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!