It is not as if Steve Yzerman hated talking to reporters when he was captain of the Red Wings. It's just that "as a player, I always felt the less said, the better." Besides, he added, "I wasn't out seeking attention. I just wanted to play."
So, Yzerman did only what was required.
It's a different ball game as Lightning general manager: "I'm in a position that I'm making decisions. I have to speak on behalf of the organization."
He's still not a chatterbox. But on the phone last week while driving from his Detroit home to Traverse City, Mich., where Tampa Bay this weekend is playing in a prospects tournament hosted by the Red Wings, Yzerman talked about what is regarded as a remarkable three-plus months with Tampa Bay that has provided hope to the downtrodden franchise. Former Tampa Bay general manager Jay Feaster even said Yzerman, hired in May for his first GM gig, should be a candidate for executive of the year.
Yzerman, 45, said he doesn't know about that. He is more focused on Friday's opening of training camp, signing Steven Stamkos to a contract extension and getting the best out of underachieving captain Vinny Lecavalier.
Yzerman also has started, ever so slightly, to create separation from the Red Wings, a team with which he spent 27 years as a player and vice president.
Has the transition from Red Wings icon to Lightning general manager been as difficult as imagined?
When I think about being a Red Wing, it tugs at your heart, for sure. But I really love the (Lightning) job and the people I'm working with. I'm feeling more comfortable in my surroundings. This is a job I wanted. I try not to sit back and take time to really reflect on what was in Detroit. I've got to move ahead. I've got a job to do. I can't sit back and second-guess for a minute. It's time to move on.
How emotional will the Feb. 17 game be against Detroit at the St. Pete Times Forum?
(Chuckles) I don't know. It's going to be different, for sure. I want the Red Wings to do well. It's important to me. We all put a lot of effort into getting that organization to where it is, and I'm hopeful they can keep it where it's at. But for one night, it's certainly going to be different.
How do you process the accolades coming your way?
I appreciate the nice words, but I understand when you make a lot of changes, there's no guarantee how it's going to turn out, so I'm very apprehensive going into the season. I talk regularly to people around the league about our prospective teams, and if I made a bad move, I don't think anyone is going to pick up the phone and tell me what a dumb move I made.
What has been your most important move so far?
Every hiring I've made, the type of person I've brought into the organization, I hope made a statement about who we are and what we're going to be going forward. So, I don't know if I can be specific to one, though getting Marty St. Louis signed to a contract extension was an important decision not only for me but for the organization, our fans and the players.
Can you make the playoffs?
That's the goal I have for us, but it's not going to discourage me in any way from what we're doing if we don't. I'm anxious to get this team together and watch them play. It's the beginning for me to truly assess the players that we have, from our first line in Tampa to our seventh-round draft pick this year.
Doesn't this team have to make the playoffs to win back the goodwill it lost the past few years?
Without question, absolutely. You've got to give your fan base hope. Playoff hockey is the best way to market your team. It's the best way to grow your fan base and give hope to your players and for them to develop. Everything we've done this summer was done with the idea of improving the team. It was not done to break things down and start over and try to get the highest draft pick we can get. It's important to make the playoffs.
Stamkos' contract expires after this season. When will you start negotiating an extension?
It's something I want to get working on. It's been a pretty busy and eventful summer. I don't have a specific date when we're going to sit down to get the ball rolling.
Why is it important to get a deal done before he becomes a restricted free agent?
He's an important player in the organization. Is there a rush on it? No, not specifically. But it's important to treat your people well and communicate, and it's time to start communicating.
What makes Stamkos so good?
He's a goal scorer, a speedster, a competitor, and there's so much room for him to grow as a player. He's going to get better and better. He's a center man, but with his skating and ability to shoot — not that I want him to switch — he could be a tremendous winger as well.
The scuttlebutt is he could make $7 million a season. Can you afford him and Lecavalier at $10 million?
If good players are playing well, we'll figure out a way to afford them.
What do you expect from Lecavalier this season?
I expect him to compete hard, to give his best, to strive to be a complete player, to play in all situations. To me, it's not important Vinny lead the team in scoring. To me, it's important he sets an example on and off the ice of what we're about in his attitude, in his play, in his training, everything. He, Marty, our veteran players, have to set the example.
How much faster is the game than when you played?
I think the biggest change is the really big guys. The guys that are 6-4, 220 can really fly. The other difference is you can't use your stick. You can't use your body to slow guys down. You have to rely on skating more, which I think is a good thing. You've got to think quicker and be able to get up and down the ice and use your legs more. You can't cheat.
Best player you faced?
I'd say it's 1A and B, Wayne (Gretzky) and Mario (Lemieux). They were the two players, when they were at the height of their games, they scared you to death being on the ice with them.
For the first half of his career, I'd say (Red Wings defenseman) Nicklas Lidstrom. It took a long time before he started winning Norris Trophies (as the league's best blue-liner), but by 1996, '97, he was dominant.
One rule change to make the game better.
I would like to see overtime extended in the regular season four-on-four, maybe going 10 minutes (instead of five). I just find it extremely exciting.
Keep the shootout, too?
I'd keep it. I think a little bit of the luster has worn off it, but fans stick around to see the shootout, and it generates a lot of excitement. I'm more of a traditionalist. I'm not crazy about games being determined that way, but I can't deny it's entertaining.
Whom did you idolize?
Bobby Orr and Bryan Trottier. I wore No. 19 because of Bryan Trottier. I liked the overall aspect of his game. I liked the way he conducted himself on the ice. He was a quiet guy. He played really hard; just a good all-around, prototypical center man who could do everything.
What's your one rule when dealing with reporters?
I try to be as straight as I can. I'm not trying to mislead anyone, but there are certain things you can't elaborate on. I understand everyone has a job to do, and I try to cooperate, but I just feel like people don't need to know everything.