The Red Wings recently announced that general manager Ken Holland is expected to return next season, with or without a contract. Now, the question that is making it’s way through many circles of fans regards whether or not Holland is the man that would make them comfortable at the reigns of a complete rebuild.
Holland is currently the longest-tenured general manager in the National Hockey League, sharing that honor with David Poile of the Nashville Predators, having been in the position since July 18, 1997. Under his control, the team has won the Stanley Cup three different times.
The Red Wings have already been eliminated from contention for a spot in the playoffs this season, which marks the second consecutive season that an NHL postseason saw the team finish on the outside looking in. This is not something that either the Red Wings or Holland are accustomed to, but something that both may need to be prepared to hear for the next couple of years (at least).
Over the past few years, Holland has secured players that the Red Wings are quite familiar with to long term contracts. Some of those players include Justin Abdelkader (seven years, $29.75 million, four years remaining), Darren Helm (five years, $19.25 million, three years remaining), Jonathan Ericsson (six years, $25.5 million, two years remaining), Henrik Zetterberg (12 years, $73 million, three years remaining), Johan Franzen (11 years, $43 million, two years remaining), and Danny Dekeyser (six years, $30 million, four years remaining). The team also attempted to make a splash in free agency before the beginning of last season, signing Frans Nielsen to a six year, $31.5 million contract.
Altogether, the team’s salary cap situation for next season shows that they are responsible for the contracts of 17 players, for a total of just north of $56 million. Those figures do not include the contracts of Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi, Martin Frk, Anthony Mantha, or Jared Coreau, all of whom are restricted free agents at the end of the current season and all seem to figure into the team’s future. With the NHL salary cap currently set at $75 million (and likely to increase at least a bit for next season), one might figure that the team can afford to give all of their restricted free agents a bit of a raise (although Larkin and Mantha figure to get more than just a small raise), but likely not much else. This means that if the Red Wings are going to be able to actually begin this rebuild, they are going to have to find numerous dance partners for trade this summer.
Holland has not pulled the trigger on many trades for the purpose of acquiring draft picks until the last couple years. But, since the 2016 draft, he has consummated a total of 10 trades that brought draft picks back to Detroit. Among players that were shipped out for future draft considerations have been Tomas Tatar, Petr Mrazek, Riley Sheahan, Steve Ott, Thomas Vanek, Brendan Smith, Tomas Jurco, and the contract of the retired Pavel Datsyuk. As a result of the trades of those eight trades, Holland was able to fetch a total of 14 draft picks (only five of which have already been used).
Given the fact that the majority of the players who have lofty term remaining on their current contracts have under-performed on their pacts, it’s hard to imagine that Holland will find much trade interest from other teams without agreeing to cover some of the money owed. But, he has at least been able to garner a fair amount of picks over the past couple of seasons in exchange for NHL contracts.
While he may be a bit too eager to dole out big money, long term contracts, Holland has also shown a propendency to be able to get at least some future return for other contracts. One fact remains, however: he has never been in a position requiring him to lead a team through a full-on, top-to-bottom rebuild.
The announcement of his likely return tells us that the organization seems to have found at least a fair amount of confidence in his ability to do so, but his track record of not being able to aptly navigate through a salary cap restricted NHL has been noted, as seen above. Although the organization seems to be ready to enter these uncharted waters with Holland at the reigns, it remains to be seen if it will be a fruitful move.