Interesting news came out Monday that the Oilers had re-signed Andy Sutton to a one-year deal.

You know, “No. 7 defenseman — and this is a No. 7 defenseman on the Oilers — who isn’t very good and gets suspended all the time and essentially could be replaced by any Grade-C prospect the Oilers have kicking around Oklahoma City” Andy Sutton. The rumored payout of that deal is around $1.75 million, which is a lot for a guy like Sutton (see also: a guy who sucks) but since the Oilers won’t be coming within a mile or so of the cap anyway, it ends up not mattering. It’s a typical Tambellini move: One you can’t make much sense of and ultimately doesn’t much help the team.

But it was all the stuff GM Steve Tambellini had to say in the wake of that signing, and all that he didn’t say, that was more interesting than anything.

It was interesting because it was the third or fourth player who were rumored to be hot targets for the trade deadline but whom their GMs have pulled off the market by signing them, but the first that was truly baffling. Why re-sign Sutton, who by the way is currently 37 years old, when the more pressing concern is (or at least should be) getting Ales Hemsky locked up long-term instead? As was pointed out on Oilers Nation, this might be an issue of loyalty more than anything else.

Tambellini has made a big thing of being overly aggressive in signing guys who express a desire to play in Edmonton. That’s almost reasonable, given that, if “wanting to play in Edmonton” were a skill that translated onto the ice, it would be as rare as Steven Stamkos’ ability to seemingly breeze to 50-goal seasons. In addition, he seems to value guys who understand “the team’s direction,” even if it currently seems kind of nebulous and poorly-considered. Near as I or anyone else who’s watching with an impassive eye that the Oilers’ “direction” is to be really bad in perpetuity. Despite Tambellini’s protestations that the Oiler’s aren’t as bad as the stats or standings show, anyone who takes even the most cursory look at things like their shooting percentage (they’re very safely in the top third of the league) or any other “underlying” numbers that are used to determine whether a team is performing at, above, or below the levels they’re supposed to, will find that the Oilers are actually just as bad as their performance this year shows.

If anything, it shows that the Oilers impossibly hot start was just that: Impossible. Certainly, given how Nikolai Khabibulin and Devan Dubnyk have performed since then, that scorching October is the only reason they’re not in a more serious shoving match with Columbus for what would be their third-straight 30th-place finish.

And that’s what makes all this talk about “direction” so difficult to understand. The direction seems to be — and correct me if I’m wrong here — “Taytay, Ebs and The Nuge will score a billion goals” and then the speaker just kind of trails off and gets a distant look in his eye and mutters something about how Chris Pronger ruined everything and walks away. There’s no contingency outside of sitting back and letting these kids become superstars at some point in the indeterminate but probably near future. Guys are signed to play fill-in roles seemingly willy-nilly based on qualifications not entirely related to hockey so much as their willingness to nod cheerfully about whatever Tambellini outlines as the team’s future when negotiating a contract.

And all this goes without getting into the fact that Tambellini has entered into only the most preliminary talks with Hemsky and his agent about a new contract, despite the forward’s expressed desire to stay unless the Oilers are unwilling to accommodate him. As he points out, we’re down to just two weeks for the team to figure out if they want to go forward with him. On the one hand, it’s pretty easy to understand Tambellini’s trepidation to commit a good amount of money to Hemsky for the next few years given that the kids are going to want to get paid in a big way within that time, and that he is injury-prone, and not exactly producing like the Ales Hemsky of old this season. Of course, his current shooting percentage would also have to double to get anywhere near his career average, and his performance since returning from a shoulder injury has been more or less on par with Jordan Eberle’s, but, you know, GOALS and whatever.

People in Edmonton have made a big thing out of Hemsky wanting out of town regardless of him saying the right things about staying, and if the situation holds as-is in the next two weeks, he might get what is perceived to be his wish. Of course, the Oilers would also be selling him when his value is at an all-time low. Hemsky is ultra-talented and a mere 28 years old. Yes, he’s played 70-plus games just four times in his career, but he’s also traditionally close to a point per game. And this is on the Oilers, not exactly a murderers’ row in terms of point production over the last several years. Top-six forwards don’t just fall out of the sky, and as Oilers fans should have learned by now that it takes a lot of really bad hockey to get guys like Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Eberle. They need look no further than the development of Magnus Paajarvi, who looked for all the world destined for a top-six spot by now early last season and is instead shuttling back and forth between the AHL and NHL, producing very little in the way of points.

It’s hard to envy Tambellini’s job, given how poor his team is and has been, but he’s not making it any easier on himself signing mediocre guys to too-big deals because they’re willing to pay him some sort of lip service with respect to seeing some obscured genius the GM is working with while letting mildly-unhappy but immensely talented players — the likes of which Edmonton has no ability to attract — twist in the wind.

If only Hemsky told Tambellini he really understands the team’s direction. We wouldn’t be having this conversation at all.

Comments (18)

  1. Attention NHL Agents:

    If your mediocre client is on the hunt for a job, go to Tambellini and mention how your client really likes the direction of the team and can see all the good things the organization is doing and what a bright future they have.

    This should at least get you a one year contract with, at 150% of the market value of players of your skill.

    Bonus if you have a cup ring (doesn’t matter what year) at a position the Oilers are weak at. This should net you at least a 3 year deal at double your actual market value.

  2. Tambellini is tough to write about.. His only success is at drafting the #1 overall pick every draft… (Scott Howson is looking to upset his consistency though this draft)

    Also how is Colten Teubert & Taylor Chorney not more of a better option going forward? I know Teubert is Entry Level, and therefore I’m thinking looking at their cap, I can’t believe how much money Edmonton has spent towards the cap this year, versus how TERRIBLE they are..

    Maybe Tambellini is needing to start spending towards the cap floor, he only has 15 players now under contract for next season, with 5 RFA’s, and 4 UFA’s..

    Still doesn’t make sense, but then again, that wouldn’t encompass the “oil”

  3. “…at a position the Oilers are weak at.”

    Funny, I thought that was every position.

  4. Do you even watch the Oilers?

  5. Teams were lining up to trade for him at the trade deadline. So maybe they didn’t get the memo that he sucks either?

    • Name one team that was in the line to trade for Sutton.

      • Even if there were – there’s a huge difference between renting a bottom-pair guy for about $600K for the rest of the season and then wishing him good luck, vs. willingly signing him up for $1.75 million the next season.

      • Rumor was, right before the extension was announced, that the ‘Hawks were in discussion with the Oilers about Sutton. Needless to say as a ‘Hawks fan, when the contract and Sutton’s subsequent removal from the trade market was announced, I was INCREDIBLY overjoyed

  6. Andy sutton has 9 points and is +2 in 33 games. Without the two suspensions he’s been a solid player for the Oilers this year. He’s big, tough and has experience, something alot of the team doesn’t have. Everyone craps on him because they think he’s a goon but for 1.5 for one year and tons of cap room left over I really don’t see this as a contract to scoff at. The oil need to replace Barker and probably Peckham for next season so its not like Sutton is eating up an important spot right now. Last time I checked Teubert and Chorney weren’t really upgrades on Sutton at this point and top 5 defensemen arent exactly falling off the shelves and looking to move to Edmonton on a regular basis.
    The tone of this article seems to be that if you tell Tambo you like the direction of the team he will sign you to a ridiculous contract. Like other players have never said that before about other teams! This was once a great blog until everyone quit…….

    • I just know from experience, Sutton is more of a defensive minded player (pre-Suspension, now he’s afraid to hit).. rather than an offensive minded d-man. Agree?

      The Oil are clearly a team built upon scoring, if you have defenders who can’t transition the puck, your forwards will never be able to transition into the offensive zone with regularity..

      Transition, and that 1st pass out of your d-zone is so important in today’s NHL. It was a smart move on Sutton’s agent to get OVER top dollar for his client..

      Tambo once again mismanaged that one.. If he thinks Sutton is going to help this young team out of the basement..

      • All I’m saying is that it’s a fairly low risk move at this point. The oilers have virtually nothing to trade for Dmen right now aside from hemsky and they need to replace a couple of them at the end of the year if possible in Peckham and barker . It’s a short term deal and they have cap room to absorb it easily. Sutton isn’t great but no one in the system below him is any better, and acquiring defenseman isn’t the easiest move right now. The money is another story but I haven’t really been happy with the cost of most of the players the oilers have signed in the last 10 plus years.

  7. I do agree with the Hemsky part though, although I hate that so many people seem to know exactly whats going on with the negociations with him when they don’t know anything about what happens behind the scenes.

    They need to keep him but it’s not that easy, his contract has to work for the team and for him. Sadly I doubt the Oilers are willing to give him the term and size that he wants, and if thats the case they need to take what they can get for him before he walks for nothing.

    When Katz bought the team Hmesky was the first guy to say “I want to be the go to guy on this team, to lead them to victory” but since then he’s been injury prone and his play has declined. He just looks disinterested this year. Its it the injuries or his desire, I’m not sure. All I know is if they do give him his 5 year deal he better step it up and be the “go to guy” he says he wants to be before the kid pass him any further.

  8. Two places you lost me…

    1. No one gives a shit about Pronger anymore. No one. If fans in the city are over it, maybe you should be as well.

    2. Yes, Hemsky is superbly talented. And close to a point-per-game player, but that is with a TON of powerplay time. Almost half of his career points are on the powerplay. I like Hemsky, he has game-changing ability. But thats when he FEELS like contributing, which isn’t often enough. I don’t question Suttons determination or drive, however, sometimes I look at Hemsky and question whether he cares or whether or not he’s giving it 100%.

    Instead of looking at it as being about a guy who wants to play in the city of Edmonton, look at it as being about a guy who wants to PLAY, period.

  9. Hmmm…sign a big tough veteran D to help protect the high flying kids, bad move. Failure to offer an high skilled but oft-injured winger bad move. Next, you’ll be telling me Dale Tallon isn’t a good GM either.

  10. Steve Tambellini’s not a great GM, but the Andy Sutton signing is just fine. He’s a fairly reliable defensive defenseman who can help along some of the younger guys (Colten Teubert, for example, plays a similar game) and seems to be really well-liked by the team. It’s a one-year deal, not a mega-term, and while the cap hit is a little on the high end, it’s not ridiculous. Sutton has shifted his game in the last little while, too, still playing physical defense but not generally taking dumb penalties for it and actually starting to step up into the play offensively when the opportunity presents itself. Given the overall weakness of the Oilers’ defense, having a guy like Sutton around isn’t going to hurt anything.

    As for signing Hemsky to a long-term deal, well… He turns the puck over constantly, passes when he should shoot, gets injured about once a month, doesn’t battle in the corners, loses the puck if he can avoid taking a hit, and doesn’t seem to do much defensively. He’s got a ton of talent, for sure, but the work ethic doesn’t seem to be there, and I suspect that the Oilers front office would like to see some signs of that before locking themselves into a contract, especially given that they’ve got some decent prospects coming up as well as the second contract for a lot of guys.

    I’m not saying that the Oilers don’t have management problems, but the things Lambert’s talking about here aren’t anywhere near the top of the list. (The top of that list, for the record, would read “oh god oh god please someone give us a puck-moving, minute-munching defenseman so our forwards can stop being forced to break up the cycle by themselves and end up too exhausted to actually get to the other end”.)

  11. Everyone who said the Sutton deal wasn’t awful are awfully bad at understanding hockey and hockey economics.

  12. Great signing! Seriously.

    Q: Who are the Oilers going to sign in the summer as a veteran depth defenseman?

    A: Someone who they outbid 29 other teams for, one who gets at least two/three years and similar money (if not more).

    No veteran Dmen are lining up at Tambo’s office June 30 to be first in line to sign for less than market valve and short term to have his family winter in Edmonton. Big, tough, well liked veterans free agents are in short supply. When one of them wants to sign for only 1 season you sign him. Deal done.

  13. “essentially could be replaced by any Grade-C prospect the Oilers have kicking around Oklahoma City”

    God forbid the Oilers actually sign experienced NHL players rather than having 767592 kids learning on the job at the NHL level.

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