Blaming The Professional Scouts

There’s a line of thought that suggests the Oilers’ primary weakness in recent years has been in signing and trading for professional players. It’s an argument I tend to agree with.

There’s an addition to that argument that’s been made with surprising frequency lately: that the problem lies in the Oilers’ professional scouting department. While I don’t know if that’s true or not, it isn’t an argument that I find especially compelling.

Steve Tambellini has been the general manager of the Oilers for four years now. Three of the Oilers’ five pro scouts – Morey Gare, Dave Semenko and Mike Abbamont have been employed continuously over that span. The other two – Chris Cichocki and Duane Sutter – have been hired during Tambellini’s tenure.

Prior to being hired by Edmonton, Tambellini spent 17 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks front office. According to his biography on the Oilers’ official website, “Tambellini was involved in all aspects of the team’s hockey operations including contract negotiations, scouting and minor league affiliates.”

Between the 1997-98 season and leaving to join the Oilers, Tambellini served as Senior V.P. of Hockey Operations, V.P. of Player Personnel and V.P. and Assistant General Manager. He has also been involved in the selection of Team Canada over the years, twice serving as the team’s G.M.

He’s not some babe in the woods, unable to fend for himself and at the mercy of the competence or incompetence of his scouting staff. He knows – or at the very least has no excuse for not knowing – the players the Oilers are making decisions on. He’ll be familiar with the opinion the Vancouver Canucks had on a lot of these guys. He’s also going out and talking to other people about deals he’s making – Steve Yzerman was cited as an authority on the Tom Gilbert-for-Nick Schultz trade.

In short: if he’s been getting bad advice from his professional scouts, surely it should have been evident at some point over the last four years. Tambellini has spent the last two decades in hockey management , and something like the last four in and around the game. He would also have first-hand knowledge of the scouts in Vancouver and be able to compare them to his personnel in Edmonton.

It could very well be that there are problems in the scouting department. To my mind, though, if there are they would tend to condemn Tambellini rather than exonerate him.  We’re at the point now, four years into his tenure, where it’s his front office and both its mistakes and its triumphs can be laid at his feet.

This week by Jonathan Willis

  • Florida has sucked forever – until this year had not been a playoff team since 2000. And it was their second appearance since 97-98. Since 2000 – they picked in the top 5 – 5 times, another 3 teams in top 10. that’s 8 players! 1/3 of your team.

    Much like the Vancouver Canucks record is inflated by being in the weakest division in hockey for the last 3-5 years. Florida’s rise last year is related to Washington’s abysmal year.

    Dale Tallon had something to work with, and with the team REQUIRING to get to the floor of the cap, needed to get UFA talent and take on contracts.

  • G Money

    @DSF,

    Baloney. Just an excuse to blame the management team because you don’t like them. I can see a player wanting to go to a team or avoiding a team because of a coach.

    But not signing for a team because of the management team? No. The players you cite are either terrible examples or you’re just making sh*t up to support your position:

    Comrie – this is totally legit in that Lowe acted like a giant vindictive b*tch in his dealings with Comrie (who himself acted like a spoiled little b*tch) – but guess what? You torpedo your entire argument that FAs don’t sign here because if anyone has a genuine reason to avoid the Oilers because of the management team, it’s Comrie – but *he signed here again*. How about that.

    Souray – whatever troubles he may have ended up with, it wasn’t Lowe or Tambellini who forced Souray to break his hand in a completely pointless fight with Iginla. That was the beginning of the end, and rightly so. And before all that happened, guess what – we had to grossly overpay him to come to Edmonton – and that’s his frickin’ home town for craps sake.

    Peca – got traded here, had a great playoff, left after one season. But where is the management issue in that? The only rationale I heard is that he didn’t like the city.

    Pronger – left because his wife made him. I’m pretty sure that’s not because ol’ Lauren had a problem with Lowe. If anything, the Pronger situation was one where the Lowe was TOO accomodating. Should have made him play out his contract until he got a genuinely good offer.

    Smyth – now that we’re seeing Smyth’s true colours (rejecting 2x$2M which is an absolutely fair offer), it sure doesn’t seem like the original standoff over $100K was all Lowe’s fault. But surprise surprise, just like with Comrie, *Smyth came back*. (Little different than a FA signing, but forced the situation nonetheless). Because he’s one of those very rare guys that likes the city. Imagine that. (And yet even he refuses to once again give the team any sort of a hometown discount).

    Eager and Belanger – you’re making sh*t up again. Exactly what do either of those guys have to complain about? “Oh gee, avoid those Edmonton management guys, they overpay you and then expect you to perform!”

    So… it’s demonstrably true that players don’t want to come here because the team sucks and the city is – by most measures of a rich athlete – the third worst in the league.

    This means the rebuild will be much harder here than it is in other, more easily sellable cities.

    Pretending that the reason players don’t want to come is that somehow they don’t like Lowe or Tambellini is not only conjecture, but it is contradicted by actual player signings.

    • DSF

      Nice Oilercentric spin.

      Souray asked for a trade TWO YEARS before he was moved and stated afterward very clearly that it was management that made him want to move on.

      Peca stated repeatedly that didn’t like the way he was being used.

      The Pronger situation is much more complicated than “his wife didn’t like Edmonton”.
      At the end of the day, Pronger gave Lowe the finger when he announced his trade demand while on a Mexican holiday.

      Your appraisal of the Smyth situation is ridiculous. He just had a much better season than Ales Hemsky who was re-signed for $5M x 2.
      Why didn’t Hemsky give the Oilers a “home town discount”?

      Eager was pissed all season because he thought he wasn’t getting enough ice time and it appears he was sulking most of the season. The results followed.

      Belanger was apparently shopped at the deadline and told a Montreal radio station last week he wants to play for the Habs. What happened? Did Edmonton get colder last winter?

      • G Money

        Wow, your comments continue to show how far you will stretch the truth to try and blame management. Go ahead and hate them, but don’t pretend that any of what you’re using as justification is remotely accurate.

        Souray played well for one year, then acted like a giant farking idiot repeatedly, paid the price, and was rightfully run out of town. *Then* he moaned and whined and complained that he’d wanted out of town all along. Though the asset management aspect from Oilers management was terrible, what happened to Souray was his fault, not the teams.

        In general, my posts will always be Oiler-centric since a. I’m a fan, and b. I believe the team is always more important than any one player. That said, I would suggest my spin is far less Oilers-centric than yours is anti-Oilers-centric.

        Peca meanwhile was signed to be and was given every opportunity to be top-6 player. And that’s how MacT tried to use him. Peca sucked at it. Late in the season and for the playoffs, he was moved back to be a third line player, which he excelled at. I’m not sure which it is that he would whine about (“boohoo you gave me the opportunity to play higher in the lineup, how mean!” or “boohoo, you made me play on the third line after I proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t fit for the first or second lines, how cruel!”), but either way, that makes him a big freakin’ whiner. (and in any case, how a player is used is generally a coaching issue, not a management issue – so which is it?)

        So you think what Pronger did is a reflection of Lowe and not a complete lack of class on the part of Pronger? And how about Pronger going on the radio afterwards and making fun of Edmontonians for burning his childrens furniture (which of course, never happened). I suppose that was a shot at Lowe as well? I doubt Pronger’s situation was much more complicated than “Lauren hates it here, she wants to hobnob with the Southern hoi-polloi and/or celebrities”, but what Pronger did, one year after signing a five-year contract and the week after a Stanley Cup final appearance, was ridiculous and classless. None of that is on the management team.

        Smyth-Hemsky – you’re seriously comparing the market value of a 28-year old winger with a best season of 77 points in 81 games with the market value of a 36-year old with a best-ever season of 70 points in 82 games? Give your head a shake. And yes, of course he didn’t give Edmonton a hometown discount – nobody does because you have to pay them a premium to play here. That’s my point.

        Eager – as Jonathan Willis himself has demonstrated very clearly, Eager had exactly the season he’s always had, and got exactly the ice time he deserved. If he’s whining about it, let him whine. Management’s got nothing to do with it. http://blogs.edmontonjournal.com/2012/04/17/ben-eager-he-had-the-season-everyone-should-have-expected-him-to-have/

        Belanger had an absolutely terrible season. Are you suggesting “management” was responsible for his play? I looked, but I did not ever see Tambo or Lowe actually holding on to his jersey while Belanger was playing – it just seemed that way. Belanger’s from Sherbrooke. So he wants to play for the Habs. Exactly how do you draw the inference that “management is to blame”?

        Like I say, go ahead and hate Oilers management. They’ve had no shortage of missteps (though as I said in another post, they haven’t done anything that would f* up the rebuild in any significant way) that you can blame them for. Just don’t pretend that lousy players whining are somehow evidence for lousy management. Or that management is somehow the reason that Edmonton* is such an unappealing place to play.

        * Note: the last thing I want to do is hate on the ‘Chuk – it is my hometown after all. But the harsh reality is that the team is lousy, and the city is a small, cold blue-collar town and an often-vicious hockey fishbowl. Until the young drafted players are good enough, getting free agents to come here will require a massive overpay, and that will make a rebuild a much harder proposition than in places like Chicago, Miami, or LA.

  • Soooo…. has anyone given me an answer other than JW’s that we can all agree on?

    If not, I’ll use JW’s dates to prove a three year rebuild doesn’t exist:

    CHICAGO REBUILD TIMELINE
    2005-2006 Tallon starts Chicago rebuild
    Hawks finish 28th overall PICK Jonathan Toews
    2006-2007 Hawks finish 25th, PICK Patrick Kane
    2007-2008 Hawks finish 19th, PICK Kyle Beach
    2008-2009 Hawks finish 6th overall and playoffs
    2009-2010 Hawks win the prize

    I’m not saying the Hawks rebuild didn’t happen fast but it didn’t happen in 3 years, it took
    4 OFF seasons to accomplish a cup in the fifth.

    OILERS REBUILD TIMELINE
    Tambellini named Oilers GM July 31,2008
    2008-2009 Oilers finish 3 spots out of playoffs
    Season Ends and coach Mactavish leaves/gets fired by Tambellini.
    2009-2010 REBUILD BEGINS with Pat Quinn.
    Oilers finish last, pick Taylor Hall
    2010-2011 Oilers finish last, pick THE NUGE
    2011-2012 Oilers finish 2nd last, pick TBD
    2012-2013 WHAT WILL TAMBO DO IN his 4th OFF SEASON????

    JW, you can agree to disagree on when exactly the OILERS rebuild started, but IMHO, the jury is still out on Tambellini as he heads into his 4th Offseason looking for pieces to finish this puzzle called the Oilers, but that said, don’t puzzles get easier as more peices get filled in?

    • To be sure, the jury is still out.

      As an example, take Don Maloney. He spent three years as Islanders G.M. in the early 90’s, and the team struggled. He wasn’t Mike Milbury (who is?) but he didn’t do a great job. He got fired.

      Since taking over the Phoenix Coyotes, he’s barely made a misstep. With ownership in chaos and the status of the team up in the air, he’s done a superb job as a G.M.

      Tambellini might do excellent work from here on out. Based on my read of his time as Oilers G.M., I think it’s more likely he does poor work. As a fan, I hope either a) that I’m wrong or b) that he gets fired and someone more competent takes over.

      I’m not cheering for him to fail, and lord knows I’m not infallible. I just weigh the evidence and come to the most logical conclusion I can: namely that he’s doing a bad job.

  • RE: Gudbranson

    I really like Gudbranson, but I’m hesitant to label him an elite talent, just because the offensive dimension to his game is pretty minimal – he’s likely never going to be an impact guy offensively at the NHL level.

    I quite like the other areas of his game, but a defender has to have insanely good defensive characteristics to qualify as an ‘elite’ guy if he’s not generating much offensively.

    Gudbranson, IMO, has a shot at it but it’s a mistake to pretend that it’s a sure thing he makes it and doesn’t just end up as a solid top-four guy.

    • DSF

      Young players, and in particular defensemen, are never a sure thing.

      Here is Bob McKenzie’s draft prognosis:

      “Bob McKenzie: Erik Gudbranson plays a raw, hard, physical game and projects to be a shutdown defenceman in the NHL who can log big minutes against the best players on the other team. His slapshot is a bomb from the point and while he’s not devoid of puck skills or some offensive ability, most scouts believe he has offensive limitations that will be more obvious at the pro level. He’s one of the hardest hitters in the draft, he’s physically and emotionally mature and he has a bit of a mean streak, certainly not afraid to drop the gloves and fight for his team. He’s considered a character guy with leadership qualities and he’s the most physical of the Big Three defenceman available this year.”

      McKenzie had him ranked at #3

      Sounds like he would be a perfect partner for Kulikov once they both mature.

  • @DSF I actually didnt criticize Tallon at all. Dont count your chickens before they hatch is all I’m saying.

    Oilers fans perpetually live in the world of “all we need to do is this and we’ll be great” yet it never seems to happen. I believe you more than anyone point that out yet that’s exactly what you are doing with Florida. They may turn out exactly as you say. They may not.

    Just stop saying they are a sure thing when most people would agree that right at the moment they are not.

    • DSF

      At this time of the year, all we have to work with is prognosis.

      Thing is, Tallon has a track record of building a cup winner and Tambellini has a track record of….oh, wait, I have to go look under the couch cushions……crickets.

      With the kind of prospect depth, budding young superstars and huge amounts of cap space Tallon has at his disposal, if even half of his plans work out, he’s in great shape.

      He obviously still needs to amp up his teams’ goal scoring and I am sure he will but the Panthers are already in the top half of the league in GA/G and have more defensive help and a great young goaltender on the way.

      Don’t be surprised if he makes a splash at the trade deadline or July 1st.

      The guy doesn’t just sit on his hands and collect draft picks.

  • DSF

    @ DSF

    In a perfect world with the timeline comparison i’ve layed out
    the Oilers would make the playoffs in 2012-2013 season and CONTEND for A CUP in 2013-2014.

    A question nobody has bothered asking,
    is this a rebuild to contend for A CUP or CUPS?

    Remember who owns this team? what do you think he wants? He built a dynasty called REXALL drugs, might he want to build a Dynasty sports franchise as well? Call me crazy but it makes more sense to me given THE MEGA FAN who owns this team that this rebuild is of a dynasty kind.

    So I don’t count on the OILERS winning a CUP
    in a Northlands building ever again.

    @ JW

    Are you trying to imply that Don Maloney started a FULL BLOWN rebuild in Phoenix in 2007 when he got hired and 3 years later made the playoffs?

    Again, it all hinges on when it can be agreed a rebuild started. To have perspective we have to have a point to focus on.
    Don’t you know of someone in a position to get an answer for this question?
    Or does “Big Bob in the know” not return your calls anymore?

      • Is Maloney the best example? He’s really constrained in what he can do by his budget. He’s got to hit the cap minimum and I bet he’s got little else in the way of money after that, being able to afford fewer luxuries that players may be used to in teams like New York or Toronto.

        I think my favorite example of a good GM is Paul Holmgren from Philly, followed by Dave Poile from Nashville. Both have had steady success and been unafraid of risks, unlike Dithers.

    • Bucknuck

      It’s almost impossible to build a dynasty in a cap world.

      No one has done it yet.

      Problem is, once you’re successful, you can’t afford to keep all your players.

      Smart Gm,s identify a window to win and then pull out all the stops to go for it.

      Lombardi just did so.

      I’d guess Tambellini doesn’t have a clue about when the Oilers will be ready to contend.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Arch, it took Ladislav 6 yrs to become a marginal NHL defenceman. He was allowed this time here in Edmonton because there was so many holes in the roster.

    Gudbranson has far surpassed Smids purposefulness within his first year in Florida. Smid would be a throw in on a deal even to this day.

  • @ JW

    so in a very contrived way are you trying to say Mr. Tambellini’s measure of success or lack of is a matter of perspective?

    How does the saying go?
    “success is when preparedness meets opportunity”
    So conversely is failure when opportunity meets
    Unpreparedness?

    Its friday and i’ve had enough of your witchy crafty writing Mr. Willis, good evening sir.

  • Bucknuck

    @DSF @Come join the Dark Parade…

    Smid is a 6’3″ tough as nails defensive defenseman. He played the tough minutes on the second worst team in the NHL and still came out a +4 with 15 points. He’s 26 and entering the prime of his career.

    If he played for any team but the Oilers you guys would love him.

  • Acumen

    And you asked about Schultz? Also in the NHL at 19

    10 points in 52 games with the Wild. Even rating.

    Take a second to look at these things, your argument that Gudbranson had a more productive season in the NHL is lacking.

    At this point in their respective careers even Luke Schenn was showing better than Gudbranson. He’s done nothing to convince me that he’s anything special just by making the show.

  • Terran

    I did. It was Barker.

    If you’re going to use McKenzie’s ranking of a player as proof they are an elite level talent, you may want to make sure there isn’t a counter example readily available.

    • DSF

      Didn’t use it as “proof”.

      Of course, there are players who go off the rails after the draft.

      At this point it’s questionable how any 20 year will turn out, especially defensemen but he has the size and tools to be very good defenseman.

      With Campbell and Jovanovski to mentor him, he’s in an ideal spot.

      The rest, of course, is up to him.