Thursday, June 07, 2012

On Tambellini

When Steve Tambellini was hired I honestly didn't have much of an opinion because I didn't know anything about the guy. It was his first job as an NHL GM and so there was nothing to go on. Even with a first time coach you can go back to his record in the minors or junior. It may not translate well into the pros (hello Craig Hartsburg) but at least there is something. Tambellini had been part of Canucks' management for years and the franchise had seen a pretty good run of success, running from their dynasty in the early years of the new century to the present incarnation of the club. The problem is nobody knows if he had a single thing to do with this success.

 Tambellini has had four years with the Oilers and has just been extended for more than one year, although, its unclear as to how long exactly. Hall of Fame writers (lololololol) Matheson and Jones both figure three and while they are no longer in the loop so much their guess is probably a good one. Plus they are awesome writers and excellent observers of the good old hockey game, so there's that. Matheson is a gentleman and Jones lives large. Great guy. Hall of Famers.

 Lets get a few things straight. I don't have any personal dislike for Tambo just as I didn't have any for Kevin Lowe. (As an aside a little blast from the past the other day. My friend Ellen Etchingham (name dropper!) wrote a terrific column on this ridiculous CBC show, While The Men Watch or whatever its called, and in the comment thread, amongst the many well deserved plaudits, was a comment from a fellow named 'McLea' a professional crank who used to troll the Oilogosphere years ago. He is a typical troll, comes in, throws around insults and bullshit without a positive or constructive comment to offer, and his comment on Ellen's work was typical. Anyhow it reminded me of a comment he made years ago, probably around 2007. He said that he could not wait for the Oilers to succeed so guys like Tyler Dellow and Cam Thomson and Dennis King and myself could eat crow regarding all of the mean things we were saying about Lowe. I replied that I'd be happy to eat crow if it meant the Oilers were doing well but I was in pretty good company in thinking that Lowe would not be able to make it happen. And here we are years later, still waiting. Haha.)

 Anyways while I have little use for Tambo and the rest of the muttonheads running the good ship Oiler aground year after year I would be more than happy, ecstatic in fact, if this all turns out well, and Mike Winters is, after all, correct.

 I have no personal axe to grind with the man. I am sure that he is a decent guy. He struggles in front of the cameras and in a world where anyone can turn a stumble into a gif or a mocking rap it makes him an easy target but at times, like earlier this week when he talked to Greg Brady, he can come across as a guy who (gasp) has a plan and a proper idea of what he is doing.

 Now we don't know what goes on behind the scenes but I think we can accept the following as fact, yes?

1/ In 2006 the Oilers were, like LA, better than your usual 8th seed, done in by poor goaltending all year long, but once they snuck by Detroit they were full value for their march through the playoffs. They had a very good team: Roloson, Pronger, Smith, Staios, Spacek, Tarnstrom, Smyth, Horcoff, Dvorak, Samsonov, Peca, Pisani and Moreau were all veteran guys who ranged from superstar to excellent checker. Plus they had Hemsky, Stoll and Torres, three younger guys who could all play as well. That's a damn good team.

2/ Lowe, who had put this team together, destroyed it pretty quickly. Some left as free agents, others were traded. Out of the thirteen vets listed above by the following summer only five remained and, most importantly, none had been replaced by equivalent players until Lowe went out and signed Souray and Penner.

3/ And this is where it all goes off the rails. For the next couple of years Lowe alternates between bringing in kids and assets (Smid, Lupul, Pitkanen, Eberle, Nilsson, Plante, Nash), spending kids and assets (the picks for Penner, the possible picks for Vanek, Stoll and Greene, Pitkenen, Lupul) and bringing in older guys like Cole, Visnovsky and Souray. Just an absolute mess and disastrous any way you look at it.A very good team is dismantled but its not a rebuild, except when it is. The end result is a team with not enough good players and lost season after lost season. The development of young guys thrown to the wolves is botched. The team spends a ton of money and is terrible.

And this is where Tambo comes in.

Much like Lowe you can look at most of his moves and rationalize how somehow they made sense at the time. Brodziak was redundant because of Pouliot. Grebeshkov is in Russia anyhow. Katz was the guy behind the pursuit of Khabibulin and Heatley and so on.

The problem for Tambo supporters (and there are still folks out there who believe in the guy because THE OILERS CAN DO NO WRONG I guess) is that his record is just abysmal. It really is. Being a GM you need to do a couple of things. You need to be able to evaluate talent and then you need to make bets on that that. Sometimes you get lucky with those bets (Stan Bowman figuring his team was good enough that they could win with Niemi as their number one goalie) and the good GMs, well, the good GMs lose some bets (they all do), but they tend to win a lot more than they lose. And then they win a Cup. Or Cups. And they contend year after year.

 The naysayers, many of these Tambo supporters, say that Holland and Shero and Chiarelli all got lucky. And of course they all did. But these guys and others (Doug Wilson, Lou, Mike Gillis) are good at what they do and the proof is in the Cups and the years where they have been in the mix. Luc Robitaille said it very well last night (paraphrasing) - 'We want to be in a position where we are good every year. A lot of those years you might not win. You might not be good enough, Or you might get unlucky. But if you're good then at least you have a chance). Of course you might end up like the Sharks or Sens or (maybe) the Canucks and not win but the truth is that the smart fan will recognize that all of these teams might have won and might have with a bounce here or there. Which is better? That or the life of the fan of the Oilers or the Leafs who likes to poke fun at these 'losers'. As Tyler likes to say, excuse me while I get my revolver. /spins chamber

 Since 2006 you could count the meaningful games played by the Oilers on one hand.

 Back to Tambo. You have the move of Cole for O'Sullivan and a 2nd, an aging UFA for a kid and a pick but then, then, that pick gets flipped for Kotalik in an attempt to make the playoffs. Khabibulin gets signed, so does Quinn and the Oilers try to move Smid, Cogliano and Penner for Heatley. Luckily (at the very least for Smid) Heatley balks but again we have that move kids out/bring kids in thing going on.

 And here is why Tambo should not have gotten that extension. Right here. This is a guy who thought this was a playoff team, who spent to the cap, and the club finished dead last. There were injuries sure but think about that.

 Cap team.

 Dead last.

 Your GM has to be able to evaluate talent.

 That was the result.

 Since then Tambo has torn it down and he has shown that a) he can pick the BPA when he has the first pick overall and b) he can put a really bad team together

 It appears that the amateur scouting is on track and the organization as a whole, from the minors on up, is more professional and successful. Of course when you are coming from nothing ....

 Sorry I promised I would be nice.

 But here is the issue, again.

 This is a building club yet kids like Omark, Paajarvi, Peckham, Dubnyk have sat down in place of veterans.

 Tambo's job is to evaluate talent. Yet he trades his best defenceman for a defenceman (a good player mind) who doesn't have the same toolbox and is older and has more miles on him to boot. He signs Ben Eager and Eric Belanger to three year deals. He signs Cam Barker. He extends Andy Sutton to a contract at probably twice his worth. He trades Visnovsky for a younger Dman (good) who has injury issues (who saw that coming? Everyone but Tambo) and watches Lubo put up an all star season while Whitney's career may be over due to his chronic injuries. And there is the Khabi contract.

 And his team finishes 30th, 30th and 29th, despite adding Eberle, Hall and Nugent Hopkins.

 My fear about Tambo is he has that HNIC mentality. What I mean by that is he thinks, I think, like Stock and Weekes and Healy and Cherry and all the other moops on that once great show. You need that intangible grit, that character, that heart. It was Shawn Thornton who won the Cup for the Bruins, not Bergeron and Krejci and Chara and Thomas and a run of brutal injuries for the Canucks. A guy like Kovalchuk doesn't care about winning, same as Hemsky, never mind that they play through vicious injuries that would leave all of the internet tough guys whining and whimpering on their couches, shitting themselves from the pain.

 Saw an interesting exchange on Twitter yesterday, the usual, some dim bulb going on about how Tom Gilbert was a pussy who never blocked a shot, the same 'soft player' who finished 11th, 32nd, 10th and 4th in the league in blocked shots. Some soft player, right? But these are the guys who love Tambo, who think Peckham is good. And Barker. And that Eager and Hordichuk should play more and Hemsky and Smyth should get moved as quickly as possible. Guys who don't even know basic facts. And there's a lot of them out there.

 And I think that Tambo may have that same juvenile mind. The obsession with tough Western Canadian kids with pedigree, high picks with links to the World Juniors. The thought that 'toughness' counts way more than having, you know, good hockey players.

 I don't know how four years like the Oilers just had get the GM an extension. I really don't. Its been the worse four years in franchise history. The team has been out of the playoffs for six years now and dead last two of the past three years. At least this year they jumped a spot.

 Its so horrible. But we're stuck with him. Maybe this summer he signs or trades for two good defencemen and another goalie and a couple of strong two way forwards with some size.

 But probably not. And maybe its best that he stays the course because that will mean another lottery pick, no bad contracts and one year closer to his firing.

 I just want the best for the club and if Tambo is the man, awesome. But it isn't.


Raine said...

Great blog. The only argument I have is if Tambellini prefers grit over talent than why is the team not drafting these all grit western boys? It seems like they've been drafting talented players from all over the world for the past few years. Not JF Jacques and Pouliot over Parise because he has size advantage.

Is Tambellini that far removed from the draft table?

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of bloggers that go on about stats and corsi number who knows, the one stat they refuse to look at is 30th 30th 29th.

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle." - George Orwell

Anonymous said...

Speaking of George

"We have now sunk to a depth at which re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."

Anonymous said...

But he's poised.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, I am not so bothered. Until Lowe goes, it doesn't matter. A new GM, or new coach, there is a gravitational pull by Lowe to the abyss. Not sure what has to be done, because Lowe knows more than Katz. Who fires Lowe? And who comes in to right the ship?

David S said...

The only reason a guy like Tambellini gets re-upped is because he did exactly what he was told to do - tank the team and collect those juicy high draft picks. In fact I wouldn't doubt for a second that Renney took the pipe as part of the plan (in order to sell the idea that the team wasn't tanking this year, just poorly coached).

What the hell man. Why is it so hard to aim for a decent team and work towards continual improvement?

Everybody makes fun of the Oilers with the now famous "And then BAM! Stanley Cup." but I'll be damned if that isn't what this team thinks. These guys have bamboozled the fans into thinking that nothing less than winning the cup will do. I mean, you have to make the playoffs first before you "contend", right? RIGHT?

Ralph_U said...

Great writing as usual! Not so concerned with Tambo's term as many reporters have said his leash must be very short and it just might mean a better severence pkg for him. I think biggest thing he can do is get right coach in here and probably for my liking a coach that preaches high energy in your face hockey... Not against him trading top pick for a top prospect D like a Dougie Hamilton in Boston or trade back and grab a D but insist on a Gardiner or Franson not Schenn or Gunnarson.

Rich said...

Outstanding post Black Dog. Tambellini's inability to properly evaluate the professional level is a major issue with why the team is still where it is.

Additionally, his inability to idtenify a coach who is able to manage to the talent that is there is another major issue as well. MacT (in hindsight) got as much as could be expected out of his rosters.

Quinn and Renney were both incapable of doing this. Yes part of that is look at what they were handed, but when you look at the results and the number of players who have not developed because of the decisions of the coaches, it again comes back to the man who put them in that place as much as the ones behind the bench.

Again, well said sir.

Anonymous said...

I liked Gilbert, he was a talented individual with a strong upside. Not every player needs to be a big hitter with 'grit'. I am glad that Tambellini got a contract extension.

Ohh, damn, sorry, that blows your theory that we are all dimwitted rednecks who like to crush beer cans on our forhead.

loudog said...

Great Post Pat.

The other night I was listening to the Team 1260 and the hosts were discussing Tambo's extension.

They mentioned various sports writers and their take on the extension and most of them were ok with the extension. His argument was basically:

"well he inherited a bad team. He wasn't an all-star GM, but he wasn't bad. So its ok, it takes time, etc."

I just wish media people would be a little more critical of the Oilers' management. You don't have to be an asshole to be able to say, "well, the GM could've have done a better job.." but it seems a lot of them (Tencer being the worse) are just ass-kissers that don't want to hurt their relationships with the Oiler brass.

Anyways, I agree with most of what you said. I think Tambo could've done much better. I also think he started with a shite time. I would have given him a 1 year contract, or try to bring someone else in. (like last year).

last thing:
Nick Schultz: born Aug. 25th 1982
Tom Gilbert: born Jan 10th 1983

That's roughly 5 months, not a big difference. I'm ok with Schultz, but would've kept Gilbert. oh well.

dawgbone said...

Ohh, damn, sorry, that blows your theory that we are all dimwitted rednecks who like to crush beer cans on our forhead.

Where did he say that?

Anonymous said...

Funny, did not read anywhere Pat calling people from Alberta dimwitted rednecks who crush beer. I am from that province, live in it, and through my numerous dealings with Pat have not noticed him stating those things on the internet or to me. Where are they so I can read them? Please show me where anonymous.

(Aside, did you choose your name because you are part of that scary internet group? You know, the ones that hack a lot? Like Mark Spector?)

Where Pat is right though is by how many a fan views the game. The whole notion that Gilbert was soft and this made him dispensable was/is ludicrous. And I know it exists, because I saw it at the Oilers games I attended. Half pissed fans telling Gilbert to be mean, when in fact he was making the right play on a penalty kill. Yet nary a thing said when Cam Barker was still working on power skating technique while on the ice.

What this team, and many of its fans value, is incorrect. Truculencen, grit and determination, something this team values a lot, can help you win hockey games. However, talent helps you out a lot more. We can talk about how big the Kings are and how they wear down teams, I do think their size does help them, but they also have a goaltender who is the best in the league. Also, the guys with size are really, really good at playing hockey. So yeah, they are big and are doing well. But they are also talented, and to me that is the greater key to their success.

Many fans, and especially those that cheer for the Oilers, do not see this. Why have Gilbert when he is soft? Well, because he plays hockey pretty fucking good. I even like Schultz, damn fine player, but him and Gilbert together would have solved many a defenceman issues for the future. Look at this top 6

Gilber - Schultz-like
Smid - Petry
Whitney - Ian White-like

A defense that can play, has solid youth in it, with veterans holding down the fort, and the Oilers are not praying that Whitney gets better. Instead, we traded the best dman for a good player, glaring holes still left in the roster and we are praying that Whitney gets better. All on the notion that Petry projects as a top-2 dman. I like Petry and his game a lot, and do think he can be a top-2 dman, but he is not there yet. And may never will be. If he fails, the Oilers are back to square one.

All because Gilbert is expendable.

That is the issue with this management. Thinking about tomorrow, thinking about the best possible scenario, not the likely scenario. That is fun, hell it is what is selling tickets. Hope.

I am other the other mind. Yes, I do pray for peace. But I also know to make for war. Wish Oilers management thought the same way too.

- Matt Watt

Anonymous said...

If I was the GM of the Oilers I would seriously take a shot at

1. Justin Schultz

2. Peter Holland

3. Nikolai Kulemin

We have Hemsky Gagner MPS and a couple of D-men that could be traded as well as draft picks

Hoos said...

Reading this post gave me some semblance of faith that there are Oiler fans that have the ability to critically think and analyze the situation presented to them. Thank goodness, specifically because those people rarely exist in the media anymore.

On Tambo ... my issues with him are exactly what Pat has stated, but also the inconsistency with which he conducts business. Why nickle and dime Smyth, but completely overpay Sutton and Khabby? Why trade Gilbert, and then go on record saying that you're considering drafting a defenseman this year because "you can never have enough puck-movers"! Except for the ones you had!

Moreover, who espouse the value of winning on "value contracts" or even with players on entry level contracts but then fail to win while you have talent in that situation? It's like the Oilers operate in this 1984 world where whatever they say is what they always have said, even if it's clearly contradictory to what has been published or recorded.

But the biggest issue I have is the apparent pettiness and bad business practice I believe emanates from the club. Using media hacks to destroy players on their way out of town smacks of a jilted lover and not of a professional organization. The failure to turn assets into useful pieces because of personal feelings or ineffective and un-timely decision making (see: Souray, Sheldon.

The Oilers keep proclaiming that they are using one of these models: Penguins, Blackhawks or Wings as their model for proceeding, but it should be obvious that they need to do the following:

1. Build through the lottery (check).
2. Don't over pay guys if they are not building blocks for the future (inconsistently applied).
3. Avoid paying market price for veterans who aren't stars (fail).
4. Keep cap space so you cans wing cap-related deals that net you stars or draft picks, which ever is required (Fail).

The Oilers missed the chance to hire Dean Lombardi who I believe has adhered to these four rules of managing a team in a capped system. And, even though his Kings struggled, they were able to use all of these rules in the last two years to now be one win away from the Stanley Cup.

Strangely enough, the second half of 2006 showed that Kevin Lowe either knew these rules and used them, or fluked into using "assets" to pick up veterans like: Pronger, Peca, Samsonov, Spacek, Tarnstrom. And they brought back a limited role Rem Murray too.

The Oilers make me so sad.

Anonymous said...

This guy would help the Oilers

Woodguy said...

Great stuff as usual BD.

A lot of the talking heads (including Bob McKenzie) are saying that unless the Oilers are playing meaningful games in March, Tambellini is probably done as a decision maker for the Oilers.

Even some in the EDM media are saying this.

That's a good thing.

I don't he's the decision maker now.

In Lowe's own words Tambellini "makes recommendations"

I don't think he'll be making recommendations about the NHL at this time next year.

Black Dog said...

Have been away, tons of great comments. Wish some of you folks would sign them someway, its hard to respond.

loudog - yes I owuld love to have both Gilbert and Schultz. As to ages, Schultz has a lot more hard miles on him. Junior career, minors and NHL all while Gilbert was in college.

As a lot of you have mentioned I agree with the probability that in a lot of cases Tambo is not the decisionmaker. Which makes it that much more depressing because even if he goes then Lowe remains

Black Dog said...

Raine - I think the entire club loves the Western Canadian draft pedigree etc etc but you are right when it comes to the amateur draft they do seem to look everywhere for talent and good for them.

anon who likes Gilbert and Tambo - I was generalizing of course - but here is a question for you, why do you like Tambo? Seriously I am interested in your take. I look at his record and the results are awful and his list of moves are awful. Tell me your thoughts.