The Ken Holland I have come to know over the years probably isn’t enamoured with his new role in Detroit.
Sure, he smiled at the press conference, as they kicked him upstairs with the role of Sr. Vice President, so his protege Steve Yzerman could make a triumphant return as Executive Vice President and General Manager. He’ll still have an excellent pay cheque, distributed by perhaps the most loyal and efficient ownership family in the National Hockey League, the Illitch family.
But to what extent will he be involved, considering the new GM — who was mentored by Holland — no longer requires a shoulder to lean on. Yzerman learned at Holland’s feet, went away to build the most successful (regular season) team in the NHL today in Tampa, and now returns as a veteran GM himself.
So, tell me. What is it that Holland is actually supposed to do in Detroit?
That is why the city secondarily tied to the Red Wings news conference was Edmonton, where the Oilers require a man that closely fits the description of Ken Holland to become their GM. A close third would be Seattle, where an expansion team has yet to hire its first GM.
But let’s talk about the job in Edmonton.
As much as we see future GMs in people like Kelly McCrimmon, Pat Verbeek, Bill Guerin and Mark Hunter, the next few years in Edmonton are not a place for a rookie GM to learn the ropes. This franchise is broken — from its cap situation, to its roster, to its entire pro scouting department, to its dressing room culture, to its relationship with its fans and its city, to the way it’s perceived in 30 other NHL markets.
That is why Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson has met at length to talk about the job with Holland, with whom he has a working relationship from building Canadian Olympic teams. No one knows the breadth of experience required to right the ship in Edmonton more than Nicholson, and there is no available candidate presently in the marketplace who has Holland’s chops.
He’s too old, you say? Did all his winning years ago under a different economic system?
Well, what did they say about Lou Lamorielllo when he was booted upstairs in New Jersey on May 4, 2015? He accepted that “promotion,” as Holland did today in Detroit. But by July 23 Lamoriello was being introduced as the new GM in Toronto, hired by Brendan Shanahan, whose chores in Toronto that summer were no less onerous than those facing Nicholson today.
Then, pushed upstairs a year ago by the younger and smarter in Toronto, Lamoriello smiled at the head table while plotting a move to the New York Islanders, where he ended up just a few weeks later. Today he’s the Isles’ GM, and nobody is asking if Lou is past his prime.
Is that what Ken Holland was doing at that news conference in Detroit on Good Friday? Guess we’re going to find out. (Taps foot, looks at watch.)
There is no perfect man to tackle the variety of ills in Edmonton. You need a cap expert, a personnel king, a culture builder, and someone ruthless enough to move out the bodies that have caused this mess in the first place. And we’ve seen in Toronto that even an analytics expert and modern young thinker like Kyle Dubas can encounter cap troubles, long before he’s running out of room on his hand for Stanley Cup rings.
This job in Edmonton, it’s a bear. Holland, whose Red Wings won more NHL games than any other team during his tenure a GM, doesn’t seem to be ready to become a figurehead.
With Keith Gretzky as his right-hand man here, Nicholson could be sure that there’s a successor to Holland down the road, in a perfect world.
It all adds up, except for one part: Would Holland leave an organization that has shown him such great loyalty, for one that has dug a deep a hole as exists in Edmonton?
If he had the unfettered power to fix the problems in Edmonton, I bet he would.