ST’s Summer: Pass or Fail?

When it comes to the relationship between an Edmonton Oilers GM and the fanbase, it can be a rocky road. What’s that old song? Thin line between love and hate? What if we took all the anger, fury and confusion out of the conversation and looked at each transaction in a detached fashion? What would it look like?

In order to understand the summer of Tambi, we need to agree on a few facts. This is an enormous summer for the GM, as the future is promised to no man. Just as Tambellini felt a need to flush MacT and Quinn in order to get Tom Renney behind the bench, the Oilers need to improve in a lot of areas in the next 12 months or the night of long knives might have a sequel spring 2012. It’s a cruel business. He passed the early tests (like not trading next year’s first round pick) but there was a long way to go. With the summer almost done and holidays either underway or in full bloom, it’s time to see how well Mr. Tambellini did re-working the roster.

We could see the areas of need a mile away. Let’s list them:

  1. A veteran winger to help with PK/PP and guide the kids at evens.
  2. Truculence.
  3. One or more NHL veteran defensemen.
  4. A faceoff man to help with PK and to balance the C position.
  5. A legit option for the moment when goaltending becomes an issue.
  6. Make certain OKC is a strong AHL team again in 11-12


Tambellini addressed some and ignored others. Let’s review the moves one at a time:

  • March 8: Oilers sign NCAA defender Taylor Fedun from Princeton. Addresses OKC and possibly helps the club’s defensive depth at the NHL level. He’s certainly young enough and offensively talented enough to be considered a legit prospect. Qualifies as a solid move for category 6.
  • March 19: Oilers sign NCAA center Tanner House from Maine A very good signing in a couple of areas. He improves the center position at the pro level and has a scouting report that suggests a nice range of skills. Qualifies in category 4 (should he spend time in the NHL) and category 6.
  • March 30: Oilers sign QMJHL goaltender Olivier Roy to an entry level contract. I don’t think this qualifies under any category, just the business of an NHL team deciding to give a player the chance to turn pro in their system. He’s unlikely to be much better than a replacement level AHL goaltender.
  • March 31: Oilers sign CIS L Hunter Tremblay from UNB. Qualifies under category 6, although he is a bit of a wildcard. Could surprise.
  • April 1: Oilers sign C Mark Arcobello to a contract. He’ll be relied on heavily to deliver points in OKC this season. Qualifies under category 6, and should he have another impressive season there’s a chance he’ll get some NHL time.
  • April 13: Oilers sign R Tyler Pitlick to an entry level deal. This is a high draft pick who when signed looked like a lock for OKC. However, injuries and a slow recovery make it possilble he stays in junior for another year. Therefore, I’m putting him in the same category as Roy: doesn’t qualify in any category.
  • April 18: Oilers sign L Curtis Hamilton to an entry level deal. He’s the blue chipper likely to be a Baron in 11-12. Blocked on LW at the big league level by Hall, MPS, Smyth, Hartikainen and others, it’ll be Hamilton’s job to stay healthy, learn to grind against men and chip in enough offense to be a legit callup option. Qualifies under category 6.
  • April 21: Oilers sign R Cameron Abney to an entry level contract. Big man is very raw and I don’t think he qualifies under category 6. He’ll probably play much of his rookie season in the ECHL. However, Abney does address category 2 and we should remember that the Oilers value his player type.
  • April 25: Oilers sign D Martin Marincin to an entry level contract. This could be one of those signings we look back on and smile about, although I don’t know if he’ll play pro or junior this year. A quality prospect with a nice range of skills, possibly qualifies under category 6.
  • April 28: Oilers sign C Anton Lander to an entry level contract. Lander is a perfect fit for the Oilers, with the only gap being the time it takes for him to establish himself as an NHL player. Qualifies in categories 4 and 6.
  • May 29: Oilers sign W Ryan Jones to a two-year deal. Jones got a solid payday for an impressive season based on role and playing time. There is some doubt he can repeat it based on underlying numbers but he’s got a contract and a job. Addresses categories 1 and 2.
  • June 15: Oilers sign F Lennert Petrell to a contract. Veteran Finn has the reputation of being an impressive checker and aggressive penalty killer. Qualifies under categories 1, 2 and 6.
  • June 15: Oilers sign F Antti Tyrvainen to a contract. Another Finn! This one is smaller and more truculent. Qualifies under categories 2 and 6.
  • June 26: Oilers acquire L Ryan Smyth from Los Angeles. A trade that took some time to finalize (and still isn’t completely out of the woods–we’re on day 33) is the centerpiece of summer. Ryan Smyth addresses categories 1 and 2 plus offers the possibility of moving over to center should RNH make the team and need faceoff help. And he’s an excellent mentor. The best trade of Tambellini’s time as Oilers GM.
  • June 30: Oilers sign D Ladislav Smid to a 2-year deal. This is a signing that addresses categories 2 and 3, and we should credit the organization for not sending him away (to Chicago) at the deadline.
  • July 1: Oilers sign L Ben Eager to a three year contract. Signing that effectively ended the Oiler careers and JF Jacques and Zack Stortini. Addresses category 2.
  • July 1: Oilers sign L Darcy Hordichuk. A very similar signing to the Eager deal, in that the incoming player is an upgrade on the previous player (MacIntyre). Hordichuk is a depth signing but he can play well enough to be a clear upgrade on MacIntyre. Addresses category 2.
  • July 1: Oilers sign D Cam Barker. Edmonton took a risk in signing Barker but he has draft pedigree and should he work out the risk should reward the team richly. Addresses category 3.
  • July 1: Oilers sign C Eric Belanger to a three year deal. A strong free agent signing that gives the roster balance, depth and some hope for the future. Addresses categories 1 and 4 plus he helps in the mentor role I talked about in regard to Ryan Smyth.
  • July 1: Acquired D Andy Sutton from Anaheim. Also subtracted Kurtis Foster in this trade. Sutton is a huge defender, and his acquisition addresses categories 2 and 3 plus he has a history of helping out on the penalty kill.
  • July 1: Oilers sign D Corey Potter. This is one of those under the radar signings that often turns out being much larger than it first appears. Potter is a right-hander with experience, he’s interesting in that he’s mobile and has size. A player to watch in pre-season.
  • July 3: Oilers sign L Josh Green. Strictly an OKC signing, Green helps out in category 6.
  • July 4: Oilers sign D Theo Peckham. A solid young defender who may have enough ability to move up the depth chart as he matures. Qualifies under categories 2 and 3.
  • July 5: Oilers sign G Yann Danis. Signed as OKC’s starter, I believe this player may end up playing a much larger role for the organization. Should DD or NK falter or suffer injury, Danis is the only safety valve available to the organization. The chances of Danis playing more than 20 NHL games this season is very high. Qualifies under categories 5 and 6.
  • July 5: Oilers sign R Ryan Keller. A minor league signing but an important one. Big time AHL scorer could help in the NHL if required but was hired to push that Baron team to a playoff position. Qualifies under category 6.
  • July 12: Oilers trade Andrew Cogliano. The return (2nd rd pick in 2013) is reasonable and the contract Cogs signed in Anaheim suggests that the Oilers were unlikely to come to terms with him. When you consider what Belanger cost the Oilers, an outstanding transaction.
  • July 15: Oilers sign D Taylor Chorney. Puck moving defender still on a learning curve defensively, he qualifies under category 6.
  • July 15: Oilers sign C Ryan O’Marra. Young veteran qualifies under categories 4 and 6. He can help in a depth role and does have some NHL experience.

Let’s take a quick look at the categories one more time:

  1. A veteran winger to help with PK/PP and guide the kids at evens. I think they addressed this situation ably by dealing for Smyth. You could also give credit for bringing back Jones and hiring the Finn Petrell. Nice additions across the board, plus they added guys like Josh Green who could play the same role (the Cameron Stewart role from a year ago). I think it’s reasonable to suggest the GM gets a passing grade here.
  2. Truculence. No less than 9 additions above have a real edge to their game. Eager and Hordichuk are the obvious ones, but Smyth and defender Sutton are solid additions. I’m not including rfa’s like Smid and Peckham but signing them (and sending away a Cogliano) sends a clear message about how difficult this team will be to play against next season. Again, I think a passing grade is in order.
  3. One or more NHL veteran defensemen. Oilers added Barker, Sutton and Potter while retaining Smid, Peckham and Chorney. Added to incumbents Whitney, Gilbert and Petry, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that the Oilers have come up short in this area. Depth additions like Sutton married to risk signings like Barker and Potter (risky in that he might not be good enough for NHL play) leave the Oilers without enough quality and depth at a very important position. Still time this summer, but this gets a failing grade.
  4. A faceoff man to help with PK and to balance the C position. Big fly here. Eric Belanger replaces Cogliano and gives the team a veteran hand who can help Horcoff in handling the tough opponents and be a big part of the penalty kill. The organization also added Lander which may be more important to adding balance at the position over the long haul. A definite passing grade.
  5. A legit option for the moment when goaltending becomes an issue. Oilers added veteran Yann Danis and signed Olivier Roy to his entry level deal. I believe Danis could be a pleasant surprise but this position is in dire need of help. If they don’t plan on improving the NK-DD duo at the NHL level, then surely the team will add an AHL calibre veteran to the minor league depth chart. Another fail, and again at a vital position.
  6. Make certain OKC is a strong AHL team again in 11-12. With the exception of goaltending, I like the OKC Barons. The blue should be Chorney, Potter, Colten Teubert, Alex Plante, Taylor Fedun added to OKC top man Bryan Helmer. Motin, Martin Marincin and guys like Brandon Davidson are also in the mix. The forwards who should have an impact include Keller, Green, Lander, O’Marra, Petrell, Arcobello added to kids like Teemu Hartikainen and Chris Vande Velde. The team will be young but talented and if they can ride Danis in goal all season they should be a contender for the second season. I won’t give it a pass (because of the goaltending) but don’t think it’s a fail either.

Conclusion: In 6 categories, Tambellini gets 3 passing grades, 2 fails and one tie. Has it been good enough? I don’t think so. We find out in the fall (or late summer if they decide to address G and D).

  • horndog77

    I’m not sure it’s a fail by Steve as a manager. As a Oiler fan I could not believe how much activity they have had. Maybe their are areas that have not been met, but that doesn’t mean they don’t get worked out later on. I think they only need to get rid of Bulin get his replacement and get a top pairing defensemen.

    • Lowetide

      I’m not sure it’s a fail either. I don’t think it’s enough, though. And history tells us that the GM doesn’t get too many summers to turn things around.

      Everything looks fine now. But if Sutton and Barker start poorly, how long before we’re reminded that Foster and Vandermeer weren’t great the previous season?

      The problem is that you develop a past. ST–like any GM–doesn’t have next summer promised to him.

  • book¡e

    I suspect this was the conversation between Tambi and Katz this summer.

    “There is no benefit to a good finish this year. If we finish 22nd, we probably improve enough to keep the fans and players from rebelling – particularly if Hall lights it up a bit. We still get a pretty good draft pick at that level. There are enough holes on the team still that we should be safely between 20-25th. A proper rebuild takes time and rushing it would not be of much help”

    or maybe not.

  • Wretched Oil

    I’d hope a 14 and 7 start would shut alot of people, like you, up. Thats 100+ point pace, maybe a presidents trophy.

    Reasonable expectations or something like that.

  • Sheldon "Oilers Fan for Life!!!"

    I think Tambi is trying to be patient hopping that the kids shine enough that some very good players want to come here. There is buzz around the league about those 3 young men and a big year from them will really solidify his chances come next summer in the market. You do not want to peak this early because you would have to over pay and then be in trouble signing the kids later. If two of those three score over 30 goals Tambi will have fun next summer believe me. If we are in about 23-25th place and win the lottery Tambi, Katz, Lowe, Hall RNH … will be dancing in the streets all summer.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    With plenty of assets to move up and grab a Larsson or a Couturier to go with Hopkins i’d have to say it’s a failing grade for our General Manager this summer. Year two of the rebuild is passed and again Steve accomplished the absolute minimum. Doesn’t take any talent to select the best player available first overall two years in a row.

    We have all our eggs in just one basket now with Hopkins….felt we desperatley needed to aquire a second basket in case things don’t go according to plan.

    Going 14-7 out of the gate at the start of this season will go along way to shutting alot of people up……people like me.

    • “We have all our eggs in just one basket now with Hopkins”

      What? Seriously? We already have Hall, Eberle, Omark, PRV, Gagner, Smyth and Hemsky to go with Hopkins (if he makes the team that is). A quality goalie who can post +.910 and a decent D-man might put us pretty close to a playoff spot this year.

      As far as Larsson et al go, if they’re as good as you think they are, what idiot would give them up? C’mon man. You’re being unrealistically greedy.


      • Quicksilver ballet

        Calm down there Daveed.

        I said we had all our eggs in this one basket as far as this summers draft is concerned. In admittedly a week draft on the top end this summer, the Oilers may have been better served grabbing both Hopkins and Larsson, lowering the risk of not getting an impact player at the top end of this draft. If that appears greedy then who cares, the Oilers need more GM’s wizzed off at the like Lombardi is right now. Tambellini is in the business of building the Oilers a better hockey club and not making buddies league wide. Screw the idea of friendships.

        • “If that appears greedy then who cares, the Oilers need more GM’s wizzed off at the like Lombardi is right now. Tambellini is in the business of building the Oilers a better hockey club and not making buddies league wide. Screw the idea of friendships.”

          A GM without friends. or at least “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” allies is dead in the water. A floater. Driving a hard bargain is one thing, but play too many guys for suckers or screw them over, and you’re on your own in a hurry.

          Your assessment is Exhibit A as an illustration showing the difference between being an armchair GM, the seat fans occupy, and running a real team.

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Hockey is nothing more than just another business. If one team has something that will help another team, then there’s an opportunity to do business, despite past events. This is probably why most teams now have 2 or 3 guys conducting business on the teams behalf. If it makes sense, it’ll get done despite personal feelings.

            Tambellini never screwed Lombardi in the Smyth deal, who the frigg does Dean think he is by sending 6.25 one way in a deal and not taking anything in return in todays game.Cultivating friendships amongst management types is just a load of BS. If
            Tambellini has worn out his welcome with someone then get one of the other guys to make the effort (Kevin Lowe) the Oilers aren’t running a bloody popularity contest here. The problem has little to do with relationships as it does they have little to offer in return (asset wise).

    • Plenty of assets is one thing. A team willing to be a trading partner is another. You didn’t get the shiny, new objects you desired in Larsson or Couturier, so you expect a .660 clip out of the gate to shut it?

      This team went 6-11-4 for 16 points in its first 21 games last season and 8-10-3 for 19 points in 2009-10.

      It won’t take 14-7 and 28 points to show marked improvement.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        What i was trying to say is it will take something like that to get most of the fan base out of that, here we go again mode. Sucking is one thing, to sit by and not make a considerable effort to help your cause is another.

        That 8th selection should have been bought and paid for days in advance of that draft, there was a deal to be made there with Scott Howson. Once you have that eighth in your back pocket heading to Minny, your chances of acquiring said shiny new object we so desire increase significantly. To sit idly by while your house is burning to the ground appears lazy as far as i’m concerned. Steve needed to be more aggressive on this opportunity.I’m sure Holmgren may have been satisfied with Ryan Johansen as an alternative to Couturier if that 8th was already gone.

        Enjoy your trip to Kelowna you crusty old closet Oiler fan. Tambellini still gets a D in my books.

  • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

    C+ IMO.

    I like most of his moves, but as you outlined he’s still (at least) 2 pieces away from having this team look like a threat to make the playoffs.

  • Riles97

    Its a pass if the goal is to be a 8-12 seed. If the goal is to actually make the playoffs then its a barely pass. I think the team could of addressed the 6-7 better, however their giving a couple spots to someone to surprise them which I think is right decision. I’m glad their not chasing the slim pickings of a Scott Hanna thats left out there. If this teams competitive they’ll chase a Dman down during the season. Anyone who thinks Tambo failed based on him not being able to deal Khabby is on crack. No one was taking 2 years at 3.75 for the worst starting goalie in the NHL last year. We can play him or bury him in the KHL. I believe that he’s here as a backup for the year.

    • Bucknuck

      He doesn’t need to trade Khabibulin, just wake up and realize that he is even a poor backup option at this point. Accept that and play him in the minors for the rest of his contract and get another goaltender. It’s the one position you can’t afford to have a substandard player, particularly if your D is as thin as the Oilers is.

  • Riles97

    Really good analysis.

    The Oilers back end definitely still needs some upgrading, including in goal. Lowetide, what do you think about signing Bryan McCabe for a year? Still can put up a decent amount of points, but I haven’t really looked into how much responsibility defensively he has been given at even strength lately.

  • Little Buttcheeks

    Realistically, I think that Tambo has had a good summer. I felt like going into the off-season, I would be fine with adding at least 2 potential top 9 forwards, shuffling the deck on the fourth line, adding at least one potential top 4 dman and getting 2 pro level goaltenders. Other than the goaltending situation, I am satisfied. The blueline is a bit shallow but if we surprise early or if Petry isn’t as NHL ready as management believes then there is always the option to go out and trade for another dman with the cap space that we have left. Like I said, another pro goalie and I am totally fine with how Tambo did this summer.

  • smiliegirl15

    I am going to hold my judgement until the season gets underway. We all thought some of the “upgrades” he brought in last summer were an improvement too.

    He really didn’t have much choice on the Smyth deal. If he had passed on Smyth and he’d gone to Calgary, there would be no safe place for Tambellini. He was kind of over a barrel there. Popular choice for sure.

    I am happy he’s dealt with the Souray problem, part of the smurf problem and has enabled the AHL team to be very competitive. Now if he could only build a competitive NHL team.

    We will see.

  • SurfacetoAirMissile

    Tambo get’s a pass…. a solid “A” for a developing team. Not an “A+” only because he could not find a sucker to take Khabby’s contract off his hands and sign another goalie who can stop the puck. Tambo has opened the roster up for competition for a few spots which gives the Oil flexability in their roster.

  • misfit

    Smyth can, and likely will, PK, but I don’t know if I’d want him as one of my top options. Ditto for Jones (I’d take Smyth between the two). Belanger can kill penalties too, but he’s never been his coach’s first choice on his previous teams, so I’m hesitant to call him the saviour of the penalty kill just yet. We also lost Renney’s two most trusted and best penalty killers in Reddox (who was quite good IMO) and Cogliano (I thought he made big strides).

    Unless guys like Paajarvi/Hemsky/Eberle turn out to be outstanding penalty killers, the PK still looks like a major weakness to me.

    Belanger makes the whole team better at ES, as does Smyth on account of the trickle down effect from them taking on the tougher roles. Smyth, a healthy season from Whitney, and Barker (hopefully) should improve the PP.

    • Lowetide

      Belanger was the 2nd C option a year ago in PHX behind Hanzal who is a wizard. Impossible to tell (from what I can see at because he was traded mid-season; he was #2 behind Koivu in Minny in 08-09 and in 07-08. Seems like a strong option to me, which is what I expressed in the original post.

      Reddox and Cogliano played on the PK later in the season after they abandoned the diamond. I’d think Reddox and Cogliano (both players I like) could be upgraded and that Belanger is a strong candidate to perform well in the role.

      • misfit

        Belanger was behind both Fiddler and Hanzal at C last year and 4th among forwards. For some reason has fiddler as a LW, but he was clearly a center (2nd in faceoffs taken and his most common linemates were Pyatt and Stempniak – both wingers).

        The year before last, his 1.67 TOI/60 4-on-5 (from behindthenet) put him 4th in Washington (Steckel, Gordon, Laich ahead) and would’ve put him 3rd (after Koivu & Brodziak) in Minny, so either way, it seems like he was used as a 2nd pairing guy on all 3 teams.

        I agree that the guys ahead of him were all good choices, but this will be the first year he’s been a 1st unit penalty killer, and it remains to be seen how he’ll handle the change and having to go up against #1PP units more often.

        Either way, the Belanger signing was by far the best of the offseason. I’d just feel the PK will need more help than it was given overall.

        • Lowetide

          Yeah, I see your point. I do think that Horcoff, Belanger and Smyth (with maybe Eberle or MP) could give the team a nice combination up front. That diamond at the beginning killed them. Apparently it’s brilliant in theory but it killed them in fact.

  • Bucknuck

    Great breakdown. I think you nailed it. Tambellini seems to have a blind spot where Goaltending is concerned. If I could erase one move he made during his tenure, it would be the Khabibulin signing. If he didn’t have that man in that position, then I believe he would have filled the gap.

    Cut your losses, Steve. Move on. Swallow yer darn pride. Get a good goalie to share the load with DD.

  • book¡e

    What do you mean by ‘good enough’?

    I really liked two of his decisions, the other positive was Smyth but he was pretty much a gift and even then he almost found a way not to accept it. The rest was meh…

    So pass or fail? Tough call(it also seems wierd to give credit for decisions that should have been made three summers ago), can we just say that he finally made some progress and be happy for that?

    • Ender

      Ooooooh! That’s got to smart, huh?

      On topic, I’m going to allow that Tambi improved the defence and offence in OKC enough to allow for the slight dip in goaltending. With that in mind, I award the ‘pass’ to category 6.

      However, I am first and foremost an Oilers fan and straight up, I don’t care if the Barons come in last place every year as long as the Oilers win the Cup. I recognize that the one influences the other, but adequately addressing the blue-line on the AHL club and not the NHL one is criminal. Thus, categories 3 and 5 weight more heavily than category 6.

      I’m also not convinced that lack of truculence and mentoring last year cost us as many games as lack of defence and goaltending. Therefore, I weight categories 3 and 5 at two points. The gritty center that wins face-offs has been missing forever, so I also allow two points there.

      New weighting in place:
      5 / 9

      That’s not good enough. Some might say it’s better than 50%, but to me it means Tambellini ignored 44% of the problems with last-year’s last-place team. He needed to hit 7 out of 9 to get a pass from me.

  • I'm a Scientist!

    Even though that ‘Bingo’ was posted to prevent a fisting, i still feel shame for posting a comment before reading the article. Shame on me. SHAME.

    • Ender

      Purple unicorns are absolved from all ethics-related conventions. Carry on, Good Sir.

      (If you wanted, you could even add some meaningful discourse to the first comment through completely unscrupulous use of the Edit button.)

  • I'm a Scientist!

    …and BINGO was his nammmeeeooooooo….

    MEANINGFUL DISCOURSE: This was a really great summary of the second Summer of Steve! In my humble opinion, he addressed a lot of the problems and didn’t create any new ones. There still remains a few question marks, but i would say the team is better off than they were this time last year.

    • smiliegirl15

      “…he addressed a lot of the problems and didn’t create any new ones.”

      That’s much of the battle, isn’t it, when making a transaction. Too often, transactions end up being one problem exchanged for another. I’m glad, too, that Tambi seemingly steered clear of this path.