AT RANDOM: ANGST AND 41 MORE

No surprise in this corner about the poop hitting the fan after the Edmonton Oilers hit the halfway mark of the season on their hands and knees in a 4-1 loss in Dallas Saturday. Everybody got some on them.

Some fans are having a bowel movement in the direction of GM Steve Tambellini because he hasn’t made enough moves to improve this team so it can move along in the rebuild. Others are sour as an ex-wife at an alimony hearing at the moves Tambellini has made. Both groups want Tambellini fired.

Others have tagged coach Tom Renney as the problem. They’re sick of seeing Eric Belanger on the power play, they don’t think he’s played Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall enough and in the right situations. While I agree with some of that, I still don’t think the Oilers 16-22-3 record is Renney’s fault, even if it is his problem.

With Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle on the shelf with injuries and little chance of the Oilers picking up steam until they get back, even we media types are ducking dung as fans vent. We get nasty e-mails and pointed Tweets. Those of us who don’t scream at the top of our lungs for the firings of Renney and Tambellini are yes-men and fartcatchers.

To hear the disgruntled sound off, 630 CHED game night and talk show host Dan Tencer pulled a Dustin Penner pancake job by spraining his lips kissing company backside the other day when he defended the state and pace of the rebuilding process in his blog. Took a load, did Tencer, as have those perceived as turning a blind eye while Tambellini sends things sideways.

Let me say this about all of that . . . .

ON TAMBELLINI . . .

People broad-brushing Tambellini as a bungler who’s botched the rebuilding job top to bottom are frustrated and not seeing things for what they are. He hasn’t done everything right or wrong. The reality about the job he’s done falls somewhere in the middle.

— The Oilers have some depth and real prospects at the AHL level in Oklahoma City. The farm system was a mess and a laughingstock when Tambellini stepped in for Kevin Lowe. It isn’t any more, not by a long shot.

Sure, much of that reflects the work of chief scout Stu MacGregor and his staff, as well as having back-to-back first overall picks and higher picks in general than in years past, but you can’t suggest failure starts at the top and then take Tambellini out of the picture when there are successes.

— Despite his hideous offensive numbers, I liked the signing of Belanger and acquiring him addressed an obvious need for a face-off man fans had been screaming for. Likewise, bringing in Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk made sense. Remember how the term "functional toughness" was in vogue when Steve MacIntyre was let go? Also, nice find in Corey Potter.

— It seems Tambellini is the only person on the planet who didn’t see the need to add more depth to his blue line going into camp despite questions about the state of Ryan Whitney’s ankle and the gamble, and that’s what it was, of relying too much on Cam Barker.

Rather than allow for a worst-case scenario, which is what has unfolded, by acquiring a proven NHL veteran for depth, Tambellini seemed satisfied holes could be filled if need be by those already in the system like Colten Teubert, Jeff Petry and Alex Plante. Maybe one day, but not now.

— What did Tambellini think was going to happen with Magnus Paajarvi when he brought Ryan Smyth in with Hall already on the left side? Why did it take so long to get Paajarvi to OKC when his ice time and confidence dwindled? What did expect with Sam Gagner behind RNH, Shawn Horcoff and Belanger at centre?

Mixed results. That said, there’s no getting around that injuries have had an impact and would have no matter what Tambellini did. At this stage of the rebuild, this team can’t be expected, even under the best of circumstances, to get along without Whitney and Barker and, now, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. That said yet again, Tambellini didn’t go far enough to cover his backside with Whitney and Barker. Big blind spots there.

ON RENNEY . . .

I pretty much agree with what Jason Gregor had to say about Renney in his piece today. I can’t nod in empty-headed approval at every move he’s made in every situation but, by and large, I don’t see as many holes in the job he’s done behind the bench as I do when I look upstairs.

— I think Renney has over-used Belanger and, despite his hot start, Ryan Smyth at times. I think he has under-played Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Hall, particularly in some 4-on-4 situations. I’m probably not as alarmed about the degree as some people, but I’d have tweaked some ice times.

— Special teams are improved and that speaks to not only personnel, but to preparation by the coaching staff. Borderline pitiful in recent seasons, the power play and penalty kill are improved. At the same time, the Oilers have not been good enough at even strength.

— I think Renney has a good feel for the room, when to play good cop and bad cop, and that this team wants to play for him. I’m not saying he’ll be the right guy for the job when this team actually gets good, but Renney has a better feel for communicating with his players and preparing them to play on his worst day than Pat Quinn did on his best.

The bottom line for me, again allowing for injuries that have this outfit in contention for another lottery pick, is that the cornerstone players in the future of this franchise, Nugent-Hopkins, Hall and Eberle, have met or exceeded expectations under Renney. You can’t blame the shortcomings of players on the coach without recognizing he has a part in the successes.

THIS AND THAT . . .

I’m not going to spend a lot of time defending or chastising members of the media for their takes on the rebuild because we’re not the story, even if we tend to be lightning rods for fans. That’s part of the gig and, the bottom line is, it’s good for business.

I had no doubt after the loss in Dallas fans would want to have their say, including taking some runs at people who cover the team, and that’s been the case. Just looking at the comments section here and some Tweets in recent days, that’s certainly been the case.

— This Tweet from noted media groupie Dennis King: "If Dan Tencer worked for the Leafs Brian Burke would make him work the entire Gay Pride week in assless chaps."

— Part of a comment from Roilty directed at me Jan. 3: "I really wish the media types around here would direct a little of their venom at Oiler Management and a little less at Hemsky and Gagner. (This includes, but is not limited to you, Mr. Brownlee). Management in Edmonton seem to get a never-ending free pass for their continued incompetence. What other franchises would stand for this?

"What’s the deal, do they shut you down if you don’t comply? Help me understand this. We have been wandering in the desert for a decade with incomplete hockey teams and players asked to play well beyond their current level. This responsibility lies squarely with management . . ."

Perhaps, like Tencer and others in the media biz, I’ve sprained my lips without realizing it. The way I see it – as I’ve already written — this team, allowing that injuries have had a degree of impact, is about where I expected it to be when the season began. Then again, I was expecting 13th place, not eighth, ninth or 10th.

I’m not whistling Don’t Worry, Be Happy because I’m still not convinced Tambellini knows how to put this team together, but I’m not so sure things will look as dismal after 82 games as they do now.

Allowing for three more weeks without RNH, a couple weeks without Eberle and not counting on Whitney at all, I still think this team is capable of 35-38 points in the second half or 70-73 overall – that’s down from the 78-82 I projected right before Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Tom Gilbert went down at the end of the road trip.

I think we need to see how that plays out on the ice, how Tambellini performs before and at the trade deadline and what Renney does behind the bench before fans — not to mention boss Daryl Katz — can make a reasoned evaluation of what needs to happen next.

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

  • Romanus

    I think it is high time the sports media got called out by fans. The writers/talking heads have the appearance of spinning things for the Oilers whether consciously or not. Sure, current injuries are a factor, it goes without saying. There aren’t enough 0’s and 1’s in the universe to site the stupid trades and signings done over the gm’s tenure. Whitney’s injury history was either overlooked or ignored when Visnovsky was traded.

    The fan frustration is not just this season. It goes back for some of us 20+ seasons, and is coming to a head after watching KLowe and his hireling make a mess of the team. They have failed with player after player and been given a total pass by the press.

    Telling us that we are not seeing what we are seeing simply undermines your credibility. Obviously that is not an issue to our bloated hall of fame writers.

    If they want to continue sucking up to ownership ‘et al’ then I expect the howling from the mob is just getting revved up.

    I’m waiting for the local season ticket holders to vote with their feet because some of those folks that I know are talking about not renewing…we’ll see. I believe Tambs and Renney’s contracts expire in June. Hopefully Katz returns to Earth and does something constructive and hopefully KLowe is selling shoes at the WEM.

  • OilerLand

    Trade Hemsky to CLB for their first pick. Hemsky goes down easy and both teams tank…Yakupov AND Murray. Tambo looks like a genius.

    Seriously this team is in the playoffs without all these injuries. That’s all.

    • Talbot17

      I actually agree. Sure our start was smoke and mirrors, but most teams usually finishing between 6th and 10th in the conference either have a break up first half or second half, and then play .500 the rest of the way sneak into the playoffs and I think the oil would be there.

      I think we need to get Mr.Grier back onto the bench for a game and reverse his curse! damn shoulders

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I disagree on your point totals. I don’t see the Oilers getting 70-78 points. The reason I see for this is the loss of RNH and Eberle. Our PP has been the key to our winning this season. And those 2 players have been at the forefront of that resurgence. Without them in the lineup I see a definitive drop off in PP production over the next few weeks. The 5 on 5 play has been abysmal at best. The lack of production from our veteran forward does not fill me with hope that the team will be able to compete in the next few weeks. Unless Hemsky,Horcoff and Belanger find some game I think were looking at more losing nights than winning ones.

    My hope is that MP will be able to find his groove in the coming weeks. Gagne has found his game and has been one of the best Oilers inthe past 3 weeks. Hall has been out of this world since his return. i can only hope that Renny sees this too and continues to throw out Gagne and him on the ice every chance he gets.

    DD and Bulin. With an AHL defence in front of them the only thing I can hope for is that one of them doesn”t get hurt.

    Defence. No depth. No chance. No way. Hangs this one on ST.

    All adds up to a whole of misery in the next 3 weeks.

  • Jason Gregor

    I read Tencer’s piece about this beeing only the second year of the rebuild, oh where did the oil pick in 07 6th and in the top 10 since then, with 2 1st overall picks this is year five even if the Oil, managment didn’t tell us it was thrust upon them 5 years ago. With that many picks prospects in the system it was time to use some of those to speed up the rebuild. Everyone uses Chicago and Pitt as examples yes they built through the draft but how many of there picks where still on the team when they won. It’s a managers job to keep the great ones and trade for upgrades with the good ones. Chicago and Pitt won because there manager new what to add to his CORE to win and used his assets accordingly. Something Tambi needed to do and hasn’t

    • Jason Gregor

      Pitt had Staal, Crosby, Malkin and Fleury, 4 of the 5 top-five picks..He traded one, Whitney for Kunitz…

      Chicago only traded one of their top-five picks, Barker, and both Pitt and Chic made those trades the year they won, and both times near the deadline.

      When the Oilers are competitive I fully expect them to move one of their picks…I wouldn’t be shocked if Paajarvi or Gagner get moved when they actually are a good team. Not before.

      • Jason Gregor

        Point beeing Jason that they picked top 10 for years and only had 3 to 5 guys left that made up the team. When Chicago won they also made a couple trades and signed alot of ufa’s. Point beeing this is not year 2 it’s year 5 of the rebuild the Oil have had picks out the gazo, and still suck. Your telling me that Hall, Ebs, RNH, aren’t guys to build around that is basicly 3 1st overall picks there ebs at 22 was a steal lets face that. Gagner at 6 MPS at 10 the fans have sold out the building bought jerseys like mad men clocks, blankets every friggen thing Oilers and they can’t start to challange for a playoff spot after 5 years it’s starting to try my patience

        • Jason Gregor

          Byfuglien, Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Bolland, Burish, Hjalmarsson, Brouwer and Bickell were all drafted players.

          Of course they made some trades and UFA moves, but most came when they were getting good…

          Sharp was a move that worked out very well and that happened in early 2006. Versteeg was another smart move years earlier, similar to what Ryan Jones looks like.

          Hossa signed summer before they won…
          Campbell was huge singing in summer of 2008, and won Cup in his 2nd year….They had to overpay huge to get him. Worked out, then they dealt him.

          Ladd was also acquired a few years earlier…

          I agree that now is the time to start making smart acquisitions, but the free agent signings, major ones anyways, will be better timed when this team has actually made the playoffs.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      Indeed, read it on Twitter and TSN.

      Remember when ON would be one of the first places for us Oiler fans to read about the team? What happened to that? Not even a mention of the call ups yesterday either.

      • Quicksilver ballet

        It must only reveal ON is paying these guys way to much for their contributions here. Brownlee’s still out shopping for the Eberle pyjamas he wanted for Christmas, Gregor’s out shopping for wedding cakes, flower and petitfores. I feel your pain David…

      • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

        Wanye needs to incorporate these comments with Twitter. For the comments that are too long, the tweets should have a continuation link.

        I really think this should be high on his priority list, or Twitter is going to affect this site.

  • Bicepus Maximus - Huge fan boy!

    I sort of miss the MacT-Penner era. At least team was interesting and ordinary folk ,not just the bloggers, actually cared. We even paid good money to watch Oilers Pay per view. Now I hardly ever watch Oiler games because there must be something else we could watch.

  • RexLibris

    Hey Robin,
    regarding the one comment you mentioned about being a management lap-dog (Roity, was it?), I recall a little while ago a story you told about writing a piece right after the Oilers had picked Jani Rita or Jesse Niinimaki (isn’t Niinimaki a kind of sushi roll?) calling out Kevin Prendergast. If I recall correctly you said there was a media/management bash on a boat right after the draft and once they pulled away from shore Mr. Prendergast wasted no time trying to tear a strip off you for second-guessing his scouting acumen. That is hardly the kind of history one hears from a franchise lackey.

    Anyway, I agree with most of your assessments, example: if Tambellini hadn’t signed Belanger we’d be screaming about a faceoff specialist. And when fans were describing a PK’ing faceoff guy last year, offense was never mentioned. We just wanted to win the puck and keep it out of our net for awhile. Granted, most of us expected more from Belanger, likely including himself, but we also expected more from Mike Peca, Jochen Hecht, Adam Oates and countless others. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but we can afford to be patient.

    When it comes to Renney, what coach doesn’t default to veterans when a game is close? In my opinion Renney is the right person for this stage, he is being patient with the rookies (and sophomores)and I think he is trying to put them into situations where they can succeed. Unfortunately, on this team right now, those situations are few and far between. I think we’ll see more time devoted to the younger core players in this second-half, partially on account of veteran attrition (injuries and trade) and partially through a change of strategy. I think once this season ends it will be written in two parts: part one is to compete, which we did, and part two is to develop and experiment. Last season was all development and experimentation. Next season a little more competition, a little less experimentation, but still a lot of development.

    Thanks for the read.

  • RexLibris

    I’m not sure if Tambellini and Renney are the best qualified people to carry out this rebuild, but I will say that they have done a good enough job so far and that things are progressing more or less as I had expected. I had pegged the Oilers to finish in the 12th to 14th spot in the West this year.

    I never figured on all of Hall, Eberle, Paajarvi and Omark making it, so two out of four so far looks about right. The Oilers are improving, but the team had a lot of leeway in that area so it will take a fair bit of improvement before things actually begin to show. Kind of like my car, things there are so bad that even if my mechanic friend spent a day working on it you still might not notice, nonetheless it would be in better shape. Tambellini can’t be faulted for prospects not fulfilling their rosiest projections. The best he can do is load as many bullets into the guns of his and his scout’s gun and fire away. At some point luck and fate take over. How genius would Ken Holland look if Zetterberg and Datsyuk hadn’t turned out the way they did? As Scotty Bowman once said about the secret to being a good coach: have good players.

    The UFA signings Tambellini did this summer were bold and addressed much of what we all as fans figured the team-needs to be, defence aside. The contracts have been more shrewdly devised than they were under Kevin Lowe and the trades for draft picks have been very well done (I’m thinking specifically of Grebeshkov for the 2nd rounder that became Curtis Hamilton, and Riley Nash for Martin Marincin). So while Tambellini has made some mistakes (Kurtis Foster and the Khabibulin signing as examples), I don’t agree with many fans who are calling for his head at this time. I wouldn’t trust him to build a contender, as his pursuit of Dany Heatley showed, but I do trust him enough to manage assets responsibly in a rebuilding phase.

    It could be worse, we could have someone like Feaster manning the helm. In what should be a sell-off year for Calgary, thus far appearances are that, whilst the ship is sinking, he’ll be working on the seating plan.

  • Wax Man Riley

    Fair article Mr. Brownlee, you seem to be the voice of reason in the media. Its a young team, what were we expecting this year?
    We have made progress though, even if the numbers dont bare it out:
    Beating Chicago in Chicago.
    Beating Minny in Minny.
    Winning a game 9-2 against a good team.
    The kids progressed.
    PK and PP up.
    Not a bad little year. Unless you look at the standings.

    Keep up the reasonable approach, and I would give Renney one more year.