With voting now under way in our first Feeble Four match-up - #3 2009/10 versus #7 201/12 - it's time to take a look at the other contest in this round of our March Sadness bracket. Here we've got the number one and number four seeds going head to head, but even though we've got a number one seed in action here this is far from an easy decision because it's an all Dallas Eakins match-up.
What's worse, the full season of Dallas Eakins behind the Oilers bench or the season where he was fired after 31 games?
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#1 -- 2014-15 - 62 points (24-44-14)
Goal Differential: -85 (28th)
Power Play: 6.10 (16th)
Penalty Kill: 7.84 (27th)
How they got here
The Oilers kicked off the 2014/15 season with three free agent signings on July 1 - Mark Fayne, Benoit Pouliot, and Keith Aulie. The team also re-sgined Luke Gazdic to a two-year deal that day and would soon reach an agreement with Jeff Petry on a one-year, "show me" deal. Just prior to the start of free agency the Oilers dealt Sam Gagner to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Teddy Purcell, effectively awarding the team's most recent first round draft pick, Leon Draisaitl, a roster spot. These were the moves the team made to improve from a 28th place finish the season before.
Under better circumstances, in some alternate universe, perhaps this would have worked, but the lack of depth at centre and on the blue line, coupled with terrible goaltending was too much for the Oilers to overcome and the team struggled to start the season, winning only seven of their first 31 games, a record poor enough to get Dallas Eakins fired as the team's head coach. With Todd Nelson - the Oilers's sixth coach in seven seasons - behind the bench, things improved for the Oilers in the standings as they went from a 50 point pace under Eakins to a 69 point pace under Nelson. Still far from a good total, or even a decent total for that matter, but an improvement, as sad as that is.
Now at nine years and counting of their team going nowhere fast, and worse, showing no signs of improvement, the fans in Edmonton were getting more than a little unhappy. Jerseys were being thrown onto the ice at a fairly regular pace and almost nobody had a single nice thing to say say about the team. The pleas for patience were falling on deaf ears. Until April 18th. That night the Oilers won the draft lottery for a fourth time in six seasons and instantly everything changed. Within months the team had a new man at the top, a new General Manager, and a new coach. And with those things in place the team then drafted Connor McDavid first overall. Four lottery balls changed the way this season looked in a hurry.
More March Sadness
More March Sadness
Why this season is the worst
Started from the bottom now we're still at the bottom. That probably wouldn't make for a good song but it sums up the 2014/15 Oilers quite nicely.
Five years earlier team had finished last for the first time and drafted Taylor Hall, that season they finished with 62 points and kicked off their rebuild with that sparkly new first overall pick. Good times were just around the corner. But with that rebuild now ready to start kindergarten in the fall, the team had failed to turn the dial even slightly from suck towards don't suck, once again finishing the season with 62 points, and with the fewest wins in franchise history (lockout shortened seasons excluded). The Oilers may not have be the NHL's worst team this year, but last or not, 62 points is 62 points, and it's an absolutely terrible total in any season, and after five seasons of rebuilding it's downright depressing.
#4 -- 2013-14 - 67 points (29-44-9)
Goal Differential: -67 (28th)
Power Play: 5.73 GF/60 (20th)
Penalty Kill: 5.72 GA/60 (9th)
How they got here
Like many other seasons in our March Sadness bracket, there was a decent amount of optimism surrounding the Oilers as the team embarked on the 2013/14 season. A new man sat behind the desk in the General Manager’s office, that was Craig MacTavish, and Dallas Eakins was the team’s new head coach. During the summer the team had traded Shawn Horcoff to Dallas, and had acquired David Perron and his white skates from St. Louis in exchange for Magnus Paajarvi. The team brought in a couple of free agents as well, Andrew Ference, signed to the four-year, $13M deal, and Boyd Gordon, who was signed for three years and $9M.
That optimism was short lived though as the team fell out of the starting gate, winning just four of their first 21 games. These were the days of the team’s "swarm" defence, a system that Eakins tweaked and then abandoned after it became clear that his players had no idea how to execute the system he wanted to play. By the swarm was only one of the team’s problems at the start of the season, goaltending was a significant one as well, with the team posting an 0.875 save percentage through the first quarter of the year. It doesn’t matter what defensive system you play, you can’t win with goaltending like that.
With the season slipping away (alright, a lost cause) the Oilers did what they always do, they started trading away players. Devan Dubnyk and Ilya Bryzgalov were sent packing as the team looked for a solution to its goaltending problems; replaced by Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth. Scrivens’ early results with the Oilers were enough to earn him a two-year, $4.6M extension and the job as the team’s number one goalie. Also gone before the end of the season were Nick Schultz and Ales Hemsky. The latter specifically being a player who deserved a much better fate here in Edmonton.
Why this season is the worst
On January 20th, with just 15 wins in 51 games, the Oilers find themselves in 29th place overall, a mere 23 points removed from a playoff spot. Since they they have 36 points at this point in the season, that gap is probably going to be tough to close in the final 31 games. So of course this is a good time for the owner to let us know his thoughts on the state of the team. Some of the highlights:
Yes, we hoped and expected to be better this year – there’s no question about that. But we’ve also been more active than any team I can think of in rebuilding our organization from bottom to top by supporting player development in OKC and Bakersfield, revamping our scouting organization, naming a new GM and a new coach, signing free agents like Justin Schultz, Boyd Gordon, Andrew Ference, Anton Belov and Ilya Bryzgalov, and trading for players like David Perron, and now Ben Scrivens and Matt Hendricks. And we’re not done.
I hear a lot from fans about accountability, so let’s be clear. We are all accountable. That includes me, Kevin, Craig, Dallas, every player who wears our jersey, and every member of our staff. I know Kevin is the target of a lot of personal attacks right now, and that’s really unfortunate. Kevin is a big part of our organization, and it’s not just the Oilers that value his knowledge and perspective. He is consistently chosen, year after year, to play a leadership role with Hockey Canada. But when it comes down to it, this is Craig MacTavish’s team. He is the GM. He makes the calls, and he is accountable for building a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup -- year in and year out for years to come.
This letter is a no win move by Katz. There are still fans that have faith, this letter isn't directed at them though. This is directed at the fans who aren't happy with the state of the team, and anyone frustrated by the team's seemingly direction-less rebuild is not going to be won over by this. All a letter like this is going to do is piss people off, which is exactly what it did. And it's worth noting that none of the people identified as being accountable were in a different position when the next season started. Perhaps we have a different definition of accountable.