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Game Face

The failure and ineptitude fans of the Edmonton Oilers have witnessed in seeing their team miss the playoffs in 12 of the last 13 seasons isn’t the fault of new general manager Ken Holland, but it certainly is his problem. Of that, there’s no debate.

Preaching patience and, it follows, selling hope around here is a tough gig. Coming in on the heels of Peter Chiarelli, Holland is steadfast in building the team his way and along a timeline that makes sense, but, at the same time, he’s balancing that act in front of a fanbase that’s rightfully impatient and expecting results.

Mark Spector of Sportsnet asked Holland about that this morning. In part, Spector said, “This is a market that you can’t really look at the fans and say, ‘You know, we might not make the playoffs. You’ve got to have some patience.’ They’ve been patient for a long time. They walked that line. . .”

With the Oilers opening their schedule against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Place Wednesday, it was obvious Holland already has his game face on. He didn’t waste any time setting the record, as he sees it, straight with his response. I can’t say that I minded his reaction. I bet many of you didn’t either.

WHAT HE SAID

“I don’t think I’ve said that,” Holland responded. “You might have said that. Don’t put words in my mouth. What I’ve said from day one is that our goal is top compete for a playoff spot. We’ve got a nucleus of players. We need to surround them better. On the short term, on the one-year look, the 2019-20 look, our goal is to put some veteran players on the bottom part of the roster and compete for a playoff spot.

“On the longer look, while that’s going on, we need to develop players at the AHL level or with players that we own . . . those people in the longer-term look need to be part of the solution, so I’m not talking rebuild. I’m talking about we’ve got to compete for a playoff spot. Did we make the right moves? Certainly, the answer is in the 82-game season . . .” For context, the full interview with Holland is here.

I liked the question. I liked the answer more. With the way the Oilers have run through general managers since they reached the 2006 Stanley Cup final – from Kevin Lowe to Steve Tambellini to Craig MacTavish to Chiarelli and now Holland – process and patience might make sense and be reasonable with each new boss, but how long are fans supposed to wait?

Holland is smart enough to recognize that and smart enough not to deviate much from how he believes things should be done while making moves (with a limited budget) that give the Oilers at least a chance to be competitive. Instead of throwing prospects in over their heads as we’ve seen done too often, they’ll play on the farm.

Holland has instead stocked up on older players with some pro experience, be it in North America or Europe. Joakim Nygard, Josh Archibald, Markus Granlund and Tomas Jurco are all 26. Gaetan Haas and Riley Sheahan are 27. Joel Persson is 25. They don’t represent the future of the Oilers the way Evan Bouchard, Tyler Benson and Caleb Jones, to name just three, do, but they give the 2019-20 edition of the team a chance to contend.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Holland talked today about keeping the prospects who’ve been assigned to the minors in the AHL until Christmas, maybe for the entire season. What a welcome change that is from having young players jerked up and down between here and Bakersfield. If young players aren’t clearly ready to excel, they’re not going to make the Oilers more competitive now than the mid-20’s players Holland has chosen to fill out the roster with.

I like it that Holland isn’t leaning on the rebuild crutch, as he made clear today. I like it more that his actions back up what he’s saying instead of just offering more blah-blah-blah. Bring in stop-gap players and expect to compete for a playoff spot while the kids mature on the farm. Like walking and chewing gum, it’s possible to contend and develop players properly at the same time.

WHILE I’M AT IT

The Oilers are getting about as favorable a start to the schedule as they can hope for with the 14 games they play in October. Only four of those games are against teams that made the playoffs in 2018-19 – the New York Islanders, Winnipeg Jets, Washington Capitals and the Columbus Blue Jackets. They play six games at home and eight on the road.

Previously by Robin Brownlee