• Cam Barker

    by  • August 16, 2011 • Hockey • 28 Comments

    I’m still hung up on the extent to which I’m getting slated by the boys on Oilfans for expressing what is, to me, the utterly conventional view that the Oilers’ management is a disaster and should all be fired. More than a few of the fellows on that site have expressed the view that I didn’t back up what I was saying and didn’t deal with the Oilers’ summer moves as a reason for optimism. Someone complained that it wasn’t inspirational enough, a complaint I don’t even begin to know how to respond to.

    Now, James asked me for three or four lines under each heading. I didn’t realize that the readership of the piece would be children, who needed to be soothed with an oft recited story about how Hall, Omark, MPS, Eberle and RNH would make the bad times end but it appears that I should have written that instead. “See,” they’d giggle to each other in their childish voices “Hall and Eberle and all those guys are real and a reason for hope! It says so on the Globe and Mail website! It’s true!”

    Unfortunately, having failed to go that route, I’m left to explain why I’m not so excited by the summer that Steve Tambellini had. This dovetails nicely with why I don’t have a lot of hope for the Oilers under his management. He has two traits that I think place him fatally in the lower tier of NHL GM’s. First, he’s not particularly decisive. We saw it with his dithering with Souray last year and the burning of money on JDD and JF Jacques. It takes him forever to come to a decision. I harp on this, but acquiring additional information comes at a cost. The dollar cost is obvious but it also comes at a cost of not spending development resources on guys who might be something. Tambo doesn’t seem to place much value on that.

    Second, he’s a painfully conventional GM. The moves he made (or was party to) initially, signing Nikolai Khabibulin and hiring Pat Quinn to coach; those were entirely conventional moves. Throw money at famous names and nobody can blame you if it blows up. “How could he have known? It was Stanley Cup winning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and Olympic gold medalist Pat Quinn!” When that fails, you sell your boss on the need to be uncompetitive indefinitely. Then you sell the ever gullible public. Has an NHL team ever gone five years without making the playoffs and, as it entered season six, acted so much as if the playoffs weren’t even a goal?

    The Cam Barker signing seems to me like another of these conventional moves. I agree with Lowetide’s piece on Cam Barker, pretty much in its entirety, except that LT seems to hold out some hope that Barker’s going to be a PP QB. It’s not a coincidence that he’s a first rounder, I think; nobody loves failed first rounders like the Oilers – the organization’s had a bug about them for a long time. They like them so much that for the longest time, they were committed to producing their own. I agree with LT that the Oilers are looking to find a PP QB here but I don’t really see much at all in the way of signs that Barker has some offence on the PP.

    At the NHL level, the totality of the case for Barker as a competent PP defenceman is two seasons: his spectacular PP number in 2007-08 in which he scored 7.27 PPP/60 and his not terrible season for a defenceman the following year, in which he put up 3.36 PPP/60. There’s a catch though. His 2007-08 season was built on second assists to an unparalleled degree. Barker put up 4.04 2A/60 on the PP that year; the next best number in the four years that Gabe has this data available is Brian Rafalski’s 3.43 2A/60 last year. As I’ve mentioned before, second assists are sort of a lottery. Well, exactly like a lottery. It’s rare that the second assist makes the goal but some years your number comes up and you pile up a ton of them.

    Barker has been a decent goal scorer on the PP – he’s put up pretty good PPG/60 numbers for a defenceman in the three seasons that he’s played much on the PP, finishing fifth in the league in that category for defencemen in 2009-10. The thing is though, goals from defencemen on the PP are basically rounding errors. If you take the difference between Cam Barker’s 5v4G/60 rate over the past four years (1.18) and that of the 120 defencemen who’ve played the most minutes in that time (0.75), you come up with .43. Figure that Barker will play four or five hours of 5v4 and you come up with an extra two goals or so. It’s not nothing but, like I say, it’s basically a rounding error.

    And this, keep in mind, is the good part of his game. As LT documents, he’s not so useful doing other things, requiring sheltered minutes at ES. With the Oilers having Ryan Whitney, Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid, Andy Sutton and Theo Peckham already on one way deals, Taylor Chorney needing to clear waivers((~Given Tambo’s indecisiveness, discussed above, it seems unlikely that Chorney will be exposed to waivers but will instead be given a spot on the team while Tambo tries to make a deal)), it likely means that Jeff Petry will start the season in the minors. This isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world but it requires holding back a prospect in hopes that Cam Barker will turn into something he’s probably never been. Spending the defence money on Barker instead of someone who can play ES minutes without a lot of help also means that some of the softer minutes which could have been played by young guys are now being eaten up by Barker.

    To me, this move only makes sense if there’s some realistic hope that Barker turns into a really good player. I don’t think that there is, beyond the spot in which he was drafted. Praising Tambellini for this and other moves this summer (Smyth and Belanger excepted) seems to me to be praising the guy who was moving the deckchairs around on the Titanic as it sank. It’s hard to tell exactly what they’re doing, but it doesn’t look to me like they’re trying to compete next year. If that’s the case, spending time on guys like Barker is pretty uninspiring.


    28 Responses to Cam Barker

    1. Bar_Qu
      August 16, 2011 at

      Lets not forget, the Smyth trade was pretty much forced on Edm by Smyth. He wanted back, he made it known by all but a press release, then waited a bunch of days for Edm to make a move ) to get him, doing it badly twice(Smyth even appeared to consider Calgary, in order to get things going.

      The fact that Smyth was radioactive to LA is the only reason Edm looked like a winner on this. Leaving the Belanger signing as the only plus for Edm this summer (that, in itself is a pretty conventional move too).

      • etownman
        August 16, 2011 at

        Eager is also a great signing a long with Hordichuk!

        • kinger
          August 17, 2011 at

          I’m jealous of your enthusiasm!

        • Doogie2K
          August 17, 2011 at

          Eager-Hordichuk-[kid] is an upgrade over Jacques-MacIntyre-Stortini, but not exactly something to write home about.

        • SumOil
          August 19, 2011 at

          So we will be marginally better for 4 mins a night

    2. Magicpie
      August 16, 2011 at

      I didn’t realize that the readership of the piece would be children, who needed to be soothed with an oft recited story about how Hall, Omark, MPS, Eberle and RNH would make the bad times end but it appears that I should have written that instead. “See,” they’d giggle to each other in their childish voices “Hall and Eberle and all those guys are real and a reason for hope! It says so on the Globe and Mail website! It’s true!”

      I guess you’re just doomed to be a misunderstood genius.

    3. Coach Pb
      August 16, 2011 at

      Hall, Omark, MPS, Eberle and NH

      It’s gone from HOPE to PHONE.

      • matt
        August 16, 2011 at

        Reminds me of Gagner, Cogliano, Nilsson and O’Sullivan!!!

        • dawgbone
          August 17, 2011 at


    4. Showerhead
      August 16, 2011 at

      Just add Yakupov next year for PHONEY. Which would be apt for our GM, except that I doubt anyone could seriously ruin the success of that much talent over the long haul.

      • SumOil
        August 19, 2011 at

        Don Waddel?

    5. ranford4life
      August 16, 2011 at

      The conventionality point is interesting. In some ways, the org seems to be looking for hidden value in the margins, signing guys like the Finns and the college grads. And, to be fair, we have yet to truly see the fruits of the internal changes to the player development system. Tons of money has been funneled into programs, people, and tools to develop the young players in the system, and only time will tell whether it will pay off.

      However, for the most part, there are a lot of conventional and ‘old-timey’ moves made every year, and since conventional moves are…well…conventional, they don’t serve to make the team any more competitive vis-a-vis anyone else.

      Indeed, if we’re following the Chicago model, we’re still awaiting our Patrick Sharp (for a 3rd) and Versteeg (for Bochenski) trades. Such moves have been tried (O’Sullivan, Brule), but have not worked out as hoped.

      • August 16, 2011 at

        The first part of that seemed hopeful, but then I couldn’t tell if the last part was sarcastic, or genuine surprise that EDM’s lotto tickets didn’t win.

        Anyways, the “hidden value” you mention in getting foreign/college free agents exists, but you have to actually try to get it. As I recall, Omark was actually doing some decent things, but pretty much got buried because… he wasn’t a first round pick? If you want to try to get the value out of those things, you have to actually try using the item, to see what value it has.

    6. August 16, 2011 at

      If history is any indication, Cam Barker can play sheltered third pairing minutes and still lose the scoring chances battle. He’s a bad even-strength defenseman, and has been for the entirety of his career.

    7. Julian
      August 16, 2011 at

      I checked the thread on oilfans.com . The “right way” write-up that someone did put me to sleep after the first sentence. My brother has literally been living in Africa for the last two years, and he could have written that same thing.

    8. 3rdLineCentre
      August 16, 2011 at

      I think that too often as Oiler fans we are overly enamoured with our perceived amateur scouting prowess, and somehow think that it should give us cause for hope overall. Truth is, the Oilers’ pro scouting department should’ve been gutted a long time ago to save us from the misery of O’Sullivan, Khabibulin, Kotalik, Foster, and soon enough Sutton and Barker.

      It’s a clear weakness in the organization that needs to be addressed.

    9. Coach Pb
      August 16, 2011 at

      “It’s a clear weakness in the organization that needs to be addressed.”

      The ability to evaluate the players they see night in and night out falls on the GM. This “pro scouting” red herring is getting legs from some, but it’s a diversion from the root cause of the problem here.

      • 3rdLineCentre
        August 16, 2011 at

        Pro scouting, Tambo . . . whatever the reason, the ability of the Oilers to procure pro players at a league average level leaves a lot to be desired.

      • Doogie2K
        August 17, 2011 at

        Well, the team does employ pro scouts; Tambo can’t be in 10 cities at once, after all. But still, Tambo makes the final call and has to be familiar with the players before making the trade call/signing. Blame all of the above IMO.

    10. DSF
      August 16, 2011 at

      The revolting thing is, the Oilers are paying Barker, Smid, Sutton and Peckham (all demonstrably bottom pairing defensemen) a total of $7.7M to keep the puck out of the net.

      While their cap hots are not a particular problem at the moment, it speaks to how the Tweedles have no idea of the value of their players.

    11. Doogie2K
      August 17, 2011 at

      Tambellini’s moves over the summer have been a net positive, but a very small one. The Belanger move is good, the Smyth move, while forced on the Oilers, does work out nicely, and the changes to the bottom of the order do seem like upgrades (Barker can’t be worse than Foster, can he?), but an upgrade at that position isn’t worth a hell of a lot. I don’t seehow this team can/should make the playoffs in the slightest, short of an Avalanche-esque gift from the hockey gods, and perhaps the premature demise/retirement of Khabibulin. They’re very slightly better on paper, might be a bit better again due to improved health and development, but I don’t think 13th is outrageous, especially considering this team was last with a bullet two years running (I’d have likely said 12th; close enough).

      But then I remember that you’re a disloyal fan if you question management and their ability to read and comprehend the CBA, or evaluate talent in a reasonably timely fashion, so Tambo uber alles, you’re with me or you’re my enemy, and all that shit, I guess.

      • August 25, 2011 at

        The way the Oilers are currently built, small moves to upgrade bottom pairings in return for slightly less efficient contracts are one of the fairly easy ways to improve the team. Once you start getting role players that can be classified as “not as bad as you might think” then they can be the 2nd player in a “upgrade position A and downgrade position B” sort of deal. Which the Oilers better get very very good at making this season.

    12. August 17, 2011 at

      Kansas City Royals fans, meet Dayton Moore North…which I guess would make Ryan Jones Jeff Francoeur North. Seriously, are there any other major league organizations this stocked with young talent who are this inept at evaluating established talent?

      re: Julian’s comment, I’m still not exactly sure what “literally been living in Africa” means, since I’m not familiar with the metaphorical “living in Africa.”

      • Julian
        August 18, 2011 at

        I figured it could be interpreted as “out of the loop” when one is talking about following hockey.

        • August 18, 2011 at

          I figured as much, but one never knows…I may have been missing a Jim Morrison/Rimbaud reference somewhere. (*I* remember when we were in Africa—)

    13. Mark
      August 19, 2011 at

      This is obviously poorly based but from watching Oil Change I’ve always thought Tambellini came off kind of simple.

    14. FastOil
      August 22, 2011 at

      I have to say this summer’s shell game by Tambellini was fairly masterful at giving the appearance of an attempt to improve, while doing little.

      This is another tank job to be sure. They are taking another mulligan, and we won’t really know if ST has the jam to get it going until the trade deadline. At that time for me it has to start happening. They will not be able to stay low enough in the standings with the talent already on board to sustain using only the draft to build.

      I have little confidence, but maybe we’ll get twice lucky in Tambellini showing previously unseen player insight and negotiating savvy, and Barker giving his head a good shake, reinventing himself and becoming a first pairing D, covering his draft position.

      • August 25, 2011 at

        This is another tank job to be sure

        I disagree. Neither of the last two seasons were a “tank job” – as defined by which the team deliberately sacrifices success for draft picks. This season, like so many recent seasons, is one where the Oilers will likely suck entirely by accident.

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