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Steve Yzerman again shows why he’s the best GM in hockey

A blockbuster move on Monday has the Lightning poised to win a Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman talks with the media regarding the trades his team made before the trade deadline.( DIRK SHADD   |   Times )
Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman talks with the media regarding the trades his team made before the trade deadline.( DIRK SHADD | Times )
Published Feb. 27, 2018

When Steve Yzerman played in the NHL, he used to constantly remind himself: "Don't think. Just play."

It must have worked because Yzerman is one of the greatest players to ever lace up the skates.

But these days as general manager?

"As a (GM), you'd better think a little bit," Yzerman said.

Seems as if that plan is working, too. Yzerman's thinking has helped him assemble one of the best teams in hockey.

And his latest move — a blockbuster trade at Monday's deadline in which he acquired defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller — has vaulted the Lightning into the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

Sure, Yzerman gave up potentially a big chunk of Tampa Bay's future, but he picked up two key pieces, including a much-needed defenseman. And all he gave up off his current roster was Vladislav Namestnikov — a nice player for sure, but a player the Lightning can get along just fine without.

Well done.

All in a day's work for a man who has established himself as the best general manager in the business.

He took over a franchise that was a mess and has guided that team to the Stanley Cup final and two other Eastern Conference finals. This is Yzerman's eighth season, and this will be the Lightning's fifth postseason appearance during that tenure.

Every move he makes seems to turn to gold.

He hired the right coach in Jon Cooper.

He convinced Steven Stamkos to spurn offers to return home to Toronto and sign a long-term deal with the Lightning. At the same time, he locked up star defenseman Victor Hedman for years to come.

He has stocked the team with young stars such as 24-year-old Nikita Kucherov, the NHL's leading scorer, and 21-year-old Brayden Point.

Forced to chose between veteran goalie Ben Bishop and emerging young standout Andrei Vasilevskiy, he made the right call going with the now 23-year-old Vasilevskiy, who leads the NHL in wins this season and should be between the Lightning pipes for the next decade.

Remember the Jonathan Drouin mess? Yzerman was masterful, ignoring the plea of fans to let Drouin "rot" after Drouin quit the team. He stuck by his principles, urged Drouin to return, let Drouin build his value back up, then traded him for 19-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who looks like a future All-Star.

Last year when it was time to either buy or sell before the trade deadline, he again went with his gut. He ignored others in the organization who thought the Lightning could make the playoffs and, perhaps, get on a roll. He knew better. It wasn't easy, but he traded popular veterans such as Bishop, Brian Boyle and Valtteri Filppula. That created room for players such as Point and Yanni Gourde. It also created room under the salary cap to allow him to do all the things he has done this season.

As a general manager, he has done it all.

Well, except one thing. He hasn't won a Stanley Cup.

That's what Monday was all about. Thanks to Yzerman and his staff arming the franchise with so many good youngsters, he had parts to spare when he went looking to bolster his NHL club for the Cup run.

He gave up some really good prospects and potentially two first-round picks to get McDonagh and Miller. But he didn't completely gut his system.

The Lightning still has plenty to like about the future.

But he knows the time is now to win a Stanley Cup. After all, isn't that the whole point?

And you can bet that Yzerman's bold move not only improved the Lightning's roster, but sent a message that was well received in the locker room. A message that says, "We're going for it, boys."

"I think it's great," Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi said. "He has faith in the group we have, but this time of year, if you want to go far, you maybe need to add a couple of pieces and he did that for us. Now we need to show him he made the right moves."

Yzerman is one who rarely shows emotion. But even he admitted that Monday's drama of phone calls, negotiations, waiting and more and more phone calls and then pulling off a splashy deal was, dare we say, fun.

"It's enjoyable," Yzerman said. "It's exciting. It is kind of fun, I guess. But we're not doing it to have fun. It's a business for us.

These days, business is good in Tampa Bay.

Thanks to Steve Yzerman.