Defining the history of the Edmonton Oilers rebuild

Defensive mess

The Edmonton Oilers’ rebuild has taken on a life of its own over the years. The official start date used to be hotly debated, though less of late as the need on the part of some to defend the Tambellini rebuild has dissipated. But looking back, it seems clear that the Oilers’ post-2006 wanderings fall into four distinct segments.

The Undeclared Rebuild

Lowe, Kevin

Timeframe: July 1, 2006 – July 31, 2008.

Here is a fact: the Edmonton Oilers never talked about rebuilding in the summer of 2006.

Here is another: when a team trades Chris Pronger and the best defenceman coming back is a 20-year-old Ladislav Smid, it’s rebuilding whether or not it actually makes use of the word.

The exodus in the summer of 2006 has been well-documented, and while Pronger was the name at the top of the list the departures of Jaroslav Spacek and Mike Peca and Sergei Samsonov were huge blows, too. The departures continued the following season with the loss of Ryan Smyth in trade to the New York Islanders (a loss which sparked this website).

The young players who were going to carry the team forward coming out of this period were people like Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, Robert Nilsson, Tom Gilbert and Mathieu Garon. They don’t sound like much now, but there was a time when papers like the National Post pointed to the Oilers as a great example of a successful rebuild based on the accomplishments of that group.

With a seemingly successful rebuild completed, Kevin Lowe stepped down in the summer of 2008 and handed the team over to Steve Tambellini.

“Finishing” Touches

35-Khabibulin-4

Timeframe: July 31, 2008 – January 25, 2010

It’s easy to forget that optimism was the rule of the day in the summer of 2008. The Oilers had finished ninth in the Western Conference, just outside the playoffs. We weren’t talking (much) about unsustainable shooting percentage, unsustainable save percentage and shootout luck; instead the focus was on the incredible skill of the five players mentioned above. Kevin Lowe had (seemingly) walked the team back from the brink and there was a great deal of optimism surrounding Tambellini – a veteran hockey man who had come up outside the Oilers’ old boys network.

When the 2008-09 season disappointed, Tambellini made changes. A new head coach, Pat Quinn, was brought in to usher in serious culture change. A high-priced goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin, was signed long-term to stabilize the position. And tough, gritty players were acquired and promoted, often far beyond their talent level.

Then people started getting hurt. Khabibulin and Sheldon Souray and Ales Hemsky were all stripped from an already anemic lineup. Lowe’s retooling, aided greatly by Tambellini’s incompetence, had failed.

Official Rebuild

Steve Tambellini (2)

Timeframe: January 25, 2010 – April 15, 2013

On January 25, 2010, a victory by the Carolina Hurricanes pushed the Oilers into last place in the NHL. Within a few weeks, Tambellini was talking about a complete organizational overhaul, and the organization’s other leaders started using words like “rebuild.” There has been some attempt to retcon the date forward to the drafting of Taylor Hall, but that’s disingenuous. The firm plan to launch a full-scale rebuild of the team was laid out for the public during the middle of the 2009-10 campaign, and even the team’s most devoted apologists must admit that it started no later than that.

Unfortunately, the Oilers’ leadership concluded that a full-scale organizational rebuild didn’t mean making changes at the most senior levels of management, and so Tambellini took point in cleaning up the organization.

It would be wrong to say that everything Tambellini did was wrong – the changes to the Oilers’ AHL level, the refusal to bring in terrible, big-money contracts, and the lack of Milbury-esque trades of young talent all stand out as bright points – but on balance he was timid and ineffective and Edmonton’s rebuild demonstrated a critical failure of leadership.

That failure was finally acknowledged by ownership with the dismissal of Tambellini in the spring of 2013.

Bold Moves

Craig MacTavish2

Timeframe: April 15, 2013 – present

The firing of Tambellini and promotion of Craig MacTavish into the role of general manager marked yet another era in Edmonton’s seemingly ceaseless rebuild.

MacTavish opened by distancing himself from Tambellini, using words like “bold”, “impatient” and “risk” in his opening availability. At the time, I thought he was overpromising; in retrospect I think the overriding concern was in demonstrating that there was going to be a massive shift in the team’s approach.

There can be no doubt that MacTavish has delivered action. The results are still lagging, but if this particular epoch ends in failure it won’t be through timidity.

We’ll have a pretty good idea of which way this one is going to turn out by this time next summer.

Skip to the End

There have been fairly bitter disputes over whether the rebuild *actually* started in the summer of 2006 or midway through the 2009-10 campaign, as whether it really mattered whether the Oilers were dreadful in the 2006-09 period out of deliberate failed design or simple managerial incompetence. Whether Lowe was rebuilding or merely retooling in the period following the 2006 Cup run is an academic argument; the effect was largely to replace veterans with youth and the results were largely negative.

Lowe attempted a quick rebuild, and things started getting back on track – albeit with the same lack of elite talent – once he was able to rebuild (through free agency) much of the defence he’d demolished by losing Spacek and Pronger without replacement.

Tambellini came in with a mandate to take the team to the next level. For a season and a half he tried. His incompetence and a series of significant injuries combined to unravel all the progress the team had made.

Unremarkably, then-President Lowe and owner Daryl Katz concluded a full-scale rebuild through the draft was the next step to take. More remarkably, they decided that the G.M. who had necessitated it was the man to clean it up. The result was three wasted years before they finally undid their mistake.

And now? The franchise has a new guide, and he’s set off in a different direction than his predecessor. Now it’s just a matter of waiting to see if it’s the right one.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • Serious Gord

    So to summarize … what you are saying in not sooooo many words — the original (pre-)rebuild started after the 2006 season, was informally acknowledged in 2008 by Management, formally acknowledged in 2010 using the actual term “Re-build”, and re-branded in 2013 to the progressive (or “bold-moves”) rebuild, and by this time next year we should know the formal name of part FIVE of the re-re-re-re-re-build, after this experiment by MacT can officially be evaluated, then either disassembled or extended???????

  • The rebuilt or whatever it is being called will continue until the oilers get a NHL coach.

    Eakins is in way over his head. Hall said as much at the end of the season(he said that Dallas learned a lot this season). Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the head coach from the best player.

    • ubermiguel

      i couldnt agree more the oilers need a experienced coach.the only real coach theyve had in years was quin.he got fired because he told lowe where to go and he was hiring his own assistants.kevy didnt like that .and yoour fired

  • v4ance

    The problem is how people define “rebuild”.

    If you say a rebuild is a situation where a team doesn’t make the playoffs, then, yes, the Oilers have been rebuilding for 8 years. To me, that definition is too broad.

    In 2006-2009, I define that period as a “re-tool”. The team still believed that they could make the playoffs and MAYBE contend for the cup with just a few top UFA signings and a hearty dose of luck, similar to how the 2005-06 season played out. They failed miserably in 2006-07 but just missed by 3 points in 2007-08 and 6 points in 2008-09 to make the playoffs. If we were rebuilding, we never would have chased Heatley, Nylander, etc. in those years.

    I define a rebuild as a situation where a team has little prospects of making the playoffs and absolutely no belief that they can win the cup. With this situation, the team will not chase the best UFAs because they know they need more than just one key piece. The years of 2010 to the present fit that description.

  • JitanPren

    If you watch the first episode of Oil Change Lowe, Tambo, and Katz all talk about the period leading up to the decision to blow it up and start a full rebuild. Some of you of course will contest what they say however it is about as accurate a chronicle of these events there is and it’s from the perspective of those who were involved in the decision.

  • Serious Gord

    I really think Vanek and Hemsky would have been sick together.

    We have gone through some Lowe, Lowe times since 2006.

    We sure didn’t get full value for Pronger. (Spitz.) I think that is when the rot started. Slow decay from the inside out. The players who remained, after the cup final, must have felt pretty Lowe.

    Would we have been better off if Burke, had of, strangled Klowe to death in a barn? Probably not.

    I may need a new prescription for “Rose colored hindsight glasses.” I think they are kept near the reading glasses at my local WREX-ALL center.

  • Spydyr

    What matters to me is not when the rebuild started but when it will end.That IMO would be the day the first Jersey thrower drops the puck for the Oilers first playoff game in way,way to many years.

  • R U Kidding Me!

    Our youthful core Gagner, Eberle , Hopkins , Yakupov ) had big plunges last year along with Petry , J.Schultz and Ference . Only Hall did better except for a big plunge in plus minus like the rest of them . That’s basically our entire core that was supposed to be getting better . Now try and tell me that is not because of MacT. and the new coach .If the young core is already maxed out or stagnant we are in worse condition than any of us expected to be .

  • camdog

    “Whether Lowe was rebuilding or merely retooling in the period following the 2006 Cup run is an academic argument;”

    “A synonym is a word with the same or similar meaning of another word.” From wiki.

    I have always found it interesting that some like to use the term retooling during Lowe’s run at the top, but call it a rebuild when Tambellini did the same thing, when essentially they are the same word. It’s almost disingenuous to conclude that they are different, but good marketing with the Oilers for being able to convince the paying public that they are in fact different.

    • v4ance

      Obviously, you don’t understand the meaning of synonym, same or similar either.

      From Merriam-Webster dictionary:

      rebuild: to make EXTENSIVE changes

      retool: to make especially MINOR changes or improvements

      A rebuild is NOT equivalent or “same” as a retool.

  • v4ance

    MacT was made VP operations 2012.
    Involved in recruit of J. schultz.
    involved in selection of Yak; Moroz; Khaira

    MacT took over in april 2013.
    Slot Howson builder of Columbus’s team in to his V.p. slot.

    We had Horcoff; Hemsky; Dubnyk; Petry Gagner from pre Katz era drafts.
    J. schultz from.

    2008 draft on.
    Eberle; MP; HAll; RNH; YAK.

    He moved Horcoff; MP; Hemsky; Dubnyk; Gagner.

    Retained Eberle; Hall; RNH; Yak; Petry; J. schultz.

    Has added in 13 months.

    XXX-XXX-XXX
    Perron-Arco-Purcell
    Pouliot-Draisatl-XXX
    Hendricks-gordon-XXX
    Gazdic-Jeonsuu

    Ference-XXX
    Nikitin-Fayne
    Marincin-XXX
    Aulie

    Scrivens
    Fasth

    16/23 roster players have been brought in by MacT.
    16/23 changed in 13 months.

    BOLD!

    Yak and j. Schultz he was involved in the decision.

    Only one of the 23 is currently a non Katz era acquisition.
    Petry.

  • Muji

    I like MacT’s moves (Perron, Nurse, Gordon, Scrivens, Fasth, Fayne, Leon, etc.) but it’s a little scary to think that all of it will be for naught if he didn’t pick the right coach. The jury’s still out on Eakins…

  • ubermiguel

    Yes Tambelini was bumbling idiot for 3 years, lost in the forest. But, where was his boss [Lowe] when the house of cards was falling apart in all directions. Why did he not step to assist, guide or fire the guy. He was the guy at the top.. had all the power and say in the happenings, is this case none happenings.

    Surely, even Katz could have see this wasn’t going well? Hence three lost years.

    In my opinion the rebuild really started in 2010… Hall onwards.

    This team needs character and a winning identity if its is to move forward. Make Hall the captain.

  • ubermiguel

    How about we all stop arguing about whether it’s been 8 or 4 years of a re-build. The fact of the matter is, we’ve missed the playoffs for 8 straight freaking years, that’s the real issue and our incompetent management team can’t figure it out. Period!