Has there been a former NHL superstar whose transition from on-ice leader to office leader has gone as impressively as Steve Yzerman's?
In his first year as the Lightning GM, he oversaw a run to the Eastern Conference Final. Then, after a step back, Yzerman took a step back himself, and went to work. Two years later, the team he's been building since he took over appears to be trending in the right direction. Now they're back in the playoffs, and one can understand why the Lightning decided he deserved four more years at least. On Monday, they announced an extension. From the release:
"Since the day Steve agreed to serve as our vice president and general manager, he has worked tirelessly to transform our hockey department and establish the groundwork for sustained success", said Vinik in making the announcement. "We are very pleased with Steve's job performance thus far, and I am fully confident Steve remains the right person to continue to lead us.
"Organizationally, we remain committed to playing at the highest levels each season - regularly competing for the Stanley Cup - and I am very pleased that Steve has elected to be our leader for the next several years."
It's been a busy year for the Lightning GM. In the offseason, he bought out Vincent Lecavalier, a seismic shift for the franchise that has made them better. That was a gutsy call, and definitely signalled the moment this team and this core became his.
If not, it was that other seismic shift. He also assembled the Canadian Olympic hockey team that won the country's second consecutive gold medal, and in so doing, wound up inadvertently starting a small fire at home.
Well, the player was small. The fire was pretty big, as Martin St. Louis took umbrage at Yzerman's initial Olympic snub and the relationship in Tampa Bay never recovered. At the trade deadline, the longtime Bolt was a member of the New York Rangers, with Ryan Callahan coming back the other way.
All things considered, however, I think you have to consider this a win for the Lightning on several fronts. First, St. Louis won't be playing for that much longer, and in exchange for parting with him, the Lightning added a player that will improve their core, give it an edgier identity, and, if they can extend him this summer, be a part of it for a great deal longer than St. Louis could.
On top of that, I have to think Yzerman learned a little something about his current role, and his relationship to the players. No doubt it was difficult for a guy that young in his job to see himself as all that different from someone like St. Louis, who's pretty old in his. They shared the ice not that long ago. But there's a distance you need to have as a GM between your guys and yourself, and I got the sense that Yzerman, who's still learning on the job, has been learning that lesson the hard way.
To my mind, the Lightning just extended a better GM than the one they hired four years ago.