Forty-four games into his tenure at the helm of the Edmonton Oilers‘ front office, all seems to be going well for Ken Holland.
The veteran GM took the reins of the club this past off-season, heading to Alberta after a lengthy stint in Detroit with an eye on changing the culture in Oil Country.
A quick, successful start served as a step forward towards that, and though the Oilers have since fallen off their early-season pace, they remain in a playoff spot as the new year opens, with star forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl tied for the league lead in scoring.
And its the presence of that star duo that has opened the door for Edmonton to finally take a much-needed step forward.
“When you’ve got Connor McDavid and you’ve got Leon Draisaitl — and we’ve got some other players, obviously (Darnell) Nurse and (Ryan) Nugent-Hopkins — I believe the window to try to be in the playoffs is now. We’re in the race,” Holland said Monday in an interview with the Lead Off crew on Sportsnet 590. “…When you’ve got Connor McDavid, the window is now. The time is now.”
Holland stressed the importance of simply getting into the playoffs, with the slew of upsets last post-season proving that anything can happen once you’re through the door.
“If we can get in, much like Columbus knocked off Tampa and somebody knocked off Calgary — you’ve just got to get in, and then it’s a brand new season,” Holland said.
While some have criticized the Oilers’ depth issues this season, Holland said the front office’s goal was providing their young stars some stable, veteran depth to help them along, rather than icing a team of young stars supported by other young stars. But improved depth is on the docket for the next phase of the GM’s plans in Edmonton.
“Certainly in the short term, try to make it playoffs in 2019-20,” Holland said of his goals in Edmonton. “Over the next two or three years, become deeper, become better so maybe we can have better regular seasons. But I don’t know that a better regular season means that you’re going to go on a longer playoff run. Maybe it means that you have a little less stress in January and February, but you’re always going to have stress. And once you get in the playoffs, it’s wide open.”
The Oilers, of course, have the ultimate game changer on their roster, the presence of No. 97’s indomitable offensive impact giving them a chance in any game or any series. Holland wasn’t short on praise for his captain when asked how he stacks up against the parade of Hall of Famers he saw during his Red Wings days.
“I managed some great players in Detroit — Yzerman, Federov, Shanahan, the Russian Five, Zetterberg, Datsyuk and Lidstrom, Chelios. But I’ve not managed anybody like Connor. And he’s 22,” Holland said. “…You know, Zetterberg and Datsyuk just became Zetterberg and Datsyuk at 25 and 26. They played in the NHL when they were 21 and 22 but they were just support parts — they grew into being ready to carry the torch and have a team compete for a Stanley Cup.
When you factor in Connor’s age and what he’s accomplished — he’s already got on his resumé a Hart Trophy, leading the league in scoring twice — I haven’t managed anybody close to Connor McDavid. I feel very, very fortunate for this challenge and this opportunity.”
Listen to Holland’s full interview with Sportsnet 590’s Lead Off via the audio clip embedded in this post.