Ken Holland's 22 years as general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, including Stanley Cup championships in 1998, 2002 and 2008, taught him that winning can change an organization's culture.
Hired by the Edmonton Oilers as their general manager May 7, Holland, 63, has a big challenge ahead of him, going to a team with many question marks and plenty of recent disappointment. The Oilers were seventh in the Pacific Division this season with 79 points and have reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs once in the past 13 seasons.
"What changes the culture? Winning," Holland said. "But how do you win enough to change the culture?"
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Holland says it's the central question and where his work will begin.
Initially, it has been with some organizational decisions. Senior vice-president of hockey operations Craig MacTavish, a former Oilers general manager, coach and player, chose to leave to coach Lokomotiv in the KHL. Vice-president of player personnel Duane Sutter has been fired. And Holland decided to move on from coach Ken Hitchcock and conduct his own coaching search.
There will also be roster decisions ahead and when he completes his personnel decisions, Holland wants the plan and the focus in Edmonton to be all about stability.
"To continue and have a new coach every two or three years, well, in 22 years in Detroit I had four coaches (Scotty Bowman, Dave Lewis, Mike Babcock, Jeff Blashill)," Holland said. "If you're constantly changing and there are new managers and coaches, well, I'm hoping to bring in stability and bring a plan.
"There will be rocky waters but when things aren't going well, if you keep changing people, you're changing the plan and now you start all over. I think culture is about stability and knowing where you want to go and how you'll get there."
Holland said one of the central building blocks of his plan is drafting and developing young players, building from within.
"There are no quick fixes," he said. "There are no magic wands. There are no hockey stores to go shopping at. It's good, old-fashioned planning and sticking to it and being patient. I look at the teams that have success and it's about stability, that the coaches are there for a while and the managers are there for a while. I'm hoping to be here for a while and to hire a coach and we'll hunker in together and go to work.
Video: Holland discusses becoming new Oilers general manager
"That's how you change the culture. The culture won't change by the end of June. It might even be tough in October. We might get off to a slow start, but we've got to stick to the plan."
Holland spoke to NHL.com from Vancouver, where he was inducted into the B.C. Sports Hall of Fame as a builder on Thursday, and here are some of the other issues he addressed.
On what he's learned in his first two-plus weeks with the Oilers:
"I would say I've learned a lot. The day after the press conference, I went to San Diego for three days to watch Bakersfield (in the American Hockey League playoffs) and spend a few hours with Craig MacTavish and lots of hours with (CEO) Bob Nicholson and (assistant general manager) Keith Gretzky and got to watch our AHL team, which has some young players that I think will develop into Edmonton Oilers down the road. Then I went back to Edmonton and we had pro scout meetings for three days. After that, for four days we had all the amateur scouts in preparing for the draft. I've had lots of conversations with Ken Hitchcock and his [assistants] about the offense and the defense. I've talked to a lot of people in the organization ... certainly got their perspectives on the players, the team and what they think needs to be done. I've got my own thoughts coming in from the outside and I can't say it's a lot different than what I thought. I think the biggest thing is we need more depth."
On where he is with the coaching search and what he's looking for:
"When I look around the NHL, I think teams have to be structured and play hard. I had a long list and I have it down to a very short list now. And most of the people on that list have coached before [in the NHL]. I haven't had a ton of interviews. I've been on the phone talking a lot to people around the League about those names on the list. Ken Hitchcock is a guy I've used in this process; he's got a relationship with most of the coaches in the League, so he can gather information that would be harder for me to get. It's somebody that's going to bring structure and who's been through the coaching wars before. In the NHL, there are always rocky roads ahead. There's never smooth sailing. That's where experience comes in. Having been in the saddle before is certainly a positive, not a negative."
On his conversation with captain Connor McDavid after he was hired:
"It was a just a hello after I was hired and said that at some point in early June, I'd like to get together with him for supper or lunch. So, we're working on each other's schedule. I don't think I've told him anything different than I've told you or people at the press conference, that I'm excited about this opportunity, that we're all in it together and we're trying to build a team that can compete for the Stanley Cup and certainly Connor is a massive part of that. There have been lots of good hockey people in [Edmonton] but it's been a tough go and I've got to figure out why and what can I do differently and what can I do better. Ultimately, Edmonton is a great hockey town with a great fan base and we're going to try to build a team they can be proud of."
On the status of assistant general manager Keith Gretzky:
"I believe he's staying on. I've had lots of conversations with Keith. I've told him I want him to stay on. I've offered him a job. We've talked about an area of responsibility that I think he likes. I've talked to a lot of hockey people about Keith and think he's got a great work ethic and a good eye for talent. We've had conversations. He enjoys working with Bakersfield, he enjoys the player-development end and also enjoys getting out and watching players for the draft. We'll be together all next week in Buffalo at the [NHL Scouting] Combine."
On the Oilers' draft priority:
"I know the draft really well because I've been out there a lot watching players. Detroit has pick No. 6 and Edmonton has pick No. 8. You're always looking for the best player. We're going to get a good player. I think there's the two guys at the top everyone's talking about and now there are probably eight or nine others that are really close and we're going to get one of them. Does it matter if it's a defenseman or a forward? I don't think so."
On why he's so adamant about stability and patience:
"I have lived it. I understand it. It's easy to write and talk about it. It's hard to live it but you have to do that. People talk about going into rebuilds but don't realize they take longer than a year. The answer to your question is that I've lived it, I've experienced it and I understand the business because I've lived it as a player in the minors, as a scout spending 150-200 nights a year on the road for a decade evaluating players, then as a general manager and making decisions."