Tue May 25 10:42am EDT
Steve Yzerman was the executive director of Team Canada's gold medalist in the 2010 Winter Olympics. He's been an executive vice president with the Detroit Red Wings since 2006, winning a Stanley Cup in a suit and learning from respected team architects like Ken Holland and Scotty Bowman.
In his down time, he's Stevie flippin' Y.
Which is to say he had his pick of NHL jobs that would have him leave the Hockeytown nest and run his own shop; hell, there were probably teams that would have jettisoned their current general managers for the opportunity to hire Yzerman if it wasn't such bad form.
It will be formally announced Tuesday afternoon that Yzerman has picked the Tampa Bay Lightning, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun and other sources. The Bolts sought him; Yzerman saw enough opportunity (or briefcases stuffed with dead presidents) to agree.
It's reasonable to say that Yzerman was the most coveted team executive in hockey, and for good reason. His hiring as general manager is as much a public relations coup as it is a potentially outstanding hockey decision. The Lightning have played under a circus tent for the last two years, thanks to Koules and Barrie and Melrose and Lawton and the general chaos that's infected nearly every facet of the franchise.
Yzerman is as stoic as the Lightning have been chaotic. He's as respected as the Lightning have been disrespected, to the point where one Canadian columnist predicted Yzerman would never take the job with such a "bottom feeder." He's a champion and a winner for a franchise that's not known the feeling since 2004.
He's Stevie flippin' Y. And now he's Tampa's hockey Zeus, Lightning in hand.
From the Detroit News, Red Wings senior vice president Jim Devellano described the decision from Yzerman as "mixed emotions":
Steve Yzerman informed Devellano late Monday night that he was leaving to run the hockey operations in Tampa Bay.
"This did not take us by surprise because for years Stevie has said one day he would like to be a general manager in the NHL," Devellano said. "It was something he wanted to do, but it had to be the right opportunity for him and his family."
From a hockey perspective, his place in the Red Wings' braintrust was anything but some ceremonial, give-the-famous-guy-a-gig, Brett Hull-style internship. He didn't have a defined job with the Wings, but he was everything from a quasi-assistant coach to a voice in the room on the business front. Better still, he's learned the ropes in a post-lockout NHL, so he's well-schooled in salary cap pitfalls and pratfalls (especially coming from "oh look, a ceiling!" Detroit).
But again: "learning the ropes." This isn't Ken Holland heading down to the land of rum and Hooters; it's a hockey executive that's never run his own team and certainly hasn't run one without the safety net of experienced hockey minds in both Detroit and with Hockey Canada.
He'll be a costly hire for new owner Jeff Vinik; the question is how much of that price tag is for the instant air freshener that "Steve Yzerman, Lightning GM" brings to the soiled franchise and how much is for his managerial acumen?
The Lightning are, in some ways, in better shape than other potential Yzerman destinations. Victor Hedman(notes) to anchor the blue line, for example. Steven Stamkos(notes), with Steve Yzerman as a mentor? Yes please.
The team is $21 million under the cap entering the offseason. That's the good news. That bad news is that they only have 13 players under contract and they earn a combined $40 million. (You can address those thank you notes to a Mr. Brian Lawton, Stevie.) That figure drops by over $7 million if Vincent Lecavalier(notes) can be convinced to leave; wonder where Yzerman goes there?
The other mystery: How many peers will Yzerman take with him to Tampa? He's not going to go it alone; he's spoken many times in the past about being engaged in conversations and debates with others in a front office as his decision-making process.
Yzerman's been fiercely loyal to the Illitch family in Detroit; are Red Wings execs and coaches and players off limits? (Paul MacLean and Brad McCrimmon, Detroit assistant coaches, sure do seem ready for the next step.)
Maybe Yzerman turns the Lightning into Red Wings South, which wouldn't be a bad thing; Red Wings West just made it to the Western Conference finals, while Red Wings Prime made the Stanley Cup Finals in the previous two seasons, winning once.
Yzerman's effectiveness as GM will be revealed in the next several seasons; his value as a promotional tool and cleansing influence on the franchise is already evident on Bolts blogs like Raw Charge. It's a great day for a franchise that's needed one.