Overrated, Over-The-Hill GMs Aren’t The Answer

It was all an act. A charade. Kabuki Theater brought to you by Hot-n-Ready inside the bowels of Little Caesars Arena. And like usual, the Detroit sports media fell for it hook, line and sinker.

On Friday April 19th, the Red Wings threw a sham of a press conference announcing that former captain Steve Yzerman would be returning to Detroit as General Manager while longtime executive Ken Holland would be kicked upstairs with some senior advisor position.

The narrative that owner Chris Ilitch spun was that this was all Holland’s decision. It was Holland who orchestrated #19’s return. That this transition had been discussed for months and Holland was totally fine giving up player personnel control.

And then the same people who lied to you about the supposed residential development in District Detroit added one more gigantic whopper to convince the public that Ken Holland hadn’t essentially been fired.  Ilitch stated that Holland’s contract had been extended. He no longer had one year left and would be with the Wings for the foreseeable future.

And all of the usual lemming “journalists” ate this story up for that evening’s dinner.

Noted dope Jeff Seidel of the Detroit Free Press wrote, “One person deserves credit for that (Yzerman’s return) – soon to be former GM Ken Holland.”

The entire town foolishly fellated Holland and his selflessness like this was his call. Right, and it was totally Ivana Trump’s decision for her to step aside to allow Donald Trump to start fucking Marla Maples. That’s how moronic and naive this city is.

Three days before the sham presser I stated that however the transfer of power between Yzerman and Holland went down, you could be sure that it would be done to soothe Holland’s massive ego …..

In fact, based on my reporting (and also Justin Spiro’s of  Spiro Sports errrr, I mean Spiro Avenue who had the Yzerman Detroit reunion story first last fall), the question since Yzerman announced he was stepping down as Tampa’s GM last year was never “is the captain coming back” but how was the team going to make this look like Holland wasn’t forced out.

I was even told at one point that there was a discussion that Yzerman would be a shadow GM for the entire season so the organization could just let the time run out on Holland’s contract and they could part ways amicably then. Keep in mind this is a franchise that doesn’t like firing ANYONE.

Holland was the GM of this team from 1998 to 2019 and he never ONCE fired a head coach. You might think Dave Lewis was canned but that’s not the case. His contract just expired and wasn’t renewed and Mike Babcock fell into their laps.  This farce could have continued until next spring with Yzerman pulling strings from behind the curtain. (Do you really think it wasn’t 19’s call to keep Jeff Blashill? Please.)

But at the end of the day, the “Lie Agreed Upon” for all you hoopleheads was this cock and bull story that all of these machinations were Holland’s decision.

They weren’t. Ken Holland was never going to be the type of guy to enjoy a cushy corner office at LCA without control of trades, draft picks or doling out No-Movement Clauses like they were Halloween candy. He was never going the route of his predecessor Jimmy Devellano. Especially since it doesn’t appear that Holland has any hobbies, like Jimmy D did, to fall back on, like locking underage boys in his basement to the hot water tank. I KID, PEOPLE.

I am sure they are of age!!!!

And this is now self-evident as it took Holland an entire 17 days to eschew his “contract extension” in lieu of total personnel control of the Edmonton Oilers. A team itself mired in such salary cap hell that it is shocking Holland hasn’t already been running that organization for years.

And let’s go to Alberta to check in on how the locals are handling the news that the Oilers are replacing one former Stanley Cup winning bozo (Peter Chiarelli) with another one ….

Hahhhahhaha. Ken Holland under the hot lights of an insane Canadian hockey market? Yeah, handing out 7-year, $30 million contracts to guys like Justin Abdelkader is going to go over wonderfully in that town. Holland better sign that endorsement deal with Canadian “I’m Kicking” Tire(s) before he gets on the phone with Yzerman and offers Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for Luke Glendening,  Danny DeKeyser and Helene St. James.

Which leads us to Holland’s legacy in Detroit and THANKFULLY this will be the last time I have to ever discuss this topic.

Holland was THEE most overrated human being in Detroit sports HISTORY. Former Texas Governor Ann Richards had a great saying about the first George Bush. That the former President was born on third base and thought he had hit a triple. That saying applied completely to Holland who was born at the goal crease of an empty net awaiting a pass from Yzerman or Sergei Fedorov.

Before taking over as GM in 1998 — coming off a Stanley Cup — Holland was largely responsible for North American scouting. So while the combination of Euro scouts Christer Rockström and his hand-picked successor Håkan Andersson were responsible for Fedorov, Nicklas LidstromVladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, Holland was unearthing gems like Curtis BowenJamie Pushor and Jesse Wallin. 

If the Red Wings had been reliant on Holland’s scouting prowess during the last 30 years, they would probably have the same postseason success as the Lions. (And who could forget the suggestion from 97.1’s Jamie Samuelsen in 2008 that the city’s football team hire Holland as THEIR GM. The Human Form of Vanilla Ice Cream in a cup wasn’t joking.)

When Holland first took over the Wings as GM, his first two moves were alienating Fedorov** to the point where #91 had to sign an offer sheet with the Carolina Hurricanes (and his boss’ arch nemesis Peter Karmanos) and signing known Iditarod aficionado Uwe Krupp. 

(** — Hopefully one of Yzerman’s first acts of business will be to announce that Fedorov’s 91 will be hanging in the LCA rafters soon. If anyone knows how valuable Fedorov was to those teams, it’s the guy who has long maintained 91 was better than him. A job in the front office would not hurt either.)

But even with that inauspicious beginning, Holland couldn’t unravel all of the work of Devellano, Rockström, Andersson, Bryan Murray, Scotty Bowman, Neil Smith, Nick Polano and others who were the REAL REASON this team was on auto-pilot by the time Holland took over the cockpit.

Not to say that there weren’t some positive things that Holland did in his time in Detroit. When super agent Rich Winter called Holland up in 2001 and advised him that Dominik Hašek was demanding a trade from the Buffalo Sabres and the Hall of Fame netminder had a list of desirable teams of ONE .. the Wings ….. Holland didn’t send that call directly to voicemail.

(If I was a real asshole — spoiler alert, I am — I would state that considering Hasek basically demanded to be traded to Detroit and gave the Sabres no other option, dealing the immensely underrated Kozlov to Buffalo in exchange was probably giving up too much. The lack of Kozlov’s playoff scoring didn’t hurt Detroit in 2002 obviously, but it sure did in subsequent postseasons.)

And when Winter rang Holland again seven years later and told the Wings’ GM that Marian Hossa wanted to sign in Detroit while Holland was pumping gas at a Mobil station, Kenny abandoned all caution and took that call even though there are documented cases of cell phones causing fires in that exact situation. What a hero.

Seriously though, Holland did make some quality transactions in Detroit. He traded for Chris CheliosRobert Lang, and Brad Stuart and signed Brian Rafalski as a free-agent.

But for every one of those moves you could match it with him deciding to re-sign Johan Franzen over Hossa, totally alienating Jiri Hudler multiple times, deciding to bring back Mikael Samuelsson and giving Jordin Tootoo a THREE-YEAR, $5.1 million deal AFTER just getting done playing his former team in the playoffs (the Predators) in which the Inuit pugilist was a HEALTHY SCRATCH.

And I am not going to rehash every awful Holland decision over the last ten years (that’s was this website’s archive system is for) but suffice to say that he completely squandered the remainder of Zetterberg and Datsyuk’s prime.

After losing to the Penguins in the 2009 Cup finals, the franchise went on to win a grand total of THREE playoff series. In fact, the Wings never advanced past the second round again after 2009 even though 13 and 40 were 31 and 29 years old respectively in 2010.

Holland never added an impact free-agent during this entire decade while making hilariously shortsighted moves like waiving Kyle Quincey so he could keep a 103-year-old Chelios on the roster and then giving up a FIRST ROUND pick a couple of years later for that same Quincey — which turned out to be Andrei Vasilevskiy. I am pretty sure our new GM is somewhat familiar with that goalie’s work.

Holland started this “rebuild” YEARS too late because of that dopey playoff streak that meant absolutely nothing to anyone except Holland and his Reddit fanboys.

He literally set the 2010’s trade deadline market with moves like the Quincey deal and the David Legwand/Erik Cole abominations and then couldn’t capitalize on the precedent he set when he eventually ran his franchise into the gutter later in the decade.

And while the rest of the league figured out that you needed cheap, young talent to supplement your veterans in a salary cap era, this midget forced Tomas Tatar to play 265 games in Grand Rapids while Gustav Nyquist spent 137 games in the AHL …. after THREE SEASONS at Maine.

I seriously could spend another 5,000 words dissecting all of the atrocious moves Holland made over the last ten years due to loyalty (Jimmy Howard and his ONE playoff series victory is STILL here along with Swedish Willie Huber, Jonathan Ericsson) and outright stupidity (giving Datsyuk a front-loaded contract when he had one leg out the door and in the KHL and then trading 13’s contract for a chance to sign Steve Stamkos — who never even took a meeting with Detroit — and then settled on Frans Nielsen for six years and $31 million), but I see no point now that he is gone.

But I do want to make two final points before Holland continues his clueless act in Alberta because his stooges in the Detroit media have obfuscated what really has occurred in his last few seasons in Detroit.

There is this myth that after the playoff streak ended Holland finally decided to enter a rebuild mode. But that never actually occurred. He never came out and said this, but Holland was STILL making moves in an attempt to squeak into the playoffs.

A rebuild would have entailed trading assets to other teams to wipe away toxic contracts. A rebuild would have meant fully embracing a youth movement no matter how bad the product on the ice would have been.

Look, when you are in the process of a REBUILD you don’t pass up on drafting Jakob Chyrchrun so you can sign a poor man’s Zetterberg through 2022. You don’t ink Trevor Daley to a three-year deal worth almost ten million. You don’t bring back Thomas Vanek season-after-season and you most definitely don’t give a TWO-YEAR CONTRACT to Mike Green in the summer of 2018.

How many REBUILDING TEAMS do you know in all of sports that have the highest payroll in their respective league year after year? This wasn’t a rebuild, it was the facade of one while Holland hoped to catch lightning in a bottle with a playoff berth so he could “shockingly” make the postseason just in case one day Yzerman was available and Chris Ilitch had that option to replace him.

Remember, Mike Ilitch wanted to promote Yzerman to GM when Stevie Y. left for Tampa years ago, but Holland explained to Ilitch that it wouldn’t be fair to then- Assistant GM Jim Nill if that occurred. Holland didn’t give a rat’s ass about Nill — who, by the way, NEVER become the GM in Detroit and had to leave for Dallas — this was always about Holland’s self-preservation.

But he officially ran out of time last year when it appears Yzerman’s wife was sick of 19 commuting to FLORIDA from Oakland County.

I mean, Holland was STILL trying to spin the narrative a month before his exit that the goal for next season was making the playoffs. This is what “Anything Ken Happen” said just a week before he was “fired” for Yzerman:

Let’s say the cap goes up three or four million dollars. I would anticipate we’ve got in the neighborhood of $15-20 million in cap space as we sit here today. We can explore the unrestricted free agent market. As we go to the draft, we’ll explore trades.

Of course at that bogus presser, Yzerman was having NONE OF IT. He preached patience and flat-out stated the Wings would not be big free-agent players this July. His commentary on how far this team is from competing was the only honest moment during the Holland ego-soothing affair.

And when Yzerman told the media the real truth, you could see Holland cringe and the blood exiting his face.

The Cranbrook, British Columbia native is under no delusion about the status of this “rebuild” unlike his good friend who was sitting to his right on that dais.

Yzerman knows that Michael Rasmussen was a reach when selected 9th overall and is a Canadian version of Tomas Holmstrom who can’t play a 200-foot game.

Yzerman knows that Givani Smith has been a bust (6 goals and 7 assists in 64 games in Grand Rapids this season) and instead of Holland finding the next Wayne Simmonds with that second round pick, Smith might end up playing as many NHL games as Wayne Brady.

Yzerman knows that Holland missed again when selecting Evgeny “Spider One” Svechnikov in the first round and ended up with the Don Swayze of that particular family.

Not to mention, the team got no help a few weeks ago at the NHL Draft Lottery, while Filip Zadina had an extremely disappointing first pro season after we all thought Holland had lucked into that pick last summer. (The Hockey News did a 2018 NHL Redraft article recently and Zadina slipped to eighth.)

Yzerman knows that this team needs about five defensemen and another five forwards** and probably understands that they will have to go backwards first before REALLY starting this rebuild which is why it wouldn’t surprise me if either Andreas Athanasiou or Anthony Mantha are traded at the NHL Draft.

(** — This article is almost 3,000 words WITHOUT me detailing how far away they are from contention. If you want that depressing breakdown, please read this piece from Prashanth Iyer.)

And speaking of Athanasiou, nothing illustrates Holland’s recent incompetence more than his handling of AA.

Athanasiou was drafted by the Wings at the insistence of NillHolland has mishandled AA from Day 1. The speedy forward developed into a 30-goal scorer despite Holland’s best efforts.

16 months ago I was told by someone EXTREMELY CLOSE to AA (not his BROTHER) that the kid was so despondent at the way Holland had treated him over the years that he was giving serious thought to quitting hockey and attempting to become a PROFESSIONAL GOLFER.

This was after being badmouthed in the press by management (something that never happens to any of Holland’s pet projects) and the contract dispute in 2017-18 that led to Athanasiou threatening to play in Switzerland after missing the first couple weeks of the regular season.

I can’t imagine that many people in the world are happier than me that Holland has finally left Detroit, but I can assure you that Athanasiou is one of them.

The bottom line is this organization is still extremely far away from competing for just a playoff spot due to all of the atrocious drafting and poor long-term contracts. We’re lightyears away from a Stanley Cup run.

 

But that is all water under the bridge now that Holland has left. For seven years now I have been warning Detroit sports fans about this naked emperor and whenever I wrote those pieces I stated that the Wings owed me nothing more  as a fan.

They have won four Cups in my lifetime and in a town where another franchise has won ONE playoff game in my 46 years on Earth, I am not greedy about any other forthcoming titles.

All I felt we were owed as a fanbase was competent management. A General Manager who understood a “process” was needed and that piecemeal efforts to cobble together a team with a Wild Card entry/First Round exit ceiling was the equivalent of sports purgatory. And from there, let the chips fall where they may.

The Wings now have that in place with a man who built an organization that just won 62 regular season games. Maybe one day the team that shares a home with the Wings will get their version of this as well.

But in the end, today is a day to celebrate.

And if there is someone you want to thank for this, it sure as shit isn’t Ken Holland.

Her name is Lisa Yzerman.

And I think we should send her some flowers.

The address is 2645 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201.