He was already on his way out of the picture. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) Content © 2010 Getty Images All rights reserved.via cdn.picapp.com
Kevin Prendergast was a member of the Edmonton Oilers organization for two decades having joined the Oilers just after they won their fifth Stanley Cup in 1990. His background was in scouting - he had spent the seven previous seasons with the NHL's Central Scouting Bureau - and that's exactly the role he had with the Oilers. For the first decade of his tenure, Prendergast was a scout under Barry Fraser. After Fraser retired, Prendergast became the head scout in 2000 (after the draft) and held that position until 2007. For the last two years he has been looking after Edmonton's AHL affiliate in Springfield. After the jump, I'll take a look at his performance in these last two roles.I think every team has fans that are dissatisfied with their team's record of drafting and development. I will look more tangentially at each of Prendergast's drafts but I thought it would be good to start by comparing his performance against the rest of the league. In order to do this I will rely on data from the Falconer who created a quantitative rating system to compare the drafts records of various teams from 1999-2005. I like the system because it takes the strength of each draft into account. If it's a strong draft class and you get a couple of marginal NHLers you get a bad score. If it's a weak draft class and you get the same, you score better. The problem with the Falconer's results (and it's my problem, not his) is that it bunches the results from 1999 to 2005 in one group. For our purposes, that's not quite ideal, though by 1999 Prendergast surely should have had a significant say in who the Oilers were picking. I do have some other concerns with the system (they're in the comments section of the Falconer's original post) but overall, I think it's one of the best tools to determine how one team has performed at the draft relative to its peers.
So how did the Oilers do? They finished 23rd in the league from 1999-2005 which isn't particularly impressive. Looking a little bit closer at each draft, Prendergast started strong, but got progressively worse from 2001 to 2004. 2001 was the Ales Hemsky draft (which also included Jussi Markkanen later on) and one shouldn't expect a better performance than a star player in the middle of the first round. 2002 saw the selection of two useful NHL players (Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene) in the second round to go along with Jeff Deslauriers who most definitely plays in the NHL but whose usefulness is still questionable. The first round pick was Jesse Niinimaki for which Prendergast recently took responsibility. Although 2002 wasn't a particularly strong draft year, Niinimaki (taken 15th overall) is one of only four first round picks not to play in an NHL game and one of only eight to play fewer than 100 NHL games. Of the ten players drafted directly after Niinimaki, eight of them managed at least 100 NHL games and most of them are still playing. In 2003, there's no doubt that Prendergast scores poorly relative to his peers. He picked up three decent players (Pouliot, Stortini and Brodziak) but almost every other team did much better. I suspect that the Oilers would be among the bottom five teams in terms of generating player value from the 2003 draft. Once we arrive at 2004, things get even worse. The Oilers had two selections in the first round and neither player (Schremp, Dubnyk) has established himself on the Oilers with Rob Schremp having just finished a decent rookie year on Long Island. Still, I think it would be a stretch to say that he's established himself (we'll see what kind of contract he signs). Beyond that, it's still very tough to tell. Will Alex Plante pan out? What about Riley Nash? How much better will Andrew Cogliano be in a few years? Will any or all of Taylor Chorney, Jeff Petry and Theo Peckham have significant NHL careers? These are all open questions and it may be too early to judge. But Prendergast needs some of these players to turn out, because from 2001-2004, it doesn't look to me like his performance holds up all that well.
The other role Prendergast had was in stocking the AHL team with talent. Looking at the record alone we can see that his work can't possibly have been that good. Teams that finish dead last two years in a row usually haven't been well-managed. I've heard in the past that, despite the record, Prendergast did a good job last summer, enough to help the team compete for the playoffs. That seems like a pipe dream. Maybe an improvement of seventy goal differential (they were -70 in 2008-09) is easier to do at the AHL level, but that's a tall task that would require a lot of significant change and additional depth to deal with injuries and call-ups. Here is the lineup that Prendergast started the summer with at the end of 2008-09:
Schremp - Potulny - Stone
Linglet - Reddox - Brule
Trukhno - O'Marra - Sestito
Lefebvre - Spurgeon - McDonald
Paukovich - Bekar - Lerg
Peckham - Roy
Chorney - Taylor
Wild - Young
Gabinet - Bisaillon
Now, keep in mind that this team finished in dead last overall. Sure, some of these guys were injured of filling in for other injured players during the season, but that's the kind of thing you need to expect. This season, I think it's pretty reasonable to say that there were more injuries than expected and that's fine. But looking at the changes Springfield made, I'm not sure you can argue that it was reasonable to expect anything close to a 70-goal improvement. Here's what Springfield started the season with in 2009-10 (changes in bold):
Minard - Potulny - Wiseman
Linglet - Reddox - Fretter
Trukhno - O'Marra - MacMurchy
Brennan - Henrich - McDonald
Paukovich - Lerg - Emmerson
Peckham - Arsene
Chorney - Taylor
Wild - Armstrong
Motin - Plante - Nickerson
These changes really aren't all that significant. Some of the new hires at forward are solid AHL veterans (Fretter, Minard, Wiseman) and likely would have been enough if they were being brought in as additions instead of replacements. All three of them replaced a good AHL level talent (Schremp, Stone and Brule) which means they weren't really going to help the team improve all that much. The rest of the changes at forward were minor. There were no significant rookies and no more significant AHL veterans, just different filler.
The situation on defence is similar. Sure, he went out and signed a couple of AHL veterans in Arsene and Armstrong, but he also let guys like Roy and Gabinet walk. That's pretty much a wash. Had he kept all four of those players and started with Nickerson and Motin in the ECHL, then the team could claim a significant improvement. But he didn't. Instead, he was forced to decided to add rookies (Motin, Plante) and goons (Nickerson) to fill out the bottom of the defence. I suppose you might factor in the idea that the other young players were expected to improve and so say that the 2009-10 Falcons were slightly better coming into the year on defence. But it isn't much.
In goal, the Falcons decided to go with Aaron Sorochan as the back-up which is basically a gamble that none of the goalies in the organization above him are going to get hurt. It's not a gamble that paid off and, when it didn't, there was no one to turn to. I guess the Oilers decided for one reason or another that a veteran AHL netminder wouldn't be helpful. It cost them.
Steve Tambellini takes a lot of flack and he probably deserves it for some of the personnel decisions that have been made. Even just looking at the AHL team, it's probably fair to wonder what kind of budget he gave Prendergast to work with (if someone isn't given the tools, how can they succeed?). But looking through Prendergast's record, I think it's fair to conclude that the Oilers could have done better. It's always sad when someone loses their job, but in this case, I have a hard time saying that Steve Tambellini made the wrong call.