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Game Notes 13: Ken Holland shouldn’t make another move for the Edmonton Oilers

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Photo credit:https://twitter.com/EdmontonOilers
Zach Laing
3 months ago
Ken Holland’s gotten the Oilers into this mess, but he shouldn’t get the chance to get them out.
Hired as the Edmonton Oilers general manager five years ago ahead of the 2019-20 season, all Holland has done is build a flawed roster with two of the best players in the world on darling contracts — a roster that doesn’t allow its coaching staff to have any flexibility.
His first order of business was flipping out Milan Lucic for James Neal, arguably one of his better moves in Edmonton. There are other good things, too. Tyler Ennis was a formidable depth acquisition at the 2020 deadline, Duncan Keith paid off in the end, while the swap of Ethan Bear for Warren Foegele has proved to be sharp. Brett Kulak has been fine as a depth defenceman, while the Mattias Ekholm trade was excellent. Zach Hyman has been worth every penny, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ deal to keep him an Oiler for life is equally valuable.
But the warts on Holland are too large to ignore. He bridged Darnell Nurse for two years, then set the market for a top-pairing defenceman in his acquisition of Keith — one that allowed the Chicago Blackhawks to sign Seth Jones for too much and too long. Holland then signed Nurse, a fine defenceman who takes too much criticism to deal a year early for millions too much.
Similarly, he re-signed Zack Kassian for too much and too long after a heater alongside Connor McDavid and was forced to pay up to get out of that deal.
Holland’s $25-million man, Jack Campbell, has sunk the team’s salary cap situation, and the organization is staring down the barrel of overpaying to be rid of him or having to issue another buyout.
Multiple trades blew up in his face, too. Passing on Jesper Wallstedt at the 2021 draft to trade back and draft Xavier Bourgault and later Luca Munzenberger likely wasn’t a wise one given the team’s lack of organizational depth in the crease, while the 2020 deadline trades for Andreas Athanasiou and Mike Green were not sharp deals. Don’t get me started on having to give away Kailer Yamamoto and Klim Kostin free, either.
Connor Brown’s contract could backfire, with him having played nine challenging games to start the year. One more, and he’s owed a $3.25-million bonus that could count against next year’s cap or this year if the Oilers continue to struggle and sell off assets like Foegele and Cody Ceci at the deadline. The latter of those two likely should’ve been dealt in the offseason after a brutal 2022-23 season in favour of a much cheaper replacement, but that’s another story.
All in all, Holland has given head coach Jay Woodcroft a roster with holes so tight to the salary cap that when Brown and Mattias Janmark were injured, the Oilers had to use two emergency loans on Raphael Lavoie and James Hamblin to ice a roster, as noted by CapFriendly.
This body of work has the Oilers exactly where they are: 2-9-1 to start the year as the second-worst team in the league behind the San Jose Sharks.
Couple that with the fact he’s on an expiring contract and is likely looking at retirement rather than another year running a team, and there’s nothing that makes me believe that Holland has the fortitude to get out of this mess.
The sharpest thing Jeff Jackson could do right now would be to thank Holland for his services and let him sail off into the sunset early. This club needs a fresh set of eyes, not another retread.
  1. Darnell Nurse is at 69 career goals scored with the Oilers. His next would make him one of four defencemen in Oilers history to have 70 goals, with the team following in the footsteps of Kevin Lowe (74 goals), Charlie Huddy (81) and Paul Coffey (209).
  2. Evan Bouchard joined the Oilers rearguard record books against San Jose, hitting 100 points in his career in his 196th game. He became the fourth-fastest defenceman to hit that mark among defencemen to debut with the Oilers, following Steve Smith (196 games), Huddy (168), Risto Siltanen (151) and Coffey (126).
  3. The Oilers have a 5-2 lifetime record against the Kraken, outscoring them 33-22 in those games.
  4. Yamamoto will play his first regular season game against the Oilers tonight. He’s drawn in for 14 games this season, scoring two goals and as many assists, and played on the Kraken’s top line alongside Matty Beniers and Jared McCann in a game last Thursday.
  5. Jordan Eberle is considered day-to-day after getting cut by a skate during a Wednesday practice. It occurred near his quad muscle in his leg, and he missed their Thursday game.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@oilersnation.com.

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