Oilers gamble on Tambellini

Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini speaks to the media at the River Cree Casino in Edmonton,...

Oilers general manager Steve Tambellini speaks to the media at the River Cree Casino in Edmonton, Alta., June 6, 2012. (CODIE McLACHLAN/QMI Agency)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 4:08 AM ET

EDMONTON - It was appropriate that the press conference was held at a casino.

Now that Steve Tambellini officially has a new contract, he has a chance to be an exceptionally successful general manager going forwards because he won the lottery to pick No. 1 in the draft three years in a row.

It was inappropriate, however, that the event to announce his extension was held at the River Cree Casino, where the Edmonton Oilers pro scouts are meeting this week. Tambellini’s lack of success so far at finding veteran pros to play with the young drafted talent would be the biggest reason for not extending Tambellini’s deal.

It was not big news that Tambellini had a new deal.

That he was going to be extended (and that Tom Renney was going to spend the rest of the season coaching from the edge of a cliff) was revealed in this column in the Jan. 23 edition of the Edmonton Sun.

It took 136 days. But it’s what happens in the next 25 days will likely be more important than what happens in the rest of what is believed to be a three-year deal for Tambellini.

There’s his third head coach to hire in his last four years. There’s his final No. 1 pick in the draft to select. There are players to trade. And there’s July 1 free agency.

If he doesn’t hire the right coach, he’s history. There’s no way Tambellini can survive with four fired coaches in five years on his resume.

He better be right this time. If this team doesn’t start a rocket ride to the other end of the standings, he’s not gonna be around to watch the Oilers move into their new downtown arena.

“I think this month, this whole time of drafting, free agency and assessment is a critical time. And coaching is important for this phase of where we are. We need to get the right person to push people to the expectations for the next few years,” he said.

He opened by thanking Kevin Lowe and Daryl Katz “for their trust and belief.”

Then he got right to it.

At least he’s not going into Phase II of the rebuild in denial.

“I believe we’re entering a different phase in the growth of our hockey club. Along with that comes the pressure of expectations. Which is the right thing. That’s what we should be talking about now. Winning!

“I feel very excited about taking this next step. We should be taking the next step and moving up the charts. I expect that.”

The biggest move Tambellini could make in the next month would be to sign Justin Schultz, the Kelowna-raised defenceman from the U of Wisconsin who was originally the second-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2008.

Expected to be a free agent on July 1, Shultz might be enticed by the idea of playing with Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov. And you’d think he’s not likely to do that if Tambellini doesn’t have his coach hired soon.

“Ideally, that’s the most beneficial thing. I can’t guarantee that it will be in place by then. But ideally you’d want to have your staff in place to talk about ‘Here’s how we want to play,’ ” he said.

Tambellini refused to offer anything on the coaching front.

“We’re in a process and that’s all I’m going to say about that,” he said, not even willing to offer a rough number of candidates he might be looking at.

While he wasn’t indicating the length of the deal, he said he needed it done now to go forward to hire a coach.

“It’s important. They’ll want to know what is happening with the management team. It’s important if you’re hiring a significant piece of your organization.”

He also said he isn’t holding his breath waiting for somebody to make him an offer he can’t refuse for the No. 1 pick in the draft.

“At this point I’d say I’m making the pick. Until someone comes to me with something that is significant and obvious decision, then I’m going to make the selection. Until you see something that knocks your socks off, don’t bother calling.”

And he did say he was impressed with projected No. 1 pick Yakupov in his visit earlier this week.

“He’s a nice young man. He’s a passionate kid and I thought he presented himself very well.”

Bottom line on all of this? From this point forward, judging the extended GM will be easy.

Just win, baby.

Follow me on Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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