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EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — The Edmonton Oilers hired longtime Detroit Red Wings executive Ken Holland as their new general manager and president of hockey operations Tuesday.
Holland takes over the struggling team from interim GM Keith Gretzky and one of his first tasks will be finding a new coach. Veteran Ken Hitchcock will not be back next season after taking over in November for the fired Todd McLellan.
"Right now times are tough. The team's made the playoffs once in 13 years," Holland said at a news conference, flanked by Oilers CEO Bob Nicholson and team owner Daryl Katz. "Daryl and Bob have made a decision to bring me in. I've got to come in and I've got to change the culture."
Edmonton has made the playoffs just once since advancing to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006, and the Oilers hope Holland is the GM who can finally build a contender around superstars Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
"There's lots of great pieces in place here," Holland said. "I'd like to think we're talking playoffs in '19-20 when you look at some of the young players on this team."
Behind McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, there is not a lot of firepower and the defense is thin. Goaltender Mikko Koskinen, who signed a three-year extension at $4.5 million per year in January, struggled after Cam Talbot was traded in February. The Oilers, like the Red Wings, are bumping up against the salary cap and are saddled with anchor contracts like that belonging to underperforming winger Milan Lucic.
"There's a great core. You have to build around that core," Holland said. "I don't have a magic wand. It's a move at a time, it's a piece at a time."
Holland led the Detroit Red Wings to 25 straight playoff appearances and four Stanley Cup titles. But after years of success, the Red Wings have missed the playoffs the last three seasons and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs the three seasons before that.
The Red Wings promoted Holland to senior vice president in April after hiring Steve Yzerman as general manager. Holland said a trip to the under-18 world hockey championship last month with Yzerman and the Red Wings staff made him realize he still had the appetite for a hands-on position.
"I realized that I had the passion, the energy, the enthusiasm (and) the desire to continue to be a general manager in the National Hockey League," he said.
The Oilers fired general manager Peter Chiarelli in January as the team struggled to stay in the Western Conference playoff race despite having a team led by McDavid, arguably the best player in the world.
Chiarelli was in his fourth season with the club, leading the team to a single playoff appearance in 2016-17. The Oilers advanced to the second round before losing to Anaheim in seven games.
The Oilers hope the combination of Holland and a new head coach, which will be the team's eighth since 2009, will give the team the stability it expected to get with Chiarelli and McLellan running the show.
"We have not delivered in the promise we made to our fans in recent years," Katz said. "You know it, I know it, we all know it."
Katz said Holland has full autonomy on hockey decisions: "He knows how to build a culture of winning."
"And while accountability for this falls on everyone in our organization it starts and it stops with me," the owner said. "We're listening to our fans. We get it and we're doing everything we can to get it right."
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