New era in HockeyTown

Vernon's Ken Holland, longtime GM of the Detroit Red Wings, talks about changes for the coming NHL season.

His annual golf tournament at Predator Ridge Resort was another blast. He’s been on a winery tour in Oliver with his wife, Cindy. Did some boating with family and friends. Took in the B.C. Hockey Hall of Fame banquet Friday night in Penticton. Attended a wedding social for scout Marty Stein’s son Daniel in town.

Ken Holland’s annual three-week summer vacation in Vernon is almost over and then it’s back to Detroit to monitor somewhat of a youth revival rebuild with the NHL Red Wings.

Only going one playoff round in HockeyTown is hardly met with positive vibes, but Holland likes the direction the Wings are heading in the post-Nicklaus Lidstrom era.

“It was a season where, at the 60-game mark, we were fighting for the Presidents’ Trophy with two or three other teams. We were having a real good season and then about the three-quarter pole, we started getting players like (Pavel) Datysuk and Lidstrom and (Johan) Franzen and (Jimmy) Howard injured, a lot of them together, and then we really limped to the finish line,” said Holland, Wings’ GM since 1997.

“We made the playoffs, we got 100 points and we thought we were healthy for Nashville, so we were optimistic. They loaded up at the trade deadline, they were a little deeper and we got beat by a very good Nashville team.”

The Wings and Sharks are the only NHL teams to make the playoffs every year since the salary cap was introduced in 2005. Detroit has made the playoffs 21 consecutive seasons and racked up 12 straight 100-point years.

Holland has proven to be of the more astute GMs in the league, and his moxy will be tested big time in the coming years.

He is high on Howard, who at 27, established himself as a good NHL net detective. He figures regulars like Val Filppula, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Jonathan Ericsson made solid strides as young players.

Since 2006, Detroit has retired Steve Yzerman, Chris Chelios, Dominik Hasek, Chris Osgood, Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby, Bryan Rafalski and Lidstrom.

“People said that we were old, but that was by design,” said Holland, 56. “We felt we had great players who happened to be old, but we thought they were still good players and they provided a lot of intangibles off the ice.

“As those players have retired, they’re hard players to replace. You don’t replace them that quick so we’re trying to evolve, we’re trying to compete with the other teams in the West. We’re trying a transition from the Yzermans and the Lidstroms and the Drapers and the Maltbys and the Osgoods with a different group of players.”

The Wings are high on free-agent signing Jordin Tootoo, who “gives a dimension of grit to our bottom-six (forwards).” They also believe Mikael Samuelsson can produce in his second tour of duty in the Motor City, and they are happy with a “one-two punch” in net after inking former Maple Leaf Jonas (The Monster) Gustafsson.

Holland says Damien Brunner, 26, a high-scoring forward from the Swiss League, has speed and skill which could see him succeed in the show. D-man Brendan Smith, a first-round pick, and American League sniper Gustav Nyquist, both 22, will be given fair shakes with the Red Wings.

Holland didn’t bother chasing Shea Weber of the Preds, thinking Nashville would have to sign the all-star franchise player after losing Ryan Suter to Minnesota.

Holland did have jerseys with the names Suter and Zach Parise stitched on them, and his offer of $88 million for Suter was higher than the Wild’s offer at one point, but that plan went south when both players chose the Wild. That Chelios had played with Gary Suter, Ryan’s uncle, did help the Wings stay in the sweepstakes.

As for the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) discussions, Holland is not allowed to publicly talk about things, but he’s positive as fans wonder if the season will start on time.

“I think everybody is cautiously optimistic. What provides optimism right now is they’re meeting on a regular basis. They’re meeting two or three times a week. There are a lot of people involved and hopefully they can find a solution that works for everybody.”