Would Steve Yzerman really leave the Red Wings? Some say yes, some say no
What would it take for Steve Yzerman to leave the comfort of the Red Wings, a team he has been with as a player and executive for 27 seasons, and take a job as, say, Lightning general manager? Scotty Bowman, who coached Yzerman from 1993-2002, said don’t hold your breath.
“I’d be surprised if he leaves,” Bowman said Friday. “He’s like the son to the owner. He’s been there nearly 30 years, and I think he’s in line to move up the chain.”
But Bob Nicholson, president of Hockey Canada, said, “If the right situation came along, I think Steve Yzerman would step out and take on the challenge.”
“It’s got to be good,” Nicholson said of the position, and added, “Any team would be very lucky to have him. He’s more than ready, and I say that with no hesitation.”
Who knows how serious the Lightning is about hiring Yzerman as the team's new general manager? The tight-lipped organization is giving nothing away. All we know is that no one has denied the report from Canada’s TSN that Tampa Bay has received permission to speak to the Hall of Famer.
It also is believed Maple Leafs assistant general manager Dave Nonis could be in the mix. Nonis, too, has declined to return phone calls, and the Maple Leafs have not commented as well. Then there is former Wild GM Doug Risebrough, the only one of the group who has gone on the record with his interest.
There also is the matter of the Lightning’s unfinished CEO search. New owner Jeff Vinik has said it is the CEO who will hire the general manager who will hire the coach.
Still, it is Yzerman, the Red Wings vice president, who has the big name. He also has some cache since he put together Canada’s gold-medal Olympic team. But Yzerman, 45 on May 9, has not been an NHL general manager, and having just gone through two difficult years with a first-time GM, the question is, does Tampa Bay roll the dice with another newbie? And would Yzerman really want his first job to be with an organization that has so little depth?
Nicholson said Yzerman has what it takes, and he should know. Nicholson watched Yzerman first-hand the past three years. Yzerman was general manager of Team Canada for the 2007 and 2008 world championships, winning gold and silver, respectively, and he was executive director of Canada’s gold-medal Olympic team.
“It relates a bit to how he led on the ice. He led by example,” Nicholson said. “He did it in a very quiet but very professional manner. He’s the ultimate gentleman, and he wants everyone to respect everyone and everything he has around him, and that’s what he had with team Canada. It was an enjoyable atmosphere to be around.”
Nicholson said Yzerman’s work ethic was unmatched . He called him a “clear communicator,” and he worked hard to make sure he and coach Mike Babcock were on the same page when it came to style of play. But isn’t putting together what amounts to an all-star team for the Olympics very different from the day-to-day grind of a GM?
“There’s a lot of the same ingredients,” Nicholson said. “You have to know the type of team you want, and once you start to put the pieces in place,, you might have to adjust a little bit. But he really drills down into the strengths of each of the players . He did that very clearly with management and the coaches as he built this.”
"He certainly left no stone unturned,” Bowman said.
“It would be no different in Tampa,” Nicholson added. “The Lightning certainly has a lot of top-end players. You have to know them and how to utilize them. And then you have to be on the same page as the coach. Their philosophy has to be really tied. … That’s no different than dealing with an NHL club day-to-day.”
Yzerman also has been schooled by some of the best, working beside Red Wings general manager Kenny Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill. But would Yzerman leave Detroit?
“I played with him for four years in Detroit, and looking at it, I can’t see his name beside any other logo,” said former Lightning captain Tim Taylor, Yzerman’s teammate from 1993-97. I just can’t picture it. A very loyal guy. It might be that he wants that challenge in his life, but I don’t know."
“It’s special what they have,” Nicholson said of the relationship between Yzerman and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch. “But if it’s something that’s real good, I think there’s a chance you can get Steve.”