Steve Tambellini has made so many mistakes it's hard to give him credit for what he does right. After all, surely each good move is predecessor to tragedy.
The Colin Fraser trade? Brilliant. The Steve Staios affair? Magnificent. Now he's losing , which is a hell of a thing to do to your captain and a bold move from a guy nicknamed Mr. Dithers and immortalized for on waivershis eternal propensity to evaluate. It's also the right thing for the hockey club (although as Tyler Dellow has shown, buying him out would have been a step too far). Certainly, Dithers isn't dithering anymore.
Perhaps he should have done a bit more evaluating, though, before he plunged into the offseason. Even with those occasional tethers of hope, the hits of a last-place general manager keep on coming. If he buys out Patrick O'Sullivan, for example, he'll be getting rid of a guy with a track record of NHL success just because of one bad season and paying medium-term for the privilege. Yet somehow that's not the worst part. The worst part is Tambellini's handling, or rather mishandling, of his restricted free agents.
He hit the gimmies. Qualified Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano, and Gilbert Brule. Wow, real tough decisions there. Qualifying Jeff Deslauriers was questionable, but since the goaltender he signed last summer turns out to have a drinking problem you can see Tambellini's logic. Goaltenders of Deslauriers' calibre aren't free. Okay, actually, they are, but he has one so why get another? There's thinking there, of a sort.
But dumping Ryan Potulny? Yes, he had a career year last season he is unlikely to repeat. Yes, he'd have required an NHL contract. But he's one of the only forwards on this team with a record of professional success and Tambellini refused to even deign to a qualifying offer. This forward lineup isn't exactly packed with outscorers. Lowetide speaks of a "logjam up front" but what thirtieth-place team was he watching? I saw a lot of guys getting NHL minutes last season and the only way most of them could be in a logjam would be as the boaters wrecking on it.
On the other hand, Potulny was eligible for arbitration, and a career year is a good time to get an arbitration award. Perhaps Tambellini thought he would have been saddled with an expensive arbitration result and another Robert Nilsson. He could have walked away from the award of course, but we know the Oilers aren't too good with the fine points of the collective bargaining agreement. If you twist your brain and pretend to be an idiot, you can make an argument why Ryan Potulny shouldn't have been qualified. You can't make a good argument but you can at least have the discussion.
What a pity for us all that the Potulny decision still wasn't Tambellini's most unforgivable restricted free agent sin. That error could be boiled down as follows: how is Jean-Francois Jacques still on this hockey team and Marc Pouliot not?
You don't need an introduction to Marc Pouliot, but as the sole remaining officer of the Marc Pouliot Fan Club I'll give you one anyway. Drafted twenty-second overall in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, after Kevin Lowe traded the draft pick that became Zach Parise for the Pouliot pick and the Jean-Francois Jacques pick (oops). But Pouliot was actually a great pick: he'd starred with the Canadian U-18 team and was the best player on the abominable pre-Sidney Crosby Rimouski Oceanic, a resume he kept up through junior by just missing some of the best Canadian World Junior teams of all time, posting some star seasons in the QMJHL, and taking second place in the Memorial Cup.
But he was hurt, and his development delayed, and he never got that offensive touch in the NHL. What he brought instead was moderate offensive ability combined with some defensive skill. He could win a faceoff, play the wing if necessary, and was effective in all situations. At no point has Marc Pouliot ever been a star, but at no point has he ever failed to be a useful NHL player. He's a quintessential utility man, someone who won't kill you no matter what you have him do and can outscore when he's in his best situation. You're not going to win a Stanley Cup with a lineup of twelve Marc Pouliots but you're also not going to win a Stanley Cup without a couple.
Yet Tambellini has cut him loose entirely. Pouliot would only require a two-way contract, not that it should matter since he's far too good for the American league (in a brief AHL rehab stint last season, he was so much better than the rest of the last-place Falcons that it was almost funny). In 37 NHL games last year Pouliot was -4, which for an Oiler playing with scumbag linemates is pretty excellent. He scored six times at even strength despite playing twelve minutes a night. He was better than guys like Ryan Jones who the Oilogosphere was collectively crawling all over for being relatively not-terrible before he got hurt.
And let's take a look at some of the members of that "logjam" who Tambellini has elected to retain in lieu of Pouliot. Ryan O'Marra, who admittedly has a career NHL points-per-game of 0.5. Jean-Francois Jacques, probably the worst player in the NHL last season and possibly the worst player in the history of the Edmonton Oilers. Liam Reddox, who is younger than Pouliot but counts that as his only redeeming feature after an AHL season where he was bad even for the Springfield Falcons. That's a real murderer's row there, Tambo. Glad you decided to keep that nucleus together.
This is just another example of Steve Tambellini's erratic thinking. Remember last year, when he swapped the workmanlike Kyle Brodziak to Minnesota for, essentially, nothing? Remember this year, when on a team whose only effective penalty killer was Fernando Pisani he refused to even talk extension with the guy? Same thing. He brought Colin Fraser in from the Blackhawks and the more optimistic of us may have thought he learned his lesson, but it seems true wisdom still eludes him. It takes more than whales to create a winning hockey team, which is what Tambellini seems to miss amidst his pursuits of Khabibulin and Dany Heatley and Marian Hossa and the gang, with his talking about Taylor Hall being the future of the franchise while neglecting to add that four other skaters are on the ice with him. Swapping your bottom-six players, especially your few effective and affordable bottom-six players, in and out like interchangeable parts is a bloody stupid way to do business. Not as stupid as thinking 25-year-old Jean-Francois Jacques has any chance of rounding into a marginally effective hockey player, but still extremely stupid.
This isn't about the future. Nobody's worried about what Pouliot may develop into. This is about the present, where Pouliot was an effective centre on a team where "effective centre" was a critical issue. This is a world where a guy could have been signed to a two-way contract for short coin or at least retained as a restricted free agent to keep some value in the system, and yet is being jettisoned for nothing. This is a general manager whose ability to evaluate hockey players seems limited to gushing over their body types and unrelated to their actual hockey knowledge. This is a man who shuffles deck chairs on the Titanic and when the ship keeps sinking thinks he's just not shuffling hard enough.
This is the reason we're going to be in the lottery again next year.