For Ken Holland, it’s all about winning and it’s what he continually preaches to his players and coaches. Every move he contemplates, every moment he spends working, is directed toward the goal of winning hockey games and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup.
It’s also almost certainly what kept Holland from telling Hockey Canada where it could stick its Olympic team when others of his stature and accomplishments would have done exactly that.
Steve Yzerman was a terrific choice to run Canada’s Olympic team. He has been there as a player, is on the fast track to NHL management and is an intelligent, level-headed future executive. But he simply was not the best choice. That would have been Holland.
Anyone who knows anything about this game would have to admit this job should belong to Holland – not to Wayne Gretzky, not to Steve Yzerman, not to Bob Gainey or Kevin Lowe or anybody else.
It’s simple, really. When your objective is to put together the team that has the best chance of winning the gold medal, logic would dictate that you go out and offer the job of doing it to the most qualified and best candidate available. That candidate was Ken Holland and Hockey Canada blew it by not offering the job to him.
It’s even simpler when you consider Yzerman is Holland’s protégé and now Holland is expected to answer to the man he is teaching to become an NHL executive.
But because Holland is good enough to put his ego aside – and trust me, not everybody would have done what Holland has been willing to do for this team – Hockey Canada gets the best of both worlds. In Yzerman, it gets a former playing star who gives the post some name recognition and with Holland as one of Yzerman’s assistants, Hockey Canada gets the best evaluator of talent and team builder on the planet.
But what Hockey Canada also gets is a free pass from criticism. Just as was the case in 2006 when Gretzky made several egregious errors – remember he took Todd Bertuzzi and left Sidney Crosby off the team? – nobody is going to be too harsh with Yzerman should the 2010 team fail to meet expectations.
Yzerman is a good guy, a former hero as a player and a Canadian icon. If he fails to put together a winning team in what will almost certainly be the last Olympics with NHL players, who is going to come out and rip him? Not many people did it with Gretzky and Hockey Canada loved the job he did so much he was offered the job again this time around. He turned it down, but will be with the team as a consultant, maybe even as the head coach. (Again, if you’re looking for the best and most experienced person available, there are at least a half dozen guys who deserve the coaching job before Gretzky.)
Actually, it speaks volumes of Holland’s character that he is willing to answer to Yzerman, who has learned almost everything he knows about team management from Holland. There is no doubt Holland is being a good soldier here, knowing deep down that he should be the man who makes the final decisions. If it’s eating at him, he’s doing a very good job of covering it up.
But that’s Holland, who quietly goes about his business. Right now, business is good. He is by far the best GM in the game and is so far the only hockey executive to build a Stanley Cup winner during the big-spending era and the salary cap era. He is a consensus builder and listens to everyone around him, but has the inner confidence to make the final call on personnel moves, most of which have worked out brilliantly.
Apologists will say Holland is too busy as the Detroit Red Wings’ GM to fully devote himself to the Olympic team. And that would be a bunch of unadulterated hooey. First of all, can anyone guarantee Yzerman won’t be a GM by the time the 2010 Games come around? Besides, Sam Pollock and Glen Sather were both GMs for Canada Cup teams and things seemed to work out for them just fine.
The fact is, Holland will be watching NHL talent with a keen eye for the next 18 months anyway and putting together an all-star roster for a two-week tournament is not going to significantly tax him.
To its credit, if Hockey Canada wasn’t going to give the job to Holland, it did come up with the next best solution. Holland and Yzerman have been together since 1983 when Yzerman began his Hall of Fame career with the Red Wings and Holland joined the organization as a minor league goaltender. Holland has four Stanley Cup rings (one as an assistant GM in ’97) due largely to Yzerman and he has an enormous amount of respect for Yzerman.
As it is, Yzerman should be thrilled all he has to do is walk down the hall into Holland’s office for advice and help in putting together this team. Among other reasons, that is why Yzerman will make such a good GM for this team. But if three Stanley Cups and a perennial contender over the past decade doesn’t give Holland enough credibility with Hockey Canada, that’s a shame.
Not that Holland will complain about it. He’ll continue to go about his work and do a valiant job for Canada. He’ll receive a hearty pat on the back if Canada wins the gold medal under what will be an enormous weight of expectation. That will be good enough for him because, more than anything, Holland wants to win and will do whatever it takes to do so.
But it’s not right. This job should be his.
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