Yzerman, a star with the Wings for more than two decades and a member of the front office since he retired four years ago, cut the cord with the only organization he's ever worked for on Tuesday when he was introduced as the new general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
As excited as Yzerman is to be the guy running the show -- an occurrence that was unlikely to happen any time soon in Detroit, where GM Ken Holland has built one of the NHL's best organizations -- he also admits that it's a bit of a shock to be leaving the only franchise he's ever worked for.
"It's been a difficult thing for me to do -- to pull away. In some ways it's scary," Yzerman said Tuesday during a media conference call. "I've been sheltered for a long time in Detroit; they protected me. It's almost like I'm stepping out on my own for the first time really, since I was 18 years old. This is exciting and it's a little bit scary for me. But this is something I want to do, and I decided this is the right opportunity for me."
Yzerman came to the Red Wings when they took him with the fourth pick in the 1983 Entry Draft -- one year after Mike and Marian Ilitch bought the franchise. He said one of the toughest parts about his decision was telling the Ilitches that he was leaving to go to the Lightning.
"It was difficult for me, very emotional, obviously," he said. "It was a difficult decision for me, a difficult thing to do. I was fortunate that I could drive to the Ilitches' home and let them know that I had decided to do this. They were aware that I had had discussions with Tampa; I was able to go to their house and they were great.
"They understood what I wanted to accomplish and were very happy for me. It made it a lot easier that they encouraged me and understood why I was doing what I was doing and why I wanted to do it, and they were extremely supportive."
While Yzerman can't take any members of his now-former team with him, he's likely to bring elements of the Wings' philosophy on drafting and style of play with him.
"The whole puck-possession thing comes from having good players," he said. "It's not a system you invent; it's a system that comes from having good hockey players.
"What the Red Wings do is they draft talent. They don't just draft by size, they don't just draft by nationality -- they just go out and find the best players, guy who have skill and guys who compete. That's going to be part of my philosophy going forward; guys who are skilled players and guys who compete. The goal is going to be to draft talent, draft skill and competitiveness, just like the Red Wings have done -- and they've been successful."
Hiring Yzerman was the first major move by new owner Jeff Vinik, who bought the team just over two months ago. Vinik fired coach Rick Tocchet and GM Brian Lawton after the Bolts missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
"We talked about the organization, about his philosophy. I asked a lot of questions. He asked a lot of questions," Yzerman said of the interview process. "We had a lot of discussion on the team, the direction of the team, the current team, on the commitments of the team going forward -- five years from now, on the cost to do business in this League, the challenge the Tampa Bay Lightning face in this economy.
One of Yzerman's first tasks will be to hire a coach. He said he wants someone with head coaching experience, but not necessarily someone who had coached in the NHL. "He has to be a strong leader and a knowledgeable hockey person," Yzerman said. "He has to make sure our best players are our best players in all areas of the game."
Yzerman said he and his family will be moving to Tampa, but he admitted that part of him is sorry to be leaving Detroit and the Red Wings.
"Everything I'll miss," he said. "I've virtually grown up in Detroit, since 1983. My entire career was played there, my wife and I lived there since 1989. Our children were born there. It's been our home my entire career -- everything that we went through as an organization, as a fan base. It was a difficult decision for me to leave because I've really enjoyed my entire time in Detroit -- living there, playing there.
"I will miss everything about it. I loved living there and I loved playing there. I've never done this before. In some ways it's exciting, and in others it's a little bit scary.
"I knew I wanted to do this, take this opportunity. But it was really safe for me in Detroit, really comfortable for me. I haven't gone outside of Detroit my entire life. It wasn't an easy thing for me to do, because once I leave, I can't go back to being only a Detroit Red Wing forever. I can't turn back, and I had to be certain this was what I wanted to do."