Ken Holland spoke with Edmonton media Tuesday afternoon. I spent hours transcribing nearly every last word of it, so if you haven’t read that yet please do so here before reading below.
The context of Holland’s full presser is important when we look at what he had to say.
Ken Holland’s Tuesday afternoon press conference was chalked full of tremendous quotes and important information about the Edmonton Oilers and what’s to come.
He took his time with his answers and was eloquent when speaking about how “massively disappointed” he and virtually the entire organization is with the first round dispatch at the hands of Chicago. He said it at least five times.
He and the organization have a right to be. The Oilers should be playing right now against St. Louis. But here we are, once again on the outside looking in.
It’s clear that Holland has felt the Oilers made some strong strides in their game this year. He circled back to improved goal rates and strong special teams play numerous times. Edmonton did a good job in both those categories: they upped their goals for to 12th in the league from 20th, and they took their goals against from 25th to 20th.
They’re small steps, but important ones. Edmonton got much better in 19-20 than they were in 18-19 and the organization needs to build off it. The experience the team got against Chicago is very important, despite it being a loss. Hopefully, it’s an experience the players will be able to look back on and draw from in the future.
Holland was clear that he was happy with how the regular season had gone for Edmonton noting the performances some young guys like Ethan Bear, Kailer Yamamoto and Caleb Jones.
The Oilers have work to do and Holland knows that. He talked a lot about small changes rather than large overhauls. Holland feels more comfortable now with the roster than he did last year, and I think that it could seriously impact what happens.
Something has to give on the Oilers backend. Holland specifically talked about this when asked by our own Jason Gregor.
“I come in here last year and I needed to take a year to evaluate what we’ve got,” said Holland. “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.”
There are some tough decisions to be made. Ethan Bear needs to be signed to what will hopefully be a long-term, inexpensive deal (see: Klefbom, Oscar). Adam Larsson and Kris Russell both have one year left before unrestricted free agency and this could be an offseason where one, or both of them are moved.
Jones has shown his ability to play at the NHL level and while a right-shot, should see much more ice time next year. Evan Bouchard is in the hopper as a player who could join the Oilers as soon as next season. Larsson and Russell both struggled this year with the former having concurrent back issues popping up for him. Matt Benning, an RFA, needs to be qualified at $1.9-million, and Mike Green, a UFA, are both due new contracts. Could the Oilers sign Green to a cheap deal as a six/seven defenceman?
Our own Jason Gregor noted that the Oilers would probably like to get him cheaper than $1.9-million.
Ken Holland spoke about how he likes to have a good mix of veterans in the room specifically mentioning Mike Smith and James Neal. I think Green still has some game left to give. He posted some decent numbers with the Red Wings ahead of the trade to Edmonton earlier this year on a very bad Detroit team.
Upfront, the Oilers still have more questions than they do answers. They need to find someone to play with McDavid and that could come in the form of Tyler Ennis. He suffered a broken leg against Chicago and Holland said he would have a conversation with he and his agent when he’s healthy.
Any type of trade made, Holland said, would have to be a money in money out situation due to a flat cap over the next few years. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman linked the Oilers and Leafs in potential trade talks already so that’s something to keep an eye on.
One interesting thing Friedman noted, too, is that the Oilers may not qualify Andreas Athanasiou. Gregor wrote earlier this week that Athanasiou will have to take a deal less than his $3-million qualifying offer. I could see it in the $2-million range.
On that note, too, Holland’s talk of the flat cap makes things interesting. When he made the deal, he just left the GM meetings where it was discussed the cap would be a minimum of $84-million going up to $88-million. With that being the case, it makes sense the Oilers traded for Athanasiou because they would likely have been able to afford the $3-million qualifying offer. Now, every dollar counts more than ever.
Edmonton has to get better in net next year and that starts by finding a replacement for Mike Smith. Koskinen had a fine year, but Smith was too inconsistent for what we needed him to be.
Friedman’s article mentioned that teams may look at Leafs goalie Freddie Andersen, who is a UFA after next season. He’s due $5-million next year. Who knows what could happen.
Holland will likely look to do something similar to that of last year when he took numerous flyers on guys like Josh Archibald, Gaetan Haas, Joakim Nygard and Riley Sheahan, among others.
More competition is a good thing for a team like Edmonton.
On Twitter: @zjlaing