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New Tampa Bay Lightning GM Yzerman praised as a classy winner

Following the advice of coach Scotty Bowman, Steve Yzerman remade his game and earned three Stanley Cups.

Getty Images (2000)

Following the advice of coach Scotty Bowman, Steve Yzerman remade his game and earned three Stanley Cups.

TAMPA — During his playing days, new Lightning vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman put up some jaw-dropping offensive numbers, to be sure.

But goals and assists don't tell the whole story.

Not even close.

"When I first went to Detroit, it was an offensive team that hadn't learned how to play defense," said Scotty Bowman, a Hall of Famer who coached the Red Wings for nine years. "I explained to (Yzerman) that this team can't win unless you take charge of playing good defense. It wasn't easy for him because he was a 60-goal player and 150 or 160 points. But I told him what he had to do to win, and he did it.

"He went through a transformation as a hockey player. He was a one-man offensive machine, and he became a real team leader. So I'd say his strong suit is that he's a guy who knows what it takes to win."

Consider: After Yzerman started to concentrate on being more of a two-way player, defending his goal with the same passion he showed in attacking the opponent's, the Red Wings started to rack up Stanley Cup titles — in 1997, 1998 and 2002, all under Bowman.

So what if his goals dipped from the 65 he had in 1988-89 to 22 in 1996-97?

So what if his assists dipped from the 90 he had in 1988-89 to 63 in 1996-97?

"It took me to my 14th year with the Red Wings for us to win a Stanley Cup," Yzerman said at the Tuesday afternoon news conference at the St. Pete Times Forum introducing him as a member of the Lightning. "We did it a lot of different ways, and we weren't able to get there. Scotty Bowman came in and said we had to be better defensively, we had to be more responsible. He said, 'Guys, this is the way it's going to be. This is the program. If you want to be a part of it, this is the way it's going to be.'

"I chose to accept any role, and we had great success after that. I loved every minute of it. I don't regret any changes that we had to make. Scotty Bowman made me a better hockey player regardless of what the stats were."

Not every player has that in his DNA.

Yzerman did. He always did.

"He has a very big heart," Bowman said. "He's very competitive, and he knows what it takes to win, and he's a good listener."

"Steve was the ultimate team player," said former Red Wings star wing Brendan Shanahan, now the NHL's vice president of hockey and business development. "I played with him for 10 years, and I don't ever remember seeing him have a moment of selfishness, even in private moments. I don't think there was ever a time when Steve acted in a way that he would look back upon and be ashamed of. He was a great person to the public eye but an even better person when the cameras weren't on him."

Former Lightning standout Tim Taylor, a key member of the 2004 Stanley Cup-winning team, played with Yzerman in Detroit for four years beginning with the 1993-94 season, and he also was struck by the way the team's star and captain (a honor he earned as a 21-year-old and held on to for an NHL-record 20 years) carried himself.

"He's one of classiest individuals that someone could ever have the luxury of meeting," Taylor said. "I was a young guy when I came into the organization in Detroit, and he made me feel very, very welcome. The one thing I admire the most about Stevie Y is that no matter what your part on the team was, whether it be as a third- or fourth-line guy or whatever, he made you feel like you were very important to the team. He made that team come together.

"That may sound unusual for star players to make sure everyone's included, but that's why Steve Yzerman is Steve Yzerman. That's what makes him so special."

Little wonder that new Lightning owner Jeff Vinik saw Yzerman as something of a kindred spirit. He said the two share a vision and an approach to building a consistent winner.

It takes perseverance.

It takes selflessness.

"I played for 22 years, and there were a lot of ups and downs in my career, and I learned a lot through success and through failure," Yzerman said.

"The most successful athletes, the most successful people, regardless of their field, are driven, they're surrounded by good people, and they're given the opportunity to be successful. That's what we intend to do."

Times staff writer Damian Cristodero contributed to this report.

New Tampa Bay Lightning GM Yzerman praised as a classy winner 05/25/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 25, 2010 9:31pm]
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