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Holland to-do list as Oilers GM topped by finding coach

Also must figure out how to manage contracts, add scoring

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

The Edmonton Oilers added a wealth of experience by hiring Ken Holland as general manager and president of hockey operations Tuesday.

Holland, 63, was general manager of the Detroit Red Wings for 22 years (1997-2019). The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup three times (1998, 2002, 2008) in that span.

The Oilers have missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 12 of the past 13 seasons since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, when they lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes. This season Edmonton (35-38-9) finished seventh in the Pacific Division and 11 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference. They fired coach Todd MacLellan on Nov. 20 and replaced him with Ken Hitchcock, who will not return.

They have a star center in Connor McDavid, who has had at least 100 points in each of the past three seasons, and a budding star in forward Leon Draisaitl, who scored 50 goals. But they were 20th in the League in goals per game (2.79) and allowed the seventh-most goals per game (3.30).

Holland has his work cut out for him, but here are five items that should be at the top of his list:

 

1. Hire a coach

The Oilers announced Tuesday that Hitchcock would not be back, and Holland is expected to have a free hand to put his own coach in place. Getting the right fit will include finding someone who will work well with McDavid and can provide a clear plan that the players will embrace.

There already has been plenty of speculation on who Holland might consider. Former Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, Dallas Stars assistant Todd Nelson (a former Oilers interim coach), former Philadelphia Flyers assistant Kris Knoblauch and Columbus Blue Jackets assistant Brad Shaw have been mentioned. Knoblauch coached McDavid in junior hockey with Erie of the Ontario Hockey League.

Video: Ken Holland has been named the new GM of the Oilers

 

2. Managing contracts

The Oilers have some burdensome contracts and how they deal with them will be a priority.

Topping that list is the seven-year contract forward Milan Lucic signed with Edmonton on July 1, 2016. 

In three seasons with the Oilers, Lucic's goal production has gone from 23 to 10 to six goals this season. His points have declined from 50 to 34 to 20.

Trading Lucic will prove difficult. If that path is chosen, it may involve including other assets to convince a trading partner to take on Lucic. Helping Lucic to find a way to halt the decline and contribute more also might be an option, but Lucic and the Oilers have spared no effort in this area in the past two seasons.

The Oilers also will be looking to make room on the roster for one or more of their developing defensemen prospects next season, among them Caleb Jones, Evan Bouchard and Ethan Bear, so it's possible Holland may look at trying to move one or more of Edmonton's veteran defensemen. That list includes Andrej Sekera, who will be 33 when next season starts, or Kris Russell, 32, but each has two years left on his contract.

 

3. Signal stability to fans

The disillusionment and frustration of Oilers fans should not be underestimated. It reached new highs (or lows) this season when Edmonton struggled early in the season and fired McLellan, and then fired general manager Peter Chiarelli on Jan. 22.

Since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, Edmonton has had eight coaches (Craig MacTavish, Pat Quinn, Tom Renney, Ralph Krueger, Dallas Eakins, Todd Nelson, McLellan, Hitchcock) and four general managers (Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini, MacTavish, Chiarelli).

Holland undoubtedly provides a fresh start. His priorities will be to bring stability to Edmonton and to implement a plan that will put the Oilers on the right track.

But it will be as important to signal to the fan base that these things are happening to help quell the wide-spread dissatisfaction.

Video: 1-ON-1 | Ken Holland

 

4. Find scoring

Holland starts his tenure in Edmonton with enviable depth at center. But McDavid (41 goals), Draisaitl (50) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (28) accounted for 52.0 percent of Edmonton's goals this season (119 of 229).

The Oilers had three other players reach double digits in goals: forwards Alex Chiasson (22) and Zack Kassian (15), and defenseman Darnell Nurse (10). The imbalance of production made it easy for opponents to game plan against them.

Whether it's through prospects like forward Tyler Benson, a second-round pick (No. 32) of the 2016 NHL Draft, who had 66 points (15 goals, 51 assists) in 68 games with Bakersfield of the American Hockey League this season, or through trades, the Oilers need to construct a better support group for their elite centers.

 

5. Keep the momentum of good drafting

Edmonton had some barren years at the draft after reaching the Final in 2006 but recently has rebounded and has begun to develop and stockpile bona fide prospects.

Some are knocking on the door to make the roster, like Jones, a fourth-round pick (No. 117) in the 2015 NHL Draft; Bear, a fifth-round pick (No. 124 pick) in the 2015 draft; and Bouchard, the No. 10 pick of the 2018 NHL Draft.

Assistant general manager Keith Gretzky, who took on some of the GM duties after Chiarelli was fired, was instrumental in that turnaround in identifying talent. Holland said Tuesday he would like to keep Gretzky in the organization.

Using the draft as a lifeline of talent is essential for every organization but especially is urgent for the Oilers while they are trying to rebuild on many levels.

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