Edmonton Oilers name Ken Holland as general manager and president of hockey ops

EDMONTON — The Edmonton Oilers have made it official that Ken Holland is their new general manager, after Holland spent more than two decades and won three Stanley Cups doing the same job for the Detroit Red Wings.

Holland in turn, made it official Tuesday that he will not retain interim Oilers coach Ken Hitchcock, and that he expects the Oilers to be in the hunt in the playoffs next season and for the years after that.

“Right now times are tough. The team’s made the playoffs once in 13 years,” Holland told reporters at a news conference at Rogers Place. Sitting beside him were Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson and team owner Daryl Katz.

“Daryl and Bob have made a decision to bring me in. I’ve got to come in and I’ve got to change the culture.”

Holland said he would begin by looking for a new coach, but said the key players are in place.

The Oilers have superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to build around. They finished in the top four in league scoring, with Draisaitl hitting the 50-goal plateau.

But after those two, and centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, the offence falls off a cliff. The defence is thin and needs a puck mover. Goalie Mikko Koskinen, who signed a three-year extension at US$4.5 million per season in January, struggled in the top job after starter Cam Talbot was traded in February.

The Oilers, like the Red Wings, are bumping up against the salary cap and are saddled with anchor contracts like the US$6 million per year currently going to underperforming veteran winger Milan Lucic.

Holland said over the next month he will talk to people in the organization and see what needs to be changed.

“There’s a great core. You have to build around that core,” he said.

“I don’t have a magic wand. It’s a move at a time, it’s a piece at a time.”

He said job one is to get a coach, and said the decision to not retain Hitchcock is not a knock on Hitchcock, but he wants to work and grow with his own bench boss as he did with Mike Babcock in Detroit.

Holland said he will speak soon with interim GM Keith Gretzky, but hopes to keep him in some capacity in the organization.

Holland had been with the Red Wings in some capacity for 36 years, winning four Stanley Cups in the front office, including three in the GM’s chair. He was set to move up to a senior vice president role with the team last month after longtime Wings great Steve Yzerman was named the new GM.

But Holland said things changed when he went to the recent IIHF Under-18 World Hockey Championship tournament in Sweden.

“I realized that I had the passion, the energy, the enthusiasm (and) the desire to continue to be a general manager in the National Hockey League,” he said.

“I got restless sooner than I thought.”

Holland replaces Peter Chiarelli, who was fired from the GM job in January, about two months after Chiarelli fired head coach Todd McLellan as another season of promise hit the ditch.

Oiler fans, on talk shows and online, have been laying the blame on the front office and Katz, with some saying the old Oiler players of the 1980s Stanley Cup glory years are interfering with front office decisions, and that the scouting and player development departments need a clean sweep.

Katz said Holland has full autonomy on hockey decisions.

“He knows how to build a culture of winning,” said Katz.

“We have not delivered on the promise we made to our fans in recent years,” he added.

“And while accountability for this falls on everyone in our organization it starts and it stops with me.

“We’re listening to our fans. We get it and we’re doing everything we can to get it right.”

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