Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning leaders say they believe in GM Steve Yzerman's long-term vision

WINNIPEG — It's just a feeling, general manager Steve Yzerman said, but he's pretty sure he's not the most popular guy in the Lightning locker room right now.

He knows he put the team in difficult positions by trading front-line players on three consecutive game days. He knows he has left it depleted by getting draft picks and prospects in return rather than bodies that might help in a rapidly intensifying playoff push.

In a sense, he has let the players fend for themselves.

"I'm sure," Yzerman said, "they're not thrilled with what I've done."

What Yzerman did was make a calculation that building organizational depth and a minor-league system through the draft is the best way to create a franchise that can sustain success and win a Stanley Cup.

Yzerman's haul has been impressive. Tampa Bay now has two first-round draft picks this year and up to six picks in the first two rounds, which creates plenty of options if Yzerman wants to work trades leading to Monday's trade deadline or at the June draft.

The problem is that hasn't done much for the current team, which has forced its way into the playoff picture and is on a three-game winning streak forged on days Dominic Moore, Pavel Kubina and Steve Downie, respectively, were dealt.

The talent drain became more acute when the team lost captain Vinny Lecavalier for at least three weeks with a fractured right hand.

"It doesn't make it any easier, and I think Steve knows that," wing Marty St. Louis said.

"It's tough to analyze what he's done because we haven't gotten anything but draft picks. We have to trust what he's doing, and time will tell how good a job he's doing, because draft picks are just draft picks."

Yzerman said he gets kind of the same feedback from coach Guy Boucher, with whom he discusses all his trades.

"When I mention things, his first question is what are we getting back," Yzerman said. "He's waiting for a name, not a draft pick, and I can see the wind come out of his sails when I say a draft pick."

Said Boucher, "To move forward, you have to make harsh, difficult decisions at sometimes tough moments, and that's what (Yzerman) has to do right now. I trust him. So, after the initial wind out of my sails, it takes me two, three minutes to sit and go, 'What do I have now? What's the plan, and how do I make the best of it?' "

The Lightning certainly has made the best of things. Behind a 10-3-2 run since Jan. 17, it is just five points out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and five behind the first-place Panthers in the Southeast Division.

That is why Yzerman as a seller seems a little incongruous, especially after saying Monday he would evaluate where the team stood in the playoff race at the end of the week before finalizing his deadline strategy. A day later, he traded Downie to the Avalanche as part of a three-team deal that returned primarily a 2012 first-round draft pick.

"Well, you know, these opportunities come up when they come up, and you have to make a decision," Yzerman said. "You have to be prepared to act or lose the opportunity."

Yzerman said he empathizes with the players, who tonight in a huge game at the MTS Centre face the Jets, a team it must leapfrog to make the playoffs.

"They want to win now," he said. "I've been in their shoes. I understand. I want to do well now, too, but I believe there are certain things that need to be done to get us where we ultimately want to be. That's a decision I have to make, balance what's right for the rest of this year and what's right for the future."

"You trust that there is a bigger picture there," St. Louis said. "I trust Steve."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8622. View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com.

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