Just weeks after transitioning from a group ownership model to a single owner the Oilers are entering into a new era on the management side of things as well. Daryl Katz, the new owner of the team, set forth the mandate that the management structure of the organization would become more collaborative. "Daryl had quite regularly talked about giving me the latitude to grow the management staff, recognizing the need and importance of it all," said Kevin Lowe, now President of Hockey Operations with the club.
Enter Steve Tambellini, long time executive with the Vancouver Canucks. Widely regarded as one of the most skilled hockey minds to not have a General Manager position in the NHL, that changed today as the Oilers brought him on board with a 4-year contract to take over that title from Kevin Lowe. "We all like to think that titles are irrelevant," says Lowe. "We want to just get the job done collectively as a team so that the Oilers organization can be successful."
Tambellini will team with Kevin Prendergast, formerly VP of Hockey Operations and now the Assistant General Manager, on the day to day operations of the Oilers and their American Hockey League affiliate in Springfield. Lowe will preside over the entire operation, still having the final say on any transactions. "Somebody at the end of the day has to make the final decision and that person is me," admits Lowe. "Steve will end up doing more of the day-to-day stuff of the General Manager's role, which is a lot. That's what was wearing me down personally. The major decisions are going to be made collectively with the management group with me ultimately having the final say."
If that's starting to sound a lot like what they do in Detroit, you're bang on. With Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Jimmy Devallano and Steve Yzerman all working on concert on the management front, the team has enjoyed an unmatched amount of success for the last decade or more. The Oilers, who are structuring their on ice product to model the Red Wings, aren't hiding the fact that the Wings are the inspiration for the moves today as well. "They're a great example of the collaborative effort that has allowed them to be successful," says Kevin Lowe. "Probably the best part of that organization is the comaraderie that they have at the higher end. If we can emulate that then we are in good shape."
Steve Tambellini agrees that the collaborative model is the way to go. "For me it's about the strength of the group and the encouragement of people to participate and share and grow together," he says. "The strength of the group is so powerful when you do it right."
MEET STEVE TAMBELLINI
Steve Tambellini is an extremely well respected name in the NHL. In taking this position, he concludes 17 years with the Vancouver Canucks organization most recently holding the position of Assistant General Manager and Vice President. A former player (553 NHL games), he has also worked extensively on the management side with Hockey Canada. In 2002, he was the Director of Player Personnel for the gold medal winning Canadian Olympic Men's Ice Hockey Team at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He held the same title for both the 2003 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships as well as the 2004 World Cup of Hockey, winning gold in both tournaments.
Kevin Lowe pegs him as a guy that the fans will grow to like and respect in short order because he brings an extremely personable way of being along with his vast hockey knowledge. "Behind that sort of calm demeanor and gentlemanly outward appearance I know is a very firey competitor having worked with him internationally," says Lowe. "Perhaps that's the trait that enticed me the most."
For his part, Tambellini couldn't be happier. Opportunities had presented themselves in the past, but nothing like this one. "I knew that there was one day that I was going to have to leave (Vancouver)," he says. "I promised myself that I wasn't going to leave just be a General Manager in the NHL; I was going to leave to go to the right General Manager's position. This felt right from day one."
"There's so many great reasons why this is the right thing for me professionally and for my family.
And, with the new ownership situation, that's reason #1. "Listening to Daryl talk about his plans for this hockey club going forward and maybe more importantly how it affects this city," Tambellini said when I asked why he's particularly excited to be here. "It's wonderful. Big things are coming here. I'm thrilled to be a part of this."
He's also pretty pumped with the roster of players he inherits. "If you look at the young players that have been acquired through trade or draft in this organization there are a lot of management teams and coaches around the league that are saying this will be a team to be reckoned with soon," he says with a smile.
First up for Tambellini? An important acquistion: "I'm gonna try to find a home," he laughs. "And find a school for my son. He's worried about his hockey association and where he's going, so I have to figure that out."
WHAT ABOUT PATRICK?
It's understandable that there will be some confusion with the restructuring. If Kevin is the President now, what about Patrick LaForge? "I'm still President and CEO of the Oilers and still running the business," he says. It's a situation much like the St. Louis Blues operate under with John Davidson as President of Hockey Operations and Peter McLoughlin running the business side. "The hockey business is just getting bigger and bigger," explains LaForge. "To compete at a high level and win, organizations today are adding an extra layer of skill, talent and knowledge in their organization."
To LaForge the moves are immediately beneficial. "It means that we have a stronger organization that is better equipped to compete and win championships in the National Hockey League right now."
Dan's Dish: Patrick LaForge gives an update on plans for training camp and rookie camp in September: "Training camp will be split between Sherwood Park and Rexall Place as we have in the past. We're hoping to have a rookie camp product announced here relatively soon for another place slightly outside of Edmonton."