In the summertime–July 1, mostly–Steve Tambellini made a series of moves designed to improve the big league team. This All-Star weekend, it is clear those moves have not had the desired effect. Were these poor bets?
It’s easy to describe the leaves in the autumn
And it’s oh so easy in the spring
But down through January and February
It’s a very different thing.
-Van Morrison, A Sense of Wonder
I’m a big believer in the idea that if you liked a move at the time, then being critical when it doesn’t work out comes with a price: owning up to your original impression. With that in mind, let’s look at the additions made by Steve Tambellini last summer and how they have worked out so far:
- June 15th: Signed F Lennart Petrell. I wrote in the summer "the Oilers are extremely likely to use him as a checking winger both in the AHL and NHL. If that’s his experience, he will have more of it than most of the Oiler hires and that might mean he’s also a strong option for things like PK and late game defensive zone faceoffs." That’s pretty much what the Oilers got, I’d suggest this was a solid signing by the team. He is not a good 5×5 NHL player but does some impressive things on the PK. Should the organization decide to run 8D and 13F next season, Petrell might be a candidate for 4th line/PK work as the 13F.
- June 26th: Acquired Ryan Smyth. About Smyth, I wrote "If you gave me an endless budget and 5 years, I don’t think I could find a better mentor for this young team" and that’s still the truth. Since the deal, there have been rumors about HOW #94 arrived here and of course we know it took a lot of time to finalize everything. If we’re going to be critical of Steve Tambellini for his mistakes, then we should also give credit for what has gone right during his time in the GM’s chair. This trade looks like a high water mark, then and now.
- June 27: Oilers do not tender JF Jacques and Zack Stortini: One thing the Oilers have had trouble doing is letting go of players who are bubble types. Stortini couldn’t skate but had a big heart and did some things, Jacques could skate like the wind but taking a pass and making one seemed a mystery. Credit where due: setting free the bears.
- July 1: Oilers sign L Ben Eager. I felt this was a useful signing, suggesting "6 minutes a night, cut back on the penalties taken and let him agitate like an old time washing machine." Eager suffered a concussion early in TC and then was ineffective for a long stretch of time. Adding to the problem was that injuries meant he was playing more (8 minutes a night) and although he has tried to cut back on the penalties it has come at a price: he’s less effective as an agitator. He does seem to be playing better of late, but overall this has been a negative signing for the team.
- July 1: Oilers sign D Cam Barker: This was a signing that didn’t impress me. The Oilers needed a more proven player, more of a sure thing. Barker in summer is the same as Barker now: a player trying to get back to where he should be based on draft pedigree. That’s not a guy who should represent your major move to address your biggest weakness. I think it is fair to be very critical of Steve Tambellini in this case. The season isn’t over, but a more proven player was needed for the position.
- July 1: Oilers sign F Darcy Hordichuk: About this player, I wrote "Energy guy, takes too many penalties and won’t help you much offensively. He does know his role and has no fear. Hordichuk is a major upgrade (as a hockey player) over Steve MacIntyre." His performance has been on par with expectations, with an added bonus of a few free PP minutes against the Wild. I’m not a fan of devoting a roster spot to this player type, but coach Renney has always had one and Hordichuk can skate and take a pass. I’m not certain there’s anything to complain about with this player’s performance.
- July 1: Oilers sign C Eric Belanger: Loved this signing, still do longer term save for the PP minutes. Belanger has not been good, and the overall return for what is a long term deal has not been strong. Having said that, I liked it in summer and being critical now without disclosing my summer opinion would be dishonest. My friend Louise always says that new hires take some time to get comfortable, so perhaps we’ll see a stronger performance in the second half of the season.
- July 1: Oilers acquire D Andy Sutton: I wrote "his secondary numbers imply a third pairing enforcer and a guy who can help out on the PK" and he’s covered it when healthy and not suspended. Sutton would be a player I would place in the plus column among the summer moves and he may be signed for next season or dealt for futures.
- July 1: Oilers sign D Corey Potter. I wrote "He’s an unusual defenseman in that he has both size and mobility but has played very few NHL (9) games compared to AHL (321) since turning pro" and full credit to the Oilers for finding a useful player and then re-signing him when he had shown well. Potter’s play has faded since the contract, but he should be a solid depth defender at the very least. A nice signign.
- July 12: Traded C Andrew Cogliano: Cogliano is once again playing about 15 minutes a night and on track for a very average offensive season. The draft pick–a 2nd rounder in 2013–has been reported in some circles as a 2012 pick but it is my understanding the 2013 ANA selection is the pick exchanged.
We won’t have a final score for awhile, but so far the deals fall into the following categories:
- SOLID TO EXCELLENT MOVES THAT WERE SEEN AS POSITIVE AT THE TIME: Ryan Smyth, Andy Sutton, Corey Potter
- MOVES THAT HAD LITTLE OR NO IMPACT THAT WERE SEEN AS POSITIVE: Lennart Petrell, Darcy Hordichuk, Andrew Cogliano
- NEGATIVE MOVES THAT WERE SEEN AS POSITIVE AT THE TIME: Ben Eager, Eric Belanger
- NEGATIVE MOVES THAT WERE SEEN AS NEGATIVE AT THE TIME: Cam Barker
I think the Barker move is an important one. The Oilers needed a healthy, dependable and established veteran blueliner and Barker has not delivered in this area. He had been bought out by his previous team after being passed by at least two younger and less proven options.
Beyond that, I think the Smyth, Sutton and Potter moves are clear wins, with the Smyth trade likely to rank as one of the extreme positives for the Oilers this decade. The secondary moves were good but didn’t have a major impact, and I felt the Eager and Belanger moves were reasonable bets and they have not worked out.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
We all have to use the brain God gave us. You’ll read a lot of angry articles on the internet but when an author is all positive or all negative it has a tendency (for me) to sound like one long run-on sentence. The summer moves made by Steve Tambellini are a mixed bag, and that’s fairly consistent with all NHL teams.
The report card is not perfect and being critical of Steve Tambellini about where this team is right now is certainly fair game. I wanted to let you know where I stood in the summer and why I’m not as critical of Tambellini’s 2011 work as some you may read on the highway. I encourage you to ask all Oiler observers you read to do the same.
Hindsight remains 20/20.