Steve Tambellini Is Gone, How Does This Change The Barons?

AHL Hockey: Jan 28 Barons vs Stars
This bench gets a face lift. Photo by Steven Christy.

Announced today, the Edmonton Oilers have fired Steve Tambellini, thus relieving him of his GM duties with the NHL club after serving in that capacity since the summer of 2008. In his place goes Craig MacTavish, a former Oilers player and coach from 2000-2009, who has been serving in the Hockey Operations department as the Vice President of Hockey Operations.

In one word – “fired” – the Oilers fanbase explodes with excitement, confusion, and maybe a bit of relief. The lengthy story of Steve Tambellini’s takeover as Oilers GM will be written about at various points across the internet for the better part of the next two weeks. Dissecting trades, in-house movement, call-ups, drafting, and player development will be hot button issues now that the story reaches a finishing point for Tambellini. Before we get too far into this, I’ll point you to a collection of websites that will do the treacherous work of unpacking a GM’s career.

Copper & Blue
This site, of course, resonates greatly with me, as Derek Zona and the rest of the crew afforded me the opportunity to write for two years about a farm club in Oklahoma City. They’ve covered the many negatives and positives of Tambellini’s career with humor, spot on analysis, and with great consistency.

The Cult of Hockey
David Staples, Jonathan Willis, Bruce McCurdy (forgive me if I’m missing someone) are a threesome worth reading, and in this instance will give you honest opinion and stout discussion.

Both resources (one more personal than the other) have been on top of the Oilers musings for quite some time (some longer than I’ve been alive). In this particular instance, the history lesson they’ll narrate will be spot on.

Jeff Chapman and a host of other contributors are near and dear to my heart. Honest, insightful, faithful – they’ll give you the details in an orderly fashion all while giving you a taste of their own conviction.

There are many more, but those are likely my first stops. Onward we go…

There was a joke rolling around among the Barons fans that when Lowe, Tambellini, or a combination of the two were in town for a game, the team would play poorly. And perhaps there’s a bit of an intimidation factor for the players, coaches, etc., etc. when he was around, but then again did they really notice all that much? But in the end, it was more about the revelation of Tambellini than the actual man himself. The words that spewed forth from the blogosphere and social media surrounding this version of  the GM trickled down onto the farm. We, as fans, learned to despise him just as so many of our Oilers counterparts did. I was guilty of that.

But his impression wasn’t just felt at the NHL level, it was felt in the minors as well. And the criticism was warranted still to this day.

The players drafted by the Oilers, and more specifically Steve Tambellini, were the make up of nearly three seasons of AHL hockey in Oklahoma City. From Philippe Cornet to Toni Rajala, and Alex Plante to Brandon Davidson the nuts and bolts of Barons hockey have been direct results of how the Oilers’ GM plucked players from the draft. Some have been good, all have developed, some have been complete busts – with a new man at the helm in Craig MacTavish that might change more than we think.

At today’s press conference you could tell the fuel for this decision was in wanting immediate results, and the backlash of those results not being fully fledged out. Sure the team has been asking you to be patient, and wait, and watch the re-build, but it just wasn’t happening fast enough (or really at all), and that was a problem for a historic hockey team. The tone in Craig MacTavish’s voice was strong, almost champion-esque, as he promoted the need for “bold moves”, and a need for “skill in all areas”. Those themes, by comparison, are complete opposites to those held by Tambellini. He assumed he was making bold moves, gaining skill, and getting better, but the end results proved otherwise.

The need for great development will always reside within the city limits of Oklahoma City for as long as the Oilers see fit to leave their farm team there. That’s good news for me and you, the faithful by extension Oilers fans, but the trajectory of that development becomes much more upward if MacT proves a valuable asset. MacTavish is a man of action, a clear plan, and a directive towards winning. He’s proven that at points in his career both as a player and a coach, and hopefully that remains the case as he embarks on his new job as an NHL GM.

Hopefully gone are the days where contracts are wasted on players that get stuffed for two straight years in the ECHL, the bad, heavy-handed money spending for little result, and the acquisition of NHL players that land softly in the AHL. Instead, replace those things with solid drafting, good contracts, and quickened prospect growth prior to the expiration of an ELC. And that last tidbit might be the most interesting wrinkle to a MacT GM’d club, at least from an OKC perspective – the need for continued, but more instant success of minor league players signed to entry contracts.

And so we move on. We anxiously await the first moves by a GM who has a bit of history with both the Barons (as the Chicago Wolves coach) and most certainly with the Oilers. The changes he makes hopefully can resurrect an incredible hockey market in Edmonton, but realize that those changes can directly impact the farm team in Oklahoma City. Scratch that, they WILL effect the hockey team in Oklahoma City. Some things, like recalling Anton Lander and Teemu Hartikainen, might seem bad to us Barons fans, but that’s great news for the Oilers and their fans. But that’s all a part of the future of Oilers hockey, and honestly I’m fine with that. I’m about the process the AHL puts forth rather than “W’s” and “L’s” (although I hate losing; counterpoint). And the best version of the AHL means that players spend less and less time on the farm, and more and more time in the big leagues. The Barons have done a great job of this in spite of the misgivings of an NHL GM, but just imagine what a forward thinking GM with a results based end game would call upon the Barons to do. ANSWER: a lot more. Change is good, know that it’s coming, celebrate a potentially good moves by the Oilers, but prepared for some key changes in OKC. I’m ready.