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GM Steve Yzerman has returned self-assurance to the Tampa Bay Lightning

There is a calm to the franchise these days. In the most stressful of situations, in the most pressurized of moments, the Lightning seems to possess the comfortable feeling of a team that believes things will work out.

It does not matter if the team is behind 3-1 in a series against Pittsburgh and others are telling the Lightning players the odds that are against them.

It does not matter if they lead Washington two games to none and people are reminding them they are halfway to the third round (they could reach the three-quarter mark tonight).

It doesn't matter if an opponent scores early to take a lead or late to force an overtime. These days, the Lightning seems to trust itself to find the proper outcome.

This, as much as anything, is Steve Yzerman's gift.

Yzerman, the team's rookie general manager, has returned self-assurance to this franchise. This is no longer a chaotic, reactionary front office. With every game it wins, the Lightning looks more and more like the GM who built this team on the fly.

These days, Yzerman, who turns 46 on Monday, sits a long way from the ice he used to control, and he makes his living with a pen instead of a stick. He watches intently, mostly quietly, and when Vinny Lecavalier scores the winning goal in overtime against the Capitals, he does not leap around in celebration along with his co-workers bounding around him.

Yzerman is calm, after all. He is in control. He enjoys today, because he is a competitor, and he ponders tomorrow, because that is his job.

"I don't know if satisfaction is the right word," Yzerman said. "We're pleased with the start we're off to, but to get this organization where I want it to be, we've still got a lot of hard work to do and a lot of good decisions to make.

"We're early in the second round, and the only thing that matters is Game 3. It's good for the team, and it's good for the fans. But for me, the big picture and the long term are important. I'm enjoying this, but we want to build a perennial playoff contender. We don't want to be fooled by one good year."

For a general manager, for the guy in charge of tomorrow, it is the only approach that makes sense. Frankly, it is the attitude that has made Yzerman the best by-gum general manager the NHL has had this season.

Even now, there are voters deciding such things. Yzerman is a finalist in the voting for NHL general manager of the year (the winner will be announced June 22), and the only question is why there is any question about it.

Put it this way: Vancouver's Mike Gillis improved his team from 103 points last year to 117 this year. Nashville's David Poile went from 100 last year to 103 this year. In other words, neither of them had to exactly raise the dead this year.

Yzerman had himself quite a year. He convinced Marty St. Louis that things would be different, and they have been. He assured Lecavalier that the head games of the previous administration would cease, and they have. He convinced Guy Boucher that this was the right NHL coaching job for him.

He brought in Simon Gagne, who has earned 83 percent of his paycheck in these playoffs. He needed a goaltender, and he saw past Dwayne Roloson's birth certificate and made a deal. He needed a defenseman, and he brought in Eric Brewer.

As important as any of that, however, is that Yzerman — and new owner Jeff Vinik and new coach Boucher — brought a sense of order. Suddenly, the Lightning looked smart again, organized again, calm again. That the team accomplished it so quickly — a 23-point improvement from last year, a 37-point improvement from two years ago — is amazing.

"Any great leader has a vision," Boucher said. "He's certainly lived up to the vision he's put forth. That's a real trait of Steve's. He doesn't jump into decisions. He takes his time, weighs the pros and cons and the intangibles that make a difference."

"He's meant a lot," said Lecavalier, the Lightning's captain. "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."

If Yzerman wins this GM award, it should be pointed out that it won't exactly be the biggest plaque on the wall. Still, if the NHL is going to give out such an award, if it's a yearly trophy rather than a lifetime achievement award, it seems as if it should get into the proper hands.

Around here, that's Yzerman. Remember, last year's playoff run ended when former GM Brian Lawton decided to start firing assistant coaches.

In his first year, Yzerman showed the knack of knowing when to make a move and when to ride out trouble. In his first year, he made the Lightning matter again.

Most of all, in his first year, Yzerman made you trust him with the years to come.

Around here, that's a heck of a deal for a general manager.

GM Steve Yzerman has returned self-assurance to the Tampa Bay Lightning 05/02/11 [Last modified: Monday, May 2, 2011 8:46pm]
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