Steve Tambellini last addressed the media at Rexall Place when he made his closing comments to wrap up the 2010-11 season back in April.
69 days later, Edmonton’s general manager was back in the conference room, putting a stamp on the team’s intended plans as summer heats up.
Before he could settle in, Oilers Radio Network analyst Bob Stauffer spoke of the bombshell that everyone wanted in on.
"Have you got that Smyth trade done yet or what?"
With TSN’s Bob McKenzie and others reporting that Kings winger Ryan Smyth
would like to return to Edmonton via trade, everyone knew the question was coming. Along with the media swarm, Tambellini chuckled at the blunt enquiry.
It was a comical moment, no doubt, but one that ultimately required a response. It came 10 minutes later when Oil Country’s hottest topic was reintroduced. This time, a normally reserved Tambellini was unable to hide his emotion.
Before answering, he was silent for a moment. A quick stutter followed before he returned to his rock-solid poker face. Whether or not it was a tell, Tambellini seemed oddly perplexed with the question.
"I'm aware of that," he said, referencing to TSN’s story. "[Ryan is] a good person and that's his business; that's (Los Angeles Kings GM) Dean Lombardi's business, and I respect that."
Tambellini did, however, expand on a related matter. While the Smyth rumours are prevalent, the storyline alone is as good as any. It also helps to shed light on what fans can expect to see as Edmonton builds to the top of the NHL’s Western Conference standings.
"We'll get to a spot where people want to come to play with some great young players," he explained. "When people start sensing that something good is going to happen soon, then you'll start seeing people who want to play with some high-end talent."
Smyth could potentially be a prime example, but the GM isn’t telling.
What he would comment on was the future of Sheldon Souray in Edmonton. The rugged blueliner, best known for his point-shot cannon, was relegated to the AHL’s Hershey Bears last season. Following his ill-timed and unwarranted public blast of Oilers management, Tambellini says there's little chance Souray will be welcomed back to Edmonton.
"I don't see that as a likely scenario," he remarked. "There's been a little [trade] discussion, but I’m not sure what will happen there. I know [buying him out] is an option at the end of the day. We'll have to make a decision sooner or later I guess, but we'll see."
With those decisions still to come, Tambellini is most certainly prepared for Friday. For the second consecutive year, Edmonton will make the top selection, welcoming another highly-skilled young superstar to Oil Country.
As Tambellini explains, the process leading up to this event has been about scouting someone with "special" talent.
"They're all very good. They're all going to be great NHL players. But they're all a little different. My push was, 'Okay, you keep telling me that, but give me the guy that you think is special.' That's what you're looking for and that's what Taylor [Hall] brought.
"Someone that's special that can bring something that we don't have. Something that's maybe not right now, but a couple years from now, will be elite."
Has the decision been made yet?
"Unless something changes, we have a pretty good idea of where we want to go.
"But I'm not telling you that yet," he added with a smile.
Beyond that top choice, Edmonton has another eight picks to work with. A quick glance at the team’s depth chart will reveal what the club is looking to accomplish over the course of the weekend in St. Paul. Although Tambellini acknowledges that the team needs help in almost every position, odds are that centres and defenceman will emerge as the Oilers’ top priority.
"You'd like to have some balance to take care of all your needs, but I don't know if that's going to happen," Tambellini said. "It's hard to say. You never know what's going to happen a couple picks down; someone comes out with a pick that you didn't anticipate and it changes the next 10 picks.
"That's why that pick at 19 was so important for us. We’ve spoken for some time about these being the couple years where we need to build and acquire elite talent. We know we'll get a good player."
Even so, Tambellini was non-committal about staying in that spot. The opportunity for Edmonton to move up (or down) via trade could present an enticing option. In doing so, there’s also a possibility that roster players could be moved in order to help the team now, while still keeping the future in mind.
"If [our scouts] are extremely passionate about a player that's sitting there, we're going to be aggressive to try and move up to get that player. We’ll do what it takes."
In terms of acquiring assets by sending others out, there’s no rush to deal. Tambellini is comfortable with what the team currently has, but is open to all opportunities.
"You're talking about people that you don't want to move out of your organization. I'm not going to do that with our core of young players right now.
"I'm going into this wide open. I don't feel like I have to bring in more young players to our roster. If there's something special out there, I'll consider it. I don't want to make a deal just to make a deal."
Although there’s a myriad of options to consider, Tambellini’s goal is simple. It’s a philosophy directed to each pick, but most importantly, first overall.
"I just want the best player."Author: Ryan Dittrick | edmontonoilers.com