EDMONTON — As a general manager — as a leader — in Detroit, Ken Holland’s job was often to ask other people to sacrifice. For young players to spend a little more time in the minors; for high-priced players to leave something on the table come contract time, so that he could afford to surround them with better players.
Then, one day, ownership decided that is was time for the protégé to take over from the mentor, and Steve Yzerman came home as the new general manager in Detroit. Holland, of course, knew exactly what was required of him.
“It was my turn to sacrifice.”
Of all the common sense that flowed from Holland Tuesday morning in Edmonton, that story best described the man. And we would expect, it is a sign of the substance he’ll bring to Edmonton, a franchise that has talked a great game since about 1995, but seldom combined to put one on the ice.
On Ken Holland’s staff, it’s not about what you brought to the table. But rather, what you bring to the table that counts.
“What is culture? Culture is people who care about the logo,” Holland said. “You’ve got to earn the jersey. You don’t get to put it on just because you’re a high draft pick.”
And you have to earn he job, whether you’re the GM or an area scout.
“Your GM, your coach, your scouts… You’ve got to grind. You’ve got to dig in.”
They are words, only. And Lord knows, we’ve heard plenty of those from the copious new hires this organization has run out before the media over the past decade. They all come in with much promise, making many promises.
Craig MacTavish promised “bold moves.” Dallas Eakins was taking away the media donuts. Then there was this foreboding quote, from the day Peter Chiarelli was hired: “I’ve actually made a few trades of good young forwards. That’s something I won’t shy away from.”
Not long after that Taylor Hall was gone, and with him, any belief that Chiarelli would be the answer in Edmonton.
It is amazing that no man has been able to dent the losing culture in Edmonton over all these seasons, to the point where seldom seen owner Daryl Katz took a seat at the head table beside Holland Tuesday, where he proclaimed: “We have not delivered on the promise we made to our fans. You know it. I know it. We all know it,” he said. “We get it.”
Nobody’s head is in the sand here. Gone are the days when swaggering management stood up at these gatherings and declared, “I know a thing or two about winning.”
The Oilers, on the verge of being the only team in NHL history to miss the playoffs 13 times in 14 seasons, are humble. Which makes Holland — a man who is full of humility and has exactly zero ego — the perfect candidate to take things from here.
He admits, he made some mistakes in Detroit in the later years. He even warned that he’ll make some here. “If you’re (a GM) over 22 years and you’re never going to make a bad decision? I’d like to meet that guy.”
The only way to avoid making a bad decision, Holland has learned, “is not to make any.” And that simply isn’t an option here in Northern Alberta.
He’s got cap issues, a defence without a top pairing, zero Top 6 wingers, Milan Lucic at $6 million for four more seasons, a $5.5 million Andrej Sekera coming off of ACL and Achilles surgeries, and a $4 million third-pairing guy in Kris Russell. And he needs a goalie, because someone spent $4.5 million for the next three years on Mikko Koskinen, who isn’t a No. 1.
And he’s got some difficult conversations ahead, when it comes to some people who have been employed here for a long time, and never really got anything done. And with that, a culture was born. One has needs to be changed.
“He knows how to build a culture,” Katz said. “He will have full autonomy as general manager.”
Said Holland: “You can only live in the past for so long.”