Blaming The Professional Scouts

Jonathan Willis
June 08 2012 09:18AM

There’s a line of thought that suggests the Oilers’ primary weakness in recent years has been in signing and trading for professional players. It’s an argument I tend to agree with.

There’s an addition to that argument that’s been made with surprising frequency lately: that the problem lies in the Oilers’ professional scouting department. While I don’t know if that’s true or not, it isn’t an argument that I find especially compelling.

Steve Tambellini has been the general manager of the Oilers for four years now. Three of the Oilers’ five pro scouts – Morey Gare, Dave Semenko and Mike Abbamont have been employed continuously over that span. The other two – Chris Cichocki and Duane Sutter – have been hired during Tambellini’s tenure.

Prior to being hired by Edmonton, Tambellini spent 17 seasons with the Vancouver Canucks front office. According to his biography on the Oilers’ official website, “Tambellini was involved in all aspects of the team’s hockey operations including contract negotiations, scouting and minor league affiliates.”

Between the 1997-98 season and leaving to join the Oilers, Tambellini served as Senior V.P. of Hockey Operations, V.P. of Player Personnel and V.P. and Assistant General Manager. He has also been involved in the selection of Team Canada over the years, twice serving as the team’s G.M.

He’s not some babe in the woods, unable to fend for himself and at the mercy of the competence or incompetence of his scouting staff. He knows – or at the very least has no excuse for not knowing – the players the Oilers are making decisions on. He’ll be familiar with the opinion the Vancouver Canucks had on a lot of these guys. He’s also going out and talking to other people about deals he’s making – Steve Yzerman was cited as an authority on the Tom Gilbert-for-Nick Schultz trade.

In short: if he’s been getting bad advice from his professional scouts, surely it should have been evident at some point over the last four years. Tambellini has spent the last two decades in hockey management , and something like the last four in and around the game. He would also have first-hand knowledge of the scouts in Vancouver and be able to compare them to his personnel in Edmonton.

It could very well be that there are problems in the scouting department. To my mind, though, if there are they would tend to condemn Tambellini rather than exonerate him.  We're at the point now, four years into his tenure, where it's his front office and both its mistakes and its triumphs can be laid at his feet.

This week by Jonathan Willis

Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, Sportsnet and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including the Edmonton Journal, Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.