There’s no disputing the talent Steve Tambellini stockpiled in the first round of the NHL Entry Draft during his four-plus seasons as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers.
While Magnus Paajarvi, the 10th overall pick in 2009, is still trying to find his way in the league — the Swedish left-winger had 11 points in his first 36 games this season — the future looks bright for fellow first-rounders Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov, all first overall selections.
But this is where the questions begin for Tambellini, whom the Oilers fired Monday after four-plus seasons, a record of 138-185-46, four missed playoffs, and soon to be five.
The first-round picks are great and all but the picks were no-brainers and fell into Tambellini’s lap, given Edmonton has won the draft lottery three consecutive years.
You could even toss highly touted Justin Schultz into that group. Sure, Tambellini was able to get the young, sought-after free-agent defenceman’s name on a two-year contract last June, but it was the talent the GM had assembled through the draft, not any other route, that sold the 22-year-old Schultz on Edmonton.
Put simply, Tambellini was unable to build around the aforementioned core of talent.
Poor track record
The names of Jesse Boulerice, Patrick O’Sullivan, Ales Kotalik, Jim Vandermeer and Kurtis Foster don’t roll off the tongue as nicely as Hall, Nugent-Hopkins and Yakupov, and won’t go down in Oilers history as making any significant on-ice contributions to the club.
Tambellini added 29 players to the roster (excluding the draft) during his tenure and 15 remain in the organization, but many wouldn’t consider that to be a positive.
Next to Justin Schultz, defenceman Nick Schultz might have been Tambellini’s best acquisition, but it took fellow blue-liner Tom Gilbert to get him from Minnesota. And some might feel that one main ingredient that Gilbert brought to the Oilers has been missing the past few years: an offensive defenceman.
However Gilbert, 30, hasn’t been an offensive force this season (three goals, nine points in 36 games) like Schultz (one goal in 41 contests).
It was thought Ryan Whitney would provide offence from the back end when he arrived from Anaheim in a March 3, 2010, trade from Anaheim for defenceman Lubomir Visnovsky but it hasn’t worked out as planned for Whitney, who has never reached five goals in a season in Edmonton.
Besides Whitney, none of Tambellini’s other defensive pick-ups could have been deemed a top-four rearguard upon arriving in Edmonton. And among the forwards in the deposed GM’s group of 29 acquisitions, it would be hard to make a case for any as a legitimate scoring threat, save for Alex Kotalik.
A sample of Tambellini’s more notable player acquisitions is listed below, with an explanation of their impact on the organization.
- Ales Kotalik, RW: He scored seven goals and 11 points in 19 games for Oilers in 2008-09 season. Tambellini let him walk as a free agent and he joined the New York Rangers.
- Nikolai Khabibulin, G: Tambellini raised some eyebrows on the first day of free agency in July 2009 with signing of aging, oft-injured netminder to four-year, $15-million US deal. Khabibulin, now 40, has never played more than 47 games in any season for Edmonton or won more than 12 games.
- Patrick O’Sullivan, C: Tambellini dealt power forward Erik Cole to Carolina for O’Sullivan in March 2009. O’Sullivan had 34 points and was minus-35 in his only full season in Edmonton while Cole went on to record two seasons above 50 points with Carolina and Montreal and is still playing in the NHL with Dallas.
- Jim Vandermeer, D: The stay-at-home defenceman was Tambellini’s return for O’Sullivan and had a weak one season with the Oilers, collecting 14 points in 62 games and was minus-15.
- Kurtis Foster, D: He joined his sixth team in Edmonton, signing a free-agent contract on July 1, 2010. He was traded exactly one year later for fellow defenceman Andy Sutton. Foster was minus-12 and recorded 22 points in 74 games for the Oilers.
- Cam Barker, D: Tambellini signed him the same day he acquired Sutton. Barker, the No. 3 pick overall in 2004, didn’t come close to showing that promise with the Oilers, scoring two goals in 25 games and missing most of the 2011-12 season with an ankle injury.
- Eric Belanger, C: Another free-agent signing in 2011, Belanger failed to succeed as a third-line forward playing a lot of minutes last season but fared much better in a fourth-line role. The 35-year-old had three points in his first 23 games this season.
- Ryan Jones, LW/RW: Claiming the versatile forward on waivers from Nashville in March 2010 was one of Tambellini’s better moves. Jones scored 18 goals and 17 goals, respectively, in his first two years in Edmonton. An eye injury delayed the start of Jones’s 2013 season and he has had trouble finding his game, losing his penalty-kill role and posting six points in 21 games.
- Lennart Petrell, C: The Finnish pivot has shown an improvement in his second NHL season, matching his point total of nine in 26 fewer games and posting a minus-2 rating compared to minus-10 last season.
- Ryan Smyth, LW: Another good, not great, move by Tambellini, who watched Smyth score 19 goals and 46 points last season, but just two goals and 10 points this year. However, the price for the veteran was fellow forward Colin Fraser, who hasn’t been missed in Edmonton.
- Mike Brown, RW: Brown has added an element of toughness for the Oilers but joins the long list of non-impact moves by Tambellini, who acquired him from Toronto on March 4 for a conditional fourth-round draft pick in 2014.
- Jerred Smithson, C: Tambellini picked up the 34-year-old centre at the recent trade deadline, his final move outside the organization, for a fourth-round pick. Edmonton acquired Smithson for his solid work on faceoffs and the Vernon, B.C. native has delivered, but he has no points in four games.