Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz is a headline-chaser. He wants to win the press conference, get the attention, and that might be priority No. 1 for him most of the time. I mean, look at this fucking guy. This is someone who wants to be fawned over.
So in the spring of 2019, when he hired former Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland to be GM of a team that had already wasted a few years of Connor McDavid’s career, he almost certainly expected to be bathed in praise and admiration, along with the bronzer he apparently is addicted to. After all, the name Red Wings still evokes the closest association with excellence and winning in the NHL, because no sport has a harder time letting go of the past. Katz presented Holland like the kid you went to school with who thought getting the nicest previous version of Nintendo was a guarantee of popularity when you’d already moved on to the next one.
If he’d been paying attention, it was pretty clear that Holland had been found out long ago. And he’s done nothing with the Oilers in the subsequent two-and-a-half years to suggest he wasn’t just the luckiest bumbling moron who fell onto a pile of money one day while managing the Red Wings.
Holland met with the Edmonton press on Tuesday in a sort of State Of The Oilers address, as the team is currently making serious clanking noises, and stalls out pretty regularly in the middle of an intersection. Since starting 9-1, the Oilers have gone 9-13-2 and fallen out of the playoff picture. Though it should be noted that the Edmonton press corps requested that Holland give this address, instead of, oh, I don’t know, finding their own stories.
Luckily, Holland gave them and us plenty of fodder.
Holland’s presser started with a vote of confidence for head coach Dave Tippett, which is all fine and good, because as previously documented, structurally the Oilers are actually fine. Tippett has made it clear himself he can’t stop the puck, and he also can’t put it between the posts when Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl can’t do it four times per game themselves.
But that’s as good as it got. Holland was open about his desire to sign Evander Kane, saying “He believes in second chances.” Kane’s second chance was six or seven years ago at least, and this would be like his 12th. But hey, he’s a scorer on the cheap, so Holland will tell himself whatever lie he has to to justify it. Connor McDavid at least gave up on any pretense such is his desperation for help of any kind.
Holland then went on to bemoan the injury to Mike Smith, which has forced Mikko Koskinen to play almost every game, and that wasn’t the plan. Except Holland’s plan was FUBAR from the start, because both Smith and Koskinen have spent years proving they can’t stop a 16-inch softball lobbed at them by a toddler, and Holland signed both to multi-year deals (while Smith is 78-years-old!). If anyone wants Exhibit A as to why the Oilers keep kicking themselves in the dick, here it is.
The money quote:
Wait long enough, Kenny, and the playoffs will be disappearing over the horizon. But Holland has always, somehow, gotten his reputation fresh gloss by “waiting too long,” which we’ll get to in a second.
Perhaps the section that had Oilers fans, and more importantly his two most important players, putting holes in the drywall is Holland’s refusal to part with draft picks or prospects or young players for more support for McDavid and Draisaitl. Both are right in the middle of their primes and keep throwing up MVP-caliber seasons that end in April. Does Holland really think either one, or most Oilers fans, give a flying fuck about some teenager in a town in Ontario that has a gas station and a couple barns lighting up other acne-ridden teenagers? I’m going to guess no.
And who are these prospects anyway? Holland has had three drafts, and only Phillip Broberg’s eight games in the NHL are to show for what the Oilers have gotten from all those picks. Oh, there’s some kid scoring two points per game in the QMJHL? You know who else does that in the Q? Fucking everyone! If you can fool another GM into thinking that kid is the road to salvation, do it.
To cover for all this, Holland used the smokebomb of “that’s what we did in Detroit,” repeatedly. It’s always been the go-to. We can’t question Holland because he was there when they won four Cups. And Holland is seen as some sort of drafting wizard because he took Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the rounds when most everyone else was already passed out in the bathroom. With every passing year, that appears to be just blind luck.
Because after Zetterberg was taken in 1999, Holland didn’t draft another star. Your mileage may vary on Dylan Larkin, who came nearly 20 years later. There were certainly a handful of nice role players that Holland picked, but there was no one to pick up when Dats and Z got old and Nick Lidstrom retired. Hockey scribes used to toss bouquets at Holland by the truckful for “not rushing anyone” or “letting them overcook in the AHL,” and then it turned out none of them could play. Nineteen drafts after Zetterberg, and the only top-pairing or top-line players that Holland could find were Niklas Kronwall, Johan Franzen, and Larkin.
Holland was aboard for the ride for Jimmy Devellano’s and Scotty Bowman’s roster, who could just spend all of MIke Illitch’s money, and then had the very clever and sneaky idea of, “Hey let’s sign Dominik Hasek to play goalie!”
The reason Steve Yzerman was hauled out of Tampa to clean up the radioactive waste of the Red Wings was Ken Holland. And yet he keeps getting to spin the wheel in Edmonton, which makes sense, as Katz’s main play has always been to connect back to the Oilers’ hey-day, some 40 years ago now, to try and distract from the current morass, just as Holland has a habit of doing.
Draisaitl and McDavid should be penning their “Get me the fuck outta here,” texts to their agents as we speak.