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Oilers officially announce Ken Holland as POHO and GM, discuss move and future of the franchise

This morning, the Oilers officially announced the news that we’ve all been talking about around here for the better part of a week now, the hiring of Ken Holland as the team’s new President and General Manager.

Seeing as we’ve all known for a few days now that Ken Holland was going to be the new GM, I was curious to see what kind of information he’d be sharing about his plan and vision for this franchise. When I found out Daryl Katz would also be part of the presser, I was very intrigued to hear his thoughts on the state of the franchise and what he expects to happen moving forward. We don’t often hear from the Oilers’ elusive owner and the fact that he was here today tells me that this is a momentous occasion for this franchise, and, like a sponge, I was ready to soak in everything that was said.

Today’s press conference was a meaty one so let’s tackle it together, shall we?

KATZ

As I mentioned above, we don’t get to hear from Daryl Katz very often so we when we do I tend to pay more attention. Reading from a prepared statement, Katz started with a message about Ken Holland’s hiring and what started the process of bringing him into town.

Regardless of what you think of Ken Holland, the man has been around long enough to have seen it all and I hope that experience serves him well here in Edmonton. The question I think a lot of us have moving forward is whether or not Holland can use the lessons he learned over his 36 years in Detroit and apply them to his new situation while also keeping an openness to new ideas. When asked about what kind of authority Holland will have, Katz put it simply:

You’d have to think that a man with Holland’s resume wasn’t about to step into a situation where he wasn’t able to call the shots. Again, and maybe I’m just skeptical because of a long, hard life as an Oilers fan, but I’ll be waiting to see how he uses that autonomy as it relates to making changes in management. There are guys here that desperately need to go and I wonder if Holland is going to pull out the axe to clean house.

Back to Katz:

This is what I wanted to hear. Right here. Full stop. I wanted to hear Mr. Katz talk about the fans and how we’ve been let down and I was happy to hear him acknowledge it. Again, this kind of small statement won’t fix anything, but it does start rebuilding bridges that have been burned down many times before.

Isn’t it kinda funny how they had to specifically bring up how the org chart will work with Holland as the POHO and GM? We’ve heard all kinds of stories of people within the organization reaching out directly to the owner and I thought it was interesting that those tales were acknowledged. Just me? I thought it was funny.

It’s all we’ve ever wanted.

At this point, we’re in a “show me” space and anything we hear will have to be proven before some Oilers fans are ready to believe again. That said, I’m hoping that this is the start of that step.

NICHOLSON

After listening to Nicholson talk about this GM search for the past few months, I was very interested to see how Bobby Burgers was going to navigate this presser. Up until recently, Ken Holland wasn’t even an option to be the GM so I was wondering how Nicholson was going answer questions about the other list of candidates he spoke to. But first, he started things off by talking about how excited he is to work with Holland and have him as a part of the Oilers organization.

Seeing as these two guys have known each other for a long time through Hockey Canada, it makes sense that Nicholson would be amped to work with his friend. That said, we Oilers fans are very sensitive to this kind of thing because of how the last decade has gone, so we’ll be keeping a close eye on the situation, to say the least.

Given that Holland was granted full autonomy, adding the POHO title to his GM gig wasn’t overly surprising to me. I mean, the guy has done basically every managerial job the Detroit Red Wings have available and having the POHO tag here in Edmonton simply reiterates the control that he has over hockey ops. I get it.

This kinda made me wonder what other candidates for the job must feel. A guy like Mark Hunter interviewed a few different times and I wonder when and how he was told that he’s no longer in the running. Were they led along? Were they told they’re out of the running a while ago? How did this go? It’s one thing to hire someone but it’s another to let everyone that’s invested time in the interview process know that they’re out of the running.

Remember when Dusty Nielson reported that Gretzky was out of the running a couple weeks ago? That starts to make a lot more sense now, huh? Even though we didn’t know about Holland at the time, we did get the sense that the Oilers weren’t sure how promoting Gretzky would be received, and now they don’t even have to worry about it.

Honestly, I would prefer if Ken Holland was allowed to do his thing and that Bob Nicholson went back to pumping out $40 fajitas or whatever it is he does all day. Even in this press conference, I found that Nicholson was the least prepared of the three speakers and there was no better case and point than when Gregor asked about why there have been so few managerial changes over the years despite the lack of on-ice results.

Sure, Bob. Sure.

HOLLAND

As for the man of the hour, I couldn’t wait to hear how he was going to communicate with the media and answer questions about the future of the Oilers and how things went in Detroit. I think we can all agree that Peter Chiarelli wasn’t exactly the most forthcoming with his information and I was looking forward to seeing how Holland would compare. To start, he went into a little bit of background on why he chose to leave Detroit.

I get this. If you’re still passionate about the job you do, it’ll never be easy to get bumped out that role, especially when you’ve been in one place as long as Holland has. But now that Steve Yzerman is calling the shots in Detroit, Holland realized that he wasn’t done with managing a team and, in a matter of days, here we are.

We know about the great pieces and we know that Daryl Katz is willing to spend money, but what we need is a manager to put the puzzle together. We need a manager that can look at the big picture and make changes without stealing from Peter to pay Paul. One thing I really appreciated was that Holland continually stated how this wasn’t going to be an easy fix, that there was going to be plenty of work to do.

Seeing as there’s a lot of work to do, Holland wasted no time at all in getting some of that done. Did I expect that he would start with relieving Ken Hitchcock? Not necessarily, but that’s already one fewer thing on the list and I respect that he’s taking care of business already.

I get why Holland would want to pick his own coach as he starts his tenure with the Oilers, but all I could think about was a guy like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins who will be going into his ninth season with his eighth head coach (Renney, Krueger, Eakins, MacT (briefly), Nelson, McLellan, Hitch). That’s bananas. Here’s hoping that the stability that Holland talked about will carry over to what’s happening behind the bench.

If there’s one thing the Oilers have been bad at over the years, and I know that’s a long list, it’s been their quick reactions to firing coaches and trading players after down years, and I’m hoping that the stability Holland was talking about also pertains to that. I’m hoping that he’s more of a ‘measure twice, cut once’ kind of guy rather than the ‘throw a band-aid over the amputation’ philosophy that we saw with Peter Chiarelli. Sometimes you need to be still, be patient.

If there’s one thing Detroit has always been known for, it’s letting their players work their way into the NHL rather than being gifted jobs off the hop. To me, if Ken Holland can fix this one area alone then he’ll already have done a much better job than any of his predecessors. If he can fix the development path of our young prospects then this organization will be much better off than they have been.

As Nick Seguin said in our interview that I posted this morning, Ken Holland likes to put people in place and trust that they’ll do their jobs correctly, and I feel like that’s the right approach for any business. While we’ll likely never be able to know how that works with the Oilers, I do appreciate the idea of building resources and trusting their opinions. That’s what a smart team would do and I’ll be curious to see how that plays out in Edmonton.

Wait a minute… He likes both speed and skill? I didn’t see any mention of heavy hockey!? Oh wait, it’s not 2012 anymore? Music to my ears. Again, we’ll have to wait and see how this gets executed but I really like the idea of adding more skill into the lineup and not just players that are gigantic humans.

I know that bringing in expensive players is the sexy part of this tweet, but Holland is going to have to clear out some major cap space to make that happen. Right now, the Oilers are wedged up against the cap and it’ll be very interesting to see how he works to clear the necessary space without having to include too many valuable assets to make it happen.

One of the things I was really interested to hear Holland talk about was the cap issues that are going on not only here in Edmonton but also in Detroit. To his credit, the guy had a reasonable explanation for what’s going on with the Red Wings and he even included some numbers to back it up, which was a nice change of pace from the generic excuses that Pete would have offered.

Wait a minute… did he just own his mistakes? That’s a thing that managers can do? Holy hell!

I was waiting for the Keith Gretzky questions to come up, and it makes perfect sense that the Oilers would want to keep him around as part of the solution. I don’t think anyone here believes that Kretzky can’t be a productive part of the solution for fixing the Oilers, but rather that he wasn’t ready to take over as the full time GM and that’s a pretty big difference. If he does decide to stay aboard, I assume he’ll take on a bigger role in amateur scouting where he seems to shine. Gord knows the Oilers need more good players.

Speaking of good players, how could Holland not be asked about Connor and Leon? These two are going to be his crown jewels going forward and it will be absolutely crucial that he finds better players to help them. I liked that he talked about surround the core with more skill. I like that he acknowledged how much works there is to do. I like that he doesn’t seem to be shying away from what probably looks like an insurmountable task. Now let’s see if he can execute.

We’ve heard rumblings for a while now that the players weren’t overly pumped with Hitchcock’s style of coaching, and I’m sure this will be welcomed news for some of the players. That said, it’s also not uncommon that a new GM would want to bring in his own guy, specifically one with a longer shelf life than what he’d get from Hitch.

Holland specifically mentioned the 10 years he worked with Mike Babcock and the four years he’s worked with Jeff Blashill as further examples of the stability he wants to bring to the organization. I don’t know who that coach will be but I will admit that I appreciate the approach of trying to find the best fit and not just the best fit for right now. Now, if only he can take care of that pesky culture problem we keep hearing about.

I said it on yesterday’s Real Life Podcast and I’ll say it again here now: No one was complaining about the Oilers’ culture in 2016-17. No one was talking about this stupid buzzword when the team was winning and it was encouraging to hear Ken Holland talk along those same lines.

Hook this answer into my veins, Ken. Whoa, baby.

If you ever want to find out a lot about a person you can do that when things aren’t going well, and that’s certainly the case around the Edmonton Oilers right now. What will be interesting to see is how Ken Holland decides on who stays and who goes.

One thing I know a lot of people were wondering about was Holland’s willingness to use analytics. While he did suggest that analytics are a tool that should be factored into decision making, he didn’t really specify how much he’d be using them or relying on them when it comes to player personnel. If there’s one concern that I had from this presser it was surrounding the reluctance to go all in on analytics. That said, we’ll have to wait and see how things go.

THE WRAP…

When I saw that there was a press conference happening this morning, I was very curious to see how many actual questions would be answered and how much information the panel would volunteer on their own. I wanted to see if this presser was going to come with any sense of accountability and I was happy to hear that it did. Not only did Ken Holland own up to the mistakes he made in Detroit, but we also heard from Daryl Katz about how Oilers fans deserve better than what we’ve gotten. Now, don’t think that a few sorries and “we know we made a mistake” lines will fix everything that has happened over the past 13 years, but at least it’s a start and at least they’re making an effort to reconnect with the fanbase. To me, I took those words as a step in the right direction as compared to the combative tone that we’ve seen before in these types of situations.

At least for me, this press conference gave me some hope that there may finally be a clear direction for the Edmonton Oilers. I don’t know why but I believe Ken Holland when he says he has a plan more so than I ever did with Chiarelli. Am I wrong? Yeah, they’re going to have to prove that to be true before many of us are willing to drop our guards again, but I also believe that we have to keep an open mind and give Holland the chance to get things right. There’s no doubt that his to-do list will be long and that the heavy lifting has yet to even begin, but we have to hope that this time will be different. We have to hope that all of the years of experience that Holland is bringing to the OEG offices will be used for good and not for shooting one’s foot off as was the case in Chiarelli’s reign of terror. Call me a bandwagon boy, naive, or whatever you want but I left today’s presser feeling cautiously hopeful about what’s to come. Here’s hoping I’m not wrong again.

What did you guys think?

  • Oilerz4life

    I will say at least Katz has taken some ownership for his mistakes as an owner. I don’t agree with how he has surrounded himself with cronies, but at least he’s owned up to some shortcomings.

    Regardless of how I feel about Katz as an owner, a health condition like that would be terrible and wish him all the best as a human being.

    • Quoteright

      I’ve been hard on him for his lack of public accountability and for that I’m sorry.
      I was unaware of his health condition.
      That is tragic and I would not wish that on anyone.
      It does not though clear him of his record and of the consistency of price gouging that has occurred under his reign.
      Reduce the prices for all foods and beverages.
      Freeze season ticket prices for 5 years
      Give back so that the new rink can start to relax and create some positive attitude and atmosphere.
      Cheap beer=loud crowd
      Stop the gouging for the worst home team in professional sports.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        This also could be Kevin Lowe looking for some incentive cheques? Isn’t he involved in the Oiler’s Entertainment branch of the franchise… I think that Katz would only be looking at the final results, not how they got their. An umbrella as large as Mr. Katz’s, I think the last thing he would be saying is “raise beer prices”… He has hired people to make those decisions, & I think that would be Lowe, wouldn’t it? Same with in game experience…

  • Hockeytalkguy

    Well, i have been really critical of this hiring, however, giving Holland a chance is the rational thing to do. I watched the one on one interview with Holland and Rishaug after the presser. I have to admit, Holland looks genuinely excited to be taking on the tasks at hand. As for Katz, kudos for being part of the presser, and wishing him good health.

  • TKB2677

    I have said it a few times, a guy like Holland doesn’t leave his cushy situation in Detroit, a place he’s been with for over 30 yrs to come here, be told who he has to work with and be a puppet. I expect to see some moves in the hockey ops department as in Holland bringing in some of his people which in turn means a few are replaced by the end of May. I think we also see a new coach here by the end of May. I say this because he hadn’t even officially been announce and he had already called Hitch last night to tell him he wasn’t coming back. Looks like he’s not going to waste a lot of time which is good.

  • ed from edmonton

    BM could you expand on what you mean by “going all in” on analytics. I seems like you think a dozen data entry clerks and an algorithm is all that is needed. During the MacT/Eakins/Fellow regime the Oil were on the forefront of analytics. That brought players like Pouliott, Nikitin and Ferrance. Analytics can be a tool but in itself is not a solution.

  • hagar

    I am more content with things after the presser, just now had time to watch it.

    If Katz wasnt there, which by the sound of things with life problems far greater, was a bold move, I wouldn’t have really cared. Heard too much over and over, but the only person that matters in getting things right is him at this point..
    It sure sounds like he is hearing our pain, and while his buddies say anything to save their egos and jobs, he isnt in that same need.

    Cant get too excited because my re-ups for hope sack is empty, but I at least have a calmness.
    It’s been so long, I would love if Ken can just get us winning or losing based off skill, and not selective Jekyll and hyde performances. How about a solid year when we just solidly finish just outside a playoff spot based on even all season play. Or maybe a solid season and get into the playoffs in a card spot.. just get a team together that can play near the same every game win or lose.
    I have no idea how you can ever build a team that cant play the same for 3 games in a row.