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Off-Season Roundtable - Guest Edition

This morning, The Copper & Blue presents another rendition of the Fan Roundtable - another group discussion with some of the esteemed men of the Oilogosphere.  Although I'm hosting and writing the introduction, the questions belong to Derek and none of the answers are mine so you won't be hearing from me until way down in the comments.

Our lineup includes: The best damn prose-writer on the Oilogosphere, Pat McLean of Black Dog Hates Skunks.  We've also got The Copper and Blue's most faithful commenter - please don't forget to drop out of school - SumOil! Next up is a man regular readers should remember from his European reports here at the Copper and Blue,  Shepso's regular gig is over at Bringing Back The Glory.  Finally, the man with the biggest picture on the front page of any hockey blog anywhere (you've been warned), This is Not a Love Song's Chappy.  After the jump, they'll answer some questions about the new coaches, Steve Tambellini's Mr. McMahon impersonation since the season ended, and the recent NHL entry draft.


The Copper & Blue: Pat Quinn is out, Tom Renney is in.  Good idea?


Black Dog Pat: Yes, good idea. When Quinn was hired on I forgot how much I loathed him as a coach when he was with the Leafs (mostly because I loathe the Leafs). The failure to gameplan, the lack of discipline, the refusal to teach (seriously!)... all forgotten. Old school doesn't work today and Quinn is old school. Renney has a reputation as a teacher; I think its a good fit.

SumOil: This is a situation where I have to eat my words. In the first roundtable I had answered that I very much liked the Pat Quinn hiring, so my answering 'yes' to the above question might show some feeble-mindedness. But I don't care about that. Hockey is results-oriented and at various points last season, we all realized that Pat Quinn was not a fit. A coach that sends the Strudwick-Chorney pairing out for so many D-zone FO's is someone who is either A) A very poor observer, B) Someone who just doesn't care about what is going on or C) Senile. In every case, it's time for the coach to step down and let someone smarter take the responsibility. This team will be a team full of holes next season and will need a master tactician to keep a semblance of smooth sailing. Old is new again. We should see some furious line-matching and sheltering of kids. I think that's the reason Renney has been given the reigns. He will be able to provide the kids a suitable environment to succeed.

Shepso: Pat Quinn is a good coach, possibly even a great coach, worthy of at least consideration for the HHoF as a builder when the crusty old Irish bastard finally decides it's time to walk away from the game he loves so much. In late 2008, I wrote a post on my own page calling for Quinn as MacT's potential replacement, many months before the Silver Fox was let go. So I was an early supporter of the man known around the 'sphere as OTC (Old Timey Coach or, for some, Onion Toting Coach). Unfortunately, I made the wrong call. Quinn is a good coach and a good man, but he is no longer the master tactician he once was, nor does he have the patience to guide and develop young players over the long haul. Tom Renney, on the other hand, is exactly that kind of coach.  He is a strategy wiz, he has a proven track record of getting good results on special teams, gets slightly sullen Czech snipers to perform better, and most importantly, he has patience. This final point, patience, is the key to Tom Renney having success behind the Oiler bench and not simply turning into MacT 2.0, particularly given that we are now in the era of Tambo 3.0. To make a longish rant short, yes, Tom Renney is a good idea, at least on paper. 

Chappy: In one word, yes. As much as I was a Quinn supporter last year, it became painfully obvious during that God-awful losing streak in January that a change was on the horizon. In his defense, Quinn didn't have actual NHL players on D or in goal for much of the season last year, and while one might make allowances for a bad team's performance, a lack of effort on many nights can't be overlooked. If you're gonna get beat, that's one thing, but forty minutes of just "going through the motions" will come back on a coach, no matter the talent or lack thereof. Let's welcome the Coach Renney era with enthusiasm and hope (but not too much hope... yet).


The Copper & Blue: Steve Tambellini has a knack for handling firings... poorly.  The training staff, Rob Daum and now Quinn have all had bizarre to unceremonious firings.  Can fans read anything into that?

Black Dog Pat: It would be nice if Tambellini was smooth when it came to these types of things but apparently he is not. I don't know if it matters though really. It's like wishing that all of the Oilers were terrific guys who we could easily have beers with; it's unlikely and it really doesn't matter. People aren't going to turn down job offers with the Oilers because of these types of situations. There are people in the league who are good at these things and people who are bad. Remember how Bobby Clarke handled Roger Neilson?

SumOil: I highly doubt fans care much about how personnel decisions are handled. I'm sure most Oiler fans don't even know what went wrong. However, as a more informed fan, there's not much for me to say. This is Tambellini's third year as a GM and I'm sure he's learning a lot of things too. In Vancouver, he wasn't the one dealing with such responsibilities and maybe he's taking some time to adjust. A lot of people gave Tambellini a tough time when he said that he was still evaluating. I'm sure that this off-season has given some credibility to his evaluation skills. So maybe he too takes this as a learning experience and then deals with similar situations with more prudence inf the future. Even if he doesn't, this is just a flaw that we will have to live with. At least he isn't handing out fifteen-year contracts, or trading away draft picks while screaming rebuild!

Shepso: Not being much of a psychoanalyst, I'm not entirely certain how much fans can really read into this situation. However, a famous sports writer once said, "Kill the head and the body will die." That sports writer was Hunter S. Thompson, though I believe in context that quote had something to do with Nixon or Reagan or some other scum-sucking Republican administration in need of a total purge from the top down. I believe that's what Tambo is trying to do here. The problem is that Tambo lacks tact. The trainers getting fired really shouldn't be a big deal in the grand scheme of things. The guys were old and the Oilers were looking to get young and modern in almost every way. The problem with Daum isn’t that he was fired, or even how he was fired, but when he was fired. The man is a good coach with a history of success at every level, with the obvious exception of his tenure in the Oilers' organization. The late firing made it more difficult for a good hockey guy to find a good hockey job. That’s a bad deal, and I genuinely feel for him. In the case of Quinn, perhaps his senility got to him in his post-promotion press conference. That's an instance where I'm willing to give Tambo the benefit of the doubt, that a transition plan had always existed, but was rushed in a year early due to the obvious flaws in Quinn’s tactics and the makeup of this young and rebuilding team.  Finally, KP getting sacked in a hotel while on the road doing team business is actually really funny to me. Let's face it, he wasn’t particularly good at his job this decade, with only Hemsky being something of a success under his watch as chief scout. Then, as Scott Howson’s replacement, he mismanaged the cap to no end and seemed to lack the necessary brain power to evaluate talent effectively. I don’t know what the AGM actually does, but I imagine it has something to do with the farm team, which was just as awful as the parent club. Plus he was a holdover from not one but two different eras, given that his tenure with the Oil dates back to the Slats/Fraser period and he was retained by K-Lowe once Fraser decided he was never leaving Cabo again. If the notion of a grand purge of the poison that inhabited the front office and the inner annals of the team was Tambo’s plan, he has succeeded. He’s killed the head (coaches), the body (trainers) and turfed a long-standing member of the inner workings of the team who may never find work again (death by career ineptitude). Again, I see no problems with what was done, and in most cases how it was done. It was simply poor Rob Daum who got a really raw deal in the fallout. I don’t see the fans reading much into it aside from Tambo finally having the power to put his stamp on the team and to move his people into the positions that he has since made available. But he really does lack tact…

Chappy: I think that Tambellini really has a scorched earth campaign going here, and with that comes walking papers for people that may not necessarily have had it coming to them. I think after four years of missing the playoffs, Tambellini had to do something to keep people believing that he's doing the right things for this team. Joe Sixpack might look at these firings and think that Tambellini is a STRAIGHT SHOOTER that DEMANDS ACCOUNTABILITY.  I mean, after all, this is year four without the playoffs.  He's obvoiusly got to get to the root of this team's problems! 

I'm still trying to buy into the fact that Tambo made three offseason moves that I don't completely disagree with.  If fans can take anything from this, I think that all of these dismissals are a way for Tambellini to deflect criticism of a poor on-ice product.  Never mind the fact that a glance at last year's roster would all but determine that the on-ice product was damn near unwatchable. 


The Copper & Blue: It's impossible to "grade" a hockey draft immediately, but are you happy with the direction the Oilers went in Los Angeles?

Black Dog Pat: Yes, I was fine. There were a couple of head-scratchers, like the goalie, but overall I think it was a good draft. The first two picks were excellent, I liked the Slovak and the Hamilton kid and I don't mind Martindale either. I know some folks wanted the Russian but I think they are avoiding any sort of drama and that's fine with me. Weal was a guy lots of people liked too but so many of the guys identified as the core of this team are smaller guys; I can see why they passed on him too.

SumOil: I'm very happy with the direction the Oilers took at the draft. In the first two rounds, the Oilers didn't really make any 'reach picks'. The big guys that were picked can't really be classified as coke machines. Even Curtis Hamilton is supposed to be a player in the power forward mold and not a crasher and banger. Many scouting services said that the reason he was ranked low was his injury. So if Tampa Bay can take Connoly at 6, I am sure taking Hamilton at 46 is not that much of a reach. If we look for steal factor, Jeremie Blaine and Brandon Davidson are both potential candidates. They put up impressive numbers and maybe they can continue to develop. Furthermore, most of the picks are either from WHL or going to WHL, which will make tracking their progress easier for the organisation and the fans. However, there are a couple of things that disappointed me. First is the Ryan Martindale pick. This was a place where many touted prospects were still available and would have been an excellent time to gamble on a player like Kabanov, Pulkinnen, or Jordan Weal. These are skilled players with real steal potential and if one of them becomes a star, the scouting staff and management would have come out looking like geniuses. Furthermore, they went with a pretty average goalie. Although it's good that they didn't select a goalie high, there were still better choices available late.

Shepso: It is really hard to be unhappy with the draft this year, as the Oilers have a legit power forward from the Glenn Anderson School of Reckless Wingers. Taylor is going to be a star in this league for a long time, provided he’s more Anderson and less Pavel Bure. However, it would have been really great to find a way to trade up for a top flight defensive prospect in the first round. The other Tyler is going to be a solid player someday as well, but he’s going to have to get through Lander and VV first, both of whom I believe have more upside, particularly Lander. However, it ensures some depth at center for the future, which is really good news for a team that seems to only have three true centres playing with the big club, one being Colin Fraser. The other picks, particularly Marincin and Martindale have a lot of upside but scare the crap out of me with their potential to be terrible failures. Martindale has that awesome quality known as lack of heart-he’s like Robert Nillson but with size. The kid has a great skill set, but often doesn’t show up, particularly in big games. Marincin went #1 in the WHL import draft, which is a really good sign, and it will allow the big club to track his development really well. There’s nothing particularly bad about him, but despite that and the great article about him written here pre-draft, he still seems like a mystery to me and also has the disappearing player habit. Curtis Hamilton has injury history, which gives me a bit of the fear, but he could be a good player. Brandon Davidson might turn into a decent blue-line prospect, but then again, he might not. The team he played for wasn’t terrific, but it did have Jordan Eberle on it, so at least a degree of familiarity between prospects is nice. The bottom line is that I am mostly quite happy with the draft, but I am not thrilled. A certain kind of need was addressed in forwards with size, but should the team tank again next year and make it back into the draft lottery, a sure thing blue-liner would really help the organizational depth chart. Who knows though, maybe Davidson will turn into the next Duncan Keith, though I see that being more likely with Jeff Petry. Either way, shoring up the D needs to be top priority for player development over the next two to three seasons.

Chappy: I am happy with how the draft unfolded. I believe that the later rounds are always a crapshoot, but the team did three very good things in their first three picks. A) They picked what I believe to be the best player available in Taylor Hall at number one overall. B)  They picked a strong 6'2" centre who can win faceoffs and likes to shoot the puck in Tyler Pitlick at number 31, and C) The team was able to ship out Riley Nash to grab the 46th pick and select 6'4" Slovak defenseman Martin Marincin, who might play in OKC this coming season. #48 Curtis Hamilton could materialize into a fine LW, although it's difficult to properly gauge a player that's coming off a season marred by injury. I also like how the Oilers took a chance on a goaltender in Tyler Bunz later on.   I'm really confident about the team's first three picks, and I'm hopeful that some of the later rounds will make a contribution in the AHL if not here.


The Copper & Blue:  I've projected Taylor Hall's first-year production in the range of 50-57 points.  In your estimate, is that fair?  If not, where do you think his final totals will come in?

Black Dog Pat: I think that's reasonable. He's going to be playing in the top six and will get PP time and probably some cherry minutes. I think that is a reasonable bet.

SumOil: I think that estimate is fair. 20+ goals and 30+ assists is a very good performance for a rookie, let alone one that jumps from juniors to the NHL. As a fan, there is always hope that he hits the Patrick Kane area, but your projection is very fair. It will be interesting to see the performance of every rookie. If MPS makes the team, there is always the possibility that he takes over as the top LW and then Hall might get about 40-45 points.

Shepso: Absolutely. I think somewhere in the range of 50-60 points, approx. 25 of which come on the powerplay seems to be totally within reason. Hall may turn into a 30-40 goal scorer, but he won’t do it at 19. He’s not Steven Stamkos, but he’s certainly in the same range as Patrick Kane at his age and I think that should be his comparable.  Now I know that Kane scored significantly better than Stamkos did in their respective rookie years, but Stamkos scored 51 goals last year, while Kane did not. That is why I see those two as comparables. Kane also had the luxury of having Toews and Sharp and their great young kids in his rookie season, the year that marked the beginning of Chicago’s turn around, while Stamkos has Marty St. Louis dishing pucks to him. Hell, I could even score 10 goals in the NHL if I was playing with that guy, and I am just a terrible hockey player. Hall will have a good year, maybe even a Calder candidate year, but I don’t see him breaking the 60 point mark, not on this year’s young Oiler team. On the other hand, I also hope to eat my words if he blows this projection out of the water.

Chappy: 50-57 points is fair.  I'd like to think that there's a giant gift waiting for Oiler fans in the realm of 85 points, but I haven't had enough to drink to think that's even a remote possibility.  57 points for Taylor Hall would put him at second place on the 2009-10 team just a few shy of Dustin Penner, which is something I believe he's well within range to accomplish.

Let's use John Tavares as an example (although I think Hall is the more dynamic player).  Tavares led his team with 22-28-50 last year on a team full of defensive liabilities, but other than Okposo and Moulson (and maybe Streit?) the team had significant trouble putting points on the board.  The 2010-11 Oilers are likely going to have major issues in their own end, but with Taylor Hall's arrival along with the possible arrivals of Paajarvi and Eberle, I can only see the goals for going up.  It wouldn't surprise me to see the Oilers playing in a lot of games that end 6-4 and 7-5.  I'll go on record saying that I predict Hall to be in the 65-70 point range.  Let the good times roll.