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Breaking down the ‘massively disappointed’ Ken Holland’s post-season press conference

One day after the Edmonton Oilers found out they were drafting 14th overall, GM Ken Holland spoke with members of the media answering questions about what went wrong, and what’s to come.

Holland spoke for almost an hour Tuesday afternoon, so I’m going to paraphrase most of what he had to say and focus on the important stuff. The first three notes were from Holland’s opening statement, then I’ll take note of questions and their answers below. I’ve also linked to the timestamp on Holland’s presser where the questions are.

There’s a ton of stuff in here, but not to be overwhelming I’ve just transcribed what Holland had to say. I’ll have something up tomorrow morning with more of an analysis on Holland’s words.

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On the playoffs

Holland said he was disappointed in the early exit. He wished Edmonton would have been kicking off their

“We had much higher expectations going into the bubble. We knew we were going to play a real playoff-tested team in Chicago that has a lot of veteran players that have had a lot of success in the playoffs. We felt good about our team heading into the playoff series and unfortunately, we got bounced out.”

“Massively disappointed we weren’t able to win the series with Chicago and advance further.”

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On the season

Holland said over the first 70 games of the year he felt the Oilers made progress in a lot of areas. Noted overall increases in the standings, as well as the special teams progress and in goals for/goals against.

“I thought we had some young players over the course of the season that really impacted our team. Certainly, Ethan Bear right off the bat going into the top four, Kailer Yamamoto coming up in the middle of the season gave us a real boost in the top six. Caleb Jones did a nice job when he got in there in the second half of the season, especially when Klefbom got injured.”

What’s ahead

Noting that the Oilers have made good progress over the last year, he wants to see the team continue to build off that into the future.

“I know we have some things to accomplish over the summer here to get our team to take another step.”

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Questions

Holland was asked by OilersNation’s Jason Gregor how a flat cap can impact what he is able to do with RFA’s like Athanasiou and Benning.

“It’s going to make an impact. When we made the deal for Athanasiou at the deadline, I just left the general managers meeting… and it was looking like the cap… was going to be a minimum of $84-million to a maximum of $88-million on the percentage that the union wanted to uptick the cap. That’s going to impact the decisions we make this summer.”

Holland noted how the Oilers have a few RFA’s that are coming up this year, specifically mentioning his prior relationship with Athanasiou.

“We were trying to bring in more offence, we also made some other moves, Tyler Ennis. I think Athanasiou’s impact wasn’t as good as I had hoped. I’ll assess here over the next six, seven weeks and into the offseason.”

Postmedia’s Rob Tychkowski asked about how some people felt something was missing in the Oilers team. Was it a one-off or something more concerning?

“I would say to you I don’t see what you saw. I thought in game one we weren’t ready to play. I thought that was a veteran team in the other room, they were up 4-1 10 minutes into the game. I think they knew the playoff series started with the puck drop and we looked like we were going to wade into the series. It felt like we were chasing the series. When we had a lead, we only held onto it (for a few minutes).”

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“I thought the rest of the series we played fine, but fine isn’t good enough… I don’t see it the way you saw it, and again I’m hoping that we got to get back to training camp and put ourselves in the same position next year. We’ve got to play our way into the top eight in the Western Conference. I’m hoping it was a learning moment (against Chicago).”

630 CHED’s Reid Wilkins asked about the Oilers goaltending situation over the season and what’s to come there.

“I would first off say to you my assessment over the regular season goaltending was a real strength of ours. I thought the coaching staff did a great job… they kind of assessed when it was time to let one guy run with it for a little bit. In the playoffs… I thought the goaltending didn’t play as well for us than in the regular season. Going forward, Mike Smith is a UFA and Koskinen has two more years to go on his contract. The season just ended on Friday, we had exit meetings Saturday and got out of the bubble Saturday night. There’s a time here to evaluate and decide which direction we’re going to go.”

Holland also spoke about Stuart Skinner in the AHL and said he needs to establish himself as the No. 1 goalie there. “He has a lot of talent,” he added.

Postmedia’s Terry Jones asked to evaluate the Oilers defence and the teams defensive hockey in the playoffs. Was the four-game window of the playoffs enough sample size to make moves off? How much scouting are you doing for support players? 

“That’s a lot of questions. Number one, you asked about our defence. We finished 15th in goals against over the 70 games we played. We were middle of the pack, obviously, we need to be better. We need to make more strides. Ideally, to consider yourselves a team to go on a long playoff run, you got to be able to defend, you can’t just outscore your opponents. You’d like to be a top-10 team in terms of goals against.” Holland added it’s not just on defencemen, but on the team’s whole commitment.

“After game one, Dave Tippett called out a couple of our defencemen who needed to play better. Our team responded in game two. We’ve got some good young defencemen in the system. I’ll evaluate where we go. You’re always looking to upgrade, but the reality of trying to upgrade (over the defencemen you have) is that it’s not easy.”

In regards to scouting, Holland said Archie Henderson has had his staff watching games doing video scouting. Holland said he was at most of the games in the bubble last week adding he got a good feel for the teams in the west, and a few out east.

“With the cap being flat… certainly everybody is going to be looking for cheaper support players.”

TSN’s Ryan Rishaug asked about defence again. He noted McDavid and Draisaitl’s ability to put up points, but how they were minus players. Are they where they need to be defensively?

“In terms of the regular season, Leon had a tough month of (December) in terms of his plus/minus (he went -24 that month alone). The one month, I think, had a real impact. I thought from that point on Leon was on the ice for less goals against, there was more plusses. When you look at our team, we get a ton of offence (from those two) and then you add in Nuge who takes up a lot of our offence. We’re trying to figure out a way to get a little more offence from deeper into our roster.”

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Postmedia’s Terry Jones asked again about the playoff window to evaluate the team, and if he had a message to the Oilers fans. 

“It’s a small sample size, but it’s playoffs. I’m not going to put the evaluation of our team over the 70 game regular season and forget about playoffs and vice versa. We probably learned some things about our team and our players in the four games against Chicago that will factor into whatever decision we make in the offseason.”

On his message to the fans:

“When I took over the job on May the 6th (2019), I felt that we wanted to get to March 1st and be in control of our own fate. It’s hard to make massive steps, we’ve got to continue to take baby steps. I felt when we got to March 1st we controlled our own fate, we were in the thick of the playoff race. I thought Dave Tippett and his staff got our team to play hard, we competed on an every-night basis. I thought we made progress in the 19-20 season and we need to make a little more progress in the off-season and into the 20-21 season. When I watch the Stanley Cup play-in last week… it was part personnel and part just knowing how to play your best at the right times. I think the more times you can put yourselves in those situations, the more prepared you are. Going into the offseason, how do we make our team a little better than last year and try over 82 games to play our way into the playoffs and be more prepared than we were last year. We have a lot further to go to be a team that can really compete for the Stanley Cup.”

The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman asked about early-round exits Detroit had in the early ’90s and if there were any parallels he could make adding if there are evolutions McDavid and Draisaitl have to make similar to Yzerman at the time.

“When I look back… there’s way more disappointments than successes. Those disappointments fueled the successes down the road. Edmonton made the playoffs three years ago, went to the second round and I think everybody was hoping that would be a stepping stone to future success then missed the playoffs the next two years. We can’t fall back, the good teams find a way to get in every year. With multiple opportunities, somewhere along the line, you piece it all together. That’s what happened in Detroit.

“If we go out next year and take a step backwards, then the progress is all for not. We’ve got to build on this progress, we’ve got to find a way to make the team a little different, a little better, a little deeper and then start out next year… and you got to play your way into the top 16. If we can play our way into the playoffs, then you can look back and hope this massive disappointment against the Chicago Blackhawks is the fuel for us, motivation for us to do something in the playoffs.”

Sportsnet’s Mark Spector asked McDavid and Draisaitl’s offensive ability and if they need to up their defensive game as leaders. Do the Oilers require their defensive leadership more than their offensive leadership?

“The answer would be yes, but I saw that happening. That’s why we talked about Leon here five minutes ago… (Holland brought up the previous talk of Draisaitl’s off month of December). That’s one of the things we talked about with Leon in the exit interview Saturday morning before we left the hub. Dave Tippett and I talked about one night in Carolina in March or late February and there’s a puck turned over and how Leon buried his head. It was a two on one and he ended up killing the two-on-one out of sheer determination to play defence. They are getting better, but I also think in this playoff series we were playing against a battle-tested team. Some players there have won three Stanley Cups. They had to learn that too, and we’re learning it. You’re focusing on the two guys, but certainly our entire team we are learning that defence is as important as offence in terms of going for long playoff runs. That’s the experiences, Mark, that I’m talking about. I’m believing and hoping that the Chicago series, this disappointment, is going to be an experience down the road (they can draw from). They are, we are getting better. Again, this team was 25th in goals against (in 2018-19), we went to 15th. Now can we take it from 15th to 10th? It starts to get harder and harder. It’s easier to go from 30th to 20th than it is from 12th to 4th. You’re starting to get into the elite defending teams. We’re making progress, we’re making progress. Everybody wants all the progress to happen now, so they’re learning, they are getting better. They bought into Dave Tippett. Dave Tippett asked them to work harder away from the puck. They did play harder away from the puck. We were loosy goosy in game one, then the rest of the series like I said was decided in the last six minutes. The other game was tied going into the third period. That’s the fine line of winning or losing in a playoff series and a veteran team like Chicago took us to task.”

CTV’s Adam Cook asked about Dave Tippett’s suggestion that the Oilers played as hard as they could and asked if that’s something he could address as a GM. 

“I think it’s a combination. Part of what has to happen is we, how do I with final decision on personnel moves in the offseason, how do we make a move or two to make us a bit better. There’s some players that are going to be here a long time and they’re learning and they’re growing on how we can get better. I think it’s a combination between what I do this offseason and those players who have been here and will be here. We all got to figure out a way to get a little better: a little better secondary scoring, a little better team defence.”

630 CHED’s Jack Michaels asked if Holland, over a year into the job, if ingredients are already there needed or if he needs to go out of the organization for more help. 

“The answer would be yes, I think I have a good idea what I’d like to do. Can I do it? That’s what I need to find out over the next couple of months. We’re salary cap challenged, but there’s probably 20 like us when you come with a flat cap. It’s not like we have cap space to play with. Trades are going to have to be similar money for similar money if there is a trade. What we did last offseason, Jack, is when we sat in the room leading up to July 1st (free agency) is try to sign what I call pros — guys who have either played professional hockey in North America or in Europe. Sign a lot of pros, let’s come to training camp and have some depth, have some competition. We signed Gaetan Haas, Joakim Nygard, Sheahan, Archibald, Jurco, we re-signed Chiasson, and we came to training camp and we signed so many it would be impossible for them to all have an impact on the team but let the coach determine. Some of those players have played real well for us. (Holland noted he has re-signed Haas, Nygard, Archibald). I’m hoping the experience they had… when Nygard and Haas came to training camp they didn’t know anything about North American hockey, the coaches didn’t know anything about them. In game four, Tipp put Gaetan Haas in the lineup and I thought he played good. We hope those players feel a little more comfortable heading into training camp and be able to contribute by being in the lineup in the opening night. Some of our improvement has to come from within. As Terry asked a while back, we’re going to continue to watch games. There’s going to be some players on the open market who won’t get the money they hope to because of the flat cap. Can we sign another player or two maybe in the bottom part of the lineup can impact us a little bit.”

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Patrick (unsure of last name) asked about if Holland felt he had to improve the team’s chemistry off the ice.

“I feel good about the chemistry. Dave Tippett and I talked to every player as quickly as we could Saturday morning, I think the feeling was adding Mike Smith, who is a veteran, (and James Neal), having some veteran presence in the locker room was a real positive. (One thing people were critical of me in Detroit was) maybe I hung onto the veteran guys too long but I think veteran people are important in your lineup. We’ve got lots of younger players and those veteran players are sort of like coaches n the locker room. I want to make sure we have some veterans in there to blend with our kids.”

CBC’s Min Dhariwal asked Holland about his sense of how the exit meetings went, and how McDavid feels about how everything played out. 

“This year was a bit different. Most years when you do exit meetings you talk three or four days after your season is over. We lost out 7:00 Friday night and 9 or 9:30 I’m in a room with Connor and Tipp massively disappointed. It’s hours after the game. You always need a little time to get the real perspective vs. the emotion. Less than 24 hours I met with everyone and we had to get out of the bubble. What was the feeling? We just lost out. Massively disappointed. Massively disappointed. We had way higher expectations. What I’m gonna do here over the next month is double back to some of that leadership group – Connor, Leon, Darnell, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – some guys that have been here for a while. I’m hoping that they realize we made progress, didn’t make enough progress or we’d be playing starting tonight, but we’re way closer to where we want to be than we were a year ago. At the end of the day, what was the mood of all of the meetings? Massively disappointed. The reason for me for exit interviews is to get the feeling on team chemistry, the feeling on the room, the players from the coaching staff to get info to go into the offseason to figure out what moves I need to make, we need to make our team a little better.”

OilersNation’s Jason Gregor asked Holland’s thoughts on improving defensively and if a change could come with the same group being in place for a while.

“I come in here last year and I needed to take a year to evaluate what we’ve got. I believe I’ve got a way better understanding, you’re talking specifically the seven defencemen, I’ve got a better understanding today in terms of defencemen and… now I’ve got to make some decisions moving forward.”

TSN’s Ryan Rishaug asked about the heat Dave Tippett took re: Smith starting game one, not putting Nuge-Draisaitl-Yamamoto back together and if the criticism is fair.

“One of the things I enjoyed most about the Stanley Cup championships was there was nothing to second guess. If you don’t win the Stanley Cup championship, if you’re not the last team standing, the nature of professional sports… (is) we’re going to be second-guessed. That’s the beauty of the sports business. We second guess ourselves. You make decisions today based on all the information at hand and down the road, you get to look back. Whether you’re a head coach, a general manager or a player, you’re going to make some decisions that don’t work out. I thought when I analyze Dave Tippett, I thought we made good progress this year. We got way more progress we want to make, but I think he was a big piece of the progress. Getting to work with him everyday, he communicates, he builds relationships. He’s got a real good relationship with the top players. He got both goalies in it. I thought he had all the players to feel they had a little piece of the pie. He keeps everyone feeling like they got stock in the company and I think that’s really important as a head coach. When you lose out, some of the decisions I made, Tipp made, they didn’t work out. We know we’re going to be open for second-guessing. That’s a good thing, that’s not a bad thing.”

The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman asked about injuries to Tyler Ennis and Adam Larsson and if anyone else was banged up. 

“Ennis got a fractured leg, the good news is it wasn’t a knee or anything. He did have some ligament damage down around his ankle. He’ll be fine down the road. I think it will take him a couple months, two – two and half months. Our team doctor said he should be ready to rock and roll for next season. I thought he came in here and played good. He’s an Edmonton boy, so I’ll talk to him and his agent (when he’s healthy.”

“In Larss’ case, he was on the ice in the morning for game three I think then early in the warmup he did something with his back, I don’t know if it was a back spasm. He got massaged, did some things but couldn’t go in game three. They worked hard with him on the off day, then just wasn’t quite ready to go for game four. We were hoping we would have him back for game five.”

“Beyond that, I don’t think we had anything beyond the normal bumps and bruises. We were banged up a little bit, but other than those two guys we were fine for that week.”

On Twitter: @zjlaing