With the New Year right around the corner, we’ll wave goodbye to the 2010s, a decade filled with ups and (many, many) downs in Oil Country. Let’s jump in the time machine and go back through all of the things that defined this decade of Oilers hockey. First up, we have the Fall for Hall campaign.
The Oilers didn’t win their first game of the decade until February 1st, 2010.
They limped into the 2010s with a 2-1 loss in Calgary to the Flames that came immediately after the team snapped a seven-game losing streak with a win at home over the Toronto Maple Leafs. That loss to Calgary would be the beginning of a whopping 13-game losing streak that would ultimately define the early part of the decade for the Oilers.
Backing things up a little bit, the Oilers came into the 2009-10 season with a different look than in previous years. After missing out on the playoffs in back-to-back-to-back seasons, the Oilers fired long-time head coach Craig MacTavish. He was replaced by a duo consisting of the legendary Pat Quinn and a respected tactician in Tom Renney.
While certainly not a contender, the Oilers were expected to compete for a playoff spot that season. They had narrowly missed out in both 2008 and 2009 and the addition of Nikolai Khabibulin in free agency, a fresh voice behind the bench, and a roster that featured an interesting blend of young and veteran talent created some reason for optimism in Edmonton. I know, I know, it sounds hilarious in hindsight, but the Oilers missed the playoffs by six points in 2009 and Khabibulin posted a .919 save percentage in his final year in Chicago.
Things got off to a difficult start for the Oilers when, just three games into the season, Sheldon Souray suffered a concussion due to a dirty hit from Flames captain Jarome Iginla. Souray returned a month later, but he didn’t look like the same player. In late November, with the team struggling to stay above water, Ales Hemsky suffered a shoulder injury in a loss to the L.A. Kings. He would require surgery and the injury would end his season. The team went on a five-game winning streak without him, but the wheels fell off shortly after.
Maybe everything would have gone differently if Dany Heatley had appreciated that promotional DVD a little bit more.
With the team in a tailspin in late December, the focus shifted to the World Junior Hockey Championship in Saskatoon. The team’s top two picks from the previous draft, Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson and Anton Lander, were ripping it up together for Sweden, while top prospect Jordan Eberle was dominating the tournament alongside some 2010 draft-eligible forward who had won the Memorial Cup MVP earlier that year.
Canada would end up losing to the United States in the Gold Medal game, but the performance of Eberle and Hall together throughout the tournament coupled with the Oilers’ struggles brought life to the slogan “Fall for Hall.”
As time went along, it became more and more clear that the Oilers would be selecting first overall for the first time in franchise history come summer. After trying and failing to retool after their 2006 Stanley Cup Final run, it was clear that it was time to try something else. It was time for the Oilers to dive head-first into a rebuild.
The team carried a 13-game losing streak with them from 2009 to 2010 and they didn’t manage to earn their first win of the New Year until the beginning of February. If you go all the way back to their first massive losing skid of the season, the seven-game one that came immediately after the five-game winning streak, the Oilers only won 12 of 50 games to finish the season. That putrid finish gave them a 27-47-8 record on the season, 12 points clear of the Toronto Maple Leafs for dead last in the league.
One thing that wasn’t clear, though, is who they would be taking with the first pick. The draft order remained the same after the draft lottery in April, but the question remained — Taylor or Tyler? Everyone knew the team needed to hit the reset button. But which prospect would be the one to build the whole thing around?
Hall had been the guy for most of the year because of his Memorial Cup run with the Windsor Spitfires the previous season and his great showing at the World Juniors. But Seguin burst onto the scene that year, matching Hall’s 106 points and edging him out for OHL Player of the Year. While the original goal was to Fall for Hall, Seguin’s late-season performance made him a feasible top pick.
Seguin was a centre, while Hall was a winger, which sparked the Crosby vs Ovechkin argument between the two players. Edmonton already had their top wingers of the future, Eberle and Paajarvi-Svensson, so this was their chance to get a franchise centre, right?
The debate was incredibly intense. Those in favour of Hall would talk about his accomplishments and winning demeanour. Those in favour of Seguin would talk about his valuable position and superior hockey sense. Hall was reckless, he would be injury-prone. Seguin was from a town in Ontario just like Wayne Gretzky. Hall reminded people of Mark Messier. Seguin had better combine interviews. Hall was captain material. It was a never-ending debate for months.
As Steve Tambellini slowly meandered his way to the podium at Staples Centre in Los Angeles, fans waited anxiously to see the results of the Taylor vs Tyler debate. Those who showed up to the draft party at Rexall Place got to watch Eberle awkwardly sit on stage as news came out that a madman in Boston named Peter Chiarelli tried to trade the second overall pick to Edmonton for him and Ales Hemsky so the Oilers could draft Taylor and Tyler. But that didn’t happen. Tambellini finally reached the podium after what felt like hours of walking and called Taylor Hall’s name.
The Fall for Hall prophecy was fulfilled. The Oilers had their guy to lead them to the promised land. Let the Oil Change begin.