New Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman in his own words
As always is the case when people give news conferences, much of what they say gets lost in the confines of a relatively short newspaper story. With that in mind, here is the entire transcript of Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman's question-and answer session with reporters on Tuesday. It was about a 30-minute event, which included a 15-second ovation from Lightning employees when he was introduced:
Yzerman's opening statement: I am extremely excited to be here in Tampa Bay. Throughout my playing career and my first four year of retirement, I always had a goal to run a hockey team. I am thrilled today that Jeff has shown the confidence in me to offer me this opportunity to share his vision in building a hockey team, an organization here in Tampa Bay, one that the community, the sports fans, everyone in the Tampa Bay area will be proud of and excited to follow. As Jeff said, we had several lengthy phone calls and discussions in person and on the telephone, and my decision to accept his offer came in light of those conversations. I know we have a good understanding of the challenges that lie ahead and the goals that we have and the idea of how we want to reach those goals.
I’m leaving behind a very successful organization in the Detroit Red Wings and am very grateful for everything they did for me over my playing career and my four years in retirement. In those four years I was able to learn from one of the most successful and best management teams in hockey. This I know has prepared me for the job that lies ahead here in Tampa Bay. I intend to review every aspect of the hockey operation and make the necessary changes to assure the Lighting are efficiently professionally successful over the long run. My goal is to provide the proper environment for the coaching staff, our players, our trainers to develop our young players, our prospects, to give our current players, our veteran players, every opportunity they can to be successful.
This is a long-term project for me. I believe building a Stanley Cup caliber hockey team takes time. Changes have been made in the Lightning organization and will be made over the course of time. There is no easy fix. I don’t sit up here with the notion I can wave a magic wand, make changes and we’re a Stanley Cup contender. My intention is to improve the Tampa Bay Lightning immediately for the upcoming season, but with the long-term goal of making this a perennially strong team that can contend on an annual basis. That takes time and Jeff and I in our discussions have an understanding of what needs to be done and a general process of how that needs to be done. There’s a lot of work to be done not only to get ready for this year but to start building this organization to one that can be successful in the long term. I really look forward to the challenge of building this franchise into one that the Tampa Bay community can be proud of and a successful relationship here in Tampa Bay. Once again, I am really excited to be here, and I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
On a tough decision to leave the Wings and his first order of business with Tampa Bay:
It was very difficult to leave the Red Wings. I had been there my entire career and was very safe there. I was surrounded by good people that protected me and really looked after me. We had a lot of success, that’s my home where my children were born, so this is a major decision, one I’ve thought about for a long time. Really, early in retirement, being involved with Hockey Canada and the world championship and at the Olympics and whatnot, it reaffirmed this is a career path I want to take. I really enjoy being part of it and I look forward to it. So, over the last couple of years it’s given me thought.
I understand the situation in Detroit that they had a very successful, a very good management group there, and I realized if I want to run a team one day in all likelihood I’d have to leave, so I’ve kind of prepared for this. But the last two weeks I’ve done a lot of thinking, a lot of discussion with my wife on what do we want to do are we sure we want to do this. After speaking to Jeff I was pretty certain that this was a great opportunity for me to take, and it’s time for me to take the opportunity, to seize it and go. It was a difficult decision but I look forward to the opportunity. It’s a chance to do something I always wanted to do.
The second part of your question, the last two weeks have gone by pretty quickly and Jeff and I have discussed general vision for the organization where we head today after this announcement. I intend to leave immediately for the scouting combine where our amateur staff is and just get a chance to sit with them and get to know them a little bit and discuss the upcoming draft. I want to take this day-by-day. It’s a chance now over the next couple of days to get my act together, to see where the organization stands, to see what everyone is doing, get a feel for some things and plot a course of action from here.
On what swayed him to decide to take the Lightning job:
I don’t know if there was one specific, but it was the conversations that Jeff and I had. With each conversation we had from our initial one, I’m not sure if intrigued is the right one, but I found it more interesting and more of something, ‘Hey, I like this.’ We’d have a second conversation and more questions and more thoughts would arise, and with each conversation Jeff and I had, I thought, ‘You know, I liked his plan. This is somebody I think I’d enjoy working for.’ In my opinion, in my knowledge of being in the game, I think Jeff has a complete understanding of what needs to be done here, and I like his approach to running this team. I became convinced this is the person I want to work with.
I’ve played in the Tampa market. I’ve watched them win a Stanley Cup here. I’ve watched this building be full and I think running a good program again and a successful hockey team, this will be a very vibrant market and a place I’d enjoy working, for a boss that I will enjoy working for and we share the same philosophy. So, it wasn’t one specific moment or thing. It was just a series of conversations, and then after those conversations, sitting back and thinking about it, talking to my friends within hockey, getting there thoughts, picking their brain and making my decision, ultimately.
On his management style:
I believe in sports, and I don’t just follow hockey, I follow all the sports and successful franchises, I always have, I really believe it starts with how you treat people and treating people with respect and being honest with people and straightforward. We will have high demands. Jeff Vinik has high expectations for this organization, for me, and that will transcend though the organization. My goal is to put a driven determined coaching staff together who can give our players the proper environment to win. It is going to be one that’s responsible, treats people properly; that includes within the organization, within the community, just a hard working organization, people who live well who have character. There’s no secret recipe. We’re not going to whip out anything. It’s very methodical. Is’ going to be handling things the right way, doing it the right way, bringing in people with a passion for hockey, players with a passion for hockey, and making them accountable and holding them accountable.
On what he demands of the players:
We’re going to give our players, our coaching staff, our scouting staff, we’re going to provide them with the environment, everything necessary, what I believe is necessary, what Jeff believes is necessary, to be successful. And absolutely we’re going to push them and demand the best from them, but also they are going to be treated with respect. It is a process. With our younger players, with our veteran players, we’re going to try to change things a little bit. And I only know from what I’ve heard, from what I’ve read about the past. I have my own ideas on how a team is going to be run and I get an opportunity now to execute those ideas. But, again, the most successful athlete, the most successful people I’ve learned, regardless of your field, they’re driven, they’re surrounded by good people and they’re given the opportunity to be successful, and that’s what we intend to do. Our demands will be high, but they will be realistic.
On hiring a coach:
My intention is over the next few days, really, with the amateur draft coming up, the scouting combine, to go there and gather information and put together my list, I guess, of potential coaches. … Do I need a coach before the draft? No. I don’t think there’s a particular timetable for that. I think heading into unrestricted free agency or the free-agent period on July 1, ideally, I’d like to have a coach in place by that time. I’m not going to set a date when it has to be done. You don’t know over the course of time how the process will go. But certainly my intention is to get to work right away and figure out who the right people are. Through my experiences the last few years, I know some people who are available and know some young potential coaches that may be available, so I’ve got to get to work on that.
Ultimately, on the coach himself, there’s a philosophy we’ll have to share. I want to make sure I have the right person. What I’m looking for in a head coach is a strong leader, someone who will make decisions. I’m going to hire a coach to coach the hockey team. I’m not coaching the team. I’m looking for a string leader, a guy who has been a head coach who has had success at some levels.
On what the Lightning needs to do to return to the playoffs:
Without necessarily being specific, last year’s team finished I think finished six points out of a playoff spot (actually eight), and Philadelphia made the playoffs on the last night of the season in a shootout and now are in the Stanley Cup finals. Also, the Lightning finished six points (actually four) from having the third pick in the draft. The point I’m trying to make is there is not a huge difference between making the playoffs and having success and not making them. Parity is a word you’ll hear regularly used. The teams are a lot closer
Obviously, we want to improve on last year’s team, but in doing that we have a long-term goal and that is to build this team, improve upon the foundation to make sure we can be successful going forward, not just next year but years following that. How do you do that? I believe in my experience in hockey and watching other sports, you have to draft well, you have to develop your young players well and that means being patient with them. So, where do we have to start? We have to start with our management team. We have to draft better, we have to do better at signing particular free agents. We have to be more astute at signing our own players, of keeping our own players. So, it’s a long process that is very methodical. It’s not a one-year fix here. My goal is to improve the Lightning, try to make it better, try to make the playoffs; the playoffs are incredibly exciting, it’s such an opportunity to gather more fans to grab on to them for people to fall in love with the game and improve your team. So, our goal is to try to make the playoffs, but, the long-term plan is to draft well, to develop well, to be more astute at signing free agents, to be more astute at signing our own players. It’s a very methodical process. We’re trying to build this team for long-term success but also to keep it competitive in the interim.
On what he likes about the Lightning team:
I think you’ve got a group of outstanding veteran players who are proven winners who have won here in Tampa and have been successful, and you’ve got a group of young players as well who have just entered the NHL the last couple of years. So, I think there is a nucleus of players who can make this a successful team, who can make it a good team right now. But most importantly, there’s a core of players that you can build around for the future and be successful going forward.
On the style of game he wants the Lightning to play:
In the short term, the style of play is really dictated by the players you have. I can come in and say we’re going to play this way or that way. The reality is in the short term the coach is going to try to win games and develop a style of play and game plan to win immediately. What kind of team do I want to have in the long run? You need skill players. You need guys who compete hard. All these other things, whether it’s toughness, whether its defense, you need a balance on your team; you need all those things at the end of the day. How do we get that? We have to draft them. We have to develop them and we have to be astute, whether it be through free agency or trade, to acquire those players. Stanley Cup champions, teams that win in the long run that are fun to watch, they have skill players. To win now you need speed.
On communicating to the players:
My intention over the course of the next couple of weeks is to talk to every player on the team, every player who is coming back to the team under contract. One, I want to share with them my vision. When there’s change, there’s uncertainty in all aspects. People will be wondering what are we doing, where are we going? It’s important with our players that they understand and I speak with them quickly and let them know what my plan is to start with and let them know here they stand. These guys are smart guys. I can learn a lot from them and listen and talk to them about what they want to do what their plans are what their goals are, short-term, long-term, and really figure this out. I know the players. A lot of them I don’t know personally, but I know what they’ve done on the ice and what they can do on the ice. These next few weeks give me a chance, not just with the players but with everyone I the organization, to gather information, to figure out who does what in some areas and who everyone is and go from there. It’s a day-to-day process, but I look forward to speaking with all the players.
On bringing in people from the Red Wings:
It’s a great organization, great people. In the last four years, I’ve really learned a lot and enjoyed being around the management of the team. I’ve got a lot of friends around the game, players I’ve played with, people I’ve worked with that I’ve gotten to know well. Whether it be the Red Wings or any other organization, if I have an inkling or a thought I’d like to possibly bring one of those people with me, I will call the organization and ask permission to speak with them to see if they would fit or like to come. The one thing about the people I work with there, I know they’re very good, and they’re good people. If the opportunity was right and the fit is there, I’d love to work with them.
I have a great relationship with (Red Wings general manager) Ken Holland and (assistant GM) Jim Nill, great relationships. I learned a lot from them, but by no means do I expect to raise the Red Wings front office and bring them all down here. They’re not going to let that happen, and I understand that. But having said that, they saw an opportunity for me in Tampa and they were very supportive of me coming to Tampa Bay. They’re not holding anybody back in their organization that wants to further their career. But, once again, all around hockey there are people I have thought about, ‘Will he be good in this role or good in that role?’ It’s my intention to, in some cases, where they are currently employed, that I would ask for permission to speak with them and see if there is an interest on their behalf.