In 1977 Brian Sutter joined the St. Louis Blues and from that point forward – a span of 34 seasons – at least one member of the Sutter family has been a player, head coach, or general manager in the NHL. Brian, Brent, Darryl, Duane, Rich, and Ron have now been followed to the NHL by Brandon and Brett, with more likely to follow as the Sutter family moves into its second generation in the NHL.
Between them they’ve got a combined 84 seasons as players, another 31 as head coach, and seven as general manager. In total they’ve spent 8,289 games on the ice or behind the bench and before yesterday when it was announced that Duane had been added to Edmonton's pro scouting staff the only direct connection between the Oilers and the Sutter family was the 1976 WHA draft when Brian was selected 36th overall.
Duane Sutter played 11 seasons in the NHL for the Islanders and Chicago winning four Stanley Cups during the Islanders four-peat from 1980 through 1983. After his playing career ended in 1990 he spent time with the Panthers as an assistant and head coach as well as in their scouting department. Most recently he was the Flames Director of Player Personnel, a title he was relieved of in June. Sutter joins an Oilers pro scouting group that hasn’t done a very good, or even passable, job in recent seasons and while any change can be seen as a positive, how much impact this will have on the Oilers on-ice fortunes is debateable.
I’ve complained before that although the Oilers have drafted well of late the team’s ability to identify NHL talent during Steve Tambellini’s tenure as general manager has been lackluster at best. A more apt description of their performance would be terrible. If a rebuild is going to be successful (in other words, it ends at some point) it can’t be based on draft picks alone. Finding assets in the NHL to fill holes and provide support to the youth in the line-up is critical.
During his time as General Manager Kevin Lowe didn’t hit everything out of the park when it came to trades and signings involving NHL players but he more often than not held his own. Tambellini on the other hand has won a couple of trades when he’s had the opportunity to take advantage of another general manager in a vulnerable position but if you exclude those two trades his average is well below the Mendoza Line.
So between Lowe and Tambellini what happened?
During the Tambellini era the pro scouting staff identified in the Oilers media guides has remained virtually unchanged with Morey Gare as the Head of Pro Scouting and Michael Abbamont and Dave Semenko by his side. The only differences from that core group are Rob Daum who joined the group for the 2008/09 season and Chris Cichocki who is listed as a pro scout in the Sutter press release; I can’t find any reference to him before that though so he appears to be new this season as well.
Before Tambellini took over the reins in 2008 the media guides don’t distinguish between amateur, pro, and European scouts but given that the group of men listed as scouts during Lowe’s last three seasons is identical to the group Tambellini had in his first season (minus Lorne Davis who passed away), it’s safe to assume that the jobs each had remained the same. So if the scouts are the same, but the result is significantly different we’re left with two options for the decline in performance: Gare, Abbamont, and Semenko forgot how to do their jobs or the person making the final decision is the problem.
The former may be possible but the latter seems a lot more likely to me. In that case the addition of Sutter to the group may be of little consequence as long as Tambellini is the one calling the shots. Maybe the best we can hope for is that more voices in the room will help drown out the voices in Tambellini’s head telling him what moves to make. If not, we could be looking at more of the same and that isn’t a good thing if you’re a fan of the Oilers.