EDMONTON - Unlike the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames, Steve Tambellini did not once say he was sorry. Not once did he apologize.
Instead he walked into his end-of-the-season State-of-the-Oilers session after a 29th-place season, following back-to-back 30th-place seasons, with the big grin still on his face from the night before.
And he proceeded to make himself available for the next 41 minutes and 44 seconds.
The general manager with the 53% approval rating and still no signed contract extension, looked completely comfortable, spoke with unusual confidence, was on occasion surprisingly candid and had a presence he’d seldom exhibited before.
Maybe it was because he’d managed to get lucky the night before at the NHL’s bingo palace. But this was a guy who, in winning the NHL Draft Lottery for the third year in a row, for the first time really did look like he’d just won the lottery.
Maybe it was because he knows for sure it’s all arrows-up from here. But he wasn’t going to be bothered by members of the media trying to push his buttons about leaving coach Tom Renney “blowing in the wind” for a few weeks to decide if he’s the man to go forward to the future with here.
Tambellini said two things about his own contract situation. “We’ll get it done.” And “I’m very comfortable.”
He said he loves what he saw from Devan Dubnyk in the last part of the season but “needs to see it for a longer period of time” and “at the start of a season.”
He said “nobody has established themselves as a top-two defenceman on a championship team.”
There was a lot of content like that.
But most of the 41 minutes and 44 seconds dealt with the big picture and what winning the No. 1 pick in the draft the night before could mean going forward.
While fans were trying to picture a team with No. 1 picks Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov as well as Jordan Eberle on the first two lines, Tambellini made it more than obvious he was going to be open to moving the No. 1 pick this year.
Indeed, he was almost advertising to that end.
“It presents a lot of options to us. You are able to listen to other teams’ ideas. I’m excited. I’ve been thinking about this for a lot of hours now.
“Managers recognize the type of skill we have on our organizational chart. Managers know if they present something to help us, we have the ability to make a deal.
“It presents just a wonderful opportunity at this time in Oilers history, where we know we’re going to add another significant piece or package when we leave the draft.
“With the phase that we’re coming into, we can listen to more legitimate options. We’ve accumulated a good amount of highly skilled individual talents throughout our organization. Most of it is not here yet. It allows us to think about moving down a pick, or down three picks, and adding a solid player and maybe a current player.
“There are a lot of people in the league who look at what we have and they know how excited we are, because they realize it. You can’t fast-forward as fast as we want to go, but we’re trying to push the accelerator with development and growth as fast as we can. We want the same thing as everybody else.
“I feel more comfortable with the idea of accomplishing both, where I’m getting a solid pick and someone who could help our current club. I have to look at that.”
Tambellini went so far as to suggest that Yakupov, everybody’s No. 1 pick, was not a Steve Stamkos or Alex Ovechkin, nor a Taylor Hall, with his two Memorial Cup MVPs, either.
“There isn’t the player coming out of this draft that who has had that kind of impact.”
Getting to know Yakupov is going to be big, going forward.
“I think you have to know where he comes from, what his family background is like, what his coaches think of him, what his teammates think of him …
“We’ll know these players and the options inside out by the time we get there.”
Tambellini said there’s still no plan of going after what he terms “the A+” free agent on July 1.
“We still have to do a terrific job developing this core team first, so that they want to come. Not only that they want to come, but we want them to come at the right time. So the direction has not changed.
“We just feel we have the option of adding an extra piece and accomplishing what we want to do, out of the draft.”
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