The Edmonton Oilers mission ‘get good people, keep good people’, on and off the ice: 9 Things

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Ken Holland is no doubt burning up the phone lines.

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As the final stages of the Stanley Cup Final play out, the Edmonton Oilers General Manager will be working on a plan to return his club to the final four. And that includes personnel off the ice as well as on.

Holland’s battle plan, the NHL awards and more in this week’s edition of…

9 Things

9. Free Agent winger Andrei Kuzmenko has signed in Vancouver. Kuzmenko spent a couple of days in Edmonton. But his agent will have been looking for a landing spot for his client that all but guaranteed a Top-6 role. It is easy to see that for him in Vancouver. Less so in Edmonton, especially if the plan is to return Kailer Yamamoto and Jesse Puljujarvi.

8. I will be shocked if Kailer Yamamoto does not extend his time in Edmonton. Puljujarvi I am not as sure of. At Jesse’s qualifying number of $1.4m he could be a good fit for a 2nd/3rd Line RW slot. But if an arbitrator puts Jesse Puljujarvi at $4m? That is a lot of dough for a guy who, despite natural ability and head for defence, has not yet performed consistently at a Top-6 level.

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7. I have had people ask me if Ken Holland may trade down from #29 this Summer, to add another pick for the organization. I would not rule it out. But even late 1st Round picks tend to have a higher success rate that later round selections. Do you “just” want organizational depth? Or do you want to pick the best player available and then fill remaining organizational roles via college and free agency?

6. More than a little encouraging to see exciting Oilers prospect Xavier Bourgault performing so well at the Memorial Cup. Less so, to see the Edmonton Oil Kings eliminated. But the same lesson that applies to the Stanley Cup Playoffs matters in junior hockey, too: In a short series, discipline and special terms are difference makers. The Oil Kings fell short on both fronts.

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5. From what I understand, there is no resolution yet on the status of either Duncan Keith or Mike Smith for 2022-23. As I have written here before, its highly likely Keith stays. I am less sure about Smith. But with all due respect to them both, the big-ticket item that so many other aspects of Ken Holland’s off-season will depend on is the future of Evander Kane. If $7m-ish of Holland’s budget goes to Kane, the G.M. will have a lot of juggling to do elsewhere. It’s the lynch-pin deal to the off-season.

4. I had confidence Jay Woodcroft would return as permanent Head Coach. There is such a significant advantage to grow your own man. So much organizational DNA comes along with it. I do not know Woodcroft personally. But I was consistently impressed when he would guest on Bob Stauffer’s show. Each time, Woodcroft would say something that made me go “boy, this guy is smart”. Part of their contract negotiation probably included how much say Woodcroft now has in his own staff. No doubt that was why at the media avail to announce the Woodcroft deal Holland deferred to his new coach when the question of assistant coaches came up.

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3. The Edmonton Oilers were almost shut out of the various NHL Awards these past couple weeks. The lone exception? Connor McDavid being named 2nd Team All Star (he already had the Art Ross). A little disappointing? Sure. McDavid “only” led the league in scoring…again. Leon Draisaitl scored 55 bloody goals and still somehow could not crack either All Star Team. What else did they need to do? But…would you not trade all those shiny trophies for a berth in the Western Conference Final? Yes, you would. All day long. It is what all winning franchises figure out. And I am willing to bet that is exactly how both of those two guys are feeling about it now.

2. I have no problem with Auston Matthews winning the Hart Trophy. The guy had a special year in terms of goal scoring. Besides, I think it is rather in bad form to knock any person who has worked his entire life to reach a goal that hard to attain. I do, however, wonder about the 5 writers who did not even have Connor McDavid in their Top 5. I mean…did not last year’s MVP set new personal highs for goals and points and lead his club back to the post-season? Although one of those people did not have Matthews in the Top 5 either. And I am sorry, even though I am not the biggest Auston Matthews fan in the world…that is just inexcusable.

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1.Ken Holland is under contract as the Oilers General Manager for 2 more seasons. Most people will quite rightly be focused on the job he does with the roster. To his credit, the club has progressed each year under Holland with the final four berth this past Spring. But it is critical that he also push the right buttons in other corners of the franchise. With the likelihood that Holland will retire or move into an Executive role after 2023-24, having a roster of capable front office executives who could succeed him also needs to be on his to-do list. The Oilers have two strong candidates already in the organization. But as with every company these days, it is difficult to retain talent and even more expensive to let it slip away and try to replace it. And at this stage in it’s ascension, a business like the Edmonton Oilers can not afford to have its Hockey Ops cupboard raided of its best brains. Just like it was smart to lock up their home-grown head coach.

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Both Keith Gretzky and Brad Holland have built strong resumes. Gretzky boasts a high average for the Oilers in the amateur draft (Kailer Yamamoto, Evan Bouchard, Ryan McLeodand Stuart Skinner among his astute selections) and has since overseen a successful AHL development program in Bakersfield. Holland, a lawyer and with previous NHL experience at various levels, is maybe the most progressive member of the Oilers pro scouting ranks. A student of analytics, he lobbied hard for the acquisition of Zach Hymana home run signing. With those kinds of accomplishments from their junior executives, other clubs will be taking notes.

Just like with players, Holland’s mission needs to be…get good people, keep good people. Some folks may worry about nepotism. But both men have blazed their own career trails prior to coming to Edmonton. The only reason to hold their last names against them would be if they could not do the job. And as I have detailed above, there is growing evidence that they can.

So, as much as Ken Holland needs to keep the boys on the bus over the next two seasons, he also needs to make sure there is someone to gas the rig up and steer it once his driving days are over.

Find me on Twitter @KurtLeavins

Recently, at The Cult…

McCURDY: What does the future hold for Kailer Yamamoto in Edmonton

STAPLES: The murky road forward for Jesse Puljujarvi and the Oilers

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