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 waivers11. 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.