Photo Credit: Tom Kostiuk

Monday Mailbag – How would you grade Ken Holland’s performance so far?

Would you look at that? Another week is in the books and that means we’re seven days closer to the start of a new season, and for that I’m grateful. In this week’s mailbag, you asked the panel for thoughts on the defence, Ken Holland’s work so far, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ wedding, and a whole lot more. If you have a question for next week, and I’m always looking for some, you can always email me or hit me up on Twitter. From there I will slot you in as quickly as possible. Until then, enjoy the free learning.

1) Vetinari asks – Our defence has struggled for years, and Klefbom, Larsson, Russell, Nurse and Benning have all been with us for at least the past three seasons — is it time to change this group up and out of them, who would be your core to build around based on salary, free agent status and money?

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Jason Gregor:

It is a valid question. Benning has played 205 games, Nurse 279 and Klefbom 316. Many hockey scouts, manager and coaches believe most D-men don’t really figure things out until around they play 300 games. Larsson (498) and Russell (791) likely aren’t improving much more at this point, but the first three still should find more consistency.

The one thing the team should alter is to play Russell on the left side. He is better there than on RD. All the analytics prove it. So play him in the third pair LD, and figure out the right side. Just playing him in a better position for him to succeed will help. I’d also look at playing Nurse/Larsson (like they did in 2018) together in the toughest minutes and play Klefbom with either Benning or Persson.

Robin Brownlee:

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Why would anybody with any sense consider getting rid of Klefbom, Larsson and Nurse just as they are entering their prime years? Russell is a different matter because of age, but you need somebody proven enough to replace him. The Oilers obviously have some young guys on the way, but they aren’t proven yet and you don’t make a move until they’ve shown they’re ready to play. Not there yet.

Cam Lewis:

The blueline, when fully healthy, really hasn’t struggled at all. In 2016-17, it was a strength of the team. Adam Larsson and Oscar Klefbom were a legit top pair, Andrej Sekera and Kris Russell did a lot of heavy lifting, and Matt Benning and Darnell Nurse were sheltered nicely on the third pair. When things go downhill is when Klefbom and Sekera are out and  Benning or Russell have to take on bigger roles than they can handle and Nurse and Larsson have to gobble up all of the big minutes. I don’t mind the blueline at all, to be honest.

Chris the Former Intern:

To be honest, I wouldn’t be sad if any one of them got traded, granted we don’t get fleeced on the deal. If I had to choose though, Klefbom and Nurse would be our core, maybe Larsson too.


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I’m concerned about the defence tbh. I don’t really know why the team had to buyout Sekera quite yet and basically force a young guy onto the roster, but I’m going to go ahead and hope for the best because what else can I do?

2) Douglas asks – If you were to grade Ken Holland’s performance so far what would his mark be? Why?

Jason Gregor:

This is only based on paper as no games have been played. But I’d say a B. He shed Lucic contract and got a better player and it only cost him $500,000 in extra cap hit. He didn’t overspend on term in free agency. Overpaying on dollars and term for UFAs rarely works. He inherited a tough situation with the roster and cap space, and so far I think he has done a solid job.

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Robin Brownlee:

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A. While many were moaning that Holland hadn’t done enough in the off-season, which was fair game in terms of substantial moves, he was working the Lucic-Neal deal. Getting rid of the Lucic contract is something many thought couldn’t be done, and he got a player capable of scoring 20 goals in return.

Cam Lewis:

I would say a B or a B+. The team isn’t much better than it was last year but it certainly isn’t in worse shape long term. A reality we have to accept is that cleaning up Peter Chiarelli’s mess is a massive endeavour and it’ll take time to start building towards contention. Holland went the bargain bin route to add some depth and avoided handing out a bad free-agent contract. He also managed to dump Milan Lucic, which I honestly thought would be impossible.

Chris the Former Intern:

A-  Just when you think he’s not going to make a big acquisition, he trades Lucic 1-for-1. Other than that, he’s loading up competition in our bottom six, and found another goalie to compete with Koskinen.


I was a lot more concerned before he pulled off the ridiculously good Lucic for Neal swap last week. I NEVER would have expected him to be able to get that done, but then he blew all of our collective minds through our skulls on Friday afternoon.

3) Gregg asks – I’ve seen some folks on social media suggesting that the Oilers should trade Darnell Nurse for a scoring forward based on the likelihood that his next contract will be expensive. What is everyone’s opinion on this kind of move and does it make sense given where the defence is at right now?

Jason Gregor:

It seems like an odd suggestion, considering any proven scoring forward is going to cost about the same anyways. I’m bullish on Nurse. He took a big stride in his offensive play last season and I expect that to continue. His skating, ability to transport the puck and his toughness are reasons I wouldn’t deal him at this time. Many will say the Oilers have young D coming, but how many of them are ready to play 20 minutes a night. You trade Nurse for a forward and then the team is looking for another top-four LD.

Robin Brownlee:

If Nurse performs, pay him. You can do that if you stop overpaying for marginal players and wasting money elsewhere. It makes no sense to trade Nurse at this point.

Cam Lewis:

It’s not so much about getting rid of Nurse as it is about asset management. Given the fact Jacob Trouba signed for eight million annually, it’s hard to imagine Nurse getting anything other than $7 million per year on his next deal. The Oilers have some good young blueliners coming up and badly need forwards. Selling from a point of strength and avoiding what could be a problematic contract with Nurse makes some sense.

Chris the Former Intern:

I think we’ve got enough defensive prospects to be able to trade Nurse for a top six forward. However due to the recent Lucic trade, I would hold off moving Nurse and give our top six a try as it is.


I can get why some folks would want to move him based on what he’s likely to be paid, but I doubt that it will happen. I can’t see Holland moving a homegrown d-man with potential for even further upside. I mean, the Oilers have been hoping for this to happen for years now.

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4) David asks – In his regular season and playoff career, McDavid has skated off the ice with 135 wins and 165 losses (including all shootout and OT wins and losses). To give him and us both hope, can you predict at what season and game number he moves to a situation where he’s won more games than he’s lost?

Jason Gregor:

If you look at simply for W-L then I expect you will be waiting awhile.  Likely it will be at least three good seasons before McDavid is in a situation where he has won more regular season games than he has lost. That is best case scenario. The Oilers could make the playoffs next season and still only be plus four like Vegas and Dallas were last season. Colorado was actually -6 (38-44) and made the playoffs. I wouldn’t look at how long before he is even in regular season wins and losses.

Mario Lemieux’s Penguins won 196 of 480 games in his first six seasons. The Pens were 196-235 with 49 ties. He won the Cup in years seven and eight. Even after winning the Cup in consecutive seasons Lemieux was -24 in W-L having a record of 276-300 with 64 ties.

Joe Sakic was much worse. In his first seven seasons with Quebec they were 186-287 and 63 ties. He won the Cup the next year with Colorado and they had 12 more wins than loses. So he will was still -89 in wins/loss but had a Cup victory. I wouldn’t worry much about being even in wins. If the Oilers are even or only +1 and make the playoffs that is all he will care about.

Robin Brownlee:

Season and game number? No. How do we know what the Oilers will look like next season for sure, let alone two, three or four years down the road? Considering the Oilers have won 40-or-more games just three times since the start of the 2005-06 season (47, 41 and 41), it’s highly unlikely he’ll break even during the life of this contract.

Cam Lewis:

I would guess it’ll take until 2021-22.

Chris the Former Intern:

Game 5 of the 2020-21 season.


Uhhh this is too much math for me so I’m going to go ahead and say that it’ll happen this season.

5) Clare asks – Considering Ryan Nugent-Hopkins got married this past week, what advice would you give him as he starts on his new journey as a married man?

Jason Gregor:

Regular foot or back rubs and buy flowers for no reason.

Robin Brownlee:

Toilet seat down.

Cam Lewis:

Take on her last name so your kids can have a triple hyphenated last name.

Chris the Former Intern:

Make sure to have a good balance of photos of your wife on your Instagram, in addition to any other pics you want to post.


Just remember to say, “you were right” and move on with your life.


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  • Serious Gord

    1. Not a stellar defense but when healthy it’s a competent one. When healthy. Try and move Russell at the deadline and perhaps larsson if he continues his decline (I thought he really lost the plot last season).

    2. Hasn’t done much and can’t really be evaluated on his player moves yet. But off-ice he’s a clear fail. Lots of people still employed that should be gone. No evidence that he’s investing heavily in scouting and analytics and his hires have been friends and mostly old.

    Like baseball, the NHL is changing rapidly and it looks like he’s getting left in the dust. The wings tried to remove him several years ago and finally succeeded this year. We are already getting glimpses as to why.

    3. Keep him on a bridge contract.

    4. Irrelevant. But as he’s likely to have another negative season or two he probably will never get on the positive side as an Oiler even if he wins a cup or two.

    5. Arthur Brooks and others have discussed research that shows couples reveal tells that predict the relationship will fail long before it does. THE number one reason by a long margin is when one of both partners begin to treat the other with contempt. It doesn’t have to be over a big thing either – certainly not at first. Contempt is highly corrosive in a relationship and many end even though both partners still love one another. (This is not just a human couples thing BTW. Just look at how the laurentian elites hold Albertan’s in contempt and what it is doing to this confederation.)

    So RNH, be aware of the above and try and correct it when you see it happening.

  • Ass Eatn Szn 69

    Robin, you trade one of them, because as good as they all may be it has not worked for how long now. Larsson is the worst be he is Right handed and a decent contract. Klefbom is the best puck mover and actual defender and with the same offensive icetime as nurse would perform just as well.

    Nurse will want more than he is worth, simply because what the oilers have traditionally valued in players, and that is a major problem when it comes to asset management and cap space. No one wants nurse gone, it is simply logistics, and until he can learn to defend better and make a better break out pass, and stop the stupid penalties, he should be considered for trading, just as so should klefbom due to injuries, and larsson because he is a terrible skater, the key is to get back value. And seeing how we havent seen that in years we dont think it can be done and hesitate to even consider trading from where players are pushing up the roster.

    • JimmyV1965

      Does Nurse have warts to his game? Of course he does. But what are you expecting? Dmen make mistakes every game. It happens. The Oilers real tradition is trading dmen before they enter their prime and watching them become dominant on another team. If Nurse is traded, everyone will be cursing the trade in two years, including you.

      • Ass Eatn Szn 69

        when you are going to want 8M dollars you shouldnt have warts in your game, and continue to pay players who do will be the end of McDavids career in Edmonton.

        • Joy S. Lee

          Does Trouba have no ‘warts’ in his game? Cuz he just got 8M. Suggesting it will be the end of McDavid’s career in Edmonton is pure poppycock, anyway, reread JimmyV’s comment which you responded to, ok?

  • Arnie

    I would Give KH a B+ so far. As for the defense no way you trade Nurse, we should be adding not subtracting as it will take a couple of years before some of the recent top draft choices are ready to take on top 4 minutes.(and we do not have Sekera anymore) Trade Russell/Gagner plus our 2nd to Ottawa for Duclair and to give us needed cap space. Then Benning/Yamamoto/ 4th/1st for Hamilton and we are ready to Roll. I know some people are not sold on Hamilton but he would instantly be our #1 RD and finally give us a true power play option.

  • Gary

    Chaison scored 22 goals playing with Mcdavid @ $675K
    Maroon scored 27 goals playing with Mcdavid @ $1.5 million
    Draisaitil scored 25 and 50 goals playing with Mcdavid @ $8.5 million
    How many must Neal score IF he plays with Mcdavid @ $6.5 million to be deemed a success?
    Neal needs to score at least 15 on the second line and Lucic score under 10 on CGYs third line to warrant a successful trade and a clear win

  • AlexTheOilersFanSince2006

    1. Defence is tough. With Sekera gone, I expect one of Bear, Jones, Persson or Bouchard to step up and come onto the 2nd pair with Nurse. Kelfbom and Larsson are a good top pair and Russell/Benning are a good 3rd pair to play sheltered minutes.
    2. Well I was against the Holland hire from day 1, and you all know that. However I’ve got to say as of now, yeah. I’m a fan now. I like his off-ice movements that he was making, but up until the Lucic-Neal swap, his on-ice moves were garbage. He didn’t really improve the bottom 6, other than loading it up, he signed a 37 year old, injury prone goaltender, and signing a couple of European players seems like a big gamble. But, I like the Lucic-Neal deal and it’s made things a little less panicky around here. If he didn’t make the trade and went into the season with the roster as it was, then I’d have given him a F. But now, I give him a B. Good job Ken, and keep on doing it.
    3. Again, why do these “folks” want to trade our core? Whether or not Nurse has developed the way we thought he would, Darnell is a part of this core. No doubt about it. So why are we trading him? The only way you break up the core of a team is if it is absolutely necessary, and trading Nurse, or Draisitl, or Nuge, or even Connor for that matter, makes little to no sense.
    4. That’s s big ask from this club David. I have two possible solutions. The first is when they finally realize what it takes to build a winning team, or when Connor leaves Edmonton.
    5. I’m in no position to giving any married man advice.

  • Fireball

    I give Holland a A to A plus. I’m not sure he could have a lesser score without he had inherited a better team and botched something up. We need to be realistic here. He’s not getting a top notch Dman for nothing .. he’s not getting a 30 goal guy for nothing.. he’s not getting a elite goalie at back up prices.. he’s not getting a stud 3rd line centre for cap he don’t have. He’s made short term deals with no major cap ramifications. He’s added affordable competition in the Bottom 6. He’s Added the goalie he could afford, he managed to structure that deal in a manor that he only really gets paid if he earns it. Cue the.., He got a Proven Goal scorer for the top 6. Here’s where I will step on others evaluations.. So far the best part of the lucic for Neal deal is if Neal tanks “ AGAIN “ Holland aquired a contract that can actually be bought out with a reasonable cap hit and savings. At this point until we see Neal play and score that is the only win to that trade !! Neal had one less point than lucic, 170 or so less hits, and they were both tied in playoff scoring, even though Lucic was not in the playoffs. I think Neal will score in Etown but anyone who says it’s going to happen forsure is just guessing ! If Neal scores 20 to 30 like he has in the past then it’s a A plus all the way.

    • The Iggy complex

      A plus? Oilers biggest needs are top 4 d and top 6 forwards. He spent a good chunk of the remaining cap on a whole bunch off bottom 6 forwards. Still no support for the only 3 forwards and only 2 top 4 d. Not a great start so far

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        Considering the Value Villagers biggest moves in Free Agency were Lucic and Talbot…I think you have way more to worry about with that rebuild of yours

        • The Iggy complex

          Calgary doesn’t need to do much. One of highest scoring teams in the league and finished tips on the west. Just needed a bit more functional toughness which they got

          • Joy S. Lee

            They needed to get tougher and they did. But if you think Lucic is the answer to bringing the Cup to Calgary, you may be in for a dreary season. Maybe you are right, but I saw how easily your team got dispatched in the playoffs. Hardly looked like a team that “doesn’t need to do much.” Besides all of that, don’t you have a few signings including one of significance to make – with a very limited cap – to ensure you can ice this near-perfect team?

  • Bond 0097

    The defence is now maturing into a decent group, especially with the prospects coming up, we’re finally ok back there

    Holland get’s an A, he didn’t have much room so he made do with pragmatic small moves, then the Grand Slam dumping Looch on our arch enemy and possibly even getting a serviceable goal scorer back

    We sign and keep Darnell, him and Connor are best Buds and he is growing into a dominant defenceman, only getting better each year

    Don’t care when Connor has a winning record neither does he, just CUPS

    Congrats Nuge…Hope you got an ironclad pre-nup…just saying

  • BR

    1. We have bigger fish to fry, play Russell on the bottom pairing, give Persson a good look with him, and hopefully Benning gets back to his impressive play alongside Nurse.

    2. Holland was a B for not saddling us with any more ugly FA contracts and finding some bargain bin guys. Gets into the A’s via the Neal trade. Want to see a 3C signed on a 1yr deal and a couple veteran PTO’s – There’s some real quality on the UFA market still.

    3. Pay the man – to trade Nurse going into his prime would be major folly.

    4. Give him 2-3 years – Holland should be expected to have righted the ship and got out from some cap hell by that point.

    5. “yes dear, of course dear, whatever you like dear”

  • Schmidt Head

    If the question is how do I rate Holland’s performance…. “so far”, my answer would be… excellent.

    But then, I had Chiarelli rated somewhere about the same at this point in his tenure too so…… I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the results are.

    Still, no stupid trades, no dumb signings and no major assets lost for little or nothing(…”so far”…); ain’t a thing wrong with that!

  • blobbo

    My wish is for a tough, loyal, home grown defender who improves every year and is just entering his prime.

    Wait a minute. We already have him.

    Trade Nurse? You gotta be joking.

    • Ken Holland

      If Nurse continues to improve we sign him at 40 mil over 6 years, his contracts will work out to 47 mil over the past 8 years.

      This is why the bridge deal works. We end up with Nurse at 5.75 over 8 years. Solid considering hes entering his prime now.

  • Gary Chalmers

    I. The defense is fine, when healthy, the biggest reason we missed the playoffs last year was Klefboms injury, we were 17-12-4 before the injury and the defense was playing well.
    2. B+ for Holland, didn’t sign a Reider, didn’t give out long term contracts, the one thing I don’t like was the Smith signing, we didn’t need an expensive back up, fix the other positions.
    3. Don’t trade Nurse, we get a potential 40 pt a year defenceman and we are in a hurry to trade them, this is why we don’t have nice things. Its called asset management, trade other assets to clear space.
    4. Who cares what McDavids overall W-L record is, just make the playoffs, they missed by 11 pts, thats around 1 more win a month, should be doable.
    5. Congrats to the Nuge, we all have to figure it out for ourselves!

  • Dallas Eakins Hair

    I give Holland a B the fact that he didnt pull a Chia and the guys he signed were mostly to 1 year deals other than Chaisson I can live with that, the fact that he moved Lucic contract which no one thought he’d be able to do earns kudos in my book, Holland wasnt my choice for GM, but I am a lot more optimistic then I was initially

    Oil would kick them selves down the road if they traded Nurse, Nurse is still coming into his own and even at 7 mil will be bargain, people thought Drai was an overpay at the time and now its a bargain deal, Nurse will be the same way

  • ed from edmonton

    1. Defence is the most known part of the team at this point. Goaltending is a total crap shoot and forwards still lack top 6 depth. D, as it stands today is middling by NHL standards. Only trade that might happen this year might be Benning for a 3C if one comes along. However over the next 2 years I do see some changes with some vets being moved out as guys currently on the farm move up. And this will be a good thing.
    2. Ken Holland has done the impossible, he unloaded the Lucic contract and to the Cowtowners no less. That alone gives him an A.
    3. I don’t consider any player (other than McD) as being untradeable but you would need a great return to make a Nurse trade work out. Your top scoring Dman just coming into his prime years would need a great return to make sense.
    4. Who cares
    5. Call Ann Landers.

  • rnj

    It’s been two months since Holland was hired. He came in and got cheap bottom 6 talent, a goalie, handled the Puljujarvi situation, and traded Lucic for a conditional 3rd and a guy who has a realistic chance of scoring 20 goals this season.

    What in the Moses do you guys consider A+?

    Toronto traded a 1st to get rid of one year of a bad contract. Holland traded a conditional 3rd to get rid of four years of bad contract, and got back a career top 6 winger.

    For 2 months that’s damn good work