TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman is the Tampa Bay Lightning’s new general manager, taking on the task to rebuilding a franchise that’s fallen on hard times since winning its only Stanley Cup championship six years ago.
The former Detroit Red Wings captain and executive was introduced Tuesday as Brian Lawton’s replacement during a press conference at St. Pete Times Forum. Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet were fired April 12.
“This is a long-term project for me. I believe building a Stanley Cup caliber team takes time and there will be many decisions, some lengthy, that will be made over the course of time,” Yzerman said.
“There is no easy fix. I don’t sit up here with the notion that there is a magic wand I can wave and make changes and we’re a Stanley Cup contender. I plan on making the Lightning better for the upcoming season, but the long-term goal is to make this team a perennial contender.”
Since retiring in 2006, Yzerman has worked as a vice president for the Red Wings, the only team he played for during a 22-year career in which he scored 692 goals, amassed 1,755 points and was part of three Stanley Cup winners.
The 45-year-old recently led Canada to men’s Olympic hockey gold as Hockey Canada executive director at the Vancouver Games.
Tampa Bay’s new owner, Jeff Vinik, fired Lawton and Tocchet after the struggling franchise missed the playoffs for the third straight season. The Lightning went 34-36-12 this season and were 53-69-26 in just under two seasons under Tocchet.
Yzerman was not going to get a chance to be Detroit’s GM soon because two executives above him, Ken Holland and Jim Nill, are expected to sign long-term deals.
“After talking to many people throughout the league, I came to the conclusion that Steve was the person to bring a winning culture back to this team,” Vinik said.
“Steve is in charge off all hockey-related decisions,” the owner added. “He does answer to me, but I trust his judgment and his insight.”
Many felt Yzerman would be reluctant to leave the only club he had worked for, however he relished a chance to be a GM and had conceded he might have to leave Detroit to get that opportunity.
“I have mixed emotions, both good and sad,” said Red Wings senior vice president Jim Devellano, who drafted Yzerman fourth overall in 1983 and watched him lead the franchise’s turnaround on the ice.
“He’s been such an integral part of the Red Wings for 27 years, first as a player and then as a front-office person,” Devellano added. “I’m sad for us, but happy for him to get this wonderful opportunity.”
Yzerman was born in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and he became one of the best two-way players in NHL history. He was a Red Wings captain for two decades and won a fourth Stanley Cup title as part of Detroit’s front office in 2008.
Yzerman experienced the high of helping Canada win gold in 2002 and the disappointment of a fourth-place finish at the 1998 Nagano Games in two of his eight international competitions as a player.
As GM, Yzerman led Canada to gold at the 2007 world championship and silver the next year before focusing on the Olympics.
Yzerman was chosen to lead Canada’s quest for gold again after his predecessor, Wayne Gretzky, failed to help the team repeat four years ago. He made all the right moves at the Olympics, assembling a perfectly blended roster that gave the hockey-crazed country what it wanted.
In Tampa Bay, Yzerman’s inherits a team that’s made three coaching changes in two years but is not devoid of talent.
The roster includes two stars from the Stanley cup winner, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, as well as Victor Hedman and Stephen Stamkos, the top pick in the 2008 NHL draft who scored 51 goals this season to tie Sidney Crosby for the league lead.
“Stevie will work for a singular owner — similar to the setup we have in Detroit — and he’s got a handful of players to work with right away,” Devellano said. “Stamkos and Hedman are promising young players while St. Louis and Lecavalier are good veterans.”
There’s been lots of speculation of about Lecavalier’s future. The team’s highest-paid player has a no-trade clause in his contract but has said he’d like to help the club get back to the playoffs.
In addition to hiring a coach, preparing for next month’s NHL draft will be a priority in coming weeks.
Yzerman welcomes the challenge.
“It was very difficult to leave the Red Wings. I’ve been there my whole career and I was very safe there, surrounded by people I knew and looked out for me,” Yzerman said. “That’s my home and where my children were born. So this is a major decision, and one I’ve thought about for a long time.”