The Edmonton Oilers have a plan. The hiring of new general manager Ken Holland was made official Tuesday and with it came revelation of a plan that many will find every reason to dislike.
That’s okay, that’s part of the gig.
And understanding that frustration essentially rules the day in Edmonton is, for Holland, also part of the gig. Someone is going to have to bridge the gap between years of failed expectations and whatever’s to come.
The backstory is known to everyone within breathing distance of the hockey world.
The Oilers have only made the post-season once since venturing all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. The arrival of Connor McDavid and a roster full of young stars hasn’t changed that, as he’s only seen playoff action once in his career.
The 2018-2019 season was, naturally, another disappointment. The Oilers were officially eliminated from the playoffs on April Fool’s Day, hardly a great omen, and they finished seventh in their division – eight points ahead of the basement-dwelling Los Angeles Kings but a point behind the Anaheim Ducks.
This finish came with two players – McDavid and Leon Draisaitl – eclipsing 100 points. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins posted a respectable 69 points in 82 games, while defenceman Darnell Nurse had a very good year. Yet there were disappointments, not only in their final positioning but in the development of other young stars like Jesse Puljujarvi.
All this with head coach Ken Hitchcock, who won’t be back behind the bench next season.
Enter Holland, the storied former general manager of the Detroit Red Wings. He served as assistant general manager and worked as a scout prior to becoming general manager in 1997. With Holland in the front office, the Red Wings headed to 25 straight playoff appearances and four Stanley Cups. With Holland as general manager, he won three championships in 22 post-season appearances.
But in the world of hockey fandom, that’s seldom enough. Anyone who’s spent any amount of time on social media or frequenting hockey websites (like this one) knows that even the most renowned of names, like Joe Sakic or Steve Yzerman, will have the most avid detractors willing to summarize Hall of Fame-worthy careers in just a few hastily-pecked words.
For Holland, it’s no different. Those championships and that extensive tenure is all down the tubes in favour of one simple but curiously stylish qualification: what has he done lately?
Holland’s team hasn’t made the playoffs in the last three seasons and the Red Wings haven’t been the force they once were in years. Holland was set to serve as Yzerman’s senior vice president in Detroit and probably could’ve sailed off into the sunset rather than take a risk on an obviously careworn franchise.
But in Edmonton, the carrot of total autonomy and a total rebuild – one designed to presumably put the Oilers in the post-season next season – was too rich to resist. Yes, there’s money on the table in the form of a five-year pledge worth $25 million.
But Holland is not Peter Chiarelli and he does not have a Hall of Fame-ready career by accident. He’s shaped an extensive, steady career by being a general manager who listens to his advisers, who puts the right pieces in place, who stands apart from the crowd by conducting himself with a level of dignity and decorum.
And in Edmonton, Holland – like any general manager they could’ve hired – is in it up to his elbows. He needs a coach the players will listen to. He needs a plan for the impending draft. He needs a goaltender. And he needs to rebuild trust with a fanbase that, for good reason, has a whole lot of trepidation toward this franchise.
(Photo credit: Ian Kucerak/Postmedia)