THE PLAN: STAY THE COURSE

I’m not sure what Steve Tambellini’s plan to rebuild the Edmonton Oilers involves exactly, aside from making lottery picks at the NHL Entry Draft year after year, but he reiterated again today that he’s sticking with it. Whatever that, ahem, is.

With the NHL trade deadline looming Feb. 27 and the Oilers looking like a lottery lock for the third straight summer, there’s no question Tambellini is going to get some calls from his peers around the league. You know, do-gooders looking to help him out by taking prospects and young players off his hands in exchange for help here and now. Sucker deals.

And while that might be tempting for a GM who critics suggest has shown little more than the ability to leave the tough calls to Stu MacGregor and build the Oilers into a fixture in 30th place, Tambellini didn’t sound like a man desperate to do something to placate fans and save his own job 55 games into what has been a disappointing season. A season destined to fall short of expectations stated when it began.

In fact, Tambellini sounded very much like a man with a contract extension signed and sealed, if not yet officially delivered from owner Daryl Katz by way of public announcement. That, or Tambellini is completely oblivious to calls for his head by many fans, a sizeable segment of whom consider his jug largely devoid of ideas about how to properly build a team.

Sucker deals? You think Tambellini a rube?

RESIST TEMPTATION

Tambellini didn’t deliver much in the way of surprises when he faced media gathered at Millennium Place today.

— Of course Tambellini is trying to sign Ales Hemsky before he gets to free agency July 1. And while Tambellini wouldn’t discuss details, it goes without saying he’ll do everything possible get a contract done. As long as "everything possible " doesn’t involve more than offering a two-year deal when he knows Hemsky will bolt if a doesn’t get a long-term pact, say four or five years – my words, not his. That writing is on the wall.

— Tambellini says he isn’t looking to move Ryan Smyth as a rental to a contender. No need for another tearful scene at the airport. Besides, Smyth has a no-move clause and he didn’t orchestrate a trade back to Edmonton "for family" reasons last summer only to look like a liar-liar-pants-on-fire guy by playing the opportunity card now and then returning next fall.

— Might Tambellini trade Nikolai Khabibulin and give Devan Dubnyk the run of the goal crease? Sure, he might, but to hear him tell it, that’s unlikely. Unless, of course, there’s something that makes sense in the long term, which was pretty much the theme of Tambellini’s answers today. He is, if nothing else, consistent.

The scrum with Tambellini had pretty much broken up as the pack shifted to corner Hemsky and ask him how badly he wants to remain a member of the Oilers – my take is the ONLY chance he’ll stay is if Tamby has a stroke and offers a contract that runs through 2017 or so – when I asked about the sucker deals and if he’ll give into temptation.

THE BIG PICTURE

"Is it hard? Yes, at times it is hard," Tambellini said when I asked him about taking shortcuts to contention. "But the courage to stick with the plan is organizational wide.

"We know where we’re going. We know what we have. We know all the good things that are happening within the organization from our drafting to Oklahoma City, where we’re in first place, to this team.

"Maybe we don’t have the results that we wanted, but we know the team is better. We look at the elite talent that is here. This team went from the bottom of the league in special teams to, I think, what are we, second or third in the league in power play? That’s telling me there’s elite skill and a mind that can think at that level here.

"Our penalty killing. I think that was toward the very bottom of the league, too. I believe we’re 11th or 12th right now. There’s a commitment to defense and sacrifice. We know there are good things happening. We don’t see the results yet, but I know the direction we’re going in. We’ll be successful."

So, no goofball, big-splash stuff – Rick Nash comes to mind — to impress the guy who signs the cheques or to toss the fans a bone? No giving into the whispering of sweet-nothings by other GMs in the next 14 days?

"I know I’ll get the calls," Tambellini said. "How, by moving some of our young players, it’s going to help me get better, somehow, but I think you have to be aware of that."

See? Everything is fine. Right on schedule. Stay the course.

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

  • Does it really matter if Hemsky is signed up for longer term as long as the money is palatable and there is no NMC attached to it? It seems like a mistake to draw the line at what the length of contract would be when talking a max of 5 years.

    Worst thing that happens is you move him in a year or two when there is actually someone here that can fill his spot.

    Even if he is never again the player he had once shown he could be, has enough of a track record in the league that someone will be willing to give him a second or even third shot as a reclamation.

    I dunno, this super double secret plan that Tambellini hints at doesn’t seem very consistent. Hemsky is a good case in point where Tambellini says he wants an environment where young guys push the older guys and opportunity is earned. Yet here we see them setting up the exit of a player that doesn’t have to be pushed out the door and the only option for replacing him is a rookie or near rookie that hasn’t proven jack.

  • RexLibris

    Robin, thank you for writing this. Your timing is impeccable.

    Last night I was chatting on FN during the Flames game (nice to see the Leafs lose like that) and had to defend Tambellini from the accusations that he is “a cretin”. I’m pretty much at the point where I can’t even be bothered to respond to those vague, sweeping criticisms.

    I know fans and critics all look at the Oilers and say they need to trade some of their forward prospects for defence right now, and on the surface that would appear to be true. I think a closer look at the team and their developmental balance would show that they need to be patient with their forwards, acquire some more depth at the forward position, and if defence is to be addressed it will need to be in the short term by free agency.

    I wonder if sometimes fans have forgotten just how barren the prospect pool was for Edmonton before the ’09-’10 season. We now have four goaltending prospects, nearly a dozen defensive prospects (many of whom will begin their pro career next season), and a half-dozen forward prospects. If you figure that fewer than a third will become NHL calibre players then we have enough depth to become a healthy franchise. Now we need to push it to become an elite franchise.

    I’ll use Paajarvi as an example, if we traded him at the deadline we’d probably get back a half-decent defenceman who might be a second-pairing guy for a few years and then decline. In the meantime the Oilers get a little bit better and lose their higher draft position. What does that help? And Paajarvi may develop, and at this rate I would say probably will, into that depth scoring winger who can help shut down the opposition. In other words, the kind of winger that teams who want to play well in the playoffs try and trade for.

    I always go back to what I remember hearing about Sather and his early days here. Lots of GM would call up and offer a veteran for one of the Oiler’s kids to “help you guys out”. Sather told them to take a hike and today we are all very thankful that he did. Same holds true here. I agree that Tambellini is sometimes conservative to a fault, but I’d rather have my rebuilding GM gun-shy than Gung-Ho.

    Here’s how I see it: if you’re laying the foundation for a building, do you want to speed things up at the cost of the lifespan of the structure? Or do you take your time and do it right?

    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that Tambellini, for all his faults, is no more a cretin than many other GMs in the league and I would rather have a guy in that seat making decisions based on doing the right thing than doing it for his own pride.

    There, sorry about the rant.

    Thanks again Brownlee, it was a great read.

  • RexLibris

    I say draft Grigorenko, give him another year in the minors, and if there is a work stoppage next season try to convince our younger players to all go spend some time in the AHL and develop their game. I’d love to see what Todd Nelson could do with RNH, Hall, Eberle, Omark, Paajarvi, Petry, Chorney, Musil, Marincin, Teubert, Plante, Pitlick, Hamilton, and others on the OKC roster.

  • Oil Bog

    Stay the course.
    Year 3 of the rebuild and already we are turning the boat around?
    Come on people.
    We are almost there. Don’t give up now.
    Draft, draft draft, develop, tweak and voila. We are the LA Kings. Minus a brutal Penner deal.

  • Spydyr

    Yes, no short cuts. I’ve heard some suggestion that the Oil dangle their lottery pick this year to grab a Dman. I say no to that plan. We will get a very talented, young player with that pick that will be with us for many years.

    The Leafs kinda remind me of the quick fix years that the Oilers went through. Lots of expensive contracts, gave up some picks to make it happen. The Oil were right up against the cap yet were a bubble playoff team at best. Not unlike the Leafs this year. Can the Leafs win the Cup with this current plan? A small maybe, that keeps getting smaller with each passing year.

    I saw this year as our last chance to nab a top 10 pick for a while. Keep this pick, but the pressure is on for this team to take a big step next year.