EDMONTON - Steve Tambellini bought a lot of Brooklyn Bridges Friday.
But in doing so, he quite likely built his own bridge to the future.
While others were lining up at an agent’s office in Toronto to try convince Brad Richards to join their team or dealing to try to get top end free agent talent, the Oilers general manager was digging around the dump.
But what he came up with in his own variety of free agent frenzy made the Oilers a decidedly bigger, tougher hockey team, improved his defence for the short term without sending a message to the big defencemen he drafted in the last two years that that way isn’t clear to work their way to the NHL team.
He may have even made it easier for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to play for the Oilers next year instead of going back to junior to put on another dozen pounds. And the Oilers actually added somebody who could win a faceoff!
One by one there’s room to put down every one of these new Oilers.
Like Ben Eager. The guy has been with Philadelphia, Chicago, Atlanta,
San Jose and now Edmonton in a span of three seasons. Gotta be a message in there somewhere.
Leaving Game 2 of the Western Conference final in Vancouver, in the considered opinion of your correspondent, Eager was an embarrassment. He took a boarding penalty against Daniel Sedin 90 seconds after yelling at the Vancouver bench, tripping Mason Raymond in the nuetral zone that gave the Canucks a 4-2 lead on the resulting powerplay and letting the game get away, scoring a meaningless goal late and standing over Roberto Luongo trash talking.
Not surprisingly, as was the case with Raffi Torres in Vancouver, he was available in free agency. But when the Oilers signed him, the fan base reaction was overwhelmingly welcoming.
The blue collar fans in Edmonton like their enforcers and shift disturbers.
Heck, they loved Steve Smackintyre. But coach Tom Renney wouldn’t play him on the grounds that he couldn’t skate fast enough to be able to get to where he had to get to hit somebody and whenever Reney put him on the ice he’d take a stupid penalty. At least Eager can skate some and score some and Renney might give him some ice time ...
Cam Barker is a 6-foot-3, 215 pound defenceman out of Winnipeg who was going to be a star. He was the No. 3 pick in the Alex Ovechkin draft. But last year he put up five points and was a minus-10 in Minnesota and was bought out of his contract. Bought out! Give him a one-year contract and one last chance to salvage his career and ...
Darcy Hordichuk, like Eager, hasn’t fit in anywhere for long, having had stops in Vancouver, Phoenix, Nashville, Atlanta, Florida and now Edmonton in his 495-game (1,074 penalty minute) career.
But nobody in the media is going to object to the arrival on a one-year, six-figure contract of the guy from Kamsask, Sask. He’s one of the best quotes in the league and offered this one for openers:
“Hopefully Vancouver is getting a tough guy because I’m coming after them. Calgary, too. It’s payback time.”
Andy Sutton is a 36-year-old defenceman who has found his way from San Jose to Minnesota to Atlanta, to the New York Islanders to Ottawa and Anaheim. He’s 6-foot-6 and about to be employed in Edmonton to be somebody to at least stop people on their way to the net while the Oilers grow their own on the farm.
Eric Belanger has been found expendable in Los Angeles, Carolina, Atlanta, Minnesota, Washington and Phoenix. At 33 years old, he’s not the kind of part that most teams are looking to take. But at $1.75 for the next three years, he gives them one of the biggest things they’ve been missing. He can win a faceoff. With a 53.9 career percentage, again, Tambellini filled a void short-term.
None of these guys will likely be in the team picture when the Oilers start competing for Stanley Cups.
But together they should help Edmonton get out of the basement and begin the process of teaching the kids to win without being overly worried about getting filled in and having other teams skate through to the net unmolested.
You don’t have to like any of the acquisitions on their own not to like the messages they send to their new teammates, the fans and the other teams in the league.
On the whole, it was a good Canada Day in Edmonton.
Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones