Detroit Red Wings: Why Holland is still the best GM in hockey


Despite the drama that ensued over former bench coach Mike Babcock’s departure to Toronto, Babcock did provide accolades to his boss of 10 years that few can argue.

"“They had real good scouts, they have the best general manager in hockey, a great owner [Mike Ilitch] who let the GM run a real good program, and they kept good people and they kept building,” Babcock told the Maple Leafs website. “When they made mistakes they didn’t dwell on it, they just went ahead and kept building. They hired good people and let them do their jobs.“Everyone talks about [Nicklas] Lidstrom and [Steve] Yzerman and [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg, but the superstar there is Ken Holland.”"

Wheeling and Dealing

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From 1998-2005, Ken Holland could make the Red Wings better through trades and free agency. While development was still important to him, it was hardly a priority. With an owner who wrote checks without thinking, and a roster bursting with talent, Holland was able to keep the Red Wings at the top of the NHL in the pre-Cap era with gutsy trades and free agent pickups. While it’s been covered

before on Octopus Thrower

, Holland’s free agent signings were masterful during the 2001 off-season, netting Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille. His trades? Snagging Dominik Hasek. In 1999, Holland dealt for Chris Chelios, giving up picks, prospects and Anders Eriksson to the Blackhawks. In 2004, he picked up then leading scorer Robert Lang for prospects and picks. One of those picks, Mike Green, is now a Red Wing.

But the days of open checkbooks changed in 2005.

Changing his ways

Holland assessed the landscape of the new NHL, one with spending limitations and greener pastures. While still a dominant force, the Red Wings were no longer the paradise they were because 29 other teams could offer the same money with competitive balance. Holland pivoted from his tried and true strategy of trading and signing, and instead, went to his scouting acumen to keep the Red Wings on their high perch.

Since 2005, Holland and the Red Wings scouting department have drafted buckets of talent that have kept the teams afloat. Names like Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Justin Abdelkader, Petr Mrazek, and Teemu Pulkkinen are a few that keep the Wings competitive. More impressive, every name listed came in a round later than the first, a skill the Wings have honed. Talked about constantly by NHL experts, the Red Wings haven’t drafted high because of top finishes in the standings. Despite this, the talent pipe line continues to flow with future starts because of Holland’s due diligence. Stocking the team with home grown talent keeps the Red Wings at the top of lists in terms of drafting, development, and success.

Not without his faults

Of course, Holland has been criticized. Since 2009, the Red Wings have not been able to get out of the second round of the playoffs. There have been questionable free agent signings since 2009, and of course, there’s the ongoing hand shake deal with one Dan Cleary (though this humble blogger is quick to point out that Babcock strong-armed that one). Even some of Holland’s trades have caused head scratching, such as the “panic” move to get David Legwand for then hot Wings prospect Calle Jarnkrok. Some would argue he had to make a move in order to make the playoffs. Others would say he lost a solid young center for a player in Legwand who never really factored in.

But much of this may be splitting hairs. In a league set up to encourage parity, Holland has held his own in keeping a team “rebuilding on the fly” competitive and in the playoffs.

Truly a Front Office Superstar

Few would disagree that Holland is still the best in the business. While Boston missed the playoffs after making the Final two times in three years, and the Blackhawks benefit from two generational players because of high draft picks, Holland has kept success in Hockeytown flowing. More impressive, Holland has guaranteed a bright future because of a fertile farm system that continues to produce top tier talent–in spite of never selecting in the top 10. Since the advent of Cap Era hockey and predictions of the Wings demise, Holland’s moves–both good and questionable– have still guaranteed postseason appearances in all ten years of the Cap Era. The Red Wings are the only organization that can stake that claim.

Success and Ken Holland go hand in hand. Three Stanley Cups in his 17 years on the job is a testament to that. They’ll always be something to criticize, but it’s fair to say that without Holland’s steady leadership, the Red Wings successes aren’t nearly as great.

Next: The Top 5 Right Wings in Detroit's History

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