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Steve Has Already Done Enough

Much has already been made of the rumours that Steve Tambellini is in talks with the Oilers for a contract extension. The architect of the current Oilers, according to some, should be able to see his rebuild through to the very end.

I disagree. I disagree so strongly that if such a move were to be made, I’d give up on the team that I’ve loved as long as I can remember. It’s a team that’s been as big a part of my life as anything outside of school, work or family. A team so much a part of me that one of my earliest childhood memories is looking through the sports sections for the Oilers score when I could barely read.

Steve Tambellini was hired in the summer of 2008 and since that date, the Oilers have fallen into a downward spiral, finishing last twice with a possibility of a third time this season. Red lights should have started flashing immediately when the Canucks passed over a guy with 18 years in the organization to hire Mike Gillis as their general manager, but alas it didn’t and the Oilers were extremely happy to bring him into the fold.

Call me impatient if you want, but you’d be wrong. I was very patient in the late 90’s and early aughts when the Oilers had to make decisions based on money. I recognized that Lowe sometimes had to sell a good player for younger players who might one day be. I hoped that the system would change enough so that the Oilers didn’t have to watch good players leave so they could get contracts that paid them $8 mil per year. I was patient after the Pronger trade, especially given how many veteran players they lost.

It’s not that I can’t wait for guys like Hall and Nugent-Hopkins and Eberle to become top players. My issue is that the group in charge has gotten it wrong once already and we are counting on this same group to not screw up again, and I struggle to come up with a single good reason as to why.

For starters, the one strength of the team has been completely obliterated with virtually nothing to show for it. Since he was hired, the Oilers have gone from a defence that looked like this:

Gilbert, Visnovsky, Grebeshkov, Souray, Smid, Staios, Strudwick

To the group we have today:

Gilbert, Smid, Potter, Sutton, Petry, Peckham, Whitney, Barker

The Oilers went from having pretty solid NHL depth to having one of the weakest blueline groups in the entire league. Out of this tear down, the Oilers have gained a 2nd and 3rd round pick.

Tambellini also signed Nikolai Khabibulin to a simply atrocious deal, completely ignoring everything other than the name of the player and the fact that he happened to win a cup several years earlier. What should be even more alarming is the attempts to justify the contract by pointing out that if they had signed someone better they wouldn’t have drafted Taylor Hall. When the best thing you can say about a signing is that it allowed you to suck so badly something good came out of it, I don’t consider that a defence.

North American sports is the only business in the world where you can be so horrible at your job that your incompetence actually helps out your organization. That’s not really the feature I want to have in the guy who is in charge of making things better.

Ultimately, the problem with Tambellini is that when he tries to make things better he actually makes them worse. The team tried to compete in 2009-10 and finished dead last. The team was supposed to show improvement this year and take a step and they are on pace to finish 2nd last.

The big need that was identified by the Oilers was size. They are too small up front and they get pushed around. The solution? Add a pair of 4th liners who don’t really play all that much. When you talk about being too small up front, you can’t just add 450lbs into your line-up and say problem solved. That doesn’t make a line with Gagner, Hall and Hemsky any physically tougher to play against.

The few good moves that you can attribute to Tambellini include:

  1. Being incompetent enough to get Taylor Hall.
  2. Getting Ryan Jones.
  3. Getting Ryan Smyth.

Everything else he’s done has either been marginal like getting rid of Moreau and Staios (who would be gone by now anyways), adding guys like Potter (depth D on a good team), Eager (hit and miss) or have been miserable failures because they were either bad moves (Khabibulin, Hordichuk) or just haven’t worked out right despite some evidence to the contrary (O’Sullivan, Belanger, Whitney).

Here is a guy whose good moves are overshadowed by his bad ones. He’s already failed once at putting together a competitive team and we somehow expect him to get it right this time? Why should he get more time? What has he shown that makes you think it’s going to be any different 3 years from now?