In the wake of my article on the Oilers' handling of the Sheldon Souray situation, I've received a number of e-mails, including one from our own Jonathan Willis, telling me that mending fences with Souray, even for show, would be a sign of weakness from the organization. It would open the door for future players to trample all over the Oilers on their way to making unreasonable demands, and essentially, leave Steve Tambellini and all future General Managers unable to manage.
Jonathan penned an article to the same effect over at Oilers Nation in which he said:
that the only way to bring him back would require a humiliatingly one-sided effort by Steve Tambellini. That’s not an acceptable sacrifice for any manager, not so much because I care if Tambellini needs to grovel a little for the good of the team but because the image of the general manager brought to his knees by any player would set an unacceptable precedent for an organization that has already shown far too much willingness to bend for the player of the week.
Bollocks, I say. The organization had five months to get out in front of this, five months to set their strategy, and take control of the situation. What prevented Steve Tambellini from issuing a statement to this effect:
"The Edmonton Oilers expect players to live up to the terms of their contracts, and expect Mr. Souray to report to training camp as expected next season. We've learned a lesson in dealing with Chris Pronger - we will not allow players to dictate the manner in which we conduct the operations of our business. If a trade opportunity should become available, we will certainly do our due diligence and if it's the right move for the organization and this young team, we will move forward with it. If a trade is not possible, we expect Mr. Souray to conduct himself with the professional decorum typically associated with a highly-paid NHL veteran and help the Edmonton Oilers to win hockey games. If he is unable to do so, we will explore all of the options available to us under the terms of his contract and the collective bargaining agreement. This is my final statement on the matter and I'll take no questions."
At any point during the last five months, the Oilers could have issued a similar statement, showing the fans, the media, and the players exactly who was in control of the situation and exactly how this would play out. Tambellini could have shown that he was in charge and running a tight ship: "...player comments be damned, we own your rights via your signed guaranteed contract, and you will honor it. If you choose not to, we will activate our ability suspend you without pay and/or tear up your high-priced contract, taking your $9,000,000 away from you. Ball's in your court now, fella. Are you going to be a professional, or are you willing to make good on your threats and take your puck and go home? We're fine with that, we can sure use that $9,000,000."
This is management from a position of strength. The message is obvious, the direction is clear, and the authority lies with only one person. The player has no choice but to comply if he wants to remain a highly-paid NHL player.
Instead, the Oilers allowed this to play out the way that it did and now end up looking incompetent again. For a person recently obsessed with clarity, Steve Tambellini allowed this situation to become more muddled than anyone could have expected.