As 2011 draws to a close, should we really be surprised the Edmonton Oilers are fading fast in the Western Conference after a start to the season that had some fans convinced that happy days, and a playoff spot, were here again?
With frustration growing as the Oilers look more like a lottery team than a playoff contender for the third straight season, the number of e-mails and tweets on Twitter I’m getting from fans with 2012 just around the corner has been increasing by the day.
The most common theme, and by a landslide, is the contention GM Steve Tambellini hasn’t done his job in assembling the proper players required to move the rebuild fans have been sold along at a reasonable pace. Tambellini is a bungler and an incompetent manager. He deserves to lose his job if the Oilers finish as a bottom-feeder in the standings again. Four years into his tenure, I have zero issues with that last contention.
While many fans weren’t singing that tune when the Oilers got off to a 9-3-2 start, they’re saying it now — long and loud and in no uncertain terms. Some have even suggested Tambellini has been given pretty much a free ride when it comes to criticism until now.
The free ride bit didn’t ring true, so I looked back through some of the things I’ve written here since late summer. While these are just snippets taken from longer items, questions fans have now about the job Tambellini has done have been out there for months. I’m sure other writers at Oilersnation could find much the same takes in items they’ve done.
While the following snippets aren’t a comprehensive look at every aspect of the team – I’m limiting this to items about expectations in general, the make-up of the defense, the state of Ryan Whitney’s ankle and my overall take on how Tambellini has performed – and don’t qualify as the kind of ranting and raving some of you expect, I’m not surprised the Oilers are where they are now.
And you shouldn’t be, either.
"For all the high-fiving among the long suffering faithful to start the season, and nobody is denying people who buy the tickets and the jerseys that, did anybody really – really – think the Oilers were as good as their record in the first 14 games? Even those with their lips stained blue and the goggles on had to know better, didn’t they? Didn’t you?"
"If I was starting a franchise with players on the rosters on opening day, I’d happily take Edmonton’s collection of talented, young forwards ahead of six or seven teams I’ve got picked ahead of them — I just don’t think that translates to a significant jump in the standings in 2011-12. "I think the Oilers will be considerably better than they were last season if they can avoid the injuries to key players they endured in 2010-11, but they’re coming from so far back it’s difficult to imagine them vaulting up the standing more than a place or two."
ABOUT THAT THE DEFENSE . . .
"As it stands now, pending Tambellini working the phones — be it in pursuit of a trade or free agent or putting a call into Oklahoma City for short-term reinforcements — the Oilers face the prospect of starting the season with Tom Gilbert, Cam Barker, Jeff Petry, Theo Peckham, Andy Sutton and Corey Potter on the blue line. See any problem with that?"
"I’d suggest yet again that Tambellini take a look at some of the surplus talent he has up front, make a call on who he is willing to part with for a defenseman who can log top-four minutes, and get busy addressing a lack of depth that is painfully obvious.
"I can only assume Tambellini will spend the next night or two tossing and turning over the predicament he finds himself in now because he’s failed to do so to this point. It might be an idea, if he is wide awake, to get busy on that phone."
"I’m on the sniff trying to find out if the Oilers will extend a training camp invitation to a free agent or two, but no word yet. Given Whitney’s status and a lack of depth on the back end, it’s an idea worth pursuing. By the way, Lowetide’s suggestion GM Steve Tambellini ask Nick Boynton to take a twirl at camp is a cagey guess. He’d fit as a sixth or seventh guy."
"The biggest questions marks, as has been duly noted, come in goal with Devan Dubnyk and Nikolai Khabibulin, and on the blue line, which is not nearly deep enough, even if Ryan Whitney gets back in the line-up and his ankle holds up."
"There’s been great consternation over the state of Ryan Whitney’s surgically repaired right ankle, and with good reason, seeing as he "tweaked it" a couple weeks ago. And because, well, Edmonton’s defensive corps isn’t good enough to get along without him."
"The most pressing question for me has two components. First, will Ryan Whitney’s surgically repaired right ankle be ready for the start of the season? And, if it is, how long will it hold up?"
"We saw what Tom Renney’s defense looked like without Whitney for 47 games in 2010-11. Do you have confidence the defense as it stands going into camp — Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid, Cam Barker, Theo Peckham, Andy Sutton and Taylor Chorney or Jeff Petry — can hold up without Whitney? I don’t. Did Tambellini add enough depth to cover his backside if Whitney is out of the equation? Not that I can see."
TAMBELLINI AND TEAM-BUILDING
"Do Ben Eager, Eric Belanger, Andy Sutton, Darcy Hordichuk, Smyth and Barker constitute significant upgrades over departed players Steve MacIntyre, Zack Stortini, Andrew Cogliano, Colin Fraser, Kurtis Foster and Jason Strudwick?"
"In his first three seasons as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, Steve Tambellini has proven conclusively he can put together a team capable of finishing dead-last in the standings, and rather handily. So, what will he add to his resume in 2011-12?
"I don’t know the answer to that, of course, but after assuming the GM’s hot seat from Kevin Lowe and seeing the Oilers finish 21st in 2008-09 and 30th the past two seasons, it’s not a stretch to suggest Tambellini had best add a trick or two to his CV."
"If the rebuild fans have been sold is going to amount to anything, it’s going to demand more on Tambellini’s part than adding the name Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to the outfit already assembled. Selling hope, after all, has a shelf-life. Likewise, general managers. This much we know."
Here we are. Happy New Year.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.