Of course, it’s lousy luck that the Edmonton Oilers are going to have to get along without Adam Larsson for a couple of months on a blueline that doesn’t have enough proven depth to make up for the loss and the minutes he plays. Brutal.

Larsson’s busted fibula overshadowed Wednesday’s 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks and has fans and pundits wondering what comes next. Who steps in? What will the defensive pairings look like Saturday against the Los Angeles Kings? A month from now? Will the loss of Larsson sink the Oilers before they even really get started? Fair questions all.

GM Ken Holland’s immediate reaction to the injury was to assign Ethan Bear to Bakersfield of the AHL and recall Evan Bouchard from the Condors — at least on paper — while awaiting the status of Joel Persson, but it was his response today, when asked about what comes next, that caught my ear. For the old goalie, there’s a tried-and-true starting point for these types of situations.


“I’ve been a manager for 22 years,” Holland said. “When adversity hits, whether it’s external or internal, what are we going to do, what are we going to do, what are we going to do? We’re going to dig in, that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to dig in. There’s an opportunity, and if we dig in, we’ll be able to handle it to the best of our ability.

“Ultimately, if we don’t have enough, that’s when I’ve got to work the phones and see if I can find something to make us better. Every time we have a little bit of adversity, it can’t be I’ve got to hit the phone lines and I’ve got to start to work the phone lines and pull the trigger on something . . . that’s not the NHL. Teams have injuries. We could look at last year. Lots of teams had injuries that had good years.

“That’s part of the reason why we went out and we signed all those players. You know, Yurco, Archibald, Granlund, Sheahan. We felt that we had a defence here, and also the defencemen in Bakersfield that were on the verge, that we had depth. We tried to sign some professional players, so we weren’t counting on kids . . . we were going to have more pros on the roster.”

In short, there isn’t a shred of panic in Holland. He built the roster the way he saw fit within the financial constraints he had to work with, allowing that there might be injuries, like Larsson, or a player that looked ready but wasn’t. So, maybe Persson comes in and gets the job done. Maybe he leans on somebody from the AHL. That’s digging in. If that doesn’t work, he gets on the phone.


There’s a fine line between doing due diligence and getting caught up in paralysis by analysis. Steve Tambellini comes to mind. Likewise, between quickly assessing a situation and then acting on it and panicking, jumping the shark. There’s a sweet spot at both ends of the spectrum and Holland has made a career of finding it more times than not. That’s experience.

No matter what combination of players coach Dave Tippett ices against the Kings, Holland and hockey-ops will assess it. Same thing the next game and the game after that. If a variation of the mix without Larsson can work with, say, Persson here and Bear or Bouchard there, then it’ll go that way. If it doesn’t, and there is no help that makes sense in the AHL, Holland will get on the phone.

Dig in. That doesn’t mean try harder and things will be OK. In many cases, that just isn’t true. The way Holland works, and has always worked, is that dig in means look for an answer from within. If it isn’t here, or on the farm, then you make that decision as quickly as is reasonably possible and get on the phone and find the answer. Putting in calls to other GM’s with your hair on fire the second you get bad news — in this case the severity of the injury to Larsson – doesn’t work. We’ve seen that movie.

There’s a big difference between what Holland calls digging in and digging down when you’ve already put yourself in a hole. We’ve seen how that goes. This is not that.

Previously by Robin Brownlee