After ten years of terrible hockey and eight match-ups we've finally made it to the final of our March Sadness bracket. In the final we find our number three and four seeds: the 2009/10 season that kicked off the rebuild versus the 2013/14 season that was the beginning of the, thankfully short lived, Craig MacTavish/Dallas Eakins era. With so much failure to choose from it says a lot about these two seasons that they were able to rise above and make it this far.
As strange as it sounds, I've enjoyed putting this series together and being reminded about some of absolutely awful hockey and mind numbing decisions that we've been treated to over the last decade. I hope you've enjoyed it as well. And now it's up to you, one last time, which Oilers season of this decade of failure was the worst?
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#3 -- 2009-10 - 62 points (27-47-8)
Goal Differential: -70 (30th)
Power Play: 5.62 (22nd)
Penalty Kill: 7.30 (26th)
HOW THEY GOT HERE
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.
The Feeble Four
#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.