Edmonton Oilers GM Steve Tambellini has taken care of several significant housekeeping items already this off-season, but what he does between now and the start of training camp, starting with free agency July 1, will be what defines his body of work this summer.

Get contract extension. Check.

Express greater expectations. Check.

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Draft Nail Yakupov. Check.

Promote Ralph Krueger to head coach. Check.

None of the above is inconsequential, of course, because getting the right guy with the first overall pick based on the recommendation Stu MacGregor and his scouting staff and entrusting Krueger with the keys to the franchise for the next three seasons as Tom Renney’s replacement will go a long way in shaping how this team looks and performs from here on out.

That said, expressing greater expectations after six straight years out of the playoffs and finishes of 30th, 30th and 29th in the past three, is a pretty standard script. Taking Yakupov? Would have been a bigger story if Tambellini passed on the consensus BPA and taken Ryan Murray. A no-brainer, really, much like taking Taylor Hall or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was. Hiring Krueger? A curveball, to be sure, given how NOBODY mentioned him as a serious candidate for the job immediately after Tom Renney was allowed to walk.

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Now, the checklist gets more challenging.


  • The big prize now is pending unrestricted free agent defenseman Justin Schultz, and Tambellini can get a huge head start on filling the holes on Edmonton’s blue line if he can land the former Wisconsin Badger. The Oilers are in the mix and will make a pitch to Schultz as early as today. How has Tambellini orchestrated the the sales job Kevin Lowe and Craig MacTavish intend to make to Newport Sports?
  • Even if Tambellini gets Schultz, and every indication out there is the Oilers have a realistic chance of being in the short-list mix, there remains work to do on the back end. The Oilers, by the estimation of a lot of people, need to add a minimum of two defenseman who are capable of taking on top-four minutes next season. If Schultz is one, fine, great. Tambellini needs to find another.
  • Tambellini can’t afford a swing and a miss like he had last summer with Cam Barker, who won’t even be qualified. No longshots, even on one-year deals like Barker got (and that was an over pay). As 630 CHED’s Bob Stauffer mentioned at the Entry Draft, there might be room to pry somebody out of Columbus after Scott Howson took Murray. Perhaps Marc Methot.
  • There might be a deal to me made with Brian Burke in Toronto as well, particularly if the Maple Leafs land Schultz. Of course, if that’s the case, Tambellini has two spots to fill, not just one. Again, Tambellini needs two guys capable of top-four duty, not more third-pairing guys. He will likely have to spend some money and move some assets. So be it.
  • While there’s a reasonable chance Eric Belanger will bounce back to his previous levels of offensive production, I can’t imagine fans would be upset if Tambellini managed to move him along. I can’t imagine Belanger would be unhappy, either, based on what I’ve heard.
  • Sorting out the forwards and moving one of two of them to address the back end, Schultz or no Schultz, is a must. Making room for some size (that can play) up front, be it from within or via free agency or trade, is another. Like I said, now the checklist gets more complicated.

Now’s the time. Show us something, Steve.

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

  • “From reports out of development camp Klefbom seems to be NHL ready so if they can get him out of that contract in sweden and Schultz signs would that fill the 2 holes Robin or do they still need to sign a vet guy? Also scouts saying Klefbom is better than Murray Sign Schultz get Klefbom here. Maybe go after 1 vet D man also”

    Would adding two defensemen who haven’t played a minute in the NHL to this group be enough? The answer is obvious, no?

  • “Do you really see Methot as a suitable top 4 D option? I don’t know if I would call that a real successful addition.”

    Depth possibility. He’s not the answer, as far as I can see, to filling holes in the top 4.

    That said, he’ll be out there and that’s what GMs have to look at and assess, as opposed to who fans wish was out there and available.

  • Can someone explain why Justin Schultz would not sign in Anaheim? Should we or anyone else go and chase a kid who will not sign a contract with the club who drafted him?

    Something sounds very fishy about this kid to me. Everyone is speaking so highly of him but no one knows why he has not signed yet. Is it personal? Entitlement? Lack of character? Lack of respect?

    What is wrong with playing in Anaheim?

    • I think Petry became a better, younger, cheaper Tom Gilbert, so they got back one of the most steady stay at home guys out there, for a great price. I actually see it as one of the better things he’s done. Because now if we can get another puck mover (Shultz) and a top four shut down guy ?, then we became a better defense as a result of the Gilbert trade.

  • aeiouY

    Wow, Wideman’s rights went for a 2013 first round pick and a defense? That is a crazy overpay just for his rights. I think the money he’s getting is worth it. His stats speak for themselves though. He is a top end D, I hope there’ other free agents out there we can land to a similar deal (without giving up our first overall just for rights).

    Also, what the hell is Calgary doing giving away a first round pick? Don’t they need to restock their prospects?

  • Quicksilver ballet

    With things not unfolding at the draft the way the Oilers hoped, i can see why they’re thinking of gift wrapping a roster spot for Oscar Klefbom to keep him here this coming season.

    If Edmonton wins the Schultz sweepstakes i think it could work out very well for the Oilers, forcing the 4,5,6 and #7 d’men down the depth chart. Would certainly make for a challenging first half of the season for Schultz and Klefbom, finishing strong the last half the season would put them a step ahead going into the following season. Throwing them into the deep end of the pool a little earlier than planned could work out better than expected.

    If Justin and Oscar can contribute this coming season, a focused effort to land Shea Weber would put all those blueline concerns to rest.

  • aeiouY

    after we get justin schultz, we need to sign Mat Carle!!
    check out the statistical comparison to Ryan Suter. They are almost the same player… half the hype.
    One major difference, Carle hasn’t played with Shea Weber all along.
    I’m not discounting Ryan Suter’s talent. However, we all know he is not going to sign here.
    whitney – carle
    J schutlz – N schultz
    Smid , Petry

  • vetinari

    What we need from Tambi for the summer to be at least a moderate success:

    * two top 4 defencemen who can each play 16-20 minutes per night without being defensive liabilities, who can kill penalties, and who can hold the blueline while the kids’ freewheel.

    * a goalie to replace Khabibulin. Dubnyk can be your 1A but Khabibulin should have a restraining order against him requiring him to keep at least 40 yards away from the Oiler’s net at all times.

    * a 2nd/3rd line centre who can push or challenge Gagner and Horcoff for ice time.

    What I think that we will actually get from Tambi:

    * a 5/6 defenceman through trade.

    * a Khabibulin fan club bobblehead with a handwritten sticker on it that says “four more years” in Russian (suspiciously in Khabibulin’s handwriting).

    * a depth winger who used to do enforcer duties for another team but due to a concussion/knee injury/whatever is looking for a “clean start” in Edmonton and thinks that we are “on the verge of big things”. We will likely be calling for this player to be traded by no later than December 1st because they are either too slow, too expensive or too docile to play NHL hockey

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Come on you “insiders” there’s got to be a story why Tabelini waited this long to announce Kruegers promotion to head coach? It would appear he wasnt the NO. 1 choice, why else the wait.

    Tamblini better have some fall back plans for D man, cause Schultz is not coming to Edmonton.
    Leafs have the iside track, next Rangers, then perhaps hometown Canucks.

    Sueter ends up in Pitts or Detroit. Never on OIler radar anyway.

    Chase: Enstrom, Ericsson,

    • oilersplumber

      Thats easy………Krug’s is cannon fodder for a bad start – a bad mid season-a bad finish….take your pick……… then their number one will be free to negotiate…….plus he’s cheap………….did I say expendable yet ?………..and easily passed off as an experiment gone wrong………but then the flip side……maybe he’s a wunderkind……

  • I agree with Bucknuck.
    Unless the oil seriously address their goaltending situation they’re likely close to a lottery position again next year. You can’t win without a goalie lets in soft goals and can’t win a shootout. I like Dubnyk but I don’t think he’s ready to carry the load yet.
    If JS is smart (and I’m sure he is), he will take this into consideration when looking at Edmonton. It’s no fun losing no matter how many minutes you’re playing.

    • Wax Man Riley

      We should get a goalie like Pavelec, he is a true number one, hands down!!

      What did you say? Dubnyk has better numbers on a worse team…..So they could already have that #1?

  • misfit

    Tambellini could do himself a lot of favours and get a head start on building this year’s team by getting a deal done in principal with Schultz and extending Smyth. Getting Gagner and Petry signed would set him up quite well for free agency as well, though we all know how Tambellini is at multitasking.

  • No doubt about it Tambellini has a lot of work to do, huge undertaking if he wants to continue working as a GM.

    I will say this, Schultz would be a damn fool not to sign in Edmonton.

    Seen Klefbom today, the guy is a very good skater!IMO can play in the NHL, this kid is going to be a gooder.

    Gernat also looks very good.

    Positives for sure.

    with the likes of players like Ott-Lantendrese-Carkner-Tootoo-Moen- etc there is no shortage of big gritty tough players to play all over the line up.

    Go to work Steve

  • Wax Man Riley

    I suspect that Tamby is using the STYHS Management Process. Swing till you hit something!

    Schultz is a long shot……regardless of dangling the fab four on offence as bait. I like the Kruger hiring, but do not begin to understand the way it was handled, that being the CIA ( top seceret) approach.

    Concensus managment in decision making such as the Oilers use, indicate a vacuum in leadership and Tamby has to wear this. Garth Snow showed some courage ( or stupidity) depending which way you look at it, when he decided to trade all his picks for Murray. I can tell you I would have been thrilled to have all those picks ( Stu too) and I suspect with Stu he would have turned them into GOLD!

    No one can tell me that there were not deals to be made at the draft but once again, we did the safe thing.

    If we do not land a UFA or two, we are hooped as we do not have the management in place to make bold decisive trades. Landing a top-tier UFA is totally out of the question for this incompetent GM.

  • Wax Man Riley

    RB your comment about Belanger not minding getting moved intrigues me. I got the sense Lubo was happy to leave, Cole wasn’t thrilled here, Pitkanen, there’s been a few (beyond CP). Is your sense that this is more a product of a bad season, frustration with losing, bad vibes from coaches management, the H20 being to cold at WEM’s waterpark? He certainly got TONS of opportunity to turn his year around. Anything in common amongst the disheartened?

  • It’s certainly not my intention to answer a question asked of another person, but in regards to Belanger, what I heard was that he was on a Montreal sports talk show, saying that he wanted to be traded to play with the Habs. Personally, I did not hear the show, just heard other posters say that he was on it saying that. Robin, again I agree with everything you have written in this article. What I think is unfortunate for the team and the fans, is that you can’t talk to players to convince them to come play here. You know the holes we need to fill and the quality of players that are available to suit our needs.

  • I understand the frustration expressed when Tambellini just refuses to show us anything. I would imagine that he is an absolute nightmare for the media since he won’t even answer the simplest question (ie when Gregor asked him how many coaches he’s interviewed. He said “a few”. When asked how many more are being interviewed, and when asked if he’d decided on a head coach I think he may have just repeated himself again and said “a few”.

    As a die hard fan it is extremely frustrating to follow a team that refuses to release any information. Ever since Tambellini took the helm everyone has resorted to speculation instead of legit stories with legit leads. I follow most of the media here in Edmonton for my info since they have the closest ties to the team and the best inside sources, but for the past 3 years it has just been pure speculation because no reliable info is ever released. Stauf has been pretty good at telegraphing info simply by making it sound like he is predicting something without even saying he has a source, although we all know he is very close to the team. Even he sounds frustrated by the silence of our organization. The fans have a right to know more about the team they are supporting. Yeah the product is on the ice, but for many of us, half the fun is what happens off the ice. With this team, that aspect of enjoyment and investigation is clearly being hampered.

    Despite all this, I hold “winning” as a higher priority than making sure the fans are informed. When it comes to keeping your cards close, Tambi is a master. Recently Jordan Staal rejected a 60 million dollar contract offer from Pittsburgh. That information seemed to have been leaked almost instantly. As a result, the asking price for Staal was reduced, and if that information had been kept behind closed lips, maybe Pitt could have demanded more. Look at the Rick Nash fiasco, Howsen is never going to get fair value because everyone knows Rick wants out. If I have to sacrifice knowing the exact number of coaches that our team has interviewed in exchange for an edge on other NHL teams I’ll do it every day of the week.

    Now you may look at this team and say 30th, 30th, and 29th place finishes are not exactly supporting my statement regarding having an edge, but you cannot argue that giving away information can hurt your organization. Despite some terrible seasons, it in now way justifies telling everyone what is going on behind closed doors.

    I think as fans, we need to just forget about how long it takes for public announcements and perceived timelines on decisions. If we want to make judgements, then we should do so on the decisions, not how long it takes to announce them. Barker was a mistake, that’s fair to say after last season. Although I supported the signing at the time, it’s clear that it was a mistake and is a perfect example of something we, as fans, can critique Tambi for. He’s also done some great things too. R. Jones was a great signing, the Penner trade was great, the smytty trade was great, the Gilbert trade was great, selecting nuge, hall, and yakupov may have appeared easy, but those are decisions that need to be made and he made the right decisions when other GM’s may have taken a Hedman or Erik Johnson type player.

    Despite my frustration at not being in the know, I am happy we have the GM with the tightest lips in the league. It gives us an advantage that many teams like the leafs simply do not have. Imagine having the attention seeking Burke, and having everyone in the hockey world know your every thought.

    Fans should just take a breath and base their criticisms on things that are more concrete than how much info is released to the public.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    I’m sure the people who actually know what they’re doing, those entrusted in Oiler management fully expect Khabibulin to come in and earn every penny of that 3.75 million this year.

    You think they got, and kept those jobs handing out stoopid contracts like the Khabibulin one? They don’t hand that kind of money out to just anybody.

    Many here don’t appreciate the finer elements of Nikolias game. The 2 yr 10 million dollar extension is imminant.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    There really are no excuses for Tambellini this summer. The Oilers’ have assets and money. This rebuild has been fun and all but sooner or later results are necessary. I would like to see at least 2 solid D options, another gritty forward and some insurance in net. Make it happen Steve.

  • K-Mart……….your argument about Tamby being tighter than the CIA for information, still does not hide the fact his critics want him to be a GM……….and just do something, anything!

    Others are improving their teams fortunes by a variety of options ( trades, UFA’s, ) and our GM just gives us a sh_t eating grin, when asked about anything.

    He is tepid, afraid and cannot make a decision which is his own…….I call that incompetence.

    • K-Mart has very valid points. What you are not aware of are the deals that did NOT get made. Yes Tamby seems to have the demeanor of Gillis at times which can be irritating. What I have noticed more in the last 3 years is a much more Katz Group approach to business.

      Keep things out of the media, limit what is shared, agree on solid business decisions and get success via thought management and organic growth.

      I can not dispute Katz and his business success and only wait till the “action now at all costs” folks change their minds in 3-4 years.

    • I understand that he appears to be inactive, but that is more perception than reality. The check list for this summer was as follows:

      1) Draft Yakupov: Check
      2) Get bigger: So far the draft was an obvious move in the right direction as far as size is concerned. What else has he been doing in this regard is unknown.
      3) Shore up D: We met with Schultz today and I’m sure there will be more activity regarding defense this summer. Is he offering trades to other teams for #1/2 D men? We don’t know, he is hush hush. For all we know he has called and made many offers but isn’t willing to do anything that will have the oil overpay. Maybe he offered Wideman something, he keeps his cards close and that’s fine with me. Wideman was way overpaid and I’m glad Tambellini didn’t outbid Calgary just so he could appease the fans and show people how “active” and “fearless” he is.

      4) Hire a new coach: Check. Who knows how many interviews were done, but I believe the best man for the job won.

      Last summer he acquired Belanger to help us with face offs and the pk. He signed Eager and Sutton to add some size and grit to the line up as well. He took a gamble on 3rd overall pick Cam Barker to try and inject something into the defensive core.

      Most people felt all of those signings at the time were great. In hindsight i’d say it’s clear that other than the Sutton pick up, those signings have not panned out. But that isn’t the point, the point is that just because he appears to be doing nothing doesn’t mean he IS doing nothing. Perception is a tricky thing and it would “appear” as though you have fallen into the same trap as so many other Oiler fans. I agree that Tamby is frustrating at times, but there is more to it than you or I know.

  • D_broderant

    They should not re-sign Hordichuk. If the Oilers want a tough guy to play limited 4th line minutes and protect the team they should sign UFA Matt Kassian! He is a beast at 6’4, 240lb and he can play. He’s a local boy from Sherwood Park and only 25 years old. I don’t think he’s lost a fight yet in the NHL and he even has some hands (scored twice in one game on Carey Price last year). He has been a fan favorite wherever he plays because he works hard and is a great, team first kind of guy, not to mention no one can match him in a fight.

    Remember when he destroyed Hordichuk twice in the same game last year? I bet Darcy does, that is if his head has cleared up after those fights.

  • 2004Z06

    Trade Belanger, trade Khabibulin, trade Horcoff…You guys crack me up. It is easy to say you want to trade someone, What if no one wants them? What if no one is prepared to take their contracts because they aren’t sure what the new CBA is going to look like? Give your heads a shake. If you were a GM, would you take Khabibulin or Horcoff at their price points? Put yourself in the other teams shoes before you start screaming that Tambo should trade all these bad contracts. They are BAD CONTRACTS! That is why they are untradable!

    • 2004Z06

      Good call. Same goes with Omark. I think the only chips that have any trade value will be picks in 2013, Piaajarvi, and Gagner. If by some miracle we get J. Schultz, and another top 2 guy like Carle or Garrison (fingers crossed), then what do we trade those 2 guys for if anything. I wonder if Getzlaf could be pried from Anaheim? Gagner, Magnus and our 2013 first round pick? I have visions of a Hall – Getzlaf – Yak ultimate power line. Then Smyth – Nuge and Ebs come in on the second line. Or you could sub Smyth for Hartikinen, and have a third line made up with the vets. The forth line then looks impressive with Petrell, Belangeir, and Jones.

      It’s not the biggest most intimidating team, but man would they ever put pucks in the net.

  • 2004Z06

    Out of respect for Renney probably played a big part in why it was not announced till now . Additional interviews to other coaches was probably a mask/charade , or just to make sure Kreuger was still best in their minds . To have fired Renney and be replaced by Kreuger immediately would have left some bitterness , and fans howling why was this not done during season when club was falling so badly . Maybe i’m right , but i might also be wrong in that assumption . Makes some sense if that’s what they did .

  • 2004Z06

    Why the hell hasn’t smytty been re-signed yet? I’m worried that Calgary is going to swoop in and offer him a 10yr 50million dollar deal with a NMC.All seriousness aside, haha, Clearly since we’ve overpayed horcoff and now hemsky we should offer smytty the same type of deal!

    Robin what are your thoughts?