Of Course He Said That – What Else Is He Going To Say?

There’s an interesting thing that happens whenever someone looks at Steve Tambellini’s literal words, writes them down, and attempts to deduce the meaning of them. Someone else will come along, agree that’s what he said, and then argue ‘of course he said that – what else is he going to say?’

In some ways, it is a highly valid point: Tambellini is under no obligation to be honest with fans and the media. The reality is that the NHL is a competitive industry, and there may well be times when it is in the team’s strategic interests to have one of their representatives go out and say things that, strictly speaking, the team doesn’t believe.

The G.M. probably isn’t going to toss coaches, or players, or executives under the bus by name. He may do so in a general sense (‘I didn’t like the effort level of the team tonight’)but he’s highly unlikely to say, ‘Player X is a bum and I’m going to trade him as soon as I can find a team willing to take his lazy, useless backside off my roster.’

On the other hand, there’s a big difference between choosing to be silent or refusing to give a definite answer than there is to out-and-out misdirection.

Take, for example, the fate of Tom Renney. It was one of the more popular topics at Tambellini’s end of season press conference. Tambellini said he told Renney to take a vacation, and that he deserved it. He said he needed to think about the season, and to talk with Renney about his plans to improve next year. He praised the coach’s ability, his preparedness, and his communication with the players. But he steadfastly refused, one way or the other, to go into whether Renney would be back next season. He refused to describe his ‘perfect coach.’ It wasn’t always graceful, particularly as the media continued hitting him with questions, hoping for illumination, but Tambellini managed to say a lot about the head coach without suggesting one way or the other whether he would be returning.

There are a host of other examples, some of them from right in that end-of-season press conference. One of the off-camera media members asked him whether or not he subscribed to the theory that a forward was a safer pick early in the draft than a defenseman. I’m honestly still not sure what his answer was, but then again that may well have been the point: to avoid tipping his hand as to what, exactly, he’s planning to do at the draft. He talked about considering his top pick from a positional angle, said it was something they could do as a team, cited the young forwards currently in Edmonton… and then made sure to point out that there are a bunch of good young defensemen in the system who haven’t even turned pro yet. He hinted at a possible trade of the first round pick for a package, but always with ambiguity, always making it clear that he was considering many options and he wasn’t about to narrow things down for the media.  He may have softened the ground for a potential trade by doing so, but then it wouldn’t be particularly surprising if no trade happened.

That sort of equivocation is the sort of thing a G.M. needs to do. If he hasn’t made up his mind on the coaching staff, he needs to leave himself an out to either keep them or dismiss them. He can’t acknowledge one way or the other a definite preference toward a given prospect at the draft. It’s probably a bad idea, from a negotiating standpoint, for him to let the media know his position on trading/keeping the first overall pick.

This is what Tambellini does: if he doesn’t want to answer a question, he doesn’t answer it. I’m not going to pretend he’s a brilliant public speaker – he has an odd style and seems ill at ease in front of the media – but from a message discipline point of view he’s really quite good: he says what he wants to say, and doesn’t say what he doesn’t want to say.

The point is that when Steve Tambellini does give a direct answer to a question, the odds are pretty good he’s not lying through his teeth. When he’s asked about Khabibulin and says “He’ll be back” the most likely reason he said it is because he means it. He could equivocate if he wanted to; it’s really quite easy: ‘I’m not going to answer those sorts of questions about specific players. My staff and I are always looking to improve our team in any area we can, and it would be a mistake for me to paint myself into a corner on any one player. In Khabibulin’s case, I love his professionalism and his competitiveness, but I can’t comment on his future with the team because I don’t want to start down the road of talking about specific players.’ He chose not to. He made a definitive statement.

Beyond that, there’s simply no way to know exactly what thoughts are going through Tambellini’s head. It’s easy to construct labyrinth scenarios, where he’s being cagey as a fox, cleverly planting misdirection and outright lies in the papers so as to bolster his bargaining position if anyone wants to make a deal with him. It’s a construct, though, and as such prone to bias.

Steve Tambellini doesn’t really have a history of getting caught in out-right dishonesty. To me, it makes more sense to (cautiously) take him at his word, especially when there’s no clear advantage for him to throw up a smoke screen. He says Khabibulin is going to be back. That doesn’t help in the trade market because nobody picks up player(s) based on the endorsement of the guy they’re trading with (‘Hey, Tambellini, how is Cam Barker? Really, he’s that good? Here, have a first-round pick!); they base it on their own analysis of the player(s) involved. He stated in January he didn’t want the Oilers to be a lottery team – and there may have been some advantage to saying that, to encourage his team to strive for more – but then he reiterated the point in April. There’s no advantage to it then; he’s basically admitting publicly that his team missed the goals he set for it.

There’s no need to dig through Tambellini’s comments to hammer on him or to exonerate him. Actions, ultimately reflected in the Oilers’ record, will judge Tambellini’s time as G.M. far better than any critic. The reason to dig through Tambellini’s comments is to try and get a sense of what he’s going to do next, what options the team might be considering. It isn’t always an exercise that bears fruit, but it is one of the ways to try and get a preview of what the team will do at the draft, in free agency, and entering next season.

  • Mason Storm

    ~Hi there, I’m a Vancouver Canucks hockey team fan. I was wondering if there are any openings on the Edmonton Oiler hockey teams 2012-2013 bandwagon. If so, can I pre-order a ticket.~

  • Gitagrip

    His sample size (and apparently his package size) are too small to critique his body of work in terms of success or failure. The drug lord ultimately grades him via contract term. The next year will go a long way in how history will remember his tenure. Until then it’s double speak as usual from ST.

  • Bucknuck

    If he isn’t considering a change in net, then in my mind he is not considering this team to be a playoff team next year. He’s letting his pride get in the way of his job, which is to make this team competitive for the fans. If he can’t see his own mistakes, then this team is doomed.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    On the list of responsibilities for a GM and coach, I would imagine that winning games is very high on the list and that maintaining good relations with the media is a lower priority.

    If Tambo has a honest, hard-done-by charm with the reporters interviewing him, I could care less. And if Renney is witty and articulate in explaining why the team just lost another game, I also wouldn’t care.

    Stop being an apologist for a regime that has finished 30th, 30th and 29th. You understand statistics better than I do. You could argue 3 years is a small sample size (although it isn’t), but this has been 3 years of statistical outliers, bad hockey to the extreme, outright embarassing. 3 years of “really bad” is just as strong an indicator as 6 years of “somewhat bad”.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Khabibulin isn’t going to retire or say he is going to retire if he thinks Tambellini wants to get rid of him. Khabibulin will just wait till the buyout period and hope to get a 2/3rds buyout from Tambellni.

    Tambellini is only going to say nice things about Khabibulin, because he wants Khabibulin to retire without having to pay the 2/3rds buyout. So once Khabilulin realizes he is going to have to endure another season to collect his salary he might retire.

    Tambellini and Khabibulin are really staring each other down over the buyout. That is all.

  • Time Travelling Sean

    On another note..Been watching Yakapov video for hours.
    The kid is a beast as well, Slick-Strong. I love Taylor Hall, but this
    guy … he is special… as is Taylor. Were in the Money Oiler Fans !!!!

    When exactly is training camp ? Think i asked the same thing
    at this time last year lol……

  • DieHard

    “Hi my name is Kevin Lowe…err..Steve Tambellini I like roller coasters, Spaghetti or Psssghetti as I call it at home, I am the owner of the Edmonton Oilers [Lowe Whispers in his ear]…so as I was saying I am the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers and I have an IQ of 84, any questions? Oh also my word of the day Calender is has Poise for today [Big grin, winning the lottery style]”.

  • DieHard

    What your saying is Tambellini is playing politician and can’t deal with the truth . Unfortunately Lowe & Katz are saying nothing and can’t deal with the truth . The Media seems to say the easy things as related to the Oilers and can’t deal with the truth . That then puts it in the hands of the paying public and we seem to go along with the whitewash that’s handed out . Having been a paying supporter from the pre Gretsky era we have nothing but memories and HOPE but guess what Omark just bailed as he thought he was given the shaft by 2 people and I think he is correct. I allways thought Lowe at least had some guts coming up with Sather’s guidance but I now just wonder whats next .

    • ghostcoins

      Yes…the full contract counts against the cap, in cap dollars. If Khabibulin retires, the full dollar amount still counts against the cap. If Khabibulin is bought out at 2/3rds, the full dollar amount still counts against the cap.

      What I am talking about is the real dollars.

      Khabibulin can still be bought out at 2/3rds of the amount remaining on his contract. This is nearly $3 million real dollars, and $3 million real dollars is nothing to sneeze at.

      Khabilbulin is NOT going to retire before the buyout period. He will wait to see if the Oilers cough up the $3 million. If the Oilers don’t then he has to play all season to collect his salary, but he might retire if he has to do that. But he won’t make that decision until after the buyout period is over.

      The Oilers probably want Khabibulin to retire, but they can’t say that, because then he’ll hang on and force the Oilers to buy him out.

      We have no idea whether the Oilers really want Khabibulin as their backup until after the buyout period, and we have no idea whether Khabibulin really wants to play until after the buyout period.

      The Oilers are trying to make Khabibulin believe that he will have to play to get his money, and Khabibulin is trying to make the Oilers believe that he wants to play to force the Oilers to buy him out.

      When the buyout period begins and finishes, the story lines of the parties may change.

      The $4.25 million gets charged to the cap in cap dollars regardless.

      The staredown is not over cap dollars, but over the real dollars involved in a potential buyout.

  • ghostcoins

    I don’t need to tell you how critical this is.

    Hometown. Pay-per-view. The eyes of the media. Here’s what I need.

    It should be lengthy enough to… seem substantial… yet concise enough
    to feel breezy.

    It should be serious… but with a slight wink.

    It should lay out a new course of action… but one that can change direction at any moment.

    If you must mention facts and figures, don’t do so directly.

    The general thrust… should remain embedded in one’s mind forever… but specific words should be forgotten the moment they are heard.

    It should contain nothing that can’t be confirmed or denied.

    It should be on my desk Friday morning.

  • Paq Twinn

    Great article JW! Im not impressed with what ST has done to date but I still want to see his plan unfold. Im of the belief it is only starting. Serious playoff push next year then a trip to the Conference Finals the following year, are the goals I believe the Oilers can attain.

  • Paq Twinn

    Jonathan give poor old ST a break. The mans mind s numb after winning the lottery this week. Mana from heaven. probably saved his ass from getting tossed. Lucky tie indeed. I’d fire him and keep the tie. Regardless of the babble speak that spewed forth from ST presser this week the OIlers are posed to draft a player with incredible talent. Doing anything less would be Flame like in comparison. In otherwords just plain stupid. Yakupov is the real deal. He ain’t no Patrick Stefan in sheeps clothings. His addition to a lineup the boasts three of the NHL;s up and coming stars will undoubtedly be a key piece in the future success that this team will have.

    Justin Shultz would be insane to waste an opportunity of Titanic porportions to play with this group. His addition would quell the masses who long for ST to trade down at the draft and take Griffin Rheinhart or Mathew Dumba. On July 1st the first phone call Justin Shultz should recieve is a conference call from Klowe,ST,Hall,RNH,Nuge and Yakupov asking him to consider joining this band of brothers.

    Renny gets a mulligan. So do Horcoff and Hemsky. Not so for Belanger and Eager and Barker. The team needs to find space on wing and Ryan Smyth may have played his final game for the Edmonton Oilers. The likes of TH and MP and AL and mayhap Chris Stewart will all need room on the roster. Its time to move on and up and reach for the top.

  • Lexi

    I don’t know why people don’t just accept that we are stuck with NK and make the best of this last year of the contract rather than pay him not to play. I think he is potentially better than at least 10 of the other backups and a Russian vet on the team could be beneficial for Yakupov. A top 4 D is a much bigger need than another goalie.

  • Reality Check to the head

    @ Quicksilver: Nice quote from Pink Floyd.

    I would like to know what Tambo has planned, but his job is to ensure that the club gets maximum return for assests and this means not tipping his hand one way or another. Generic statements are all you should expect from Tambo. I wish they would do Renney a favour and either resign or let him go.

  • bazmagoo

    I’m thinking the FA moves are going to be limited this summer to J Schultz and some bottom 6 size and grit. Would love to add a solid top 4 d-man, but we’d probably have to pay $5 million for a long term. Just can’t see the Oil committing to that with all their prospects getting close to the big leagues.

    I think the Oilers are convinced (and I agree) that they need to analyze/interview every player coming to the organization for flaws, which is easier to do with upcoming drafted players as opposed to UFA’s who are mostly able to hide behind their representative/agent.

    Definitely agree with them sticking to the plan, even though it might be another year before we get to the playoffs. We need to be at least close to the playoffs next season though, so the young guys can feel to heat of a playoff race. I see them finishing about 6-10 points out of the playoffs (hopefully closer to 6) in 2013.

    Thinking about buying a domain name – http://www.drafttheyak.com, anyone wants to go halfers on it with me?

  • DieHard

    Thanks Diehard. That would make the draft even more or less a lock for the Oilers to choose Yakupov. The signing of Justin Shultz would be massive. There hopefully is a plan to ensure that the Oilers give him every reason to choose to play here and not elsewhere. It is essential that the organization has a GM and a coaching staff in place to ensure that Justin and others view the Oilers as a stable organization with a plan for now and for the future.

  • DieHard

    If the Oil ever wanted to cut their losses on ST now would be the time. IMO his blunders far outnumber his successes. I don’t trust this nimrod at the helm for another 2-3 yrs. He’s gutted the team and put it in a nosedive for the lottery. Now it’s time for a real GM to enter the picture.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    Why can’t the media and the fans just mind their own business. As if however they interpret what ST says has any bearing on what actually happens.

  • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

    Why can’t the media and the fans just mind their own business. As if however they interpret what ST says has any bearing on what actually happens.

    • The poster formerly known as Koolaid drinker #33

      Shut up you stupid idiot. Go back to the corner and keep drinking your Oilertine. And who the hell told you that you can take the helmet off.

  • Newj

    Not that Elliot Friedman of CBC Hockey is the guru of hockey protocol, but tonight he stated that some courtesy should be shown to Tom Renney by making a decision on his contract in short order. It also affords Tom an opportunity to bid on other job openings should he decide to pursue them.

    Personally I dont want to see Tom Renney back at the helm, but I do think he deserves the respect of the Oilers management to s!#/ or get off the pot.

    Still like the Tippett possibility but I think that it is remote at best.

  • Reg Dunlop

    Lowe’ WC squad invites Ryan Murray to join the squad along with RNH, Ebs and Dub. If he shows well and isn’t out-classed I think the oil draft him 1st overall. Why else would he be extended an invite? The same can be said about Sutter, auditioning for oil head coaching gig. I am not endorsing this course of action, it just seems crazy enough to happen.

  • DSF

    What are the chances any established and seasoned coach signs on with the Oil with a tool at the helm?

    The NHL is a kind of closed club and everyone is watching the ST debacle.

  • DSF

    Jonathan, I wonder if there is a stat out there for all of the goal scored in the payoffs what the average salary ? It would be a matter of noting all the goal scorers, taking their salary to derive at an average. More often than than not, come playoff time it is not so much of the big fish making the splash. This is something our Oil Brass need to wrap their heads around.
    Guys like Bickle, Coutier, Pyatt……the list goes on. This is the area where the Oil need to fill holes.

  • DSF

    I love all the WC theories and its relation to the Oilers, Sutter for Oilers coach, Murray for 1st overall. You do realize Lowe isn’t running Canada for the Oilers. He is showing his stuff the same way the players are for the Olympics. Plus there are way more people making decisions then just Lowe.