Monday, June 25, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: Lightning's Yzerman stays steady throughout Drouin saga

TAMPA — Thursday was a pretty intense day at Amalie Arena.

It ended with a rematch of last season's Stanley Cup final and, perhaps, a preview of this season's Stanley Cup final with the red-hot Lightning defeating the white-hot Blackhawks 2-1.

It started with a hastily gathered news conference to go over the ugly twists and turns of the latest drama for a franchise that seems to have one soap opera after another.

The man at the center of it all was Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman. He's the architect of one of hockey's best organizations, the man who put together the young and talented team that was on the ice Thursday night. He also is the one who has had to douse the numerous fires that have broken out during the construction of his franchise, such as Thursday morning's Q&A regarding the Jonathan Drouin saga.

Drouin, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft, has quit the organization until his demands for a trade are met.

It's always something, eh?

Yet Yzerman, 51/2 years into his tenure, has skillfully navigated the Lightning through a precarious series of icebergs that have threatened to sink this franchise. Not only has the Lightning stayed afloat, it has thrived. It came within two games of winning last season's final and within one game of going to another final.

And yet, think about what Yzerman has been through along the way. He had to fire a popular and successful coach in Guy Boucher, the first coach he ever hired. He had to part ways with, arguably, the most beloved player in franchise history in Vinny Lecavalier.

He had to meet the single-team trade demand of the best player in franchise history — captain Marty St. Louis — smack dab in the middle of a playoff push. He is currently locked in difficult contract talks with current captain and best player Steve Stamkos. And now, the Drouin mess.

When Yzerman took over as GM and stated that he wanted to build a world-class organization, chaos wasn't on the to-do list. But these unsettling moments have not rattled Yzerman's confidence or altered his methods.

While some teams flounder because of their problems, the Lightning has flourished because of Yzerman's solutions. He hired Jon Cooper to replace Boucher. He used Lecavalier's cap space to sign, a year later, key free agents such as Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle. He traded St. Louis for Ryan Callahan. You get the sense he will make the most out of the Drouin dilemma.

Seems whatever Yzerman does, it works out. The man who was one of the NHL's best-ever players is already among its best executives.

Just like when he played, Yzerman doesn't manage with emotion or anger. For him, it's about careful preparation and patient execution.

Okay, maybe there's a little emotion.

Yzerman, surprisingly, was the one who called Thursday morning's news conference to talk about Drouin. He had no opening statement, but it was clear he had an agenda. He wanted to make two points abundantly clear.

One, he never told Drouin or his agent that a trade was imminent.

"We never said that, that there was a pending deal or a deal close," Yzerman said. "We've never said that."

The other point Yzerman wanted to stress was the Lightning roster is full of young players who have been developed by Cooper, often after a spell in the minors. That was meant to shoot down Drouin's complaints of being treated unfairly by Cooper or being demoted.

"I think if you ask every single player in that locker room, at one point they've been frustrated by their situation," Yzerman said. "And they've persevered through it. So, yes, every player in the league for that matter … there's very few who haven't gone through something and persevered, wanted more ice time, want this or want that and they stick through it and they play."

Yzerman was careful not to completely dump on Drouin. After all, he is still trying to trade him and bad-mouthing the kid diminishes his value. But that also simply isn't Yzerman's style.

Neither is turning vengeful even though he wasn't happy that Drouin and his agent went public with their trade request. Yzerman is aware that trading Drouin will set a bad precedent. He doesn't want malcontents thinking they can force their way out of Tampa Bay by quitting. But he also isn't going to let Drouin sit just to teach him a lesson. If there's a deal to be made, Yzerman will make it.

"My responsibility is to act in the best interests of the hockey club, and I intend to do that," Yzerman said. "I can't predict how this is going to play out or how this is going to end, but I will act solely in my own judgment as to what's in the best interest of our team. We have to run our hockey club."

That's what Yzerman has been doing all along and doing it very well. Through the ups and downs of Boucher and St. Louis and Lecavalier and, now, Drouin, two things have remained constant:

Yzerman's steady hand and Lightning success.

Hmm, maybe the two go hand in hand.

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