Tambellini Calls For a New Culture? Who Is He Referring To?

Steve Tambellini said a many number of things in his Wednesday media scrum. He took time to respond to questions about Sheldon Souray, obtaining the #1 overall draft pick, buying out and trading players, and above all, Tambellini wanted to make it known he sees the real issue in Edmonton as a need to change the culture.

Tambellini believes this team and every other connected to it, has lost the identity of what it means to be an Oiler. That the past reflects a number of bad decisions in bringing in and developing players who think more about their own success than the success of the team on which they play.

He wants to take the time to ensure that from the grass roots up, this franchise is breeding the attitude of a champion. The attitude that you love the game, you love your team and the environment around it, and above all you'll do whatever it takes to improve your play and the play of those around you. That the two are not mutually exclusive.

I know that talk is talk, and that we heard some preaching at the end of last season, but I like what was said this time around more than last. Without sounding too "it's not me, it's you", Tambellini essentially said he was dealing with past contracts and mistakes and that he was now ready to get down to business when last year he was limited and his hands were somewhat tied.

Tambellini seemed excited that he could now begin to change the makeup and culture of the franchise. It sounded like he had specific people in mind and my immediate reaction was who?

He mentioned having end of the year meetings in which players described their own personal accolades as a more important factor than the success and development of their team. He mentioned that others spoke of improving, even though they individually grew, but that their goal was to be a better group overall.

Whether he was referring to anyone on this Oilers team or not we may never know, but it's far too much fun not to speculate, so we'll break it down over the next couple days by position starting with goalies and defencemen. We'll categorize them as keepers, movers or tweeners and at the end suggest a direction Tambellini might want to take.

Nikolai Khabibulin

Pretend for a minute that Khabibulin's age and salary don't play a factor, even though we know they do. Tambellini seems to firmly believe that Bulin is the MVP of this Oilers team and the best choice in net going forward. That Khabibulin makes for a great teammate, leader, mentor and proven champion. That had Khabibulin stayed healthy the Oilers wouldn't be drafting first overall. I tend to agree if Bulin can get his act together and stay healthy. I still don't like the contract to which he was signed, but that's another conversation for another day and he did choose Edmonton over Chicago who offered similar money, which says a lot.


Devan Dubnyk

He's less experienced, but to me has shown more than Jeff Deslauriers this season in limited action. He's a big body, less of a fish out of water and a more positional goalie who seems to limit his highs and lows in terms of performance. Yes, he had a stretch and almost broke a record for starts without a win, but those were far from his fault and he deserved a much better fate in some of those contests. So too, while Dubnyk would likely get claimed off waivers, his trade value may be a bit lower than JDD so keeping him makes more sense.


Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers

He's been rumored in some other trades, thus he might have some value. Especially in Montreal, where I've heard his name pop up at least twice. He's been good, but as mentioned a bit up and down. Unlike Dubnyk, he's won games for Edmonton and clearly been the main factor in a few lost games for the team. He'll go less because of his own play, but more because Tambellini said no three goalies this coming season. Expect he's an added peice to another trade.


Ryan Whitney

Tambellini called him a possibly better overall defenceman than Lubomir Visnovksy, even if he may not possess the offensive upside. Whitney has been one of the Oilers best players since the trade deadline and his salary is much more acceptable. He's young, he has great chemistry with Tom Gilbert and he too is a proven playoff veteran despite his age. Better still, he wasted no time in calling out the lockeroom and their loser mentality immediately following his arrival and has been part of a massive rebuild before, which means he's got balls and is just the right kind of experience to have at this time for this team. Tambellini no doubt likes that.


Sheldon Souray

He's proven with his exit from Montreal and his now very public trade request from Edmonton that he's too emotional and in it for himself, even if he is right in what he says. While healthy, he's been a great addition for the Oilers, but he makes far too much money for a team in a full rebuild and he's been less than injury free. Tom Gilbert and Ryan Whitney's emergence as the top pair moving forward means Sheldon just doesn't make sense here. That he wants out only helps me clearly call him old news.


Tom Gilbert

His $4 million is an overpayment, but he has much more of a potential to live up to that money than anyone else on the blueline. He was more than hot to end the season once placed in a bigger role and he seems to love playing with Whitney. The Oilers want a blueliner that excels instead of shrivels with more ice-time and responsibility and Gilbert truly seems to like his teammates and living here in Edmonton.


Ladislav Smid

He provides toughness, was a crazy good plus player when he wasn't hurt and he's just scraping the surface of understanding the NHL game. He's a jokester in the lockerroom, his teammates love his personality and he's willing at any time to stand up for anyone on his team, whether he's about to win or lose the altercation. His contract is also very acceptable for a team looking to shed salary, which the Oilers clearly are.


Aaron Johnson

He's been a fireball of energy since he arrived as a throw in on the Steve Staios trade. He started hot, but fizzled out likely because the huge increase in ice time over an extended period caught up to him not having been used to it. That said, his hustle and ability to provide toughness, grit, and a bit of offensive touch would make him a great 6th d-man with lesser ice time where he could really keep his energy at a high level. He seems to like getting in the face of opponents and out working the other guy. That's what Tambellini is looking for.

Keeper but possible tweener. I'll explain later.

Jason Strudwick

The Oilers need players who love this city. Players who love this team. Players who are upbeat, veterans and leaders in and out of the dressing room by example. Strudwick's only downside, is that he's not a full time NHL d-man based on skill alone. He makes a great plug-in and his salary is about as cheap as it will get for the Oilers, which makes him somewhat attractive to keep around.


Taylor Chorney, Dean Arsene and Theo Peckham

None are ready for the NHL full time. They did their best when the Oilers were in trouble with injuries and I felt Peckham seemed to improve the most, but they'll be back in the AHL when the new season starts as they should be. Don't fret if you liked these guys because they'll be called upon more than once next season though, which is almost a guarantee since the Oilers can't stay completely injury free.


Where Do the Oilers Go?

One goalie will be moved. The Oilers will do everything to try and trade one knowing that likely JDD or Dubnyk will get claimed if waived and their young age and decent showing might make them attractive to other GM's. If a trade can't be made, I'd keep Dubnyk.

On defence, the Oilers are in love with Dan Hamhuis. No, I don't think they should get into a bidding war, but if they are able to free up cap space by moving salary and taking say 50% of it back, Hamhuis is a great stay at home blueliner who without going nuts might be had for a decent price.

He'll have other bidders though so the Oilers need to be careful. If they can get him though, they shouldn't be afraid to sign him long term as he's a great puzzle peice that you keep as a core of your blueline. Aaron Johnson becomes the odd man out if someone like Hamhuis joins the team.

Souray is gone. While his value may be low, someone like a San Jose or New York Ranger squad might have interest if they can swap salary or looking to replace a big ticket d-man who either retires or doesn't re-sign. If the Oilers aren't able to do this by the draft, I'd be shocked.

Stay tuned, because our next task will be to examine the forwards, which should be a lot more challenging, but a lot more fun.


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