With the Oilers bringing in Ken Holland to replace Peter Chiarelli, I thought it would be a good idea to find out a little bit more about him from someone that has watched him work. With that in mind, I reached out to Nick Seguin, Wingsnation‘s editor, to find out what we should expect from the man that just took on one of the NHL’s most daunting to-do lists.
Baggedmilk: As a Wings fan, how do you feel about Holland’s departure?
Nick Seguin: With the recent appointment of Steve Yzerman as General Manager, it’s clear that the times are a changin’ in Detroit. In that regard, Holland’s departure is one of the best things that can happen for the Red Wings. Yzerman is a sharp, intelligent, and gutsy manager who should benefit from having his philosophy and vision not being questioned or interrupted by the old guard.
BM: Is this good news for the Wings or are you upset to see him go?
NS: The fresh start will only be fresh if Yzerman can operate independently of the management team who has gotten the Wings to this point. That being said, Holland has enjoyed many successes as the general manager of the Red Wings, including three Stanley Cups, four President’s Trophies and 18 straight playoff appearances. He was at the helm for a lot of the good parts of the Red Wings recent successes and for that, I feel no hard feelings towards him.
BM: What would you say are his best and worst moves with the wings from recent memory?
NS: This answer requires some context. Up until 2016-17, Holland was tasked with keeping the playoff streak alive. So he made a lot of moves to not begin a rebuild or take a run at the Cup, just to get into the first round. Since their last playoff berth in 2015-16, though, Holland has had the green light for a rebuild and almost every move he’s made since then has been a good one. The very best has hands down been the trade deadline deal in 2018 that sent a newly-extended Tomas Tatar to the Vegas Golden Knights for a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round draft pick. That 1st round pick turned into Joe Veleno who, taken 30th overall, is looking like one of the biggest steals of the 2018 draft. As for his worst moves, it’s definitely the contracts he hands out. For one, he loves giving out no-trade clauses, but the worst part is the term he gives. Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm and Luke Glendening are all examples of bottom-6 players who were signed to unnecessarily long deals. Abdelkader’s is widely considered as one of the worst contracts in the league. This stems from Holland’s philosophy on loyalty. If you work hard and show the organization you care, then you will be rewarded no matter how much skill you have.
BM: What is Holland’s openness to new ways of thinking and analytics? Does he embrace new ideas or is he stuck in the 90s?
NS: I wouldn’t say Holland is stuck in the ’90s since he was one of the few GMs who had continued success after the transition to the salary cap era. He’s mostly been tight-lipped about how he evaluates players, but he is on record saying he puts a lot of stock in the eye test. It explains a lot about the type of players he’s gone after in free agency. That being said, Holland operates “brain trust”-style, meaning he gives his team a lot of autonomy to do their jobs and get it right. So if Holland surrounds himself with smart people, I see no reason why he wouldn’t embrace their new or old ideas. That comes with a lot of trust, though, and for Holland, trust is built through experience and (*sigh*) loyalty.
BM: How does Ken communicate with the fans? How transparent is he with his plans, vision, etc?
NS: The Red Wings have always been a tight-lipped organization and Holland was at the centre of that. He’ll do a few interviews with trusted reporters throughout the year. He generally does one big one at the start and at the end of the season. He speaks mostly vaguely about the direction the roster is headed and his philosophies. In short, he talks a lot without saying much. So don’t expect him to lay out his plans in next Saturday’s edition of the Edmonton Journal. He works quietly and doesn’t pay much attention to what’s being reported. I expect that’s one of the things he’ll introduce to Edmonton, especially with how public their struggles have been.
BM: Why should Oilers fans be excited about this hire?
NS: Holland is an incredibly experienced general manager whose had a lot of success in the NHL. He’s very well liked around the league, which means he can get shit done with other GMs. Like I said above, once Holland was given free-reign to go full-rebuild in Detroit, he’s made a lot of really good moves. The trades have all been wins and the bad contracts have stopped. He’s also had some great success in the last few drafts, thanks to his Director of Amateur Scouting, Tyler Wright (who is rumoured to be joining him in Edmonton). I think that if Ken Holland actually gets to operate independently, Oilers fans should be excited about this hire.
BM: In your opinion, did the Oilers make a good move here?
NS: I think that the Oilers made the best choice among the options they had laid out in front of them. Holland is tough, he’s smart, and he’s aggressive. He enables those around him to do their best work. The key is going to be for those above him to not butt in, veto his decisions, or start blabbering to the media. I know that he gets a lot of flak for the Wings current cap situation, but in reality they are on the other side of their cap crunch and things are opening up. Again: once he was given the freedom to build a new team, he made sure to set them up for future success. He’s a tough S.O.B. and for that, I think he can find success in Edmonton.
My approach with Ken Holland, despite my reservations about how things have gone in Detroit lately, is to wait and see how the offseason goes. There’s no doubt that Holland walked into a high-pressure situation in Edmonton and how he navigates these next few months will give us a better idea of what to expect from his tenure. Actually, if I’m being honest, reading Nick’s answers about what Holland does well made me feel a lot better about what could come next. If you believe that some of the contracts Holland shelled out were a product of pressure to keep the Wings’ playoff run alive then you can start to understand how that happened, but I’ll be watching to see how he answers for those deals when he faces the media here in Edmonton.
At the end of the day, I understand why Oilers fans are skeptical about this hiring based on how things have gone in Detroit over the last few years, but I think that we also have to hope that Holland has learned from his mistakes and can apply those lessons here in Edmonton. If he can do that, then the Oilers will have picked up a guy that’s been everywhere and done everything, which hopefully paves the way for getting us out of the situation we’re in. Now, I know many of us said that same thing when Peter Chiarelli came aboard, something I’ll readily admit to, but we have to try to not compare the two guys and assume that this next chapter will play out the same before the new guy even gets here. From where I blog, I’ll readily admit that I have my guard up about this hiring, but I’m also willing to keep an open mind to see how things play out.
What do you guys think?