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?
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.