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Actions Will Speak Louder than Words

Ken Holland sat down at the podium yesterday morning and outlined, quite passionately, his views on the Oilers coaches and players, building a team, analytics, the salary cap, trades, culture and more.

I’ve sat in on what seems like hundreds of Oilers press conferences, where a new GM or coach is unveiled, but this one was different.

Holland didn’t offer up cliches or grandiose claims. I thought he was direct and to the point.

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It was a great first impression, but most Oilers fans are past hooking their fan wagon to words. I’m sure you felt a tug to jump back on board after Holland outlined some parts of his plan, but most fans held their feet firmly on the ground.

You want action, not just words. Words mean very little if they aren’t put into action, but Holland’s 34 years in hockey operations, including the last 22 as a GM, were evident to me.

His track record on some statements has been proven very accurate.

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“I believe in player development. I believe in time in the minors. I believe the National Hockey League is the toughest league in the world, and if you put young players in the league too quick, it is more likely they will fail than succeed,” said Holland.

This past season, while the Red Wings were in a rebuild, he put sixth overall pick Filip Zadina in the American League. He didn’t rush him to the NHL, because he knew Zadina wouldn’t be good enough to really help the team. The Oilers have always been opposed to this. Jesse Puljujarvi wasn’t NHL ready at 18, 19 or even last year, but the Oilers couldn’t control their urge to rush him instead of let him gain some much needed confidence in the minors. Even playing Yamamoto in the NHL, when he clearly wasn’t ready, was equally ridiculous.

Don’t expect those same mistakes under Holland. Look at his recent track record in Detroit.

Anthony Mantha scored 50 and 57 goals his final two years of junior including 120 points his last year. He played two years in the AHL. Tyler Bertuzzi, who is playing for Team Canada at the World Championships, also spent two years in the AHL and a quarter of another season. Andreas Anthanasiou, same thing. Dennis Cholowski played 25 games, and was recalled after the Red Wings suffered many injuries on their blueline. His recall was out of necessity. Only Dylan Larkin and Michael Rasmussen didn’t spend time in the AHL. Rasmussen couldn’t go to the AHL this past season, and they felt he was ready. I’m curious to see how they handle him next season when he can go to the AHL. Larkin came out of NCAA at 19 and scored 45 points. He was NHL ready.

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If a player is ready, Holland has shown he isn’t afraid to keep him, but more often than not, even when the Red Wings weren’t a playoff team, he didn’t rush players. Expect that to continue in Edmonton.

Trades and Signings

“We have a core upfront and we have to figure out how to surround them properly, then look at the defence and we have one goaltender and have to find another one,” said Holland.

“You have to have a plan, and you gotta stick to the plan. The plan here is to build, for the most part, through the draft, but we will have to go outside the organization and bring in pieces we think can help. Some will be expensive pieces, some will be the cheaper players who are really good fits for a short time. The key building blocks are here, and in the organization, and we have to add to them.”

Holland will not be repeating Peter Chiarelli’s error of trading away high-end skill for lesser skill. It won’t happen.

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I like his honesty when it comes to finding good gap-fillers. Chiarelli was unable to do that, especially on RW, thus they forced Puljujarvi to play, and even tried Yamamoto. Holland would rather sign a UFA for a year, so the young players get more seasoning, and some wing UFA options, if they remain unsigned, include Michael Ferland, Brett Connolly, Joonas Donskoi, Richark Panik, Jamie McGinn, Carl Hagelin, Riley Sheahan, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Pirri and others.

If he can free up some cap space maybe he will shoot higher, but if I was Holland, unless it is an elite talent like Artemi Panarin, I’d stay away from a long-term deal on any UFA.

“How do I get it (the plan) going? By having stability,” said Holland. “Gather information and start to make moves, on and off the ice, that will impact the team in a positive way.

“I don’t have a magic wand. I don’t believe there is one trade and all of a sudden things turn. It is a move at a time. A piece at a time. It is about going down to the dressing room, providing stability and telling them we have a plan, and we will push forward with the plan. The plan is…I like to compete, you have to play with speed. Obviously, you have to get as much skill as you can.”

Thank gawd. The Oilers haven’t had enough players with NHL skill or really good hockey sense for a long time. He wants a combination of players who have skill, but compete every night. One of the biggest weaknesses of the Oilers the past many years is they haven’t had role players who accepted their role, and played consistently. That will change under Holland.

‘If you aren’t helping, you are hurting,’ is one of his philosophies, and I expect you will see nine new faces in the Oilers lineup next season from their season-ending lineup.

Holland values players who are pros, which means players who you know what they bring night in and night out. Players like Jason Smith, Ethan Moreau, Todd Marchant, Steve Staios. They weren’t elite skilled players, but they competed every shift and the coach knew exactly what they’d bring. The Oilers have the elite players. They need support players to show up every night, but also accept their role.

Self Belief

Holland is confident and honest about who he is as GM. He has seen everything. Despite claims the Red Wings haven’t succeeded in the salary cap era, they won a Cup, lost a Final, and were the last team in the NHL to miss the playoffs in the cap era. Eventually, they had to rebuild, especially when you lose future Hall of Fame players.

“I’ve looked over the salary cap here. Most teams have salary cap issues, and speedbumps, but you have to work around them. Detroit has $20 million in cap space this summer,” Holland said in response to a question about how he handled Detroit’s cap situation.

“I’ve been a manager for 22 years. I’m going to make some bad decisions. If you think you are going to make decisions over 22 years and you are never going to make bad decisions, I’d like to meet that guy, because I don’t think it exists. You have to make more good decisions than bad decisions, and I think I made way more good decisions in Detroit than bad decisions.

“But I did make some decisions that didn’t work out the way I thought. You make those decisions based upon the information at hand, and you talk to people. I’m a manager who likes to bring my people into the mix. I don’t make the decision on my own. I gather information from them and then I make a decision. If it doesn’t work out the way we wanted it to, then I have to work around it,” said Holland.

I loved his response. Of course he made mistakes, it is impossible not to in professional sports, but how you react to them and learn from them is crucial to how you grow and improve.

Holland has seen a lot, and if you look at his trading track record, I don’t see any glaring errors. Granted he was rarely in a desperate position, so he had the luxury of being patient, but his trading record illustrates how good their drafting and developing was, because they weren’t always going outside the organization looking for a quick fix.

Holland has some holes in his current roster, no question, and I’m interested to see how he alters the lineup.

QUICK HITS…

Since last Friday, when the rumours leaked that Holland was coming to Edmonton I did some research online, but also through conversations with hockey people about Holland, and here are some things to watch for in the coming weeks, months and year as he tries to bring credibility and success back to the Edmonton Oilers organization.

1. He mentioned one of his first priorities is a head coach. Make no mistake the Oilers know they have to make the playoffs next season. They will publicly downplay it, and I understand why, but playoffs are an absolute must. Will he bring in a rookie NHL head coach? I’d be surprised. I think he will bring in a veteran. They don’t have the luxury to experiment and see if a coach can succeed in the NHL. I sense he will want one with experience. Holland said he wants a head coach who will be here for a few years. That was a main reason Ken Hitchcock isn’t back. Hitch wants to stay in hockey, but I don’t believe he could commit to multiple years of coaching.

So the new head coach will be here for a few years. The amount of change behind the bench in Edmonton is a main reason this organization has continued to flounder. You need some stability. The players can’t come to camp every year, or every second year, and have to spend time getting used to a new coach. They have to understand how he works, as much as he needs to know what makes his players tick. Of course winning helps, but stability is massive, and that’s why I’m very curious to see what happens to the assistant coaches.

Every coach will want the freedom to bring in who he wants. They should. But Edmonton also doesn’t have the luxury of trying to play catch up. It takes time to get to know players, and I think the new HC would benefit from keeping at least one, possibly two, of the assistant coaches around. They know the personalities of the players, plus it will benefit the players when the come to camp in September and see a familiar face in the coaching room.

2. Outside of Anaheim, who many expect to hire Dallas Eakins, the other head coaches in the Pacific are quite experienced. Gerard Gallant, Peter Deboer, Todd McLellan, Rick Tocchet have coached at least two NHL teams, while Travis Green enters his third year as an NHL head coach after many in the AHL. I see Holland leaning towards a veteran coach.

3. Holland uses the people around him. He asks a lot of questions. He wants people who are willing to give their input. He enjoys back and forth debate on players. He described himself as a grinder. He loves the challenge of grinding it out. Day after day. And he will surround himself with people who do the same. I can’t accurately say who in the Oilers management and scouting are grinders, but Holland will find out. It will be very interesting to see who he keeps after the upcoming pro and amateur scouting meetings.

4. I expect some changes on the pro side after the meetings for a few reasons. First off, they haven’t been that good. The decisions pre-Chiarelli and during Chiarelli speak for themselves. Also, the most important two weeks of the off-season begin June 14th, one week before the draft, and up until the start of free agency. That has become the most active time for significant trades and player evaluations for free agency. Look for Holland to make some changes before May 23rd. That gives him almost a month to work with the new people he brings in, as well as those he retains, but it is also the deadline for season seat renewals. He won’t rush into making a move, but make no mistake, he has a good idea who he wants to bring in with him, and I’d be surprised if a few announcements aren’t made before then. It helps your hockey operations side, and it could help your business side. Many season seat holders want more change than the GM. Holland addressed the importance of fans, and isn’t oblivious to the reality of the Oilers, both on and off the ice.

5. One name to watch for is Jiri Fischer. Holland loved the work he did in Detroit. He is a grinder. He puts in a lot of work on pro-development. Can Holland get him to come to Edmonton?

6. Holland did his homework before taking the job. He knows exactly what the Oilers strength and weaknesses are on their NHL roster. I think he will add eight or nine players, and they don’t have to be elite players. Holland likes low-maintenance players. Guys who know their role, accept it, and play it. One of Holland’s strengths is finding people who embrace their role, whether it be in management or on the ice. Many told me Holland outlines the role clearly, and makes you feel empowered to do it to the best of your ability. If they don’t, they won’t last.

Holland made a great first impression yesterday, but what he does next is what matters most.

The Oilers need to make the playoffs. They know. The season seat holders and fans will demand it.

Holland is in charge of making it happen, and his first moves should tell us a lot about how he plans to do it.

Recently by Jason Gregor:



  • Boba The Fett

    I think my biggest positive about holland aside from his vast knowledge and experience is the fact that he likes to listen to people and get input from anyone around him. He himself said he just likes people and as a resukt likes listening to them and their thoughts on various matters. The other item that impressed me was his team philosophy of speed, skill, aggressiveness and hockey sense. While not every player can check off every box I think he will look for a good balance. This balance was always evident on the Detroit teams that were successful over the past 25 years.

    • TKB2677

      Where I think the experience will pay a big part is dealing with the Oilers management. I truly believe that he is going to make changes to the hockey ops side so guys like Howson, Mac T and Sutter are hopefully gone but it’s not going to be scorched earth. So when Holland decides he needs to hopefully move on from the 3 guys I listed, he’s going to be able to sell it to the Oilers a lot more than a brand new GM or K. Gretzky could. So maybe, some much needed changes will actually happen.

    • Spydyr

      Sure listening to people and getting their input is all fine and dandy but the people the Oilers have to listen to are Mac-T and Howson and their record speaks for itself.

      The Oilers pro scouts have also failed miserably.

      • NoBuBlackOPS

        @TKB2677 @Spyder I was all for getting rid of MacT but I’ve seen it stated in a few places that MacT has a pretty big role in what’s happening in Bakersfield. If true I don’t think it’s in the Oilers best interest to get rid of him given all the positives going on Bakersfield.

        • TKB2677

          Like Holland said in his presser. Every guy in management is going to make a mistake, no such thing as a perfect person. But the key is to make more good decisions than bad. In the case of Mac T and most of the pro hockey ops people, they have made more bad choices than good.

        • RJ

          One season of decent play by Bakersfield and now MacT is untouchable?

          I think with Holland’s track record for player development, he’s more than capable of finding a capable person to take over managing Bakersfield and improve upon what’s happening.

    • Oscar

      If Nicholson has proved anything in his tenure with the hapless Oil it’s that he is in wayyyyyyyy over his head & he’s the guy that vetted Holland, hey … I mean, if it’s the hapless Oil’s intent to improve finances under the cap while icing a more competitive team, why in the world would they grab a new G.M. that just put up three NHL seasons that were actually worse than the hapless Oil’s in BOTH of those categories … I just don’t get that part likely because there is no logic behind it, hey …

  • Rama Lama

    Great hire…….safe hire, he will not sell the farm for a few magic beans like PC did. He is also ( based on his record) not a trader which is exactly what we need, in other words stability.

    I for one do not think he will be able to transform the team short term, but his long term vision will help us retain assets, maximize those assets by “over ripening” them in the AHL and to me this is the best source of players in the salary cap world.

    Good luck Mr. Holland.

    • GK1980

      Holland may be slow and methodical and might, might build a descent team in……a few years.

      Many fans share the same feeling as me. I’m tired of waiting, I’m tired of being patient. The city and fans have been patient for far too long. I’m decided on my loyalty and devotion to the team in the first time in 35 years. Like many fans I am at a true crossroads.

  • TKB2677

    For all the talk that Holland didn’t leave the Wings in a good spot, which I disagree with completely. After the mantra of just make the playoffs at all cost finally died, he did the right thing and starting building. He has a bunch of young players either already in the line up or coming. There isn’t a lot of real bad contracts to deal with and has a lot of cap space now. He’s stockpiled tons of picks and the biggest factor as to why I think the Wings aren’t in bad shape. Yzerman agreed to come. Yzerman is everyone’s wet dream to be a GM so he can go where ever. I don’t care if the Wings are his old team, I don’t see Yzerman moving to the Wings if the Wings were a total mess.

  • Derzie

    It’s the honeymoon phase and hopes are high but this is looking more and more like a really solid hire given the state of the club. Problems are complex and deep seeded. That requires a confident, experienced, responsible leader that gives accountability to those around him. I see that in Holland. As a hockey fan, I like this move at this stage. As a Flames fan, I’m starting to get nervous. Normally Oiler news invokes head shakes or laughter. Not this week.

    • Randaman

      JP wasn’t a Holland pick so I see Jesse’s future in another organization. He won’t clear waivers. They might qualify him and if he doesn’t sign, so be it.

    • Hemmercules

      Loan him overseas. Send him down and he probably gets claimed, trading him won’t garner much return. He hasn’t shown he’s NHL ready in 3 seasons and it baffles me as to why they wasted those future years of RFA in his first year so he could be babysat and play 30 games. Terrible terrible player management from the beginning. Holland would have had him in the AHL for two seasons right out of the draft and I would bet he would be further ahead as a player today.

      • Randaman

        Don’t care about the return. Trade and move on. One distraction out of the way. I don’t see Jesse or his agent accepting a ROLE as Ken puts it. Hard every day, shift. Not from Jesse.

  • Hemmercules

    I like Holland more and more with every article I read about him. I expect him to bring in some of his own people very quickly too. His philosophies are good and building mostly from within is probably the best one. I also like how he identifies a players role and has them stick to it and embrace it.

    Results are everything in the end but I think we can expect much better team management than what Chia brought to the table. Fingers crossed.

  • Neilio

    I get the criticism. You could criticize the Oilers for bringing in an experienced guy (past his prime, they will say) and you could criticize them for bringing in a guy with no experience, as they have also done. The perfect GM is probably already working for another team anyway. We had Holland and 4 or 5 other guys who have not GM’ed in the league yet, to choose from.

    This team is a mess. A unique mess, in a lot of ways. And I think it would be hard for a rookie GM to come in and know how to fix it, in addition to having 30 other GMs lining up to pick the new guy’s pockets. Holland has been around long enough to know how a good team operates at this level. He’ll have the respect and attention of everyone in the organization immediately. As well as the respect of the other GMs, who will likely not find it as easy to pull one over on the Oilers anymore.

    For the Oilers it will be nice to have an adult in the room. That stability, if he can find it, is one of main things we’ve been lacking. I mean, in addition to competence and accountability, of course. This team is like a elementary class that’s been taught by a string of substitute teachers. It chaos. Having a competent leader at the top makes all the difference here.

  • BR

    Would like to see Sutter, Howson, and MacT go. K Lowe transparently isn’t involved in the Hockey Ops side anymore and isn’t in the room. K Gretzky has done a great job building up our farm team and is worth keeping around at least for this year to get some continuity. They need to dump the whole pro scouting department, scorched earth. That has been a complete failure.

    Think Bylsma could be an option as coach? Would love to see Todd Nelson but he’s just not experienced enough in the NHL. Wonder if they dump the full contingent of assistant coaches?

  • I’m glad that Holland has full authority and doesn’t answer to anyone but Katz. His history of giving young players time to learn the NHL game in the minors for a few years is the right approach. This team will be poised to make a run for the cup in 3/4 years. The Oiler fans deserve this.

        • Spydyr

          “I’m glad that Holland has full authority and doesn’t answer to anyone but Katz. ”

          I take it you were not able to comprehend that line from the post I was replying too.

      • Hemmercules

        Bobby is just a clown faced figurehead taking credit when things are good and passing the blame when things are bad. True politician. I wouldn’t expect Holland to have any of his roster or management decisions shut down by burger boy. We will see but according to Katz himself Holland can do whatever he wants. If the majority of the staff remains exactly the same then we will know we are doomed.

        I get it though Spydyr, you are required to hate this move so you can shove the fact that you were right down everyones throats in two years when it inevitably goes sour lol.

        • Spydyr

          Would I have preferred a younger candidate that was not put out to pasture by their former team. Sure but the Oilers have along history of rewarding players and off ice personal for what they have done in the past not what they will do in the future.

          My choice would have been Hunter but he is not old buddies with Burger Bob.

          • Hemmercules

            No one knows the future but I think they made a good bet here. He did get paid for his past accolades of course but you can’t deny he hasn’t been a good GM in the NHL. No reason to believe he can’ still be.

            I wanted McCrimmon or Hunter too but the more I think about it this is a good move. Had Bobby cleaned house prior to the GM search I think a rookie GM may have been fine. I don’t think a rookie GM would have the balls to clean house and the OBC may influence that too much. Holland won’t mince words and he’s a vet, if he doesn’t think you are right for the job you are likely out.

          • Ken Holland

            Where was McCrimmon when I fleeced him and took a 1st, 2nd and 3rd for Tatar?

            Apparently he was still in General Manager school wearing a diaper. #Schooled

  • Total Points

    So far so good. I will give him the benefit to make things happen and get behind the players and enjoy the off season and look forward to the season opener.

    Young GM’s and coaches can be successful but so can old ones. Rutherford in Pitt and Lou in NY are most recent examples.

    Time will tell but I think he will succeed. Look forward to how he puts the OBC in the rear view mirror. Does he change personnel or just knows how to manage guys who try the old “end around game.”

  • Gravis82

    the lack of analytics is going to sink us. You need to ask about his in every presser. Every organization is lead by a non-analytics decision maker, who knows how to logically process and incorporate numbers and statistics and risk into the context of real world decision making. We are all biased. All decisions are made this way, but on some level you have to trust that your analytics will help you make slightly better decision. This first required good numbers, valid interpretations, accuracy, and a willingless to understand a risk assessment and a willingless to walk back on your preconcieved notions if the numbers show something else. This takes time, and a great team of people with masters and PHDs in machine learning, statistics, epidemiology, causal analysis, data visualization, data collection, data management and knowledge translation. The payoff can be huge. It would only cost 1million a year to hire that team.

    • McHitch

      Maybe they can find us another Benoit Pouliout and Mark Fayne.

      Two of the best players analytics could find.

      Numbers are easily manipulated by the person reinterpreting them.

      • Gravis82

        this is not the analytics I am talking about. “advanced analytics” that we hear about is all BS. its just counting. New ways of counting. I have never seen a single analysis that would required advanced level training in this stuff. So yes, the type of analysis we see, is done by people who do it for fun and dont have the training. Hire some PHD is machine learning, epidemilogy and modeling and forecasting (like, you knwo, every organization in business and health has been doing for the last 20 years) and you will get your real information. But we will never see it on the internet. That kind of work is never shared, its too expensive to produce.

        • Gravis82

          and Gregor, I hope you ask about this. Every large organization which competes with others have a team like this. There is so much information out there that is you are not processing and analyzing everything you lose immediately. As soon as they put chips in the jerseys and the puck and that data is made available, you have to have this team in place to hit the ground running.

    • Heschultzhescores

      It’s like anything. If you are gifted, it’s easy. We need to find people who are naturally good at recognizing talent, heart, and a deep seeded desire to win. You cant teach intuition and just knowing the right moves by gut feelings. All this analytics stuff goes out the window in the chaos of the game. Great leadership and composure win hockey games after all the skill is in place. Oh, and great goaltending.

  • Heschultzhescores

    For change to really happen we need everyone on board…including the fans. Nobody can deny that a positive attitude goes a long way to success. Let’s start fresh, and give the guy a real chance. There will be bumps, but for the first time in a few decades, I think we are on the right track.

  • Axe

    I was not thrilled by the hiring of Holland initially but the more I read about him and that press conference yesterday is changing my mind .I am gonna be positive and give him a chance. I was worried he wouldn’t be hungry for this job but seeing his passion for it and how quickly he came back is making me feel otherwise. I also feel he has something to prove after being forced out in favor of Stevie Y. I hope he can find a great long term coach for this team, because stability behind the bench is crucial.

  • FISTO Siltanen

    Look at his draft record the last 15 years. There may be no Datsyuks or Zetterbergs in there but I see a lot of NHL players. If it was so easy to find bottom 6/bottom 9 forwards why isn’t every team pulling a couple of them every June at the draft?

  • wiseguy

    I heard Griffin Reinhart is available from the Golden Knights. All they are asking is a 1st and 2nd round pick for him. Holland should talk to Bob Green about how Griff was a rock when they won the memorial cup. He is so much more NHL ready than a rookie like Bouchard.

    • FISTO Siltanen

      MacT has been working the phone diligently on this. If we flip them our first THIS year we can have an extra week of negotiating to sign him before the flood gates rip open July 1st.

      Hey – we never would have landed Nikita Nikitin without “bold moves “

  • ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    “The Oilers need to make the playoffs. They know. The season seat holders and fans will demand it.”
    Not sure there’s evidence to support the idea that fans and ticket holders are making this demand, based on the the last decade plus.

  • Rebuilds30

    Would like to see Holland bring his former European scout with him to Edmonton, or maybe pry Murray away from Tampa Bay,. Thats how you rebuild this team.

  • GK1980

    Jason, don’t drink the koolaid! It’s poison! I never bothered watching the press conference. I’m sure a lot of nice positive things were said. In the end like you said, time for the club to stop being stupid and win some damn games next season.

  • ed from edmonton

    “Make no mistake the Oilers know they have to make the playoffs next season.” Over the last 13 on almost an annual basis. For this statement to make any sense you must state what happens if the Oil don’t make the playoffs, Eg. “Make no mistake the Oilers know they have to make the playoffs next season or McDavid is out” Make no mistake the Oilers know they have to make the playoffs next season. or the Oil are no longer financially viable”. There needs to be something that happens of they don;t.

  • billsbills

    Holland brings instant credibility to the Oilers. When he calls another team they are not snickering and putting it on speakerphone for their friends to hear.

    Ken Holland and Lou Lamoriello are the two most accomplished and respected GMs in the league. The Oilers should count their lucky stars.

  • Oilers70

    Jason Smith, Ethan Moreau, Todd Marchant, Steve Staios.

    Sorry Gregor, thank god you are not the GM…
    These players are bottom of the barrel and shouldn’t make any more the league minimum.

    Take you emotions out of it. Above is part of the problems. If Mac T liked you… You will not win the cup.