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The Feeble Four: Which Oilers Season Was Worse? -- (#3) 2009/10 vs (#7) 2011/12

Our March Sadness bracket continues with the first of two Feeble Four contests. In this match-up, two of the early rebuild seasons go head to head.

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With more than 80% of the vote, the top seeded 2014/15 season defeated the 2008/09 edition of the Oilers and claimed the final spot in the next round, meaning that the Feeble Four is now set. On the top half of the bracket we'll have a #1 versus #4 match-up, that'll open for voting tomorrow. And on the bottom half of the bracket we have the third seeded 2009/10 season taking on the Cinderella story of the bracket, the 2011/12 season, who started this tournament ranked seventh.

By now you're familiar with the stories of each of our entrants so I've added "Why this season is the worst" to the descriptions below. In theory this should help you choose between two well match seasons, in reality it's just depressing.

Click here to enlarge.

#3 -- 2009-10 - 62 points (27-47-8)

Finish: 30th
Goal Differential: -70 (30th)
Power Play: 5.62 (22nd)
Penalty Kill: 7.30 (26th)

How they got here

Narrowly defeated the 2006/07 season in the round of eight.

The story

Steve Tambellini had big plans for the Oilers in 2009/10. He had a new man behind the bench in Pat Quinn. He'd signed a new number one goalie, and former Stanley Cup winner, Nikolai Khabibulin to a four-year deal worth $15M to replace Dwayne Roloson. Sure he came up short trying to land Dany Heatley in a deal that would have sent Andrew Cogliano, Dustin Penner, and Ladislav Smid to Ottawa, but that was just one piece. The Oilers were spending to the cap and this was the season that things were really going to turn around for the franchise.

Things were ugly right from game one for this Oilers team, starting with Khabibulin handing the Flames the game winning goal on opening night. With something like that you're tempted to think that things can only improve from here, that they can't possibly get worse. And if this is what you thought after watching that game, you were very, very wrong. Things did not get better for the Oilers, in fact they got a whole lot worse as a team that wasn't very good to begin with was even further depleted by injury. The losses mounted and by January the word rebuild was being tossed around for the first time that I can recall.

And rebuild is the route that the Oilers took, trading Denis Grebeshkov to Nashville for a draft pick, Lubomir Visnovksy to Anaheim for Ryan Whitney and a draft  pick, and Steve Staios to Calgary for Aaron Johnson and a draft pick; in hindsight it might have been wise to cut just a little bit deeped in that first rebuilding season. The rebuilding Oilers rode that wave of suck all the way to a 62 point, 30th place finish, not quite the lowest point total in franchise history but close. At the lottery the Oilers won something for just about the first time all season, and then used that first overall draft pick to select Taylor Hall, who would be the cornerstone of the team's rebuild.

Why this season is the worst

Two words: The Shift. I don't know if there has ever been a sequence of play that has so aptly described a team's season as The Shift did. This was failure from beginning to end, and it seemingly was never going to end. Bruce McCurdy described it this way:

Jason Strudwick plays a shift that lasts 1:55, then after a 90-second rest, he and Taylor Chorney get caught out for a shift that lasts 3:45 without a whistle, the longest shift since Eddie Shore in 1929. In those agonizing 225 seconds the official play-by-play records 17 events, every last one of them in the Oilers zone. By the time Deslauriers finally manages to pounce on the puck, the overmatched duo has each recorded a Corsi rating of -11 on a single shift. 41 and 43 are a prime pair if I've ever seen one. (Sorry for the math joke.)

If you really want to, you can watch The Shift in all its glory on YouTube.

#7 -- 2011-12 - 74 points (32-40-10)

Finish: 29th
Goal Differential: -27 (23rd)
Power Play: 7.15 GF/60 (2nd)
Penalty Kill: 5.74 GA/60 (13th)

How they got here

Defeated the 10th seeded 2007/08 season in the second play-in match-up. Then pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament taking out the 2010/11 season that was ranked second.

The story

This was the year that the rebuild was supposed to turn a corner. The Oilers had not one but two first overall draft picks in their roster, Taylor Hall and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and the team had added Cam Barker, Eric Belanger, Ben Eager, and Darcy Hordichuk during free agency. The distraction of Sheldon Souray playing in the AHL instead of with the Oilers was now a thing of the past, this was the year that things would be different. Things weren't different.

Devan Dubnyk assumed the role of the team's number one goalie, playing in 47 games; Nikolai Khabibulin would see action in 40 games. Between them they provided the Oilers with goaltending near the league average: 0.912, the league average was 0.914. But average goaltending wasn't enough to propel the Oilers up the standings, with 74 points the Oilers still missed the playoffs by 21 points. 74 points was an improvement for the Oilers though. It was 12 more than the team had accumulated in each of the previous two seasons and was enough for them to finish nine points ahead of the last place Columbus Blue Jackets.

Speaking of the Blue Jackets, they would be the unlucky team that would fall to the second spot on the draft after the Oilers won the lottery for a third time after the season ended. The Oilers would select Nail Yakupov with the first overall pick at the draft in June. This was also the draft where the Oilers used a second round pick to select Mitch Moroz.

Why this season is the worst

Let's skip ahead to the end of the season: In four seasons as the Oilers' General Manager, Steve Tambellini had taken a team that finished with 41 wins and 88 points the season before he was hired and steered them to finishes of 85 points, 62 points, 62 points, and 74 points. In the middle two seasons the team finished dead last in the league, and in the final three was lucky enough to secure the first overall selection in that year's draft. Granted, the team he inherited had some problems, but going from problems to fewest wins total wins in the league during his tenure is quite the leap.

Rather than be fired for his failures though, Tambellini was first allowed to fire a third coach in four seasons (because if the first three couldn't win with his team then the fourth certainly would), and was then given a three year extension and the ability to continue rebuilding the Oilers in his own warped image. The season itself had been a massive failure, but having it come to an end and there be zero accountability for it within the front office made it even worse.