Blame Steve Tambellini

There’s a long list of things wrong with the Oilers right now, but somewhere near the top of the list has to be the state of the defence corps. With the exception of Jeff Petry (and possibly Anton Belov) there hasn’t really been a positive story on the Oilers’ blue line this season, and the only way to really address the problem is with top-pairing talent – something that can be extremely difficult to find.

It’s something the Oilers once had.

The Kevin Lowe Blue

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Kevin Lowe isn’t a popular figure with the fanbase these days, and that’s understandable – whatever his exact duties with the team, he’s the one prominent figure that still has a job after years and years of losing, and it doesn’t help that he occasionally says tone-deaf things. But whatever his state of popularity, the blue line that he left Steve Tambellini in the summer of 2008 was pretty solid.

Here’s that group, then and now:

  • 1. Sheldon Souray. Played just under 25 minutes per night, adding snarl and offensive production (53 points). He’s hurt now but played 21 minutes per game for Anaheim last season and did many of the same things.
  • 2. Lubomir Visnovsky. Played 23 minutes per night and added a brilliant puck-moving presence. He did exactly the same things for the playoff-bound New York Islanders last season.
  • 3. Tom Gilbert. Played 22 minutes per night and recorded a career-best 45 points. These days he’s Florida’s number two defenceman and one of only two guys with an even-or-better plus/minus on the team.
  • 4. Denis Grebeshkov. Played 21 minutes per game, posting 39 points and a plus-12 rating. Edmonton just waived him after bringing him back from the KHL in the summer.
  • 5. Steve Staios. Played 20 minutes per game in the twilight of his career; retired these days.
  • 6. Ladislav Smid. Played 15 minutes per game in 2008-09 and is a top-four NHL defenceman for the Oilers these days.
  • 7. Jason Strudwick. Edmonton’s seventh defenceman in 2008-09 has since retired and WHAT’S THAT HE WRITES HERE!

That was an awfully good group five years ago, and (if Souray were healthy) four of those guys would still be useful NHL players. What happened?

Summers of Steve

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Basically, players got moved without ever being replaced.

Sheldon Souray got hurt, clearly felt slighted by the team, and went public with his feelings. The Oilers, not wanting their impressionable young players to be unduly influenced by Souray’s opinion that management would struggle to differentiate between an arse and an elbow, first exiled the defender to the minors and then bought him out entirely. In the years since, Souray had a really good season in Dallas for pennies on the dollar and then a pretty good one in Anaheim. Essentially, the Oilers alienated a useful player whose skillset was a strong fit for the team and then flushed him for nothing.

Lubomir Visnovsky drove old-timey coach Pat Quinn nuts with crazy things like “puck movement” and “occasionally pinching in the offensive zone” so Tambellini dumped him to Anaheim in exchange for Ryan Whitney. Visnovsky’s still a useful top-four defenceman, while the much younger Whitney is now a frequent healthy scratch in Florida.

Tom Gilbert drove the fan-base crazy by being soft, so the Oilers traded him to Minnesota. Nick Schultz, the player brought in to replace him, is a third-pairing defender these days. Gilbert has had his problems – including a buyout in Minnesota after a dreadful PDO season last year – but he’s a number two defenceman with the Panthers today.

Denis Grebeshkov and Steve Staios were moved for picks in solid trades, while Ladislav Smid still plays for the team.

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Add it all together, and the Oilers managed to turn a solid one-through-three group five years ago into Nick Schultz today. That isn’t the whole answer, but it’s the single-biggest reason why the defence corps is the mess it is right now.

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  • Quicksilver ballet

    The Oilers need to shift their team building strategy away from a premium on skill to a premium on hustle and dedication.

    Skill is great, but it’s only useful if your team is playing as a team. If your top skill guys are trying to do it individually then the team is destined to fail. On the best teams, the skill guys check their ego at the door. That isn’t happening with the Oilers.

    To me there are 3 problems:

    1 – Management has assembled a small & soft roster with a few guys with pedigree.

    2 – The team hasn’t yet adapted to Eakins’ game plan.

    3 – The team isn’t a team. (eg. When RNH gets kneed, someone on the ice needs to drop the mitts with the offending player. Period.)

  • It’s not just the defense that’s in a mess, the bottom 6 is arguable just as bad save for Gordon.

    We have players playing out of position, we have skilled players trying to do things they never have done before (PK) we have a coach asking players to play tougher??

    A system that had to be scratched because it’s getting eaten up night after night, players that have no concept of “Swarm” or “Zone” defense a PK that horrible & a PP that’s just as bad.

    The only thing the Oilers are doing better this year is out shooting the opposition and those are arguable coming from weak areas.

    The team itself is bad, not just the defense, we can look back and point fingers and say he’s the one to blame!

    Why hasn’t it been fixed then?

      • Zarny

        LMAO…you have bad reading comprehension.

        It’s not all Tambo’s fault but he was the GM. He was responsible for personnel decisions.

        Not Lowe. Not Katz. Not the coaches. Not his assistant GM.

        That’s how it works and every GM knows it.

        • Bleak Winter

          OK, Zarny, had enough reading your crap, go get a job and doing something useful. OH, you do have a job, if thats your pic, looks like your working at a boys only strip club.

          • Zarny

            LMAO @ Oiler Al.

            Yep…my chemical engineering degree gets me a gig paying $200K+/yr.

            Tell you what…when you can pass 1st year calculus come talk to me about getting a job 😉

          • Quicksilver ballet

            Zarny thinks he’s the only one on here who has a job. I call BS on that engineering gig though. After all the crap he’s floated out there today, nobody in their right mind would give a teet like him a job.

            Don’t worry about him Al, he’s never hired anyone in his life. He’s all sheet show this guy.

    • Zarny

      Yes, skilled players trying to do things they have never done before like PK.

      Sort of like Pit getting Crosby to kill penalties which he didn’t do to start his career.

      Every team plays their most skilled players on the PP. If you want to win the Cup your best players need to be able to kill penalties.

      Crosby does it, Ovechkin does it, Toews does it, Richards does it, Bergeron does it.

      • Well, those are what people call elite ” franchise type players”

        Where’s the Oilers PK stand right now? Ya! That’s what I thought! Keep using using them though.

        I guess if you tell yourself something enough it will come true.
        ” the PK is good!” The PK is good!”

        Nope, still bad.

        • Zarny

          Ron…aren’t the Oilers’ young kids supposed to be elite franchise players?

          And I didn’t say the PK was good…it’s bad right now.

          Guess what…Crosby wasn’t very good at killing penalties when Bylsma threw him out there either.

          He is now though and the Oilers skilled players will get better too.

          It’s a painful learning curve but necessary if you want to win the Cup.

          If you just want to make the playoffs in 7th place and at best win one series before getting pasted by a real contender then by all means let’s roll some 3rd line players out there on the PK.

          • Ok, keep believing that throwing RNH -Hall – Eberle & Hemsky out on the PK will somehow miraculously turn it around at some point.

            I know what!!! Why don’t the Oilers revisit last years lines & throw Gagner -Hemsky & Yakupov out there again, cause with that learning curve and all I’m sure they won’t be anywhere near a run away train in the defensive zone again!

            For the record the Oilers have zero franchise players.

            Good yes, not franchise good.

          • pkam

            So if Hall is not franchise good player, is there a better player than Hall in the 2010 draft who can be a franchise good player?

            How about RNH in 2011 and Yak in 2012?

            If there is no franchise good player better than our draft in those years, is it the management’s fault?

            Even after drafting very high for 4 years, we still have holes in our roster and very little depth in forwards, do we have the asset to trade for a franchise player when one is available, and will he want to come here?

            All I want to point out is how bad we were in 2010 that after rebuild for 3 years we are no better than a bubble team.

          • Zarny

            No there won’t be any miracles.

            They’ll simply learn and be better just like Crosby.

            And yes it could take them half a season to figure it out. Very possible. It’s not about this year. It’s about winning the Cup in 3-4 years.

            Killing penalties isn’t rocket science but you don’t get to be world class at it overnight. It’s not a coincidence the best penalty killers in the world are also skilled players.

            None of the Oilers have proven themselves to be a franchise player but Hall is close. Nuge is on track and Yakupov has played all of 60 games in the NHL. Can’t say one way or the other.

  • Bleak Winter

    Ask 30 GM’s in the league how they’d rebuild their team and 29 of them (we’ll see what MacTavish does) would say “build from the back end out and strength down the middle”. It’s not a platitude, it’s NHL GM canon. It is the formula to be followed. Oilers have gone a different way because they must feel they are smarter than conventional wisdom.

    The tendency in Edmonton is to ignore size, strength, and defensive ability on the blue line and instead stock smaller, softer, “puck movers”, who are maybe high offense, but can’t take control in the defensive zone. It has been this way for years now. You’d think a rebuild initiated and masterminded by a former defenseman would have been too much about a solid defense-first blue line, but that hasn’t been the case at all.

    Some teams you watch and you just get the feeling the back-end is a wall that nobody’s getting through. Oilers are decidedly more porous.

  • Quicksilver ballet

    Oh and Pronger was a good skater especially when he was in Edm. Tall and lanky but he could get around the ice no problem.


    Where do they find know-it-all tools like this, was he born yesterday? Keep tawkin jeanyous. You’ve obviously had more than your share of NHL 2K13.

  • TayLordBalls

    Tambo was BRILLIANT !

    If I was rebuilding a team and wanted to rip the guts out of it, then replenish it with 3 x #1 draft picks – I would hire Tambo.

    He was the perfect man for the job.

    Now the man is MacT and I have every bit of confidence in his abilities too.

    • pkam

      Exactly. The Oilers had been trying to make the playoff at all cost before 2010. The result is we overpaid for UFAs, we lost in most trades. We have no more depth.

      When we started our rebuild in 2010, we had a very bad team. I mean very very very BAD.

      So after a terrible 2010-11 season, Tambo added a few players who help the team to be more competitive, but not good enough to get out of the basement. So we didn’t get dominated and blow out every game, yet we secured a top 3 picks. Do you really want him to make the team better so we were out of the top 3 draft picks?

      After 2 years of rebuild, we were a bit better. Our young top draft picks started to play better. We have a little depth after 2 years of better drafting and development (which we didn’t have before 2010), fans got impatient thinking Tambo was too slow in the rebuild.

      The fact is, Pens didn’t make the playoff 5 years after they draft Whitney. Chicago didn’t make the playoff 4 years after they draft Barker. Burke said we will lead the Leafs to playoff in 4 years when he took over the job and started the rebuild and he couldn’t. But Oilers fans thinks 3 years is too long.

      You can complain all your want, but the 4 years that we didn’t make the playoff before 2010 does not help to speed up the rebuild. And our lack of good prospects at 2010 actually make it harder than the other teams.

  • Jason Gregor

    Gilbert was traded because of his lack of competitiveness. Minnesota had him as a health scratch and then bought him out.

    Florida is 3-7-2, and one of those reasons is because Gilbert is in their top-pair. He isn’t a top pairing D-man on a winning team.

    He couldn’t play in Minnesota who was competitive and no other team signed him. There is a reason for that.

    Would he be that much better than J.Schultz at this point? I don’t think so. He would be in your 3rd pairing here, just like N.Schultz. Gilbert moves the puck better, but N.Schultz competes much harder.

    Oilers traded Gilbert because his play wouldn’t help you win. He can play a lot of minutes, but he doesn’t help your team win. Look at how beat him out for icetime in Minnesota…

    I agree losing Souray for nothing hurt a lot. Tambellini had his ego bruised by Souray calling him out and the Oilers let it get personal. Awful decision.

    • Quicksilver ballet

      True, but what happened to Nick Schultz in the time he’s been here. In Minn he was a shut down guy. Not a huge player, but so positionally smart that he was tough to play against. That’s why the trade was heralded as a win/win for both teams. Look at him now – what the hell happened?

      • pkam

        I still remember the Oilers fans praised him the 1st year he was here. Somehow we turned him from a reliable shutdown D to a headless chicken.

        But the question is, is this Tambo’s fault?

    • The difference between Gilbert and Justin Schultz is that Gilbert can move the puck without burning his team on every pass.

      If Gilbert were here, I think he’d slot in on the second pairing which would allow the Oilers to put Schultz on the third pair where he’s less likely to burn them. They don’t have that option with Nick Schultz because he just doesn’t move the puck well enough to be in the top-four these days.

      And while I agree Gilbert isn’t a top-two defender, he’s not the reason for the problems in Florida:

      • Panthers shots w/ Gilbert on: +104/-97
      • Panthers shots w/ Gilbert off: +166/-189
      • Panthers goals w/ Gilbert on: +7/-8
      • Panthers goals w/ Gilbert off: +12/-20
      • Zarny

        Then why is it no one else in the NHL wanted him for free? You know something the rest of the NHL GM’s didn’t? It’s clear you think you know more than the accomplished Pat Quinn.

        Oh right, the advanced stats.

        • I get the same line when I critiqued anything, even when I’m right. I assume you nod along with Doug MacLean when he talks, and Mike Milbury too – after all, they were once NHL general managers.

          As for Pat Quinn, if he wasn’t the worst head coach in Oilers history he was *this* close to it. If you think it’s beyond the pail to criticize him because of his illustrious career that’s your call, but you won’t be talking much about hockey in that case.

          For my part, I have no trouble saying on the one hand that he’s one of the all-time great coaches and saying on the other hand that ripping Visnovsky as “Barbara Ann Scott” was an incredibly stupid thing to do.

          • **

            Well yes, I do think Milbury or Maclean know a hell of a lot more about the game than you or certainly me. Doesn’t mean I always agree with their judgement.

            And was Quinn the worst coach, or was he just saddled with the worst team ever assembled in franchise history? He did not have the benefit of icing Hall, Eberle, RNH etc. His core was a past-best Ethan Moreau and Shawn Horcoff. That teams elite scorers were a rookie Ganger and Ales Hemsky (lol).

            By the way, how did things go after they got rid of Quinn and brought in Renney? Kreuger? Now Eakins with a supposedly much better team?

            My interpretation of your remarks was that you were suggesting Quinn was a foolish old man, which I found to be incorrect and disrespectful. Fair game to be critical but references to age related feebleness are offside. Maybe I was reading something that wasn’t there.

            I will submit that this team would be much better off now had they fired Lowe et all and made Quinn GM to manage this ‘rebuild’

          • Wax Man Riley

            I do think Quinn was the worst head coach in Oilers history. There were times he didn’t know game days or times or even which players he had playing that night.

            great for a quote tho.

    • pkam

      Actually, Souray not just called out Tambellini, but Kevin Lowe as well, and for ridiculous reasons.

      If I remember correctly, he told the public that Tambellini never checked how he was doing while he was on LTIR. And at the same time, he said that Kevin Lowe was forcing him to play when he was not fully recovered. So when Lowe was forcing him to play before he was ready, but when Tambellini didn’t check with him, he was not happy?

      I heard he asked for a trade and getting impatient and Tambellini was too patient because he didn’t want to lose in the trade. So Souray bad mouth the management to vent his frustration.

      What do you expect to happen to you if you bad mouth your management in the public? Souray never apologized even once. That showed how much he wanted to be an Oilers.

      And seriously, Kevin Lowe overpaid to sign him at 5.4M. it is already difficult to trade that contract, and he just made it even harder with that kind of attitude.

  • Bleak Winter

    Losing Souray for nothing hurts the most. The Visnovsky for Whitney deal would have been good if not for Whitney’s health issues. Management let their pride get in the way of doing their job and paid a good player to go away. Brutal decision.

  • Bleak Winter

    Team has decent puck moving D men in Petry,Schultz jr.,Belov, however there is zero toughness on the back end. Guys like Petry and Belov with size are soft players.Smid has size but his hits are really bearhugs. None is these guys clear players in front of the net, in fact ‘SMid is laying face down on the ice when most of the goals are scored. No one hammers forecheckers coming into the zone, etc.Need guys like Sutton and even Fistric to lay some hurt on the backend.Ference was more of the same, good puck mover,but its a one sided game.

  • pkam

    How about the coach that has been instructing the players all this time? Does that coach ever get mentioned as part of the problem???? Sorry what was that Steve Smith…

  • Wax Man Riley

    Also, for the record, it was Tambo’s fault. All of it.

    He was the perfect patsy…. dress him up like a puppet and trot him out in front of the cameras. Probably the worst GM in history. If you go back and watch Oil Change or any interview he was ever in, the guy didn’t know the mic from his wiener.