Ken Holland: Super Genius

When I heard that the Detroit Red Wings were going to sign Evgeni Nabokov, I thought that it would be a good move on their part to steal such a talented tender from Russia. Thinking further, I realized that the man behind the scenes, quiet as can be, was the one that had the brain power to think up a scheme like this. That's right, a scheme. There is a method to everything the man does and he does it well.

When you think about the Red Wings, you think of 19 straight playoff appearances, 4 Stanley Cups in 11 years, and the definition of consistency. While most teams in the NHL have gone through general managers as fast as the Leafs running out of draft picks, Ken Holland stands up as the best GM in the game today. He has been with the organization for 28 years, with 14 as the general manager (not to mention three more as assistant GM while there wasn't an active GM).

While he isn't known for blockbuster trades and being outspoken a. la Brian Burke, he has proven to be the best through a number of moves he has made. Perhaps the biggest steal was acquiring Chris Chelios from Chicago in 1999. Chelly went on to play until he was 47 with the Red Wings and won 2 Stanley Cups as part of stacked teams in 2002 and 2008. Holland had the likes of Brett Hull, Luc Robitaille and Marian Hossa sign in Detroit for less just for a shot at the Cup. He made the deal to get Dominik Hasek from Buffalo for Slava Kozlov. Some moves have failed, like getting Curtis Joseph in free agency and trading for Kyle Calder, but most of these moves were low cost, giving up a prospect or a draft pick for proven talent.

Not only does he have the brain power to put together a great team on the ice, but he also shows class and intelligence in the press boxes. He put together a staff including Scotty Bowman, Mike Babcock, Steve Yzerman, and Jim Nill. If a person's success after leaving Detroit says anything about what Holland can teach, look at Yzerman in Tampa Bay. He has made moves reminiscent of Holland's such as trading Andrei Meszaros for Simon Gagne, convincing Marty St. Louis to stay in Tampa, and taking a flyer on vetarens like Dwayne Roloson and Marc-Andre Bergeron. Holland has also re-defined reclaimation project as something only the Wings seem to get to work every time. Dan Cleary, Darren McCarty, Chris Osgood, Patrick Eaves and Drew Miller are examples of picking up the scraps and having other GM's wonder why they didn't do the same thing.

Although he hasn't won the NHL's Manager of the Year Award, I expect him to win it very soon. He is a salary cap wizard and hands out contracts accordingly. Signing Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen to top heavy contracts made the NHL rework its salary cap hits as an average instead of yearly and paved the way for the Ilya Kovalchuk debocle. Not only has this helped re-write the rulebook, his ideas have as well.

He is currently lobbying for a new overtime format, where after four on four there is a three on three period and then the shootout, and the third rule change that might take place in the near future might be the re-entry waivers rule. Holland signed Nabokov after he was let go of his KHL team SKA St. Petersburg due to family reasons. The Red Wings had injury issues in goal, and it just so happened that Nabokov was available to them and the other 29 NHL teams. Holland eventually signed Nabby to a one year deal worth 275K pro-rated in order to fit under the salary cap, and added a no-trade clause to attempt to stop a team from claiming him on waivers.

It was speculated that Holland had something tricky up his sleeve as no one though Nabokov would fall to the Wings. It was speculated that he cut a deal with New Jersey to claim and trade Nabokov to Detroit. Obviously this wasn't the case as the New York Islanders picked Nabokov off the waiver wire. So if it was so obvious that Nabokov was going to get claimed, why did Holland sign him? Was it a shot in the dark? Or was there something behind it all? Maybe it was a way to motivate a struggling Jimmy Howard. Maybe it was a try at a lucky shot to get another Dan Cleary experiment. Or maybe he is setting himself up for the offseason. With Chris Osgood most likely done after the season, the Wings will need another goalie. Enter Nabby.

With Nabokov not reporting to Long Island and Howard the number one, don't be surprised if Holland signs Nabokov for pennies and turns him into a winning goalie come playoffs next season, all because of a simple phone call. If that happens just add it to his long list of management genius.

Feel free to comment, it's my first article so give me some honest opinions!


Stacy Podelski's picture

Welcome aboard Kyle-funny title I thought of Wile E. Coyote when I read it-lol

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

thanks guys, prob gonna write a lot of wings/bolts stuff, but likely other stuff too.

@stacey: you talking about kenny holland or me, because I'm Kyle lol. And ironically i just watched some road runner today, that show was epic

Stacy Podelski's picture

Sorry Kyle- that was my bad-brain is sleepy. Thank you to whoever made the edit button-lol Was watching road runner what inspired the title or?

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

maybe the fact that holland in fact IS a super genius lol

Stacy Podelski's picture

that too! lol

George Prax's picture

Hey Kyle, welcome to the team and great blog!

On the whole Nabokov thing, I think there are still a lot of things we don't know about the situation, but I had to guess, it would be that he legitimately wanted to sign a goaltender and took a shot with Nabokov. Keep in mind that a free agent signing this late can't be traded so it was no way meant to be trade bait or anything. The whole thing is a little odd but I wouldn't be surprised of Nabokov was the one who approached the Wings asking for a contract in the end.

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

What I was saying is that Holland is building towards next season already. Signing Nabokov shows that they were committed to him, so I think with Osgood potentially done (his interview a few days ago tells me he's done), Nabokov could be the guy next year to fill his roll/split time with Howard. It would be a good move seeing they wore Howard out last season from all the ice time he got. Splitting with Nabokov would have been a win win for Detroit.

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

Garth Snow burned a bridge with the Red Wings for no reason. Even if Nabokov played, they would end up 10th instead of 14th. There was an article about how Nabokov questioned why the Islanders picked him up. I think the rule should be changed to give the team that signed the player some type of compensation. They did all the work and got nothing for it. All other 29 teams had a shot at him as well before the Wings did. So why didn't they call him up? Because they knew he didn't want to play for them and they claimed him anyways. Doesn't add up for me.

George Prax's picture

The problem, Mike, is that Nabokov was a free agent. He didn't abandon any team, he left as per the rules of the CBA after fulfilling the commitments he had to the San Jose Sharks, and went where he thought he could get more money.

let's say you were working on Russia, and someone in Canada offered you more money to work in your home country, would you not take that opportunity? Nothing wrong with what Nabokov did over the summer. Now, that didn't work out, that happens, and he wants to come back to the NHL. He realizes this, and clearly he had no problem at this point signing a small contract so he could play for a contender. Again, what's wrong with this?

The Red Wings went out and spent resources to get Nabokov, and Nabokov chose to go to the Wings, just like every other free agent chooses his team on July 1st. Why punish them both just because he chose in January instead of July of the prior year?

And Kyle raises a great point... if the Isles wanted him so bad, they could have signed him (or tried to anyway) long before the Wings did.

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

From the leagues point of view, the rule effectively does keep teams from getting stacked, but only if they were under contract with another team, which Nabokov was let go from in the KHL. I think the team that makes the deal should get some type of compensation, like a draft pick. Therefore the Islanders would have had to really think if they need Nabokov that badly, which clearly they don't. They're going to finish out of the playoffs again. At best, if Nabby plays he'll probably make the Isles finish 10th instead of 14th and give them a worse draft pick.

nowhere's picture

Kyle - welcome to TCL and the Wing's team of bloggers. I tend to agree Kenny knew Nabby would be claimed, and was the precursor to another move or an attempt to force a review of the existing rules as they pertain to overseas UFA's.

As much as the current rules are written to prevent stacking a team, it's equally about preventing what could be considered cap circumvention for the current season. The UFA waiver rule for overseas players has done nothing but show us that players who sign contracts under such conditions are anything but UFA's in reality. The rule needs to either be revoked or rewritten to include some form of compensation for the team which originally offered the contract to the UFA.

Ken Holland is a genius...

Kyle Andrew Busch's picture

Here's the thing: Nabokov signed in Russia as a free agent. That's his choice. His contract got terminated so he wanted to come to the next best place - back to the NHL. So it really isn't his fault. He was a true UFA and wasn't treated like one. It kind of makes you wonder how many other rules like this there are out there, they just haven't been used yet because the circumstance hasn't come up.