Imitating Ken Holland

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 22:  Jim Nill (L) and Ken Holland (R) of the Detroit Red Wings share a laugh during the 2003 NHL Entry Draft at the Gaylord Entertainment Center on June 22, 2003 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images/NHLI)

Aside from the Lou Lamoriello diehards, most people would agree that the best general manager in the NHL over the last decade or so is Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings. And while every year broadcasters, fans, and even NHL teams talk about adopting the model of the latest Stanley Cup winner, there’s been a persistent desire to emulate the Red Wings because of their success.

Fortunately for us, Red Wings G.M. Ken Holland has explained time and again different facets of his strategy, seemingly unafraid that people are going to start taking his advice to heart. And much of what he says is relevant for this year’s edition of the Oilers.

Amid the misery of the last four seasons, fans and broadcasters alike have clamored for the Oilers to imitate the Red Wings’ success. It’s even reached the front office; when John MacKinnon compared the Oilers’ brain-trust to that in Detroit, Steve Tambellini agreed with him. Of course, his biggest signing to date ignores the Red Wings patented ‘build a team, skimp on goalies’ strategy, but that’s a digression for another day.

Instead, I wanted to focus on some comments Ken Holland made in an interview with the website Hockey’s Future, comments that are directly relevant to this season’s Oilers.

On Introducing Prospects To The NHL…

I think we like skills, we don’t draft projects. Also, because we have a good team, we don’t have to rush anybody, we let the players develop at their own pace. We can afford to be patient with the prospects. We believe it is better to let the players develop correctly, to complete their junior level and eventually play in the AHL or with their European team before playing with the Red Wings. For example, [Henrik] Zetterberg was a very good hockey player, he was 5’10 and only 165 lbs and then grew up a little bit. He was the Rookie of the year in the Swedish League. We left him there one more year, he won the MVP Award there and played at the Olympics.”

Tyler Dellow talked about the Red Wings’ patience in his oft-criticized post on Hall and Paajarvi-Svensson the other day, and in rebuttal Jason Gregor correctly pointed out that because Detroit hasn’t had the luxury of top-10 draft picks. It was a good point, but I think a direct comparison can be made between Zetterberg and Paajarvi-Svensson despite the difference in draft pedigree.

In the summer of 2001, Holland had a choice to make on the soon to be 21-year old Zetterberg. The Swedish prospect was coming off a season that had won him Rookie of the Year honours in the SEL, and in which he had scored 46 points in 47 games. He was far and away the best player on his SEL team – the next leading scorer had just 30 points in 50 games, and while the team was a collective minus-20, Zetterberg was a very respectable minus-2. Despite that, Holland made the decision to leave Zetterberg in the SEL for another season (Zetterberg went on to win player of the year honours and compete in the Olympics, so it’s difficult to argue he wasn’t NHL-ready at that point in time).

It’s worth noting that Zetterberg’s achievements at that point in his career in the SEL are well beyond those of Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson, impressive though they are. It’s also worth noting that Zetterberg was a year and a half older than Paajarvi-Svensson when Holland made the decision to leave him in the SEL, for developmental purposes. Given the choice Holland made with Zetterberg, does anyone here really believe that as Oilers’ G.M. he would have cleared off a roster spot for Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson on this year’s team?

I’ve seen the poll on the sidebar, and I realize the course of action I’m pointing too is deeply unpopular among readers of the Nation. But looking at the choices and statements Holland has made, I firmly believe he would have left Paajarvi-Svensson in the SEL for another season, both for development purposes and to stretch the value gained from his entry-level contract. Speaking of which…

On Stretching A Dollar

"In the new world of hockey, you have to rely on the draft and to develop your players. Everybody is now able to spend money on four, five or six players, the rest of the team you either get them out of the draft or you need to find cheap players that nobody else wants. We got some guys that way, like Daniel Cleary, for example.

Holland here points to the value of entry-level contracts in a salary cap world, but his second point – on “cheap players that nobody else wants” – is the one I really want to point to.

By virtue of their last place finish, the Oilers have waiver priority, meaning that they get first pick of any players waived during NHL training camps. Scott Reynolds pointed to this the other day, and suggested it afforded the Oilers a good opportunity to pick up some quality players that couldn’t make deeper lineups.

Again, Holland has never had the advantage of waiver priority, but it’s hard to imagine him not taking advantage of it – especially if he were at the helm of a team as relatively weak as the Oilers. Does it make more sense to keep a guy like Liam Reddox or Jason Strudwick on the roster over some of the players that may yet become available? Obviously, it depends on the list, but I’m hoping that Oilers management is keeping their minds open to the possibility of dropping one of their guys if an attractive reclamation project comes along.

  • Muji 狗

    Holland’s done a good job, but a lot of it has been luck too.
    In hindsight, they did the right things. But I personally feel that there’s too many variables, too many ways to build a successful team.

    Tamby and co. can certainly learn a thing from Holland (& other successful GMs), but I don’t feel that he can (nor should) emulate another franchise verbatim.

    In conclusion, fist.