Local Hot Stove Leaguers keep asking me when Ken Holland and friends are going to buy the Vernon Vipers.
Well, last time I talked to the 30-year Detroit Red Wing employee, he was pretty happy working as a general manager in the NHL.
He’s rich and connected so would qualify to buy a B.C. Hockey League franchise. The top-five clubs are worth about a million in these tough times, and their owners can all afford to lose some money if their teams miss the playoffs the odd year.
Holland just turned 58 but has some quality miles left. He’s still got a quench for hockey knowledge, touching base with former Wing GM Jimmy Devellano every 10 days. Jimmy D turns 70 in January and currently serves as the Wings’ senior vice-president and alternate governor.
“He’s an important sounding board for me,” said Holland, who notes Devellano spends winters in Florida and takes in Red Wings-Lightning games in Tampa Bay.
As for his future in hockey, the Vernon-born and-raised Holland said: “I’ve got three years to go on a contract. I love it. I work with great people, I work for great owners (Mike and Marian Ilitch). It’s been fun. I think, that in 2005, when Steve Yzerman retired and we went from a $70-plus million dollar payroll to a cap of 39, there were people expecting we were going to fall. We were able to stay competitive from ‘05 to a couple of years ago and then Nick Lidstrom left. It’s been fun working with our staff trying to rebuild it.”
Holland sees ex-Wing coach Scotty Bowman still giving advice to the Blackhawks at age 80, and believes that could be him down the road.
“I’m gonna get through this contract. I’ll always wanna work. I’m never gonna fully retire. Scotty and Jimmy D are still involved to a degree. I still see myself for the next few years having the energy to continue doing what I’m doing. I work in an incredible hockey market. It’s an original-six team, there’s a passion for the team. And it’s a cap world and I love the challenge to try and figure out how to keep our team relevant.”
Detroit recently became the largest municipality in the history of the nation to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy. The city is $18 billion in debt and long-term liabilities during the so-called American Hunger Games economy.
Sen. Rand Paul vowed Friday to push a proposal to create “economic freedom zones” in Detroit that would slash taxes and regulatory red tape in an attempt to revive the city’s economy.
Holland said the suburbs of Detroit are doing OK and he believes the city will rebound.
“The people of Detroit and Michigan are strong. They’re blue-collar. They fight, they dig deep. It’s a great place to live. It’s become home for Cindi and I and our (four) kids and hopefully the actual city of Detroit gets it sorted out.”
Holland says the Wings have increased season ticket sales the last three, four years. They ranked third in the league, as of Friday, drawing 20,066 fans a game. Holland said fans were excited about the team’s move into the Eastern Conference, meaning more road games being televised in prime time and more home games versus Boston, Toronto and Montreal.
“We were at a high of 17,500 eight, nine years ago when we had the Hall of Famers and the economy was in good shape. Our ticket base eroded, but now we seem to be adding 500 to 750 season tickets every year.
“Even though the City of Detroit is going through tough times, there’s a lot of passion for our team. I think there’s a lot of good things going on. The big three (car companies) are doing well. That’s a big part of the industry in Detroit and Michigan. There’s been a manager brought in to oversee what’s going on in Detroit and hopefully they can turn things around.”
A former Vernon Viking and Medicine Hat Tiger goaltender who got in four NHL games with Hartford and Detroit after being drafted by the Leafs, Holland is again associate director for Canada’s Olympic men’s hockey team. He downplays his role with the defending gold-medalists.
“We’re eventually gonna help put our input in the final selection of the overall roster. When we were in Vancouver and the game was over, we put input to the coaching staff and Steve Yzerman for some little adjustments, but obviously, when you’ve got Ken Hitchcock and Mike Babcock and Lindy Ruff and Claude Julien, you’ve got guys who have won Stanley Cups and done a lot of winning in international hockey.
“It’s a fun staff to work for and it’s a tremendous honour to represent the country and work for the players, and Bob Nicholson and the Hockey Canada staff run a tremendous operation. Vancouver (2010) was an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, being a B.C. boy, to be in Vancouver and to be part of a gold-medal winning team. I’m looking forward to Sochi which will be a different challenge. Anytime you get to represent your country in a world championship or Olympics, I’m pretty lucky, and it’s pretty special.”