BY: DUSTIN POLLACK
It was a nice idea. The thought that three rising stars under the age of 22 would lead the Edmonton Oilers to the franchises first playoff birth since their Cinderella-like run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006.
But just over three months after Edmonton collected its seventh win at the end of October and sat at an impressive 7-2-2 as one of the top teams in the Western Conference, the Oilers season has taken a harsh yet perhaps reasonable turn.
Just nine days into 2012 the Oilers are coming off back-to-back losses over the weekend and they’ve now fallen in 12 of their last 14 games.
But the Oilers current standing in the Western Conference – 13th place and 12 points out of a playoff spot – should come as no surprise. This is the reality of rebuilding a franchise. Young pieces are slowly brought in and hopefully molded into the players that will eventually lead the team to a Stanley Cup or at least a few deep-playoff runs. And Oilers management has done a great job in drafting young talent, specifically of course, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and most recently Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
But the harsh reality of a rebuild is that its long process, with no guarantees, and no timetable for success. It’s a process that isn’t easy for fans of the team and one that can’t be easy for the players who are apart of it. Losing, for that matter is never easy.
But the hardest part of all comes for Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini who has to be tempted, at some point or another to stray for the long-term goal of building a winner, by buying a piece that may benefit his team in the short term but hurt them in the long term.
A move like some feel Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke made prior to the 2009-2010 season to acquire Phil Kessel – a move that cost him two first round picks and a second round pick in the entry drafts that followed.
Many Leaf fans believed the move Burke made strayed from the Leafs “rebuilding plan” at the time and it’s a trade that fans will debate for as long as it’s relevant.
For Tambellini that type of opportunity is available to him. Should he want to acquire a top-caliber forward or defenseman, he has the assets in draft picks and available funds to make a move.
Should he walk that road? I’d say absolutely not, but there are others who disagree. Mike Soria, Oilers correspondant for OurHometown.ca wrote a column a few weeks back that headlined Why won’t Tambellini make a move.
In the piece Soria, argued that a 7-14-1 record between November 1st and December 21st should have set off sirens in Tambellini’s mind, that a move was necessary citing secondary scoring and defense as two of the teams glaring weaknesses.
Should Oilers GM Steve Tambellini make a move to acquire a big-name talent or stick with his current roster?
Soria’s points are valid, the team’s defense is weak and beyond the strong play of Ryan Smyth, the Oilers have little to no secondary scoring. But a trade isn’t going to solve those problems. Acquiring a top-six forward or highly offensive defenseman would likely cost Tambellini his 2012 first round pick that could turn out to be a highly touted prospect like Nail Yakupov, Ryan Murphy or Matthew Dumba. Both Murphy and Dumba are defensemen and could turn out to be large parts of Edmonton’s future on the back end – a defensive nucleus that right now is sub par at best.
And beyond his draft picks what other assets does Tambellini have to move? Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle and Hall are obviously out of the question, both Shawn Horcoff and Ryan Smyth have no-movement clauses and Ales Hemsky and Sam Gagner don’t carry much value at this point considering they’re both underperforming and have underperformed beyond just this season.
So how exactly is Tambellini acquiring something that would immediately turn this Oilers team around?
Odds are he’s not.
Nikolai Khabibulin may become a hot commodity around the trade deadline.
Perhaps one of the only logical moves for Tambellini to make would be to trade resurging netminder Nikolai Khabibulin. The 38-year-old Russian might make for the perfect “rental” come the end of February should a team vying for a playoff spot feel the need to fill a void between the pipes. However, while Khabibulin has put up some of the best numbers of his career this year, currently there are few teams in playoff positions – or in the hunt – who appear to be weak in goal. Tampa Bay, should they turn it on in the second half of the season could make a push for the top eight in the East, but perhaps Steve Yzerman is looking for a more long-term solution after a bittersweet run by 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson in the last calendar year.
Ottawa, at the moment at least, seems like the most realistic option should the Senators continue to play well through the New Year. Craig Anderson has struggled this season and currently the goaltending position seems to be the Sens weakest link.
But even if Tambellini manages to trade “The Bulin Wall” what’s he worth? A second round pick and a bottom-six roster player?
The solution that seems would be most helpful to the Oilers struggles is also conceivably the solution that would be hardest for fans in Edmonton to swallow. Patience. This team was supposed to be exactly where they currently are in the standings – near the bottom of the Western Conference and ways away from a playoff spot. A strong October may have had fans excited, but should Steve Tambellini continue down the path of a rebuild the long-term success in Edmonton will be far greater than any 7-2-2 October record.
And that’s what Oilers fans should be hoping for.
For more sports analysis and news from Beating the Buzzer check out @Dustin_Pollack on Twitter and check out our Facebook fan page here.
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