This in from Kevin Paul Dupont, the long-time hockey writer of the Boston Globe, some praise for Edmonton Oilers GM Ken Holland: “We’re a long way from the vote tallying, but Ken Holland is the early leader for NHL executive of the year on the strength of his July 19 deal that brought James Neal to Edmonton — a swap for Milan Lucic that looks like it may have triggered a turnaround for the moribund Oilers franchise…. Neal’s production is not an anomaly. The anomaly was last season (7-12—19 in 63 games). He has reached the 25-goal plateau five times, and prior to last year’s blip his annual yield on an 82-game season was right around 30. Not many of those guys around, and few other than Phil Kessel ever get traded…. Neal and McDavid are longtime pals, and both work out each summer with Gary Roberts. It looks like a great fit even if they aren’t riding together on the first line. Tippett has been rolling Neal out on the first power-play unit, parking him at the top of the crease, and it’s a good bet he’ll keep seeing cupcakes delivered his way from the silken-handed McDavid.”
- Kevin Paul Dupont isn’t just any old Eastern hockey media voice, he’s the most respected hockey commentator in Boston and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame as the 2002 winner of the Elmer Ferguson Award for his contribution to hockey writing in the print media. When he says something, my ears perk up.
- Ken Holland, NHL executive of the year? Nice ring to it, though as Dupont notes, it’s still early days on this kind of thing. Things could follow apart fast for the Oilers with a key injury here or there and a lengthy losing streak. But this team has shown a remarkable ability to come back in games. So far, at least, it looks like Holland took a bad situation from last year and on a shoe-string budget this past summer did some good work in addressing crucial needs at every single position.
- At centre, Holland found some players who can skate and hustle, and also have a bit of skill, in Gaetan Haas ($925,000 on one year deal), Markus Granlund ($1.3 million, one year) and Riley Sheahan ($900,000, one year), and he did so without breaking the bank.
- On the wing, Holland did the same, bringing in players who skate and hustle in Joakim Nygard ($925,000, one year), Josh Archibald ($1,000,000, one year) and Tomas Jurco ($750,000, one year). Again, all of this was done on the cheap.
- On defence, he bought out veteran Andrej Sekera, which created some cap space, but more importantly opened up room for young but NHL-ready puckmovers Ethan Bear ($720,000, one year) and Joel Persson ($1,000,000, one year). Once more, this was done on the cheap.
- The players Holland brought in are not only all fast, skilled and cheap, they are also hungry. They’re not players working on their tenth or 20th or 30th million in career earnings. They’re making their first or second or third million. They’re keen for more huge pay days. I wonder how much of the hustle and effort we see derives from that fact?
- In net, Holland brought in Mike Smith to challenge Mikko Koskinen in net, a necessary precaution for the Oilers and not an inexpensive move, but one that is paying off.
- Holland’s signature move — the one that had Oilers fans doing the jig when they got the news — was his trade of Milan Lucic for James Neal. If this trade keeps trending as it is now, Holland will indeed be in the running for executive of the year. And the good news about those executive-of-the-year types is that almost all of them lead teams that make it to the Stanley Cup finals.
- Most importantly Holland hired a strong coach in Dave Tippett, who has brought in a more daring d-zone breakout scheme that is paying dividends for the Oilers. Tippett’s Oilers have yet to consistently get bogged down in the d-zone as teams cycle the puck because they are able to control the puck when they win it and make one, two or three quick passes to move it out. They also appear to look first to pass the puck up middle of the d-zone, which makes for a far more dynamic and less predictable breakout game.
- Last year when Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli faced this same issue — with his Oilers team getting forechecked and cycled to death in some big games around Christmas — Chiarelli’s lame and counterproductive response was to bring in two big, tough d-men in Brandon Manning and Alex Petrovic, in order to break up the cycle. It was a complete and utter fail in terms of coming up with the solution. In terms of Chiarelli getting fired, it was the last straw. Holland stayed away from that type of slower player, Tippett adopted a plan to beat the cycle with skill and daring, and so far it’s working. If it continues to work, the Oilers will make the playoffs.
At the Cult of Hockey