Lightning strikes success in first year under Yzerman
Next week, regardless of what happens next, Steve Yzerman will have a celebration. Wednesday makes it official, the one-year anniversary of when everything changed.
It's the anniversary of the day the Tampa Bay Lightning came back to life.
No matter if the Lightning is down 2-1 to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. However far the team gets in these playoffs, it is miles ahead of where it was a year ago.
A year ago Wednesday, Yzerman, the former Red Wings captain, was named general manager of the Lightning. He has resuscitated the franchise and instilled a calming and winning aura that seems to follow him everywhere.
At the time he was telling everyone this: "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."
The Lightning had reached the top of the hockey world in 2004, beating Calgary 4-3 in a riveting Stanley Cup final. But over the next six years, the team managed just two playoff appearances and didn't get past the first round either time. A new owner cleaned house, and as part of his makeover, hired Yzerman as GM.
No one thought success would come this soon.
Yzerman immediately began making changes that would propel the team toward a 46-25-11 record, 23 points better than last season's finish. He put faith in first-year coach Guy Boucher, outbidding the Columbus Blue Jackets to ensure that he would come to Tampa Bay and lead the rebuilding effort.
"I know a lot of people who've worked with Guy, and everyone I talked to said he was absolutely ready to coach in the NHL. It was unequivocal," Yzerman told reporters. "The most important thing Guy has is people skills. He's genuine and sincere. He's an honest guy."
Boucher has been the right leader, and Yzerman has added pieces the coach needed. To complement Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, who were already with the Lightning, Yzerman added forwards Dominic Moore, Sean Bergenheim, defenseman Eric Brewer and goalie Dwayne Roloson.
St. Louis and Lecavalier lead all players with 16 points this post-season, and Roloson has a 2.35 goals-against average -- not bad for a 41-year-old who was acquired midseason.
"My plan has been very general. I don't think it's a real secret what I've done," Yzerman said. "I wanted to bring in the best possible people at all positions . . . I wanted to surround myself with the brightest, most enthusiastic people who love what they're doing."
That's what Yzerman learned to do in his 27 years with the Detroit Red Wings. As a player and captain for two decades, Yzerman led his team to three Stanley Cup championships (1997, 1998, 2002). He was known for his quiet leadership, a calming, steady passion that drove the franchise from the time he was a 21-year-old captain of the squad in 1986.
As vice president of operations for the Wings, Yzerman added another Stanley Cup to his resume in 2008. That same year, he was executive director of Team Canada, taking that squad to a gold medal in the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
And that's when it became clear that Yzerman just might have the magic, winning touch.
He found it a difficult decision to leave Detroit for the first time in his NHL career.
"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 a year ago. "That's my home and where my children were born. So this is a major decision.''
Today, the Red Wings are out of the playoffs, toppled by San Jose in the Western Conference semifinals. And the Lightning is still in, still competing for a Stanley Cup, and with a bright future, no matter what happens next.
"He's meant a lot," Lecavalier told reporters. "He's bringing that culture that he built in Detroit as a captain. Everything has structure. Everything is done the right way. That's why we've had success."