What is going to happen to Steve Tambellini? What about Tom Renney? Will the Oilers be big players at the NHL trade deadline? Are guys like Sam Gagner and Magnus Paajarvi essential parts in the Oilers rebuilding work?
To answer those, and other questions, we have assembled the Oilers Nation Roundtable. Robin Brownlee, Jason Gregor, Lowetide and myself all weigh in on a series of hot button issues surrounding the team. After the jump, we lead off with the Oilers’ most significant issue this summer: their decision on whether or not to retain general manager Steve Tambellini.
What decision should the Oilers make on Steve Tambellini?
Brownlee: I don’t know. It’s January. What names should the engraver put on the 2012 Stanley Cup? How about if people settle down and wait to see how this season plays out, and why? No decision needs to be made on Tambellini until the season is over. Making a call with the team decimated by injuries and losing would be just as foolish as making a decision to offer a long extension when the team was over-achieving in the first 15 games. The organization has to take fan angst out of the equation and try to judge the job, good, bad and indifferent, Tambellini has done assembling personnel – factoring in that injuries have had a significant impact. I don’t think he’s put the team together properly.
Gregor: Nothing until the season is over. His contract is up, so financially if they decide to go in another direction it is easy to not renew his deal. He would need to do something spectacular at the deadline to get an extension in my eyes. The fact he hasn’t been renewed already makes me believe the Oilers are undecided on his future at this point.
Lowetide: I think it depends entirely on Daryl Katz. Does he have anyone in mind? Is ST following the plan? If I owned the team, things would be different but there’s too much we don’t know at this point about the direction of the team.
Willis: There are essentially two parts to Tambellini’s tenure – from his hiring until midway through 2009-10, and then everything that’s happened since. Over the former period, Tambellini’s acquisitions to turn around the team – most notably Nikolai Khabibulin and Pat Quinn – were disastrous. Over the latter period, I don’t think there’s been evidence that Tambellini is an above average NHL general manager, despite the gains made in certain areas. In Daryl Katz’s shoes, I’d be very comfortable going in a different direction.
How would you assess Renney’s performance as head coach?
Brownlee: Renney is a solid communicator who understands the ebb and flow of a season and has a very good sense of what the pulse in the dressing room is. He has the respect of the players. I don’t like some of the tactical decisions he’s made as much, notably the use of Eric Belanger on the PP. Renney isn’t the problem.
Gregor: He’s been okay. You can’t win without talent, and the Oilers aren’t blessed with a lot of proven NHL players, and some of the proven ones haven’t played that well. I don’t think any coach would have got much more from this team. At times he seems determined to stick with some veterans, even when they aren’t doing much and that is perplexing. The major question is if they believe Renney is the right guy moving forward? The next three years are huge for this organization. They either become a top contender or continue to flounder as a bottom-feeder or on the cusp of the playoffs. Not having a contract makes it easy to walk away for the team. I’d give Renney a C+ as a coach.
Lowetide: Uneven, but you can say that about any coach. Bottom line: he doesn’t have the horses and the combination of not signing a clear top 4D and Whitney’s injuries have left his team badly short on the blue.
Willis: Some of Renney’s decisions have been a little odd, but I don’t think he’s done a bad job behind the bench this season, given the players he has had at his disposal. If Steve Tambellini is let go in the summer, than I think it makes sense to let his replacement hire a new coach, but I don’t see a lot of reason to shift paths midway through this season.
Who should Tambellini move before the deadline?
Brownlee: Seeing as this isn’t EA Sports NHL 2012, the answer depends entirely on who calls and what the return is. The only players you don’t move are Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle. Tambellini should make it known he is taking calls on Hemsky and Gagner and, if there’s interest, larger packages of players can be discussed from there.
Gregor: Who can he move is a better question? Hemsky, Smyth and Gagner could get him a decent return. Hemsky seems the most likely to move, and if Smyth is interested in getting moved to a Cup contender and then re-signing in the summer, I’d seriously look at moving him. The Oilers would love another first rounder, and a forward prospect with some size, grit and skill. Hard to come by, but that is what Tambellini has to try and uncover.
Lowetide: Sutton and (if they can) Khabibulin.
Willis: Defensemen – especially tough, veteran defensemen – always have value at the trade deadline. Andy Sutton has played the role of playoff rental before, and Tambellini ought to be able to get something of value for him. A decision on Ales Hemsky needs to be made prior to the deadline; the Oilers either need to resign him or get what they can for him. If a team is willing to pay for Sam Gagner – and that’s a definite ‘if’ – it makes sense to move him, but that might be a deal better made in the summer. Beyond that, Steve Tambellini really should be seeing if there’s any interest around the league in Nikolai Khabibulin.
Should the Oilers bring in a defenseman for the rest of the year? If so, who?
Brownlee: I’d be looking at stop-gap depth right now in the form of a minor trade. No need to wait until the deadline. Landing a more significant defenseman that might involve a trade for Hemsky or a Gagner, needs to be approached with an eye to well beyond this season.
Gregor: At this point no team that is still in playoff contention will risk moving a D-man. We’ve seen playoff teams down to their 8th D-man the past few years due to injuries, so that only leaves NYI, CBJ, TB, MTL, CAR, and ANA as teams who would deal a veteran D-man. The price is always higher near the deadline, so unless you can get a D-man who can help you next year as well I’d be hesitant. If Tambellini can get a rental for a 6th-7th rounder then I would, but I don’t see the point in giving up anything significant for a stop-gap guy for 38 games.
Lowetide: Nah. That ship has sailed. If they can identify a long term option for the top 4D and get him at the deadline, fine. But those deals rarely happen at the trade deadline.
Willis: Only if it is a guy they see playing for the team going forward. For example, I would expect the centerpiece of any Ales Hemsky deal would be a young defenseman. I don’t think it makes sense to go out looking for a stopgap at this point – especially given how pricey defensemen get around the deadline.
Which top prospect for this year’s draft should the Oilers be most interested in?
Brownlee: It depends where they finish in the selection order. They’re picking fourth, they aren’t getting Yakupov or Grigorenko. If they can get Ryan Murray fourth they should do so.
Gregor: The most talented one, Yakupov. Nugent-Hopkins proved you take proven skill, even if a guy isn’t that big, because proven skill is the hardest commodity to obtain. If they take Yakupov, then they should move Hall to centre. I’m very high on Grigorenko as well. He’s big, strong, skates well and he plays the middle. I don’t think you can go wrong with him.
Lowetide: Nail Yakupov. I’m not saying flush the season but if he’s there take the man. Beyond that, the WHL defenders who are top 10 options should be in play.
Willis: Ryan Murray is the obvious fit if the Oilers finish with between the third and fifth overall picks, but if they finish higher I don’t see how they could pass on Yakupov/Grigorenko.
What role will Magnus Paajarvi play in the future of this team?
Brownlee: We don’t know. He’s a work-in-progress. Wait. Trying to project after a terrible first half makes no sense. He is learning the North American game and he is still trying to figure out where he fits in. If doesn’t know yet, how are armchair experts supposed to know?
Gregor: I think he’s a few years away from being a top-six. I’d have him on my 3rd line, and get him on the PK. He wants to kill penalties, so I’d get him in the rotation in the final 30 games this year. If you look at the majority of Swedish offensive stars, only Forsberg put up big offensive numbers early in his career. They seem to take a bit longer to find their comfort zone offensively, so be patient with him and let him develop his overall game. I’m not suggesting Paajarvi will be a star, but I don’t think he’ll be a scorer right away, which is fine.
Lowetide: Two-way winger with PK ability and 20 goals a year. That’s a pretty valuable item, although it fades compared to Hall and RNH.
Willis: Paajarvi’s still very, very young, and some of the guys ahead of him – Brayden Schenn and Nazem Kadri, to name two – are still breaking into the league. He’s got good two-way instincts, and it baffles me that an Oilers team nowhere near competing for a playoff spot has burned through 108 games with him already without really starting him on the penalty kill. Offense may or may not be a concern going forward, but I’m quite confident that Paajarvi can fill an important role with the team as a two-way winger.
What role will Sam Gagner play in the future of this team?
Brownlee: Depends on whether the organization decides to convert Hall to center to provide a one-two punch with Nugent-Hopkins. Might also depend on if they get Grigorenko. If either of those things happen, then Sam looks like a third-line centre on this team who gets some PP time. If the Oilers can’t or won’t make the decision to play him there because of, among other things, the Horcoff factor, then it’s best to move him.
Gregor: Great question. I’m not sure anyone truly knows. Maybe he’ll become a 2nd line centre, maybe he’ll move to the wing, or he’ll get moved. If I had to bet he’ll become a 2nd liner, but not with the Oilers.
Lowetide: Tough to say. I think there’s room for him but it depends on how the Oilers want to roll them out. I think he’s a player.
Willis: My expectation is that Sam Gagner will play the role of ‘useful player sent elsewhere to fill a need.’ I think he’ll be a good NHL’er and have a long career, but I doubt it happens in Edmonton.
Would you re-sign Andy Sutton?
Brownlee: Yes. Maximum two years.
Gregor: I would. He’s been great in the dressing room, and when he’s played he’s been solid. Of course, the possibility of a suspension is a concern, but if he finds a way to be physical and avoid the Shanahammer in the final 38 games I’d sign him to a one-year deal.
Lowetide: No. I think they need to target clear top 4 options, by that I mean more complete defensemen than Sutton and Cam Barker. Ideally, they’d add 2 NHL veterans over the summer to take on the tough minutes with Smid-Gilbert and then fill in with Peckham, Petry and others. Petry could eventually fill a top 4 role and can step in when injuries occur.
Willis: I wouldn’t, because I would be shipping him out at the deadline. I hope the primary target this summer isn’t guys like Sutton and Barker and even Potter – the Oilers really need to focus on adding higher-level talent.