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JONES: Oilers GM faces tough decisions after ‘massively disappointing’ series loss

Ken Holland (Edmonton Oilers General Manager and President of Hockey Operations) held a media conference at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Thursday February 20, 2020, just days before the NHL trade deadline. (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA)
Ken Holland (Edmonton Oilers General Manager and President of Hockey Operations) held a media conference at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Thursday February 20, 2020, just days before the NHL trade deadline. (PHOTO BY LARRY WONG/POSTMEDIA)

It was a measured, reasoned, honest, no bull, no rose-colored glasses evaluation from general manager Ken Holland that Edmonton Oilers fans needed to hear.

Holland provided some of the closure in his Tuesday morning end-of-season Oilers autopsy that was missing with the team not having a normal garbage bag day exit session involving players.

He didn’t drop any bombshells or throw any players under the bus. He didn’t tell the fans who found themselves out of the traditional 16-team, four-round, best-of-seven playoffs for the 13th time in the last 14 years, what they wanted to hear. He told them what they needed to hear.

Holland called the Oilers’ exit to the Chicago Blackhawks “massively disappointing,” because of what they achieved in the slightly shortened regular season and their failure to show up for Game 1 or live up to form in the NHL’s play-in best-of-five Stanley Cup qualifying series against the Blackhawks.

“We made a lot of progress in a lot of areas,” he said of the 2019-20 regular season compared to the one before.

“We went from 25th overall in points to 12th. The power play went from ninth to first. The penalty killing went from 30th in the league to second. In goals-against, we went from 22nd to 15th. In goals-for, we went from 20th to tied for 14th.

“So we made a lot of progress. And I thought we had some young players over the course of the season that really impacted out team — certainly Ethan Bear moving into our top four (on defence) and Kailer Yamamoto coming up and giving us a real boost moving up into our top six (on offence) at mid-season. And certainly Caleb Jones did a nice job when he got in there on defence in the second half of the season, and especially when Oscar Klefbom got injured.”

Holland immediately switched to the mess they made in the playoff series, including not showing up for Game 1 and referenced most of the failings identified by most of the fans.

Holland’s job is big picture, not to conduct public floggings at the end of a season and he proceeded into what he and his staff have to do going forward.

“There are a few things we have to accomplish over the summer to take another step. The first order of business is to hang onto what we’ve got and to build on that. We don’t want to take a step forward and then fall back the next year.

“We have a lot further we need to go in order to be a team that can really compete for the Stanley Cup.

“I feel we were a team that scored more goals and defended better. We were better on special teams. We moved from 25th in points to 12th in points but how you get from 12th to eight or ninth overall. You’re not going from 25th to 12th to No. 2. It has to be a steppingstone. We have to continue to head in the right direction.

“The good teams find their way into the playoffs every year. You can’t fall back,” he said, citing the Oilers team that went to Game 7 of the Pacific Division final and then went back to missing the playoffs.

“The good teams find their way to get into the playoffs every year and with multiple opportunities you find a way to piece it all together. We made really good progress this year compared to last year, but if we go out again next year and fall back, that progress is all for naught. So we have to build on that progress and find a way to make the team a little bit different and a little bit better and a little bit deeper and start out next year.

“If you do that and make your way into the playoffs again next year, you can hope that this massive disappointment is going to be the experience, fuel and motivation to do something in the playoffs next year. But if we miss the playoffs, it’s just going to be nothing. It would be no factor in the overall scheme of things.

“In Detroit, we made the playoffs 25 years in a row. Now you’ve got 25 opportunities. You try to build a team that can make the playoffs every year and then you tweak it.”

There was a lot of reading between the lines to be done here but with Holland talking about the flat salary cap, my read was guys like Andreas Athanasiou, Mike Smith and James Neal might not be coming back and raised the possibility of moving one of his top four veteran defencemen not named Ethan Bear.

“I’ve got to make some decisions going forward,” he said.

I’d guess Adam Larsson might be available in a semi-major trade.

“We have to get a little bit better at secondary scoring and team defence,” said Holland, who was asked if he had identified what areas he’d need to find help from outside the organization.

“I think I have a good idea of what I’d like to do,” he said, and added scouts will be assigned to watch the rest of the playoffs at players who might not be able to get contracts because of the flat cap and might make themselves available as support players here.

Hey, at least they’ll have had the chance to look around and it might be something for the fans to engage in with two more months and maybe 50 more Stanley Cup playoff games here, and none of them involving the Oilers.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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