Holland talks NHL Draft and Free Agency

Over at NHL.com, Tim Campbell posted a quick interview with Edmonton Oilers GM, Ken Holland, that offers a glimpse into the week ahead, and what to expect from the veteran manager as we move towards the NHL Draft and free agency.

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The NHL Draft

These days, the NHL Draft marks one of the most exciting times to be a hockey fan as many teams look to swing deals and fish for prospects that will make an impact for years to come. For the Edmonton Oilers, this year’s draft will look a little bit different since they’re shy on picks, and when asked about his approach to this problem, Ken Holland stated the obvious and admitted that he’ll be listening to offers to see if he can add more selections.

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“I think you always want more picks than what you have. Certainly, if there’s an opportunity to get extra picks, I’ll listen. One way to get extra picks is to trade back, but I don’t see us spending assets to trade up. I spent enough assets at the deadline trying to make the team deeper and better to try to go on a playoff run. Right now, we’re planning to pick 14th, but certainly, what ends up happening, everyone’s doing their preparations, talking to other teams about possibilities. That leads to trade talk.”

I know we’ve written about the Oilers potentially trading down to add more picks a few times over the past few weeks, but it also seems like we do that every year. Personally, I’m expecting the Oilers to walk up to the podium to grab someone at 14th overall, but I guess we’ll have to see who is still available and what the scouting staff is thinking. Could this be the year they actually move down?

“As you get closer to draft day, teams will ask what you could trade back. I’ve had some of those conversations, but I expect more of those conversations to transpire over the next four or five days. Our chief scout, Tyler Wright, is in town now, and we’re going to be together and we’ll try to be ready for any scenarios that are presented. We’re ready to go at pick No. 14, but if the phone rings … you’ve got to be flexible and open to go in different directions.”

If this draft is legitimately as deep as the experts say it is — we’ll just have to go ahead and trust them on this one — then I could see Holland stepping back a few spots to add more picks if he thinks that the guys left on the board are relatively equal. That said, I also want the Oilers to use their pick to grab the best player available as they are dangerously shy on skilled forwards on their prospect pool, making this year’s choice all the more important to get right. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not expecting much from the Oilers in terms of wheeling and dealing, but if there was ever a year when they could come out and surprise us then it would probably be during the middle of a global pandemic.

On Free Agency

If I’m being honest, the fact that the Oilers don’t have much money available to spend in free agency could actually be a blessing. Every year, GMs hand out deals that they end up regretting and not having the cash to be able to do that might actually work out in our favour. That said, this isn’t about what I think, it’s about what Ken Holland thinks.

“We’ve got to do something in goal. I’ve talked to (pending unrestricted free agent) Mike Smith’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, a couple of times over the last three weeks, and I told him that … he’s still a consideration, but I want to get to October 9th and explore the marketplace. Certainly, I thought Mike played well for us (19-12-6, 2.95 goals-against average, .902 save percentage), and he and Mikko Koskinen (18-13-3, 2.75 GAA, .917 save percentage) gave us a good tandem and were over the 71 games a big part of the reason that we were a playoff team. But there appears to be a goalie market, so I want to explore it and I’ll make my decisions then.”

Uhhh… Mike Smith? Really? We can do better here, no? You know what, let’s just table this idea for later and hope you forget about it, but what about the defence?

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“Our deepest position is on defence. [Former GM] Peter Chiarelli and the staff did a great job drafting defensemen before I got here, guys like Ethan Bear, Caleb Jones, Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom, Evan Bouchard, William Lagesson, and last year we drafted Philip Broberg. Young defensemen are a strength for the Oilers organization. Bear and Matt Benning are restricted free agents, so we’ve got to figure that out. Up front, we have re-signed Gaetan Haas and Joakim Nygard, but we have some unrestricted free agents (Tyler Ennis, Riley Sheahan). I still have to piece it all together.”

Without much cap space to play with, I’m endlessly intrigued by what the Oilers are going to do in free agency and how Holland is going to navigate this year’s silly season. As he mentioned above, goaltending remains one of the biggest needs for this franchise and that could take up a sizeable chunk of the what’s left. Even with so many solid options that are reported to be available or UFAs looking for new deals, I would be insanely disappointed if the 1A in next year’s goaltending tandem is simply another year of Mike Smith. No offence to the guy, I thought he played reasonably well for the boys in stretches, but I believe there are younger, better tenders out there and I’m really hoping Holland will find a way to close on one of them.

If interested, the interview also covered Holland’s first year as GM of the team and how he evaluates his opening season. He also looks at the neverending Jesse Puljujarvi situation and how he’s hopeful that we’ll reach an end to this saga once and for all.

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