Oilers’ Ken Holland in win-now mode as pressure grows from all sides

Ken Holland acknowledges that he's been in contact with teams and is keen on keeping communications ongoing to try and improve the Edmonton Oilers through trades.

EDMONTON — Put yourself behind Ken Holland’s desk.

It is time for your Edmonton Oilers to take the next step. Sure, they’ve moved from doormat to 12th place in the National Hockey League, to 11th under your watch — but they haven’t won a playoff series.

It is time to win the games that matter now, with the operative word being “now.”

In the past 12 months you’ve lost Oscar Klefbom, at the time your No. 1 defenceman, and Adam Larsson, your No. 3 or 4. Nobody cares about who you used to have.

What do those losses mean for your plan?

“You make a new plan,” Holland says bluntly.

You’ve got about $8 million in cap space from those two Swedes. “Get out there and replace them,” the fans are saying.

Priority No. 1 is Connor McDavid, who needs a left winger. Zack Hyman is the best man for the job, and you are all over that.

Duncan Keith, a pick-up that looks a lot better after Larsson’s departure, needs a partner. And he’d better be the gritty, physical defender that Larsson was.

You need a third-line centre, badly. And the fans want him to be as cheap as he is good.

The emotional fans wanted you to sign Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and you made him an Oiler for life. But when you sign Hyman to an almost identical contract you’re going to get crushed.

That’s what you signed up for. It’s why you get the big bucks.

Here in Edmonton, it’s no different than in any other Canadian market. Every player whose name arrives at Central Registry as part of an NHL transaction, you should have been in on. Every player you are in on, you’re an idiot for even considering him.

But don’t sit still, whatever you do. It’s time to win — now.

Get moving!

“Do I feel pressure to try to win? The answer has always been yes,” Holland said on Thursday. “We’ve got more cap space now, and I’m going to try to maximize it.

“Would I give term to get a cap number that we like? Yes.”

Thus the number for Nugent-Hopkins, and the roughly identical contract we’re hearing for Hyman. Holland is in “right now” country, and he knows it.

“Connor is 24. Leon (Draisaitl) is 25. Darnell Nurse is 26,” Holland said. “I don’t want to put players on the team thinking we’re going to be good two, three years from now. It’s gotta be about being the best we can on an every-night basis.”

Holland signed Mike Smith on Thursday to a two-year deal with an AAV of $2.2 million. He simply can’t come back with Mikko Koskinen as a backup to a 39-year-old Smith. There is no way he can’t address that position.

Holland will exercise a buy-out shortly, more likely on James Neal than Koskinen, but maybe both. He won’t qualify Dominik Kahun, who he’ll wave goodbye to, or Jujhar Khaira, who he’ll try to re-sign at a lesser number.

And whatever happens, he’ll need some of the players already in the fold to step up. For instance, Tyson Barrie and Larsson accounted for over 41 minutes of ice time last season. He’ll find a free agent to eat some of that, but Ethan Bear and Evan Bouchard are going to have to chip in.

“That has to be part of this equation,” the GM said. “It has to be that either some young players take a step — (Kailer) Yamamoto, (Jesse) Puljujarvi, Bear, Bouchard, (Ryan) McLeod. Or, you’ve got a surprise by (Philip) Broberg, (Dylan) Holloway, (Dmitri) Samorukov… Ethan Bear was a nice surprise two years ago. He made our team out of training camp.

“If that’s not a part of the equation, then it gets to be much more difficult.”

More difficult?

“Important players are hard to replace,” said Holland, in reference to Larsson. “When you go to the marketplace, there are 32 teams looking for good players.

“We know we have to find a defenceman who can fill that hole.”

Then get after it, Ken Holland.

You are in Year 3 here. There’s no more patience from this fan base.

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