Steve Yzerman Q & A: The GM says finding a No. 2 center is a priority but will 'proceed very cautiously' in free agency
Ahead of free agency, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman talked about how his main priority is finding a No. 2 center to replace Vinny Lecavalier, how improving the blue line might be more a "team" concept than one of adding players, how it is time for minor league talent to get a chance at the NHL level and how he expects, despite rumors to the contrary, to start the the 2013-14 season with Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback in net.
On how active he will be in free agency: Well, I don’t know how active. We’ve got two goaltenders. We’ve got eight defensemen on one-way contracts or penciled in, at least, to our roster and 12 or 13 forwards. Obviously, with the buyout of (Lecavalier) it leaves a bit of a hole in the middle and we've got to debate between signing a free agent to fill that spot, maybe moving one of our wingers who has played some center into there or look at the possibility of finding a centerman through some sort of trade. Those are our options. The first thing we’ll try to do is see if there’s a free agent that fits our needs and then, obviously, we can afford with the term of the contract. If there’s nothing there, we’ll look at other ways to do it. … We’re just going to proceed very cautiously.
On if a No. 2 center is a priority: Yeah, (buying out Lecavalier) changes things a little bit, obviously. We’d like to have somebody in the middle there, preferably with some experience. … There’s a hole there, and at the end of the day if we’re not able to do it through free agency or trade, we’ve got players on our roster that are centermen who are playing the wing, and if we have to we’ll move one of them back there and I think we’ll be okay.
On a strong impulse to find a No. 2 center through free agency: We have to temper that impulse. The reason we used the compliance buyout is to give ourselves flexibility, to give ourselves options. We don’t want to go now and turn around and put ourselves in the same position with a contract that doesn’t make sense, so we have to be careful in that respect. We want to be as competitive as we possibly can.
On improving the blue line: How we’re going to improve defensively is the entire mind-set of the whole team. That’s how we’re going to do it, really. We can point to it and say, ‘Hey, we have to improve our defense.’ The reality is we’ve got to adjust the way we play to be more defensively responsible as to the entire team. The mind-set has to change and that’s something was addressed by the coaches toward the end of last year and will be brought up again this year. And it doesn’t mean just skating back hard. Our team backchecks hard, but you have to be responsible managing the puck, just a commitment to keeping the puck out of our net by everybody.
On using the draft to supplement core players: We want to put as good a team on the ice as possible. We want to be as competitive as we can, and we also want to surround the core with as strong of a group and supporting cast as possible. Everything comes into play. Safe to say we’re not going to go out and offer a 35-year old a five-year contract at top dollar. We’re trying to use some common sense. We’re trying to get the best players we can, and there are some free agents out there who are 28, 27 years old. They’re going to get an awful lot of money. If we aren’t able to land one of those guys, we have to look at our other options and maybe it is an older player or somebody on a shorter term (contract) or maybe a little less of a player who isn’t going to cost as much but we feel we can get just as much out of. … It depends on the term of the contract. I’m not opposed to signing a 38-year-old or anything like that. We all want to find a 27-year-old superstar and put him in there with a low cap number regardless of the position and he’s in there and he’s on your roster. But there aren’t many of those guys, so you look at some older players and the term of the contract.
On supplementing the roster from within the organization: Well, I just believe we have a few guys (in the system) who have played two and three years in the minors who have really excelled at the American League level. They won a championship. They’ve gone to the finals. They were elite players at the AHL level. It’s time to give them an opportunity to play in the NHL. We have to find out and we have to give them that opportunity and we intend to do that this year. We got to put some of those guys in. We got to find out if they can play and based on what I saw in the limited time I saw them I’m cautiously optimistic that they’re going to be good players. But the next step is to put them into our lineup in Tampa and give them some opportunity to play and adjust to the NHL. I just believe its what has to be done. They’ve earned the right to move up to the next level but if there are some growing pains along the way, we have to give them the opportunity. We have to make room for these guys. … They’re going to come (to camp) they’re going to get an opportunity and the guys who play the best through preseason and most ready to play will play with us.
On the right mix of young and older players: I’m not going to go out and sign four free-agent forwards. Maybe we sign one, maybe we don’t. Look at (forward) Alex Killorn. He came in last year and did a good job. (Defenseman) Radko Gudas came in. He did a really good job for us. These other guys are at or close to that level of play. We’ve got to give them an opportunity as well. I don’t want to put 10 guys into the lineup at once, but we keep slowly moving them in.
On using organization depth to supplement a trade: If it made sense, yeah. I’m not in a hurry to get rid of any young players. But to address a need, I’m certainly not opposed to it. But I say that, I’m not out there shopping any of our young guys. That’s not the case.
On starting season with Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback as goalies: That’s the way I expect it, yeah. We acquired both of them in the last year. I know they don’t have a ton of experience, but the only way they’re going to get experience is to play. They need to just settle into a routine and play. I can’t tell you what that routine is going to be but they just need games. They’re talented goalies. You look through this league and the goalies. How many were starters right off the bat and there were no growing pains. That’s just part of it. I think we’ve got to give them an opportunity to play and settle into a routine and get comfortable and play games and face shots and win games and lose games and learn how to be a starter in this league.
On balancing organizational development with winning as soon as possible: We have these young players that have matured. They’ve gone from junior hockey to college hockey to the American Hockey League. They’ve excelled at the American Hockey League. It’s time to put them in the NHL. Where else am I going to put them? Am I just going to trade them all? We need good young inexpensive talent. We’ve got to keep them coming into the system. It’s not like they’re 18 years old and never got drafted. The next step is for them to go in the NHL. You have to give them the opportunity at some point.