Archive for the ‘NHL’ Category

The day that many Detroit Red Wings fans could not have imagined arrived Tuesday. After 27 years as a player and front-office executive, Steve Yzerman no longer is part of the franchise that he, to a large degree, resurrected.

He is the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. And it will be difficult for Red Wings fans to accept this Detroit icon — the longest-serving captain in NHL history — now is working for another organization.

Many surely are sad to see him go. Others might be upset at Yzerman for leaving or angry at the club for not doing what it could to keep him.

That is nonsense. There is no reason for anguish or anger. This is an ideal situation for the Red Wings and Yzerman.

The NHL’s model franchise of the past two decades can maintain its continuity with the best management team in the league, headed by general manager Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill. And instead of stepping into a pressure-packed role as Red Wings GM, where expectations are as high as any club’s in the league, Yzerman will be able to cut his teeth in Tampa Bay, where the Lightning will be patient after signing him to a lucrative, five-year contract.

1983: Selected fourth overall in the 1983 entry draft by the Detroit Red Wings.

1984: Finishes second to Buffalo goaltender Tom Barrasso in voting for the Calder Trophy as NHL’s top rookie.

1986: At age 21, named youngest captain in Red Wings’ history.

1988: Scores 50th goal, a milestone he would attain five times in his career, and tops the 100-point mark for the first of six consecutive seasons.

1989: Wins Lester B. Pearson Award as NHL Players Association’s most valuable player as posting what would be career-high totals in goals (65) and points (155).

1996: Scores memorable goal in double-overtime in Game 7 vs. St. Louis in Western Conference semifinals.

1997: Wins first of three Stanley Cups as a player, helping franchise end 42-year championship drought.

1998: Leads Red Wings to second Stanley Cup in a row by winning Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

2000: Wins Frank J. Selke Trophy as NHL’s top defensive forward.

2002: Overcomes painful knee injury to help Red Wings win third Stanley Cup in six seasons.

2003: Wins Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.

2006: Retires after 22 seasons as a player, all in Detroit.

2006: Named Red Wings vice president.

2010: Team Canada, with Yzerman as executive director, wins gold medal at Olympics in Vancouver.

2010: Hired as general manager by the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch could have insisted Holland accept a figurehead position as team president to pave the way for Yzerman to be the GM. But that would have been a huge mistake.

There was no need for a change and no reason to put Yzerman in such a tough spot.

And there was no reason for Yzerman to wait around for a few more years — maybe more — for his opportunity. He has spent four years learning the intricacies of management as Red Wings vice president, and he showed his team-building acumen by assembling the gold-medal-winning Canadian Olympic squad in Vancouver.

He is ready to put his knowledge to work, and Tampa Bay is an ideal situation. It’s an underachieving Eastern Conference team that has high-end talent (Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman) and isn’t really competing against the Red Wings.

Yzerman, one of the biggest names in hockey, brings instant credibility to a franchise that needs to energize an apathetic fan base, which includes many Michigan transplants. It’s a coup for Tampa Bay because Yzerman would have been at or near the top of the list of candidates for most GM jobs that become available in the next couple of years.

“I understand the situation in Detroit, that they have a very successful management group, and I realized very early that if I want to run a team one day in all likelihood I’d have to leave,’’ Yzerman said. “So I kind of prepared for this. It’s time for me to seize it and go. It was a difficult decision, but it’s a chance to do something I’ve always wanted to do.’’

The Red Wings knew this day would come, but it still had to be a bit surreal watching the press conference streamed on the Internet from Tampa, seeing Yzerman sporting a Lightning lapel pin while his new employer’s logo was prominently displayed in the background.

Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch said in a prepared statement: “This is not easy. We’re having a difficult time.’’

Club senior vice president Jimmy Devellano, who drafted Yzerman in 1983, likened it to “losing a good friend.’’

Long-time teammate Kris Draper called it “a big loss.’’

Holland, a minor-league goaltender in the Detroit system when Yzerman joined the organization, like the others, said he has mixed emotions seeing him leave.

“To see what he meant to this organization, to this team, to the city, what he’s done to put hockey on the map as the leader of the hockey renaissance, it’s sad to see him leave,’’ Holland said. “On the other hand, he gave his heart and soul to this organization every day for 27 years. He’s earned the right to move on.’’

They all wished him well and there certainly are no hard feelings. He is a legend who left on excellent terms.

And, in a few years, when Holland is ready to step aside, a polished and experienced Yzerman might be ready to return.

“It’s a win-win from everybody’s standpoint,’’ Devellano said. “That’s what makes it nice.”