Does Ken Holland need to a major shake-up in his pro scouting department?

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The Edmonton Oilers moved on from their last chief pro scout, Duane Sutter, after a run of weak signings and trades, but it’s hard to argue that things have improved much with Archie Henderson as Ken Holland’s right-hand man.

There’s been some major misses with Henderson as the Director of Pro Scouting in Edmonton. The team is coming upon another crucial summer, one with money to spend on pro players from other teams.

Will Edmonton identify the right undervalued pro players to bid on? Will it splash a major contract on the right veteran free agent or two?

The Duane Sutter Era in Edmonton

Sutter had the job from July 2 2016 until May 2019. With him in this key role, Edmonton traded Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome, who failed to work out in Edmonton and was moved for Ryan Spooner, who didn’t come close to making it here.

The Oilers signed Kyle Brodziak and Jason Garrison on Sutter’s watch, meaning that just when the Oilers were desperate to get faster and more skilled, hockey ops brought in a slow, checking centre and a slow, defensive d-man, both of them just past their best before dates.


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The team also brought in Tobias Rieder and Jussi Jokinen on the wing, with neither working out.

Drake Caggiula was traded for Brandon Manning. Ouch!

The team also traded for another big slow d-man, Alex Petrovic.

It all added up to Edmonton missing the playoffs two years in a row.

The Archie Henderson Era in Detroit

Henderson was a scout for the Washington Capitals from 1995 to 2003, then was out of hockey until 2015-16, when Holland hired him as a pro scout in Detroit. Henderson was there for four seasons. In that time, the Red Wings were in a rebuild mode. Holland spent much of his time moving out veteran players for draft picks.

It’s hard to get a sense of Henderson’s value as he wasn’t Holland’s main assistant and Detroit didn’t acquire many NHL pros.

Detroit did make a few poor signing in that time, namely free agent Frans Nielsen in July 2016 to a six-year deal at $5.25 million per, and free agent Trevor Daley in July 2017 on a three-year deal at $3.2 million per. Nielsen gave the Red Wings one season at near peak play, then two OK-ish years, following by two years where he’d likely have been out of the NHL without that secure contract. Daley gave Detroit one OK season followed by two poor ones.

But, again, we can’t  squarely pin these signings on Henderson. He was just a pro scout, not the main pro scout like he is in Edmonton.

The Archie Henderson Era in Edmonton

Henderson signed on in Edmonton on July 11, 2019, so much of Edmonton’s business in the summer of 2019 had already been done. Players like Mike Smith, Joakim Nygard, Markus Granlund, Gaetan Haas and Tomas Jurco had already been signed as free agents.


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But on July 16, the Oilers signed Josh Archibald. Henderson was new to the job but if he had a hand in that, points to Henderson. Archibald has become a key checking winger on the team.

The Oilers also signed Riley Sheahan that September. He was one of many cheap bets made by Holland that year, all of them sound moves because if they didn’t work out, the opportunity cost was small. They weren’t paid enough to count against the cap if they were sent to the AHL, as Jurco and Granlund eventually were (and for all the moaning and groaning in Edmonton about the new Devin Shore contract, that deal is in exactly the same category, with a small opportunity cost).

Since that the solid Archibald signing, however, there’s been little good to recommend Edmonton’s pro scouts. In fact, there’s an argument that something is wrong in Edmonton’s process for acquiring pro players, that the team fails to properly assess the ability of incoming players.

Andreas Athanasiou was Edmonton’s biggest miss, in that it cost the franchise two second-round draft picks at the 2020 trading deadline, but he did not do enough to push the team to qualify his existing contract. Edmonton let him walk as a free agent. That move is on both Holland and Henderson, who would have known Athanasiou well from their Detroit days.

The second biggest mistake was offering a two-year deal to Kyle Turris, who had been bought out in Nashville. Turris was granted a two-year deal at $1.65 million per, which greatly upped the opportunity cost. He took up one contract on Edmonton’s 50-man list and also cap space that could have been used for some other third-line centre. This would have been fine if Turris had enough left to be a solid third-line centre for the Oilers this year, but he failed to come close to that level, and now he’s got another year on his deal.


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How could Edmonton’s pro scouts not have seen that Turris wasn’t going to work out here?

Were there no obvious warning signals? That is possible. Players with real talent can sometimes fail to take the next step (as we saw with Caleb Jones this year) and veterans with solid credentials can drop off fast as well.

As for the other pro player moves in the Henderson Era, Tyler Ennis was an OK pick-up for the Oilers but Dmitry Kulikov wasn’t the right fit. Neither cost the team much, unlike the Athanasiou and Turris moves.

Slater Koekkoek and Dominik Kahun were also solid signings, even if neither player is brought back for the 2021-22 season. They were promising pro players with low opportunity costs.

The Tyson Barrie signing was, of course, a big win for the Oilers but it’s hard to know if the Oilers chose Barrie or if Barrie chose the Oilers. He needed the perfect landing spot on a one-year deal and he found it in Edmonton.

There is also Edmonton’s rumoured interest in d-man Oliver Ekman-Larsson last September to consider. What was Henderson’s recommendation on that player? Was he was part of the camp that wanted OEL? If so, that would raise another question mark, as OEL’s game took another step back this year. But if Henderson was against moving on OEL, that would be a plus mark for him.

This isn’t a huge body of work to go on with Henderson, but it’s also not an encouraging body of work. And it’s not like NHL management teams have endless opportunities and years to get things right. They have a limited number of decisions each summer and a limited number of summers to turn around a team.


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Edmonton’s pro scouting has missed big on a few moves in the Henderson Era. It does not give me confidence heading into this summer.

Holland would be advised to think hard about the pro scouting process on the Oilers and how it ended up with a recommendation to sign Turris to two years and to trade two high picks for Athanasiou. How did those mistakes happen? How can Edmonton prevent them from happening again? Is Archie Henderson the right pro scout to lead his department?

There is reason to have doubts.

At the Cult

McCURDY: Will Koekkoek get a new deal? 

STAPLES: Dougie Hamilton rumours swirl because of course they do

McCURDY: Can Oilers upgrade on UFA Dmitry Kulikov on left side defence?

LEAVINS: 9 Things, #1 being the Nuge dilemma


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