Before we get into this, let’s clarify that questioning whether or not Ken Holland is still the right person for the job of general manager of the Detroit Red Wings is not an activity one engages in lightly.
Indeed, for the better part of two decades, Holland has been considered one of, if not the best, general managers in hockey. Since taking the reins in 1998, Holland has presided over three Stanley Cup championships—more than any other team during that same stretch. Holland has been and will forever be one of the most important people in the history of the Red Wings.
That said, Holland’s ability to properly manage this team moving forward is now a legitimate question.
Forget about missing out on Matt Niskanen, Brian Boyle and Christian Ehrhoff this summer; that alone isn’t going to paint a GM as ineffective. If that was the case then one would have to accuse 27 other general managers as being some shade of incompetent.
Still, as Holland expressed to Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press on July 1, missing out on those defenders was not from lack of trying. “We made pitches to a number of defensemen. For a variety of reasons, they opted to go elsewhere. I don’t know why they’re not coming here.”
The worrisome part of Holland’s statement isn’t that he made pitches to players who chose to go elsewhere, but that he professes not to know why they didn’t choose Detroit.
Perhaps it is far too demanding to expect a team’s general manager to engage in some due diligence both before and after free agency to figure out what went right or—in Holland’s case—what went wrong. However, as such knowledge is an invaluable part of performing the kind of gigantically important duties of a general manager—like signing free agents—it is unsettling to hear Holland flaunt his ignorance so easily.
Be it the Red Wings’ fall from perennial Stanley Cup contention, the uncertain future of head coach Mike Babcock or the perceived quality of life in Detroit, something convinced these players to decline an offer to become Red Wings. Whether or not Holland could have even done anything about this is almost irrelevant, but that he admits to not knowing is at least lazy, if not negligent.
If Detroit is to improve its track record in signing free agents, knowing what obstacles must be overcome or what aspects to highlight is surely going to be one of the ways it does so.
Then again, Holland wasn’t entirely quiet this summer.
Any number of media outlets can be referenced if one wants to delve into the re-signings of Kyle Quincey and Dan Cleary. George Malik at Kukla's Korner recently posted a passionate and well-reasoned open letter to Ken Holland that sums up the fan frustration quite nicely.
Again, the fact that these re-signings are universally disappointing to Detroit’s fanbase isn’t the real concern here. It’s the fact that Holland really doesn’t seem to care that this represents a real red flag.
As Art Regner at Fox Sports Detroit reported shortly after the Dan Cleary signing, Holland was certainly aware of what the fan reaction would be but didn’t take that into account. "Who do I listen to on Cleary, the fans or the guys in the room, my players and my coach?”
Now to be fair, personnel decisions are not and should not be made by a team’s fanbase. However, in his comments, Holland reveals a level of apathy towards Detroit Red Wings fans—you know, those people who buy tickets, merchandise, satellite TV sports packages and the like—that has not been palatable during his 16-year tenure.
Ignoring one’s fans is one thing; letting them know you’re ignoring them is something else again.
Holland’s actions and words this summer seem to reveal a level of apathy that puts his competence in question.
In his inability to sign the free agents Detroit targeted, he figuratively threw his hands up. In his altogether infuriating re-signing of Cleary, he waves off the fans’ righteous indignation.
All this seemingly points to a person who has effectively given up trying to do his job to the best of his ability or—perhaps more concerning—so confident in his position that he feels his performance is no longer relevant to keeping it.
On that note, it is worth mentioning that Holland’s contract expires this season. However, it seems inconceivable that owners Mike and Marian Ilitch would do anything but re-sign the man to whom they’ve entrusted their hockey team for nearly two decades.
True, Holland’s history as general manager is littered with far more success than failure. Still, it is the Red Wings' future that must be the fervent focus of the man running the team. Based on his present attitude, Holland may no longer be the man for that particular job.