the puck drops on the oil­ers, NHL sea­son tonight with a visit from the Van­cou­ver canucks

Edmonton Sun - - SPORTS - Terry JONES

There’s the big pic­ture. Let’s call it Con­nor Mcdavid’s Stan­ley Cup win­dow. Then there’s the small pic­ture. That’s this week, this month and this sea­son.

Ei­ther way, the thing for Ed­mon­ton fans to re­mem­ber here head­ing into the 41st sea­son of NHL hockey here, de­spite miss­ing the play­offs for 12 of the last 13 years and hav­ing run out of pa­tience to the point that a 547-game sell­out streak is about to come to an end, is that for Ken Hol­land, this is the start­ing line not the fin­ish line.

While the out-of-pa­tience fan base was 200 tick­ets short of be­ing ex­cited enough to get the opener sold out as of 2 p.m. Tues­day, Hol­land is pumped.

“I’m ex­cited. I think I’m blessed. I have lots of en­ergy. I have a ton of pas­sion. Ob­vi­ously I have lots of ex­pe­ri­ence. And I’m in line with my goals here.

“On the short term we tried to make the moves this sum­mer to com­pete for a play­off spot but I have big­ger de­sires and de­signs and vi­sions for this team than just com­pet­ing for a play­off spot. You are al­ways com­pet­ing for a play­off spot but I cer­tainly want to build it to big­ger than that over the big­ger pic­ture.

Hol­land didn’t come here out of what was essen­tially set up to be semi-re­tire­ment to try to get the Oil­ers back into the play­offs.

He came here to try fash­ion an­other Stan­ley Cup era like the one he built in Detroit with ti­tle teams in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008 and the ul­ti­mate one we pre­vi­ously wit­nessed here when Queen’s ‘We Are The Cham­pi­ons’ re­ver­ber­ated through­out the North­lands Coli­seum in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988 and 1990.

“I felt that I was at the fin­ish line in Detroit. But my juices hadn’t stopped flow­ing. When this op­por­tu­nity came up it got me very, very ex­cited be­cause of the pas­sion­ate fan base, a core of great play­ers and a num­ber of great prospects. I knew this team had some re­ally good play­ers, es­pe­cially on de­fence. And that view hasn’t changed.”

Hol­land is juiced.

Gen­er­ally pretty even keel, the Red Wings GM of 22 sea­sons, bris­tled and came close to snap­ping when one in­ter­viewer sug­gested he was ask­ing the fans to have pa­tience when they’ve been an­nu­ally asked to have pa­tience through the Decade of Dark­ness.

“You might have said that. Don’t put words in my mouth. What I said was from Day 1 is that our goal is to com­pete for a play­off spot. I’m not talk­ing re­build. We have to com­pete for a play­off spot.”

Both in the small pic­ture and the big pic­ture the plan is the same, he ex­plained.

“We have a nucleus of play­ers. We need to sur­round them bet­ter.”

That where the two pic­tures be­come dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent.

“On the short-term look, the one-sea­son look, the 2019-20 look, our goal is to put some vet­eran play­ers on the bot­tom part of the ros­ter and com­pete for a play­off spot.

“On the longer look, while that’s go­ing on, we need to de­velop play­ers at the Amer­i­can League level or play­ers that we own, like Raphael Lavoie in Hal­i­fax or Filip Broberg in Swe­den, who need to be­come part of the so­lu­tions.

“A week ago we sent down some play­ers that I think are go­ing to re­ally im­pact this fran­chise down the road,” said Hol­land of the big-pic­ture plan.

“Bouchard. Samorukov. Ben­son. Ya­mamoto. Mcleod. We need those play­ers to de­velop into NHL play­ers,” he iden­ti­fied de­fence­men Evan and Dmitri, and for­wards Tyler, Kailer and Ryan.

“I wanted them to get down there, find a place to live and get ready for their opener on Fri­day.”

If you fig­ure Hol­land’s plan with Bouchard and the fu­ture stars is to give them a two- or three-week taste of life in the mi­nors then bring them to the NHL, you haven’t stud­ied the way he built his teams in Detroit.

The young guys in Bak­ers­field aren’t just visit­ing Bak­ers­field just long enough to check out Buck Owens’ Crys­tal Palace.

“With the young play­ers, I’d like to get them to at least Christ­mas and maybe all year,” re­vealed Hol­land.

Hol­land says top young tal­ent has to tran­si­tion.

“We have to get the ju­nior habits out and the pro­fes­sional habits in.

“Is the player that we’re talk­ing about a player that we think is go­ing to be a top-six for­ward here? It’s bet­ter for him to be in a top-six po­si­tion in Bak­ers­field on the power play and play­ing 18 min­utes than bring­ing him up here at the age of 20 and put him on the fourth line and say, ‘OK, learn to check.’ I think it de­pends on where you project that player. Some­times they don’t un­der­stand when some­body else is called up when they have bet­ter stats.

“I want those play­ers to be im­por­tant and de­velop into NHL play­ers.

“We told those play­ers they were go­ing to Bak­ers­field. We told them there are ar­eas of their game they need to im­prove to be an Oiler.”

Oil­ers fans, to prop­erly fol­low this sea­son, should con­sider sign­ing up for a Con­dors TV game-stream­ing pack­age.

To most, how­ever, only one team mat­ters, the one that takes the ice to open the sea­son against the Canucks.

“Did we make the right moves? The an­swer is in the 82-game sea­son. Some­where along the way you have to win big games. You have to put your­self in po­si­tion to play those games. We need to play well over the first 65 games and be in the race and then, in the month of March, you have to win big games.”

Hol­land doesn’t say it, but he needs the hockey club to get him to the trade dead­line in po­si­tion for him to make his Phase II moves.

Essen­tially forced to be­gin his era in Ed­mon­ton wear­ing a set of hand­cuffs be­cause of the state that Peter Chiarelli left this fran­chise, par­tic­u­larly in terms of the salary cap, Hol­land went to work try­ing to find low-priced bridge play­ers or place­hold­ers for the young Oil­ers tal­ent he in­sists on de­vel­op­ing, even over-de­vel­op­ing, in the AHL, not the NHL.

Thus you have Joakim Ny­gard ($925,000), Ri­ley Shee­han ($900,000), Josh Archibald ($1,000,000), Thomas Jurko ($750,000), Marcus Gran­lund ($1,300,000) and Joel Pers­son ($1,000,000) to go with Colby Cave ($675,000) and the pro­moted Ethan Bear ($720,000).

“We went out this sum­mer and signed a lot of play­ers who are 24 to 28 years of age. I’m go­ing to call them pros. Whether they played pro in Europe or played pro in North Amer­ica, they’re pros. They’re sea­soned vet­er­ans. We thought we needed to get more pros on the bot­tom part of the ros­ter.

“We wanted to bring some dif­fer­ent di­men­sions. Penalty killers. Some speed. I think we’ve done that but the real test starts with the first game against Van­cou­ver.

“We’ll have a bet­ter feel­ing 10 or 15 games in what we have.

“Cer­tainly we have to get off to a de­cent start. We want to be in the hunt and not fall too far be­hind. St. Louis last year made a come­back but I think for the most part you want to be in con­tention from the start of the sea­son.”

Hol­land had gath­ered the me­dia out­side the Oil­ers dress­ing room for what was sup­posed to be a short ses­sion with the ros­ter-declar­ing dead­line Tues­day.

It went 18 min­utes. He was wear­ing his en­thu­si­asm on his shirt­sleeves.

“I’m ex­cited go­ing into this first game. The first game of the year is al­ways wrapped with ex­cite­ment, op­ti­mism and an­tic­i­pa­tion for where you are.

“I think we’re pretty pleased with train­ing camp. You’d al­ways like to have some play­ers per­form a lit­tle bet­ter. I think we’ve had some play­ers who have sur­prised us. We felt like we had some dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions to make when we put the ros­ter to­gether. Tough de­ci­sions are al­ways good de­ci­sions.”

Hol­land said it’s al­ways a dan­ger to make flawed de­ci­sions com­ing out of train­ing camp.

It is what you see next that is go­ing to tell the tale.

“In the pre-sea­son most of the ros­ters are half NHL half AHL. Pre-sea­son can be de­ceiv­ing. I think you have to get into the reg­u­lar sea­son like we are now to re­ally eval­u­ate our play­ers and where we’re at as a team against NHL com­pe­ti­tion.

“I know our guys are ex­cited, I’m ex­cited and the coach­ing staff is ex­cited to get go­ing here and see how we stack up.”

Ian Kucerak/postmedia

Left page: Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers GM Ken Hol­land in­tro­duced Dave Tip­pett as the new head coach for the team on May 28, 2019 at Rogers Place as one of his first big moves

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