'A lot of great memories': Ex-Wings GM Ken Holland reflects on Detroit ahead of HOF induction

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — It's been two years now, and his Edmonton Oilers are among the elite teams in the NHL. The connection to the Red Wings' organization is growing more detached with each passing day.

But Ken Holland always will have a significant attachment to the Wings' organization, for all he did constructing a roster that made the playoffs 25 consecutive years and won four Stanley Cups.

Returning to Detroit always was going to be special, and Tuesday was no different, on a road trip that'll include a trip to Toronto this weekend where Holland will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Longtime Red Wings GM Ken Holland soon will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

"I was with the Red Wings for 36 years and I lived in Detroit for 25 years," said Holland, the president and general manager of the Oilers, who spent 22 of those years as general manager. "Obviously Little Caesars Arena is a little bit different than the Joe (Louis Arena). I never stayed at the Western Book Cadillac before (before this week).

"But, certainly, I have a lot of great memories from my time in Detroit."

The Wings won four Presidents' Trophies (best record) under Holland, 10 division championships, five regular-season conference titles and four Stanley Cups. The team also made the playoffs in the first 19 seasons of Holland's career as GM.

Holland was part of the 2020 Hall of Fame class that wasn't inducted in November 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So it's been nearly 18 months since Holland found out he'd be part of the Hall of Fame, but the excitement level remains the same.

"Very excited," Holland said. "We are going to have a private party Saturday night, and Friday night is the Hall of Fame game. The induction is Monday.

"A lot of family and friends are coming in, lots of Red Wings people.

"It's going to be a pretty special weekend."

Being part of a class that includes ex-Red Wing Marian Hossa, Jarome Iginla, Doug Wilson, Kim St-Pierre and Kevin Lowe — Holland is being inducted as a builder — makes this a special honor for a hockey lifer.

Holland went from minor-league goaltender, to scout, to assistant GM, to one of the most successful general managers in the history of the game.

More: Tyler Bertuzzi proving a big booster for Red Wings (when he's available)

"Very surreal," Holland said. "I played nine years in the minors and was hired as a scout and scouted for nine years. You're just trying to first feed your family. You're going to work, trying to put food on the table and trying to find players. 

"For me, the first time I thought that maybe there was more (to be able to achieve) was when Neil Smith became GM of the (New York) Rangers in 1989. Neil and I were friends, and Neil (getting hired) gave me the belief, the hope, if I built up my resume, I could maybe one day be a general manager.

"To think of the Hall of Fame, I couldn't dream that."

"It'll be a special weekend."

Holland's last coaching hire in Detroit was Jeff Blashill in June 2015, after Blashill had won a Calder Cup in 2013 and had been an assistant under Mike Babcock. Blashill had no NHL head-coaching experience, but Holland was impressed by Blashill's success at every level and overall ability.

Blashill is now in his seventh season with the Wings, coaching the Wings through a rebuild.

Ken Holland spent more than two decades running the Red Wings.

"He's had a huge impact on my life, huge impact on me as a coach," Blashill said. "I've been with this organization a long time now, and for a number of years Ken was the general manager. He's an outstanding human being, outstanding manager because he's smart, he's patient, he takes the time to make a decision and doesn't panic.

"He was a great person to bounce things off when he was my boss, like I have now with Steve. These are guys who've been through lots and that experience is critical. I had an opportunity to learn a ton from him. Obviously he gave me my chance in this league as an assistant coach in the American League, in the American League as a head coach and with Detroit as a head coach. 

"It's certainly well deserved for Ken going into the Hall of Fame. The impact he had on Detroit and the Red Wings, it's as big an impact as anyone can have, when you look back and see the success we had when he was the general manager."

What makes Holland proud and pleased in recent years is the success of many of the former players he hired into the front office, and are currently having success in administrative roles.

"Steve Yzerman, Pat Verbeek, Jiri Fischer, Chris Osgood, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, they all wanted to stay in the game and had the passion to stay in the game," said Holland, 65, adding that former players such as Jim Nill, now GM of the Dallas Stars, and Mark Howe, who were already parts of the organization, added invaluable experience for the other players to learn from.

"They knew the game. They're hard workers. Jim Nill is a hard worker. Ryan Martin and Steve Yzerman are hard workers. I am happy I was able to help. Jimmy Devellano helped me, he hired me and believed in me."

The one thing Holland passed along to all of those players who moved into the front office was the need to "grind" in their jobs.

"You have to go games, you have to find information, physically sit in meetings and know what you are looking for," Holland said. "I know what I like in a player and after a while, it's gut instinct.

"You watch games and sometimes you're right, and sometimes wrong."

More: Red Wings rookies Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond continue to shine on 'night-to-night basis'

While Holland's Oilers entered Tuesday's game with a 9-1-0 record, one of the best in the NHL, the Wings were a better-than-expected 6-5-2 and offering glimpses of hope after several difficult years of losing.

Rookies Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond, primarily, are offering Wings fans real reasons to believe the future could be bright.

"I've watched Detroit a little bit," Holland said. "They look great. Seider goes to the Swedish Elite League last year and was the best defenseman, that's hard to do when you're 19 or 20 years old. And Raymond, six goals (scored), I saw Raymond play at the international level when he was at the under-18 (world tournament) and he was a high impact player. 

"It looks like Raymond has tremendous hockey sense. He just has the 'it' to be a player and Seider the same. I haven't seen a lot of them, but looking at their minutes and roles on the power play, you start doing that when you're 19 or 20 years old, that's pretty special because that's hard to do."

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ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan