Oilers’ Holland Deserves Credit for Kostin & Skinner Deals

When Edmonton Oilers general manager (GM) Ken Holland’s career is over, he’ll be regarded as one of the best GMs in the history of the NHL. He’s already in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builder category, with impressive achievements that include winning four Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings.

Yet, over Holland’s career as a GM, he’s made some puzzling moves, such as signing former Red Wing Justin Abdelkader to a seven-year $29 million deal after a career-high 44-point season. His point totals decreased each season after signing the deal, and he was out of the NHL by year five of his contract.

The most notable deal Holland made with the Oilers that’s currently being criticized is the signing of Darnell Nurse to an eight-year $74 million contract, which makes him one of the highest-paid defencemen in the NHL. It remains to be seen if the blueliner can live up to it, but the signing is under much scrutiny as of late due to his notable errors that have led to goals against.

Ken Holland Edmonton Oilers
Ken Holland, Edmonton Oilers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, with as much criticism Holland receives for his questionable moves, he should get credit for the good ones he’s made as of late. Firstly, the trade to acquire Klim Kostin from the St. Louis Blues in exchange for Dmitri Samorukov back on Oct. 9 is showing early returns for the Oilers. The big Russian winger has brought a physical presence to the bottom six, chipped in with some scoring, and has the makings to be the next fan favourite in Edmonton.

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Secondly, Holland did a superb job in signing his de facto starting goaltender, Stuart Skinner to a new three-year $7.8 million contract extension for a team-friendly $2.6 million cap hit. Should he continue his progression, this deal will be an absolute bargain by year three. That said, both of the moves Holland has made over the last couple of months have the potential to have a huge positive impact on the team moving forward.

Holland Is Winning the Trade for Kostin So Far

Holland added much-needed size and truculence to his bottom six when he acquired the 6-foot-3 and 215-pound Kostin from the Blues. The hulking winger from Penza, Russia was recalled to the Oilers on Nov. 9 when Evander Kane went down with a wrist injury. Kostin had two goals and two assists on the season before the game against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 21; however, he was elevated to play on a skill line with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Dallas and recorded two assists. He often wins board battles and makes smart and deft plays for a big man, but his most noteworthy attribute is that he likes to hit with conviction, often delivering board-rattling checks.

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Head coach Jay Woodcroft spoke of the addition of Kostin, saying, “He represents a different dimension than what we have here in Edmonton. He’s a huge man that plays a fairly simple, straightforward game. He’s at his best when he’s going north and gets physical” (from “Oilers Klim Kostin Much Happier in Edmonton Than He Was With the Blues,” The Athletic, 12/16/22).

Kostin’s best game as an Oiler came on Dec. 7 when the Arizona Coyotes were in town, and he recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick. He assisted on a goal by Derek Ryan, scored off a laser wrist shot that beat goaltender Connor Ingram cleanly, and ironically got into a fight with former fan favourite, Zack Kassian, on a night where the Coyotes forward was presented with a video tribute of his seven seasons played in an Oiler uniform. Kostin talked about his dustup with Kassian, postgame, saying “I’m not looking for a fight, I just want to play hockey, but if fights come, I’m not going away.”

Speaking of fan favourites, Kostin is on his way to becoming one in Edmonton with his physical brand of hockey, and also by the way he’s been stealing the show with local reporters. In interviews, he’s given honest, yet amusing answers, saying to media members, “I just saw the fans don’t like your questions, guys. So, you need to think about it.” Additionally, the Oilers’ social media has shown pictures of him hugging his teammates at practice, showing the soft side of the physical Russian who isn’t afraid of fisticuffs.

So far, Holland is winning the Kostin for Samorukov trade, as the latter is currently playing with the Blues’ minor league team, the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League (AHL). The Oilers are battling injuries, but when they get healthy and their top-nine players like Ryan McLeod and Kane return to the lineup, I have a feeling Holland will keep the physical winger with the big club for the rest of the season. 

Holland Signed Skinner to a Team-Friendly Extension

Where would the Oilers be if it wasn’t for the stellar play of Skinner this season? The former third-round pick from the 2017 NHL Draft has been sensational playing for his hometown team. He went into the 2022-23 campaign as the backup goaltender, but so far, has stolen the starting role from Jack Campbell.

Prior to the game on Dec. 21, Skinner had a 2.83 goals-against average (GAA) and a .915 save percentage (SV%). Holland deserves credit for signing the goaltender to a three-year extension with a team-friendly $2.6 million cap hit in December, instead of waiting until the season was over when Skinner’s camp likely would’ve demanded more money. Holland spoke of the signing saying, “He’s just continued to get better and better.” He added, “I have watched him develop from being a prospect into an NHL goaltender. The reality was, we were going sign him, so obviously we’re very happy with a three-year deal with the deal averaging $2.6 million.” 

If Campbell’s play continues to falter, the Oilers’ GM will take the brunt of the criticism for the signing, but the Skinner deal at a $2.6 million cap hit has the potential to be a home run for Holland, and as The Hockey Writers’ Rob Couch mentions, a combined cap hit of $7.6 million for the Oilers’ goalie tandem is a perfectly fine number in today’s NHL.

Stuart Skinner Edmonton Oilers
Stuart Skinner, Edmonton Oilers (Photo by Lawrence Scott/Getty Images)

Nonetheless, the Skinner signing is a ‘feel good’ story — from playing minor hockey with Edmonton’s South Side Athletic Club, Major Junior in Alberta with the Western Hockey League’s (WHL) Lethbridge Hurricanes (and a brief stint with the Swift Current Broncos), to being drafted and developed by the Oilers’ organization, and now signing a $7.8 million deal with the team he grew up cheering for, he’s truly living out his childhood dream.

Related: Oilers Are Getting Amazing Value From Stuart Skinner’s Extension

Holland has been on a roll with the moves he’s made over the last couple of months. Yet, the Oilers — who were viewed as Stanley Cup contenders heading into the season — are currently battling for a wild card spot, and I’d imagine the Oilers’ GM has had some serious conversations around the league to line up a much bigger deal in the near future.