Readers of this blog will surely know by now that some of us have some issues with Steve Tambellini's performance. Whether it be his repeated support of Nikolai Khabibulin in the face of overwhelming of evidence that it is not warranted, his poor contract negotiation skills, or trading Tom Gilbert, Tambellini makes it very easy to question his competency.
While there are more egregious errors (including some of those I just listed), Tambellini's handling of all affairs relating to Ryan Smyth should be among the most infuriating to Oiler fans. After the jump, I'll look at how Tambellini just can't seem to do anything right when it comes to Ryan Smyth.Looking back to when Smyth was re-acquired in the summer of 2011, it is I'm surprised at just how many news-worthy events have arisen with regard to Smyth's presence as part of the Oilers in what should be a pretty effortless partnership. This is a player who is among the most beloved in the history of this franchise. A player who was dealt away in a questionable decision years ago, who not only requested a trade from his last team, but specifically let it be known that his heart was in Edmonton and that is where he wanted to both continue his career and make a home for his family. It is safe to say this is a player motivated to play for the Oilers next season.
Admittedly the tactic employed by Smyth last summer put the LA Kings in a bad spot, but setting that aside, this is a player who basically manufactured his own trade back to the Oilers out of a love for the franchise and the city of Edmonton.
Everybody knows what came next. The Oilers agreed to trade Gilbert Brule and a 4th round pick to the Kings for Smyth to facilitate his return. That deal fell through (due to LA having concerns with Brule's health) and during the chaotic few days that followed, amid rumours that Smyth may be dealt to the Flames instead, Tambellini finally reached a new deal with Dean Lombardi that sent Colin Fraser and a 7th round pick to LA in return for Smyth getting his wish to come home to Edmonton. Of course, that was followed by the Kings questioning the integrity of the Oilers in disclosing Fraser's health status. Tambellini can't be 100% blamed for any direct wrong doing in this scenario, since I think the whole thing was handled poorly on both sides, but it wasn't a smooth transition back to Edmonton for #94.
Back on the ice as an Oiler this season, Smyth had an outstanding first half to his season, in particular, he averaged a point per game over the first quarter of the year. His production slowed as the season went on, in part due to a significant drop in shooting percentage. All season long Smyth played the tough minutes for the Oilers, allowing the young stars to flourish in situations that gave them the best opportunities to succeed. Smyth finished the season with 19g-27a-46p.
At the trade deadline, when the team re-signed Ales Hemsky, there were rumours that an extension for Smyth was also likely in the works. However, the remainder of the season came and went with no announcement of an extension.
In his end of season press-conference, Tambellini was asked about the status of the negotiations, and stated the following: "We made an offer to Ryan prior to the end of the trade deadline and it really hasn't progressed past that at this time...We thought we'd have something done at that time, but it didn't happen, so I don't really know...Ryan is a free agent at the end of the season, so he has the cards."
I don't want to draw too many conclusions from that statement, but it seems pretty reasonable to infer that the Oilers made an offer that was less than what Smyth was hoping for, and that negotiations have currently stalled.
Personally, I was a little put off at how Tambellini ended his comment by saying that Smyth "has the cards". While factually accurate, to me, it came across that Tambellini was saying that if Smyth wants to hold out and see if he gets a better offer in July, then that is his right, but the team has made it's offer. If that is the case, then Tambellini has picked possibly the dumbest possible time to start taking a hard line in his negotiations.
It is certainly possible that Smyth is making unreasonable demands, but given that Smyth articulated earlier in the season that it was his hope to sign an extension and finish his career as an Oiler, and understood that that meant taking a pay cut from his current salary, I find it hard to believe that his contract demands would be outlandish, given that he must know he has painted himself into a corner by openly admitting his desire to play for one team and only one team.
Really, it shouldn't be a difficult contract to negotiate, especially when you consider the multitude of examples of Tambellini handing out player friendly contracts to players in their mid-30s. The entirety of the Khabibulin contract, the 3rd year for Eric Belanger (as seen in the Oil Change documentary), and the new contract handed out to Andy Sutton heading into the trade deadline that offered him approximately double of what would be justifiable all come to mind as examples of Tambellini giving older players generous contracts compared to their market values.
Ryan Smyth is the one player on the team who you can reasonably justify making certain concessions to based on all he has done with the Oilers, and instead, it seems like Tambellini is trying to make Smyth prove how badly he wants to stay by taking a lesser contract. Again, I have no proof of this, but I can't see any other logical conclusion to draw here. Smyth's dejected tone when asked about his contract status further confirms for me how badly he wants to get something worked out. This is not the player you hardball.
In addition to deserving more loyalty and consideration during negotiations than any of the other veterans who have been signed in recent memory, Smyh is also a more significant contributor. His offense may not be what it once was, but he played a vital role in enabling the success of the younger players this season, and he seems willing and able to fill that role again in 2012/13.
While there aren't any moves instantly definable as being poor decisions, since as of this writing, Smyth is still an Oiler, it strikes me that it really shouldn't be this hard for a player who almost begged to be traded back to the team he loves, and can still play a significant role on the ice, to re-sign with the team.
It's possible that Smyth is the source of the problem, but given all we know about the two men, I am far more inclined to believe that Steve Tambellini is the reason for the delay.
On behalf of Oiler fans everywhere. FIGURE. IT. OUT!
This team already has enough holes to fill.