ALBERTA CANADA - SEPTEMBER 29: Liam Reddox #85 of the Edmonton Oilers tries to block the shot of Mikkel Boedker #89 of the Phoenix Coyotes on September 29 2010 at Rexall Place in Edmonton Alberta Canada. (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images)
In Scott's "Chemistry v. Blender" article last night, he talked about finding some combinations other than Dustin Penner - Sam Gagner - Ales Hemsky that might be able to handle even strength play. He specifically mentioned the struggles of the Magnus Paajarvi - Andrew Cogliano - Gilbert Brule line and showed a nifty chart with the chances and microstats. His poll question asked about shuffling the lineup and switching some third and fourth-line forwards around as if that was Tom Renney's only option. Because it is his only option. Like Craig MacTavish and Pat Quinn before him Renney is completely hamstrung by the lack of viable personnel to call on, and to make matters worse, Tambellini has cut into 2/3 of that non-depth.
The Oilers have iced thirteen forwards through four games, six have a positive scoring chance differential, seven have a negative chance differential. The latter seven are listed below.
The bottom seven are all literally in the red for the season thus far. Brule looks especially terrible by this metric, and although Lowetide believes he's playing hurt (I hope he has inside information he's not privy to share and it's not just wishful thinking), this looks like the Brule of 2009-2010 when he wasn't playing with Penner. Brule and Cogliano would look even worse but their 19-year-old linemate keeps backchecking and covering for their dereliction of duty.
All of this wouldn't be a big deal if Renney had options - other players to turn to when things get this bad. Unfortunately, Steve Tambellini's inexplicable management decisions have eliminated alternatives for Renney, leaving him to decide when he demotes Brule and Cogliano, rather than deciding between a demotion or healthy scratch. While most other teams have at least one competent forward in the press box to fill in for injuries or slumps, the Oilers have none, again. If Renney doesn't want to play Brule, his only choice is Steve MacIntyre. If Cogliano would benefit from seeing the game from the fourth deck, Renney's only option is a fourth line of MacIntyre - Fraser - Stortini. Though Tambellini can't shoulder the blame for the Rawhide line changes, the team's lack of depth is 100% on his head.
His inability to make a decision on whether Devan Dubnyk or Jeff Deslauriers should be the Oilers backup goaltender caused him, like Kevin Lowe before him, to keep three goaltenders on the roster. So rather than having the luxury of turning to Liam Reddox or Linus Omark for a game or two, Tambellini has closed all of Renney's options off. Tambellini's obsession with goons led him to sign Steve MacIntyre, a nice guy and excellent fighter, but a completely useless hockey player. Like Kevin Lowe's signing of Jesse Boulerice in 2008, Tambellini's signing of MacIntyre does nothing but occupy Omark or Reddox's roster spot. A competent General Manager would have addressed this in the off-season, and at the very latest, training camp. Not only did Tambellini pass on adding two veteran forwards in the off-season, he actively made the depth situation in Edmonton significantly worse.
As part of Dennis King's ongoing scoring chance project, I volunteered to track scoring chances for the Florida Panthers this season. Over the course of four games, Panthers' coach Pete Deboer has been able to call Kendal McArdle and Steve Reinprecht down from the press box to fill in. Deboer has also pieced together a veteran line of Stillman - Reasoner - Dvorak, and has begun to lean on them in difficult situations. The Oilers have needed a line - or even a player! - like those three at every turn over the last four seasons, yet management has focused on other things. The Panthers, they of one playoff appearance in the last ten years, have more depth than the Oilers. Dale Tallon, he of the Versteeg qualifying offer debacle and the Huet and Campbell contracts, put together a lineup with more depth than Steve Tambellini. It's lonely at the bottom.