NHL.com is sitting down with newsmakers leading up to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Monday at 3 p.m. ET. Today, Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland discusses how he sees the Oilers and how being in the thick of the Pacific Division race will affect his thinking before the deadline.
EDMONTON -- The Edmonton Oilers have a chance to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in the past 14 seasons, but that doesn't mean they will put their first-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft into play during trade discussions with other teams.
"I just think we're still building a little bit, still growing," general manager Ken Holland said. "I say this with great respect for the League ... that it's a competitive balance and trying to separate yourself to be above it, it's hard. I'm looking on one hand at the three- to five-year look and on the other hand I'm looking at the [NHL Trade Deadline] and I'm trying to meld the two together, juggle things like what my information is, what my coach and what my scouts think and what my instincts are.
"I'm hoping that we can compete for a playoff spot and more on an every-year basis. You can't be in the trading game every deadline, well maybe with secondary pieces, but you can't trade first-round picks [every year]."
The Oilers (32-22-7) are third in the Pacific Division, one point behind the Vancouver Canucks and three behind the Vegas Golden Knights. They are one point ahead of the Arizona Coyotes.
It is a complicated puzzle Holland must piece together, one made more difficult because several key players have been missing from the Oilers lineup.
Connor McDavid, who's fifth in the League with 81 points (30 goals, 51 assists), has missed six games with a left quad injury but could return Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings (10 p.m. ET, FS-W, SNW, NHL.TV). Forward James Neal has been out since Jan. 30 with an ankle injury and defenseman Oscar Klefbom is out at least another 10 days after sustaining a shoulder injury on Feb. 18. Forward Zack Kassian was suspended for seven games on Feb. 14 for a kicking incident in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He is eligible to return Feb. 29.
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In his first season as GM in Edmonton, Holland said there's one exception he might make when it comes to his first-round draft pick.
"If your return is a player with term, who will be on your team, maybe OK, and then next year you go quiet," he said. "It looks like we have some young NHL players pushing through the system, to have a role on our team. If there was the right player that goes beyond this year, that might be a different discussion about a first-round pick. But would it be for a rental? Not yet."
When you were hired on May 7, 2019 with a five-year contract, you spoke of your long-term plan to improve the Oilers. Have you managed differently given that the team has exceeded the expectations of many this season?
"My hope was that on March 1, we'd be in the playoff race and the games in March would be meaningful. … We got out of the gate 7-2-1, put points on the board to give us some cushion if things go worse [later]. We've gone 12-4-3 but we lost Kassian for a two-game suspension and now he's been out some more games [with another suspension]. Now Connor has gone down for [six] games and we've lost Neal and wake up one morning and find out Klefbom is going to be out two to three weeks. We're going into the unknown. Now, you watch and evaluate. You either implode or you build a team. I think what's gone on here over the last couple of weeks and months ... the young players have grown here; and I come toward the trade deadline and have to make some decisions on what we do. We're contending [in the Western Conference] but [three] points from being out of a playoff spot. Ultimately, would I like to do something between now and Monday? I would. I'll be disappointed if I'm not able to do a little something. How big? That depends on the price and who's available."
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You have regularly preached patience since you were hired in Edmonton but you've said you'd like to act. How tough a line is that to walk?
"I consider myself to be patient. The League is tough. I've made deals in Detroit [as general manager of the Red Wings] and we've lost in the first round. We've made little deals, like Jamie Macoun at five minutes to 3 [p.m. on deadline day] for a fourth-round draft choice and Macoun and [Bob] Rouse are the second [defense] pair and we win the Cup in 1998. I understand that I can do a deal and it doesn't do anything. But if you do it, it has the potential to have some impact and a greater impact than you think. I also understand, as I look back, some of those draft picks I've traded, they're real players for other NHL teams. When you do pay futures, they eventually come to be a reality. Sometimes those picks turn out to be nothing, but sometimes they turn out to be players you'd like to have. So, you have to weigh it. I have to weigh living for today versus trying to build something. But I also understand that at some point in time ... well, I traded three first-round draft picks for Chris Chelios and we didn't win the Cup in 1999 but we won the Cup in 2002 and he was second in voting for the Norris Trophy and we don't win if we don't pay that price. So, is the time now or is the time down the road? That's what I've got to debate internally between now and Monday."
How has your view of forward Leon Draisaitl evolved this season?
"Leon had 50 goals and 105 points a year ago. He was the first player in six seasons to get 50 goals and more than 100 points in the same season. Any time you're doing something that nobody else in the League can do for six seasons, it's a pretty special accomplishment. So, I certainly knew coming here that he was a great player. Then you factor in that he's 24. Connor is now 23 and he's 24. They're still pretty young. When I look at the evolution of [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg [with the Red Wings] they were great players for a 10-year period. They became 'Datsyuk and Zetterberg' at 25, 26. They were third- and second-line players early. Today, Leon is leading the League with  points and there's  games to go. He's growing into being a superstar. It's about goals, assists, points, minutes, matchups and then you start to see the other things, like putting the team on his back when Connor goes down. When Connor went down, Leon's responsibility got greater and he's relished that opportunity. I've watched a player over 60 games who is in the process of taking his game to yet another level. And I look at his age. There's still room for both of them to grow."
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You've got the experience of many deadlines. What do you think will happen this season?
"I think what you've seen in the past week, there will be more of it. I think there will be three or four players traded that are, 'Wow,' trades. Only one team ... is left standing at the end, so of those three or four deals, a couple won't have the impact you thought they would. But if you don't do it, what will happen? The NHL Guide and Record Book will tell you there's anywhere between 15 and 25 trades each year [before] the deadline. I would anticipate 10 to 20 trades in the NHL between now and Monday and three or four will be of the bigger variety. That's what history tells us."