Comparing Tambellini’s inherited roster to MacTavish’s inherited roster.

The 2006 edition of Fernando Pisani would be a God-send to the current Oilers.  Image courtesy CBC.ca.

The 2006 edition of Fernando Pisani would be a God-send to the current Oilers. Image courtesy CBC.ca.

In light of yesterday’s events with regards to the Edmonton Oilers, I wanted to take a brief look at the roster situations inherited by both the old GM, Steve Tambellini, and the new GM, Craig MacTavish.  We should be able to see who has inherited the better situation moving forward, and identify any holes that MacTavish has to fill.

TAMBELLINI

Edmonton Oilers 2008/09 Team Photo.  Image courtesy edmontonoilers.com.

Edmonton Oilers 2008/09 Team Photo. Image courtesy edmontonoilers.com.

Joined the Oilers on July 31st 2008.  The roster at that point, including free agent signings and trades since the end of the 2007/08 season was as follows (note: not actual line combinations of the time, more a depth chart):

Forwards:

ERIK COLE – SHAWN HORCOFF – ALES HEMSKY

DUSTIN PENNER – SAM GAGNER – ANDREW COGLIANO

ROBERT NILSSON – KYLE BRODZIAK – FERNANDO PISANI

ETHAN MOREAU – MARC POULIOT – ZACK STORTINI

(LIAM REDDOX, JF JACQUES)

Defence:

TOM GILBERT – SHELDON SOURAY

STEVE STAIOS – LUBOMIR VISNOVSKY

DENIS GREBESHKOV – LADISLAV SMID

(JASON STRUDWICK, THEO PECKHAM)

Goal:

DWAYNE ROLOSON

MATHIEU GARON

JEFF DESLAURIERS

Yikes.  Up front, that is a decidely mediocre team.   Individually not a bad bunch of players, but the mix just wasn’t right whatsoever.  Cole was a nice acquisition by the team but not really suited to Edmonton’s style, and was used wrongly in his time here.  Penner, Horcoff and Hemsky were all quality players at the time, although this is the period when Horcoff’s offensive production began to decline (his defensive value remained high however).

Gagner, Cogliano and Nilsson – the wunderkinds of the 2007/08 season – were considered the future of the team at this point, all budding superstars, but still very much a work in progress.  Brodziak had been a revelation the previous year, and was a good in-house option for the 3rd line center spot.  Pisani and Moreau were by this point entering a significant decline in their quality both on offence and on defence.  Pouliot was a disappointing former first rounder, who could certainly play at the NHL level but didn’t provide enough at either end of the ice.  Stortini was a reliable player who whilst he wouldn’t score a lot of goals, wouldn’t let you down at the other end either.

Hemsky and Peca score in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals.

Hemsky and Peca score in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. Image courtesy NHL.com.

On good teams, Hemsky would have been likely the only Oiler forward that could conceivably play on the top line.  Penner and Cole would be options, but not on a true contender.

In reserve, things get really ugly.  JF Jacques was a capable scorer in junior and in the AHL – he even the most awesome hockey nickname ever, “Crazy Train” – and was a physical force as well as being a top notch skater.  The problem was, he couldn’t think the game, at all.  He was just lost out there at the NHL level, unable to take or make passes or provide passable defensive play.  Liam Reddox was a tenacious little bugger who could chip in the odd goal and was fairly good defensively, but never really projected to be anything better than a 13th forward.

On defence, there’s actually a nice corps here.  Gilbert was a highly touted two-way defender who had just broken Paul Coffey’s rookie scoring record the previous season, and was looking good.  Souray was the team’s star free agent signing in 2007 who had been injured most of his first season in Edmonton, but was a quality offensive performer with underrated defensive abilities, as well as being a leader and a physical force.

Staios was at this point still a moderately reliable defender, the lone holdover on defence from the 2006 Stanley Cup-run squad.  Lubomir Visnovsky was a stunning offensive defenceman with rockets on his skates who could dance around the ice setting up plays; made his mistakes every now and then but was a great compliment to the booming shot of Souray.  Grebeshkov was a chaotic player, but certainly had talent at both ends of the rink, and looked to be a nice piece moving forward.  Ladi Smid was overcoming a difficult 07/08 season and still struggling to find his calling in the NHL, but was still a hugely talented young d-man with plenty of potential and passion.

On reserve, again things don’t look good.  Jason Strudwick was a journeyman defender who was nearing the end of his career, and whilst he could fill in as a 6th d-man, any further up the batting order and things would start to go badly wrong (go to YouTube and look up “Jason Strudwick the shift” for some hilarity).  Theo “Wreck’em” Peckham was a physical young d-man still learning his craft at the AHL level, and not really ready for NHL duty.

Dwayne Roloson in net for Edmonton.  Image courtesy NHL2Vegas.

Dwayne Roloson in net for Edmonton. Image courtesy NHL2Vegas.

In goal, a three-headed monster had reared its head.  Roloson, the star from 2006, had a tough 07/08 season, with Mathieu Garon almost supplanting him as the team’s starter.  Complicating that situation was the fact that goalie Jeff Deslauriers, who had spent the last several years developing in the minor leagues, was finally looking ready for some NHL action and also couldn’t be sent down to the AHL for fear of getting plucked off of waivers.  Carrying three goalies is never a good idea, and it got pretty bad at times.  (Fortunately, Garon would struggle and Roloson would perform well, effectively resolving the situation by January 2009 allowing Tambellini to trade Garon.)

Overall, the team had on paper a strong two-way defence and a couple of nice pieces in goal.  Up front, I don’t know really what they had.  Three up-and-comers, one offensive star, three 2nd liners, a couple of decent defensive guys and nothing in reserve should things go wrong – and this was the Oilers, things always go wrong.  Essentially, the Oilers had a pretty nice bottom 9 if they had the horses, but they needed two or three bona-fide top forwards to push everybody down a notch – the entire forward corps here except for Hemsky is basically forced to play above their established level of ability or out of position.  Vanilla, I think is probably the best word for it.

MACTAVISH

Edmonton Oilers 2013 Roster.  Image courtesy edmontonoilers.com.

Edmonton Oilers 2013 Team Photo. Image courtesy edmontonoilers.com.

Named GM of the Oilers on 15th April 2013.  The roster at this point of the season is as follows (note: not actual line combinations but more of a depth chart):

Forward:

TAYLOR HALL – RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS – JORDAN EBERLE

MAGNUS PAAJARVI – SAM GAGNER – ALES HEMSKY

RYAN SMYTH – SHAWN HORCOFF – NAIL YAKUPOV

LENNART PETRELL – JERRED SMITHSON – MIKE BROWN

(RYAN JONES, TEEMU HARTIKAINEN, ANTON LANDER, ERIC BELANGER)

Defence:

LADISLAV SMID – JEFF PETRY

NICK SCHULTZ – JUSTIN SCHULTZ

RYAN WHITNEY – MARK FISTRIC

(THEO PECKHAM, COREY POTTER)

Goal:

DEVAN DUBNYK

NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN

Well this is almost completely a reverse situation.  Up front, there is considerable star power led by the likes of Taylor Hall, who by this point is one of the top offensive forwards in the Western Conference, and approaching the best in the entire league.  Jordan Eberle has seen his scoring dip this year, but is still a sublime talent and definitely a key piece of the forward corps.  Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has also struggled to score this year, but has taken a gigantic step forward in his overall play, proving that the draft-day comparisons to Pavel Datsyuk may have been correct, though he will need to correct his scoring issues going forward.

Paajarvi and Gagner celebrate scoring a goal.  Image courtesy zimbio.com.

Paajarvi and Gagner celebrate scoring a goal. Image courtesy zimbio.com.

Magnus Paajarvi has nearly rescued himself from being labelled a bust – the former 10th overall pick had a disastrous year last year, but in his 3 NHL seasons has consistently been strong defensively.  He’ll likely never be a true scoring forward, but he has infinite value to a team short on defensively good players.  Gagner and Hemsky have had their defensive struggles this year, but Hemsky has recovered his offense somewhat after a poor 11/12 season.  Gagner has taken a gigantic step forward in his offensive production this year, but it is still somewhat unclear if he can be a true number 2 center on a good team.  Smyth is having a really bad year, he’s probably nearly done in his career, but he’s done whatever’s been asked of him this season.  Horcoff has been great for the club, providing some offence and great defence, his value to the team really showed when he went down with injury; the team must absolutely not buy him out this summer.

Yakupov has been chaotic and inconsistent, showing flashes of brilliance followed by several weeks of invisibility, but he’s really picked it up the last little while, and should be an elite scorer in this league as early as next season.

The fourth line is absolute oblivion.  Eric Belanger going down to injury has not helped at all, but even he was mediocre at best when he was playing.  Smithson provides the same things as Belanger, just at an even worse level.  Brown is a glorified goon, who can only just about make plays at the NHL level; I don’t mind him in small doses but any more than 8 minutes a night is just asking for trouble.  Petrell has his value as a terrific penalty killer, but he’s awful at even strength and provides basically nothing else.  Ryan Jones has had a tough year, but generally speaking is a bad NHLer anyway, scoring goals but giving up a tonne the other way. Teemu Hartikainen should definitely be in his spot moving forward, he’s shown way more ability in all areas.  Finally, Anton Lander just needs to be left the hell alone.  He has potential as a good 3rd/4th line center, but the Oilers keep playing him in the NHL and he’s simply not ready.

Jeff Petry stands ready for action.  Image courtesy Russell LaBounty, USA Today.

Jeff Petry stands ready for action. Image courtesy Russell LaBounty, USA Today.

On defence, Smid and Petry are a high quality top 4 pairing on most teams in the league, taking on tough competition and not leaking many chances.  They have had struggles this year, but they are a good bet.  The problem is, they’re being forced to be a top pairing due to the lack of depth on the team.  Nick Schultz was acquired for Tom Gilbert last year, a ridiculous trade that sent a damn good 2-way player for a pretty good defensive player.  He should be on the bottom pairing, he’d be fine there, but he’s forced to play in the top 4 and it just doesn’t work.

His partner Justin Schultz has surefire top 4, probably top pairing potential written all over him, with stunning offensive skills and extremely good defensive ability, but he’s still very much learning the pro game and has had some really tough games this year, particularly recently.  Relying on him was a mistake, and it will be if they rely on him next year too.  Ryan Whitney was supposed to be the saviour on defence 2 years ago, but unfortunately a genetic condition that required surgery in his ankles has all but destroyed his career.  His only value now lies on the powerplay, but the rest of his game is terrible.  Mark Fistric is OK as a bottom pairing guy, but is preferably a 7th D-man who can chip in with some big hits and solid PK ability.

On reserve, Peckham has shown a lot of ability at times in the NHL, but has struggled massively with consistency and fitness.  Corey Potter is a player the organisation is very fond of, but he’s basically the same player as post-op Ryan Whitney – a powerplay guy with no ability elsewhere.

In goal, Devan Dubnyk has emerged as a legitimate NHL starter, and not just by a bit – by many stats, he’s in the top 15 in the league.  The problem comes in the form of his backup, Khabibulin, who has been awful for almost all his Oiler career.

EVALUATION

Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle & RNH move in on goal.  Image courtesy Edmonton Journal.

Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle & RNH move in on goal. Image courtesy Edmonton Journal.

In 2008, Tambellini inherited a team with a lot of good complimentary players up front, but no-one to build around, no stars.  He had, on paper at least, a good defensive unit and a solid starting goalie.

Over his tenure, Tambellini has essentially turn that situation inside out.  He gutted the team of useful complimentary players (Brodziak, Cole, Penner, even Stortini would be nice, Souray, Visnovsky, Gilbert, Grebeshkov) and took advantage of the draft (and an NCAA loophole) to bring in elite young talent (Hall, RNH, Yakupov, Schultz) that can truly be cornerstone pieces to a team.  In a way, this is almost a worse situation than before.  It’s absolutely wonderful to have such a selection of budding stars, but it makes the losing even more painful as it is down to management not finding the right players to fill the holes that the stars can’t.  Capable NHL 3rd and 4th liners are easily available in free agency and in trades, yet the Oilers have shown a massive inability to either sign these players, or scout them well enough to ensure they can do the job.

A roster that had the following mix of the two different rosters would likely have a lot of success:

Forward:

TAYLOR HALL – RYAN NUGENT-HOPKINS – JORDAN EBERLE

MAGNUS PAAJARVI – SAM GAGNER – ALES HEMSKY

DUSTIN PENNER – SHAWN HORCOFF – NAIL YAKUPOV

TEEMU HARTIKAINEN – KYLE BRODZIAK – FERNANDO PISANI

(ERIC BELANGER, ANDREW COGLIANO)

Defence:

LADISLAV SMID – LUBOMIR VISNOVSKY

TOM GILBERT – JEFF PETRY

SHELDON SOURAY – JUSTIN SCHULTZ

(NICK SCHULTZ)

Goal:

DEVAN DUBNYK

DWAYNE ROLOSON

Of course, that is just a dream team of sorts, and couldn’t happen due to the way different players were acquired.  But nonetheless, a team like the one above stands a far better chance of competing than either of the previous teams shown.  It has the right balance of star power, defensive prowess, grit, puck-moving ability, shut-down ability and good goaltending.  It’s not necessarily world beating, but it’s a good team.

Craig MacTavish isn’t guaranteed to be the bringer of glory to the team, but I have far greater faith in his ability to recognise genuine NHL talent than I did with Tambellini.  The stars are here, and they are the hardest thing to acquire.  The next step is simply to build around them in order to maximise their value to the team.

As Pat at BlackDogHatesSkunks always says, “Get good players.  Keep good players.  Get more good players.”

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