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.