Holland on Oilers’ unique opportunity, chances against Blackhawks

Ken Holland, President and General Manager of the Edmonton Oilers, spoke during a video call about his team's health and how he thinks the Oilers stack up against the Chicago Blackhawks.

EDMONTON — As if the coming National Hockey League playoffs are not bizarre enough, Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland will vacate his JW Marriott condo, carry a couple of bags down an elevator, and move into his bubble hotel room.
“Moving from floor 51 to, I think our team’s somewhere in the lower 23 floors,” Holland said on Wednesday. “So, I’m in the same building, but moving closer to ground level.”
Holland has tons of experience at taking favoured Detroit Red Wings teams into the playoffs, with mixed results. Like back in 2006, when the Red Wings were the No. 1 seed with 124 points, and the Oilers snuck in as the eight seed with 95 points.
“We lost in the first round to Edmonton, and Edmonton went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final,” he said.
This season everyone is healthy, there are four extra teams per conference, and nobody can lean on their home crowd for a momentum push. We spoke with Holland on a Zoom call with reporters Wednesday, and here are some thoughts with the tournament set to begin in just over a week.

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What does a GM do inside the Hub?

Holland: “I’ve never been in a hub before, so new experience for me. My plan is, I’ll be at all Oilers games and I’ll pick another game each day to scout and I want to go back to my hotel room, pick a game from the Eastern Conference in Toronto and watch a game there. So basically, watching lots of hockey.

“Nobody has been in a hub. I was with the Canadian Olympic team in Sochi in 2014 in the athletes village, rooming with Steve Yzerman. Across the hall was Doug Armstrong. We were on the sixth floor. That’s probably, for me, the closest thing I’ve (experienced) to this bubble, where you have all athletes combined in one area. You’ll be bumping into one another in the lobby. You’re going to see people from other teams on a regular basis. It’s a unique experience.”

Your first series against Chicago is a best-of-five. What’s the biggest issue there?

Holland: “Best-of-five versus best-of-seven, things happen way quicker. You’re going to go into Game 1, someone’s going to win, someone’s going to lose, and Game 2 is almost a must-win. You can lose [Games] 1 and 2 and come back and win three in a row. But the odds start to get long. The importance of getting off to a good start, being split after two games … Certainly it’s going to happen fast. We’re playing Saturday, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday.”

The NHL and NHLPA have agreed to let the players’ dress code slide during these playoffs. Your thoughts?

Holland: “We’ll talk to our players tomorrow to talk about the hub. Certainly, you want your teams to look professional but there’s no fans around, no media around. They’re walking from (the hub) to the rink, so I’m not sure what all the players will wear. That’s been agreed upon with the NHL and the PA that there’s no dress code. I don’t know what the players are thinking, but I’m sure they’ll look good. They’ll look professional.”

Phase 3 is seen as the one time when things could go sideways vis a vis COVID-19. How have you seen the process working?

Holland: “We talked about it the first day of Phase 3, the importance of them being diligent with washing their hands, decisions they make about where they go out, social distancing … Because if you do end up getting Covid, it looks like … you’ll probably be away from the team for two weeks. Maybe closer to three weeks. We want to hit the hub on Sunday with everybody healthy. So far, so good. I think they’re making good decisions. Certainly tests would indicate they’re making good decisions.”

Has Philip Broberg’s performance here changed your evaluation of him in any way?

Holland: “Coming into the hub, I talked to his agent Darren Ferris and his European agent, the plan was he was going to come over here for Phase 3 and when we went into the hub … the plan was he’d go back to Skelleftea. They’re starting their camp here in the next week or so. But with Mike Green opting out, I talked to Dave Tippett in advance of Phase 3 — ‘Let’s keep a close watch on Broberg. If he plays well enough, we can take him into the hub.’

“We think he’s played pretty well, (so he) informed Skelleftea we’re taking him into the hub. We’re going in with 10 defencemen and it’s up to the coach to determine how they’ll be used.

“He’s 19 years of age, junior eligible, he’s a young player — it’s been a fabulous experience for him to be at an NHL camp for 10 days and it’ll go on for at least a couple of more weeks. It’ll be good for him and his development.”

You’ve taken a lot of teams into the playoffs over the years. How unique will it be with this team, in this tournament?

Holland: “I’m not going to tell you all 24 teams can win the playoffs, but I think all 24 can win a round. And then if you win one, you get on a roll. What everyone doesn’t know is injuries. You need depth, but certain injuries you’re able to overcome. And how long are they? A game? Or are you losing a key player for an entire series?

“I’ve been at it long enough to know you don’t get comfortable, you can throw season stats out the window and you start from scratch. Tampa and Calgary last year (both No. 1 seeds) — one team got swept, one lost in five. The parity has never been better. How do I feel about our chances? If we play our best and have good luck with health, we have a chance for a long run. But if we don’t play our best, it’ll be a short run.

“We’re playing a Chicago team with Kane, Toews and Keith and young players in Kirby Dach and Alex Debrincat. They have a nice mix of veterans and leaders and their Cups aren’t far behind them. We have a real tough opponent off the bat, and we’ll have to be at our best to win the series. If we’re not, we won’t advance.”

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