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Tampa Bay Lightning welcomes new GM Steve Yzerman

TAMPA

When Steve Yzerman was introduced Tuesday as the Lightning's new general manager, there was plenty of talk that rebuilding the downtrodden franchise would be a long-term project.

There has to be better drafting, Yzerman said at the St. Pete Times Forum, better identification of free agents and a more concerted effort to develop players in the system.

Yzerman said he wants a coach in place by July 1, and of his demands on everyone in the organization: "They will be high, but they will be realistic."

They also will come from one person. Owner Jeff Vinik said Yzerman will be responsible for all hockey-related decisions and report only to him.

"He has full rein," Vinik said.

That may seem like a no-brainer, but after two years in which Brian Lawton was officially the general manager while former owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie played at it without consulting each other, or at times Lawton, one voice at the top is welcomed relief.

"You only have one hand in the basket," right wing Marty St. Louis said. "It's comforting."

It also has marquee value.

Yzerman, 45, is one of the game's all-time greats, a Hall of Fame center with four Stanley Cups as a player and executive. He also was executive director of, and put together, Canada's gold-medal team at this year's Olympics. And he put in 27 years with the Red Wings, the past four as vice president and student to general manager Ken Holland, assistant GM Jim Nill and senior vice president Jimmy Devellano, three of the best in the business.

Just getting Yzerman to leave that comfort zone is a coup.

Yzerman said he did not turn down multiple offers from Vinik before accepting the job, as was reported in Canada.

He said he was not given an ownership stake, also as was reported in Canada, and said three weeks of intense discussions with Vinik, by phone and in person, swayed his decision.

"With each conversation Jeff and I had, I liked his plan," Yzerman said. "In my opinion, I believe Jeff has a complete understanding of what has to be done here."

"He has all the characteristics I've talked about that I and the Lightning organization are looking for," Vinik said, "leadership, integrity, hard work, loyalty and an intelligent, thoughtful approach to making decisions."

The Lightning did not confirm numbers, but it is believed Yzerman got a five-year deal that makes him one of the league's highest-paid general managers.

And though Yzerman, from Cranbrook, British Columbia, never has been an NHL general manager, Vinik said, "It's a slam dunk for me."

•••

Yzerman said he has about five or six names on a preliminary list of potential coaches and will spend the next few weeks exploring even more options.

He said he wants someone with head coaching experience but not necessarily in the NHL.

Early possibilities include Red Wings assistant Paul MacLean; Red Wings assistant Brad McCrimmon; Hamilton's Guy Boucher, named this season's top AHL coach; AHL Manitoba's Scott Arniel, AHL Portland's Kevin Dineen and Blackhawks assistant Mike Haviland.

"I'm looking for a strong leader who shares the philosophy I have," Yzerman said. "You need skill players. You need guys who can play hard. All these things, whether it's toughness, whether it's defense, you need a balance."

Vinik wanted action, so he changed his plan to hire a CEO who would hire the GM.

"I met Steve and got to know him well and had a lot of discussions with him," Vinik said. "It was clear he should be hired right now."

Vinik said he will hire a CEO soon, but the CEO will be involved only in business matters.

•••

Yzerman acknowledged it is difficult leaving Detroit.

"I was surrounded by good people that protected me and looked after me," he said. "We had a lot of success. That's my home."

But Yzerman wanted his own team, and with Holland and Nill getting contract extensions with the Red Wings, Yzerman knew he had to look elsewhere. He chose the Lightning, the 2004 Stanley Cup champion, which has been out of the playoffs for three years but has a core of St. Louis, 51-goal scorer Steven Stamkos, captain Vinny Lecavalier and defenseman Victor Hedman.

"There's a nucleus of players who can make this a good team right now," Yzerman said. "Most importantly, there's a core of players you can build around for the future.

"This is a long-term project for me. There is no easy fix. I don't sit up here with the notion I can wave a magic wand, make changes and we're a Stanley Cup contender. My intention is to improve the Lightning immediately. But the long-term goal is making this a perennially strong team that can contend on an annual basis."

With one voice at the top.

"It's great to have one person doing that," Lecavalier said. "It's the best thing for the organization."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning welcomes new GM Steve Yzerman 05/25/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 10:48am]
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