I can't tell you exactly where I was a year ago today when I first heard the news of Steve Tambellini's firing. I can tell you though that I was happy. Very happy. Very, very happy. For me, it almost didn't matter who was given the task of replacing him, after five years of shocking incompetence as the Oilers General Manager (he built a dead last place cap team and then somehow made things worse) it would be nearly impossible for his replacement to do more damage. That's the beauty of Tambellini's legacy, he set the bar so low that anyone with even a basic understanding of the game of hockey should be able to build a team better than he did.
Of course a year later the Oilers have finished on the outside looking in at the playoffs for an eighth straight season, and worse they managed to take a step back in the standings finishing 28th a year after finishing 24th, so maybe being better than Tambellini isn't so easy after all. Results aside though, I don't think this year's Oilers squad was all that much worse than the 2013 version. They got terrible goaltending early that put them in a hole they were never going to climb out of, and a rookie coach made some mistakes behind the bench, something he hopefully learns from before next summer. Correcting those two things alone wouldn't be nearly enough to close the 16 point gap between the Oilers and 24th place this season, but it'd be a start.
In hindsight I'd say that a lot of people, myself included, just didn't realize just how badly Tambellini had broken the Oilers before finally being shown the door. And if there is a reason for that it's because after seven years we wanted to see something, anything that resembled hope. I actually thought that if everything broke just right for the Oilers that they might actually find themselves battling for a playoff spot; I only missed that prediction by 12 wins. Sitting and writing this now I can't believe how wrong I was about that. Wrong or not, I can honestly say that having some hope during the summer months was a whole lot better than where I was at before MacTavish took over.
Hope was something that MacTavish actually sold from minute one. He talked about being impatient and wanting to do some bold things. That sounded great, the Oilers had holes to fill and bold moves seem like the kind of thing needed to fill those holes. Of course a year later we haven't seen much in the way of bold from MacTavish. He has certainly been impatient, his handling of the goalie situation is a good example of that, but as for the big splash, well those have so far failed to materialized. In his defence it takes two parties to make a trade happen so no matter how badly he wants to make a deal, if he can't find a dance partner he won't be making a trade. Maybe that was a mistake of a rookie GM thinking trades are easier to make than they really are.
So MacTavish wasn't able to make a bold move happen in his first year, should we expect one this summer?
Right now I'm leaning towards no. Not because I think he's just telling the fans what they want to hear, but because I don't think he's got the pieces available to make a big move right now. This doesn't mean he'll sit on his hands and do nothing either, I just don't see it as the headline grabbing move a lot of fans are hoping to see. Allow me to explain why.
What do the Oilers need? In a word, defence. And if you're thinking about a bold move you're probably imagining a legit number one defender, and obviously you know that those don't come cheap. In other words not for a package that includes Sam Gagner. Once upon a time the Oilers were able to get Chris Pronger from the Blue for a package of Eric Brewer, Doug Lynch, and Jeff Woywitka. And while I'd be thrilled to see a package deal make something like that happen again I have my doubts that the Oilers are going to be able acquire a big name defender without parting with one of Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jordan Eberle, or Nail Yakupov. What else can the Oilers offer? There are some nice pieces on the blue line that could be moved - Martin Marincin, Oscar Klefbom, and Darnell Nurse - but they're all the "plus" in a trade not the centre piece. You've got to give to get and right now there just isn't that much to give.
For the right player I'd trade anyone, but right now I think it's safe to say that Hall and RNH are more likely than not in the untouchable column. I think a team could probably convince the Oilers to part ways with Yakupov right now, but because of his season the Oilers aren't going to find a suitor willing to pay what they'd need to get in return, meaning he's unlikely to go anywhere. And in a somewhat cruel twist of fate, Yakupov's lousy sophomore season makes it a more risky proposition to trade Eberle this summer. If Yakupov had shown a little more this season, MacTavish would have the option to trade Yakupov for a real return, or trade Eberle and let Yakupov take over as the first line right winger. I like Yakupov as a player, and I think he'll bounce back next season, but as it stands right now there would be a lot of risk in trading either right winger, and there is no reason for MacTavish to take on that risk.
Yes this season was a failure. But step back from that for a second. Tambellini spent five years setting fire to the Oilers and brought in three different head coaches to try and right the ship, does it seem reasonable and/or likely that MacTavish's leash is just two years long? Like it or not, MacTavish is going to get more than two years to try and get this franchise back on course. If the Oilers falter again next season he's going to be able to fire Eakins and bring in a new coach, and then if the team continues to go nowhere fast he might start to feel some heat somewhere in year three of his tenure. For now though, his job is safe. And a safe man isn't going to gamble big after just one season in charge.
The wildcard in all of this is the draft lottery taking place tonight. The Oilers can move up to the top spot, stay at number three, or drop to down to the fourth selection. I'd be happy to see the Oilers trade their first selection regardless of where it lands, but my gut tells me that they'll only truly consider trading it if the player they want is off the board, that's more likely to happen the further down the draft order they find themselves. And even if their guy is gone I still think trade is a long shot at best, and it'd still need to be part of a package and I just don't see the pieces being there for the Oilers to make it work.
Last summer MacTavish failed to deliver a bold move. I suspect that this summer will be more of the same.