I make a serious effort to search through news stories quoting Red Wings general manager Ken Holland at least once a week. I have two reasons for that: first, because Holland is without a doubt the finest general manager currently in the game; and second, because he doesn’t go to much effort to hide his thought process.
Holland speaks freely about organizational priorities – patience in development, de-emphasis of goaltending in the salary cap world, etc. – and tends to get away with it because people just don’t listen. Sure, it would be nice to give Overhyped Prospect X a season in the AHL to adapt to the professional game and give his NHL employer another year of service on his entry-level deal, but teams want their prospects helping to sell tickets at the NHL level. Similarly, Detroit gets away with middling goaltenders, but ‘build from the net out’ seems to remain an organizational imperative for many teams.
Talking to reporter Bob Duff earlier this week, Holland revealed something else his team strives to do.
Duff’s article takes a contrarian position on no-trade clauses, calling them “a virtual non-issue in the NHL,” and does a nice job justifying that stance, but it’s an off-hand comment of Holland’s that really caught my attention:
“You build your team in the summer and other than the trade deadline, where there’s a few little moves and the odd big move, there’s not a lot of action.”
On the surface, that’s a rather obvious statement. More than ever, it’s difficult for an NHL general manager to tinker with his line-up midseason, as cap hits and internal budgets have driven down trade activity.
Despite the obvious truth inherent in that comment, it is a lesson more than a few teams appear to have forgotten along the way. Teams leave the stating gate with massive holes all the time, often opting to try out unproven prospects and hope for the best. Anaheim, for example, had to try and plug defensive holes early in the season when they discovered their woefully undermanned blue-line wasn’t going to cut it. Andreas Lilja has helped, but the position is still an area of weakness and not likely to get stronger.
Maybe the statement resonated with me more than it should have because I’m a fan of the Edmonton Oilers, a team that since the NHL lockout has not once had a balanced roster on opening night. They always have 23 players, it just seems that they never have 23 players suited to the positions they’re being cast in.
The simple reality is that any team hoping for a successful season needs to be seaworthy when the puck drops for Game One. That means capable players in all positions and competent fill-ins at the AHL level ready to step up when injuries strike. Most importantly, it means that teams can’t pencil players into positions where they haven’t had success in the past – because if it doesn’t work out, it can be very difficult to find a replacement.