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JONES: At trade deadline, if Oilers are in the playoff race, Holland will look to add

Ken Holland, General Manager and President of Hockey Operations, speaks during a press conference during Edmonton Oilers Training Camp at Rogers Place in Edmonton, on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019.
Ken Holland, General Manager and President of Hockey Operations, speaks during a press conference during Edmonton Oilers Training Camp at Rogers Place in Edmonton, on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019.

When it comes to the trade deadline, Ken Holland has a philosophy.

“When your team plays at a high level to put themselves in a position to get into the playoffs, as the general manager I want to help out.

“I like to make a move that sends a message to your team, a message that says ‘You guys have played great to get us to this point, I’m going to try to help out.’ ”

In a one-on-one interview with your correspondent Thursday, Holland revealed his intent to be a player at the trade deadline if his hockey club keeps itself in position to warrant it.

Having taken over the job as Edmonton Oilers GM with the team in salary cap jail, all Holland could do was sign a bunch of low dollar one-year deals with veteran European and North American players, hoping a few of them would help build a bridge to next year.

Holland has been more than clear that his priority and focus here are very much big-picture in his first year on the job. But he says there’s so much parity in the NHL that you have to be willing to spend futures when you get a chance to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. And if the Oilers keep themselves in position to play in the postseason, he’s not likely to be a spectator on the sidelines deadline day, no matter how big-picture his plans may be.

“If you can get into the playoffs, you’ve got a chance,” he said. “The regular season now means a ton because only half the teams make it and half the teams miss. But once the regular season is over, there’s no carryover.

“I look at last year where the two No. 1 teams, Tampa and Calgary, won one playoff game combined.

“I look at 2006 when the Red Wings had 126 regular-season points and we played the Edmonton Oilers in the first round and they knocked us out. It’s a brand new season when the playoffs start in today’s NHL.

“So if I get to the trade deadline and I can do something and live with the price, I’ll do something.”

The trade deadline is 14 games away, on Feb. 24. And if the Oilers continue to play like they did in the last six, Holland hopes to do what he can to give them a missing link or two.

“For me, right now, we have some huge games. Arizona. Calgary. St. Louis. Calgary. Arizona. Those are huge games. It’s getting tougher and tougher and tougher.

“You get these regular-season tests and if you keep passing them, then as a manager you just work the phones a little harder to try to find that move that’s going to make your team a little better, a little deeper.”

Holland says that’s in keeping with his history, not swerving away from it. He has historically traded second, third and fourth-round draft choices on the deadline to upgrade his hockey team.

“There are three ways to go at the trade deadline. Buyer. Seller. Or stand pat.

“Barring a collapse, I don’t see us being a seller.

“So, are we going to be a buyer? Or are we going to stand pat?

“When you add players at the deadline, you’re giving up futures. You’re paying a price. But we don’t win the Stanley Cup in 2008 if we don’t do the deal for Brad Stuart. He gave us our fourth defenceman to go with Niklas Kronwall,” he said of giving up a second- and fourth-round draft pick for the Rocky Mountain House product.

“We won the Cup in 2008 and went to Game 7 in 2009.”

Holland says everybody is in a holding pattern at this point.

While the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues took a runaway 10-point lead into games last night, eight teams in the Western Conference standings were five points apart. And another pack of four teams were bunched together not far off the pace.

If it were a horse race heading into the final turn prior to going down the stretch, the race announcer would be severely stressed.

“The first thing I have to say is that I’m thrilled to be in the middle of the race,” said Holland of his hockey team that scrambled back into contention with a 5-1-1 record since New Year’s Eve.

“When the season starts, you’re hoping. Now we’re 48 games in and five of the teams in the Pacific Division are within two or three points. Then you factor in some teams from the other side. And it’s going to be a real race to make the playoffs.

“When it comes to the trade deadline, I think it’s still another eight to 10 games needs to be played before anything happens. I want to see what happens over the next 10 games leading to the trade deadline.

“Right now, there’s a little chatter. But there’s not much chatter. Very few teams are out of it. It’s a 31-team league and probably 22 or 23 teams think they have a chance today. When I call another general manager, they’re saying, ‘I’m two points in or two points out. I’m still evaluating.’ ”

“We got off to a great start. In the first 10 games we were 7-2-1. And then we played the next 30 at one game below .500. We sort of hung in the race based on the first 10 games. But then we brought up Kailer Yamamoto and Caleb Jones and went on a really difficult road trip to start January and our guys dug in.

“We sort of played our way back into the race. On that road trip we could have gone 1-4 and played our way out. But we went 3-1-1 and came home and won a huge game over the Predators.

“You’re going to have adversity. In 2008 when we won the Cup in Detroit we had a whole bunch of injuries in February we had, I think, a nine- or 10-game losing streak. This team had its adversity in December.

“At that point you didn’t know which way we were going to go. But the players dug in on a really tough road trip. What it has done for us is put us back in the mix.

“But now Arizona is coming in here before the All-Star break and when we get back, it’s Calgary, St. Louis, Calgary and Arizona.

“The games are going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. If you’re going to be a playoff team, you have to win big games. It’s a huge game against Arizona on Saturday. And we want big games for our players and for our fans.”

During the All-Star break Holland will travel to Tucson to watch the Bakersfield Condors farm club play a pair of games and will then head to Palm Springs for two and a half days and the pro scouts for two and a half days.

It’s the meetings with the pro scouts that will be of special interest to Holland heading to the trade dealing.

‘Play with discipline’

Ken Holland wants to deliver a message to Zack Kassian and his Edmonton Oilers teammates as they prepare to head to the All-Star break and return to play their Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 games against the Calgary Flames.

“We have to make sure we play with discipline, that we play hard and that we play physical and do whatever we have to do to win,” said the new Edmonton Oilers general manager.

“But we can’t take undisciplined, foolish penalties losing sight of the most important thing which is the end result.

“You don’t want to have your players getting suspended.

“We need our players in the lineup.”

Kassian took two minor penalties in rag-dolling a turtling Tkachuk and the Flames scored the winner on the power play.

Holland said he loves the revival of the rivalry that he witnessed when he was a goaltender with the Medicine Hat Tigers and when he was based there as a scout.

“I lived it eight years ago with Detroit-Colorado,” he said of the rivalry that came the closest to the Battle of Alberta in his 22-year run as general manager of the Detroit Red Wings.

Clearly, especially with the furor involving the perceived predatory hits on Edmonton’s Zack Kassian by Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk and the two-game suspension currently being served by Kassian, it’s back.

And with threats of retribution out there, the Edmonton Oilers general manager has his own message to deliver to Kassian who he spent time with for his hearing Monday.

“I’m excited as a general manager because they’re big games and in between we have St. Louis and they’re the defending champions and in first place in the Western Conference.

“That’s Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. That’s going to be an emotional time. In those two games against Calgary we have to play hard, we have to play physical and we have to play intensely. But we have to play smart and we have to play disciplined.”

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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