Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s pre-draft press conference yielded 41 minutes’ worth of information regarding the Red Wings’ priorities in both the draft and free agency, as well as the news that the team would not retain Jimmy Howard’s services.
Here are some of the highlights from the media’s coverage of Yzerman’s commentary:
- NHL.com’s Nicholas J. Cotsonika took note of Yzerman’s comments regarding Jimmy Howard and free agency:
“There are several [goalies] that today look like they’ll be on the market next week, and we’ll look to fill the position with that,” Yzerman said Thursday.
“Without [an interview period] to talk to free agents, we have to wait until Oct. 9 to really get a good feel for where there’s a fit for interest of these players and the parameters of contracts,” Yzerman said. “So we’ll get a better idea next week.”
The Red Wings generally are looking for shorter-term contracts in free agency because of their rebuild and the League’s financial outlook.
“I would say we’ll be relatively conservative,” Yzerman said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty as to what the economic landscape in the NHL looks like in the next couple of years. I wouldn’t rule out anything. Again, it’s got to make sense. The contract has to make sense … the [average annual value], or what you have to pay the player, and the term depending on their age. We’re not opposed to anything, but it’s got to make sense.”
2. Yzerman also addressed the draft, as noted by MLive’s Ansar Khan…
“At this early stage, where we’re at as an organization, I don’t think we can really target a particular position,” Yzerman said Thursday during a pre-draft media Zoom call. “We’re going to take the best prospects. And honestly, regardless of the state your team is in, unless you got the first or second pick and there’s a bona fide franchise player, you’re not really targeting a position.
“The kids are 17, 18, 19 years of age. The vast majority of them are three, four, five years away from playing in the NHL. Your needs as an organization will change over time, so we try to draft the best prospect available with the current pick.”
And Khan also took note of Yzerman’s remarks regarding Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha’s respective contract negotiations…
Yzerman said he has had contract discussions with the team’s most prominent restricted free agents, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi. There is no urgency to get a deal done before free agency starts on Oct. 9.
“I would like to get them done sooner, but we have time,” Yzerman said. “I’m confident we’ll get them under contract. The process takes time. It’s not going to hold us back from doing anything else we need to do.”
Yzerman indicated they won’t necessarily qualify all their RFAs.
As well as Yzerman’s stance on the Wings’ European-team-loaned prospects:
“It might make sense for them to stay for the year,” Yzerman said. “Some of the European leagues and the teams are saying they’re not interested in players coming short-term. So, if we have to leave them for the season there, for one year under these circumstances, depending on where and what league they’re in, we’re not opposed to that.”
3. The Free Press’s Helene St. James shifts our focus back to the draft…
“At the fourth pick we’re pretty excited regardless how it plays out with what our options will be,” Yzerman said. He himself was a fourth-overall pick, drafted in 1983 and soon emerging as the franchise’s new face under new owner Mike Ilitch.
The Wings hold three picks in the second round. Yzerman didn’t sound like he anticipates packaging the picks to move up in the draft, or to acquire a player, though he didn’t rule anything out.
“In order for your prospects to turn into players, you need draft picks,” he said. “So it’s important for us to really hang on and try to add to the number of picks each year, and then ultimately we need some of them to turn into players. Within each round and from round to round, the likely of that prospect turning into a player shrinks, so the more picks we have gives us better odds, increasing the odds of turning them into players.”
As well as the fate of the Wings’ restricted free agents:
Even with earmarking funds to sign his two biggest restricted free agents — forwards Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi — Yzerman’s roughly $27.3 million in cap space gives him flexibility to take advantage of other teams needing to refinance.
Some of the team’s other restricted free agents (forwards Adam Erne, Dmytro Timashov, Brendan Perlini and Christoffer Ehn and defenseman Madison Bowey) may also get offers.
“We’ve got some decisions to make on some our restricteds, if in fact we’re going to qualify them or not qualify them and offer them contracts, or not qualify them and let them go,” Yzerman said. “We’ve got some time to make that decision.”
4. The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan took note of Yzerman’s draft-related remarks…
“Our plan right now is to draft and try accumulate, or add, additional picks along the way. Draft, be patient, and hopefully we draft well,” Yzerman said during a Zoom interview Thursday with media. “(And) build a nucleus of a team. To try and build it through free agency is impossible. It just doesn’t work, and to do it through trades is entirely difficult because they (other teams) want your good assets and our assets are young players and our draft picks, right now, and that’s what we’re trying to build around.”
With the Wings in the middle of a rebuild, they aren’t targeting a specific position group. At this point, they simply want to add the best prospect available.
“The kids (being drafted) are 17, 18, 19 years of age, and the vast majority of them are three, four, or five years away from playing in the NHL,” Yzerman said. “Your needs as an organization will (change) over time, so we try to draft the best prospect available with that current pick.”
As well as Yzerman’s take on the free agent marketplace…
Yzerman expects a lot of phone calls, but is unsure about the level of action taking place. The Wings, with plenty of salary cap space, could be involved in some of the trade talk.
“There will be a lot of phone calls made, every team is doing that,” Yzerman said. “What we do whether prior to the draft or leading up to free agency, I cannot tell you how much action there will be. But I do know we’re in constant communication. You’re on the phone every day leading up to the draft.
“There’s just a lot of uncertainty around the league. No one really knows what is going to happen Oct. 9 with free agency, what is going to happen in the market. Is it going to be business as usual or will teams be more conservative. I really don’t know.”
And Kulfan also noted the following…
Yzerman was pleased to see the former team he managed, the Tampa Bay Lightning, win the Stanley Cup on Monday, though he didn’t view it as self-satisfaction.
“Self-satisfaction is not the right word. I enjoyed watching the playoffs, enjoyed watching Tampa. They’re a good, entertaining team,” Yzerman said. “A lot of the players and staff, the owner, they’re friends and I had a great working relationship with them. I was very happy to see them win. They’ve been close a number of years now. I was real pleased for Tampa and the entire organization.”
Yzerman is confident the Wings — and the six other teams who didn’t participate in the league’s restart — will get to begin training camp a bit earlier than the other 24 teams.
The Wings haven’t played or been together as a team since March 12 when the NHL season was paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Most analysts feel the NHL regular season will begin after Jan. 1, meaning training camp would likely begin around mid-December.
5. The Detroit News’s John Niyo summarized Yzerman’s remarks in a superb column…
“I’ve had some discussions with other general managers about (how) they’re looking to create cap space,” Yzerman said Thursday in a pre-draft video conference. “But it really depends on their level of urgency or what else they’re trying to do for it to make sense. We try to justify, ‘What is a second-round pick worth?’ or ‘What is a first-round pick worth?’ if we’re, in effect, buying that. …
“We’re open to it — we have the ability to do it if we want. Right now, I’m not really sure — based on the discussions I’ve had — that I really expect anything to come along that will make sense for us to do it. But there’s still plenty of time.”
And money, though Yzerman does have a couple of big-ticket items on his offseason to-do list as well, coming to terms on contract extensions for restricted free agents Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi. Ideally, he’d get those two locked up before the start of free agency — negotiations are “ongoing” with their agents, Yzerman says — but ask him if he needs that cost-certainty now and you’ll get another shrug.
“I’m confident we’ll get them signed at some point, and we’d like to do that as soon as possible,” he said. “But the process takes time. And that’s OK. It’s not really gonna hold us back from doing anything else we need to do.”
That’s because Yzerman doesn’t expect to be diving headfirst into the first wave of free agency next week, doling out huge salaries on long-term deals for the top free agents in the marketplace. The Red Wings, dead last in the NHL standings by a wide margin last season, aren’t in a position to do that yet. And while Yzerman cautions that he “wouldn’t rule out anything,” in the next breath he also adds, “I think it’s a fair assumption that we’ll be relatively conservative.”
6. DetroitRedWings.com’s Brett McWethy draws our focus back to the draft…
Yzerman will conduct the draft from a large conference room, with much of his management and scouting staff scattered, including across Canada and Europe. They’ll be in regular communication via the electronic vices that we have all become so familiar with. There will be a lack of palpable buzz and excitement that the draft annually presents on location in an NHL city – particularly in the first round – but Yzerman and his team are prepared for the changes.
“This morning, we did our own bit of testing, walking through the technology we’ll be using,” said Yzerman. “The league is running through it with our IT people to make sure we’re running it how they want it to run, and making sure it’s operational. I’m very comfortable that it should work out really well.
“We’ve got a nice spaced-out conference room, and it will be a little quieter in there,” Yzerman said. “It will be a little less hectic. Particularly in Round 1 when the building is full, the fans are chanting and there is a lot of buzz in the building. With a lot of people around, it can be very distracting. I kind of like this (virtual) format. You do not have the ability to quickly catch the eye of a general manager, but we’ve got multiple phone lines. You can get a lot done quickly.”
Virtual correspondence is nothing new to Yzerman and his management team. The pandemic has led to regular remote meeting and scouting sessions. While it’s not an ideal situation, it’s one that’s helped drive some efficiencies.
“I don’t want to run our organization remotely forever. I think interaction, spending time together, going to games together when we’re allowed to do that, is crucial,” said Yzerman. “But it has become an efficient way to hold meetings. I could see us using these forums in the future. I still think we need to get out there, to be in arenas, to be watching the players at every level, live. I think we’ll do some of our mid-season meetings, potentially, online. It saves everybody time and allows us to be more efficient.”
7. The Athletic’s Max Bultman filed an article issuing 10 thoughts regarding the press conference…
The answer I found most interesting of the whole news conference came when Yzerman was asked how much he incorporates the strength of a league into his decision-making on prospects.
Yzerman began by saying, “I don’t know what the right answer is or what we should do, but I really haven’t taken it into account much.”
Inevitably, though, it has to be a factor in assessments, because players in higher leagues likely are getting less playing time and facing harder competition. That difference from players in junior hockey, in Yzerman’s words, “makes it tricky.”
But then he told a good anecdote (he had a couple of those Thursday, including a great one about the Brayden Point trade-up when he was in Tampa Bay) about why penalizing a player for playing in a weaker league can lead you astray.
“I just go back to, Cale Makar was playing in the Alberta junior league, Tier II league, in Canada,” Yzerman said. “And I went and watched him play and he was just so good, you couldn’t help but think — he kind of could do whatever he wanted. The one particular game I went to, I think they won like 12-0. So it was hard to judge him, but he just had these, like, his skating and puck skills and his thinking, he just jumped out at you. So you would hate to hold him back for playing in a weaker league.”
8. And, on Twitter:
Priceless answer from Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman when I asked him why his screen was dark & mike muted during Zoom calls with draft prospects: “I was doing Yoga for most of the interviews, so I was trying to not be a distraction.”— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) October 1, 2020
“I really wouldn’t read into anything I do” is a phenomenal quote from Yzerman at the end there, when asked about not having his mic on for prospect interviews.— Max Bultman (@m_bultman) October 1, 2020
Steve Yzerman has had conversations with other GMs who are trying to get cap space.— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) October 1, 2020
“What is a second round pick worth if we’re essentially buying it?” he said he asks himself.
Are there bottom-line traits/characteristics Steve Yzerman looks for in prospects?— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) October 1, 2020
Does he want to share them?
Update: Here’s a little more from the Free Press’s St. James:
Prospects said director of amateur scouting Kris Draper asked the questions in Zoom calls. Cole Perfetti described his interaction with Yzerman as “limited … for the most part he’s had his camera off and very quiet, just kind of listening and taking notes. He didn’t really ask anything.”
Asked about his strategy Thursday, Yzerman didn’t even hesitate.
“I was doing yoga for most of the interviews,” Yzerman said. “I was trying to not be a distraction.”
Yzerman laughed, then admitted he couldn’t remember why he might not have taken a more active role.
“There was a lot going on,” he said. “The only reason I might have been muted at that time would have been because I was on another call or whatnot. Or, quite frankly, I’ve got an older dog that barks pretty much for no reason whatsoever, so a lot of times I was simply muting my microphone for that reason.”