney: whiff — the injuries don’t look good now but the jury remains out on this deal.

        Foster: whiff — he had bad circumstances to deal with and produced an asset.

        Penner trade: whiff — Added two D-man who may well be on the roster for years. A huge win now and if it turns out could be the greatest move in a very long time.

        • Penner trade: whiff — Added two D-man who may well be on the roster for years. A huge win now and if it turns out could be the greatest move in a very long time.

          How can it possibly be a win now when nothing we got back is playing in the NHL and a first liner went the other way?

          Future win? Probably not. What do you mean by “if it turns out?” Both players suddenly become top 4 defenders?

          Teubert looks like a bottom pairing defender at best, and Klefbom will have to be lucky to become a top 4. There is only a negligible chance that both will end up in our top 4. The odds say neither one makes it that far.

          In short – Penner Trade = brutal loss today and a very small possibility of winning at some unknown future point. Brilliant.

        • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

          Visnovsky didn’t want to play for the Oilers…he’s made that very clear since he was traded.

          Acuiring him cost two actual NHL players who would look pretty good on the Oilers right now.

          Disposing of him, netted a player with a known injury history who missed 47 games last season and, almost a year after surgery, is still apparently questionable to play.

          Not sure how you can call that a win.

          Foster begat Andy Sutton…how many bottom pairing defensemen does a team need?

          • Visnovsky didn’t want to play for any other team, he was given misleading information by the kings. And. once he got here, we catered to that idiot souray and put visnovsky on the back burner. all he was was a setup man playing on the opposite point that he was used to playing. Can anyone blame him why he didn’t get settled in?

          • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

            What Visnovsky made clear was that he was pissed at the Kings for trading him before his No trade clause kicked in.

            I assume he left some money on the table in order to get that security and they basically used a loophole to get him out.

            Not once did he ever say he didn’t want to play for Edmonton.

          • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

            “The re-awakening of Lubomir Visnovsky’s hockey career can be traced to a hotel room in snow-packed Chicago in March 2010.

            Visnovsky and his Edmonton Oilers teammates were coming off another loss and had arrived to play the Blackhawks when Visnovsky received a phone call.

            It wasn’t a surprising one.

            “The GM, (Steve) Tambellini, knew I wasn’t happy,” Visnovsky said. “He told me, ‘You will be very happy to go back to California.’ I appreciated that.”

            Visnovsky spent a season and a half in Edmonton and never acclimated to the change in scenery after playing his first seven NHL seasons with the Los Angeles Kings.

            He didn’t quite fit in the Oilers’ system, and off the ice, it was difficult for his family because his 2-year-old son is active and the harsh winters didn’t allow them to spend much time outside.

            “I was not happy,” Visnovsky said. “I didn’t play very good hockey there. On the ice it was very tough and off the ice was very tough. Mentally, it was very tough.”

            http://www.nhl.com/ice/news.htm?id=590885

            Doesn’t sound like a happy camper to me.

      • billylikestodrinksoda

        Look man, we are all in the same boat as you. We have all lived through the past 5 years of oilers hockey and they were god awful. Fact. We lived through the blown trades, missed draft picks, and inability to land high end free agents. We get it. We sucked and the organization made some piss poor decisions after the cup run. But honestly, sit down and take a seat and stop reminding of us. Did we all get amnesia? Did Will Smith come in and do the memory erase thing like in MIB? If you think signing christian erhoff to a 40 million dollar contract and signing scott hannan to a one year deal would benefit this team in the long run then you are a plain idiot. This is a rebuild. We f***ed up bad for 5 years and now we are trying to pull it together and you know what? Its slowly working. Look at our recent draft picks who by majority are all trending up and all the forward depth on the wings. It takes time for stuff like this and man is it ever painful. We all feel it. All of us on this website who read these articles feels it. This is basically year 2 and a half of a rebuild that I believe will take 5 or 6 years. Now if we suck in 3 years and are living the Islander lifestyle then by all means complain your life away. But for god sakes, Stop complaining about stuff that occured before this rebuild and stop thinking a 10 year/40 million dollar contract is the answer to the Edmonton Oilers at this very moment. We know what happened. It sucked. Move on and use your brain. Rant done

  • Douche Nietzsche

    NHL GMs are all stingy boys club type fellows. There are no reasonable trades to be had, unless one of the teams is taking a risk. Everyone of them seem to be scared of a fair one. You can’t blame ST, he only respresents one of the teams at the dance.

  • longbottom/P.Biglow

    agreed, The true Oiler fans know this, you know the ones that will give the teamtwenty to thirty games to see what we have. the ones that know that forwards coming back are part of a good defensive system. The ones that pay for tickets without any complaints that the hot dgs are too skinney the beer costs too much. The silent majority that sells out the arena everygame.

  • The only people I heard or read who wrote off Petrell, Fedun(until his injury) and Potter were the Oiler broadcast personnel and sportswriters of our city. None of the local writers predicted Brule’s trip to the waiver-wire. When youth and energy encouters opportunity you just never know whose talent will rise to the surface. The emergence of those players should probably be credited to the Oiler scouts. That was the most encouraging thing to me. I think that is one accomplishment of the Oiler development activities that they have followed since they committed to the re-build.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    A year ago every one was calling for ST’s head because our forwards lacked so much as did our goal tending and D fence. All of those areas have improved in my opinion though some very little. I know there have been some dismal mistakes but I also like a lot of what I see. The forward are going to compete as are special teams. OK city looks strong! Habby looks possibly better. The Defense has the farthest to go but 1 or 2 signings could really turn things around. Patience!!!

  • I have been reading bloggers/reporters and other pundants go on and on all summer and fall with negative analysis about the defence on this team ….my sincere wish is that this group along with the talent in the AHL proves you all wrong ……..but do I expect you to go on record and admit you were wrong and offer up the appropraite apologise’ to the members on the team that you have spent the last 6 months dissing .I doubt it …..Negative journalism sells