2012: RESOLUTIONS, RANDOM RAMBLINGS, REALITY AND THE ART OF REBUILDING

Whether you ushered out 2011 at the stroke of midnight with a splash of champagne, spent a quiet evening with family or woke up this morning in a place unfamiliar without your trousers, wallet and stomach contents, here’s hoping better things await fans of the Edmonton Oilers in 2012.

I’m guessing some of you were half in the bag by the time the New York Islanders put the finishing touches on a 4-1 romp over your favorite hockey team yesterday afternoon and that, even stone-cold sober, you likely had a better time last night than the Oilers did on their flight to Chicago after yet another loss on the road — their seventh straight.

Whether you got pissed or just pissed off yesterday as the Oilers dropped to 8-17-1 in their last 26 games after an 8-2-2 start, here’s hoping that the first day of a new calendar year brings fans new-found hope, promise and clarity. Failing that, that your head stops hurting and you find your pants.

Having long ago outgrown those what-the-hell-was-I-thinking? New Year’s celebrations, I tipped a single glass of champagne and necked with my wife last night while our five-year-old son Sam slept and our 19-year-old went downtown (soaked in at least half a bottle of cologne as best I can tell) with a friend to "watch the fireworks."

As always, I contemplated the coming year and, as it concerns the Oilers, came up with some thoughts, conclusions and questions. It goes something like this, in no particular order of importance . . .

THE HANGOVER

— Playoffs ? Ahahahahahaha, ahem . . .

— At 15-19-3 for 33 points after 37 games, the Oilers will need 45 points from their final 45 games just to reach the bottom of the range of 78-82 points I thought them capable of this season. That’s a total I mentioned again just the other day as do-able. No chance. Not with the flawed roster GM Steve Tambellini has assembled.

— Speaking of flawed rosters, I think we just saw Ben Eager’s career flash before our eyes as he sat stapled to the bench in the third period yesterday after taking a couple of dough head penalties. Eager, who has played for five different teams since 2005-06, has little clue about what his role is or how to play it, but he does have two years left on his contract at $1 million and $1.1 million a season. A job in the real world awaits.

— Like Eager, Eric Belanger falls into the it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time category. Belanger, who has a three-year deal worth $5.250 million, has done his job on the dot, but he’s a black-hole offensively. Would the Oilers have been worse off running Ryan-Nugent-Hopkins, Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner and Anton Lander down the middle from the get-go?

— Tom Gilbert and Ladislav Smid have been forced into too many minutes and are wearing down because Ryan Whitney hasn’t been healthy (and might never return to form), Cam Barker was so-so at best before his ankle injury and Andy Sutton is one headshot away from a double-digit suspension. This team needs, and has needed since training camp began, at least one other proven, veteran defenseman to carry the load.

— With 3-8-11 in 24 games, Ales Hemsky might not hit double-digits for goals or 40 points as he approaches unrestricted free agency. Hemsky is leaving a stack of money on the table in terms of what other teams and the Oilers might offer him. Tambellini needs to make a call on Hemsky well before the trade deadline. Do you have any confidence he will? Me either.

RESOLVE AND RESOLUTIONS

— While playing "meaningful games" in March and April will be a fantasy by the time the Oilers return from this road trip, I’m still convinced this team is better — in terms of personnel — than the teams that just finished 30th in back-to-back seasons.

I still believe this team, even if Tambellini doesn’t make a single move, will easily surpass the 62 points of the past two seasons. This will happen in spite of, not because of, the roster Tambellini has assembled.

— I said it last summer, I said it last week and I’ll say it again: "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."

— I don’t agree with every coaching decision and line-up call Tom Renney has made this season, and I’ve got some issues with the way he’s doled out ice time and used or not used Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle at times, but he’s not the first guy who should get the bullet if owner Daryl Katz decides this summer he doesn’t like what he sees.

— Remember the fuss Toronto radio personality Greg Brady started last October by suggesting on Twitter that, at some point, Kevin Lowe could move back into the GM’s chair if the Oilers don’t show the improvement Katz expects? Remember how Lowe dismissed that suggestion? If the Oilers finish as a lottery team this season, might we see it happen?

Anyway, as Bobby Kennedy said, "And on to Chicago . . ." What could possibly go wrong?

Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    I haven’t given up on ST just yet. Sure I am confused sometimes with the path the rebuild is taking, but the team is still early in the plan that ST,KL,TR and Katz have to bring the Oil out of the gutter this team has been in for the last 20 years! The 2006 playoff run was the result of the trap and a hot goalie. Lowe ended up giving out a lot of bad contracts that the team still hasn’t recovered from(horcoff). MacT wasn’t much for developing youth, though they weren’t drafting well for almost 30 years. The farm system was as bad as the Oil.
    The pipeline seems to be alot better now, but it will still be a couple of years before we will know if the plan is working. Other teams that rebuild seem to try to load up on draft picks. There is still 2 months to try and get a couple more picks in a very deep draft, but he hasn’t done much yet.
    Reading here about so many people wanting to stop the build and buy and trade back to fighting for a playoff spot is so frustrating.

    • Oilcowboy, I am in agreement with you. I am sure Katz has a big thick binder on his desk from ST that is the “Plan” and in spite of all the ups and downs us fans are feeling, the plan is most likely on course. Draft, rebuild the farm, work on development,etc.

      Can’t see much change in the future but if I was hiring I would not hire John Chambers (sorry John). The Mike Gillis experiment in Canuckland seems to be working, I might take a flier on Rich Winter. He seems like an analytical type that would not be influenced by nepotism and seems to have a handle on what might make players want to come here.

  • magisterrex

    I’d welcome KLowe back as an interim GM. Tambellini has done a lot of good groundwork, such as fixing their junior pipeline, but the fine tuning seems to be a huge problem for him. KLowe had trouble with the groundwork, but knew when to pull the trigger on a trade to make things happen.

    And it certainly looks like Renney has lost the team. Slow moving, listless plays. Something has gone awry there. I think part of the problem is that Renney and Tambellini seem to be on completely different pages when dealing with the talent. Tambellini brings in more muscle, Renney keeps them on the bench.

    I was completely disheartened watching the Islanders game. Dubnyk looked awful. The team just stood around on most of the power play. Stupid Eager penalties. The list goes on.

    I’ve always thought that the good Tambellini has done has outweighed the bad. But lately it seems that the man has the Reverse Midas Touch.

  • I think the team has the following issues:
    – The Defence stinks. We all know this. Part of the problem is injuries, the other is lack of skill.

    – The team is not mean enough. Up front, checking guys guys like Belanger, Jones, Smyth, Horc, Lander, Petrell..none of them are mean or very hard to play against. On D, guys like Gilbert, Petry, Whitney and Potter are not mean. I’m not looking for a team of Avery’s or Ott’s, but some “jam” and I mean smart jam not Eager-Jam can go a long way. On nights the team isen’t interested, they can drag the whole lineup kicking and screaming into the game. They tried to address this with Eager, but he doesn’t seem to initiate, only retaliate. Hordichuk played this role against Staubitz once, and that was it.

    – Veterans are not scoring, and I put this on Renney more than anything. Hemsky is a throuroughbred and needs icetime. He’s the best player TODAY on forward if given half the chance of the kids. Hall plays better away from RNH/Eberle at 5-on-5. Personally, I’d go with:
    Hemsky-Horcoff-Hall
    Eberle-Gagner-RNH
    Jones-Belanger-Smyth

      • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

        Vague generalities from Tambellini.

        Knew that was coming and Matty told me to expect as much. Tambellini won’t be pinned down. You can ask very specific questions and get a whole bunch of broad-brush answers that don’t go to the point.

        • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

          How specific and loaded are the questions he gets in a press conference? For example, if a reporter were looking to stir things up, how would Tambellini respond to a reporter asking/hinting that EDM’s management may be a big part of the problem?

          • Oilchange64

            How does anybody respond when they feel they’re being asked a loaded question?

            You can ask, “Steve, Ben Eager has pretty much been a huge disappointment. How much has he sucked?” or “Steve, how would you rate Ben Eager’s performance so far this season? Has he been as good as you hoped he’d be?”

            Everybody might know Eager has been brutal, but if you think you’re going to force Tambellini into saying something he doesn’t want to say by asking the first question, you’re mistaken. You at least have a chance to get an honest answer by asking the second question. Same goes for asking about the performance of management etc.

            Hints? Loaded questions?

            I might wonder why Lowetide has had you on Nation Radio as a guest because I’m not really sure what qualifies you to speak as any kind of authority on the Oilers. I have a chance to get an answer if I ask, “Speeds, I’ve heard you talk about the Oilers on Nation Radio. Tell me about this hockey blog of yours and why you started it. What insights do you feel you offer fans of the team?” Is that a softball question?

            Or I could “stir things up” by trying to steer you to a conclusion I’ve already drawn. “Speeds, I’m not sure why Lowetide insists on filling air-time by having you on as a guest. I mean, hardly anybody reads or comments on your blog, that’s obvious based on the numbers, so you can’t be taken seriously as someone who provides any real insight or expertise. There must be 50 bloggers out there who would bring more to the table. So, why does he have you on?”

            I might get high-fives from people who agree with me that Speeds doesn’t have any juice by cutting to the chase, but how keen are you going to be to take questions from me in the future?

          • OilFan

            Though I agree what your writing I wonder why you feel the need to write it calling out a fellow nation member ? What qualifies any one of us including the media ? I enjoy reading about anything Oilers.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            Although I’m not a reporter, I do understand that sometimes the way one frames a question can lead the respondent to give very different answers.

            And I can certainly see why a reporter wouldn’t want to “burn bridges” with someone they would like to converse with, and interview, going forward, beyond the obvious respect for others most would like to show; to treat people the way they’d like to be treated. That’s certainly the way I choose to write, both in comments around the blogs and when I post at my blog. As an example of my writing on the blog, here’s my post on the Khabibulin contract when it was signed:

            http://hockeysymposium.blogspot.com/2009/07/khabibulin-contract.html

            I include that link because I think (perhaps arrogantly?) that’s a decent example of being strongly against a move, but being able to write about it in a measured way. Some might call that “punch pulling”, but from my perspective it is possible to voice your vehement disagreement with someone’s decision without resorting to name calling and character attacks, etc. I’m not a guy that thinks a sports reporter has to be a venomous cobra to write fairly and critically about the team he covers.

            That said, if it is the case that your fairly worded questions aren’t answered, or the responses are more of an attempt to misdirect or obfuscate than legitimately answer your fair questions, what are the alternatives, other than to find new ways of phrasing questions so as to generate a sincere and enlightening answer?

            However, you have interviewed or talked to Tambellini enough times to have formed the opinion that “Tambellini won’t be pinned down. You can ask very specific questions and get a whole bunch of broad-brush answers that don’t go to the point.” I had mentioned “burning bridges” earlier in the reply, but to burn a bridge the bridge must exist. No one is saying the Oilers can’t choose to construct a bridge-less moat around themselves, but doing so may have consequences with regard to the way reporters choose to question them. There are respectful ways to ask questions, but if they won’t answered your questions that way, what can you do but try anyother way? If you want to cross a moat, it may require a more drastic approach than asking nicely to cross.

            As for LT having me on Nation Radio, he didn’t have much reason to think I wouldn’t give him reasonable answers to his reasonable questions, so there was no rationale for him to inflammatorily frame the questions to generate a more complete answer. In addition to that, LT might also have been concerned that I don’t have a ton of interview experience, so perhaps he was trying to frame the questions to ease me into the interview? In any case, I don’t know that the “stir things up” hypothetical questions you’ve constructed for me are analogous to the types of questions I’m talking about. The question you produced for me is not a way to get me to answer questions I’ve been ducking, it’s a way for the interviewer to attack my credibility. Asking Steve Tambellini a pointed question about the merits of some of his specific decisions is not the same thing.

          • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

            First, I don’t actually have any questions as to why Lowetide uses you on the radio. I’ve never listened to a segment you’ve done, so I don’t know if you’re great, lousy or in between. Using a hypothetical situation.

            MSM reporters, no matter how they approach their jobs, are going to have people who question how they go about things. That’s fine. The questions you ask are reasonable and go to issues reporters wrestle with all the time — how best to get the real story?

            Usually, the knock from non-MSM people is: this guy is too soft, he throws underhand, he only wants to get along, he doesn’t want to rock the boat, he doesn’t want to risk his access . . . etc etc. That’s easy criticism to level from the outside looking in.

            For the record and using the subject you raised, I don’t like the roster Tambellini has put together. The reasons I’ve stated before. I don’t think he’s done as good a job as he should have or could have. That’s my position going in. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to before I even ask him one question. But my editor doesn’t want a column from me offering the opinion that Tambellini has bungled the rebuild. He wants a story with Tambellini’s take on things. “Go talk to Tambellini. I want to know what he has to say, not what you have to say.” OK.

            Now, if we’re talking about a one-off situation (very hypothetical because most often it’s a beat person who gets time with the GM) where I only get one crack at Tambellini, I can mount my I’m-going-to-get-to-the-truth soapbox and play Mr. Hardass. “Steve, let’s talk about the way you’ve bungled this rebuild . . .”

            I know he’s bungled it. I’m tired of the pat answers I’ve read and heard from other interviews. I’m going for it. Why tone it down? I’ll just get another pat answer. If I go too far, his response might be something as simple as, “Next question?” Then what? Well, if it’s a one-off, no big deal. If I seldom, if ever, need to speak with Tambellini to do my job, it’s no biggie.

            If I’m a beat guy who depends on access to Tambellini as part of my duties over the course of months and years (and it’s not a hobby, it pays my mortgage), it’s a different story. While I don’t have to nod in the affirmative at everything Tambellini says, at least not if I want to be taken seriously, I also don’t have the luxury of saying, “C’mon Steve, that’s BS and you know it. Let’s get serious here . . .” Believe me, there are times you want to say exactly that.

            Having done this for a living for almost 30 years, I’m always walking that line and trying to find the best way to do the job. I want the real story, not the spin. So do my editors. There are times when I kick myself for going too far and times when I kick myself for not going far enough. You are, or should be, constantly assessing how you approach things to get to the truth, to the real story. You poke and you prod and you re-phrase questions time after time after time.

            If Tambellini (or the coach, chief scout, cabinet minister, police chief etc) or anybody who carries clout within the team/organization/field you cover thinks you’re a fart-catcher, you’ll probably get along just fine, but all you’re ever going to get is a pat on the head and a cookie for being a yes man. If the same people think you’re a dick with an agenda — your primary interest is showing them up or making them look bad — you aren’t going to get much from them or anybody who has to answer to them. “Tom, Kelly (whoever), why are giving Brownlee all this good stuff? He makes me look like a buffoon every chance he gets. Shut it.”

            The middle ground, contrary to what some people out there think they know, is what most MSM reporters strive for. Be tough but fair. Be willing to praise and criticize when warranted. If that’s your track record, GM, coaches and players might not be happy with a particular item you write because it’s critical or negative, but there’s not much they can say because you’ve established a reputation for fairness and balance.

            That said, even if you approach things that way, you might not get the story you want or expect — in this case, an assessment from Tambellini that lines up with conclusions you and many other people have already come to. Instead, you get spin. Your editor yawns. Your readers think you’re a houseman. It can be just as frustrating for the people writing it as it is for the people reading it.

  • I think the Oilers will be hard pressed to get to 70 points this year. My prediction, Oilers will be picking 3rd overall.

    I’m all for the rebuild, but five years is ridicules, three years of losing and your going to start to lose players not wanting to be a part of it anymore, they will lose valuable veterans and this is how a perpetual rebuild becomes a reality.

    The way I see it, the Oilers need become ultra aggressive. We all know they need at least two top defensemen, secondary scoring plus a legit goalie.

    This trade deadline, the draft and the start of UFA, the Oilers could be back on top.

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    Personally i say next year should be the make or break for Tambellini. If he isnt able to improve the team to the point of being at least knocking on the door of the playoffs… then his time should be done. I feel we have improved our developmental system considerably but the fruits of this labor are just now starting to appear NHL ready. And that to me is when a total rebuild starts to show its effectiveness or not? 1 more year for Tambi gets my vote.

  • Newj

    It would appear that under the cloak of “Youth, injuries and re-building” that few are accountable and changes are not required.

    Sure we’ve sent a few back to the minors & an occasional healthy scratch but look what other struggling teams have done. We are standing pat? Hell why not bring back Magnus, Omar or Brule for another go?

    Maybe I’m grasping at straws but what actions are being taken to change this SIGNIFICANT tailspin?

  • cableguy - 2nd Tier Fan

    Well said RB- It’s going to make me sick to watch Tambelini and four other under achieving GMs sit at the TSNs draft lottery show. Good thing for KLowe he has a puppet to send off for these sorts of appearances. I wonder when Buccburger gets his Promotion ??
    Sadly- this organization has really become a laughing stock !

  • Oilchange64

    Sad to say, but as we enter the New Year my interest is already waining. We are again, ALREADY having trouble getting clients to take the good seats the company has so I believe I am not alone. Clearly most fans on here are a little more rabid than the average fan who has already tuned out. I have long backed management but have been adamant that playoffs had to be in the picture this year. Not going to happen, so not going to defend them or the “plan” anymore. On the upside, jumping on a plane in 2 days for annual week of warmth and enjoyment, and this yr I won’t even wonder what is going on with the team. If I go looking for a sports bar this year it will be to catch the NFL playoffs.

  • OilFan

    Both Gagner and Belanger are brutal. Eager hasn’t been good at all. Lander still needs a season in the AHL. But where talking about fourth line plug players .

  • Oilerbill

    So when you say that Belanger played top minutes on a deeper team in order to strengthen you pathetic argument that he should be getting more ice time, you were saying he should be on the fourth line?

    I guess you’re right my comprehension level is much lower than yours.

    Just to get things straight when I said that Sam Gagner needs to play 2nd line center in order to be productive on this team and you argued that he is better suited to play the wing than that roll and that he should be given the opportunity to play on the top line.

    You really didn’t mean that? Or is my level of comprehension so low that you really weren’t saying that?

    Please clarify that for me oh masterful Jedi.

    The fact:

    When I paraphrased you and stated that your argument was that Gagner should be top line left wing and Belanger should be second line center you realized how idiotic you sound. Or maybe you didn’t realize it and are just calling me names because your comprehension level is soooo high.

    • You’re starting to get on my nerves.

      If you’re going to be the guy who has to get the last word and is intent on baiting another reader with “internet tough guy” and “masterful Jedi” references — THAT guy — I’ll find both of you through your IP address and lock you in a room so we can see how that goes with the shroud of anonymity lifted.

      Ought to be a real purse fight.

    • OB1 Team Yakopov - F.S.T.N.F

      The fact that Belanger has played big minutes on teams far better then ours should be all the proof you need that he’s a quality player.

      What I said regarding Belanger was that he is the 3rd best center and a top 9 forward on this team. Gagner has more offensive talent then Belanger, but Belanger is far better at the defensive aspects of the game… which are pretty important for a 3C.

      Regarding Gagner my point was that I disagreed when you *insisted* that he *had to* play center in order to be effective, he’s had a few stints on the wing and for the most part he’s been effecitive there too (as a secondary scorer). Shortly after this happend Gagner put up 7 points in 8 games and 13 pionts in 17 games…. mostly on the wing.

      See you didn’t paraphrase me, you put words in my mouth… and I didn’t call you names, I said you are a liar…. because you are lying.