Ken Holland Improved the Oilers at the 2023 Trade Deadline

There was a lot of pressure on Oilers general manager Ken Holland to improve his team by the trade deadline, and some think he did just that. But did he do enough by adding defenseman Mattias Ekholm from the Nashville Predators and forward Nick Bjugstad from the Arizona Coyotes?

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That’s the big question in Oil Country as the team focuses on improving their chances of making it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2023. I think Holland did a pretty good job overall, he managed to hang on to younger prospects such as Philip Broberg, Dylan Holloway and Evan Bouchard while improving the Oilers on the defensive side of their roster.

No Pain. No Gain.

Holland had to make some tough choices including parting with fan favourite Jesse Puljujärvi when he traded the “Bison King” to the Carolina Hurricanes for 22-year-old third-round prospect Patrik Puistola, the leading scorer for his Finnish League team. The key to this deal was freeing up cap space for the Oilers, and Holland did a good job of getting Carolina to retain Puljujärvi’s full salary, giving him the cap space to go after Ekholm. The deal for Ekholm on Feb. 28 however came at a steep price as the Oilers shipped defenseman and power play specialist Tyson Barrie, prospect Reid Schaefer, a first-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2024 NHL Draft to the Predators. They also received a sixth-round pick in 2024 back from Nashville.

Mattias Ekholm Edmonton Oilers
Mattias Ekholm, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Holland finished his deadline deals on Thursday, March 2 by acquiring Bjugstad and defenseman Cam Dineen from the Coyotes for Bakersfield Condors defenseman Michael Kesselring and a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
Kesselring was drawing positive reviews for his work down in Bakersfield this season, and time will tell whether this was a good move for the Oilers or not.

How Did Holland Fare Against Other GMs at the Deadline?

The clear winners of the 2023 NHL Trade Deadline to me were the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. Bruins’ GM Don Sweeney picked up Dmitry Orlov and Garnet Hathaway from the Washington Capitals then snagged Tyler Bertuzzi from the Detroit Red Wings just before the deadline to improve an already strong roster. Meanwhile, Rangers GM Chris Drury added more offense by adding future Hall of Famer Patrick Kane from the Chicago Blackhawks and earlier in the month picked up St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko. Finally, Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas went all in by adding Ryan O’Reilly, Luke Schenn, Jake McCabe, Erik Gustavsson, Sam Lafferty and Noel Acciari. He had no choice as the Eastern Conference arms race heated up in a hurry as GMs worked the phones to keep up with each other.

Kyle Dubas Toronto Maple Leafs
Kyle Dubas, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Holland deserves credit for keeping the Oilers competitive in the Western Conference and specifically the Pacific Division. Los Angeles Kings GM Rob Blake improved his team by trading two-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Jonathon Quick to the Columbus Blue Jackets for goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and defenceman Vladislav Gavrikov.
The Blue Jackets turned around and traded Quick to the Vegas Golden Knights for goalie Michael Hutchinson and a seventh-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft. Both Vegas and Los Angeles improved their goaltending, especially the Kings as Korpisalo has played well, especially against Edmonton this season, and he could be a big factor should the Oilers and Kings meet again in the playoffs this spring.

It Might be Time to Give Holland More Credit for Improving the Oilers

If you look at Holland’s overall work with the Oilers, you can’t deny that he’s improved the team every year he’s been in Edmonton. Some fans and critics say he’s the highest-paid GM in the NHL and should be doing what he’s being paid to do. That’s correct to a point. During his time with the Oilers, the team has added Zach Hyman, Evander Kane, Kilm Kostin, Ekholm and Brett Kulak just to name a few. The jury is still out on whether signing free-agent goaltender Jack Campbell was wise, only time will tell on that deal but it’s not looking great at the moment.

Related: Deadline Moves Oilers Didn’t Make Will Lead to Offseason Swings

When you take a closer look at the Oilers’ win/loss record and Holland’s body of work during his tenure in Oil Country, he’s definitely made the team more competitive. Will they make it over the hump this year and get to the Stanley Cup Final? Never say never, especially when you have a team led by two highly motivated superstars named Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

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