4 Iffy Holland Moves That Helped Oilers Reach Stanley Cup Final – The Hockey Writers – Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers general manager Ken Holland has taken his share of lumps since taking the job and building a team he believed would be good enough to compete for a Stanley Cup. His detractors will say that he inherited the best group of young prospects in the NHL and did little to build around them, wasting some of Connor McDavid‘s best years. Others will suggest Holland has made as many good moves as he’s made bad ones. Still, there are three decisions Holland made, that at the time were considered a bit controversial. Many have paid off in spades.

The Free Agent Signing of Zach Hyman

When the Oilers gave Zach Hyman a seven-year contract as an unrestricted free agent and paid him $5.5 million per season, plenty of people called it a mistake. Hyman was considered a workhorse and a good fit for the Oilers, but that kind of money over that kind of term was seen as an overpay. Some called it desperate as Holland was ‘clearly trying to outbid other teams, including Toronto.’

Related: 4 Takeaways From Edmonton Oilers’ Biggest Win in a Generation

That was not only not a mistake, it has turned out to be arguably the best free agent signing in the Oilers’ franchise history. One could arguably say the best free agent signing in modern NHL history. Hyman scored 54 goals in the regular season and has 14 in these playoffs to lead all goal-scorers. His numbers have improved every year since his arrival and even if he never reaches the same production levels again, has made good on the investment Edmonton made in him.

He’s a lock to be a 20-30-goal guy every year. He’s fit like a glove.

The Mattias Ekholm Trade

When the Oilers traded Tyson Barrie at last season’s deadline and moved Reid Shaefer, a first-round pick and a fourth-rounder, they added a veteran defenseman who some thought was good, but not a difference-maker. Not only that, but the Oilers moved the quarterback for the best power play in the NHL to do it and put the ball in the hands of an unproven Evan Bouchard.

Mattias Ekholm Evan Bouchard Edmonton Oilers
Mattias Ekholm and Evan Bouchard, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

Not only was it the right move, but it’s turned out to be the best trade Holland has made as the team’s GM. Ekholm has been incredible and Bouchard has become an elite offensive defenseman. Both were in the conversation for Norris Trophy consideration this year and rightfully so. Bouchard continues to set new milestones during these playoffs and Ekholm has been exactly what the Oilers needed.

Demoting Jack Campbell

It’s fair to criticize Holland for the contract he gave goaltender Jack Campbell. It was an overpay for a player who has struggled both on the ice and mentally. Campbell has had his moments of greatness, but far more down moments, and Holland was forced to correct his own mistake.

Credit should go to Holland for doing so. It would have been easy not to send Campbell to Bakersfield and try to ride out Campbell as a backup. Other GMs might have done so. Instead, despite the sizeable investment, Campbell was demoted, Calvin Pickard was given a shot and things have worked out extremely well.

Firing Woodcroft and Hiring a Rookie Coach

When Holland fired Jay Woodcroft at the start of this season, he felt like the team was left with no time. The Oilers came out of the gate cold this year and put themselves so far behind the 8-ball that the only option was to release a coach who probably didn’t deserve to be fired. Not only did Holland choose to do so, but he somewhat shockingly hired a rookie NHL coach.

Tasked with putting together one of the greatest turnarounds in recent NHL history, Kris Knoblauch came in and gave everyone roles. He made it clear what the players needed to do, didn’t change the system much (just improved how it operated), and asked coaches like Mark Stuart to run the penalty kill. Knoblauch’s inexperience has arguably turned out to be a blessing because he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. That includes some of the decisions he’s making in these playoffs that, frankly, seem questionable.

His roster changes have panned out, his hunches have proven to be correct, and he’s pushing all the right buttons. Holland could have hired a handful of different coaches and he went with one of the least likely options.

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