Photo Credit: Jason Franson/Canadian Press

Was Ken Holland snubbed as general manager of the year?

The general managers of the year were named on Wednesday.

Three finalists were: Tampa Bay Lightning’s Julien BriseBois, New York Islanders’ Lou Lamoriello and the Dallas Stars’ Jim Nill.

Surely it’s no coincidence that all three of these teams are still in the playoffs playing today.

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It begs the question: should Ken Holland have been one of those three finalists?

Believe it or not, the Oilers had one of their best regular seasons in franchise history. Based on points percentage, the 2019-20 Oilers had the ninth-best season in the club’s history. According to Hockey Reference, this year’s rendition of the Oilers also had the toughest schedule of those top nine teams.

Edmonton was all but set to make the playoffs near the top of the Pacific Division for the second time since 2005-06, but that changed in thanks to a worldwide pandemic. The NHL flipped their standard script and Edmonton had to go into a play-in tournament to even make the playoffs.

After four months off, a young Oilers team squared up against a veteran Chicago club. Edmonton was eliminated in four games.

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So now that we’ve recapped the year the Oilers had under Holland’s tutelage, it’s important to look at the work he put in to help the team in his first year at the helm.

The coach

21 days into the job, Holland made the move to hire Dave Tippett as the club’s head coach. It was a smart move by Holland. Tippett is known as a motivator who was able to get the most out of his players and that’s exactly what Tippett did this season. After all, the Oilers went from a .482 points percentage team to a .585 points percentage team nearly overnight.

You can easily call this move a win for Holland.

The signings

Here’s a list of the signings Holland made last offseason:

  • Signed C Ryan McLeod to a three-year, entry-level contract.
  • Signed D Logan Day to a one-year, entry-level contract.
  • Signed LW Joakim Nygard to a one-year, entry-level contract.
  • Re-signed C Joseph Gambardella to a two-year, $1.4 million contract extension.
  • Re-signed C Brad Malone to a one-year contract extension.
  • Re-signed G Shane Starrett to a one-year contract extension.
  • Re-signed RW Patrick Russell to a one-year contract extension.
  • Signed C Markus Granlund to a one-year, $1.3-million contract
  • Re-signed RW Alex Chiasson to a two-year, $4.3 million contract.
  • Signed G Mike Smith to a one-year, $2 million contract.
  • Re-signed LW Jujhar Khaira to a two-year, $2.4 million contract.
  • Signed LW Tomas Jurco to a one-year, $750,000 contract.
  • Signed C Gaetan Haas to a one-year contract.
  • Signed D Philip Broberg to a three-year, entry-level contract.
  • Signed RW Josh Archibald to a one-year, $1 million contract.
  • Signed C Riley Sheahan to a one-year, $900,000 contract.

From the top to bottom, a lot of Holland’s moves were small. McLeod, Day, and Broberg were all entry-level deals and were all needed. A number were deals for the Bakersfield Condors, too. Gambardella, Malone, Starrett, Granlund, and Jurco all played with the Condors last year.

However, there were some shrewd signings in there that made the Oilers better, too. Nygard impressed in an injury-shortened season and should be a dynamic bottom-six player for Edmonton next year. Haas, once he got adjusted to the NHL game, looked sharp in a fourth-line role.

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Throwback Thursday: 11 years ago today, Edmonton Oilers sign Mike Comrie

While Smith struggled as a whole over the big picture this season, he had some strong stints this year that won Edmonton games. Granted, his performance in game one of the play-in tournament put the Oilers behind the eight ball early against Chicago.

Khaira had his struggles at 5v5 this year, but was one of the league’s best penalty killers this season and was a huge reason why the Oilers PK was atop the league. Chiasson gave much value to the Oilers in a fourth-line role this year and while people say he’s overpaid, I think he’s well worth the $2.15m he’s being paid.

Lastly, the additions of Archibald and Sheahan were good and bad. Archibald had a fine regular season, but wasn’t spectacular. He did, however, pace a career-high in goals and points this season. While a bottom-six player, he did provide value when the Oilers needed him to jump up into a top-six role at certain points this season which can’t be ignored. Sheahan was brought in to be a defensive specialist and a faceoff guy for the Oilers, but was pretty much a wash in both categories. There wasn’t a lot to write home about his year.

All in all, I think Holland did a solid job in a short time bringing in the free agents he did. They were a dynamic bunch who brought competition into the bottom-six and most importantly, he gave Tippett lots of options on a nightly basis.

The trades

Here we’ll break down Holland’s moves on an individual basis starting with the first trade he made.

Edmonton Oilers acquire James Neal Calgary Flames acquire Milan Lucic ($750,000 retained), conditional 3rd round pick

This deal was huge for the Oilers. Namely, it got them out of Lucic’s black hole of a contract and brought someone in who immediately contributed to the Oilers lineup. Neal scored 19 goals and 31 points with the Oilers this year and while most of his contributions came early on in the season, it’s hard to look at his acquisition as anything but a win.

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The Oilers have more flexibility in terms of moving on from Neal when they choose to do so whether it’s through a buyout, or through the Seattle expansion draft.

Edmonton Oilers acquire conditional 2021 6th round pick Pittsburgh Penguins acquire D John Marino

This one stings a little bit as Marino had a tremendous year as a rookie for the Penguins, but the player didn’t want to sign a contract with the Edmonton Oilers. Holland’s hands were tied and at the very least was able to recoup some sort of an asset for a player who was set to be a free agent.

Edmonton Oilers acquire G Angus Redmon, 2022 conditional 7th round pick Anaheim Ducks acquire D Joel Persson

The Oilers signed Persson to come in and compete for a roster spot, but struggled to adapt to the North American came from Europe. He played 13 games with the Oilers and had been assigned to the AHL for some time before the trade deadline.

Never Forget
Edmonton Oilers acquire F Tyler Ennis Ottawa Senators acquire 2021 5th round pick

Acquiring Ennis was a great trade by Holland. Ennis came in and was an immediate impact player for the Oilers scoring four points in nine regular season games adding another two in three playoff games.

He was injured during game three of the Oilers play-in series, but there’s no doubt he fit right into the Oilers lineup. Playing alongside Connor McDavid, Ennis looked sharp and in my eyes is set for a new contract from the Oilers. If they choose to let him walk, which I think would be a mistake, there’s no major loss for the Oilers given the miniscule cost to acquire him.

Edmonton Oilers acquire D Mike Green Detroit Red Wings acquire F Kyle Brodziak, 2020 conditonal 4th round pick

While acquiring Green to be a 6/7 defenceman for the Oilers was a smart move, he was injured in his second game in the Oilers threads in the regular season. He suffered an MCL injury that kept him out of the remaining games and when it game to the play-in tournaent, Green was the lone Oilers player who opted out of playing. Green has since retired and the Oilers won’t have to give up the conditonal pick.

Edmonton Oilers acquire F Andreas Athanasiou, F Ryan Kuffner Detroit Red Wings acquire C Sam Gagner, 2020 2nd and 2021 2nd round pick

Sigh. This is a trade that I’m very torn on. I was high on Athanasiou when this trade was made but he struggled to adapt to the Oilers lineup. He had been dealing with a quad injury suffered shortly after he came to Edmonton and scored two points – a goal and an assist – in nine regular season games. In the playoffs, he scored no points.

Edmonton gave up a lot to bring him in. Two second round picks are a lot, and Gagner was looked to as a leader in the locker room but due to the money involved, he had to be moved.

He was acquired by the Oilers at a time when Holland was informed that the cap next season would rise to between $84-million and $88-million. Instead, the cap is staying flat at $81.5-million due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Edmonton has to qualify AA at $3-m, but there’s talk the Oilers won’t be doing so. It’ll be interesting to see what the Oilers do with him.

So, was Holland snubbed?

In my eyes I think there’s an argument to be made that he was snubbed as a finalist for this award. He made a great decision in bringing in Dave Tippett as the head coach and the majority of his signings and trades he made helped the Edmonton Oilers. The team saw great improvements eyar over year in nearly every category that matter this season.

While the Lightning, Islanders and Stars have had great years, I don’t know if any of Brisebois, Lamourillo, or Nill did as much as Holland did to better their respective organizations in the last year.

On Twitter: @zjlaing