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New Lightning GM Yzerman goes to work at Combine

by Adam Kimelman /
TORONTO -- Day 2 of Steve Yzerman's job as general manager of Tampa Bay Lightning saw him arrive here for the 2010 NHL Scouting Combine, where he's getting a chance to meet the top prospects for this year's Entry Draft -- one of whom will become the first player chosen under his administration.
Yzerman said assistant GM Tom Kurvers, who had been serving as interim GM following Brian Lawton's dismissal, is heading the group that will make the final determination on who the Lightning take.
"Being here at the Combine, they're going to run the draft and make decisions on who the Lightning pick," Yzerman said. "About all I can do is question and challenge and make sure they're thorough in their decisions."
Kurvers told that he feels the work he and his scouting department -- headed by Director of Player Personnel Jim Hammett and Head Amateur Scout Darryl Plandowski -- have a good handle which prospects will best help the club. But he said he's very eager to get Yzerman's input.
"I think our preparation and our feel for this process is just fine," Kurvers said. "Now the vision and guidance that Steve brings -- and really, more importantly, the respect he brings to our organization -- he'll put his stamp on things when he arrives and we'll follow that.
"He'll have a point of view on the high pick at six. I'm sure he's been doing his homework for quite some time, as have our guys. We'll present our point of view and it'll be meshed together. His point of view will carry the day, but our point of view is based on the work and effort in the field. It'll be a good interaction."
Yzerman wasn't dropping any hints about the kind of player he thinks his new team needs, but in a draft regarded as one of the deeper talent pools of recent memory, his hopes are high on getting a quality player.
"At six you're hopefully getting a good prospect," Yzerman said. "And if he plays in the NHL next year you've really hit a home run. Realistically, at the sixth pick you've got a player maybe 2-3 years away. That's the reality."
The draft is just one piece of the puzzle Yzerman has to put together in Tampa Bay. The Bolts need a coach to replace Rick Tocchet, who was let go along with Lawton on April 12, Yzerman and his staff will have to prepare for the start of free agency on July 1, and further down the road, a new contract needs to be worked on for 50-goal scorer Steven Stamkos.
It's a lot to get a handle on, but Yzerman said he knew what he was getting into and is looking forward to the hard work that lies ahead.
"It's going to get busy, but I was expecting that," Yzerman said. "People I talked to, my friends in the business, having watched it, I know what to expect. It's what I want to do. I know I'm going to be busy and I'm looking forward to it."
The coaching situation is one Yzerman said he feels he has some time to figure out. He wouldn't talk about any potential candidates, but said NHL coaching experience isn't a necessity.
"I wouldn't say it's a must, no," he said. "I'm careful to not pin myself down to any particular thing. Ideally I'd like to have someone that has head coaching experience, if not at the NHL level, then at the American League level. But I don't want to definitely say 'no' because that would be closing off or shutting out some potentially very good guys who are assistants, young guys that are assistants that show head coaching capabilities that might be ready to take that first step.
"I think I have a lot of work to do and I have a little bit of time on my side. Each day I work the phones and talk to my friends around the League and see what names pop up, and then really go to work. I've been in the League a long time, I've been around. I know a lot of people and now I get a chance to pick people's brains on certain guys that might be potential candidates and form a list here, and then gradually shorten that list down to the legitimate guys."
In Stamkos' situation, Yzerman knows he can't officially open talks to extend the second-year center's contract, but he knows just how important Stamkos is to the future of the organization.
"We've got to start the discussion, yes," he said. "It's in the back of my mind. I realize that's there. It'll be something absolutely we'll want to prepare for and get the discussion going right way. It's an understatement, but he's an important part of the franchise for a long, long time. He's coming off a tremendous season. And he's really just starting out."
"At six you're hopefully getting a good prospect.  And if he plays in the NHL next year you've really hit a home run. Realistically, at the sixth pick you've got a player maybe 2-3 years away. That's the reality." -- Steve Yzerman

Stamkos, a 51-goal scorer in his second NHL season after being picked No. 1 in the 2008 Entry Draft, is a priority because Yzerman sees him as the cornerstone of his rebuilding project -- and it's an effort that Yzerman recognizes will take some time.
"To be honest, we're a long way from contending," he said. "I wouldn't have been given the opportunity to be the general manger if they were close to contending, that's the reality. With two weeks left in the season they were still in the playoff hunt and at the end finished six points out. Can they contend for a playoff spot? I think so.

"The big picture is trying to build the team so that it can be really good in a few years. I don't want to just make the playoffs. … My goal is the bigger picture and really setting this thing up going forward. My goal is to improve the team in the offseason, but I'm not going to do anything that jeopardizes the long-term plan of draft, develop, sign good contracts, and allow, led by Stamkos, these younger players to develop. We're a ways away from being a serious contender."
Yzerman said leaving Detroit for Tampa Bay wasn't something he came to lightly, but said the more time he spent with new owner Jeff Vinik, the better he felt about taking the job.
"We had some initial discussions, Jeff Vinik and I, and each conversation we had was more and more positive and went more in-depth and more candid," Yzerman said. "Ultimately we both reached a comfort level and shared the same vision. It just seemed to work. The more I talked to Jeff about it, I thought this is interesting, and it looked like an exciting opportunity. I'm going to get the opportunity to do the things I want to do and he's going to give me the opportunity to do the things that I think need to be done to make the team successful."
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