Off the Top of My Head: Ken Holland, the Oilers off-season to-do list, and Matthew Tkachuk

Robin Brownlee
10 months ago
When he was learning the ropes as the Detroit Red Wings scout in western Canada during the 1980s, I’d see Ken Holland in different rinks around the WHL – old hockey barns like Memorial Arena in Kamloops or Queen’s Park Arena in New Westminster. You could always find Holland right in the middle of the mix.
Whether in a room full of donuts and coffee set aside for media, game officials, and scouts or huddled in the corner of one of the rinks around The Dub, you’d find Holland on the sniff because that’s where the information and the consensus was for a scout looking for an edge, for the inside track.
Holland never strayed too far from that even when he moved up the ranks from director of amateur scouting and assistant GM to GM of the Red Wings in 1997. You’d see Holland working the room at the draft or at league meetings. The gift of gab and the willingness to listen can be a formidable combination – it helped produce four Stanley Cups for Holland and the Red Wings in the Motor City.
Holland is back in his old stomping grounds right now taking in the Memorial Cup in Kamloops. While his Edmonton Oilers only have one selection (56th) in the first five rounds of the 2023 Entry Draft, there will be lots of managers there and an opportunity to chat. Then, it’s off to the NHL scouting combine in Buffalo June 4-10 for more of the same.
With exit interviews done and players to sign, Holland will spend time talking with agents trying to get a feel for what it’ll take to get new deals done for free agents like Evan Bouchard, Klim Kostin, and Nick Bjugstad. Putting a roster together takes homework. The devil is in the details. Who? How much? How long?


“From the time your season’s over until the middle of July is key in rebuilding and remaking your team for the upcoming season,” said Holland, speaking with Oilers Now host Bob Stauffer. “We’re going to try here over the next six weeks to make moves and make the team the best that we can within a salary cap . . . you’ve got to make difficult decisions.
“I think one of the things that we really have is great chemistry, and I think all the players on our team and in our room really enjoy one another; they enjoy the passion of playing in a Canadian market with a passionate fanbase.”
So, with just under $6 million in cap space to work with, what will Holland do with Bouchard? Depth players like Kostin, Bjugstad, Derek Ryan and Ryan McLeod need new contracts. What happens with Kailer Yamamoto? 
“I think for the most part, all of them would love to be here,” said Holland. “Now, saying that, obviously we’ve got big decisions to make because of the cap. I’m going to meet with all these players and talk to their agents over the next week to 10 days to see if we can at least keep some of them because they were big pieces.”


From Calgary’s end of the deal, I didn’t like the trade that sent Matthew Tkachuk to the Florida Panthers for Jonathan Huberdeau, MacKenzie Weegar, Cole Schwindt and a 2025 conditional first-round pick from the minute it was made last July. That said, I had no idea the Flames would get fleeced to the degree they have with Tkachuk going supernova since then.
It didn’t help that Brad Treliving, Calgary’s GM at the time, was somewhat handcuffed by Tkachuk declaring he wouldn’t sign with the Flames long-term. That aside, I wasn’t sold on Huberdeau, who was coming off a career-high 115 points – his best season by a lot – and needed a new deal. He got eight years for $84 million from the Flames in August. Huberdeau scored 15-40-55 this season. 
Tkachuk, meanwhile, not only put up the best numbers of his career with 40-69-109 in Florida after a 104-point campaign with the Flames in 2021-22, he’s tallied 9-12-21 this post-season and is headed to the Stanley Cup final. Tkachuk notched the winning goal in the final seconds Wednesday to beat Carolina 4-3 and complete a sweep of the Hurricanes.
The Flames selected Tkachuk, now 25, sixth overall in the 2016 Entry Draft, two picks after the Oilers took Jesse Puljujarvi, who didn’t dress for Carolina in the series. In hindsight, I’m guessing the Oilers, like the Flames, would like a do-over on Walt’s boy. I never thought he’d be close to this good.
What a great story Tkachuk and the Panthers have been.


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I arrived in Edmonton in late December of 1989 and was fortunate enough to get in on covering the Oilers pursuit of the 1990 Stanley Cup at The Journal along with Cam Cole, Jim Matheson and Ray Turchansky.
It was a lot of fun to say the least. I especially remember that playoff run because the Oilers adopted Simply the Best by Tina Turner on the way to their fifth Cup — I’d been a big fan of hers since the release of Private Dancer in 1984. So, for me, like many of you, news Turner had passed away at the age of 83 Wednesday really hit home.
Turner’s brilliant, iconic career aside, I couldn’t get Simply the Best out of my head that day. That was before Chris Cuthbert let us know by way of Twitter that she had passed away 33 years to the day after that last Cup win, May 24, 1990. RIP.

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