Photo Credit: Jason Franson/Canadian Press

What can we take from Ken Holland’s first months as Oilers GM?

Ken Holland’s made his first couple trades as Edmonton Oilers general manager and it includes a significant transaction. The Oilers traded Milan Lucic (and retained $750,000 of his salary) and a conditional third-round pick (pick goes to Calgary if Neal scores at least 21 goals and outscores Lucic by 10 goals) to the Calgary Flames for James Neal.

Holland’s second trade, the rights to college defenceman John Marino to Pittsburgh for a conditional sixth-round draft pick, is less impactful, but a decent move if Marino was trending towards not signing with the Oilers.

A solid trade? 🤔

Lucic for Neal is a solid win from Holland. The Oilers either get a useful player for taking on $500,000 more in cap hit and a third-round pick or they get a far better buyout for next summer.

Holland’s deal for Neal demonstrates more creativity than Peter Chiarelli showed in his entire tenure as Oilers general manager. The Oilers can buy out Neal’s contract next summer if he’s struggles as much as he did in Calgary and save nearly $3.5 million in cap space. Compared to a Lucic buyout or trade, where the Oilers could only retain $3 million maximum of Lucic’s salary, it’s a good move. Neal has to put up a strong season to starve off a buyout, which is unlikely. Lucic for Neal is not a perfect scenario. A Neal buyout extends cap penalties for three more seasons, but it opens enough cap space and solves a longstanding problem.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Holland wasn’t a big trader in Detroit. He’ll have to make some positive deals as Edmonton’s general manager and Lucic for Neal is a step in the right direction. Chiarelli entered the job and immediately traded picks for Griffin Reinhart, Cam Talbot, and Eric Gryba. Talbot gave the Oilers a few good years and Gryba was a decent third-pairing guy, but trading two high draft picks (that turned into Mathew Barzal and Mitchell Stephens) for Reinhart is akin to lighting them on fire. Holland doesn’t have the luxury of assets Chiarelli did. He’ll need to win more trades and do it with less trade assets and cap space. Not a bad start.

Skill over toughness

Philip Broberg, Neal, Joakim Nygard, Markus Granlund, Tomas Jurco, and Josh Archibald are all mostly skilled players. Neal has some edge to his game. Archibald hits, too. But they aren’t Lucic, Zack Kassian, or Patrick Maroon. Chiarelli’s Oilers emphasized ‘Heavy Hockey’ and toughness, which never really made sense when you have one of the fastest, most skilled players in hockey, maybe ever and another player that’s not terribly far behind. It wasn’t long ago when the Oilers featured Patrick Maroon, Lucic, Kassian, and Gryba. Just Kassian remains.

Calgary’s championing Lucic’s toughness and character after a first-round upset against Colorado. Lucic might be a more effective third-line player beside Mark Jankowski and Sam Bennett than Neal, but his contract is one of the worst in the league and cannot be bought out for much cap relief. Sure, the Flames save some real dollars and $500,000 on the salary cap, but shedding Lucic’s contract is a win for Holland and the Oilers. Holland’s signed his fair share of tough veterans to bad contracts: Justin Abdelkader, Johan Franzen, Jonathan Ericsson, Luke Glendening, and Niklas Kronwall, but he’ll have to resist handing those out with the Oilers.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Next season isn’t a concern

Past the draft and free agency, it’s clear next season isn’t Holland’s biggest concern. Only one contract signed goes beyond one season (Alex Chiasson). Neal is an interesting reclamation project and remedies the Lucic situation, but he’s likely heading towards a buyout next offseason. Selecting Philip Broberg eighth overall means Holland as concerned about short-termed success as some may think. Holland opted to not only keep the pick, but chose a defenceman. Broberg won’t be NHL ready for at least a couple of seasons, while some of the American forwards chosen near the eighth slot are likely closer to the NHL as of now.

Holland’s added Neal, Mike Smith, Nygard, Gaetan Haas, Jurco, and Archibald this summer. That’s not a group that will take this team to the next level. A few useful players may arrive, but these additions mean Holland isn’t worried about being good in 2019-20.

Building for 2020 and beyond

Lucic for Neal clears cap space for 2020 and beyond. The Sekera buyout opened up space for this season and next. Chiasson’s $2.25-million cap hit was the largest handed out by Holland in free agency, with Smith’s $2 million in second place.

Not contending in any season McDavid plays is painful, but it’s obvious Holland is more focused on making big additions next summer. The cap should go up more and the Oilers will have greater flexibility with numerous players going into the final seasons of their contracts (Chiasson, Adam Larsson, Kris Russell, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins).

Chiarelli didn’t do most of his damage in his first summer in Edmonton. The Reinhart trade was very poor, but the following offseason was the one that sunk Chiarelli. Chiarelli traded Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson and signed Lucic in his second offseason with the Oilers.  Holland will be doing more roster construction in 2020 than this summer.

  • inverno76

    Let’s never speak of Chiarelli again. I even stopped watching Arrested Development because the character Tobias (David Cross) looked so similar to PC. FYI, I think Tobias would of done a better job as a GM.

  • OilCan2

    Very true that NEXT SUMMER will be a BIG one for Ken. I do think he has added enough to the roster to give the Oilers a reasonable shot at the playoffs THIS season. Sure the roster moves were not BOLD or spectacular but the changes will be enough to turn the tide of goals against AND add a few more for. The net effect will be an extended season in the spring of 2020.

    • Ken Holland

      What do you suggest? Not much more could have been done this year.

      At least we are putting ourselves in a position of strength for next year.

      I think your missing the point.

    • inverno76

      We don’t really have another option, unless we want to trade McDavid (blasphemy) and add a few next level talents to create a deeper roster. Although, I’d rather wait another year or chew on glass than deal 97.

      • Derzie

        There are always options. Every team has a laundry list of trouble they are trying to resolve. Reality is only a few teams will get results. The Leafs (*spits) are exhibit A. Dubas schooled everyone and has made his team better this summer. The Marner scheario is a win-win for him. Gets the player or gets 4 high-value picks. Something that 20+ GMs cannot say they did.

        • Dallas Eakins Hair

          The Leafs Hocus Pocus moves with LTIR are a band aid solution at best, the minute they have to start calling up guys from the AHL they will start to feel the hit, it’s the same thing if the Leafs have guys on the roster that are cutting they will have little cap space to make moves during the season without dumping salary and next season right back to cap hell with a bunch of guys they will be scrambling to sign.

          The Toronto media believe the golden boy can do no wrong and every move is pure genius, the Leafs moves are tenious at best and will cause problems when the season gets going bet on it.

          • Dallas Eakins Hair

            @Trainreck Give credit to the Leafs for using the rules to the limit, they are taking the defintions with the LTIR rules and using them to the limit, while it is smart, I believe the Leafs will still try and dump some salary so they aren’t to the hilt with the cap, they still have to sign Marner and need some space during the season, but you can bet during the season they are going to have issues with player movements btwn the AHL and NHL that will hit them in the wallet

  • Biomass

    Chiarelli put his successor in a box. Holland has done a great job given the constraints. There are still roster limitations, sure, but he has recruited a coach who excels in dealing with roster limitations. Very excited for the upcoming season.

    • Spydyr

      Chiarelli put his successor in a box.
      Craig MacTavish put his successor in a box.
      Steve Tambellini put his successor in a box.
      Lowe put his successor in a box.

      See a pattern?

      • Hemmercules

        Maybe the trend is ending? Holland didn’t hand out stupid money to any UFA’s or trade any high end players for junk so he’s already doing better than the 4 guys before him.

      • Glencontrolurstik

        Look ahead young man… The changes that have been made so far this off-season are a lot smarter than anything that’s happened over the last 12ish years (or, “the Katz Era”, as you keep saying).
        Say what you want, but I’ve noticed that since Mr. Katz has cut some ties with the OBC, he seems to me putting resources in the right places. No one can deny that he loves this team. And now, it seems, that he has some pieces that can bring some respectability to it. I thought you would have perception enough to recognize that?
        What’s done is done. Any fan knows what this team has gone through. All of us have our own ideas (right or wrong) as to the mistakes that were made & who’s to blame. But, it’s time to look forward.

        • Has he cut ties? Mac-T gone, strong possibility he is still on the payroll, just like he was when he was supposedly getting an MBA for two years. Bob Green is still on payroll, as well as Howson. Katz cannot be trusted, he has proven that many times over, the franchise should not have anything to do with the imbeciles that started the DOD, Lowe should be gone as well, the SUPPOSED fact that he is not involved in hockey ops is not enough to gain back my trust or many others I suspect. This franchise will never get back to respectability when you keep clearly incompetent people employed. All those mentioned have done enough damage, should have been out the door years ago.

        • Hemmercules

          He lost good players and handed out overpays to everyone after that cup run. I still think Lowe was majorly involved in everything Tamblo did so he kinda put himself in a box. The team desperately needed a guy like Holland to follow up on Tamblos work and they went with a guy who had never been GM before who proceeded to sign guys like Nikitin and Ference.

    • Dallas Eakins Hair

      Exactly, Holland got left with a mess to deal with. Holland wasnt my choice for GM but I am impressed so far with what he has done to get things headed into the right direction. The changing of the scouts was a step in the right direction, the looking into getting european scouting back on track, finding a suck -er- trade partner for Looch’s contract which Chia couldn’t or wouldn’t do was shrewd. All in all Holland has impressed me so far. I dont much like the Smith signing but it is what it is. The guys Holland signed cheap and to 1 year deals is also good, if these guys dont pan out, the Oilers could try and trade them or at seasons end they can let them walk. The fact that Holland isnt making trades for the sake of it is a good thing, something Chia didnt know not to do.

      Holland has fared well so far, I wasn’t expecting much because of the mess Chia left the Oil in but I think we are in a lot less mess then we were

  • ed from edmonton

    Agree with the thought that Holland is looking at the 19/20 season as a “development year”. At his opening media availability he stated that the objective for this season is a “playoff competitive team” which s GM talk for a team that will not be out of playoff contention until near the trade deadline. He should be in a better spot in the summer of 2020 to do something and hopefully the likes of Jones, Bouchard, Benson, Samaroukov will be truly ready for NHL action. But the elephant in the closet for the next 3 season is a contract that pays a backup goalie a starter salary. Holland did some magic unloading the Lucic contract, he will need some more to get of the Koski problem.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      “Playoff competetive team” is a ruse to sell season tickets and hope. If the best thing the GM has done to improve the team is trading a bad contract for another bad contract costing an additional $500k, then don’t expect the team to become a playoff team any time soon. Buying out Sekera was a mistake. Granlund and Archibald were decent adds, but will only add scoring if playing enough minutes. Haas and Nygard are both cheap gambles on older Euro players, but they need to adjust to the NHL.

      Holland did one thing right and is being praised as a savior. If Neal doesn’t turn out and is bought out, there the cost of the buyout for 6 years pluse 3 more years of retained salary for Looch if he plays out his contract. Let’s hope there is at least a return to meaningful BOA games this season.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        Holy you Value Village fans are still whining about the Neal Lucic trade, and are still here complaining away about how Slow Neal is and Lucic is the second coming of Jesus….lol It’s always funny when you Lamers fans just happen to troll over here to give us all your best advice on what the Oilers should do.

        You’d better go and pray that Looch last two seasons were just blips on the radar, because if not your going to be whining away all season about why Brad traded for Looch, not to mention how the sell off is going to work to sign Turtlechuk and fix that bottom six that has no offence and hope the Talbot gamble pays off…

          • Abagofpucks

            I think dallas talks hockey as do I but, a lot of the time when we do go over there some of your guys step over the line on a personal level, and like a good oilers fans we can give it right back. Hey if someone wants to come over and say the oilers suck i couldn’t really care it’s all in good fun mostly.

          • Dallas Eakins Hair

            @shameless…With all the Value Village fans that show up here all the time, why would I need to go to Lamers nation when they show up here and get trolled. Nice try though

        • Abagofpucks

          They rarely talk real hockey, they just come here troll, then run away. It’s the village way. Over on there site most of them are losing it and some are calling for a rebuild. Which is so funny after the big 107pt year they had. There a soft bunch over in the village.

          • Dallas Eakins Hair

            Ah they just need something to get their minds of the rebuild, so they come and troll, not exactly a surprise, like they thought they were going to the SCF last year when many of us said they wouldnt make it past the first round yet again…

            Value Village nation seems to be trying to will themselves into the believe that all of Chia 2.0’s moves are going to push them to the cup…lol yeah good luck with that

          • Dallas Eakins Hair

            @ Trainwreck…lol must not tolerate anything but Value Village love I guess, obviously the reigns arent held that tight hereon what goes on in the forums..lol

  • Generic Oiler Fan

    I’m ok with the offseason. Right now, I’d give him a B- so far. The Sekera buyout might’ve been too early, and not replacing him with anybody is what could make it worst.

    Really depends what KH does with those dollars. If he spends it on a 3C/Top 4D, then it’ll make sense. But since right now he hasn’t signed anybody, I would call the move questionable at best.

    • ed from edmonton

      Paying $5.5M for a 3rd pairing Dman who has to be heavily sheltered is a hard player to keep around. I suspect that Jones will prove to an upgrade on Sekera.

      • Dallas Eakins Hair

        I like Sekera, I wasnt thrilled with the trade, but I understood it from a cap perspective, tried to find a trade partner and couldnt, needed the cap space to have the abilty to sign some guys. Had to be done. Imagine. One would think they tried to trade Russel and not take back and salary but couldnt find someone willing or a player on a low salary back to the Oilers, so Sekera was the best option. I dont like the dead cap space but the Oilers needed to have some cash to sign the guys needed to fill some holes on the team

  • Fireball

    I’m not sure what people were expecting from Holland this year. He was handcuffed with the cap situation. He managed to improve the bottom 6 and create some competition. I guess he could have paid 3-3.5 mill 2-3 years for 14 goal bottom 6 players like Donskoi. He managed to flip Lucic for Neal which likely addresses a winger for the second line. If not at least he can buy Neal out next season. I guess he could have paid Bret Connoly who has been a bottom 6 winger his whole career but scored 20 goals for the first time last year.. funny his numbers are almost the same as Alex Chaison yet Chaison playing for way less on shorter term. As far as the 1st line goes it never Needed fixing., this ain’t the 80s your not going to have three 100 point players on your top line and the Oilers had two 100 point player their last year which was the only NHL team to do so. Mike Smith isn’t a full blown sure fire goalie but he’s only making 2 mill.. I’m not sure who he could have got at 2 mill that would have a better chance to be what they need. Yes he could earn more but he would actually have to perform like a number 1 goalie to get it. He created a space on D for a kid to work his way in there. That’s something the whole of Edmonton has been calling for all year. The best part He cleared cap by doing it. A untradable 5.5 mill per third pairing guy to boot. It sounds like some time between now and training camp he may add a 3rd line centre who actually wins face offs ( more than a Half of them ) if he pulls that off I’d say they team is in a much better situation than it was last sept. I like that there’s room for the kids., to come in and battle. I like that the slate has been cleaned and anyone who comes to camp and earns a spot will get it., If we all remember the Oilers weren’t technically out of the playoffs until the last half dozen games last year. They were one win per month shy. I think Holland has made moves that benifit the future but has improved the team this year ( how much I’m not sure ) none of it is “Sexy” But is exactly how this team needs to move forward. To say he doesn’t care about competing this year is a stretch. It’s more like he isn’t going to overpay on money or term and he’s not going to mortgage the future to tryin force it. That should always be the way to operate.

  • Abagofpucks

    Hey flamesfan how long has it been since you dominated the oilers in the reg season 3/4 years? I would say the boa has been in our favor for a while now, but hey you check the stats for the last few years and see.

  • KPUZ

    “Reinhart is akin to lighting them on fire”.

    I think PC could be the most incompetent GM in NHL history. However, do you really think it was Chiarelli that made the absurd trade for Reinhart or maybe he was just the scapegoat for the idiots behind the scene?

    • Glencontrolurstik

      The funny thing about all that is the season the Oilers made the playoffs, his second year, he was runner-up for GM of the year award, as voted by the Hockey Writers… This shows us exactly what they know, & proves you take what they write with a grain of salt…

        • Glencontrolurstik

          You know full well. The point being just how wrong the voters were…and how so many are influenced by what is continually trending, even though it may not be accurate.

      • ed from edmonton

        Virtually every move PC move made leading up to the 17/18 season worked out. He got Benning, Kassian and Maroon for basically nothing, Larssen solidified a porous D, Talbot played like an all star, Letestu was a PP sniper and Looch scored about the same as Hall that year.

        • KPUZ

          Benning is a wonderful third pairing defenceman. Kassian is renowned bottom 6 plugger. Maroon was given up as they could not afford him because of the idiotic contract given to Lucic by PC. Larssen is a journeyman defenceman with zero offensive upside and no better than Ladislav Smid and the Hall trade is listed as one of the top ten worst trades in NHL history, if not the worst. Talbot is and always will be a backup goalie with a one year aberration. Letestu was also a one year fluke. Hall won the Hart trophy and Lucic was a man in decline when he signed his gigantic contract and is a dinosaur in todays game.

  • TKO

    What you guys here on oilers Nation seem to be missing is that the Flames GM was more motivated to get the deal done then you understand. Brad treliving wasn’t blindly fleeced because he was too stupid to know what was going on, he needed to dump Neil for a reason, and not taking any time to consider that reason is classic head in the sand. Edmonton definitely got the better of the two contracts and is in a better place for buyouts. Calgary new it got the worst of the contracts and they know that Neil may rebound, (more likely than expecting any offense from Lucic.) So why did he do the deal? That’s the question you should be asking yourself.