Former Red Wings GM Ken Holland can’t help but root for his former assistant GM in Detroit, one Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill, during the Stanley Cup Final. Holland spoke with the Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones regarding his admiration for his former colleague…
“Jim and I played junior hockey together for a year in Medicine Hat,” said the one-time Tigers goaltender. “I was an overage player and Jim was a 17-year-old. In 1994, when I became the assistant general manager of the Red Wings, I played a part in bringing him over to Detroit to work in amateur scouting. When I took over as general manager, I made him chief scout. I eventually made him the assistant general manager.”
They won Stanley Cups together in 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008. Both Holland and Nill were in high demand and Detroit owner Mike Ilitch didn’t want to lose his talented tandem.
“What happened was in about 2002 and 2003 Mr. Ilitch came to both of us. He gave me a four of five-year deal and I signed up Jim as the highest paid assistant general manager in the league and in return he agreed to give us the right to deny permission for teams to talk to him. Over the course of the following years I probably had 10 teams that called to interview him for their general managers job and I denied permission. Eventually Jim and I decided that he had paid his dues to the Detroit Red Wings when it came to that agreement and if the right deal came along that we’d give him permission to go.
“Jim Lites, who was Mike Ilitch’s son-in-law, worked with Nill in Detroit and was the president at the time in Dallas. Nill decided he wanted to go and look at the great job he’s done. Last year the Stars went to lose Game 7 of the Western Conference final to St. Louis and then the Blues went on to win the Stanley Cup. And now he’s in the Stanley Cup final tied 1-1. To do that in back-to-back years is hard to do. They drafted well. He made some free-agent signings. He put people in place there. He became one of the top general managers in the league.”
But Holland tells Jones that he would be rooting for Tampa Bay if Steve Yzerman was still their general manager, and Holland discusses Yzerman’s decision to leave the Bolts for the Wings–as well as his own decision to step aside for Yzerman’s sake:
“Steve’s family had never moved to Tampa. He’d bought a place down there, but his family never wanted to move there,” said Holland. “He has two girls and they were in school. They had roots. They’d been in Detroit since 1983. Whenever the Lightning had a home stand, his wife Lisa would join him in Tampa. He made it work for a decade.
“He eventually made a decision for family reasons to step down. I knew he’d been offered an extension in Tampa Bay, but decided to step down. Having known Steve for a long time and having sat in those general managers meetings, I went to our ownership and eventually the decision was made that I would step aside in Detroit.”