Surveying Yzermania

As the Wings and national media pondered what exactly to make of Steve Yzerman’s decision to step down as the Tampa Bay Lightning’s GM, ostensibly to spend more time with his family in Metro Detroit, I gravitated toward the video Sportsnet posted of the Lightning’s announcement, preferring to listen and pay attention for myself:

But Fox Sports Detroit talked about it…

MLive’s Ansar Khan spoke with Jimmy Devellano about it

“I had no heads up,” Devellano said. “I was told about it today.”

Yzerman was hired by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik in 2010 and has had tremendous success building the team into a championship contender. He was named GM of the year in 2014-15, when Tampa Bay lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Cup finals.

Many Red Wings fans have been clamoring for the captain to return home.

“I know how the fans feel and I can understand their feelings,” Devellano said. “They are questions we don’t have answers for and don’t have control over. What can I say, what can Kenny say? Other than (Yzerman) has done a heck of a job in Tampa and just as he was as a player he turned out to be a good GM.”

Devellano said there doesn’t appear to be anything imminent regarding Yzerman and the Red Wings.

“It’s not like something is going to happen when we open the season with Columbus (on Oct. 4),” Devellano said. “But what about next July 1, for instance? People will clamor and speculate. I understand that.”

As did the Free Press’s Helene St. James

Yzerman has close ties with Wings management. He and Wings general manager Ken Holland golfed together two weeks ago in Detroit. Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano lives in the Tampa area in winter, and attends Lightning games. He has had many cups of pre-game coffee with Yzerman.

“I was stunned,” Devellano said. “I had no inkling of it.”

Julien BriseBois takes over Yzerman’s duties as general manager. Yzerman will help him with the transition, much as Devellano did 20 years ago when Holland replaced him as general manager of the Wings.

“To do the job the way it needs to be done and to be with my family as well, it’s becoming difficult to do,” Yzerman said. “Hence the decision. I will be wherever I’m needed to be for Julien moving forward.”

Yzerman honed his management skills for four years under Holland, from retiring as a player in 2006 to taking the Lightning job in 2010. Yzerman won four Stanley Cups with the Wings; three as captain, one as part of management.

The possibility of his return is intriguing.  Holland, 62, was in the last year of a contract this past April when he was signed to a two-year extension. The term was at his behest, not that of owner Chris Ilitch. Holland has swung the Wings into rebuilding mode, and urged Ilitch to see where the team is in two years. The Wings seem on a good path after two good drafts that yielded such prospects as Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, Jonatan Berggren, Jared McIsaac and Michael Rasmussen, but they are at least two-to-three years from being competitive.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen discussed the return-to-Detroit possibility

The only question remaining is Yzerman’s plans. He is expected to live permanently in Detroit, but he said Tuesday that he would be “wherever I need to be for Julien” this season.

“After that, I don’t know,” he said.

Detroit fans have long wanted Yzerman to run the Detroit Red Wings. They have made that clear on social media and in chat rooms.

While the Lightning are considered one of the NHL’s premium teams, the Red Wings could be one of the league’s worst this season. They are rebuilding and plan to use several younger players this season.

General manager Ken Holland, 62, was recently given a two-year contract extension. But when Yzerman’s contract expires with Tampa Bay, it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t end up back working for the Red Wings in some capacity.

In Detroit, he could be both a quality family man and do a hockey job the way he likes to do it.

And the list goes on, with The Athletic’s Craig Custance weighing in

The Yzerman news, according to multiple sources, was shocking for many in the Red Wings organization. Certainly the timing. That he wants to spend more time with his family isn’t.

“His family has never moved down there. (Yzerman’s wife) Lisa goes down there on occasion,” one source told The Athletic. “He’s a family man. I’m sure that’s a factor.”

That was the message from Yzerman himself.

“I feel this change in role is important, important for me, which will allow me to spend more time with my family and also ensure the Tampa Bay Lightning are managed to the standards that (ownership) … has come to expect,” he said.

If we take Yzerman at his word, and he’s provided no reason not to, then that’s an important clue about what comes next after the final year of his contract with Tampa. Yzerman’s answer: “We’re going to play this year and after that I don’t know.”

Commuting from the Detroit area for a job in Tampa isn’t easy. It can take a toll on a father and a family. It also makes the connection to a potential expansion team in Seattle a hard sell. Same with Vancouver, another destination that surfaced in light of Trevor Linden’s departure. Those are even tougher commutes. If he wants, Yzerman can have a summer during which he’s the most courted person in hockey, much like his Team Canada coach Mike Babcock once did. But he already had one of the best GM positions in the game, on one of the best teams, working for one of the best owners, and he walked away.

As did Sportsnet’s Chris Peters

In recent years, it became common to hear a colleague or scout mention that they crossed paths with Yzerman while flying between Tampa and Detroit – a reflection of the transient lifestyle he endured with an employer based in one city and his family home remaining some 2,000 kilometres away.

So when Yzerman sent a shock through the hockey world on Tuesday afternoon – and there was legitimate shock when news emerged he was handing the keys to Julien BriseBois and stepping into a lower-key role as Tampa’s senior advisor – I immediately thought back to that long-ago tournament in Russia and his decision to spend 30 hours above the clouds in order to claim a few more with his wife and three daughters.

It’s something any partner or parent who logs heavy miles can easily identify with.

The Toronto Star’s Dave Feschuk

Yzerman is one of just seven Red Wings to have his number retired by the club. He’s second to only Gordie Howe on the all-time franchise scoring list. And thanks to the events of Tuesday, there are those who’ll tell you Yzerman is also a likely candidate to return to the only National Hockey League franchise he ever played for once his one-year obligation with the Lightning runs out.

That’s pure speculation, of course. But it adds up. The 62-year-old Holland, after all, signed a two-year deal in April to remain Detroit’s GM. But Holland has spoken publicly about being open to expanding the hockey IQ of Detroit’s front office. The Red Wings, who’ve missed the playoffs for two straight seasons after a remarkable 25-season run of post-season berths, are in the early stages of a rebuild. And even if Yzerman spoke Tuesday about the strain commuting to and from his NHL job had put on his life, at age 53, it’s hard to imagine he’s set on semi-retirement. Certainly, no matter what his plans, he’ll qualify as a coveted impending free agent. What team that’s not 100 per cent sold on the denizens of its management suite wouldn’t be inclined to call and enquire about his plans? Certainly the potential expansion franchise in Seattle would have to be interested.

Yzerman, whose resumé also includes Olympic gold medals as GM of Canada’s men’s hockey team in 2010 and 2014, was noncommittal when he was asked about his long-term plans.

“In the role I’m in, I’m 100 per cent committed to this year,” Yzerman said. “Beyond this year, I don’t have an answer for you.”

And Deadspin’s Lauren Thiesen penned an article that only Deadspin can publish without guilt:

Of course, you can take “going home” 100 percent literally and just assume Yzerman means he wants to chill out in Bloomfield Hills and eat square pizza with his family. But I’m so freaking ready for meaningful Red Wings hockey again that I don’t give a shit. The fans want him back. The Red Wings have an “internal appetite” to evolve the front office. Yzerman has done nothing to indicate that he doesn’t want to be Detroit’s new GM. I’m buying a brand new Yzerman jersey and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.

Chris Ilitch did speak with the media at the Detroit Tigers’ picture-taking day, as noted by 97.1 the Ticket’s Will Burtchfield

“Per NHL rules and our own long-term policy, I can’t comment on personnel who are under contract with another organization,” said Ilitch, who also oversees the Red Wings. “I have no regular contact (with Yzerman), but again, it’s not my place to comment.”

And me?

I’ve never been a believer in the theory that Yzerman wants to eventually come back to Detroit, mostly because he’s built the Tampa Bay Lightning into a hell of a team, and as a member of the management of a team that’s going to be a Cup contender for the next 5-7 years, I don’t see why Yzerman would give that up for a Wings team that’s rebuilding…

Or why he’d put up with the Joe Dumars treatment in the media, where every teeny tiny recall from Grand Rapids or Toledo and every single sniff of personnel management would be lauded or lamented with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns by both the fan base and media. Why put up with that kind of shit?

I just don’t understand why he’d want to take on a monumental task in rebuilding the Wings and a monumental task in dealing with the media pressure of being Steve Yzerman, Red Wings GM.

He’s got a team. I would love it if Steve Yzerman came back, I’ve got his damn autograph, I’ve got his hockey cards, I’ve got an Yzerman jersey in the closet, but I’ll believe it when I see it.


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George Malik

My name is George Malik, and I'm the Malik Report's editor/blogger/poster. I have been blogging about the Red Wings since 2006, when MLive hired me to work their SlapShots blog, and I joined Kukla's Korner in 2011 as The Malik Report. I'm starting The Malik Report as a stand-alone site, hoping that having my readers fund the website is indeed the way to go to build a better community and create better content.

3 thoughts on “Surveying Yzermania”

  1. This kind of reminds me of the Bowman situation where he went back to Chicago to be with his family. Another option is that Yzerman takes on an advisor role with the Wings instead of being the GM. Perhaps Holland moves on to Seattle and Yzerman is advisor/mentor for Draper as new GM possibly.

    Yzerman is already rich, he doesn’t have to work anywhere full time. If he wants to spend time with his family an advisor role with the Wings would seem pretty ideal.

  2. Jimmy D is sometimes full of BS but in reality they can’t talk much about Stevie Y who is still under contract. All I see is Stevie why taking a year of hockey with less stress.

    To not resign and dangle in the last year of his contract as GM was another wise move.

    What he does July 1 19, who knows. Holland only got a two yr extension which was a bit surprising. Maybe some rebuilding of team Mgmt in 2019?? (PLEASE)

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