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Photo Credit: Jason Franson/Canadian Press

Fresh Air

No NHL general manager is going to give fans a completely unfiltered look at the inner workings of their hockey operations department, but the ease with which new Edmonton Oilers POHO and GM Ken Holland shared a glimpse with season ticket holders on Thursday feels like a breath of fresh air compared to the Peter Chiarelli regime.

It’s not about talking a good game because fans around here have been pitched hope, spin and promises before and we know how that’s worked out. That kind of talk is particularly cheap and, last I checked, no GM has ever talked his team into contention. Holland and coach Dave Tippett, part of a panel at the event, didn’t come off that way.

They weren’t spinning anything or mouthing well-worn platitudes fans have been pitched for more than a decade. This was more of a chat — one that provided some glimpses into what Holland and Tippett have going on right now. As a bonus, they provided some answers, or at least hints, about what fans want to know.

FRONT OF MIND

On the status of Connor McDavid, whose appearance at an event in Toronto 10 days ago raised eyebrows because he looked hobbled in the full-length knee brace he was wearing: “The expectations are that he’ll be skating in August and at camp in September,” said Holland, who met with McDavid twice, including sitting down for a long dinner.

Added Holland: “We had dinner for two, two-and-a-half hours. He’s a great young man. He was very aware of the makeups of the teams (Boston and St. Louis) in the Final, and asked me a lot of questions. He appears to me to be a general manager in the making. Like Steve Yzerman. He follows the game, he sees all the other teams.”

On Jesse Puljujarvi, who has become something of a lightning rod, given recent comments by agent Markus Lehto: “My first opportunity to talk with him face to face,” said Holland after meeting with Puljujarvi Wednesday. “I’d like to get him signed to a contract.

“With Jesse, he’s had lots of adversity and we’re hoping with a new general manager and a new coach and being a little bit older at 21 we can help him become more and more important.”

Holland was asked about his goaltending situation and how he sees finding a crease-mate for unproven Mikko Koskinen playing out. “I think it’s a free agent . . .

“Goalies are like quarterbacks. How do you know? There a few franchise quarterbacks, and franchise goalies. Part of it is how the team plays. How you limit scoring chances. And those teams that have really good goalies, they’re not trading them. I’ve talked to a bunch of teams. I think the reality is, it’s going to be on the unrestricted free-agent market.”

YAKKITY-YAK

Holland also touched on upcoming free agency, something he used particularly effectively in Detroit with a free-spending owner in the pre-salary cap days. Given the situation Chiarelli left the Oilers in, Holland’s take was thoughtful, understated.

“If you’re not prepared to play, then you’re not going to be in the game,” said Holland, who doesn’t have fistfuls of cash to throw around. “So you have to decide which players that you think can have a real impact on your team. But, if you think you are going to go on the open market and get team-friendly deals…” That’s just plain truth. Likely not.

The bottom line for me, given the way things have gone around here for too long, is I like Holland’s matter-of-fact approach. I prefer somebody who likes to under-promise and over-deliver than the other way around. Simply put, he’s a straight-shooter, always has been dating back to all that bad coffee he drank in rinks around the WHL as a scout in the 1980’s.

What you see is what you get.

WHILE I’M AT IT

  • Holland said he’s talked to Alex Chiasson’s agent but not to Chiasson about the possibility of a new contract. I like Chiasson because he can play up and down the line-up, but it’ll come down to money, as it always does. Holland could triple the $650,000 Chiasson made last season and still come in under the $2-million mark. If that won’t do it, so be it.
  • I’m not sure if Tippett will add to his coaching staff between now and the draft in Vancouver next Friday, but I’ve still got Jim Playfair and Mark Lamb as the likeliest candidates. Neither Lamb (GM of Prince George of the WHL) or Playfair have NHL contracts right now, so there’s no need to wait until July to hire them.

THE 2019 DRAFT PARTY

  • Where? At the Canadian Brewhouse (Lewis Estates – 1320 Webber Greens Dr NW)
  • When? Friday, June 21st, doors open at 4:30 pm
  • How much? $10 per ticket
  • What do you get? Free pizza card from the Brewhouse, $10 Oodle Noodle promo card, Nation stickers, chance to win a signed RNH jersey provided by ATB Financial and draw prizes.
  • Where can I buy? Get your tickets here before they sell out!
  • Why? Because we love to party

Tickets are available here and will be on sale straight through until the date of the party. Thanks so much for the support and we look forward to seeing you there.

Previously by Robin Brownlee