Our 'sphere roundtable returns for the 2011-12 preseason, and today we tackle the last three months. The Edmonton media contingent has declared Steve Tambellini's work this off-season to be a universal success. He brought Ryan Smyth home and made the Oilers "tougher to play against" with the signings of Darcy Hordichuk, Ben Eager and the trade for Andy Sutton. The national media has talked about Tambellini's success in rebuilding the team, but has he done as well as the media thinks he has?
Our lineup this time includes Pat, from Black Dog Hates Skunks, the blogosphere's version of David Mamet, Jeff Chapman, the big brain behind Oil On Whyte, Shepso and BCB, the philosopher kings from Bringing Back The Glory, Jerconjake, the insightful man behind Oil Acumen, Smokin' Ray, the only man covering the Oilers, Barons and Thunder and he does it all at Oilers Jambalaya, dawgbone98, 'sphere regular and resident lacrosse and hockey tactics expert, and sumoil, Copper & Blue's resident CHL tracker, the only man breaking down the top CHL prospects through detailed statistical tracking.
Today's Roundtable Question: Many fans and of course all of the Edmonton mainstream media have called Steve Tambellini's non-draft off-season a success, do you agree?
SumOil: I had a friend back in high school who was very poor in studies. He used to fail often or barely pass with some help during examinations. However, when it came time for the finals, he studied very hard and passed with a 55% aggregate. Obviously, his friends, family, relatives were ecstatic and proud of his ‘achievement’. I don’t think us as Oiler fans and media are any different than them. We have gotten so used to ‘status quo’ or failure that any positive change makes us very happy.
At the end of the last season, there were three distinct deficiencies: veteran centers, Quality defensemen, stable goaltending. However Steve Tambellini managed to only address one of them; how is it a success? Even in India where the passing grade is 33.33%, this is a barely passed and a fail in the North American system. Nonetheless, Tambellini did manage to do other nice things-> His signing of college and Euro free agents were good. Also he managed to land a Ryan Smyth. Hence IMO, Tambellini ’s non draft summer was a step in the right direction and now the onus is on him to continue walking.
BDHS Pat: I would call it a qualified success. If the goal was to be good enough to compete for a playoff spot then it would be a failure but I don’t think that was the goal. I think he wanted to improve the team incrementally and he has done that. Adding Smyth and Belanger gives them their strongest corps of forwards in years, at least temporarily. Ben Eager is a fourth liner but he is a decent one and while I don’t believe too much in the guts and glory cliches of goons and team toughness etc I do think he will help, as will Sutton and Hordichuk. The latter two aren’t very good at all but at least they can take a semi regular shift, unlike MacIntyre.
I don’t mind the Barker signing. Again I don’t think he is very good but he is relatively young and he may still become a player. Its a gamble but its not costing them anything but money on a one year deal and unlike a lot of folks I don’t think a guy’s story is told when he’s still relatively young.
I’m sick of losing so I would have been happier if he had brought in a quality goaltender and a top four D man or two but I think the plan is one more year of suckage so these additions fit that. The team will be improved I think and there are no ridiculous commitments so overall I’d grade it a decent summer.
Jeff Chapman: The Belanger signing is no doubt a great thing. I'm glad they acquired a couple of defencemen in Andy Sutton and Cam Barker, but one more move (Campoli!) wouldn't have hurt to try and help shore up a defence that will be suspect with or without Ryan Whitney. While I'm very sure that Ben Eager and Darcy Hordichuk are very happy to be Oilers, I think we know what they're capable of bringing to the table. And, at the very least, I would have offered a tryout contract to Ray Emery. Get me that defenceman I'm looking for and I'll go ahead and call it a success as much as I can.
Jerconjake: Tambellini's non-draft off season has been a success because he has finally realized that Rome was not built in a day. There are still holes in the roster that you could drive a truck through, but solving all of the problems with a 30th place team cannot be done in one summer.
The blueline is a particular area of weakness, but the free agent pool was shallow in defensemen, and massively overpaying for the likes of Christian Erhoff would have been worse than doing nothing. Tambellini no doubt kicked tires on trades for players like Zach Bogosian, but getting a deal done for a player of the quality that Edmonton needs is exceedingly difficult. Flipping Kurtis Foster for Andy Sutton allowed Tambellini to let Vandermeer walk away and then sign Cam Barker. The organization seems determined to add a relatively young offensive-defensive diamond in the rough. Only Barker can decide if he'll be the Oilers' man. Signing a veteran defenseman at this point in the game is actually counter-productive, because as bad as the defense will be it's still better to let the team's own prospects cut their teeth in the NHL and show what they can really bring to the table.
It was a similar situation in goal, where doing nothing was the best move. Tambellini probably could have pulled a Dale Tallon and signed Thomas Vokoun to a big money, long term contract even though he already has Khabibulin in the fold for another two years. Instead, he realized that two wrongs don't make a right and let Vokoun go to Washington. Again, the Oilers may already have a long term solution in the system with Dubnyk and Bunz, but the only way to know is to make sure that Dubnyk gets starts. That means running with the goaltending that the team already has.
Up front, Tambellini recognized (as all observers did) that he needed to completely rebuild the third and fourth lines. Gone are the mostly useless Stortini, MacIntyre, Jacques and Fraser. And though it was easy to root for Cogliano, he wasn't well suited to the role the Oilers need. The Oilers swapped the worst faceoff man in the league (of those who took 1000 or more) for one of the best in Belanger. Unlike Stortini and MacIntyre, Hordichuk and Eager are tough and they can play. Locking up Jones was a solid depth move, and so was the signing of 2009 draftee Anton Lander to his entry level deal.
Perhaps most importantly, Ryan Smyth wanted back home and Tambellini got it done. It doesn't hurt that he was able to offload a player that the Oilers had no use for in exchange, and to fleece the Kings for a second time in one year. Smyth's return means that one of Jones, Smyth or Paajarvi will be on the third line this year, which should make for decent depth at left wing.
Tambellini didn't get everything done that he probably wanted to, but the best thing he did was learning not to do too much.
Smokin' Ray: Yes I agree. Tambellini has done a fine job at putting in the proper pieces for the Oilers. Let's be real for a minute. Where this team us at right now, the players he brought in make sense. Ben Eager brings the toughness that the Oil lost when MacIntyre left. The bonus with Eager? He can actually play hockey. Darcy Hordichuk is another decent tough guy that Tamby brought in who can be a 12th or 13th guy. I sure hope he brings something to the table other than fighting Eric Belanger could be the steal of the free agent signings. Well, if he can win face-offs that is. If he doesn't, then epic fail for the Oilers. The biggest question I have? Is Andy Sutton really an upgrade from Kurtis Foster? I don't think he is other than being tough. I guess we will see how he works out. In my opinion, the off season went in the right track.
BCB: No. An evil harpy once said "The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity." Well, Tambo did step on the rung know as Ryan Smyth; this is a pure opportunity since he had all the power in that trade negotiation. Also, Tambo capitalized on the circumstances of free agency to pick up a couple of veteran forwards at decent prices but with a little too long of a term: Éric Bélanger & Ben Eager.
Shepso: Brendan, you ignorant slut! What do you mean too long a term? Can you really put a term length on a player who can win faceoffs, kill penalties and probably bank on 30-40 points in a year? That sounds like a steal, and quite frankly based on his cap hit, if Tambo needs to trade him at a deadline sometime down the road, nobody sane would say no to his services. Eager is just crazy enough to scare people off from trying to kill Hemsky. No term is too long for that sort of service. Eager isn’t a fighter, he’s just a maniac who can skate and doesn’t suck at hockey. You’re freaking nuts old friend! I must admit though that Rand truly is an evil harpy.
BCB: The problem is that Tambo did not find any other opportunities to climb with. Ms. Rand is also known for her extreme form of selfishness . . . and this is where Tambo should be considered a failure. It is not enough to just wait for the rungs of opportunity, you got to make them and step on others on your way to the top. Tambo did not go out and create opportunities in relation to veteran defensemen or goaltenders. He should have been out there looking to violate another GM or two looking for a right-handed blueliner or a goalie that could play 30-40 games and have a save percent north of 0.900.
Shepso: You’re an anarchist, and yet you’re still using Rand to justify your position? I don’t understand you at all. Tambo’s failures have nothing to do with selfishness. I demonstrated his problems last year in my deconstruction of pessimism. Personally, I just don’t think he is smart enough to see the glaring holes in his roster. You don’t have to be selfish to be stupid. Beyond the free agent signings at the pro level, and the two Finns acquired for the farm, he failed to find an equally qualified replacement for the Swiss Sith lord from last year (All hail Darth Gerber…), and some of the other moves he made are from the same stupid tree we have watched in many summers past. We haven’t even begun to discuss the Jones contract yet, another of this summer’s moves lauded by the more mainstream fanbase. You want to criticize term length? Two years of Jones at that cap hit is too much. I like the guy; he’s funny, has a sweet mullet and loves Edmonton, but given the talent coming up the pipe, where does he fit?
So, was Tambo a success this summer? Kind of, but not enough was done, and we are running out of patience.
Dawgbone: I guess it depends on your definition of success. Did he make improvements on last year’s team?
Did he do enough to change this team from a lottery to a potential playoff team?
Without a substantial leap in development by the rookies, this team will once again be in the lottery. It’s one of those situations where a big jump by the kids wouldn’t surprise me, but it’s not something I’d bank on if I was making the most important decisions of a multi-million dollar company.
I think there was (and still are) opportunities to fix holes on this team, but for some reason or another this hasn’t happened. They’ve patched some holes at forward and I think the group as a whole are better than the group last year. I think Smyth is a slight step down from Penner, but with the kids all being older and a better 4th line, it’s an overall upgrade. That being said, I think things still could have gone better. Hordichuk is an upgrade on Smac, but that’s still a guy you don’t want on the ice for more than a couple minutes per game. I’d rather have kept Cogliano, who can at least kill penalties and is worlds better at ES. So there’s no doubt this group is better than last year, but it’s not as good as it should have been.
So while the forwards are adequate, the blueline is a mess. Signing a guy like Hannan (even on a 1 year over pay), or bringing some vets in on a PTO would have gone a long way to making this offseason a success. This team is still two top 4 defenders away from even being in the same breath as teams like Calgary, St. Louis, Anaheim and Dallas, at least 2 of whom the Oilers will need to pass in order to make the playoffs. But instead they’ve added a 7th D in Sutton who, while better than Strudwick, costs significantly more. They took a reclamation project in Cam Barker and are slotting him in as an everyday #4. They are trying to bring in a bunch of young defensemen while not having the proper supporting cast ahead of them. All that while one of their top 2 defensemen is still on the mend after missing 50 games the year before. It’s a recipe for disaster and could sink this team.
The goaltending group is significantly worse this year than last years. Danis and LeNeveu are a step down from Gerber and Deslauriers respectively. I don’t trust either of the new guys to be able to come in and play minutes, and let’s face it, with Khabibulin as one of the goaltenders, one of these guys will be playing NHL minutes this year. Dubnyk had a solid year and it remains to be seen if he can match it (or build on it). Khabibulin isn’t getting any younger or healthier, so even if you accept that last year was a down year, it doesn’t seem likely he can improve on it too much. Basically you need both Dubnyk and Khabibulin to be better and both to be injury free. I don’t like the odds of that.