Edmonton Oilers, Ken Holland

Ken Holland’s 4 Biggest Decisions as Oilers GM

Ken Holland became general manager (GM) and president of hockey operations of the Edmonton Oilers in the offseason in 2019 and he said in May that he plans to remain in those roles for the remainder of his contract, which ends after next season.

It’s reasonable to assume that the Oilers will move on from the 67-year-old when his contract is over, as there has not been any news of an extension, meaning the team will likely be looking for a new GM in the not-so-distant future. With that in mind, below we explore four of Holland’s biggest decisions as GM of the Oilers, which will be felt well beyond his time with the club.

The Decisions Holland Made to Transform the Oilers’ Top 6

During the 2018-19 regular season, just before Holland signed in Edmonton, the Oilers’ wingers that played the most minutes at 5-on-5 in the top six alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins were Zack Kassian, Alex Chiasson, Milan Lucic and Tobias Rieder — vastly different from what it is today.

Holland hasn’t been perfect, no GM is, but he deserves credit for the decisions he’s made to reshape the Oilers’ top six to its current state. Their top six transformed from fringe NHL wingers or players they relied on to have career years, to established impactful players.

Ken Holland Edmonton Oilers
Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

McDavid, Draisaitl and Nugent-Hopkins (when he’s not centering his own line) have been the mainstays in the Oilers’ top six for many seasons now. Since then, Holland signed Zach Hyman to a seven-year contract, and he’s coming off a career-high 83 points. He brought Evander Kane into the fold, who’s added scoring and swagger to the lineup and he’s most recently upgraded from Kailer Yamamoto to McDavid’s junior teammate, Connor Brown, at right-wing.

Evander Kane – Connor McDavid – Connor Brown

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins – Leon Draisaitl – Zach Hyman

Taking a look at potential lineup combinations for next season, Holland deserves recognition for assembling potentially the league’s best top six next season, and undoubtedly the best in the McDavid era.

The Jack Campbell Free Agent Signing

The Jack Campbell signing will be one of the most significant decisions remembered during Holland’s tenure with the Oilers; however, as much as he gets faulted for it, it’s important to remember that Campbell was touted as one of the top goaltenders available during the 2022 offseason.

After a few seasons of inconsistencies from their previous older goaltending duo of Mikko Koskinen and Mike Smith, the Oilers and Holland got their man when they signed Campbell to a five-year $25 million contract on July 13, 2022. Yet, as we saw, he had a very rough debut season in Oil Country, posting a 3.41 goals-against average (GAA) and his .888 save percentage (SV%) was 87th among NHL goaltenders.

Moving forward, the Oilers aren’t expected to trade or buy out Campbell, as they’ll likely bank on him returning to a more consistent form and the silver lining following a disappointing first year in Edmonton is that the only way to go is up.  

It’s also worth noting that he made an equipment change mid-season and I’d imagine it wasn’t an easy transition and hopefully, he’s getting comfortable this offseason to be better prepared from the get-go in 2023-24. However, If Campbell continues to falter in the future, his signing will be seen as a flaw in Holland’s tenure, making decisions as the Oilers’ GM.

The Tyson Barrie for Mattias Ekholm Trade

Tyson Barrie had a good tenure patrolling the blue line in Edmonton — he led all NHL defencemen with 48 points during the shortened 2020-21 season and was such a pivotal piece to the club’s top power play over the three seasons he played with the orange and blue.

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However, there was a need for more balance on the Oilers’ back end and they had to give up quality to get quality. One move Holland will be remembered for with his tenure in Edmonton will be on Feb. 28, 2023, when he traded Barrie, prospect Reid Schaefer, and a first and fourth-round draft pick for veteran defenceman Mattias Ekholm.

Mattias Ekholm Edmonton Oilers
Mattias Ekholm, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

With the trade, the Oilers lost offensive firepower by losing Barrie but gained overall stability and balance on the back end. Ekholm was paired with the young Evan Bouchard from day one, and the move showed instant returns. The steady Swede’s veteran presence was felt throughout the blue line, and Bouchard’s game improved significantly, noted by his 17 points in 12 playoff games.

At the time of this writing, the Oilers haven’t re-signed Bouchard yet, but it will likely get completed soon. Nonetheless, considering the 33-game span of the Ekholm-Bouchard duo last season, Holland’s bold move to acquire the Swedish defender showed signs of success and the Oilers have ample reason to be ecstatic about what awaits them in the future.

The Darnell Nurse Contract

Holland re-signing defenceman Darnell Nurse in August of 2021 will be etched in Oilers’ fans’ memories well past his days of managing in Edmonton.

Nurse scored 16 goals and 36 points in 56 games during the shortened 2020-21 campaign. Holland then rewarded him with an enormous eight-year, $74 million contract worth an average annual value (AAV) of $9.25 million per year, which riled up many Oilers’ fans due to his recurrent defensive errors, which is highlighted by being seventh in the NHL in defensive zone giveaways last season.  

Holland paid Nurse like an elite number-one defenceman, making more money than players like Cale Makar and Roman Josi, but his defensive deficiencies have many feeling that he has one of the worst contracts in the league.

Still, he plays the most minutes on the back end, can skate, and provides toughness. Quite frankly if the Oilers traded him, he would leave a big void on the blue line. Also, a positive aspect is that he recorded 43 points last season, 25th among defencemen, with very little power play time.

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While he may never live up to his contract, he stands a chance to make it respectable if he settles down in his own end, improves his mental focus, and reduces defensive errors.

Holland’s decision-making in Oil Country hasn’t been flawless — he’s made great moves and some controversial decisions, but nevertheless, the consensus among Oilers’ fans is that he’s done a fine job in reconfiguring the Oilers’ top six. As well, he might still have one last big move up his sleeve to inch his team closer to a Stanley Cup before his time is up in Edmonton.

Out of 10, what score would you give Ken Holland in his role as GM of the Oilers? Post it in the comments below!

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