Ken Holland is probably heading for the Hall of Fame. As General Manager he’s won 3 Stanley Cups (plus 1 Cup as an assistant GM) and helped put together a streak of 25 consecutive playoff appearances. He became the Red Wings GM in 1997 and inherited a team that had just won the Stanley Cup, a team he had helped build as an assistant. He may have inherited Lidstrom and Yzerman, but he drafted Datsyuk and Zetterberg. Whatever impact he had on the first 2 Cups of the Lidstrom dynasty, he sure had his fingerprints all over the next 2.
The Red Wings long playoff streak finally came to an end in 2017, and now the team finds itself in a dark hole. Holland's contract will expire at the end of this season and it's still uncertain if he will sign a new deal. Feelings in Detroit are mixed. Fans owe him a debt of gratitude for the team's accomplishments under his tenure, but the current roster is a dumpster fire. Datsyuk is gone, and Zetterberg won't be far behind.
At this point I should mention that I've been a Red Wings fan since the 80s. By 2012 Ken Holland had reached legendary status as a General Manager, and I rarely questioned his decisions. I was pretty sure the man could walk on water if he tried. The moment when I first raised my eyebrow was when he traded a 1st round pick for Kyle Quincey, which came weeks before Nick Lidstrom's retirement. Losing a Hall of Famer near the top of his game is always a devastating blow, and it's hard to replace them in free agency. I'm sure Holland pitched all the big names who became available.
Where he needed to replace Lidstrom, Rafalski, and Stuart was through the draft...and that's been a problem. In the 4 drafts prior to Lidstrom's retirement, the Wings drafted 10 defensemen, Max Nicastro, Adam Almquist, Nick Jensen, Gleason Fournier, Ben Marshall, Richard Nedomlel, Mattias Backman, Alexey Marchenko, Ryan Sproul, and Xavier Ouellet. None of those guys are a legit top four defenseman, and 2 of them currently make up the Wings bottom pairing. In the 4 drafts after Lidstrom's retirement, the Wings only drafted 6 defensemen, and it looks like they'll all be strikeouts.
Over 8 drafts surrounding Lidstrom's retirement, they drafted 16 defensemen and have 2 bottom pair D to show for it. That makes some sense. Between 2007 (Brendan Smith) to 2016 (Dennis Cholowski), they did not draft any defensemen in the 1st round. 14 of 16 were drafted after the 2nd round. It's remarkably difficult to land top-4 D after the 2nd round. If you're going to rely almost exclusively on rounds 3+ to pick defensemen for 8 consecutive drafts, you're at serious risk of ending up in their current predicament.
Holland has not done well drafting defensemen. He has tended to use his top picks on forwards, hitting a home run on Dylan Larkin, and to a lesser extent, Anthony Mantha. Evgeny Svechnikov is struggling to score in the AHL this season with 5 PTS in 25 GP. Michael Rasmussen did not even get invited to Canada's World Junior camp. Holland's batting average in the draft has been getting worse.
Now I'd like to grade all his significant trade and free agency decisions. Because when you look at the sum of what he's done post-Lidstrom, it's valid to question if he's an effective re-builder. He made a Hall of Fame career putting the right pieces around Nick Lidstrom, and ever since he lost his horse in 2012, it's been a downward spiral. He did a good job of adding picks at last year's trade deadline when it became apparent the playoff streak was ending.
He gets an F on drafting defensemen; a grade that re-appears a few times analyzing his individual transactions since Lidstrom's retirement.
*Feb 2012 Traded a 1st round pick for Kyle Quincey. That pick could have been Olli Maata, Mike Matheson, or Brady Skjei. If you want to argue Quincey was necessary to extend the playoff streak, then maybe it's a C-, certainly in terms of rebuilding, it was an F. Grade: D-
*Mar 2014 traded Calle Jarnkrok and a 2nd round pick for David Legwand. Legwand did little to help the team. Maybe he helped them make the playoffs and this a D+, but he had no PTS in the playoffs and those were two good assets. Grade: F
*Mar 2015 traded a 3rd round pick for Marek Zidlicky. Zidlicky was out of the league a year later. Grade: D-
*Mar 2015 traded a 2nd round pick and Mattias Janmark for Erik Cole and a 3rd round pick. Cole's NHL career was over 11 games later. Grade: F
*Jun 2016 traded Jakob Chychrun and Pavel Datsyuk's dead contract to Phoenix for Dennis Cholowski. We'll have to wait to see how good Cholowski becomes. Chychrun went directly to the NHL. Grade: D+
*Feb 2017 traded Brendan Smith for 2nd and 3rd round picks. Grade: A
*Feb 2017 traded Tomas Jurco for a 3rd round pick. Grade: B+
*Mar 2017 traded Thomas Vanek for a 3rd round pick. Grade: B+
*Jul 2012 signed Jordin Tootoo to a 3 year $5.7M contract that was eventually bought out. Grade: F-
*Nov 2013 re-signed Jonathon Ericsson to a 6 year $25.5M contract that expires when he's 36. This may have helped extend the playoff streak, but the contract reached awful status by 2016. Grade: D-
*Apr 2013 re-signed Jimmy Howard to a 6 year $31.8M contract. Grade: F+
*Jun 2013 re-signed Jakub Kindl to a 4 year $9.6M contract. Grade: F-
*Jul 2013 signed Stephen Weiss to a 5 year $24.5M contract that was bought out after 2 years. Grade: F-
*Jul 2015 re-signed Gustav Nyquist to a 4 year $19M contract. Grade: B-
*Jul 2015 signed Mike Green to a 3 year $18M contract. I might have to come back and change this grade after the trade deadline, but currently...Grade: D-
*Nov 2015 re-signed Justin Abdelkader to a 7 year $29.8M contract. He turned 30 years old in year one. This contract will get worse, the offensive production has already slowed. Grade F
*Jul 2016 re-signed Danny DeKeyser to a 6 year $30M contract. Grade: D
*Jul 2016 re-signed Darren Helm to a 5 year $19.2M contract. Grade: D
*Jul 2016 signed Frans Nielsen to a 6 year $31.5M contract that expires when he's 38. Grade: F
*Jul 2016 re-signed Tomas Tatar to a 4 year $21.2M contract. Grade: D
*Jul 2017 signed Trevor Dailey to a 3 year $9.5M contract. Grade: D-
There is an argument to be made that all his bad transactions were more about making it to the playoffs every year instead of re-building, and now the sum of these short-term decisions has created a long-term problem. If ownership was telling him to win at all costs you could argue he's blameless for the current predicament. The fact that Detroit is no longer an appealing destination for free agents has probably compounded the problem and forced him to overpay. That being said, I'm sure Mr Ilitch never told him to do a terrible job drafting defensemen, and draft picks don't get to choose what city they play in.
Thank you for your service Ken Holland. It's been a great ride and you've got your seat reserved in the Hall of Fame. It's time for new blood. Unfortunately, the perfect guy for the job is already employed down in Tampa. There's no guarantee the next GM will do a better job. Being a General Manager in the NHL is incredibly difficult. Looking at the last 5 years and where we currently find ourselves, it’s time to move on.