Vancouver, BC – If Steve Tambellini wasn't already feeling the heat heading into his fifth season as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, he's likely sweating now.
On Monday, the Oilers announced that former head coach Craig MacTavish, the same man Tambellini sent packing after his first year in Edmonton, is re- joining the team as senior vice president of hockey operations.
The official return of MacTavish, who spent last season coaching the Vancouver Canucks' AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves, comes less than a week after the Oilers announced Tambellini was re-signed to a contract extension.
Tambellini's contract extension may seem like a vote of confidence for the 54- year-old executive, but it's clear the Oilers haven't been exactly content with the Trail, British Columbia, native's body of work since joining the club. It's hard to be when the team has languished at the bottom of the league standings for the entire duration of Tambellini's first four seasons.
While Edmonton has publicly praised Tambellini's work in guiding the club through its rebuilding process, it should be noted the Oilers didn't bring in Tambellini with the purpose of rebuilding in the first place.
Rather, the Oilers were forced into that position after Tambellini took over a team that had finished just six points shy of a postseason berth the season prior to his arrival and led it to the bottom of the NHL in his first season there, where they finished 33 points out of a playoff spot.
While Tambellini can be credited for bringing in a pair of future superstars into the organization in Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the jury is very much still out on the other draft selections that Tambellini has presided over that weren't no-brainer picks in the first overall spot.
Tambellini also has made some decisions involving veteran players in his time there that have been questionable and, in most cases, haven't yielded much success.
He brought in the likes of Ales Kotalik, Mike Comrie and Nikolai Khabibulin, who have turned out to be major disappointments. He alienated top defenseman Sheldon Souray, leading to a bitter divorce after first allowing Souray to sit in the minors for a full season while earning his $4.5 million salary and, most recently, he gave underachieving forward Ales Hemsky a two-year contract extension worth $5 million per season that will see him earn more next season than the likes of Los Angeles' Dustin Brown, Philadelphia's Claude Giroux and 2011 Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks.
It isn't a stretch to suggest the Oilers brought MacTavish back specifically in his new capacity as VP of hockey operations in order to put him in prime position to assume the reigns as general manager if and when they decide to walk away from Tambellini, which could be as soon as this time next year if the Oilers spend another season among the bottom-feeders.
The fact that MacTavish's return comes before the Oilers have named a replacement for recently fired head coach Tom Renney is no coincidence, either. MacTavish will likely have the final approval on who the Oilers bring in as the fourth bench boss of the Tambellini era since there is a chance the new hire will have to report directly to MacTavish somewhere down the line. For now, Tambellini will have little choice but to operate business as usual with MacTavish breathing down his neck.
It's an arrangement that doesn't figure to last long, which won't bode well for Tambellini's long-term future in the capital city of Alberta.