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TALKING POINTS: Holland addresses the media near midway mark

Pres. of Hockey Ops and GM discussed the state of the team, goaltending and more Tuesday from the Hall of Fame Room

by Staff / EdmontonOilers.com

EDMONTON, AB - Edmonton Oilers President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Ken Holland held a press conference Tuesday in the Hall of Fame Room to address the state of the club during the 2021-22 National Hockey League season.

Holland discussed a range of topics including the team's challenging 13-game stretch, his approach to making drastic changes during a campaign, goaltending and more. Read or watch Holland's full interview below.

Video: RAW | Ken Holland 01.11.22

Holland's philosophy of not changing coaches during a season:

"No, I haven't fired a coach mid-season. I don't believe in it, I guess. But I also understand that there are times when possibly it needs to be done or it should be done."

Holland on bringing in players that have been unsuccessful in other markets:

"I've been a manager for a long time. I think the answer is 'yes.' When a situation doesn't work out somewhere else to give someone another opportunity, do I believe in it? Yes."

Holland's level of disappointment with the club at the moment:

"Very. If you look at the season, on Dec. 2, we were first overall in the National Hockey League. A lot has happened in six weeks. We were 16-5 and we've gone 2-9-2. In the first 21 games, we were first overall in points percentage. In the last 13, 2-9-2, we have the second-worst record in the National Hockey League over that 13-game span. We've gone from one extreme to another extreme. 

"To tell the honest truth, I believe we have a good team. I, obviously, built the team and whatever happens is on me. I'm not really sure where we're at because the two extremes have been so far apart. In the 16-5, our special teams were a major factor. We were probably near the top and it was extremely good. 

"In the last 13 games, we're 18 percent on the power play and 68 percent on the penalty kill. If your combined totals, power play and penalty kill, if it adds up to 105 or 110, you're near the top of the League. We were probably 140-ish in the first 10 or 15 games, which is unsustainable. Now it's 68 and 18, at 86, so it's probably got to be at the bottom of the League. That would be one example of what's happened here in the last 13 games. But again, I'm not sure where we're at because they're such extremes, the first 21 games versus the last 13, that I'm not sure where we're at. It's been hard for me to really get an understanding of where we're at."

Holland on bringing in a player and how he would help them improve:

"First, I'd like to get an understanding of everything that's going on. I believe in second chances. It's hard to be perfect. We're all people; we all make mistakes. Some make big mistakes, some make little mistakes but it's hard to be perfect. I think if somebody makes a decision or does something in their life and they make a mistake, I think they have to try to learn from it and try to change and they should be entitled to a second opportunity once they do some of those things."

Holland on the Oilers goals against at 5-on-5, goaltending and Stuart Skinner:

"I think, first off, if we're just talking about the goaltending, we got to get Smitty. When I became manager here, I made the decision to sign Mike Smith. Dave Tippett had a relationship with him. I thought in the '19-20 season when we had 72 points or 74 points with 10 games to go, that our goaltending played the way it was built. Early on, Tipp went two games for Smith, two games for Koski. They rotated and they basically played half of the games over the 72 games. When Koski slipped a little bit, Smitty carried the load and vice-versa but it was a good tandem. Last year, in a 56-game schedule, Smitty got hurt and we had to overplay Koski. I think he played 10 of the first 11 or 11 of the first 12 then Smitty came back and carried the bulk of the load. I think he played 35 of the last 46. 

"But the schedule last year was a different schedule. We'd play two road games in Winnipeg, we'd fly in the day before, play a game and then you have an off-day; it was an easier schedule. Now, it's a more difficult schedule. For most goalies, it's hard to play 35 of 46 in the NHL with the way it is today. We get into Game 3 and going into this season, that was our thought: It was going to be Smitty and Koski. We were going to ride the two, one was going to get hot for a little bit, one was going to slip but they probably played a similar amount of games and whenever somebody gets on a roll, we'll go with them. Game 3, Smitty was hurt and we thought it was nagging at the time and we ran out Koski for a lot. There was still a lot unknown with Stu Skinner. 

"I'm going back to October. We wanted to get off to a good start and then we played Koski a lot. We kept thinking that Smitty was on the horizon but it was a nagging injury and kept nagging at him. We eventually worked Stu Skinner into the mix. I thought that Koski and Stu Skinner did a really good job. In that 16-5, other than two games, they were the guys in the net. 

"Over the last 13 games, we've just sort of come derailed. We haven't played good enough defensively. Everybody's got to play better: our goaltending, our team play, our special teams. We've got some individuals I believe can play better over the last 13 games. Smitty's back now after Christmas. We play one game here in two weeks, it's against Ottawa on Saturday, we're going to have some practice time here on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, play a game and then practice next week Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I think we got to get back to Smitty and Koski. 

"But saying all that, Stu Skinner's in a good spot. He's playing every night down there in Bakersfield. I've been watching every game on the computer and he's playing really well. We know what he can do here. I think he's an NHL goalie in the waiting or making. But he's in a good place right now and playing lots. Let's get going here and see how we're doing after this break."

Video: Spectacular NWT Play Of The Week 01.10.22

Holland's patience with the goaltending:

"As the manager, I think it's my job to protect people. To make sure that they are ready. 'Play the kids, play the kids, play the kids.' Then when the kids make mistakes, it's 'We don't like the kids, we don't like the kids, we don't like the kids, get different kids.' Then the kids go elsewhere and they have the success that you thought they would have here. I'd rather wait a little bit too long than move too soon. How long can I wait? I'm going to watch and evaluate. 

"We got 48 games to go. I understand that we got to hit the ground running. I can't judge one game. I can't put a number on it, but I got to see how everything goes. Everybody in that room understands that we've got 48 games to go and we've got to hit the ground running here and start to put something together here ASAP as soon as we get going."

Holland on never replacing a head coach mid-season in his career as a general manager:

"Here's how I analyze it. In my mind, we've made the playoffs the last two years. The year before we got here, I think the team was 28th in the league in points. Under Tipp's leadership in year one, we were in second place in the division when the pandemic hit. We lost the Play-In Series against Chicago, but if there was no pandemic, we were making the playoffs. Last year, we were second in the North Division and we lost three games in overtime against Winnipeg. Certainly, we got swept, but we've been in the playoffs two years in a row. On Dec. 2, we were first place in the National Hockey League overall. We've had a bad five weeks.

"There have been seven coaches here in ten years. You can't just keep whipping through coaches. I think the team is playing hard. You look at the record, while I break it down. Against Toronto, it's 2-2 with seven minutes to go and we take a penalty and they score. I thought it was a pretty even game. We lost in overtime(against the Islanders), and we're up a goal in New Jersey and they tie it late and beat us in overtime. We're tied 2-2 late in the second period in St. Louis, and I think Boston was 2-2 with something like three minutes to go and we lose a faceoff in our own zone and Boston scores a goal. It's 2-1 with three minutes to go against Carolina in the third period. I think it's 2-1 with five minutes to go in the third period against the LA Kings.

"We've given up the first goal in 21 of the last 25 games, so it feels like in the last six weeks we've been chasing the game. But even falling behind, even with the special teams, we seem to find a way to play back into the game. So I feel like we've got a team that's competitive. They're competing, but we're just not winning. We're in pro hockey and we're judged by wins and losses, and we haven't won enough, but I believe in the coaching staff and the team is playing hard and competing every night. We've got a bit of a break here, and hopefully, I'm going to talk to Tipp and a few of the players here to make a couple of tweaks, get people out of COVID (protocol), get our team back, and let's see how we can do.

"Again, if you look at Tipp's run as coach here, it's been a bad five weeks. It's been a disappointing 13 games. But the other two years, with the disappointing playoff series against Winnipeg and the disappointing Play-In Series playing in the middle of July and August, I think that was a funny thing, so I think it's been a tough five weeks."

Holland on if a certain number of wins or losses is the tipping point for changes:

"We're going to start to win. I can't say for certain, but I think we're going to start to win. I believe in the coach, I believe in the team, I believe in the leadership of the team, and I believe in their determination. I think that the other teams have won games here and we haven't, and that's pro sports. If we can win a couple of games and get our swagger back a little bit and feel good about ourselves and start to ride the wave, I think right now it's going downhill in the wrong direction, and we've got to turn this thing around. So I believe we're going to get going here.

Holland on looking externally to improve the team and his gauge on the trade market:

"I've talked to a few managers in the last week. How many trades of consequence have gone on in this league since the season started? Not many. There's been the odd trade, and there are other teams struggling beside us. We're not the only team struggling. I think the reality is the solution has to be either in that locker room or somebody from Bakersfield. I am working the phones, but for right now, I think that the solution has to be in that locker room. It's like I said, the team was first overall on Dec. 2 and now we're the second-worst team in the league over the last 13 games. So we're better than what we've been playing, I believe that, and I don't know if I could go make some big trade to kind of turn things around, but I am talking to teams."

Holland on his interest in free-agent forward Evander Kane:

"I've talked to his agent. His agent is Dan Milstein, and I know Dan very well because he was Pavel Datsyuk's agent. I had lots of dealings with Dan Milstein, so I have talked to his agent. I'd say to you as a manager that it's my responsibility to investigate every situation and talk to managers, so I have talked to Dan."

Holland on solving the team's depth and secondary scoring troubles:

"I think that part of it is that we've got to keep the puck out of our net better. I don't know where we are in goals against. I'm going to reflect back on my time in Detroit, and in '92, '93, and '94, we scored lots, gave up too much, and in the playoffs we couldn't score and were out in the first round. So I think that we've got to get a little bit more offence out of the bottom part of our roster, but I also think that we've got to buckle down and keep the puck out of our net a little bit more. So I think it's a combination of the two.

"I don't think it's just, 'we've got get more secondary scoring.' I think that we've got people in that locker room that can score more than what they've scored to this point in time, and I also think that we've played better defensively the last while. That's why I believe we're going to get this thing going and turned in the other direction. I think that we're going to get it turned, but can we get a little bit more offence? After Connor and Leon, probably everybody can. Some have gone well and then they've gone dry, and other guys haven't really got it going. Some people haven't scored, so I think that I think there are more goals in there, but we're in the bottom third of the league in goals against. Certainly, we know we've got to do a better job of keeping the puck out of our net."

On trading prospects or picks to improve the team with McDavid and Draisaitl in the prime of their careers:

"I think we're all in. We're at the cap; we're actually over the cap. I signed Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to a long-term deal. In the offseason, I signed Zach Hyman to a long-term deal. We signed Cody Ceci. I brought in Warren Foegele for Ethan Bear, so we're trying to be all in.

"I wouldn't do that (to improve this year). I think the answer's in that locker room… the depth has to be built internally. The depth of this organization has to be the growth of McLeod, Yamamoto, Bouchard, Broberg, Skinner, Savoie, Bourgault, Petrov… that's how we did it in Detroit, and when I look around, that's how the best teams do it. It's homegrown. It's young players and being patient. We came here and signed Jay Woodcroft, and Woody's done a great job in developing players down there (in Bakersfield). So I think that's how you've got to get better.

"I understand Connor's 25 and Leon's 26, and would I trade something if it's a hockey trade where you're bringing in somebody that's here for this year and beyond? That's a different story. But if the question is to just trade some grade-A prospect to give a little boost or bump, and that guy goes on and flourishes somewhere else for five or six years and we're back at the market next year because that person we got leaves, I'm not doing that."

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