Halloween is a few weeks away, Canadian Thanksgiving is over and we are at the start of the offseason! Players are dry land training, getting surgeries and going on vacations. The draft is over, free agency is over and the Stanley Cup has been handed out.
Normally, this is when I start my 8 game reviews of how the team is doing. There is nothing normal about 2020 though. I thought it’d now finally be fair to grade Ken Holland as our GM.
Holland was hired in May of 2019. He’s a certifiable legend in Detroit and won many cups. He is one of the highest paid GM’s in the league at 5 million per season. He’d actually be one of the highest paid Oiler’s if he were to suit up. In fact, he’s so well paid that we couldn’t even fit him on the roster.
Being a legend is one thing. The reality is that he left Detroit in very bad shape with a lot of bad contracts. I was very opposed to this signing as it still felt like we were just signing legends who are past their primes. I didn’t like his last few years in Detroit and I got the feeling that he’s buddies with Bob Nicholson who hired him (same guy that hired Chia).
It’s now been over a year. 2 drafts, 2 free agency deadlines and some time to make some signings and trades. So how is he doing?
Before Ken Holland arrived, the Oiler’s had a nasty habit of putting their first rounder in the NHL before Halloween the following October. In fact, we put 9 of our last 12 first rounders in the NHL before Halloween. Yamo, Bouchard and JP were all in the NHL way too soon. None of them succeeded from this. Starting in the hardest league in the world and working your way down is not ideal. Eg. Bouchard went from the NHL to the CHL. JP ended up in Finland 3 years later. Yamo bounced around as well. Anyone see Nail anywhere? MPS is back in Europe.
Holland preaches patience. This is something that has long been missing in these parts. He never panicked and brought in Bouchard right away. He never even considered bringing in Broberg and sent him to Europe (something that would’ve done wonders for Jesse IMO 3 years ago). I’m positive that Holloway won’t be in Oil’s silks in January. For these simple ‘non moves’ I give him an A+ because this has been sorely lacking in Edmonton. I’m also hoping he’s better with high end European players.
Shrinking Old Boys Club
When Holland came we also had the Old Boys Club running large. He’s managed to make a few of them disappear. I give him an A for that as well. Just needs to get rid of Nicholson (other than awful quotes and saying stupid things, I’m really not sure what he does? Should’ve been fired with Chia since he hired him).
Players not from the first round
For about a decade the only non first rounder to crack our lineup was Khaira. I feel like the drafting has been excellent. I feel like several 2nd to 7th rounders stand a chance of cracking our lineup. I feel like being patient and developing them is the way to go and I feel like Holland is the guy for that job. I’m giving him an A for drafting as well. No major misses. The Broberg pick is looking great! I get some were disapointed with Holloway but who should we have taken at 14? All the shiney names were gone.
This isn’t all on Holland though. There is a good chance that next season will see us with over 10 guys that we actually drafted and developed ourselves. Inexpensive players on ELC’s is the way to the Cup IMO. Next season should see Connor, Drai, RNH, Klef (?), Nurse, Jones, Bear, Bouchard, Khaira, Yamomoto and Benson all looking to be full time. We still have guys like Samurokov, Broberg, McLeod, Lavoie and Holloway waiting in development as well. It’s looking good.
No major gaffes with UFA’s
If drafting, development and players on ELC’s is the way to the cup. UFA signings and overpayments is the way to the basement. Here is where it gets less rosey. Peter Chiarelli left us in cap hell. He made a lot of overpayments and bad signings. He also traded away a lot of good players for ‘magic beans’. Holland has only had 18 months to right the ship and he has and hasn’t. Trading Lucic for Neal was a win (mostly because we can buyout Neal or expose him in expansion draft). His free agent signings mostly worked out quite well. Archibald, Sheahan, Haas, Nygard and, yes, Mike Smith all worked out last season. No major boat anchor contracts for long terms.
Some UGLY mistakes with cap space
However, the Sekera buyout continues to cost us money (2.5 million this season, 1.5 the next 2 seasons) and Sekera just signed a 2 year contract for 1.5 per with Dallas. There was value there. The Kassian extension was just an awful signing. No way does Zack ever live up to that signing. The smart play was to trade him at the deadline for a more useful piece (or picks) coming back. The very recent Mike Smith contract has to be the worst signing in the offseason. I would love to know what Mike Smith’s second highest offer was? Are you telling me there was a bidding war for Mike Smith’s services and we, somehow, won it?
On the plus side. The Barrie, Ennis, Turris, Archibald, Haas, Lagesson and Nygard deals all rank between good to great. I think the Barrie signing was awesome. If Klef can play next year we have some great offensive jump from our blue line. Even if Klef doesn’t play we have some legit puck movers potentially in the lineup - Barrie, Nurse, Jones, Bear and Bouchard.
Didn’t trade Jesse P for Magic Beans
Another huge signing was getting Jesse Pulijaarvi back for 2 years at a sweetheart of a deal. I know we’d like to think we could’ve landed a big catch for him but recent history suggests otherwise. Nail Yakupov returned an ECHL player that never even came close to wearing the Oil silks. More recently, Lias Andersson returned a 60th overall pick. Jesse would slot somewhere between Nail and Lias in the pedigree range. A less patient GM may have lost Jesse for very little.
Off to Europe you go!
Holland has also sent more guys to Europe to play during this strange year than any other GM in the league. This is a great way to get some guys playing and a great strategy. We may have some players in midseason form at training camp.
Next season proves to be interesting as Vancouver, Vegas and Calgary have all improved over the last few weeks. The Pacific appears to be a powerhouse division.
AA is not his fault, best trade deadline day in a decade
I didn’t punish Holland for the AA trade. I get it looks awful to trade away to 2nd rounders for 9 games. In a normal year I’d almost say it’s a fireable offence. However, no way he saw the pandemic coming and this one falls under ‘shit happens’. Maybe that’s too lenient but I genuinely feel like that is not Holland’s fault. If I’m being honest, I was really happy at the trade deadline and most pundits agreed that the Oil were winners on the day.
Tippet was awesome in regular season
Lastly, Holland brought in Dave Tippet. Until the play-in, Tippet looked like a genius and was doing a great job with the team. He even unearthed the best line in hockey from January on and did that without using Connor McDavid. I think he’ll be great for JP and our young players coming in (Bouchard, Benson and the returning Bear/Jones combo). Just don’t ask me to explain why he started Smith and separated the same amazing line he created.
That is my final grade for Holland. The main reasons being his patience, not overspending on UFA’s, bringing in a great coach, sending a lot of guys to Europe, reducing the Old Boy’s Club, getting JP back, trading Lucic and moving us from bottom of the league to a playoff team in one season.
My major concerns are that the Pacific seemed to improve more than we did. I’m not sure if he took full advantage of the Covid situation (eg. some teams got some excellent players for very cheap). I hate the Kassian signing. I did not like the Sekera buyout and I think the Smith signing is just downright foolish. Also, can someone please tell me who Connor McDavid’s linemates are going into next season?
I’d say he is one smart trade away from earning an A. If he can offload the Russel contract or find a legit winger via trade for McDavid then I’d give him an A. He also has a major issue with the looming Klefbom issue. That will be a hard one to work around. Time will tell.
Have a great offseason everyone!