TAMPA — Steve Yzerman, who now heads back to Detroit and the job of Red Wings general manager (no real surprise) helped build the Tampa Bay Lightning into what it was.
So, he’s the one.
Yzerman actually left the Lightning before the season, when he handed the franchise reins to Julien BriseBois — BriseBois presumably being French for “stand pat.”
Yzerman was already a ghost as he spent this season as a Lightning senior adviser, sitting high above the ice at Amalie Arena. We’d see him and we wouldn’t see him. He is on his way back to the franchise that raised him and where he raised the Stanley Cup three times as a player.
Now it is just a question of whether he haunts this franchise.
But did it have to have to be now, right now?
The Lightning playoff death rattle is still ringing in our ears. Yeah, we knew this was going to happen, expected it, honestly, but it still feels a gut punch.
What’s next? ThunderBug takes a job with TECO?
I mean, the SS Lightning went down 22 minutes ago. Couldn’t Yzerman at least have waited until the lifeboats were put off?
Yzerman did a great job here. He transformed the Lightning from a post-Cup-run laughingstock into a team to be feared, at least in the regular season. He stocked this franchise with talent, on the big club and down on the farm. Whatever Yzerman touched (the Vinny Lecavalier trade, the Marty St. Louis trade, the Jonathan Drouin trade) seemed to turn golden. We’d mention the Ben Bishop trade, but Bishop is still playing in the postseason and Andrei Vasilevskiy is not.
Yzerman made the Lightning stand on its own feet again. He hired, then un-hired his first coach, Guy Boucher. He hired 62-wins Jon Cooper, who apparently will remain here after the playoff humiliation, possibly to solidify his growing reputation as a builder, not a closer. A Stanley Cup in Tampa was the one box Yzerman never checked, and it makes us wonder if the Lightning will ever again check it.
Yzerman steadfastly refused to do media after he turned things over the Brisebois. He kept his oath of silence even as the circus folded its tent. Nothing surprising there. That is who Yzerman is, a strict chaperone to this franchise even as he leaves it. He knows what he did right here and he isn’t about to start telling us what he or BriseBois did wrong. That goes with Yzerman to Detroit, where he will try to rally the Red Wings back to the top, and be with his family.
Hard not to wish Stevie Y Godspeed.
Just don’t haunt us.
For one thing, Yzerman would have to stand in line if he did. Our old pal John Tortorella is No.1 in the haunting power rankings after sweeping aside Cooper and his club games. Johnny Torts took no pleasure in that. Okay, maybe a little, when he thought about the cowboys who drove him out of Tampa Bay.
Yzerman should leave with no such hard feelings. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik loves the guy. If anything, Yzerman might be kicking himself on the way out the door. He did most everything he has set out to the do in hockey: Detroit folk hero, longest-tenured team captain, 692 goals, all that Cup lifting, Hall of Fame, GM of Canada’s two-time Olympic champion. The only thing he didn’t get done was winning a Cup here.
His legacy in Tampa Bay, as great as it is, will forever be incomplete. It reminds us what it took Yzerman 14 season to learn as a player: It’s hard to win the Stanley Cup. And it’s going to get spookier if the Lightning ever meets Detroit in the playoffs. Picture Stevie Y looking down.
Haven’t we been through enough?
Contact Martin Fennelly at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.