Oilers GM Ken Holland has ‘lots of irons in the fire’ ahead of NHL trade deadline

Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland at a press conference in Edmonton on Tuesday May 7, 2019. (Jason Franson/CP)

EDMONTON — Say what you want about Ken Holland and his work at the National Hockey League trade deadline. You’re not going to hurt the old bird dog’s feelings.

But whatever your position, don’t accuse the Oilers general manager of standing on the sidelines with his hands in his pockets. Like him or not, he’s always found the means to make a bigger-than-Jerred-Smithson splash. 

“Since I’ve been a manager here at the trade deadline, except for the pandemic, I got two players twice and I got three players once,” Holland said this week. “Whether you like the players or you don’t like the players … the reality is we make moves at every deadline.”

If you include the signings of Evander Kane two Januaries ago and Corey Perry this past January, that’s three additions every year — along with a tidy deadline last season that brought in Mattias Ekholm and Nick Bjugstad.

With the deadline a week away — 3 p.m. Eastern on Friday March 8; Holland will be situated in Columbus, Ohio — we’ll predict that the GM will accrue a defenceman and at least one forward.

Will the defenceman be able to supplant Cody Ceci on a pairing with Darnell Nurse? Or will he be more along the lines of Zach Bogosian, Joel Edmundson or Luke Schenn? (More likely, in our eyes.)

Will it be a Top 6 forward who slots in beside Leon Draisaitl? A Jake Guentzel, Vlad Tarasenko or Tyler Toffoli?

Or, will the forward or forwards come as two beefy depth guys — or maybe a right-shot 4C — who can counter the Vegas Golden Knights’ fourth line?

Hey, it’s only March 1. It’s too early to make any promises.

“Two years ago when we did the (Brett) Kulak deal, I had no idea when I went to bed that night whether we were going to do the Kulak deal or not,” Holland said. “When I went to bed last year on a Monday night — the trade deadline was on a Friday — I had no idea on Tuesday that we were going to pull the trigger on (Mattias) Ekholm.

“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen,” Holland said. “What I can tell you is, I have lots of irons in the fire. I have done lots of talking internally with my coaching staff. I’ve talked to Connor (McDavid, his captain) a couple of times in the last couple of weeks. I talk to (Oilers president) Jeff Jackson every day. Every day I’m talking to other (general) managers, on a regular basis.”

It’s popular to say that the Oilers should be “all-in” at every deadline, as long as McDavid and Draisaitl are under contract to Edmonton. For the record, Holland agrees.

That’s why his teams have always spent to the cap. Why he took the chance to land Kane when others were wary. Why he did the work to get winger Zach Hyman — one of the best free-agent signings in recent NHL history. Why he went after Jack Campbell when he did, rather than wait another summer for a better goaltending market — as history tells us Holland should have.

Why he traded a first-round pick and first-rounder Reid Schaefer to bring in Ekholm.

Fans rightfully expect Holland to add every single trade deadline. But his reality is, a year from now there’s another deadline. And another, and another…

“You’re going to be making these calls one year from today,” he said. “Well, you’ve got to have some powder.”

Of course, when you get into the rental market — which Holland has done a decent job of mostly avoiding — you get some roster regression when that player walks away come summer.

On the other hand, when you bring in players with term remaining, there are other casualties. The Oilers lost an entire forward line from last year’s playoff team when Kailer Yamamoto, Nick Bjugstad and Klim Kostin each priced themselves out of the Oilers budget.

Ideally, you have kids like Dylan Holloway in place to take those spots — unless you’ve traded them all away. In that case, you welcome the Adam Ernes into the fold, a player you may have forgotten about, but one who will bring depth as a nearly 400-game NHL winger should Edmonton need him this spring.

In today’s cap world, every team is imperfect. It’s simply a matter of deciding which imperfections you can live with, and which ones need to be addressed at the Deadline.

That’s why the Oilers won’t be spending any assets on their goaltending next week. It may not be perfect, but they have faith in Stuart Skinner, buttressed by Calvin Pickard and Campbell.

Not perfect, but it’ll have to do.

“The most perfect team is the last team standing in June,” said Holland, who hosted pro scouting meetings in early February that turned into weekly Zoom calls with his scouts.

Now, it’s Monday and Friday Zoom calls, as he sets the template for the weekend and then debriefs when it’s over.

“Our people are out there in the press boxes watching players who could be available, as we work our way towards next Friday,” he said. “We’re going to try to do something.”

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