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.
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.