The Edmonton Oilers are a disaster.

Over the past three NHL seasons, the Oilers have finished last, last and second-last overall. Even the pathetic Columbus Blue Jackets have 11 more wins and 26 more points over that stretch.

So far this year, the Oilers aren’t much better – they’re 14th in the 15-team Western Conference and well on their way to missing the playoffs for the seventh year in a row.

But GM Steve Tambellini isn’t concerned.

“Most of the people that are here are people that we will be counting on for a long time,” Tambellini said earlier this week. “If it makes our team better we’ll consider things, but you’re not going to give up on youth just to help you in the next two weeks.”

The reason Tambellini doesn’t see a problem is because he’s actually part of the problem. The Oilers desperately need to rebuild – not on the ice, but in the front office.

Tambellini’s only claim to fame since joining the Oilers as GM in 2009 has been turning three first-overall draft picks into talented youngsters Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakopov. It doesn’t take a lot of talent to draft a pretty decent player when you’ve got the first pick, and in order to collect three first-overall picks in a row, your team has to be spectacularly bad. That’s an accomplishment?

In terms of acquiring talent outside of the draft, Tambellini has been abysmal. Eric Belanger and Ryan Smyth are probably the best forwards he’s acquired – Smyth is clearly over the hill and Belanger recorded just four goals and 16 points last season. Of the 29 players acquired by Tambellini over three seasons, zero have become all-stars and only half are still with the organization. Anyone remember the spectacular flameouts Ales Kotalik, Patrick O’Sullivan and Martin Gerber? Point made.

But the disaster area that has become the Edmonton Oilers franchise can’t fall on Tambellini’s shoulders alone – some of it has to fall on team president Kevin Lowe, who’s remarkably continued to get promoted as his team has gotten worse. With the exception of a shocking run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, the Oilers haven’t won a single playoff series with Lowe in a management role, and have instead missed the playoffs in eight of his 11 years at the helm. Blame Lowe for Shawn Horcoff’s annual $5.5 million cap hit, for the Sheldon Souray debacle and for the Dany Heatley mistake. Blame Lowe for the Dustin Penner offer sheet and the countless overpriced defencemen he brought in, year after year, strictly because they reminded him of himself as a player.

Yeah, here’s a tip, Kevin – you actually weren’t that good a player, either.

But it’s no surprise that Lowe has been given more rope than any real NHL executive might – the Oilers recycle players from their former glory days like no other franchise. That’s why former goon Dave Semenko has been entrusted with evaluating scoring talent as a scout. That’s why Craig MacTavish – who couldn’t find an NHL job after being fired as the Oilers coach in 2009 – is back this year with a promotion to Senior Vice-President of Hockey Operations. That’s why Kelly Buchberger and Steve Smith (yes, the same Steve Smith who scored on his own net in 1986 to cost the Oilers a chance at five straight Cups) are assistant coaches. Because clearly what you did on the ice in the 1980s makes you perfectly qualified to run the franchise into the ground 30 years later.

There’s no question that the Oilers have collected some of the best young talent in the NHL – but this isn’t 1981 and these aren’t The Boys on the Bus. At some point, potential has to start delivering or it’s wasted and sometimes, you’ve got to move some valued pieces in order to build a better, well-rounded core. Because stockpiling young potential year after year clearly doesn’t win anything.

It’s something yet to dawn on the Oilers brain trust, and might never with Tambellini and Lowe in charge.

The Oilers are set to leave the Rexall Centre for a new arena in 2016. Let’s hope the team’s ghosts are left behind as well.

2 Comments | Add a Comment
ryan smyth at 2.5 mil per for 2 other team wanted him for free.there has to be a complete house the hockey is not exactly watchable stuff.
Good points. You can't develop six young players at once. Chicago traded young talent so they had some gritty players around Toews and Kane and are the best team in hockey now.
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