Oilers' Tambellini faces growing expectations
Steve Tambellini welcomes the challenge.
Having been put in place to clean up the mess made when new ownership took over of the club and bad contracts were awarded based on an unlikely playoff run, the Edmonton Oilers general manager is ready for the next stage in the team’s evolution.
It’s one that comes with expectations of winning, something the Oilers have not done since Tambellini took over the reins prior to the 2008 season.
“There’s a couple of years now that our young players – with the exception of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – have in experience,” said Tambellini. “Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle have had a couple of years in the league. Jeff Petry is getting more comfortable. Ales Hemsky is probably the healthiest he’s been in some time. He’s a key component. Devan Dubnyk looks like he’s taken a step and we’ve acquired some help on the blue line with Nick Schultz and we look to add to that if possible.”
Until now, there really haven’t been any expectations on Tambellini, other than getting the team out of those bad contracts and rid of underachieving players.
There was little question as to whether the Oilers were going to bring him back for another term, having succeeded in re-stocking the shelves and brining some credibility to their farm system.
The length and condition of the new deal — purported to be three years — where what delayed the announcement until Wednesday.
“There are lots of things that have to happen within the organization, it takes time,” said Tambellini. “I never felt that it wasn’t going to get done. Kevin (Lowe) and I had spoken some time ago that that plan was to continue on. We just never got into a spot where we could sit down and finalize a deal.
“There’s always negotiations in any deal. I think the most important thing is that I knew that we were going to continue on with the same type of plan that we started a couple of years ago of how we were going to grow, turn around this hockey club and bring in talent. You’re starting to see some of that now and now the expectations go to a different level and that’s the way it should be.”
Tambellini was brought on board prior to the 2008-2009 season to replace Lowe, who became the president of hockey operations and alternate governor under the new ownership of Daryl Katz.
That season, the Oilers missed the playoffs for a third consecutive year, prompting Tambellini to fire head coach Craig MacTavish and replace him with Pat Quinn, with Tom Renney as Quinn’s associate.
Quinn lasted just one season before he was asked to step aside for Renney as the Oilers went on to finish last in the overall standings for the first time in franchise history.
It was at that point Tambellini and the Oilers had little choice but to rebuild through the draft. The decision to gut the team and start from scratch was essentially made for them.
“I remember coming in and having to give an assessment to where I think we were somewhere through my first year,” Tambellini said. “We had good people, guys that played extremely hard for the Oilers and had been there a long time. It wasn’t that they were bad people or that they couldn’t play in the NHL, but we knew in order to get some elite players, we were going to have to move some people out and open up some opportunities. We had to open up some payroll room.”
Having recently let go of his third coach in four years, and holding the first overall pick for the third consecutive summer due to some luck at the lottery, the accountability now rests squarely on Tambellini.
He has taken his time hiring his next head coach, knowing full well that if it doesn’t work out, the two of them could be cleaning their offices out together.
Tambellini and organization will also do its due diligence when it comes to the first overall selection.
“We want to keep growing,” Tambellini said. “We’re sticking with the plan that we set out before on how we’re going to get better. Now we want to translate that into more wins.”