Q&A with GM Steve Yzerman
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, who has one year left on his contract, signed a four-year extension that locks him up through 2018-19.
"We've got a lot of work left to do, and as an organization as a whole and a team (we're) going in the right direction," Yzerman said. "I want to continue with the process, and I'm grateful to get the opportunity to continue."
Yzerman, 48, On Tuesday took some time to share his thoughts on several topics, from his evolution as a general manager to the difficulty, or ease, depending on how you look at it, of maintaining his organizaional vision on the NHL level and with AHL Syracuse.
On his contract extension: Four years have gone by very quickly. Initially, when I was excited about the opportunity and Jeff offered me the position, first and foremost was my meeting with him and how much I enjoyed talking with him and his vision of the organization, and that hasn’t changed to date. We’ve got a lot to do. We’ve made a lot of changes that you see on the ice and off the ice. We’ve got a lot of work left to do and as an organization as a whole and a team (we're) going in the right direction. I want to continue with the process, and I’m grateful to get the opportunity to continue.
On importance of getting the deal done now: I think everybody is grateful and appreciates having the security of a contract. Job security is important to everyone. I appreciate that. For myself I never was really terribly concerned. I felt like just continue to do a god job and keep working and getting the organization better, keep heading in the right direction and that will work itself out.
On maintaining his vision after going to 2011 Eastern Conference final: Well, the overall philosophy has been we’re going to hang onto our draft picks, and for the most part we’ve tried to do that with a couple of exceptions. Build through the draft, be patient with our young players and through free agency try to be diligent and add where we could through free agency. We’ve tried to sick with that. The initial year, it’s never a bad thing to go to the conference finals. Was that expected? No. Part of the plan? No. But things change every year. That was a good thing in a lot of ways, but we recognized that we would like to sustain that and to expect that moving forward. We continue to stick with the process of being patient while our young guys develop, and here we are after four years. … These young guys are slowly moving in, but it just takes time. Again, you have to be prepared to expect anything, and every year there seems to be one team that comes out of nowhere and in 2011 it was us. We’d love to have a great playoff run this year, but the plan will stay the same, it’s to develop our young players and be patient with them and try to retain our core guys and if we can add through free agency.
On the importance of organizational development: Every player we draft we hope makes it to the NHL and the sooner the better, but the reality is very few of them make it and it takes time for them to get there. There aren’t many Stamkoses who jump right in their first year or Victor Hedmans who jumped right in his first year. It takes time for players, so the plan was we hoped to draft well and then just be patient with them for the ones who aren’t ready and give them a good environment to mature and learn how to be a professional and get physically and mentally stronger. That’s kind of the idea, just patience with the young guys and regardless of whether they are a first-round pick or a seventh-round pick, and hopefully they develop into NHL players. I think you need the young guys coming. Free agency comes younger. Free agents get paid a lot of money and injuries happen. There are very few free agents that hit the market. They’re hard to get, so the best way to acquire players is through your own organization.
On making the playoffs this season as the first step toward sustainability: I think it’s early for that. We want to make the playoffs again next year. We’ve got to make the playoffs two, three four, five years in a row before we’ve got the program really set up and our young players are come in with quality veterans. So it’s a little early for that yet.
On if anything he felt he wasn’t prepared to handle: Well, all the situations you bring up you think you’re prepared for, and until you’ve actually dealt with them and the more you’re on the job the more comfortable you are. The unexpected always comes up. We talk about having long-term plans and it’s hard to be specific in those long-term plans because things can change. Players can leave through free agency. Unforeseen opportunities come up, whether it’s with free agents or a particular trade. Things happen. You just have to be prepared to deal with them or make the best decisions you can when these situations arise. I’m still relatively new at the position, only four years, and there are going to be things that come along that I haven’t dealt with, and along with my staff we talk things out, think of what the best course of action is.
On his evolution as an executive: I’ve learned a great deal. The four years that I spent sitting watching, listening, learning (as a Red Wings vice president under GM Ken Holland) was incredibly beneficial, but until you’re in that seat and making those decisions, then you kind of really understand. They’re difficult jobs. They’re hard decisions you have to make. You’re affecting people’s lives. I’ve learned a lot and I think I’m better than I was four years ago and even more prepared and I expect to learn a lot. There are always situations coming up forever that you’ve never dealt with and you learn from.
On if he could have believed he would be the GM to buy out Vinny Lecavalier and trade Marty St. Louis: You know, I don’t know what to say to that. These guys are very good hockey players, very important to this community and this organization. These are hard things to do, but things change in this business and that’s the position you’re in as manager, you have to make decisions and deal with situations, and if you’re not prepared to deal with it and accept the results you shouldn’t be in this business.
On Syracuse not making the playoffs this season: We want to try to make the playoffs down there and win down there, too, every year. It’s a hard thing to do. What we did is we took from the team that went to the finals we’ve taken (Tyler) Johnson, (Ondrej) Palat, (Radko) Gudas, (Richard) Panik, (Mark) Barberio. We took a huge group. This year we kind of expected J.T. (Brown), just because he had so many injuries last year, and (Nikita) Kucheov to be first-line players on that team this year, and even kind of expected Ondrej to play down there for the majority of the year. That’s a lot of holes to fill. And we moved a lot of young guys, particularly on defense, kids, first-timers into the lineup in Syracuse, and it’s hard to win in that league with kids. We think it’s progress. We’ve had turnover there. We moved a lot of young guys in and will have even more young guys in Syracuse next year, and we’re looking for that group over the next two or three years to develop into an American League contender again. That’s our hope with that group, and when they’re ready to move into the NHL we will. We look for that team to make some steps next year and be better. It’s a hard thing to keep it up there every year, especially when we move all those guys. Think about it, all those names that I mentioned, they could have all played another year down there.