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.

  • horndog77

    In a perfect world the Oilers could trade Cogliano, Chorney, Brule and possibly a draft pick to the Jets for Bogosian. Not only would we clean house and get that top four defensemen, but the Jets could maybe reach that salary cap floor.

  • longbottom/P.Biglow

    I thought I heard a report that there is a shortage if right handed shots in the league, be it on forward or defence. Odd though I always thought right handed people were more prevalant.

    • Gretzkin

      Right handed players are more prevalent, most right handed people shoot left as the right hand is the control hand. Shoot left, bat right, golf right, I think that’s the norm.
      Looking for south paws, they’re more likely to shoot right.
      I’m surprised that there aren’t more around in this day and age, when the pressure has been taken off people to only be right handed.

    • Oilers G- Nations Poet Laureate

      It isn’t your dominant hand that tells you which way to shoot. It is your dominant eye. I write right handed, but play hockey left, shoot rifles left, and even golf left.

      But how do I tell which is my dominant eye?

      Easy… elbows together, wrists together, make a “V” with your index fingers….focus on something inside the “V” and alternately close one eye, then the other.

      The object will move out of the centre of your “V” thus making your dominant eye the one that keeps the object centered.

      * You all are trying this now, aren’t you

      • Strange how hockey handedness works eh. I thought it had a lot to do with whoever taught you how to play hockey, until years ago I realized my father is left handed and I am right. Theory fail. He said I just wouldn’t hold the stick any other way.

        EDIT: I don’t like the idea of moving Cogs unless it’s for a great return. He did get 35 pts last year, not to mention the seeming acceptance of his new role. He could learn from Belanger. Good value.

  • longbottom/P.Biglow

    I heard Eager and Hordi are great locker room guys. In yesterdays interview Hordi said that the talented guys have a job and so does he and thats to stop people from running the Hemskys Halls and Eberles of the world. If they don’t stop he then goes to the next level and runs their talented players till they do stop. Eager also said something along these lines.

  • horndog77

    With Belanger signing I believe Cogliano is as good as gone. Too bad the Oilers are stuck with Horcoffs salary, not a bad player but both his and Smyths contracts are too high.

    • O.C.

      Agreed on the Cogs point. Belanger is the type of player we’ve all hoped Cogs would eventually turn into…not happening though. He’s the odd man out.

      Nothing wrong with Smytty’s contract for now. There’s only one year left on it and look for him to re-sign at a more reasonable number. Remember he WANTS to be here.

  • Lowetide

    Love the moves. Each signing is an upgrade. Nice to see a situation now where players apparently want to be here. ST has tons of assets right now thanks to some nice work at the draft table + luck and some good value UFA acquisitions. Can’t wait to see what comes next. (now if the boys can just stay healthy over the next few years…)

    LT (or anyone else) – any idea on how Eager and Hordichuk are in the room?

  • justDOit

    Very nice moves yesterday by Tambo but I’m a little worried about what he does with the logjam at forward.

    He would be (imo) stoopid to deal Gagner right now. With Belanger in the mix, look for Sam’s FO% to steadily improve. Belanger worked with Turris lots last year and Turris improved his % up to around 50% from 42 or 43% the previous year.

  • O.C.

    ST under-promised and over-delivered. He’s learning. Plus, he got the spare parts needed and left the rest of the GMs to fight for the right to overpay for middling to OK players.

  • Lowetide

    LT, can you think of any mid-level righties either getting paid too much or coming off a weaker season? I’ve been racking my brains but can’t think of who might be available. Bogo would be about the best.

  • Lowetide

    spOILer: The more I think about it (and as my brain clears) the Oilers are going to deal someone up front for a defenseman. I think it might be a two-for-one and suspect it happens sooner than later.

  • book¡e

    I think RNH makes this team. It is not going to come down to how big he shows up to TC. It will be the same criteria for him as it was for Hall: does he have the courage and confidence? And I’d bet RNH has got it.




    D is still not balanced… too many slow lefties playing the wrong side. The addition of Barker kind of makes you wonder why they gave Smid so much money. And can Barker play the off point with his wonky back and clunky feet? I’m sure he can unload his shot from there on the PP, but can he defend from there?

    F is missing names still on the roster: Cogliano & Brule. Lander and Hartikainen knocking on the door. Something has to happen. We’re going to see more movement before she’s all over.

  • O.C.

    Boy, Yesterday’s UFA signings were a big surprise. Forwards just got much better, finally an NHL centre and two gritty wingers to protect the young guns. Defense doesn’t appear to have been improved; swapped two problems for two others. Cleared up the Souray mess. Nothing done to fix the problem at goal. Tambellini’s MVP isn’t the team’s MVP, or may be its most vulnerable player.

    As to a big move, as Hemsky, Gagner, Gilbert and Cogliano have value, will any be in play? Not so much Brule, can the Oil still buy him out?

    It’s strange how the league has changed. The NW division was one of the toughest; only Vancouver made the playoffs this past season. Poor management?

    • O.C.

      DonDon, the defense will be much better in my opinion! First of all we will have our best d-man back on the ice (Whitney), which is huge. Petry, Smid & Peckham have gained experience. Gilbert won’t have to play as many minutes at the front of the pack. Sutton is a huge upgrade over the docile, ineffective Foster. Barker just needs a chance to prove himself here & he has proven in the past he’s a player. The D will also have more support from the forward group who are much improved. No, I think the defence will be much better but only time will tell.

  • longbottom/P.Biglow

    Great blog and insight into these players. Good job done by Tambo. as we sit right now the entertainment level jumped by what 100%. Each player brings something to the table that was sorley needed. Eager and Hordi raise the phsyco levl on the team.(my favorite moves really.)

  • BArmstrong

    After yesterdays events, I wouldn’t surprised to see a big move- FIST thing this morning – involving at least one of; Hemsky, Gagner, Brule, and/or Gilbert.