July 07, 2010
All Eyes On Yzerman
One of the most interesting teams to watch this post season is the Tampa Bay Lightning. They have been interesting in the past, but only because they were ridiculously dysfunctional. But now stability appears to have arrived thanks to a new owner, Jeff Vinick, and a new general manager, hockey legend Steve Yzerman.
It is with a great curiosity that we watch Yzerman embark on his new career. He was mentored by some of the best in the business in Detroit - Ken Holland, Jimmy Devellano, Jim Nill and others - and expectations were only heightened with his fantastic showing with Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics.
Yzerman talks a lot about establishing stability and a Red Wing style family-setting for the franchise. That will take a few years to pioneer, and Yzerman knows he will need patience and vision to make this main goal happen.
But on the ice he seems almost in a hurry to turn things around. This is partially because he knows he has some nice pieces in place already. Vincent Lecavalier needs to regain his form, but a year and a half ago he was arguably the best player in the league. Young Steven Stamkos already co-led the entire NHL in goal scoring last season. Martin St. Louis shows no signs of slowing down and remains the heartbeat of the team, but he isn't getting any younger. And they still have high hopes for young Victor Hedman on the blue line.
Yzerman's hurry may also indicate new owner Jeff Vinik's mandate, too. He wants this mess cleaned up and a once promising sun-belt hockey market restored as quickly as possible.
Yzerman has taken risks many first time general managers would not dare to take. He immediately acquired Guy Boucher as head coach. Boucher has no NHL experience, although his track record has him as the hottest new coaching prospect in years. Will his 3-1-1 forecheck work in the NHL?
Yzerman also took a big risk at the draft, selecting injured Brett Connolly with the 6th overall selection. I've seen Connolly play and I can personally attest that he is a special player. But his future is uncertain with his bad hip. Most other first time managers would have taken a safer pick.
On the free agency front Yzerman's key addition so far has been goaltender Dan Ellis. He probably could have had Chris Mason - a proven starter although more of a tier-2 type goalie - for less money. Ellis has higher potential. He and Mike Smith will undoubtedly push each other.
Yzerman has also added defenseman Pavel Kubina, bring back the big Czech after a four year hiatus. Yzerman clearly wants to bolster the Bolts' weak back end. Kubina and Brett Clark will help, but more work needs to be done. He has cap room, and although the Bolts are operating under a "loose budget."
Five weeks into the job Steve Yzerman has shown that he is not afraid of taking risks and that he is in a hurry to turn things around in Tampa Bay. This should only reinvigorate Vinny Lecavalier and the rest of the Lightning players and undoubtedly bring back the fans.