Congratulations need to go out to the Detroit Red Wings General Manager Ken Holland. Last nights thumping of the St. Louis Blues hit a couple of milestones. It was his 1,000th game as the Wings GM and also his 600th victory. Wow! That’s a career record any GM would be proud to hang his hat on if he quit right now. But he’s only 55 and already owns 4 Stanley Cups. He certainly has a chance to really get into some rarefied air if he decides to stick around long enough because he can do virtually no wrong with the moves he makes. Here is a recent summary of his accomplishments via the Detroit News.
General manager Ken Holland keeps Red Wings at the top
Gregg Krupa / The Detroit News
The first time the Red Wings were supposed to fade was after the consecutive Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998. In an era marked by the turmoil of free agency, no NHL teams repeat anymore, experts asserted.
When the Wings hung around and then won another Cup in 2002, there were new predictions of decline. And, once again, they made the playoffs every year before winning another Stanley Cup in 2008 and playing in another Finals in 2009.
Last season, when a host of talent was lost via free agency and the salary cap came into play, the Wings grappled with more injuries than medics in a war zone. The demise was supposedly at hand — again.
Now, after 19 consecutive years in the playoffs, they could be poised at a precipice, right?
At the start of the 2010-11 season, the perennial contenders again rank among the best in the league. And much of the credit is due a general manager acknowledged as perhaps the best in the game, Ken Holland.
Holland’s career as a goaltender got him just four games in the NHL. But his career as a general manager may well get him into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In fact, if Holland were to retire tomorrow, his performance would rival many general managers already enshrined — including many who worked in a far less complicated league of six teams, no free agency and no salary cap.
“It always starts at the top,” said Brian Rafalski, the veteran defenseman who has played on habitually-winning teams in Detroit and New Jersey, where an inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame last year, general manager Lou Lamoriello, presides. “And, you know, obviously, you have peaks and valleys. But the franchise here has been able to keep it going.”
The formula, by and large, according to Holland, is: find good players, keep them signed and creatively fill in with effective role players, youthful prospects (Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader) and veterans near retirement (Mike Modano, Dallas Drake).
“I think if you look at what’s gone on here since I became manager in ’97, we want change,” said Holland, 55, beginning his 28th year with the team, 14th as general manager. “But we want change to be slow. No. 1, you feel you have a good team going into the year. And then, we like our kids to spend as much time in the American league (AHL) to learn how to be pros, so when they get in NHL they are prepared to be in the best men’s league in the world. And, finally, I really think stability is one of the recipes for success. I don’t know if you can have six or seven people coming and going every two or there years.
“The criticisms of our organization have probably been, we are not big enough and tough enough and, at times, we’ve been too old. But I’ll put our record up against anybody.”
Sometimes, though, like before last season, the job is harshly challenging.
In the wake of the crushing disappointment of losing to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Finals, Holland was trying to sign Marian Hossa before tying up either Jiri Hudler or Mikael Samuelsson.
Hossa decided to go to Chicago. Then, Hudler bolted to play for extraordinary money in Russia. And, before Holland could intercede, Samuelsson signed with Vancouver.
With the Red Wings deciding to play Jimmy Howard instead of re-signing Ty Conklin, who won 25 games in 2008-09, the franchise suddenly was without four considerable pieces of talent.
“We made a long-term offer to Hossa at a low cap number,” Holland recalled. “We tried to overwhelm him with the entire package. As it turned out, Chicago offered him $10 million or $15 million more for the entire term. So we really couldn’t get in the game.
“Then, on Sammy and Hudler, we wanted to keep Hudler’s 25 years, over Sammy’s 30-plus years. But Sammy signed with Vancouver three days before Hudler decided to go to Russia, for money that was awfully good for a young guy. On Conklin: Ty did a great job for us. But it was a matter of seeing what Howard could do, at 25, and rather than hanging on to a 33-year-old, we had to give Jimmy the shot sometime.”
Howard worked out.
The rookie netminder often was the best player on the ice as the Red Wings withstood a storm of injuries.
Hossa worked out, too; but for Chicago. Samuelsson worked out for Vancouver.
Holland said it “never occurred to me” to pursue substantial changes in the roster last season despite the turbulence. Thinking tactically, in advance, Holland knew injured players would return, that Hudler might be back and that, going into the season, he would have a chance to fill the roster with some low-cost free agents and still remain under the cap.
A year later, Holland is proven correct — again.
The Red Wings are back among the best with the addition of two potentially key spare parts, Modano and Ruslan Salei, who come with salary-cap-friendly contracts.
“Mike’s in that situation we try, like Dallas Drake or Slava Fetisov or Freddy Olaussen,” Holland said of late-career arrivals that play roles and put their names on the Stanley Cup with the Red Wings. “If we have a role for you, we don’t care what the birth certificate says. It’s, ‘Can you play?’
“And I’ve been around Rusty Salei; did a little bit of talking. He wanted to go to a winner, and he liked the potential of our team. Between the coach — he and Mike (Babcock) were together in Anaheim — and that potential, he wanted to be here.”
Like a keen billiards player visualizing two shots ahead, Holland says he is intimately familiar with issues dealing with the salary cap two seasons into the future.
As he works his way to the start of 2010-11, he is mindful of contract terms on his roster, prospects in the system and free agents, through 2011-12 and 2012-13.
“I believe, if you make decision and it doesn’t work out the way they want, but you’re in a good cap situation for two years, it buys us one year to sort our way out of it,” he said.
For example, when he heard Hudler had signed a two-year contract that allowed him to leave the Kontinental Hockey League after one, Holland figured Hudler’s departure might well amount to a one-season sabbatical.
Holland says the cap also means more emphasis on signing drafted prospects and less on pulling stars out of the proverbial hat, as he often did — with the Ilitches’ fond approval — at the trade deadline.
“We have certain things we believe that help us to be competitive,” Holland said. “I don’t believe you can change philosophy every year and be successful. But, over time, we’ve been true to our philosophical beliefs, our owner has provided the resources and we’ve kept our core, older players. And our older players are mentoring the younger players.
“I think we’ve put a product on the ice I’d like to believe most Red Wings fans have liked.”
Ranked by the number of championships and their winning percentage during regular seasons, the top five general managers in the four major sports in Detroit history:
Jack Adams, Red Wings: 1927-63, 7 Stanley Cups, 54.9 winning percentage
Ken Holland, Red Wings: 1997-present, 4 Stanley Cups, 66.2
Nick Kerbawy, Lions: 1951-57, 3 NFL titles, 67.0
Jack McCloskey, Pistons: 1979-92, 2 NBA titles, 54.4
Joe Dumars, Pistons: 2000-present, 1 NBA title, 58.8
Note: Coach Buddy Parker was responsible for most of the personnel moves during Kerbawy’s tenure.
There are 12 men in the Hockey Hall of Fame who were general managers. Five have more Stanley Cups than Ken Holland (four):
Frank Selke, Canadiens: 1945-63, nine Cups
Sam Pollock, Canadiens: 1963-76, nine Cups
Jack Adams, Red Wings: 1927-63, seven Cups
Conn Smythe, Maple Leafs: 1927-57, seven Cups
Glenn Sather, Oilers: 1979-2000, five Cups
Ken Holland, Red Wings: 1996-present, four Cups
Craig Patrick, Penguins: 1989-2006, two Cups
Lou Lamoriello, Devils: 1986-present, two Cups
Cliff Fletcher, Flames: 1972-1991, one Cup
Note: Holland is not a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Source: Hockey Hall of Fame