HAPPY NEW YEAR: SAME OLD THING?

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.

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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.

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GREAT EXPECTATIONS?

Dec. 15

"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?"

Oct. 3

"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 . . .

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Oct. 1

"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?"

Oct. 1

"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."

Sept. 6

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"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."

WHITNEY’S ANKLE

Oct. 3

"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."

Sept 6

"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."

Aug. 31

"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?"

Aug. 24

"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

Aug. 31

"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?"

May 16

"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."

May 16

"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.


  • Rob...

    Hey Robin, what do you think about the officiating this year compared to previous ones? I’m not talking about anti-Oilers bias, anti-rookie bias or anything like that. I’m more referring to a general lack of consistency combined with missed calls and phantom calls. I can’t remember a season where their actions have seemed this much of an embarrassment to the NHL.

      • Rob...

        Thanks for answering. I have to wonder how many of the young Oilers players are also having WTF moments and having it affect their games. Does experience help veteran players weather bad officiating? Does that put the Oilers at a disadvantage due to their young team, especially on D?

        I’ve caught the looks of players a few times (Peckham especially) after a bad call or non-call where it looks like they’re no longer sure how to play the game to avoid a penalty yet still compete.

  • Gretzkin

    Would MacTavish’s name be one to consider if ST found himself out the door? The job of GM is more and more becoming about being able to communicate with the players. Rather than contracts and the like that are better dealt with by people with law degrees than Hockey ones. MacT has a Masters in Buisness. The man is IMO brilliant. His hockey acumen is top of the group. He would probably be seen as more competent that ST. No disrespect to ST but he is still consider by many of us as an outsider. I would rather see someone like MACT with the keys to the castle and leading the charge. Maybe its just me but I think the MacT is more what we need than ST.

  • Gretzkin

    Is there really an NHL GM out there who is stupid enough to trade a legit top pairing dman for a boatload of Oiler garbage, no matter how big that boat is? The only players the Oil have that anyone would be interested in are the Big 3.Its never gonna happen by trade. Maybe free agency but I’m afraid we wait for the Klefbomb,Mucil,Marincin and Gernat on D and then hope for the best. It’s all we have.

    • We have picks, we have other well regarded prospects….other teams have cap issues or are in danger of losing UFAs.

      I’m not sure why the idea that we have no valuable assets is still out there.

      Trading them may or may not be the best course of action, but we have the chips to make something happen.

      • I understand we have prospects but so does every team.I am just having trouble envisioning a scenario where a legit top 2 dman is going to be flipped. They are so darn hard to find that you keep them when you have them. Look at Nashville. As much as I would dearly love to sign Suter or Weber, I’m pretty sure the Preds are going to go to the ends of the earth to sign them both, and short of getting a 4, 14, or 93 back, I just don’t see a rationale for them to trade for Oiler expendables. Heaven knows, other teams have what Oilers want to flog in their own systems.

      • Agreed. I think all of the attempts to land the big fish have skewed the perspective of some folks. We have wanted assets, but ST has not entertained the thought of making a big play. Was it on Oil Change that he was laughing at a GM who made a pitch for Eberle at the draft?

        Having that recorded for perpetuity might not have been good for ST’s standing amongst his peers. I also agree that there are teams under stress and there are going to be deals available, timing and readiness being the key. We see surprising deals usually every year, with very good players going for what seems like less than you’d expect. It might be hard to se for some because the Oil are under no stress really, but it is very rare to be horrible over a period of years and not be in jeopardy of bankruptcy.

        For me it comes down to the strategy being played out. If it’s all draft, for the love of Brackenbury ST, please work until you acquire some extra high picks and give us all a few extra years of good hockey in our lifetimes. Speed this thing up. At a certain point it has to be about now. The PM era (post Messier) has been 20 years of 98% merde. Enough of mañana.

    • DK0

      I’m willing to give Renney a pass with the assumption that he realizes this is not a playoff team and is still playing players outside of their comfort zone as a teaching tool. It’s kind of hard to show a player how they need to change their defensive positioning if they are rarely in a defensive situation. You need to throw the kids in the deep end every once and awhile and be able to show them the tape later.

  • DK0

    Good read and bang on! Although you have identified Tambi as being the driver of selecting the players, I can’t but wonder( based on the concensus model of management displayed on Oil Change), if Lowee deserves some of this criticism?

    We all know that Mr. Dithers seems to be very indecisive, and has not made a significnat deal that puts his stamp on this team. Just how much further might we be along if Hemsky was traded last year, when his value was a little higher? Who really had heard of Belenger, Potter, Tuebert…….not really any significant players. I do like Potter but something tell me that this was Renny’s decision.

    It seems that MR. Dithers wants to replicate the NY Islanders model of selecting in the top five every year without a comprehensive plan that addresses the current needs. I would love to hear what he thinks about the current draft and how they intend to select and for what position.

    I also think that Renny has to be questioned as the ” developer of talent”, which is supposed to be his strength? I question this each and every game.

  • DK0

    I used to scoff at those who suggested that the NHL should make it less rewarding for teams to finish in a lottery position.

    I just figured “Oh sure, the oil haters are just ticked that it’s finally OUR turn to receive the benefits of total suckage.”

    But after a GM seems to willfully refuse to make a team competitive, I can see their point.

    It’s not fair to the fans or the players. It’s not fair to the game. Never thought I’d quote Herm Edwards but, yes indeed, You Play to Win the Game.

    When you BLATANTLY don’t have the proper pieces in place, there is no way you can win games on a consistent basis. Therefore, what the Oilers are doing is going against a central ethos of sport (at least as Herm Edwards sees it).

    In the last two years the injuries made it easier to bear the losing. They don’t have that as an excuse anymore. For the first time, I’m almost ashamed to admit to being a fan of this team, one that’s embracing a losing culture rather than a winning culture.

    • ^ This.

      I refuse to believe that an NHL GM with years of experience is dumber than a bunch of guys on fan blog sites.

      I’m not a Lowe-apologist, but Kevin Lowe knows D-men and he’s been around the game a long time. We’ve seen he knows how to put a competitive team together when that’s the goal. He wouldn’t let this sort of thing happen unless it was the plan all along.

      To me it’s disgraceful and against everything I believe about sport.

  • Crash

    If it a tank it’s fantastic management. If it’s not a tank then the whole bunch should be fired.
    Not signing or trading for defencemen
    Filling roster with rookies,ancients,and goons
    Good old boys on coaching staff that leads the NHL in too many men and bad line changes
    Strange line combinations 4on4

    How can they fire anyone unless we can figure out what they are trying to do?

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    Too bad, Tambillini was making strides with the Belanger and Eager signings but he stopped well short. Combined with the solid play of Bulin, a couple, low cost, low risk moves to bring in two more competent defensmen and this didn’t have to be a wasted year.

  • RexLibris

    When it comes to Renney, I’m not going to simply give him a pass, but I think some of his line combinations and matching are the result of a coach who is caught at a crossroads. His boss tells him they need to make the playoffs and then implies in his interviews that the team is still in the development process. So the coach might be left wondering which is it? Win or develop, because you can only prioritize one at the expense of the other.

    As for Tambellini’s seeming reticence to make more immediate changes, who knows. If every time he picks up the phone to inquire about an available defenceman the conversation starts with Paajarvi, Eberle, or Hartikainen (for example) then I wouldn’t blame him for not following through. Only an idiot would sell his team’s future for modest imminent assistance (see Sutter, Darryl). Not being privy to the conversations that happen and the details, we can only guess. But to be frank, I’d rather my GM do nothing than trade a pending UFA like Sutton for a train wreck like Kaberle. Tambellini may be too cautious at times, but I’d almost prefer that to the reactionary trades some other GMs make.

    If we’re drafting top 3 this year, without winning the lottery and without the asterisk of significant injuries next to the record, then I will eagerly await the draft and pore over the scouting reports in June. And in July I will expect to read about some press conferences scheduled at Oiler HQ. Jim Nill, anyone?

    Whenver I read comments or blogs about the Oilers needing to trade away forwards for defensive help I am reminded of what my father told me about Sather building the 80s Oilers (I know, different draft, different era) and that there was always a lineup of GM willing to trade some veterans to Sather to “help him season his youth movement” in exchange for some enticing, but perhaps underperforming, rookies. Sather said no, and thank heavens he did. I don’t know that Pitlick or Hamilton, or any other young prospect, will turn into the next Glenn Anderson or even Patric Hornqvist, but I certainly don’t want the Oilers to make the next Barry Pederson trade, either.

    I know it feels like this team has been losing for ages. They have. But this is year 2 of a rebuild. Yeah, they were awful before, but it was an accidentally kind of awful. This is a young, learning curve kind of awful. And it is a lot more fun to watch. At the start of the year most everyone, fans here included, pegged the Oilers as a lottery pick team, somewhere in the 3rd to 7th overall range. It may not feel like it, but that is improvement because we were that bad. One could even argue that in a year like this, drafting later than 10th overall would do more to hurt the rebuilding process than help. Walking away from day one of the draft with Griffin Reinhart, or Matt Dumba, or Morgan O’Reilly, is what this team needs more than another depth draft prospect on defence and a band-aid blueliner.

    I’m not advocating incompetence, just some more patience. I do think that in the end, Tambellini won’t be here to see the end-phase of this process. But in the meantime, let’s not forget what he has managed thus far, he has acquired the picks that have allowed MBS to exceed expectations. He has resisted the temptation to improve immediately at the expense of the future, and he has made some fairly astute decisions on whom to jettison from the catastrophic 2009-2010 season. He’s also royally ticked off Dean Lombardi, and that’s got to count for something.

  • This rebuild currently consists exclusively of three young forwards. Every other prospect is a question mark, and that includes MPS. Tambellini has pretty clearly demonstrated three things during his tenure: 1) Good at losing; 2) awful communicator (see the “reassignment” of Pat Quinn for a good example); and, 3) terrible at assessing NHL talent. Awful Khabibulin contract, bad Brule contract, inability to add quality NHL pieces to complement young players, failed to trade Souray when value was high.

    The Oil would be better off firing Tambo and poaching an exec from another org (Dave Nonis, Rick Dudley for example) to try to right this cluster-f*&k. Not that I expect it. I expect a Katz text to Bob Stauffer indicating support for Tambo on an Oiler broadcast sometime in the next two months.

  • I think Mr. Dithers needs to make any kind of a trade, even a small trade, as soon as possible. This will give the fans something else to discuss and think about while we watch the team crash and burn on this road trip. I expect the next few weeks will be very heated.

    • Romanus

      Why make a move now? Only way you get a top defender is to give up one of the key guys and for what? Which of Hall Ebs or RNH goes to get the defenceman now even though it wont make a difference this year?

      At this points its too late. Wait until deadline when teams are desperate or off season.