Ken Holland career with the Red Wings came to an official end Tuesday when he was introduced as new president of hockey operations and general manager of the Edmonton Oilers.
Holland, 63, was replaced as Red Wings general manager by Steve Yzerman last month and was promoted to senior vice president. But the move upstairs was short-lived for Holland, who wanted to remain an active, day-to-day decision-maker for an NHL organization.
The Oilers, who’ve missed the playoffs 12 of the last 13 years, signed Holland to a five-year contract worth $25 million.
“When it comes to hiring someone with experience and credibility and authority, and to make an important impact which is what we need, nobody comes close,” Oilers owner Daryl Katz said at Tuesday’s press conference introducing Holland. “We hired him for what he can do for the Oilers right now and in the years ahead.
“Ken commands respect of players, scouts, from everyone throughout the hockey world and he knows how to build a culture of winning.”
Holland went to Sweden two weeks ago to scout the under-18 world championships with Yzerman and various members of the Wings’ front office.
It didn’t take long, said Holland, to realize he still had the “itch” to continue being a GM.
“When I was over there, I realized I had the passion, and energy and enthusiasm and desire to continue to be a general manager in the NHL,” Holland said.
Holland expressed thanks to the Ilitch family, owners of the Wings, and senior vice president Jimmy Devellano, who hired and mentored Holland in his time with the Wings.
A member of the Wings’ organization since 1983 when he was a minor-league goaltender, Holland eventually became an amateur scout and advanced through the ranks to eventually becoming a general manager.
Christopher Ilitch, Red Wings’ governor, president and chief executive officer, congratulated Holland in a statement on Holland’s new position.
“I would like to congratulate Ken Holland on his new position with the Edmonton Oilers and thank him for more than three decades of hard work, loyalty and passion for the Detroit Red Wings,” Ilitch said. “When Ken decided it was in the best long-term interest of the Red Wings for Steve Yzerman to serve in the role of general manager, we knew there was a strong possibility other franchises would inquire about him. It is a testament to how well-respected and admired Ken is around the National Hockey League.
“Ken is a first-class person and a top-notch hockey man. We’re ecstatic about the future of the Red Wings with Steve in charge, and on behalf of Marian Ilitch and the entire Red Wings family, we would like to thank Ken for 36 wonderful seasons and wish him, his wife Cindi, and the rest of the Holland family all the best going forward.”
Yzerman expressed his appreciation of Holland, who hired Yzerman after he retired as a player and mentored Yzerman in the front office.
“Ken Holland has been a friend of mine since I was drafted in 1983,” Yzerman said. “We were teammates, he held various executive roles during my playing career and he served as a mentor to me as I transitioned into management. There are very few general managers in the history of the National Hockey League who have accomplished what he has, and I consider it a privilege to have been able to learn from him both in Detroit and during our time together with Hockey Canada.
“I was hopeful that Ken would stay with the Red Wings and was excited to once again work alongside him, but I understand that Ken is a true competitor who loves being a general manager, and that he still has a burning desire to contend for Stanley Cup championships as the person in charge.
“I look forward to competing against him and, as a close friend, sincerely wish him the best of luck in his new role with the Oilers.”
Holland felt he would continue to stay with the Wings in his new role even after Yzerman came aboard.
“I have a great relationship with Steve,” Holland said. “We’re friends. We worked together. After he retired, he worked in the front office with us for four years and then went to Tampa Bay.
“The Ilitches offered me a very, very incredible offer to remain with the organization as senior vice-president. My thinking at that point in time was that I was going to be a Red Wing for life and work with Steve and support him.”
Bob Nicholson, the Oilers’ chief executive officer and vice chairman, reached out to Holland after the junior tournament and the two steadily came to an agreement.
Despite the Oilers’ recent struggles, they do have, arguably, the best player in the league in Connor McDavid and several fine pieces around McDavid, though they are hamstrung with serious salary cap issues.
“We have not delivered in the promise we made to our fans in recent years,” Katz said. “You know it, I know it, we all know it.”
But Holland believes the pieces are in Edmonton to resurrect the franchise rapidly.
“My management style in Detroit was stability,” Holland said. “My job is to provide stability, find the right people and believe in them on and off the ice, support them.
“There are great pieces in place here.”
Holland’s first move in Edmonton was telling Ken Hitchcock he would not be retained as head coach. A potential candidate could be Todd Nelson, who coach the Wings’ minor-league affiliate Grand Rapids to a Calder Cup in 2017 and was an interim head coach in Edmonton in 2014-15 (Nelson had a 17-22-7 record).