Decade of Futility: Part 2

Welcome to the second half of my Oilers decade in review. If you missed it, I would recommend reading Part 1 first to fully understand the anguish.

2011-12

Record: 32-40-10

Coach: Tom Renney

GM: Steve Tambellini

Notable Stat Line: Jordan Eberle posts 76 points; an 18-year old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins posts 52 points in 62 games; Maggie Paajarvi scores all of two goals in half a season.

Notable Debuts: Nugent-Hopkins.

Memorable Moments: There are virtually no memorable moments from this season, unless Ryan Smyth’s return qualifies… but I had forgotten that, so what does that say?

Summary: The Oilers decade of failure had a lot of memorable moments, but there were few in 2011-12. Once again, Tambellini did the hockey equivalent of reshuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic; he made poor depth signings to address major holes (noted free agents like Ben Eager, Darcy Hordichuk, Cam Barker, Eric Belanger, Corey Potter, Josh Green, and of course Lennart Petrell), while piling too many expectations on yet another high draft pick.

Once again, the Oilers started well, jumping out to an 8-2-2 record by November 3rd. And, once again, early promised drained away as the Oilers faded back to .500 and below by the end of November. Winter didn’t bring any relief; from December 3rd to January 21st, the Oilers put up 9 points in 22 games. With the season effectively over, Edmonton played meaningless, .500 hockey the rest of the way, which at least resulted in their best season (74 points) in three years. The Oilers would not reach that point total again until… THIS WEDNESDAY.

Optimism: Low, but not the lowest. While things didn’t look great, you could hang your hat on the team moving from franchise low point totals to simply close to franchise low point totals.

2012-13

Record: 19-22-7

Coach: Ralph Krueger

GM: Steve Tambellini (fired mid-season); Craig MacTavish

Notable Stat Line: Rookie Nail Yakupov leads the Oilers in goals; Hall posts 50 points in 45 games; Nugent-Hopkins slumps to four goals in 40 games; Ryan Smyth posts two goals in 47 games in his final season.

Notable Debuts: Yakupov, Justin Schultz.

Memorable Moments: Yakupov scoring an early-season OT winner against Los Angeles (these are the types of scraps we were reduced to); the amazing MacTavish/Lowe press conference.

Summary: The Oilers packed a lot of hilarity into a lockout shortened season.

Ralph Krueger, mostly of international hockey acclaim, surprisingly takes over from Renney. The Oilers also land prized college free agent defenceman Justin Schultz, a legitimate boon at the time. They have yet another first overall pick joining the team, Nail Yakupov, and turn to Russia to try to bolster their abysmal defence by signing KHL star, Anton Belov.

The season shows some promising signs. Schultz resembles a rover more than a defenceman, which is kind of fun for a while. Yakupov brings an energy, and the Oilers start respectably. The goaltending – Devan Dubnyk, and the reanimated corpse of Nik Khabibulin backing him up – is respectable, and the patched together defence keeps the Oilers above water. After a wobble, Edmonton goes 8-2-2 midway through the season, capped with an 8-2 road win in Calgary. The Oilers, everyone, are in… a playoff race! A desperate fan base clamours for a free agent rental or two as we struggle with the concept of “playoffs”. Tambellini answers by bringing on Jerred Smithson, a man who had totalled three goals in the previous two seasons. The Oilers season goes off a cliff rather spectacularly as they lose nine of 10. Midway through the streak, Tambellini is fired, and is never heard from again.

And in comes Craig MacTavish.

The MacTavish/Lowe press conference is remembered well by Oilers fans. It was the Old Boys Club at their egomaniacal peak; a tone-deaf, drunk with power Lowe berating the press for daring to question him (to be fair, the local press hadn’t as much as said a bad word about the Oilers for the past six years, so it likely caught him off guard), as he promotes his old pal – with no experience! – to fix the mess they were both directly responsible for. It remains the most staggeringly incompetent day of a staggeringly incompetent era, and also gave us most of the hilarious Oilers jokes that provided us with laughs in our darkest moments (Six Rings, Tier 1 Fans, Bold Moves, “I think I know a little something about winning, if that’s ever a concern!”). As a final f*** you to the fans, they also had the audacity to bring back renowned idiot, Scott Howson.

Interestingly, this separated the fan base into one of two camps. The first was so happy to be rid of Tambellini, and bought the “MacTavish has a good hockey mind” drivel that was recycled by the Oilers PR men on the radio and in newspapers. The rest of us were filled with a dread and understanding that things were not going to get better any time soon. If at all. Ever.

Optimism: Never lower for most. Slightly higher for a few optimists.

2013-14

Record: 29-44-9

Coach: Dallas Eakins

GM: Craig MacTavish

Notable Stats Line: Hall posts 80 points; Keith Acton’s son puts up five points; Devan Dubnyk’s 3.36 GAA is enough to end his time in Edmonton.

Notable Debuts: Ben Scrivens; David Perron, Oscar Klefbom.

Memorable Moments: Dallas Eakins starring into the abyss; Taylor Hall spraying Eakins with water; The SWARM; Ilya Bryzgalov joining the Oilers; Scrivens 59-save shutout; bringing back Denis Grebeshkov, I assume to troll the fan base.

Summary: Through years of therapy and alcohol, I’ve forgotten much of this season, but maybe it’s time to look back.

Craig MacTavish was not known for many bold moves, but he did start that way, by parting ways with Krueger (over Skype) and bringing in tough-talking, healthy-eating Dallas Eakins to take over behind the bench. Eakins was a lot of bravado and not a lot of sense, and much like MacTavish promised immediate change. Out were Shawn Horcoff and Paajarvi, and in came David Perron and Philip Larsen. MacTavish signed journeyman defenceman Andre Ference to an alarmingly long deal.

This resulted in major change. The Oilers didn’t even start the season well this time.

The Oilers crashed on arrival, starting the season 1-6-1, and plummeting to 4-15-2 by mid-November. Edmonton was staggeringly bad many nights, and were only useful for providing the internet with memes, and opposing backup goaltenders with victories. Incredibly, over an 82 game season, the Oilers managed losing streaks of 5, 5, 5, 6, 4, and 7.

This season was incredibly bad. I still don’t want to talk about it.

Optimism: What is optimism?

 2014-15

Record: 24-44-14

Coach: Dallas Eakins (fired mid-season), Todd Nelson

GM: Craig MacTavish

Notable Stats Line: Scrivens and Viktor Fasth combine for a SV% of 0.889. Everyone’s stats are bad. Everyone.

Notable Debuts: An unready Leon Draisaitl; Benoit Pouliot; Nikita Nikitin, a man sewn together from parts of bad hockey players.

Memorable Moments: None.

Summary: Eakins is a dead-man walking, but MacTavish can’t bring himself to fire the coach he chose after a year, so he returns. The Oilers, who are now proudly getting into analytics about a decade after everyone else, overpay Mark Fayne and Benoit Pouliot. They inexplicably trade for Nikitin – who wasn’t good enough to crack Columbus’ top six defencemen – and give him $4.5 million per season. It is not the most damaging contract MacTavish signed, but it is the stupidest. The most damaging contract is the inexplicable one-year deal given to Jeff Petry, which allows him to enter free agency next season, removing all Oilers leverage for a trade and simply turning what was an asset into nothing.

The Oilers are in desperate need of centermen, but decide to not address this because… I’ll still never understand that decision. They throw Draisaitl into the NHL as an 18-year old.

Edmonton allows 23 goals in their first four games and start the year 0-4-1. After a shock winning streak, the season implodes in spectacular fashion. Edmonton loses four in a row, win two, and then lose 11 in a row. They beat San Jose on December 7th, and then lose 10 MORE in a row. Eakins doesn’t survive the second collapse, and is put out of his misery. Oilers fans have (incredibly) been through streaks like this before, but never so early in a season. They promote AHL coach Todd Nelson, and he steers the team to normal bad, rather than historical bad.

Players that once showed promise – Schultz and Yakupov – now appear to be borderline NHLers. The Oilers young stars – Eberle, Nugent-Hopkins, and Hall – have all regressed. The term “getting Oilered” enters the hockey lexicon; Perron, who had a nice 2013-14, is barely on pace for 40 points before he is off-loaded mid-season. New arrivals Fayne and Nikitin are horrendous, and they have no NHL-level goaltender.

Optimism: Rexall provides tranquilizers to Oilers fans, at a healthy markup, of course.

2015-16

Record: 31-43-8

Coach: Todd McLellan

GM: Peter Chiarelli

Notable Stat Lines: Connor McDavid puts up 48 points in 45 games; no one and nothing else matters.

Notable Debuts: See above. Also, Pat Maroon and Cam Talbot.

Memorable Moments: Everything Connor did; the Chiarelli announcement.

Summary: The Oilers off-season was far more important than their actual season. The Oilers win the draft lottery and are awarded generational talent, Connor McDavid. Surprisingly, they hire Peter Chiarelli to be the next general manager, without firing (or even acknowledging) that MacTavish is the current GM. It is a stunning development, as Chiarelli has no history with the Oilers, is not a personal friend of Daryl Katz, and has actual experience in the NHL.

Curiously, Chiarelli inherited a mess and a good situation. The Oilers were in no position to turn things around immediately, and they had virtually no infrastructure and showed an almost willful disregard for player development. But they were hindered by very few terrible contracts, just fell into a draft pick who would immediately become a top NHL talent, and were well positioned to make moves. As it has been for many years, many of the Oilers issues were obvious to everyone else in the league, so Chiarelli’s path to success was relatively clear, all things considered.

McDavid’s excellence was the unquestioned highlight of the season. The team never contended, immediately falling to the bottom of the NHL standings and never threatened to leave. While poor, the team played reasonably despite a slew of injuries, and identified a few valuable pieces moving forward (Talbot and Maroon).

Optimism: Shawshank-level light at the end of the tunnel.

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