McDavid’s return puts Ken Holland under spotlight before deadline

EDMONTON — The eyes averted from the general manager for a moment or two Thursday, when Connor McDavid executed the rare hockey “two-a-day,” skating alone at 9 a.m. and then again with the team at noon.

McDavid would not rule out playing Friday night against Minnesota — “You’ll have to ask the doctors about (a return date). We’re taking it day by day.” — and will be leaving with the team on Saturday for a three-game trip that opens Sunday in Los Angeles.

We’re betting he plays Sunday at the latest, and McDavid’s imminent return coupled with Monday’s trade deadline has veteran GM Ken Holland under the spotlight here in Edmonton — no different than in any hockey town on the map.

“The day I took the job (back in May) I told everybody at the press conference that I hoped on March 1 that we’re playing important games, competing for a playoff spot,” Holland said on Thursday. “We’re probably a little bit above that, but just a little bit. You can say we’re first place in the division, but we’re also five points from being out.

“How has it affected my thinking? I was a seller in Detroit the last three years, and I was a buyer at the deadline for many years. Would I like to do something? Yeah, you like to do something to pitch in.”

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Holland has a dressing room full of players who have come together to win games despite the fact there was $30-million worth of players out of the lineup that lost 2-1 in overtime to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday. They’re looking at their GM to give them another bullet in a Pacific Division that has never been more wide open than it is today.

In the coach’s office sits Dave Tippett, who has done a masterful job creating an all-in atmosphere where the Oilers can now beat you with their stars, or by outworking the opponents with a solid bottom six, a sturdy D-corps and excellent goaltending.

And the owner of a team that has enjoyed one playoff run in the past 13 seasons likely wouldn’t mind a playoff gate or two. All of that is running through the mind of Holland, who is also responsible for building something here that can past — which means not dealing away picks and prospects.

Especially a first-round pick.

“Certainly for a rental,” he said. “I’m not going to spend a first-round pick on a rental.”

The Franchise has missed just five games, and his team went 3-1-1, dropping points only against Tampa and Boston. Top defenceman Oscar Klefbom is on the shelf for another two to three weeks with a shoulder issue. The Oilers were in first place in the Pacific when they awoke Thursday, and have watched Vancouver add Tyler Toffoli, Vegas add Alec Martinez, Arizona add Taylor Hall earlier in the season, and the Calgary Flames free up a load of cap space when they sent Michael Frolik to Buffalo.

Does that make Holland’s trigger finger a little more itchy?

“I did that in my early years as a manager, (when) there was us, Dallas and Colorado,” he said. “Sometimes it helps, quite often it doesn’t help. Today I worry more about our team. I can’t manage against what other teams are doing. I have to factor in the prices, what am I looking for, what’s going to make us deeper and better and at what cost.”

As we wrote yesterday in our deadline preview, a left winger for McDavid is what we believe to be the biggest priority in Edmonton, though a depth centre wouldn’t hurt either.

How does Holland prioritize those needs?

“That’s fantasy hockey,” was his retort. “It depends what’s available, what’s the cost and it’s not like there’s a whole bunch of wingers and a whole bunch of offensive centreman or defensive centres. What’s the cost?

“I’m trying to weigh that in my thought process from when I was hired to a five-year deal. You have to draft and develop people. Some of the younger people have had a greater impact way quicker than I thought. So, I’m trying to decide over the next three or four days how active I’ll be.

“Yeah, I would like to pitch in because the guys in that locker room have worked extremely hard, players and coaching staff, to put us in this position. But I also have to factor in the cost and I would not trade a first-round pick for a rental.”

As for Jesse Puljujarvi, their wayward former No. 1 pick currently playing in Finland, Holland said this: “I haven’t really shopped him and nobody’s really asked.”

Stay tuned. As you can see, there are plenty of wheels in motion in Edmonton these days.