The Tampa Bay Lightning are at a franchise crossroads.
New ownership took the reigns in Tampa this past February, as Boston business tycoon Jeff Vinik bought the troubled Florida franchise.
So far, the new owner is talking the typical new GM talk.
“I’ve been an avid hockey fan my whole life, and I pledge to our fans that I will work my hardest to build the Lightning into a world class organization both on and off the ice.” Vinik told NHL.com. He added, “I have a passion for the game and will do my best to restore a winning culture at the St. Pete Times Forum that all of our fans and partners can be proud of.”
Vinik, he would lead us to believe, is in the business of winning. Rather essential in the south Florida hockey market , where there Is NO business without winning.
A few weeks ago, the new Lightning owner fired head coach Rick Tocchet, along with general manager Brian Lawton.
With that in mind,the next few months will be crucial for Vinik and the Lightning organization, and while he has stated that he will not hire a new GM untill a new CEO is in place, the GM decision is arguably the most important step in creating that winning culture the Lightning seek. Particularly in a non-traditional hockey market, such a culture is even more essential for the long-term stability of the franchise.
So who’s the right man for the job?
The reported shortlist includes Toronto Maple Leafs Assistant GM Dave Nonis, New York Rangers’ scout/consultant Doug Risebrough, and Steve Yzerman of the Detroit Red Wings.
According to sportsnet.ca, Nonis is considered the favorite, but that may depend on the level of interest from Yzerman.
With all due respect to Nonis and Risebrough, if I’m Jeff Vinik, and Yzerman is in fact interested, I look no further.
While he may not have realized it during his career,Yzerman has been groomed perfectly for such a position. In recent years, he’s studied under the wing of Detroit’s greatness. As a player, he led them to it.
The Red Wings are the NHL’s flagship franchise. They have been THE model of NHL excellence-from ownership to management to coaching to players-for the past twenty years.
Yzerman has experienced it first-hand, both on the ice, and in the front office, for more than two decades.
Nineteen consecutive playoff appearances,and four Stanley Cups(three as a player and one as VP) between 1996 and 2008.
Yet while Detroit’s playoff streak began in 1991,Yzerman entered the NHL in 1983, drafted by a celler-dwelling Detroit Red Wings team that hadn’t made the playoffs in 5 years.He didn’t win a Stanley Cup untill his thirteenth season.This just emphasizes why he is the perfect candidate.He experienced the essential failures necesary to eventually achieve success.
Yzerman’s journey,leading Detroit out of the NHL cellar early in his playing career, to captaining the winged wheel to three Stanley Cups more than a decade later, gives him the understanding of what it takes not only to win, but to BECOME a winner-an essential component for a young, rebuilding Lightning team searching for it’s identity.
During the past four years, working with current GM Ken Holland in the front office, where Hockeytown’s high standards continue to mirror his own, Steve Yzerman has learned the business of hockey well.
If the Nepean, Ontario native should succeed Brian Lawton as Tampa’s GM, perhaps his most critical decision this summer will be choosing a new head coach.
Again, his experience with the Red WIngs,and that team’s rich coaching tradition, give Yzerman a keen understanding of the qualities to look for.
Yzerman played under the legendary Scotty Bowman-arguably the greatest of all time. Bowman not only turned the Red Wings from a contender into a champion., but challenged Yzerman to change from an offensive player into a complete player, and one of the great leader’s in recent hockey history.
His experience as a player with a young rebuilding team, and later with championship teams give Yzerman the insight into which type of coach is right for both.
Also,Yzerman’s close relationship with current Red Wings bench boss Mike Babcock,both personally and prefessionally, ensure that he knows what kind of a coach it takes to win in the current NHL.
Furthermore, there’s Yzerman’s comprehension of Detroit’s outstanding draft history.
Great drafting, particularly in the late rounds, is crucial to sustaining an elite team.
Unlike most top teams that have rebuilt through high draft picks,the 2008 Detroit team which won the Stanley Cup were lead by Pavel Datsyuk, a 6th round draft pick, and Henrik Zetterberg,a 7th round selection. Power-forward Johan Franzen, netminder Chris Osgood, and Future hall-of-fame captain Niklas Lidstrom were all drafted in the third round.
Identifying talent pays dividends far beyond the draft.
The Red Wings gave Dan Cleary a walk-on tryout when no team offered him a contract. Chris Draper was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets for the grand total of one dollar. Despite being players that no one else wanted, both players became essential ingredients on Stanley Cup winning teams.
Such is the magic of this organization.
If Jeff Vanik truly wants to turn the Tampa tide, Yzerman’s understanding of the Red Wings’ growth as an organization would be a godsend.
Due to his experience in the league’s premier front office, Yzerman knows how to not only instill, but to sustain a winning culture in Tampa Bay.
No team in recent memory has exemplified winning culture more than the Detroit Red WIngs, and no individual personifies that great franchise more than Steve Yzerman.
Detroit’s loss would be Tampa Bay’s indisputable gain.
About the Author
Written by Daniel Maloney