It’s been a little over four months since Bob Nicholson finally answered the calls of the hockey world and fired President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Peter Chiarelli. The move came during a lackluster Tuesday night at Rogers Place, when the Edmonton Oilers played host to the Detroit Red Wings.
Fast-forward to today, and that little tidbit becomes all the more ironic. Why? The Edmonton Oilers have finally found their replacement, the next leader of Hockey Operations. It will be the other GM in the building on the night Chiarelli was fired, long-time Red Wings GM Ken Holland.
An official announcement is not expected until tomorrow, but TSN’s Ryan Rishaug confirmed overnight on Sunday that all the smoke from the weekend had indeed been coming from a fire, and that Holland is the next GM of the Oilers.
Can confirm Ken Holland has officially accepted the job as Oilers General Manager. An official announcement to come in the next few days.— Ryan Rishaug (@TSNRyanRishaug) May 6, 2019
Same As It Ever Was?:
The Holland hiring has not been met with the same joy as the Chiarelli hiring four years ago. In 2015, most Oiler fans and observers were thrilled that an outside voice with a Stanley Cup ring was coming to town to guide the team back to prominence. Obviously it did not work that way, with the Oilers arguably being in a worse spot today than they were in April 2015.
Most Oiler fans are upset with the Holland hiring, assuming that another old school hockey executive will be coming to town and that it will be the same old song and dance with a different band playing the tune. I don’t blame Oiler fans, this group has been hurt far too many times to just accept any hire as a great one. This is a critically thinking fan base that doesn’t just accept hires as gospel. I love that about this group.
I will admit, I’m not thrilled with the hiring of Ken Holland. He was not in my top-five choices and I fear that this will be the same old song and dance. Look at the Red Wings in the last five seasons, they are an old team with minimal talent that is capped out. They have a plethora of bad contracts that have overpaid veterans well beyond their best before dates.
In fact, when you look at Detroit and Edmonton, you could argue the Wings have more crippling contracts than Edmonton does. Yes, the Milan Lucic deal is the worst of the bunch, but look at the money being handed out to Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Jonathan Ericsson and Trevor Daley. It has capped out Detroit and really hampered their ability to move forward post-Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
Holland has shown a weakness when it comes to loyalty to his players. Far too often he has committed too much money and too many years to players that aren’t worth it. He loves those gritty third and fourth line glue guys like Abdelkader and Helm, almost to a fault. It reminds me a lot of the warning signs with Chiarelli, who overpaid guys like Danny Paille, David Krejci, Adam McQuaid, Chris Kelly and Dennis Seidenberg.
Outside of large contracts to veteran players, Holland hasn’t been nearly as strong at the trade table in recent seasons. He did get a solid return for Tomas Tatar at the trade deadline in 2018, but outside of that it is hard to find a recent trade that Holland truly won.
First off, he doesn’t make a ton of deals, having only completed eight trades since July 1st, 2017. Only three of those deals involved big roster pieces, including the selling of both Tatar (2018) and Gustav Nyquist (2019) at back-to-back trade deadlines.
The last true trade win for Holland? You’d have to go all the way back to March of 2015. That’s when Holland rented defender Marek Zidlicky from New Jersey for a conditional 3rd. Zidlicky scored eleven points in 21 games for the Wings the rest of the season, and was a very solid add to a defense in need of puck-moving help at the time.
Room For Hope:
Until about five years ago, Holland was the gold standard among GM’s in the NHL. There was no one held in higher regard around league circles than Holland, who took over as GM of the Red Wings in 1997. He helped guide that team to constant success until their last Cup appearance in 2009, and kept them in the playoffs through the 2015-16 season.
Under Holland, the Red Wings enjoyed an unprecedented run of success and that cannot be ignored. Yes, the core players of both the late 1990’s and late 2000’s teams were all either in place when Holland took over, or drafted in the later rounds and essentially not his responsibility. That said, he navigated the waters cap wise quite well until recently, and was able to add the right pieces around that group time after time.
Holland, to his credit, has also done a really nice job of rebuilding Detroit’s system and has left new GM Steve Yzerman with a solid foundation to build with. That also cannot be ignored.
Holland is well respected around the league, and I firmly believe that he will bring a level of respect back to the Oilers among his peers. I also believe that Holland will have full autonomy, something I don’t think Peter Chiarelli ever truly had, despite cries to the contrary from the media following his dismissal. I think that will lead to some blood-shedding in the front office in the next few weeks.
Bob Nicholson knew what he wanted when he opened this search in late January. Ken Holland, in my opinion, has always been near or at the top of his list. The Yzerman-to-Detroit move has been the league’s worst kept secret for over a year now, and I think most people knew that when that happened, Holland would be a free agent. Nicholson held out and got his man.
As I said above, I’m not thrilled with the move. I was hoping that Edmonton would go with a younger GM, more in tune with the direction the game is going and with how to win in today’s climate. To this point, Holland hasn’t proven either. I was hoping for a Bill Guerin, Kelly McCrimmon, Pat Verbeek or Mike Gillis.
That being said, GM’s are hard. I loved the Chiarelli hiring when it happened but that couldn’t have gone worse for the Oilers. I loved Paul Fenton’s hiring by the Minnesota Wild last summer but his early work has been less than inspiring to this point. Don Waddell in Carolina? Honestly, I laughed. All he’s done since taking over is make strong move after strong move.
We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s very possible that Ken Holland is just another old dog that can’t learn new tricks, and this hire will go sideways. It’s also possible that Holland has learned new tricks, and is ready to roll in Edmonton.
There is evidence that Holland has learned from his mistakes and that he is the old dog that does in fact learn new tricks. There’s a quote going around from 2014 where Holland talks about “gut-analytics”, but a year later he hired Bryan Campbell to run an analytics department. That gives me optimism that Holland has learned and will continue to do so.
Holland is proud person, a competitor, and I’m interested to see how he attacks this very new and very difficult challenge. I may not love the hiring, but I’m fully in Holland’s corner. He’ll have my support as GM of the Oilers, and I’ll only judge his time here based off the transactions that he makes. There is some cautious optimism from me with this hiring, but the proof will be in the pudding.
Prove everyone wrong, get this team back to a spot where it can compete for Stanley Cups and where it is no longer the laughing stock of the sport.
Do that, and you’ll be a legend Ken Holland.