EDMONTON — Dear impatient Edmonton Oilers fans:
Ken Holland isn’t listening to you.
The Oilers GM knows you’ve suffered for a long time, and that your team flamed out in the Qualifying Round. He didn’t like what he saw there either.
Oh, and you don’t have to remind him that with each year the Oilers don’t win a Stanley Cup, they move another year closer to unrestricted free agency for both 23-year-old Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, 24. Still, he’s not in an overt hurry here. He’s building something, and the time it takes will be the time it takes.
“Tampa Bay just won. There was a No. 1 overall–pick there in Steven Stamkos, and I don’t know how long he’s been in the National Hockey League (12 seasons),” Holland said on a Zoom call with reporters prior to the draft and the opening of free agency. “I think I stated the goals when I got the job here in Edmonton: You need multiple chances; you’ve got to be in the playoffs every year. And over a 10-year period, you’d like to be in seven or eight if you have a good program. And you have to stick with it, stick with it…”
Holland isn’t the guy who promises a home run. He prefers to hit for average, but if he gets his team to the plate enough times, he knows he’ll build a sweet enough stroke to knock the odd one out of the park.
“The goal for ’20–21 is to build a team that’s good enough on opening day [so] that you can play your way into the playoffs. You can’t build a team that you know is going to win the Stanley Cup. You’ve got to play your way into the tournament … learn from your experiences, make tweaks to your team during this off-season,” he said.
The second-year Oilers GM has two stated goals over the next couple of weeks: to acquire a third-line centre and a goaltender to work in tandem with Mikko Koskinen. To Holland’s credit, he did take the 27th-place Oilers to 12th in the NHL standings in one season. If he brought it to eighth in the coming season, that progress would be a sign of consistency, which is success.
In the meantime, the kids he’s drafting and developing along the way can become the pipeline that fills every good organization with talent. Slowly, but steadily.
“That was (Kailer) Yamamoto, (Ethan Bear) and Caleb Jones last year,” he said. “Can we have one or two of these young players (Evan Bouchard, Philip Broberg, Dmitri Samorukov, Ryan McLeod) push their way on to the team this season? And where do Bear and Yamamoto go?
“I don’t look at it like we have to win the Stanley Cup in ’20–21. We have to play our way into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Then you’ve got to win that series. And it gets harder and harder as you go from 16 (teams), to eight, to four to two.”
Holland plans to hold his 14th-overall pick — “I don’t see us moving up. I’m expecting we’re going to pick it.” — and will likely defer the third-rounder owed to Calgary in the Neal-Lucic trade until next season.
After that, he touched on a plethora of areas both short- and long-term for his Oilers. Enjoy:
• On the trade market:
“I can’t tell you I’ve talked to 30 teams, but I’ve probably talked to 25,” he said, ruling out most teams in the Pacific. “We don’t have to get down and under (the $81.5-million salary cap), but for the most part on a trade we’re probably dollar in, dollar out, or thereabouts.”
• On the status of Jesse Puljujarvi:
(He’s had several Zoom calls with Puljujarvi, his agent Markus Lehto, and head coach Dave Tippett. They were scheduled to meet again Monday and/or Tuesday.)
“We’re walking Jesse through where we see him on our team with a new manager and coach, and new opportunity. Relationship building,” he said. “Last year was good year for him. He finished in the top five in scoring in Finland, played on the national team. He should feel good for himself. His goal is to get back to the NHL, the best league in the world.
“We need more good players, and he was drafted fourth overall. He’s 22 years of age. There’s a tremendous opportunity here. We’ve had positive talks from our perspective.”
• On how they’ll draft in the first round:
“I don’t see us drafting a defenceman, given all the defencemen we’ve got.”
• On where he’ll find his goalie? As a UFA or on the trade market?
“Probably free agency,” he said. “It appears that there is going to be a lot of goalie movement in the next week. Calls are coming — teams are looking to trade some goalies — and it looks like there are going (to be) some goalies on the unrestricted free agent market. We’ve got to sign somebody, and maybe a No. 3 as well. We are going to have a goaltender in place in the next week, I would anticipate through free agency.”
(Hint: He’s not saying.)
“I know what I’m doing. I have ’til Wednesday, and I’ve talked to both of their agents. I know what I’m doing.”
• On defenceman Oscar Klefbom’s shoulder, and anticipated surgery:
“He played last year really with an aggravated shoulder. I think he’s waiting to see if his shoulder is going to get to the point where he doesn’t need surgery. There’s some unknown,” he admitted. “The question is that if he needs it, why doesn’t he have surgery? … Why wait two months and you’ve lost two months? If it was that easy, he would make those decisions. It’s not that easy. In February we shut him down and I think he missed nine games. He went to see a shoulder specialist, and again it’s not cut and dried. It’s not just simple that you do have surgery or you don’t have surgery. I think that Klef needs to make a decision based on the information that he’s getting, No. 1 from his body and No. 2 from the doctors.”