39 games from now the Oilers season will end and the team will miss the playoffs for the eighth straight season. This will also mark the end of Year 4 of Rebuild 2.0, a rebuild which began with the last place finish that gifted the franchise Taylor Hall, and was followed by two more first overall selections - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov - before the team climbed all the way to 24th in the league last season. This season the Oilers are on pace for a franchise low 59 points and another finish within shouting distance of dead last.
Another run at first overall is not how this season was supposed to go, and when sports teams fail to meet even the most modest expectations set out for the team, people tend to lose their jobs. This is what happened when the Oilers finished last for the first time, in 2009/10, after Steve Tambellini brought in Nikolai Khabibulin as a free agent and spent to the salary cap. The men who got axed for the team's failure that season included the head coach, Pat Quinn, assistant general manager, Kevin Prendergast, and training staff.
2010/11 was pretty much victim free, since the plan that season was always to finish at or near the very bottom of the league, but by 2011/12 the team was supposed to be turning a corner, and even though the team had stockpiled and was regularly playing teenagers, the team's fortunes did not improve. And so the man who replaced Quinn as the team's head coach, Tom Renney, was shown the door. To reassure fans that Rebuild 2.0 was on track and that the team would soon return to its former glory, Steve Tambellini was given a multi-year extension that same summer. Kevin Lowe had this to say at the time:
Three years ago we asked Steve to begin a rebuild which we all know hasn't been easy. However, Oilers fans can take some consolation in the fact that Steve and his staff have acquired some amazing talent which will most definitely be the cornerstone to future sustained success for the Edmonton Oilers.
Unfortunately for Tambellini the future success that is guaranteed by having three first overall picks on your roster didn't come soon enough and he was fired within a year of signing his extension, the victim of another disappointing season. For those keeping track at home, the lockout shortened 2013 season was the third outright failure in four years, the only successful season being when the team intentionally tried to be terrible. And 43 games into this season the song remains the same. This team isn't close to competing and Rebuild 2.0 is looks more like the rebuilds of the Panthers, Thrashers, and Blue Jackets than it does the Penguins, Blackhawks, or Kings.
So who will be the man blamed for the failure of this season? The usual suspects are available, the head coach and the general manager, but they were both hired just last summer. Dallas Eakins and Craig MacTavish both know that eventually they will be fired, that's the nature of their jobs, but either being pushed out the door this season seems very unlikely. More likely I think, is that sights would be aimed a little higher up the managerial depth chart at Kevin Lowe, President of Hockey Operations.
Lowe's history with the club is well documented. He was the team's first selection in the 1979 Entry Draft. He scored the team's first goal in the NHL. He was part of all five of the Oilers Stanley Cup winning teams and was the team captain for a period. After retiring he was an assistant coach for a season before taking over as the head coach the team for a year, and was the general manager from 2000 until 2008 he was promoted to his current position. Since being drafted in 1979 he's been a part of the Oilers franchise for all but four years. And this might well be his last season.
The fans are fed up and with increasing frequency the media isn't toeing the company line anymore. Something, or someone, is going to have to change. Like I said before that could be Eakins or MacTavish but I have my doubts and to be honest even if they wanted to go that route I suspect that wouldn't be enough to satisfy the masses. At this point it has to be the one thing that's been common to the last eight years of failure; it has to be Lowe that goes this time around. If this doesn't happen then it should be clear to everyone that the Oilers owner, Daryl Katz, is more interested in hanging out with his dynasty era buddies and real estate deals than he is with building a winning team. And if that's the case I'm going to have a very tough time even pretending to care anymore.