This time, we were told, things would be different.
The Edmonton Oilers, famous for having traded away several years’ worth of offensive talent and squandered the first four seasons of an all-time great player’s career, were going to shake things up and bring in someone who could successfully steer the ship away from the rocks.
Instead, their new GM is the guy who happened to be standing around when the Soviet Union collapsed, backed into a few late-round Hall of Famers at various points in the 1980s and ‘90s, and otherwise didn’t do much besides keeping the band together until everyone got too old to keep playing.
Ken Holland’s record since then, and indeed since the start of the salary cap era, has been one that shouldn’t inspire a lot of confidence among Oiler fans. Unless they, like the local media, really like how things have been managed for decades.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the track record for an Oilers hire has been abysmal of late, and it appears he only got this job because of his reputation, built on stuff he did 20 years ago. The extent to which Holland dined out on a handful of Russians coming over, a mid-round pick in the late ‘80s, and a pair of late-round picks at the turn of the century can’t be overstated. He won multiple Cups as GM, yes. And even before ascending to that top job was director of amateur scouting when the Wings selected a lot of the players that were big contributors.
The Red Wings cultivated a lot of reputation for talent development but if you look at the draft record in the cap era, it’s not great, and Holland’s main thing is supposed to be his drafting genius. Much like Jim Benning, another GM who doesn’t do the roster management thing too well but made his bones hitting a few home runs at the draft table, there’s more hype to the rep than reality. In the cap era, the Red Wings have drafted just seven guys who played at least five full seasons’ worth of games in the NHL. Their leading scorer from the past 14 drafts, Gus Nyquist, has 306 points in 500 games.
But even if you say, “Well they were always trading picks and picking later in the round,” shouldn’t a team with that reputation be putting more talent in the NHL over a 14-year period than that? For a team like the Oilers, in desperate need of a talent infusion ASAP, that in itself ought to be a big concern, and a disqualifying one for Holland.
And more to the point, one need only look at the Red Wings’ CapFriendly pages from the dying years of their playoff streak, into now, to see how Holland’s approach as a manager is more or less in line with what got the Oilers into this mess in the first place. First of all, the Red Wings somehow routinely exceed the salary cap to get their meager full-season results. This should also be immediately disqualifying.
On top of that, the reason they exceed the cap for poor performances is not that there’s a lot of talent lying around that’s paid a lot and not performing. It’s that Holland routinely invests heavily in low-talent guys who appear to try hard like Frans Nielsen, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericsson. And those are just the guys Holland stuck Steve Yzerman with for next season or beyond. It doesn’t even get into the Kyle Quinceys, Brad Richardses, Jordin Tootoos, and Stephen Weisses of years past.
And this is the guy who’s going to NOT give out the next version of the Milan Lucic or Kris Russell contract next time? Am I getting that right? The good news is he’s handcuffed by the fact that Edmonton will likely be capped out themselves this summer, but this isn’t a guy you should want on your cleanup crew.
The only difference between Holland and almost all the other guys that have screwed up this franchise for more than a decade is that Holland played in the AHL in the ‘80s rather than Edmonton. There’s basically no difference between him and Bob Nicholson, because he also won Olympic gold and a World Cup by being in the room when someone pulled up a list of 25 of the league’s 40 leading scorers and said “We should pick these guys.”
So why, then, should we believe the team and local media when they assure us that, this time, it’s different? Why would even they think that?
Not that the Oilers apparently had a ton of people interested in taking this job (Kelly McCrimmon using it to get the Vegas GM gig instead, etc.) but this really feels like trying to appeal to its ticket base rather than put a better team on the ice.
The local media has already reported that Connor McDavid is happy with the hire, and that’s another important factor, but when the new GM smell wears off, the odds he’s going to be any closer to a Cup than he is right now seem slim.
Which is a shame, but because it’s the Oilers, it’s also not a surprise.
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