Holland non-committal on future with Edmonton Oilers after contract expires next season

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Ken Holland says he plans to see out his contract as Edmonton Oilers general manager, which enters its fifth and final year next season.

He isn’t sure what comes next.

Asked Wednesday if he’d extend his commitment to the Oilers for 2024 and beyond, he said: “I can’t answer that, flat out.”

Holland, who was the author of four Detroit Red Wings Stanley Cup wins through the 1990s and 2000s, said he still has the hunger to do the job, but there are other factors that may influence a decision he will have to make after next season.

“I’ve got to judge myself, and I’m harder on myself than anybody,” Holland said at a season-ending availability three days after the Oilers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights.

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“I’ve been here four years, I’ve got a year to go. I’ve got nine grandchildren, four children. I’ve still got a ton of energy, a ton of passion. But the last time I was a general manager for a Stanley Cup championship was in 2008. That’s a player’s lifetime.

Throughout the press conference, Holland used the words “devastated” and “devastating” to describe the Oilers’ second-round loss to the Golden Knights. He made no excuses, constantly reiterating that Vegas was the “better team” in both the regular season and the playoffs.

He said that, going into the final season of his contract, that he only has about “36 hours” to feel sorry for himself and the team. Then, he has to “tweak, tweak, tweak” a roster while struggling with the constraints of the salary cap.

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He believes the core, led by Hart Trophy favourite Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, is as good as the teams he had in Detroit.

“When I had Detroit, we didn’t win the Cup in `94, 95, 96, but the same group of players won the Cup in `97 and `98,” he said. He added that he built a strong team that was upset by the Oilers in 2006 but won it all in 2008.

But he does have some hard math problems to figure out. The Oilers finished the season right up against the cap and are getting very little in relief.

Holland said a slight increase to the cap, plus the fact the club no longer owes any money to long-departed vets Milan Lucic and Andrej Sekera, gives him about US$3.5 million of breathing space.

But role players Derek Ryan, Nick Bjugstad, Mattias Janmark and Devin Shore will all hitting the open market. On top of that, he needs to address raises for restricted free agents Klim Kostin and Ryan McLeod.

And then there’s the biggie. Defenceman Evan Bouchard, the point-man on the best power play in the history of the NHL, needs a new contract. He made $833,333 this past season and will be in the market for a significant raise.

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There’s no thought of buying out goalie Jack Campbell, who is entering the second year of a five-year, $25 million deal. He had a disappointing debut season as an Oiler, posting an .888 save percentage in the regular season and losing the starter’s job to rookie Stuart Skinner. And when Skinner struggled in the playoffs, Campbell was never given the chance to start a game.

“I think any time players sign long-term, big contracts, they feel a ton of pressure to live up to the contract,” said Holland. “It puts a lot of stress on them.

“I know there’s other goalies in the National Hockey League this year that signed big deals a year ago. And year one was a tough go, and year two was pretty good. I believe year two (for Campbell) is going to be pretty good.”

Coach Jay Woodcroft said the Oilers will need to learn to “repurpose their disappointment” with the 2022-23 season. It was a team that finished the season on a 14-0-1 tear and ended up just two points out of top spot in the Western Conference.

But that’s not what the fans or players are thinking about now.

“You use that experience to serve as your motivation, your fuel,” said Woodcroft. “I mean, when you’re in a workout and it’s the middle of June, that will push forward.

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“When your family or friends are pulling you in a certain direction, you have this experience or this pit in your stomach to help serve as motivational fuel for the things that need to happen in order to set ourselves up for a good training camp, which is the first step.”

McDavid has three years left on his contract. Draisaitil has two. The window for the Oilers to win it all is beginning to close. But Holland still has faith.

“It’s not a one-year quest, it’s a lifetime quest. You can’t party enough when you win that thing. It’s a party machine.”

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