Counterpoint: Ken Holland's end-of-season presser was refreshing, even if the mess he's helped make isn't
Holland has work to do, but he's being more honest about that than ever.
Earlier, Teandcakeordeath gave us his rundown of the Ken Holland end-of-season presser with a critical eye towards where Holland failed. I wanted to respond because I feel there's been a lot of anger directed at Holland since that presser based on some of the things he said. Our post earlier today did a really good job of taking a lot of the criticisms and laying them out well, but I wanted to address it from a different angle because I was significantly more happy with what I heard.
Why Shouldn't We Expect Cups? We're Red Wings Fans!
Perhaps the most-irritating soundbite of the entire presser came early on when Ken Holland said "if you expect cups, you're in the wrong league." As a soundbite by itself, it's frustrating and almost fatalistic. Even in its context among the next few sentences he says, it doesn't get much better, as Holland expounds on it being a parity-driven league since the cap era. Honestly though, the worst part of this early opening for me is when he calls a bunch of teams from the Wings' era of dominance "dynasties," including Dallas, New Jersey, and Colorado. I'm more annoyed by Holland accidentally discounting his own team's dynasty than by anything else said during the entire conference.
But, as you listen to the whole thing and how it plays out, Holland is laying out a real good point: it's extremely difficult to win a cup and the gap between the best and the worst in the NHL has narrowed considerably. Personally, I think Holland overstates how much parity has grown, but he's not so much telling Wings fans not to expect them to compete (which runs exactly opposite of what he says during the rest of the presser), but that even the best teams don't have the luxury of that expectation.
Teandcakeordeaths' disagreement does begin with the understanding that Kenny is right, but questions why not us?
Maybe he's a victim of his own success, but that's life as an NHL General Manager. When you've bred success for this long it becomes the standard, the minimum to be reached, instead of something to be celebrated.
I will never agree that the cup is a minimum to be reached, as it represents the absolute maximum goal attainable. I think we should get back to the realm where we expect to be a top contender for the cup, but I don't think Ken Holland was talking about simply being competitive; he was talking about an expectation to win the whole damn thing, and I don't think that's a minimum expectation for anybody. The rant continues with
Do you think Chicago or Pittsburgh are telling their fans they can't expect Cups? Los Angeles? Washington?
Well no, but I also don't remember Ken Holland saying this in the summer of 2008 either, and there's a reason for that.
A GM is Part Salesman, Part Card Player
One of the fun things about this presser is seeing when Ken Holland caught himself almost giving away more information than he should. Holland at one point talked about how it's the goal of all 30 teams to win the cup, but later got into saying that the fans should accept that the NHL is what he's said it was. He immediately followed it up by saying "other than two or three teams..." before immediately catching himself pulling back the curtain on the reality being that's about how many true contenders there are each season.
Holland did it a few other times throughout, including holding off on an admission that Tatar, Nyquist, and DeKeyser fall short of elite, dodging a clear attempt at trying to find out for certain if Howard would be traded, and trying not to put too much pressure on some of the prospects who still have extremely limited (or no) NHL time played.
The thing is that there's this hope the GM is sitting out there pouring his heart out and telling us all the entire truth of the matter. Unfortunately, that hope doesn't match with the reality. Ken Holland is always responsible for playing an angle when he's talking because he's always got three different groups of people listening, and those different groups all have different motivations. Between the fans, the players, and his fellow GMs, Holland is responsible for both putting together a team that's going to contend and for convincing the fans that they should keep showing up. You can hear it in his "we're not rebuilding" comment and you can sense it in the discussion about not selling big assets to dump Datsyuk's cap hit. Holland needs players to want to play in Detroit, he needs GMs to want to make deals, and he needs fans to buy in to the plan.
This honestly might be the biggest challenge of his career, because this is the first time since he took over as GM that the sales pitch for fans to keep showing up has had to involve more than "check out our roster."
Less May or May not be More, but It Doesn't Change the Truth
The other most-frustrating quote is Holland talking about how lowered expectations can be MORE exciting. It's a real tough sell to a fanbase that you're also selling a 2.5-decade playoff streak to and it sounds like every bit of making the best of a bad situation, but maybe that's because that's what it is. Aside from the "less is more" quote, Holland talks at length about how there aren't easy fixes and that this was the first time he could remember where the team honestly was just not good enough from start to finish.
Regardless of whether it comes across as telling you to enjoy the shit sandwich he's serving (and it is), it doesn't change the choice you have as a fan. You can either find a way to have fun watching the Red Wings or you can twist yourself up expecting them to be a team they haven't been in more than half a decade. Whichever you choose, Ken Holland's job hardly changes. What has changed is Holland's willingness to give such a harsh assessment to the team and to the job he's done.
Getting 2% Better Isn't Enough
This one was weird because there's a big disconnect between the "we need to find ways to get 2% better" like it was reported and the way Holland explained it. At face value, it sure sounds like he's talking about turning a 93-point team into a 95-point team, but the reality of what he says is that it's a stress to get marginally better in every facet of the game.
Of course, this all depends on how many facets you want to break it down into. Drawing penalties 2% better and then performing 2% better on the power play are separate considerations. Should we stop at that level or go down to getting 2% better in shot attempts? How about a huge effect involved in both shooting and stopping the puck 2% better?
Depending on how you want to define that, you're either getting two more standings points or you're getting twenty more. As fans, it's real easy to say we want the team to get not 2% better but 10%. I think Holland's phrasing there is simply intended to imply that it's an iterative process for improvement and not something that you can count on doing in leaps and bounds, at least not consistently.
However, when we tie it back to the concept that Holland is a salesman, I think he could afford to either cut this bromide out or state it a bit more aggressively than 2%. It doesn't change the reality that the team needs a lot of improvement, but it sure as shit would make me feel better as a fan to not hear the problem downplayed like that, even in a presser filled with more honesty than we're used to.
Not all Sunshine and Rainbows
I'm not ready to say Holland aced his exit exam with the press here because there were some obvious holes that can't be explained away with "well the GM's job is to lie to us." The worst case here is the decently long rant he went on excusing himself for how he gives out contracts, talking at length about how he'd love to have the benefit of 2-3 years of hindsight on contracts he signs, explaining away that there's no way to know what things are going to look like in 2019.
The problem with this, and it was absolutely nailed by Teandcakeordeath's earlier post is that if it's so impossible to tell if a guy is going to suck even three years into the future, then why is the GM still so cavalier about handing out contracts of 5, 6, or 7 seasons? I know that comes down to the idea that you may have to lose guys because not everybody is just going to accept three-year deals but the way Holland comes off so defensively despite his recent track record just rubs me the wrong way.
All in all, I'd recommend everybody give the presser a watch for themselves, as there's no way to fit an hour's worth of context into everything and there's so much to what Holland does and doesn't say in this timeframe to properly report on it all. My overall thought was that Ken Holland said a lot of the right kinds of things in terms of indicating he understands the concerns fans have with the Red Wings and the right things when it came to explaining what he was going to do about it.
This is a long way removed from the "we like our team" of years past. Ken Holland's recent track record may not give me much confidence that he'll follow through with the plan to return the Red Wings to their spot among the contenders, but being told that is the plan is the necessary first step.