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What Are the Oilers Doing?

More and more, I'm wondering if Steve Tambellini has an actual strategy.  Tambellini's been loading up on veterans. He added Kurtis Foster from the Tampa Bay Lightning and turned 25-year-old Patrick O'Sullivan into 30-year-old Jim Vandermeer. He grabbed a limited but effective tough minutes centre in Colin Fraser. He grabbed an experienced fourth-string goaltender in Martin Gerber just in case his other options wind up in jail, hospital, or Oklahoma City. With the exception of Fraser, none of these were moves the Oilers were exactly dying for (I must have missed the end-of-season review that said Edmonton was desperately in need of a 6'5" version of Marc-Andre Bergeron), but Tambellini was still picking up veteran players at decent value. Probably going for a playoff run, then, which is a noble enough endeavour. Patch the holes, limit how badly the kids get exposed, get a little better each year. He's had worse ideas.

But on the other hand, Tambellini also seems determined to rely way too heavily on his rookies. We're running a centre corps on the dessicated remains of Shawn Horcoff, Sam Gagner, Fraser, and a set of crossed fingers (unless you believe Andrew Cogliano, his lack of defense, his lack of scoring, and his 30-odd faceoff percentage are going to take us to the promised land). We don't appear to have any penalty killing forwards - like, any. Picking up a good fourth goaltender hasn't made up for his inability to deal with the other three. He's had players - Marc Pouliot and now Fernando Pisani - who could fill holes on the team, but he's allowed them to leave as unrestricted free agents to better teams for the league minimum. Even a rebuilding team needs some capable players to keep things respectable and help the kids along, unless you consider the Atlanta Thrashers a model for franchise development.  And he signed Steve MacIntyre too, which comes straight from the renowned hockey strategy book I Want to Lose My Job.

Derek has just shown that even quite good young players bleed shots against at even strength. For those as math-o-phobic as I am, it's still a confirmation of what most of us intuitively know but don't always admit: to quote Gabe Desjardins's roommate, "young guys don't play defense". So by leaving all those massive, gaping holes in his lineup and expecting the likes of Taylor Hall, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, Linus Omark, and Jordan Eberle to score their way out of them, Tambellini must, presumably, be bracing us for another trip to the draft lottery and the Chicago Blackhawks' model of "finish last for about a decade, eventually get more Jonathan Toews and fewer Mikhail Yakubovs, and hope somebody dies". 

But here's the thing about the Chicago Blackhawks model: spending fifteen years wallowing in the wilderness before haphazardly stumbling on great players and signing some massive free agents who happened to come available once your tightwad owner finally corked off isn't exactly a reproducible strategy. Do you know what happened when the Washington Capitals finished last or second-last in the Norris Division for five straight years? They finished last in a new division for the next three years too. Do you know why the Atlanta Thrashers have never won a playoff game despite drafting in the top ten nine times? Of course you do. Because, at the end of the day, get-rid-of-all-your-good-players-and-hope relentless rebuilds don't work.

Luckily, Steve Tambellini isn't trying that. He's picked up some veterans, as I've mentioned in the first paragraph.

He's just picked up veterans we don't need very much. He's paying big scratch to the men shuffling the chairs on the deck and laying off the Iceberg Avoidance Officer.

See, I was all set when I sat down to write an article post-Pisani departure tearing a strip off of Steve Tambellini's strategy and explaining what a buffoon the man is.

But now I'm puzzled as to what his strategy actually is.