Off to Edmonton, Holland leaves legacy of winning with recent losses
Bob Nicholson, CEO and Vice-Chair of the Edmonton Oilers NHL hockey team, left, and team owner Daryl Katz, right, flank new general manager Ken Holland, after announcing his hiring in Edmonton Tuesday.
It’s finally official: Ken Holland’s 36 years with the Detroit Red Wings organization have come to an end.
Holland, 63, was introduced as the Edmonton Oilers’ new general manager and president of hockey operations at a news conference Tuesday.
Holland was the Red Wings’ GM for 22 years before being promoted to a senior vice-president when Steve Yzerman was named the team’s new GM on April 19, a hiring Holland engineered. The question was whether Holland would be happy with no longer running an NHL team on a day-to-day basis.
He got his answer quickly when he, Yzerman and other members of the Wings staff were at the world under-18 hockey championship in Sweden late last month.
"I realized that I had the passion, the energy, the enthusiasm (and) the desire to continue to be a general manager in the National Hockey League," Holland said at Tuesday’s press conference.
He reportedly has a five-year contract with Edmonton worth $5 million per season.
With Detroit, Holland won three Stanley Cups, four Presidents’ Trophies and won more games than any other GM in franchise history in his time at the top of the organization.
“I would like to congratulate Ken Holland on his new position with the Edmonton Oilers and thank him for more than three decades of hard work, loyalty and passion for the Detroit Red Wings,” Red Wings governor, president and CEO Christopher Ilitch said in a statement. “When Ken decided it was in the best long-term interest of the Red Wings for Steve Yzerman to serve in the role of general manager, we knew there was a strong possibility other franchises would inquire about him. It is a testament to how well-respected and admired Ken is around the National Hockey League.”
Holland first joined the organization as a minor-league goaltender in 1983. After his retirement as a player two years later, he became a scout. Over the years he was the organization’s Western Canada scout and then the director of amateur scouting.
The spectacular success of Holland’s tenure as GM came in the first decade or so. But the past 10 years were a different story.
What will he be remembered for most?
The Red Wings failed to make the playoffs and have been one of the league’s worst teams for the past three seasons. Detroit had not gotten past the second round of the playoffs for the past 10 seasons, a time span that also has featured questionable contracts and draft choices.
In recent years, the most vocal of Red Wings fans have chosen to focus on the latter struggles of Holland and the organization. The days of Holland selecting Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg in the later rounds of the draft and bringing the likes of Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek, Brett Hull and Marian Hossa, etc., to Detroit seemed to be forgotten.
Instead, the talk was of the Wings having three picks in the second round of the 2011 draft but missing out on current Tampa Bay Lightning star and this season’s NHL scoring champion Nikita Kucherov. The Red Wings took Tomas Jurco with the 35th overall pick, Xavier Ouellet with No. 48 and Ryan Sproul at No. 55, all before Tampa Bay and Yzerman took Kucherov with the 58th selection.
And there was of the Wings giving contracts to Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson that paid too much for too many years.
But Holland-helmed Red Wings squads reached the playoffs for 18 consecutive seasons and, because of their success, did not have a top 10 draft pick from 1992 until 2017, when they took Michael Rasmussen with the ninth overall pick.
It is still a mark against Holland that since the team selected Zetterberg in 1999 (seventh round, 210th overall pick), the Wings did not draft an impact player until 2014, when they took Dylan Larkin with the 15th overall pick.
Holland was also criticized for the way he handled the salary cap in recent years.
That was not a concern during the 1990s and early 2000s, before the salary cap, when free-spending teams like the Red Wings could pay whatever it cost to keep its own stars and sign whatever free agents necessary each offseason. Early in the cap era, Holland and the Detroit organization seemed to have made the transition seamlessly as it won the Stanley Cup in 2008 and took the Stanley Cup Final to seven games before succumbing to the Pittsburgh Penguins the following year.
But that has not been the case since.
For the past few seasons, the Red Wings have had a limited amount of flexibility within the salary cap, partially because of the contracts of Abdelkader ($29.75 million over seven years, ending in 2022-23), Ericsson ($25.5 million over six years, ending next season) and Darren Helm ($19.25 million over five years, ending in 2020-21). Neither their play nor production has lived up to those deals.
But Holland is still a sure bet for the Hockey Hall of Fame.
While he was not the general manager when Detroit won the Stanley Cup in 1997 (he became GM about a month later), Holland was a part of a three-person management group that ran the organization, which also consisted of then-coach and player personnel director Scotty Bowman and senior vice president Jimmy Devellano, who together were known as “The Three-Headed Monster.”
That was also the setup in the lockout-shortened 1995 season, when the Wings advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals, and in 1995-96, when they set the all-time NHL record with 62 wins and reached the Western Conference Final.
Yes, the last part of Holland’s tenure as GM was nothing to be proud of. But he had given himself a tough act to follow over the previous 15 years.