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

  • dawgbone98

    IMO, the more larger scale deals Tamby supported and/or made was of Khabby at four years (too long/too expensive), Barker, Eager, Hordichuk and Belanger. They are not entirely his fault due to that these players weere the ones who played below their levels in the past.

    O’Sullivan was horible however, and Pitkonen was not the right fit. Smyth was a good deal cause we all know what he is as a player and yet Smyth orchestrated that deal.

    Souray is not actually Tamby’s fault and but yet the stink of the war between him and Souray did not look good either.

    If Belanger had played like he did prior to coming to the Oil this discussion of him would not be here right now, same with Khabby and the others.

    The four year deal with Khabby is the fault of Tamby though.

    Hordichuk never really played to warrant whther or not he was terrible. I enjoyed watching him scrap this year but wished that the coach (Renney)would have used him more as a deterrent than just two to four minutes average a game. That’s Renney’s fault more than Tamby.

    However, if I have to weigh the pros and cons of his four year term, it was MBS who basically put the draft in Tambellini’s hands to look great (with Hall and Eberle and the other kids like Musil, Gernat, Marancin, Pitlick, etc), while free agency and with the pro trades are on the manager’s shoulders.

    However, I will give him credit for finding and hiring Todd Nelson and the way the Barons and the Stockton Thunder played this year.

    Those two farm teams have very much improved through Tambellini.

    I wont give Tamby an F on his report card just yet but as of now, I would give give a very low C- or a D only because of MBS and the way the kids are coming though at those levels.

    • Depends on what you are grading for. If your grading whether or not he has made a winning team then ya its a fail but that was not part of the requirements the last couple of years. If its to grade him on setting the team up for the future without making any moves that could hurt the team down the line he gets an A. This upcoming season is where he needs to start concentrating on winning but at the same time he can’t sacrifce the future to do it. This is why I believe Renny is gone and I think the upcoming year is going to be really interesting for the Oilers.

  • By all accounts most of us can agree the Oilers are in year 3 of their rebuild.

    so I ask the following,

    1. Can someone give me one example of a NHL GM that has done a COMPLETE rebuild in less than 6 years?

    2. In said example, where was this genius GM’s
    team finishing after year 3 of their rebuild.

    3. if nobody can give 1 legit example can we all agree to “Parlez” this Tambo witch hunt for 3 years hence?

    • 1. Sure, Chicago (link here). The drafted Jonathan Toews in 2006 and Patrick Kane in 2007; they won the Stanley Cup in 2010. Both Kane and Toews were in the final year of their entry-level contract (as Hall and Eberle will be in 2012-13).

      2. In year three, the Blackhawks recorded 88 points and a plus-4 goal differential.

      • Hey Sir Willis,

        earlier comment just saying Tambo is here …lets move on.

        as for your Chicago example – from 1997 to 2007 they made the playoffs once.

        Duncan Keith was drafted in 2002
        Brent Seabrook was drafted in 2003

        they are integral components and must factor into the “building” of a championship team.

        Point being how can Oilers fans “buy in” to a full rebuild but then bitch about how much losing happens or bad roster selections. Who cares how much you lose – its a full rebuild.

        So when the Oilers where doing the 8th – 9th song and dance for a decade or more – Fans would say man I wish we could just rebuild properly through the draft.

        Now they do exactly that – an peeps complaining how we could have done better here or there.

        Start Analyzing Tambo now – from this point forward –

        the painful part should be over of watching stink on ice. It needed to be done. But its clear the fan base, and media are ready to put the team through the gears if it continues.

        • @bdiddy18 wrote:

          as for your Chicago example – from 1997 to 2007 they made the playoffs once.

          And the Oilers between 2002 and 2012 only made the playoffs twice.

          Point being how can Oilers fans “buy in” to a full rebuild but then bitch about how much losing happens or bad roster selections. Who cares how much you lose – its a full rebuild.

          I buy into a full rebuild – but not in January when the word in September was PLAYOFFS OR BUST! The guy that destroys the team is not the same guy who should be entrusted with rebuilding it.

          Start Analyzing Tambo now – from this point forward

          I don’t think that’s a proper way to do it. He’s had four seasons at the helm of the team now – you can’t just wipe away all of that bad track record with a ‘well, the team decided to rebuild.’

          It all counts when making assessments.

          • G Money

            Jonathan: re “the word in September was PLAYOFFS OR BUST!” – how much of that was “GMing” and how much was getting caught up in the teams potential?

            – If I trained hard for two years, maybe I would feel so good I would declare to the world “I’m going to run an 11.0s 100m like I did in college!” And then more likely then not I would run a 21s 100m* – but is that a problem with the training or the declaration?

            – Back in September, the Oilers were probably watching Khabi practicing like he ended up playing for the first 10 games, Potter looking like a steal of a top-4 D, Hall and Eberle looking once again like the dynamic duo, Smyth back in the fold and looking like a youngster, and news of Whitney getting close to 100%. And if all those things had happened (a full season of “good” Khabi, a rehabbed Whitney, a top-4 Potter, a full season of energy for Smyth, a full season of Hall), maybe the Oilers would indeed have been gunning for the playoffs.

            It’s always easier to predict the future after it’s happened.

            * Because I’m now an old fat guy, more likely I would get a “DNF” and then spend the next six weeks rehabbing a torn hamstring.

      • DSF

        And no surprise that the architect of that rebuild is doing it again.

        When Tallon moved out a ton of under performing vets and acquired 3 first round picks (Gudbranson, Bjugstad,Howden, and three second round picks (McFarland, Petrovic, Brickley) in the 2010 draft and then followed that up with signing a brace of actual NHL players, you could see how a rebuild SHOULD be accomplished.

        With Kulikov, Gudbranson and Petrovic as young cornerstones on D and Markstrom in goal you can see Tallon building from the back end out.

        And now with Huberdeau, Howden and Bjugstad about ready to join the party, and sitting with almost $30M in free cap space, Tallon should be able to have his team contending very shortly.

        A 2 year rebuild…imagine that.

          • DSF

            The Panthers are exactly who I think they are.

            They went from 72 points to 94 points in one offseason.

            Do they still have work to do?

            Sure.

            What makes you think Tallon is so stupid he doesn’t know that?

            Their young defensemen are going to get better.

            How would you like to have these guys as young studs on the Oiler blue line?

            Eric Gudbranson – 20 years old, 6’5″ 220. Already played one NHL season

            Dimitri Kulikov – 21 years old, 6’1″, 205. Already played 3 seasons in the NHL

            Keaton Ellerby – 23 years old, 6’5″, 220. Already played part of 3 seasons in the NHL

            Alex Petrovic – 20 years old, 6’4″ 195. 48 points in 68 games with Red Deer Rebels.

            Makes you pretty excited about Klefbom doesn’t it?

          • DSF

            Oh, good grief.

            Gudbranson just turned 20.

            He’s been a winner everywhere he’s played…including the WJC.

            How many defensemen make the NHL at 19?

            What were Petry, Smid, Maricin and Musil doing at 19? What will Klefbom be doing when he turns 19 next month.

            Tambellini would give his left nut to acquire Gudbranson and you know it.

          • Doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

            Many of those guys still won’t admit they were wrong about Horcoff and still think Gagner is Doug Gilmour.

            Called both of those years ago.

            Conventional wisdom is pernicious.

          • Because winning the WJC means something? The team Canada history books are riddled with players who won at the WJC and did nothing in the NHL.

            Why would Tambellini bend over backwards for Gudbranson? He isnt a puck mover. They just spent the last 6 years waiting for Smid to turn into what Tallon hopes Gudbranson will turn into.

            We arent talking about this dynamic defenseman here.

          • Bucknuck

            I guess you didn’t read Bob Mckenzie,s assessment.

            Gudbransons upside is a top pairing D and there’s no reason to expect he won’t reach that level.

            The oilers don’t have even one D with his upside

          • That’s just nonsense.

            With Campbell, Garrison and Kulikov manning the PP, Gudbranson wasnt expected to put up points as a 19 year old.

            How many points did Petry, Smid and Shultz record in the NHL as 19 year olds?

            Answer…..zero.

            It’s entirely possible to be an elite defenseman without leading your team in scoring…especially when paired with a firecracker like Kulikov.

            The kid is huge, mean and tough.

            Yeah, the Oilers have no need for that type of player.

      • dawgbone98

        I’m not sure you can call 2007-2008 year three of their rebuild. They hadn’t made the playoffs since 2002 and were the second worst team in the league (by 1 point) in 2003-2004. The rebuild was in year five when they recorded 88 points and in year six they won the cup.

        • I disagree, and I’ll explain why.

          In 2005-06, Dale Tallon came in and hired a ton of high-priced talent. Khabby, Aucoin, Lapointe, Spacek, a bunch of other names. That team imploded, and then they went with a more gradual rebuild. That 2005-06 season is basically the same thing that happened to the Oilers in 2009-10.

          Another reason is that their top pick in 2003-04 was Cam Barker, who didn’t contribute anything to the winning cause. Their pick in 2005 was lower, 7th overall, and also didn’t contribute.

          The final reason is that, like the Hawks, the Oilers had a ton of bad years before actually “rebuilding.” 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09 were all rebuild years in terms of where the team finished and who they drafted. We don’t call them rebuild years because the team wasn’t trying to suck, they were trying to get better. The Oilers committed when the high-priced help failed in 2009-10; the Hawks committed when their high-priced help failed in 2005-06.

          • Ducey

            I can see your point.

            I’d argue that based on the poor performances coupled with the fact that a fair number of the pieces they built with (Keith, Seabrook, Crawford, Byfuglien, Burish, Ladd from the Ruutu trade, Bolland, Brouwer, Hjalmarrson) that they were already in the rebuild phase despite management’s attempts to make the playoffs. I’m not sure either of us are wrong we just have different opinions on what “rebuild” means.

          • I absolutely see the merits in your argument.

            I’d counter that a number of the Oilers assets (Eberle, Gagner, Paajarvi, Petry, Hemsky, Hartikainen, Lander, Dubnyk) also predate the Oilers official rebuild but will also be valuable pieces.

            But the main thing is that reasonable people can absolutely disagree on when a rebuild started, since it’s a matter of interpretation.

  • OIL4LIFE

    Just a thought but if the mantra from ownership was to finish low for great draft picks, can anyone think of better bad moves to make. If he was following the plan and keeping the team hand cuffed. He did a great job!!!! YOu have to look like you are trying but make the worst moves possible.
    I for one cant think of to many moves he did that could be considered mistakes if you look at it that way. maybe the shultz move but that could be after it was decided to start trying. lol

  • dawgbone98

    @Dave except the first year of the rebuild he spent to the cap and brought in what he thought was a an allstar coaching staff.

    Not really the actions of a man who is trying to rebuild.

    Yes, the last 2 years he’s been trying to rebuild the club, but that’s only because the playoff team he thought he had put together finished dead last.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    This Smyth dealio is another example of how botched up things are in management.

    Ryan has similar minutes played, very similar offensive statistics compared to the 6 million dollar in 2012-2013 Horcoff, as well as the 5 million dollar Ales Hemsky.

    Why chop Ryan Smyth off at the knees if you didn’t conduct business accordingly with Hemmer and Horcoff.

    Don’t get me wrong, i don’t think Smyth deserves anywhere near 5 mill per, this is just another example of how much things are screwed up in management. Mind you, Tambellini can fix this problem if he moves Hemsky in the next two weeks and then unloads Horcoff to a floor team at the end of the 2012-2013 season. A new financial order needs to be established here.

  • NewfoundlandOil

    Man, I remember a lot of folks around here loving the Belanger signing nearly a year ago.

    I don’t think the Belanger signing gets laid at anyone’s feet other than Belanager at this moment. He had an anomalously poor year last year that I don’t think anyone could have predicted based on his consistent career stats.

    What troubles me is how often this type of performance drop off seems to happen to FA’s coming to the Oilers (e.g. Pitkanen, Lupul, Cole, Eager, Belanger…….).

    To me this seems like less a pro-scouting problem than it is a larger implementation flaw with FA’s coming in.

    Can anyone put their finger on this?
    Are most FA’s coming to the Oilers poorly deployed by the coaching staff?
    Not kept around long enough to gel?
    Unhappy about their lot in life?

  • NewfoundlandOil

    The story of three envelopes is a business classic for dysfunctional organizations. It starts with an incoming manager replacing a recently fired outgoing manager. On his way out, the outgoing manager hands the new manager three envelopes and remarks, “when things get tough, open these one at a time.”

    About three months goes by and things start to get rough. The manager opens his drawer where he keeps the three envelopes and opens #1. It reads: “Blame your predecessor.” So he does and it works like a charm.

    Another three months passes and things are growing difficult again so the manger figures to try #2. It reads, “reorganize.” Again, his predecessor’s advice works like magic.

    Finally, about nine months into the new job, things are getting really sticky. The manager figures it worked before, why not try again. So he opens the envelope drawer one last time and opens #3. It reads…”prepare three envelopes.”

  • G Money

    I still think that ST has made bad choices on players on purpose. How else can you obtain three first overall picks? Tambo made these choices to destroy the oilers chances at the playoffs to procure the young talent to become dominant. That’s why he has been extended. He laid out the plan to Katz to be a horrible team for three years and now this year I think you will start to see him making better moves and trades. He’s going to be a juggernaut in obtaining good talent this year

  • John Chambers

    Bang on article……..Lowe and Tamby are clueless when it come to assessing both amature and pro talent.

    Given we brought in Belenger and Barker I suspect no one except Stu, has a good handle on talent …….amature or pro.

  • jonrmcleod

    I think they’re main problem has been their inability to draft quality defencemen. The only active NHL d-men that are better than bottom pairing guys are Petry and Greene. Has any NHL team done worse drafting D-men recently? (Hopefully the D prospects will do better.)

  • TwoSkidoos

    I completely agree that all of this NOW lies at the feet of Tambellini.

    However, I still can’t excuse Morey Gare and his ineptness and procuring NHL talent. Did anyone see Oil Change last year when he was practically over the top GIDDY about signing Hordichuk?? You could have swore we just landed Suter if you didn’t know any better.

    Too many misses the last 4 years, not enough hits. Could be luck, or it could be that the game has passed these guys by. Analytics is a key factor nowadays and I’m almost certain that the Oilers don’t fully utilize it.

  • John Chambers

    It’s funny. Prior to Tambellini the Oilers have an extremely successful track record of bringing in professional players:

    Let’s start in 1998 with Roman Hamrlik, Bill Guerin, followed by Eric Brewer, Janne Niiniimaa, Tommy Salo, … and to some extent Anson Carter, Radek Dvorak, and Mike York.

    Post lock-out everything KLowe touched turned to gold including Pronger, Roloson, Spacek, Samsonov, and even Peca eventually. Even if Lupul didn’t work out here and Sykora flamed out near the end of the ’07 season, they are productive NHL’ers.

    The list goes on with Pitkanen, Cole, Visnovsky, and say what you want, Souray is a top-4 D and a powerplay menace when he’s not injured. KLowe and his pro scouts were excellent and acquiring talent.

    Fast forward to the tenure of Steve Tambellini. His first acquisitions were Ales Kotalik and Patrick O’Sullivan, followed by Khabibulin, and, and, and.

  • TwoSkidoos

    I would assume that ST would have some incite into some players, or at the very least he should if he’s the one pulling the trigger on either a trade or a signing.

    Why would ST give two schlitz malt liquors about what Stevie Y thinks about the Gilbert-Schultz trade – isn’t that why he has scouts and a head on his shoulders? Usually one thinks for himself.

    Lastly, I can see the intent with a signing like the Belanger signing, but, it seems that there was little thought put into exactly how he fit into the team’s dynamic – he’s a face off center, but, on other teams he’s been more than that, with time on the PP and has shown a bit of a scoring touch. In Edmonton he is a 4th line-faceoff man and nothing else. For all intents and purposes he’s a Horcoff clone with an accent.

    This same thought process can extend to the Eager signing and his “role” with the team.

    It begs the question – does ST actually put alot of thought into the moves he makes beyond the superficial “filling a need”? At the very least it makes you question either the information he’s given or how he’s interpreting it.

    • NewfoundlandOil

      In all fairness those two trades looked good right off the bat all their numbers were pointing in the right direction, consistancy was there I can’t fault Tambo for those signing because they were good and made sense. The fact that they didn’t work out would make me think is has something to do with the coaching and the system play. Look at Renny’s first season PP cluster F*ck. Was that Tambo fault? not even close. Also each Belanger played on 7 teams with success, and Eager played on 5 teams with success which tells me that they have the ability to play different styles and systems and still be productive. Still points the the coaching side of things or the player is just slacking off.

  • dawgbone98

    The Oilers were able to procure NHL players (especially defencemen) before Tambo with a similar pro scouting staff, so unless these guys got worse, I don’t see how they can suddenly be the primary culprit.

    • That’s the other thing. Two of these guys were hired by Tambellini, two others extend way back and would have been on hand for Lowe’s early successes.

      Unless Mike Abbamont suddenly walked in and destroyed everything, I don’t get how one can make the twin arguments that a) things got worse and b) it’s not Tambellini’s fault.