Edmonton, AB - Thankful, excited and determined were Edmonton Oilers General Manager Steve Tambellini's main sentiments on Wednesday afternoon at the River Cree Resort & Casino, as he addressed the local media following the announcement by President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe that the team was renewing his contract.
"I'm very grateful to Kevin Lowe and Daryl Katz and his family for their trust and belief in what we're doing here, which is trying to build a champion," Tambellini said to reporters at the River Cree, where he and the rest of the hockey operations staff are meeting with the Oilers professional scouts from Canada, the United States and Europe this week.
"I do believe we're entering a different phase in the growth of our hockey club. And with that comes the pressure of expectations, which is the right thing. That's what we should be talking about now. How do we win more hockey games? How do we become better players? How do we become better at developing, teaching and winning? That's what we're paid to do. I feel very excited about taking this next step."
Tambellini's contract is a multi-year deal, though exact terms were not specified on Wednesday. The 54-year-old native of Trail, B.C., has been part of the organization for almost four years, joining the Oilers on July 31, 2008, after 17 seasons as a member of the Vancouver Canucks management team.
The GM said he and Lowe spoke "some time ago" about continuing his contract, but they just recently finalized the deal. Tambellini said the terms weren't as important to him as solidifying his role in the Oilers' rebuilding process.
"There's always negotiation in any deal," he said. "But the most important thing was knowing we were going to continue on with the same type of plan that we started a couple years ago of how we're going to grow and turn around this hockey club and bring in talent." Managing an Oilers squad that has not made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2006, Tambellini's goal from this point on is simple and obvious.
"I hope we're a continual playoff team. Our goal is only one thing here — to win a championship. We have incredible fans here, and we're going to get there as soon as we can get there. We have an incredible market here and people who care a lot about this hockey club."
With questions and answers regarding the new contract wrapped up, discussions switched over to what lies ahead in the Oilers' immediate future. First and foremost, the team's head coaching position remains vacant, and Tambellini said he would like to have a new bench boss in place prior to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft coming up June 22-23 in Pittsburgh.
"I can't guarantee that he'll be in place by then, but ideally that would be the best scenario so you have your staff in place to talk about how you want to play," he said. "We're in a process, and that's about as much as I'm going to say. We have a general direction of what we want to do, but I don't want to put a timeline on it. If we need to go longer, then so be it."
The timeline may not be set in stone just yet, but Tambellini knows what he wants in the team's next commander, who will take over from Tom Renney, whose contract was not renewed.
"We're going to get the right person that can push people to the expectations that we feel are going to take place over the next few years," he said. "We have to grow this team properly with people who are going to teach and motivate and do all the things players in the NHL today expect from their coaching staff."
DRAFT OR DEAL?
Speaking of the upcoming NHL Draft, the Oilers possess the coveted first-overall selection and are hosting several top prospects for visits to Edmonton this week, including Nail Yakupov, Mikhail Grigorenko and Ryan Murray.
Contrary to the previous two seasons when the Oilers also had the top selection and it was fairly obvious they would use the pick, there is a greater possibility this year of Tambellini making a trade with another team looking to move up in the draft. However, those possibilities remain unrealized at this point and the GM is still open to offers.
"At this point, I'd say I'm making the pick," Tambellini said. "Until someone comes to me with a significant, obvious decision, I'm going to make the selection. I've had a few calls, but nothing I felt I needed to present to Kevin and Daryl that made sense for our organization to give up the number one pick. Until you see something that knocks your socks off, don't bother calling."
NO NEWS ON SMYTH
Once the draft is complete, the focus turns to free agency season, which commences on July 1. The most notable free agent on the current Oilers roster is veteran Ryan Smyth, who was fifth in team scoring last year with 46 points. The team and the player had discussions during the latter stages of the season, but no further negotiations have transpired.
"We did make an offer to Ryan, and it didn't work," Tambellini said. "I don't know where it goes at this time. I like Ryan, but I understand he has his goals, and we're trying to shape our roster talent-wise and financially in a way that we can go forward to."
Tambellini did say, however, the Oilers are close to signing defenceman Oscar Klefbom to a three-year entry-level contract. The team's first-round, 19th-overall draft pick at the 2011 NHL Draft has spent the last two seasons with Farjestads BK Karlstad of the Swedish Elite League.
"The plan is to get Oscar signed prior to the draft," Tambellini said. "He'll be here shortly. It won't be very long, because I think he's ready to play pro hockey soon. And I'm excited to see him. He loves to play and plays with a lot of passion."
Even if the 18-year-old signs his entry-level deal, he could continue to play in his home country for one more season as long as his playing time is up to Tambellini's standards.
"If he's playing over there a ton as a top prospect, I'm OK. If he's not playing the minutes I expect him to have for development purposes, then I'm not a happy manager. He should have top-four minutes."