From the Top: Ken Holland

By most accounts, Edmonton Oilers’ GM Ken Holland has had himself a pretty decent off-season when it comes to the bargain basement bolstering he did to a roster that came up short against the Chicago Blackhawks on home ice in the NHL post-season bubble last summer.

Putting that disappointment aside — easier said than done with the blown opportunity to advance to the playoffs at home against a lesser team — Holland did some good work without much money to throw around. Getting Tyson Barrie signed to a one-year look-see deal for $3.75 million helps take the sting off losing Oscar Klefbom for the season. Kyle Turris, inked to a two-year pact with a $1.65 million AAV, fills a need at centre on the third line. Smart bet. So is bringing in Dominic Kahun at $975,000. Jesse Puljujarvi is back in the fold with much to prove.

Even if you don’t particularly like that Holland circled back to Mike Smith as his back-up when he couldn’t find another stopper, I think it’s fair to say Holland improved the roster that didn’t get it done against the Blackhawks. Now, the question is how that roster will fare in the all-Canadian North Division against the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadians and Ottawa Senators?

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With 10 games against the Flames and Canucks and nine games against each of the other teams in a 56-game schedule, a draft of which Holland received today, everybody is waiting to see how the Oilers stack up when the puck drops Jan. 13 — if everything goes to plan. That includes Holland, who had his say during a Zoom meeting with media today.


“I’m just as anxious as you are to watch our team play,” Holland told reporters. “I’m just as anxious as fans are to watch the Canadian division and watch those games on an every-night basis knowing that we’re playing Calgary 10 times and Vancouver 10 times . . . those are going to be playoff games every night.

“So, are we tough enough? Are we deep enough? Are we good enough? Can we check good enough? We’re going to find out. We certainly feel good about the things that we’ve been able to do without team over the last 18 months on and off the ice. I thought Dave Tippett got our team to compete on an every-night basis last year. I thought most nights we competed to the finish.

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“I thought our team was evolving. Then, obviously, the entire world got shut down on March 15, or thereabouts. I’m anxious to see how we perform. I believe that we’re better. I believe that we’re deeper. I believe that the experience of the Chicago series and with some of those players that were here with the Anaheim series and the San Jose series (in 2017), the more time you can be in those games . . .

“I’m just as anxious as you are to see who we perform, but I believe we’re better, I believe we’re more prepared. We do have lots of question marks, but I think lots of teams have lots of question marks this time of the year . . . I feel good about our team and I’m anxious to get to training camp.”

Holland used the term anxious a lot, which is fitting considering the disappointment last summer. With every game head-to-head within the division, teams won’t have the luxury of feeling their way into things. I’ve written that I see the Oilers finishing in the top three in the North Division based on what each team started with and did this off-season. I see Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Montreal battling it out in the top tier and Winnipeg, Vancouver and Ottawa being a cut below. I feel the same way today.

The bigger question for me – yes, I know I sound like a broken record — is if a 56-game season actually gets started January 13 or if we’ll have to wait until early-February for a 48-game slate after the post-Christmas COVID numbers come out.


Mar 9, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Las Vegas Golden Knights center Nicolas Roy (10) shoots the puck against Edmonton Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen (19) during the third period at Rogers Place. Golden Knights won the game 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Holland indicated he’ll get back to trying to get something done contract-wise with Ethan Bear. The wrench in the works is that the NHL is going to working with a flat cap for the foreseeable future. That’s not Bear’s fault, but it is his problem.

Most people agree Bear is probably worthy of a multi-year deal – Holland is willing to look as anything up to three years – but he might be better served to take a one-year bridge contract and hope that Holland has more dough to work with down the road.

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“I’m always concerned until you get a deal done,” Holland said of negotiations. “We’ve had talks. (Assistant GM) Bill Scott has a real relationship with Ethan’s agent (Jason Davidson), so I’ve got Bill Scott really being the point person. We’ve had a number of talks. We’ve got to get at it now, we’ve got to get at it . . .

“I would like him at camp. I’d like him signed. I’m sure the player and the agent want the same thing. We’ve got to find something that works for the player and works for the club. I’m prepared to do, whether it’s one-year, two-year, three-year – we haven’t talked anything other than one or two or three years. Hopefully, we can find a solution and get him into camp. He’s an important part of our team.”

Previously by Robin Brownlee