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Steve Yzerman draws early raves for work as Tampa Bay Lightning GM

Steve Yzerman wants you to know he cannot address all the Lightning's needs in one summer.

"Even over time," he said, "you can't necessarily have everything you want in a team."

Perhaps, but in the 28 days Yzerman has been general manager, his personnel moves — highlighted by Monday's acquisition of scoring wing Simon Gagne — and removal of two long-term contracts to establish some payroll flexibility has pumped life into a franchise that has missed the playoffs three straight years and became an afterthought in the league and the Tampa Bay area.

"It's a different vibe," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "The way things are being run and the structure, everything is done the right way. You've got a guy like Steve Yzerman who is a leader in this league. The players, the people from the outside, everybody sees it."

"You just have confidence in the guy," Gagne said. "He's got a philosophy and something in mind about the team. It's exciting. They've had a tough time here the last few years but with Steve Yzerman as GM, I see good things."

Under Yzerman the Lightning:

• Signed solid free-agent defensemen Pavel Kubina and Brett Clark, and goalie Dan Ellis.

• Traded defenseman Andrej Meszaros to the Flyers for a second-round draft pick, reducing payroll commitments the next four seasons by $18.25 million.

• Sent defenseman Matt Walker and the $5.525 million he is due the next three seasons to the Flyers in the Gagne deal.

• Signed right wing Marty St. Louis to a four-year contract extension through 2014-15, a move coach Guy Boucher said was "as big as it gets. That's locking in the kind of intangibles that are important to the team."

There still are holes.

Tampa Bay has a serious lack of organizational depth, and Yzerman still needs to sign restricted free-agent wing Steve Downie and fill out his third and fourth lines. Perhaps four of those six spots are filled, and Yzerman has $10 million in cap space with which to work.

The question is whether to pursue players who need one-way contracts or those who would take two-way deals that pay less if the player is in the minors.

"Right now we're debating what we want to do," Yzerman said. "I still think we need to add NHL forwards and short-term deals for the numbers that make sense for us. We're still kicking around ideas."

So far, Yzerman's actions have created a buzz.

"I give him more than an A for what he's done," said Pierre McGuire, a television analyst for Canada's TSN and a former NHL coach. "He didn't bury his head in the sand. He didn't stay status quo and the Lightning are a playoff threat. It may be too soon for them because they have some unproven things, but they are in a very enviable position."

"In my mind he's a strong candidate for executive of the year right now," former Lightning general manager Jay Feaster told reporters in Calgary, where he is the new assistant GM. "He's coming up aces."

Especially with the Gagne deal.

"We get a guy we absolutely needed for the top six," Boucher said. "They're hard to get. For Simon to let go of his no-trade clause shows you how much respect he has for Steve Yzerman. It's quite impressive."

TWO ASSISTANTS NAMED: Daniel Lacroix and Martin Raymond were named assistant coaches. Both assisted Boucher last season at AHL Hamilton. A third assistant is expected to be named in a day or two.

"These are my guys," Boucher said. "Sometimes to know new assistants it can take four, five, six months to figure out that chemistry. I didn't want that. I wanted guys who knew what I was about and how I'm going to teach."

Boucher said Lacroix will be behind the bench and handle the defense. Raymond mostly will be in the press box as an eye in the sky. The third assistant will be behind the bench and handle the penalty kill.

The hirings make clear associate coach Rick Wilson, with two years left on his contract, will not be back. Still to be determined is the fate of roving goaltenders coach Cap Raeder, who has one year left.

Lacroix, 41, was an Islanders assistant from 2006-09. He played 188 NHL games from 1993-2000. Raymond, 43, was head coach for 14 seasons at Montreal's McGill University, where he coached Boucher for a season and, before that, was his teammate.

League strikes down Kovalchuk contract

The NHL rejected Ilya Kovalchuk's 17-year, $102 million contract with the Devils on Tuesday night after it was deemed to circumvent the salary cap.

Just a day after Kovalchuk and the Devils agreed on the longest deal in NHL history, the league determined that it was illegal, AP reported.

The contract was rejected because years of low salary at the end of the contract were added just to lower the cap hit. The star forward was slated to earn only $550,000 in each of the last five seasons of the contract that was to end in the 2026-27 season, when Kovalchuk would be 44.

Hours earlier, Kovalchuk beamed as the Devils held a news conference in their home arena to announce the deal.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com. Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Steve Yzerman draws early raves for work as Tampa Bay Lightning GM 07/20/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 7:52am]
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