The Detroit Red Wings and Ken Holland put an end to any speculation that this would be the general manager’s final season with the organization, as Holland signed a four-year contract extension Thursday that runs through 2017-18, per the team's official Twitter account:
The 58-year-old Holland has held the position since the 1997-98 season and has been with the organization since joining as a scout in 1985. The Red Wings have reached the playoffs in 23 consecutive seasons, the past 16 under Holland’s guidance.
“Ken is regarded as one of the premier executives in the National Hockey League and has been instrumental in the success of the Red Wings over the last two decades,” Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch said.
“Marian and I are extremely pleased that he will continue to lead our hockey club over the next four years. We feel strongly that stability is key to the success of any organization and having this new agreement in place with Ken is important to the organization and its future.”
With the Red Wings slipping in recent years—relatively speaking to their own success—from a perennial Stanley Cup contender to an aging club that was scraping into the playoffs only to be bounced right quick, the team could have decided to part ways with Holland after the season.
That would have been the wrong move; Holland and his staff may not be the blueprint for success they once were, but they are still among the class of the NHL when it comes to drafting and roster building.
There’s no denying that the Red Wings struck late-round gold twice as an organization, snagging Pavel Datsuyk with the 171st pick in 1998 and Henrik Zetterberg with the 210th pick in 1999. Adding those cornerstones to the foundation of Nicklas Lidstrom, the 53rd pick in 1989 draft, set up the Red Wings for one of the NHL’s most dominant runs.
Time, as it tends to do, has worn down that trio. Lidstrom retired in 2012, Datsyuk is 36 and has been limited to 45, 70 and 56 games in his past three 82-game seasons due to injury and the 33-year-old Zetterberg showed his first signs of aging last season, as a back injury limited him to 45 games.
The 34-year-old Johan Franzen is in decline, playing just 54 games last season, and the clock is ticking on 33-year-old defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who remains a steady force on the back end.
The cupboard is bare in terms of star players waiting in the wings to take the place of those players, but that doesn’t mean a once-creaky team isn’t flush with budding young talent that can help carry the Red Wings into a new era.
Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Danny DeKeyser aren’t cornerstone pieces, but they are excellent young prospects who are emerging as a quality support system for the team’s top-end talent. Considering how late the Red Wings have had to draft during this 23-year run of playoff trips, it’s surprising they’ve been able to replenish the roster with useful talent but not surprising the talent isn’t elite, as it’s hard to find those players beyond the top 15 draft picks.
That’s where Holland has struggled in recent years, finding it impossible to land big-name free agents to supplement his playoff-ready roster.
Then again, is it really a tragedy that Holland isn’t signing the likes of Brad Richards or Mike Ribeiro, two players who had their contracts bought out this summer? Or David Clarkson, whose contract is draped around the neck of Leafs general manager Dave Nonis and dragging him under?
When you factor in the hard truth that Detroit as a city and as an organization isn't the free-agent destination it was during the golden years of Holland's tenure, it can be both good and bad. Sure, the Wings missed out on Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, but they also missed out on a lot of players who didn't live up to expectations.
If you wanted Holland to walk after this season, who is replacing him? Jim Nill, who was just as instrumental as anyone in the Red Wings' success when he served as their director of amateur scouting, is running the Dallas Stars now.
Should the Red Wings have recycled an unemployed general manager? Should they have hired an assistant with another team who doesn’t have the same experience or success as Holland? Is there an in-house successor ready to take over in a year?
Was giving Ken Holland a four-year extension the right move?
A case can be made that Dean Lombardi of the Los Angeles Kings and Stan Bowman of the Chicago Blackhawks are the top managers in the NHL, as their teams have won four of the past five Stanley Cups. A big reason for those championships is the years of futility and high draft picks that came along with that—Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brent Seabrook, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown were all top-15 picks.
Those are the spoils of the Blackhawks missing the playoffs in nine of 10 seasons from 1998 to 2008 and the Kings failing to qualify for six season from 2003 to 2009.
Holland has picked inside the top 20 twice as Red Wings general manager, choosing Jakub Kindl with the 19th pick in 2005 and Dylan Larkin with the 15th selection this year.
The Red Wings were a championship team because of Holland and have remained competitive in the aftermath of those Cups because of Holland. If he can land one or two difference-makers at the trade deadline or next summer, the Red Wings could become a dangerous team once again.
Dave Lozo covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @DaveLozo.