As free agency approaches, we’ll be focusing quite a bit more on GM Ken Holland and his previous work. He’s got a big summer ahead of him, and he’ll be asked to help shape the roster for the 2021-22 season, one that we can only hope the Oilers will be going all in.
After 22 years as General Manager with the Detroit Red Wings, Holland has been holding it down for the Oilers for a copule of years now. He’s made a handful of trades since becoming GM, but what’s been Edmonton’s best player contract signed under his watch?
He’s had a few non-eventful deals. The Dominik Kahun deal was my favourite Holland deal at the time, though I think we all would have liked about 7 or 8 more goals from Kahun during the regular season. Tyler Ennis for a year was a good bet. Some deals like Kyle Turris looked good early, but faded early.
Three deals stand out in Ken Holland’s short tenure as Oilers GM.
1. Jesse Puljujärvi: 2 years @ 1.175 AAV (October 2020)
Since joining the Oilers, I’m a firm believer that Holland’s best move was to send Milan Lucic to Calgary for James Neal if for nothing more than the ability to buyout James Neal’s contract. As good as a trade the Lucic-for-Neal deal was, Holland deserves at least equal credit for getting Jesse Puljujärvi back into the fold, and especially for two years at a bargain.
You will likely recall the situation prior to Puljujärvi’s comeback. The fourth selection in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft had completed his third season in the NHL with unimpressive numbers. That’s sort of an expected accomplishment when you play most of your 5 on 5 minutes alongside 2016-2019 Milan Lucic. Puljujärvi spent just 53 games in the AHL over those three years, his 2018-19 would end with hip surgery by and his agent Markus Lehto would request a trade on Puljujärvi’s behalf.
Puljujärvi would spent a year in Liiga with Oulun Kärpät, and in October of 2020, Holland had Puljujärvi back with a two year deal. To say Puljujärvi has been solid in his return has been an understatement. He muscled Zack Kassian off the top line just six games into this past season and would become a fixture on the first line right wing. Puljujärvi would score career highs in his first full season back in the NHL, compiling 15-10-25 in 55 regular season games. It might not look like a spectacular outing by the boxcars, but Alex Chiasson played more than twice the amount of power play time that Puljujärvi would get. Puljujärvi’s confidence was apparent this year, and he looks like found money for Ken Holland so far.
2. Tyson Barrie, 1 year / 3.75 MM AAV (October, 2020)
The Oilers were going to need at least a temporary replacement to run the power play with Oscar Klefbom slated to miss the entire 2020-21 NHL season. Enter defenceman Tyson Barrie.
Barrie was signed early in 2020 free agency, which was kind of a surprise to me. Coming off the tail end of a four year deal that was signed in Colorado, Barrie spent the final year of that deal in 2019-20 with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Barrie spent significant time on the Maple Leafs’ power play with top talent; he’d absolutely be the guy to help run the show on the power play in Edmonton.
Barrie led all defencemen in scoring in 2021, finishing with 48 points in 56 games (8-40-48). 23 of his 48 points were scored on the power play (4-19-23). There’s plenty of discussion to be had about Barrie’s efficiency at even strength, but it’s clear to see that he performed well while his club was on the power play.
A one year deal for a player coming off a four year deal is a bet on yourself. Barrie’s gaudy point totals will likely be rewarded with a brand new multi-year contract, though it may not be in Edmonton. Whether Holland entertains a new contract for Tyson Barrie has yet to be fully seen, but he was a good bet as a stopgap for a year.
3. Mike Smith, 1 year / 2 MM AAV (October 2020)
Out of all three of these deals, bringing Mike Smith back was probably the most disliked deal when it was signed. I absolutely hated this deal when it was announced, though Mike Smith came in and proved most of us wrong in 2021. After two disappointing seasons that saw Smith finish with a dismal .898 SV% (with Calgary) and a .903 SV% (with the Oilers in 2019-20), Holland was going for the big fish in Jacob Markstrom during last year’s free agent frenzy.
When it was announced that Markstrom was to become a Calgary Flame, it was announced shortly afterwards that Mike Smith would return to the Oilers for a second year. Mike Smith could have paid the Oilers to play goaltender and I would have hated the move, but Smith would finish the regular season with a crisp .923 SV%, three shutouts, and a 21-6-2 record. Mikko Koskinen would finish with a sub .900 SV%, and it was Mike Smith’s crease for nearly the entire season after he re-emerged from an early season injury.
You can absolutely argue that this signing was a lucky get for Ken Holland, but if it was, he caught lightning in a bottle at just the right time. Ken Holland has said that he’d like to re-sign Smith, which is an interesting venture for a goaltender that’s just turned 39 years of age. If Smith decides to remain an Oiler, he’ll likely have a contract here for at least another year.
This offseason will give Ken Holland significant opportunity to mold the Oilers to his liking. With 22 million in cap space (and the opportunity to create more via buyouts), he’ll need to be on his A-game. So far, he’s had a few really good bets, some that haven’t gone so well too.
What’s been his best one so far?
What has been Ken Holland’s best contract during his time as Oilers GM?
This poll is closed
Puljujärvi, 2 years / 1.175MM AAV
Barrie, 1 year / 3.75MM AAV
Smith, 1 year / 2MM AAV
Something else (comment)