A Bad Day/Where Do We Go From Here?

Jonathan Willis
July 01 2009 11:03PM

khabi

I’ve been a fan of Steve Tambellini for a while now, and he’s passed a few tests well (trade deadline, the draft), but the last 48 hours have not been the highlight of his time as Edmonton’s general manager. Let’s take a look at his work today, starting with his best deal and finishing with Heatley.

The Khabibulin Acquisition

I wasn’t a fan of this move at first. I’m still not a fan, exactly, but I’m coming around to some degree. Let’s try and look at both sides of the signing.

Taking advantage of the situation: With a ton of capable goaltenders on the market (Khabibulin, Roloson, Biron, Anderson, Clemmensen, etc.) and precious few homes for them, Steve Tambellini stuck to his guns on only handing Dwayne Roloson a one-year contract. Roloson signed a two-year deal with the Islanders, and Craig Anderson signed a bargain contract with Colorado. With some options left, Tambellini promptly signed Khabibulin to a contract for more money and longer term. Was ensuring that the 39-year old Roloson only got one year really worth the extra ten million dollars and two years of term for the 36-year old Khabibulin?

Khabibulin’s track record: Yes, he has a Stanley Cup, and yes, he’s coming off a deep playoff run. Does anyone remember what happened last time he signed a contract after coming off a deep playoff run? He posted an .886 SV% in Chicago and did a lot to submarine the team’s hopes. His play has been so shoddy over the past three seasons that the Blackhawks finally bit the bullet and signed another ‘tender (Cristobal Huet) even though it meant lugging around two massive contracts in a salary cap era. Khabibulin has topped a .910 SV% just once in the last four years. Of the twenty goaltenders who have faced 5000 shots since 2005-06, he ranks 16th in save percentage — among those who ranked higher is Dwayne Roloson, at 12th.

Sharing the workload: Ryan Rishaug of TSN reports that the Oilers plan to have Jeff Deslauriers play 25-30 games next season so they can really see what they’ve got in him. I suppose the 147 games that the 25-year old has played in the AHL and NHL weren’t enough for them to get an accurate read; if they don’t know already then perhaps firing the goaltending coach a few days ago was a good move. Maybe they’ve seen something that the rest of us have missed, but what I see is a 25-year old with a middling AHL track record who has been jerked from team to team since turning pro.

The positives: Despite the first two rather damning points, there is some hope here. Gabriel Desjardins of behindthenet.ca has been doing work on shot quality and expected save percentage, based on the location of shots taken (from NHL game charts). Commenter Doogie on my other site was nice enough to point out Khabibulin’s even-strength numbers over the past two years to me:

  • Expected GAA and save percentage: 2.66 GAA, .899 SV%
  • Actual GAA and save percentage: 2.17 GAA, .918 SV%

That’s a stark contrast, and this will be a good test case. Was Chicago’s defense really that porous? If so, than Tambellini may have a quality keeper on his hands.

The final analysis: This wasn’t the best possible choice, and the term is a little frightening. All of that said, this isn’t an albatross contract either, and the goaltending should be adequate for the next few years.

The Chris Neil Offer

Looking up and down the roster, what do the Oilers need more than anything else? A fourth-line RW from a non-playoff team who provides a nasty physical edge and minimal upside in any other area of the game? I thought so. And, heck, why not make him a three year offer in the 2-million dollars a year range? It isn’t like the Oilers already have a similar player locked up for the next few years at one-third of the money.

Yet, the Oilers were reported by TSN as one of the final teams pushing hard to add Chris Neil to their roster.

Dany Heatley

This stuff honestly couldn’t get made up, it’s that weird. To recap:

  • 50-goal scorer Dany Heatley demands a trade from his team because he doesn’t get along with the new coach (under who the team finally started winning).
  • Despite demanding a trade, Heatley doesn’t waive his no-movement clause; he still demands the right to determine where he gets traded.
  • Edmonton puts together a package that Ottawa finds palatable, and Bryan Murray asks Heatley to waive his NMC to go to the Oilers. Heatley says (through his agent) that he wants to “sleep on it”.
  • At this point, we find out that neither the Oilers nor Senators have been interpreting his contract correctly — the $4 million signing bonus that Heatley is owed won’t be due until the next night. Heatley’s agent, meanwhile, knew this the entire time (I wonder if he wants to be an assistant GM — I can think of two teams that would probably be upgrading in that slot by hiring him).
  • The Oilers dream team flies out to meet with Heatley to persuade him to waive his NMC.

Heatley however, has decided not to waive his NMC to come to Edmonton, leaving Ottawa on the hook for four-million dollars. The reason though seems to have little to do with Edmonton – this from Dan Tencer’s Twitter feed:

Source: Meeting went OK with the Oilers. It's more about Heatley trying put the screws to Ottawa.

At this point, it’s anyone's guess as to what eventually will happen. Ottawa’s in a bad situation, and the Oilers might be able to take advantage of it. Than again, maybe Bryan Murray will return the favour and refuse to deal the winger — which takes us to our final question:

Where Do They Go From Here?

Let’s assume that the Oilers are still interested in a left-winger to play on their top line. If Heatley doesn’t work out, I imagine that Tambellini’s backup plans go something like this:

  • Plan B – Sign Marian Hossa.
  • Plan C – Sign Martin Havlat.
  • Plan D – Sign Marian Gaborik.
  • Plan E – Sign Mike Cammalleri.

Unfortunately, while the Oilers were busy chasing Heatley, the Blackhawks, Wild, Rangers, and Canadiens decided to sign virtually every high-scoring left-winger on the market. Alex Tanguay is probably the next best thing available via free agency, while it’s possible that Alex Frolov or Simon Gagne are available via trade.

Regardless, the Oilers still have some options, but a) they aren’t in the same class as the three top-end guys who signed today and b) it’s anyone’s guess if they’ll still be available when the Heatley saga finally comes to a conclusion one way or the other.

Making The Best of The Situation

All is not lost, though. Heatley may still accept a trade to Edmonton (for good or ill) and while Samuel Pahlsson and John Madden have both been taken off the market, free agent Manny Malhotra is still available and would be a good fit for the Oilers’ third line and penalty kill; he’s big, he’s strong, he can find the defensive zone without the aid of a map and multiple trail guides, and unlike virtually every other forward on the Oilers’ roster he can win a faceoff.

There’s still tomorrow.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#151 Doug
July 02 2009, 11:21AM
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@ MattDynasty:

That'd be nice wouldn't it? Maybe some reasoning as to why we have totally hitched the wagon to the Heatley train even though it's obvious he fully sucks.

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#152 Chaz
July 02 2009, 11:22AM
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Now Murray is saying they need more from a trade due to the 4 M they had to pay Wolf-Eyes. While it's painfully obvious the Oil should walk away, I doubt they will. They will probably offer more thus looking even more desperate / pathetic to the hockey world.

Attn Tambo: Stop embarrassing your self, your team and our city. See the tree for the forest. Poor team chemistry was a major concern for us last year, and you're going to help this by adding this piece of crap to the fold? Walk away Tambo, walk away!!

I feel like I'm watching a friend ruin his life chasing some terrible girlfriend that everyone but him knows is evil and wrong for him....yet another brutal day to be an Oiler fan. It doesn't have to continue Tambo....

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#153 Jonathan Willis
July 02 2009, 11:25AM
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Hemmertime wrote:

Name me some NHL players that we drafted that are decent, not unproven prospects to back your argument.

Stu MacGregor has only been running the draft for two years? How am I supposed to do that exactly?

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#154 Doug
July 02 2009, 11:27AM
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Chaz wrote:

I feel like I’m watching a friend ruin his life chasing some terrible girlfriend that everyone but him knows is evil and wrong for him….yet another brutal day to be an Oiler fan. It doesn’t have to continue Tambo….

Seconded.

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#155 cambosmash
July 02 2009, 11:28AM
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I heard there's a Tambo presser this afternoon. I can't remember where it came from though.

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#156 Curious
July 02 2009, 11:29AM
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Why would the Oilers brass address anything until they have no doubt in their mind that this deal is not going to happen. There is nothing for them to say now. I am sure they are not sitting around hoping the phone rings. I am sure there is a plan B. There are other players out there.

Just think of all the teams who did absolutely nothing the past few days. It may not happen today but there are moves to be made. We have to be patient.

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#157 HOFFA
July 02 2009, 11:29AM
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He's from Alberta. How bad could it be???

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#158 Sweet Jimmy K
July 02 2009, 11:29AM
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@ cambosmash: It was posted on Sportsnet that he was having a presser at noon.

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#159 heavyd
July 02 2009, 11:30AM
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Sportsnet is reporting that bill daly, is saying that the ottawa can file a grevince and if Heatly gets traded then the team he gets traded too can pay Ottawa back the 4 million, so it still up in the air.

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#160 darren
July 02 2009, 11:33AM
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What would the grievance be:

Biiilll ... Danny hit me back!

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#161 scorecoff hemmercules
July 02 2009, 11:34AM
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@ heavyd:

Unreal, this won't end until we have to ice the same team as last year.

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#162 myteammytown
July 02 2009, 11:38AM
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Milli wrote:

Was just reading the Ottawa papers, and either murray is posturing, or Dannyboy has screwed himself. Unless Murray dosn’t want Penner, but I think he does, he drafted him and thinks he can rekindle the fire. And, Murray goes on to say, there where very few teams that even made offers, only Edmonton was acceptable, and one was downright insulting. Seems to me, we have a star that greatly overestimated his star power. If I’m Tambo, the only way I still do this deal is without Cogs being involved. This guy is damaged goods at this point. Let’s stay with what we have, pick up a center, build through the draft and develop young talent.

penner wasnt drafted by anyone

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#163 Victoria
July 02 2009, 11:39AM
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Omg, why are we still trying to get Heatley?

We really are masochistic, aren't we?

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#164 surshot
July 02 2009, 12:53PM
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I think Khabbi's numbers after he signed with the hawks had to do more with the defence of the hawks then the goalie. It was hardly NHL worthy.

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#165 TDSM31
July 02 2009, 01:19PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Hemmertime wrote: Name me some NHL players that we drafted that are decent, not unproven prospects to back your argument. Stu MacGregor has only been running the draft for two years? How am I supposed to do that exactly?

JW, MacGregor has been part of the Oilers scouting staff since 2000. True, he's only been head scout for the past two years, but he has still had input into a lot of our crap picks in the past nine years.

Aside from MacGregor, Pendergast has to be held more accountable and it amazes me that he is still employed by this organization.

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#166 Hemmertime
July 02 2009, 01:19PM
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Jonathan Willis wrote:

Stu MacGregor has only been running the draft for two years? How am I supposed to do that exactly?

Ill concede that, like I said, I liked this years. But rebuilding means keeping your young players instead of dealing for vets for cup run - it doesn't mean trade anyone of any value to become a bottom feeder team. I do not believe you are one of those idiots though, so more moot point. I will be optimistic about new draft team, like I was every year before too, however - I will not have the faith in the NHL draft and our scouting team to Blow the next 3-4 seasons to try and land quality players. We are only 2-3 pieces away from a 5-8 place team in the conference, and that is good enough for me. Whoever is thinking we are bad 3 years and then dynasty for 10 is a moron.

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#167 Archaeologuy
July 02 2009, 07:00PM
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Kurri17 wrote:

Archaeologuy, you are the type of fan who make it so players don’t want to come here. One year and already jumping on the GM. The fans in this city just have zero patience and jump down the necks of people right away. How can some people say we should take the route of the Hawks, Kings, Pens, etc. and suck for a couple years to get draft picks, when they don’t have the patience to let management have a single year to try to right the ship. Idiocy.

Really? I'm the kind of fan that makes people not want to play here? What kind of fan is that? A fan that demands competency and winning? WOW. You, sir, are the kind of fan that demands nothing from his team and consequently receives nothing from his team. You are the kind of fan that was fine giving MacT "One more year" seven times, making sure that he destroyed the culture of the club.

Oilerfan4Life wrote:

Im embarrassed to be an Oiler Fan today.

That's your problem. Not mine. If you're emberassed because I criticized a member of Oiler management then maybe you should reconsider posting here, because you will see that kind of discontent EVERY time Oiler management fails the fans again.

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