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.
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.
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.