Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland met with the media on Tuesday afternoon and addressed a number of questions surrounding his struggling team, from potential roster and coaching changes to the possibility of adding Evander Kane to the roster.
The short answer to all of it: Do not expect much to change, and he believes in second chances.
It is important to keep something in mind when general managers speak to the media: What they say publicly and what they actually believe and what they will actually do are all very different things. Unless you are dealing with an unfiltered mind like Jim Rutherford nobody in that position is going to get behind a microphone and telegraph their plans for the other 31 general managers to hear. But given what we have actually seen Holland do in his time as the Oilers’ general manager we probably do have some idea as what to expect over the remainder of the season.
Since starting the season with a 9-1-0 mark through the first 10 games the Oilers have completely gone in the tank, posting a 9-13-2 record that has dropped them out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference and down to sixth place in the Pacific Division, behind several rebuilding teams (Los Angeles and San Jose) and just barely ahead of Vancouver. All while the same flaws that existed for the entirety of the Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl era still exist (bad depth beyond the top two lines, shaky defense, questionable goaltending).
On Tuesday, Holland made it clear he is not looking to replace head coach Dave Tippett, citing the Oilers’ constant turnover behind the bench in recent years and how teams can not continue to cycle through coaches. He also suggested that the solution to the team’s depth and defensive problems have to be within their own locker room and within the team’s AHL roster.
“I am working the phones with other managers but there aren’t many trades being made,” said Holland. “I don’t know if there’s a big trade to turn things around. Right now, the solution has to be in our locker-room or in Bakersfield. We were the best team in the first 21 games and we’ve been the second worst over the last 13 games. We’ve had a bad five weeks.”
The problem with the first 21 games argument is that despite that success all of those same flaws existed, and the success was almost entirely the result of McDavid and Draisaitl carrying the offense. That alone can not be the plan.
He also indicated that he is not really looking to trade the team’s first-round pick or top prospect for immediate help.
“Why would I trade our first-round pick or one of our top prospects for a rental to give us a bit of a boost now, then next year we have a press conference and you’re asking about us needing more depth? The depth has to come internally,” said Holland. “That’s how I did it in Detroit, that’s how the best teams do it. Being patient with young people.
“If your question is whether I would trade our best prospects and that guy goes and flourishes in another organization for five, six, 10 years for somebody to give us a bump now and that person leaves after the season, no I wouldn’t do that.
“Now, I understand Connor is 25 and Leon is 26. Would I make something that is a hockey trade, somebody for this year and beyond? That’s a different story.”
There is some logic to not wanting to deal for a short-term rental, but at some point the Oilers have to do something to make a serious, meaningful run with their two stars. Holland sat mostly quiet at the deadline a year ago (when the Oilers actually had probably their best shot to win given the division and playoff format) and argued that you have to pick and choose when you go all in.
The counter argument to that is “every year you have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl in their prime is a year you should go all in.” Teams in this position can not overvalue draft picks and prospects because by the time those players make the NHL and become impact players (assuming they ever do, which is far from a given, and odds say they will not) McDavid and Draisaitl’s peaks will be in the rear view mirror. This is the time to strike.
Holland also discussed the possibility of adding former San Jose Sharks forward Evander Kane, going as far as to say he has been in contact with agent Dan Millstein. To say this would be a controversial addition is a massive understatement. Kane would obviously be an upgrade on the ice, but there is a reason the Sharks cut ties with him this season. Over the past year Kane has been investigated by the league due to allegations that he bet on games, as well as allegations of abuse from his wife. On top of that, he was suspended by the league for 21 games for submitting a fake vaccination card and most recently violated COVID protocols in the American Hockey League. He was placed on waivers this week for the purposes of terminating his contract. The NHLPA followed that by filing a grievance on his behalf.
Holland said it is his job to investigate opportunities and that he believes in second chances.
“If there’s a situation where it didn’t work out for a player somewhere else, do I believe in it? Yes,” said Holland. “I would want to get an understanding with what’s going on in that person’s life. I believe in second chances. It’s hard to be perfect, we all mistakes, some make big ones, some little. If they make mistakes, they have to learn from it, and try to change,”
The Oilers are scheduled to return to action on Saturday when they host the Ottawa Senators.