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.