• Media Day

    by  • April 12, 2012 • Hockey • 14 Comments

    Steve Tambellini’s year ending press conference was another instant classic. I kind of enjoy them because the local press don’t push too hard but you still always feel like Tambo’s on the edge of losing control. His trade deadline press conference was fantastic – the media started asking about specific guys who didn’t get traded. He answered them on Khabibulin and then they asked about Barker, he realized that this wasn’t going to end well and refused to answer questions about specific players. Funny stuff.

    There was a similar thing with questions about Tom Renney’s future in this edition of Tambo Meets The Press. After seeming to say Renney would be back, he got into this bizarre thing about needing to hear Renney’s plan for next year before deciding which, really, seems sort of ridiculous. I mean, have he and Renney not discussed individual and team arcs? On the basis of having worked with him as head coach for two years, does he not have some idea what Renney will do? It’s a bizarre answer. It kind of overshadowed what I thought was the most interesting answer he gave though, in response to a question about competing for the playoffs next year:

    Oh, I think we should be competing for the playoffs. There’s no question about that. This team, healthy, all-in, should have competed for the playoffs, without four of our defence being out for a month and a half. That’s not an excuse, that’s just fact.

    Long time readers will know that I’ve been kind of closely following Tambo’s comments about his expectations for the 2011-12 Oilers. My sense has been that he thought he’d constructed a team that, at the very least, would not be in the lottery; this is the first time he’s put it as strongly this though: he thought this year’s Oilers team, with healthy defence, was a playoff contender. Uh, wow.

    The Oilers missed the playoffs by 22 points. 11 wins. Tambo’s statement gives rise to two questions: 1) Is it plausible that the Oilers would have made the playoffs with better health from their defencemen? 2) Did the Oilers experience an unusual amount of bad health with their defencemen?

    I think we can agree on the Oilers top six defencemen when they broke camp: Gilbert, Smid, Whitney, Petry, Barker and Sutton. This was the plan. Peckham was in the mix and Potter was probably the eighth guy but managed to grab a spot due to injuries. As always with Tambo, it’s a bit difficult to know what, exactly he’s talking about. I’ve gone through and assembled the Oilers’ record with 0, 1, 2 and 3 of these guys missing.

    Now, first thing first, I don’t see any point at which the Oilers were missing four of their top eight defencemen. Whitney, Gilbert, Barker and Sutton did all miss significant chunks of time as a result of injury/suspension. Now, leaving aside the fact that Barker was so bad that he was basically a healthy scratch from February onwards, Tambellini has a point about those guys missing a lot of time. With that said, I’m not convinced there’s any circumstance under which, with a healthier defence, the Oilers contend for the playoffs. With his planned top six dressing, the Oilers were 0-2-1 (27 point pace). With five of them, they were 12-13-6 (79 points), with four of them they were 14-13-2 (85 points) and with three of them, they were 6-12-1 (56 point pace).

    Six of the games in which he was missing three top six D, two of them were Sutton and Barker. When Tambo talks about this, I suspect he’s referring to a ten game stretch in which Whitney, Gilbert and Barker were out. (I’m translating “four of our defence out for a month and a half” here.) The Oilers went 2-7-1. Now, again, Barker was one of the scratches and he wasn’t able to get a spot anyway when he came back, so I don’t know that the argument is particularly valid. Even if you back that out and pro-rate things though, you come up with a 79 point pace. That’s nowhere near playoff contention.

    I just don’t think Tambellini’s argument holds any weight when you pick it apart a bit – even with healthy defence, all year long, I’m not sure how you get this team contending for a playoff spot. Jonathan Willis makes another point: the Oilers actually had pretty good luck in terms of injury. The only defencemen who missed significant time who weren’t also healthy scratches at points were Ryan Whitney and Tom Gilbert. Gilbert didn’t miss that much – 14 games (his replacement, Schultz, played every game) – and if your plan involved Ryan Whitney staying healthy, your plan stinks.

    One of the things I find a bit aggravating about Tambo’s defenders is that they defend his work in a sort of intellectually dishonest way. Bob Stauffer was on the radio the other day, arguing that Tambo’s detractors don’t give him enough credit for the courage to blow it up and commit to a rebuild in February of 2010. With the greatest of respect, this is insane. The 2009-10 team, which Tambo expected to be a playoff contender, was a complete trainwreck. They were in the fight for dead last when February of 2010 rolled around. Deciding that a rebuild was necessary was the equivalent of deciding to leave your burning house. It was easy. The more troubling thing was the fact that the house was on fire in the first place – six months earlier, Tambo thought he had a pretty good house.

    This year was, apparently, more of the same. I give them a pass on 2010-11 because I think it’s pretty obvious that they weren’t trying to compete but Tambo had been hinting at expectations for this year and, in his press conference, expressed what seems to be me to be a delusional view of how good his team was, if his defence was healthy, as well as a crazy view of how healthy the average team is. That, to me, is the critical issue: if he has a plan that he’s implementing, he should have some idea what sort of results he expects each year. He’s missed, badly, in two of the last three years.

    Defending him for implementing and following through with a plan seems intellectually dishonest to me because, by his own admission, things are happening that have nothing to do with a plan. Last in 2009-10? Not in the plan until February, 2010. Winning the draft lottery this year? Not in the plan because this was a playoff calibre team, if only the defence was healthier. Stauffer did this whole thing on the Oilers’ show on 630 CHED the other day, talking about how he said it’d be a long wait and he didn’t expect anything close to the playoffs this year and doesn’t expect a playoff berth last year and let’s all praise the Oilers for sticking to a plan. Someone should tell the guy in charge what the plan is, because it’s nothing bur surprises for him.

    Another first overall pick though. That’s something. La reconstruccion es permanente.


    14 Responses to Media Day

    1. Coach Pb
      April 12, 2012 at

      They lost Petry for however many games it was because they demoted him to Oklahoma City so they wouldn’t lose Barker, Sutton, Peckham or Potter on waivers, as if anyone would take them.

      Remember that horseshit about “losing his confidence”?

    2. Scottie
      April 13, 2012 at

      I keep finding myself going back to the days right after Katz took control of the team from EIG, and how he was preaching that there would be a culture of accountability instituted within the Oilers. If 3 straight lottery teams is not the time to hold Tambellini accountable for his poor performance, I don’t know what is.

    3. Ben Carter
      April 13, 2012 at

      “I kind of enjoy them because the local press don’t push too hard but you still always feel like Tambo’s on the edge of losing control.”

      Couldn’t think of a better way to sum up the Tambellini era thus far.

    4. Lee
      April 13, 2012 at

      Tyler, I think you’re placing far too much emphasis on what Tambellini HAS to say for PR purposes as opposed to what he likely has as reasonable expectations internally. No pre-season analysis I saw predicted this team had the horses to contend for a playoff spot this season. That is the reality and I’m sure Tambo was aware of it, but the GM can’t say that. Every hockey exec sells the ‘we’re good enough to make the playoffs’ line even when he knows his team isn’t because that’s what the fans and his boss expect and it sets the expectation bar for the players and coaches where it should be.

      This isn’t a courtroom. Tambellini’s comments will be intentionally misleading at times and to expect otherwise is exceedingly naive. People cover their ass. Survival is instinct. By all means, judge him on his actual actions and results, but don’t waste your time parsing PR as evidence of incompetence. Splendid oration does not always equate with superior performance, case in point Barack Obama.

      You hit the ball out of the park with the Khabibulin contract, but now we’re seeing minutiae like player recall oversights and second guessing pr spin as evidence for gross incompetence. What’s your goal here? To compile an overwhelming mountain of evidence to support your hypothesis no matter how trivial or circumstantial?

      • EL GUAPO
        April 13, 2012 at

        “Splendid oration does not always equate with superior performance, case in point Barack Obama.”

        Very true. Similarly, substandard oration does always equate with inferior performance but it often does as in the case of Georgie Dumbass Bush. Or Steve Tambellini. If it looks like an idiot, sounds like an idiot, and ACTS like an idiot, its probably an idiot.

        And “player recall oversights” are not minutiae.

      • Mr DeBakey
        April 13, 2012 at

        Also, I’m pretty sure Obama isn’t the problem.

        Cup o’ tea anyone?

      • April 13, 2012 at

        I somewhat bought that whole “this isn’t a courtroom, I’m sure [exec] is aware of [obvious something something]” before this season. Used it to reason why Gauthier fired Pearns. Then he actively worked at sending the team into the ditch, justifying every move with ever more egregious comments (the elder Kostitsyn, who now plays with Radulov in Nashville, was let go because, amongst other things, he has a “peculiar intelligence” [which was Gauthier's way of calling him a moron, I think]).

        My point is: the imbecility of the lie is as big a tell as the imbecillity of the moves. If Tambo can’t lie correctly about the team he’s managed for the last 3 seasons or so, well that’s not a good sign.

      • Tyler Dellow
        April 13, 2012 at

        Lee –

        Believe it or not, I do ask myself these questions. Here’s the thing though: Tambo didn’t HAVE to say anything for PR purposes. He was pretty careful not to say anything during the season beyond “we don’t want to be in the lottery” and nobody torched him. Why would he suddenly say this now unless he believed it?

        Moreover, he has a pretty good track record of not lying to the press. He doesn’t talk or refuses to answer questions; he doesn’t just blatantly make things up. He behaves in a manner that’s consistent with what he professes to believe. Am I missing something? Is that not true?

        If he was a better bullshitter, he wouldn’t have made such a mess of the Renney questions or opened the door as wide as he did to speculation that he wasn’t coming back, getting into that mess about seeing what Renney planned and all that. It’s not his style.

        As for the MPS thing…sorry: that matters. It’s indicative of their attention to detail.

    5. RB
      April 14, 2012 at

      Mr. Dellow,

      Interesting article. I’m not a Tambellini booster, but let me argue a counter point. I’ve always felt that what he says is very much his idea of what he needs to say as a PR measure rather than a real reflection of his stance. I think that he feels that hype and optimism are part of what makes fans feel good, keeps them onboard with the Oilers, and protects his and the club’s standing in the eyes of others.

      Further to that, I think if I’m right, this need to spout hype is part of what makes him seem awkward in front of cameras. Some people aren’t good at constructing realities on the fly and mitigating their real thoughts. I think he might be a lot more intelligent than he comes across, but is really bad at talking to the media and spinning things. As for his level of general competence and awareness, I’m still in unsure like a lot of people, but I do think that he has shown some ability specifically when cutting players loose that underperformed. He did so with what seemed like mercenary precision. I’m still reserving judgement somewhat. I wonder what you the effect of his self-buffering I mentioned has on our understanding of his real thoughts and intentions.

      • dawgbone
        April 16, 2012 at

        This argument would be valid if there was something in Tambellini’s history that actually suggests this is the case.

    6. Lee
      April 16, 2012 at

      TD said…Believe it or not, I do ask myself these questions. Here’s the thing though: Tambo didn’t HAVE to say anything for PR purposes. He was pretty careful not to say anything during the season beyond “we don’t want to be in the lottery” and nobody torched him. Why would he suddenly say this now unless he believed it?

      RB said…Further to that, I think if I’m right, this need to spout hype is part of what makes him seem awkward in front of cameras.

      I think these points are interrelated. If you live outside of Edmonton, it’s difficult to appreciate how pervasive the media coverage is towards the local hockey club, particularly in proportion to the size of the market. Rightly or wrongly, the Oil are a hot topic of conversation in this little burg 24/7 and right now much of the talk is centered on A) How accountable is Tambellini for this latest poor finish? & B) Why is Tom Renney being left to twist in the wind?

      The media has been speculating on these questions ad infinitum for the past couple of weeks, and I would agree with RB, that this prompted Tambo’s press conference as the org felt pressured to respond. The problem with this media speculation however is that it ignores several factors germane to the final resolution of these questions.

      1) Tambellini’s much rumored extension is still just rumour at this point. I don’t believe he is sufficiently empowered by Katz to re-sign the coach even if he wanted to. Obviously this leaves him in a very awkward position that makes public commentary more difficult than it should be at the moment. Is that his fault? I’m not sure it is.

      2) Renney IS under contract until the end of June. Despite what the media may think about what is the best way to treat this employee to optimize his future career options, the Oilers are under no obligation to make this decision in late April to satisfy this utopian view of employee relations.

      3) If the Oilers are considering replacing Reeney, OKC HC Todd Nelson has to be considered a strong contender for promotion. I believe the org wants to see how he does with the Barons in the playoffs before making that call, especially given that announcing it in the near future would potentially make Nelson a lame duck coach in OKC particularly with those players with no realistic shot of making the big club (i.e. the career AHLers) of which the Barons have a few.

      4) Further, the Oil may be also be waiting to see if a premature playoff exit or two shakes loose a long coveted coaching candidate elsewhwere in the league to maximize their recruitment net. Seems prudent to me.

      Thus Katz and Lowe trot out their sacrificial lamb to take the friendly fire from the media as their gesture of appeasement towards the rumour mongers. Tambellini IS not a polished speaker and I would agree with RB that what’s particularly difficult for him is the evasion that’s required to spin public opinion on behalf of a notoriously secretive org in a media environment that examines every bit of rumor and speculation related to the club as if they’re Christian scientists examining the shroud of Turin. Case in point, the player recall oversight. Does that story even make the sports pages in LA or Dallas? I wouldn’t think so. Right now it’s a big story that Ryan Smyth’s next contract isn’t done YET. Seriously, think about how ridiculous that is.

      None of this is to defend Tambellini as a public speaker. He is truly awkward and ineloquent and I think this contributes hugely to the perception of him as incompetent. But the org also has to hold some accountability in pushing him in front of the microphones when he’s clearly not in the proper position to say anything definitive with even his own future potentially still being debated.

      Because the Oilers’ rise was so rapid and the club so adored, the media fawned on them for the first 15 year or so years of their existence. I think that led to a sense of entitlement on the org’s part in regards to media relations and they’ve really struggled in this area as the team’s on-ice performance declined and stripped away the org’s aura of excellence.

      To come full circle on this, is any of this relevant to Tambellini’s acumen as a GM however? No, he’s not Brian Burke, bombastic and eminently quotable. In fact, he seems more awkward teenager than anything and I suspect the concerns over his lack of decisiveness could be well founded and may ultimately lead to his demise. But at least he’s not trading Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton for Phil Kessel. In point of fact, he’s turned over almost the entire NHL roster injecting it with much needed talent and youth, seeded the org with excellent scouting and coaching talent, and implemented the build of an honest to goodness farm team and player development infrastructure.

      He may be gone sooner rather than later, but I for one think he’s done far more good than bad despite his drawbacks as a public speaker. And I still think analysis of his job performance should be focused on the actual output rather than public commentary on same. Let’s look at this from the perspective of a performance appraisal in any other industry. What matters is what the expectations given to the employee by the org and their delivery against same. What the employee publicly espouses or ‘spins’ about their performanc is largely immaterial. Action talks and bullshit walks.

      • Zamboni Driver
        April 19, 2012 at

        This is very well stated, though the major point being missed is that as the supposed manager of the hockey team, under his watch the squad has finished last (twice) and second last. If we are going to judge on performance that’s a pretty clear one. And Tyler is right on when he calls Pravda Bob up on the carpet for calling Tambellini a ‘visionary’ for the rebuild when the rebuild happened to him, he didn’t happen to it.

        I would completely agree on the piece on developing a minor league system (something that KLowe couldn’t wrap his head around, and should have been fired for), but to say that he has in any way succeeded? Sorry.

        Look at all the teams in the playoffs now.
        Now think about the Oilers that he has pulled together and ask yourself. How close are we REALLY?

        Even with a couple more years experience for the stars, this team would get demolished quickly and painfully by all 16 teams currently in the playoffs. It isn’t close.

        THAT is what Tambellini has wrought.

    7. Bubba
      April 16, 2012 at

      First, Congratulations on another mention on HNIC.
      Second we all know there is a certain amount on “Gamesmanship” that the GM’s need to put on to keep the fans interested. Did Tambo think the Oilers would be in a playoff hunt, sure I think he did. Do I think that he really thought he would make the playoffs …. NO.
      That leaves me to wonder what the Oilers should be doing and where the problems seem to lie. Is Renney really the coach for this team? His record as an NHL head coach really isn’t very good .458 winning % where as some other you have mentioned like Todd McLellan is .6179 and MacT was .528. Some coaches that were very good in the Junior hockey ranks just don’t seem to be able to make that NHL transition. If the Oilers were to not bring Renney back though who would be on the short list as his replacements?

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        May 31, 2013 at

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