There is no figure more polarizing in the Red Wings than Ken Holland. After all, he has been the man behind just about every move that this franchise has made since his hiring in 1997. With a man who has had as much success as him, or lack thereof in recent history, it creates a rift in the fanbase.
There are two sides to man that is Ken Holland. Whether you are one of the old school “He hasn’t missed the playoffs since his hiring, therefore he is perfect” fans, or one of his more recent “What have you done for me lately” detractors, every fan has the case to judge the Red Wings GM in a positive and negative light.
Therefore, when it comes to evaluating his season, it’s important to acknowledge both sides of the coin. Yes, the team had a positive season in the sense of “look what we did in our first year without Mike Babcock”, but for the fourth time in five years, the team got kicked out in the first round of the playoffs.
So, let’s take a look at how the man in charge of the front office did this season. However, unlike most Year in Review’s, we can’t just pull up Ken Holland’s Corsi, and judge his performance on that. No, we have to evaluate some of the biggest moves he made, or lack thereof, this season to judge whether or not he set the team up to be a championship team, which should be the goal of every GM, whether short term or long term.
The moves can be anything: trades, signings, waivers, even call ups. So long as it falls within the start of the 2015 offseason (when Detroit was eliminated) until the start of this offseason (again, when Detroit was eliminated).
SIGNING MIKE GREEN
While this wasn’t the first move Holland made to start off the offseason, it was certainly the first significant move. After another disappointing first round exit, the Wings were in desperate need of a right handed shot on the blue line. So, what did Holland do on the first day of free agency? He got the best right handed free agent defenseman on the market in Mike Green. Not only that, but is was on a very team friendly deal. $6 million is a very good price for a defenseman who is good enough to play top 2 minutes, and with it only being three years long, it avoids any long term cap trouble for the team.
How did it pay off? Quite well, with Green being far and away the team’s best defenseman in terms of both offense and defense. He excelled in his roll, and considering how close Detroit was to missing the playoffs this year, he very well could have been the difference between the team making the playoffs. Safe to say, Green was an excellent move to kick off Detroit’s offseason for Holland.
SIGNING BRAD RICHARDS
However, it took a matter of hours to screw it up. Later in the day, Holland decided to add some veteran depth to the center position by adding the recent Stanley Cup champion Brad Richards to the team. While the contract wasn’t terrible, and was only for the season, it wasn’t a move that panned out well for either party. Richards ended up being an unnecessary clog down the middle, as Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Sheahan, and Helm were already effective centers. He was also overused on the power play, preventing other much better offensive players from providing a better role. While he wasn’t a massive drag, this was a move that both the Wings and Richards have admitted after the fact that it wasn’t a smart move.
RESIGNING GUSTAV NYQUIST
Nyquist was one of the key RFAs for Holland to get under contract in the offseason. After all, Nyquist had been an excellent source of offense for the past two seasons, on a very cheap deal, and was in much need of a raise. Holland gave him a $4.75 million contract for four years. While it was not a long term deal like what we’ve become accustomed to team’s giving their talented RFAs, four years is still quite a while, and $4.75 million is just about exactly what he deserves.
The caution proved to be effective for Holland, as Nyquist had an off year in his first season under contract. While a large part of that is due to his power play usage, it showed that Nyquist might not be the consistent offensive force that we thought he was. Regardless, Nyquist will probably have a bounce back season with an altered power play, and prove Holland that he deserves more by the time his contract is up. While a longer term might have been more ideal, you can’t argue with Holland’s effectiveness at keeping the young guys on board while the veterans eat up most of the cap (although the new age of cap management proves that this might not be a good method moving forward).
RESIGNING DANIEL CLEARY
I’m not going to go too in-depth with this move, as it wasn’t a huge impact on the Red Wings, but dammit Holland, stop resigning Cleary. All this is doing is taking up an SPC that could be used on a much better player, or a prospect that they need to keep signed. Instead, you waste it on Cleary, who you promised him you’d sign him to three 1 year deals, and all he did was play in the minors.
EXTENDING JUSTIN ABDELKADER
In the early part of the season, one of the looming decisions for the current offseason was the contract situation of long time Wing Justin Abdelkader. It didn’t take long for a decision to make, as not too long in, the Wings extended him to a seven year, $4.25 million contract. Much like what I said with Nyquist, this is a case of rewarding the veterans for their service so far with a home for seven more years.
Now, I don’t have a problem with the cap hit as it stands. Abdelkader, while not amazing, isn’t a bad player, and is certainly worthy of money in the $4 million range, but he is certainly not a player who will maintain his play for the full seven years. This could be a contract that bites the Red Wings down the road, much like what the Zetterberg contract is starting to look like.
TRADING JAKUB KINDL
Going into the trade deadline, the Red Wings had a surplus of average defenseman, and Jakub Kindl had the worst contract of the bunch, so Holland knew that he needed to try and offload the contract. He managed to do that successfully, trading Kindl to the Florida Panthers for a sixth round pick in 2017.
While I’m not huge fan of the move, I understand the need to do it. I do like Kindl as a player, and think that while he doesn’t necessarily pass the eye test all the time, he does do a good job on the blue line, and think that he is a better option than Kyle Quincey or Jonathan Ericsson. Also, he is worth more than a sixth round pick, so Florida got the better end of the deal. However, it cleared up some room on the blue line for guys like Marchenko, Ouellet, and Sproul, so in that sense, Holland did his job.
STANDING PAT AT THE DEADLINE
Let’s be honest. The Red Wings haven’t exactly been the best at making good deals at the trade deadline. In the last couple of years, they’ve traded away some of their better prospects for veterans in hopes of them helping them squeeze into the playoffs (see: Marek Zidlicky, Erik Cole, David Legwand, Kyle Quincey).
So, fans breathed a sigh of relief when Holland didn’t buy at this deadline, instead choosing to stand pat, and run with the team who had carried them this far. This was a smart move, as they did make the playoffs, but didn’t go far, and considering the weak trade market, there weren’t many people that the Red Wings could have got that would have helped them beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, so all they did was manage to hold onto valuable assets.
So, that just about puts an end to all of the big moves that Ken Holland made this year. If you’re wondering where moves like keeping Dylan Larkin on the Wings are, that is more of a coaching decision/player earning the spot, not a Holland move.
In the end, it wasn’t the best year for him. While there were a couple of moves that he made to help the team, such as signing Mike Green, and resigning Gustav Nyquist, a majority of the moves he made put a negative impact on the team.
He didn’t put the Wings in a Jim Benning esque position, where the team is completely screwed, but he didn’t do much to improve it either. Like I said at the start, a GM’s goal is to win the Cup, whether it be short term or long term. Holland did neither. They clearly didn’t win this year, so there goes the short term, and none of his moves really have me convinced that this is going to be a contender moving forward.
This shows the massive impact that this offseason will have on the Red Wings, and maybe even Ken Holland’s job. If he does a good job of improving the franchise’s present or future, I’m much more convinced that he hasn’t lost his touch as a GM, but until then, he has become a “what have you done for me lately” GM, where it seems that his goal is to just make the playoffs, and keep the streak alive. The second the magic is over, Holland will truly be under the microscope, and might not be looked at as highly regarded as he has been for a majority of his career.