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Yzerman leaving as Lightning GM leads to more questions than answers

Says 'I don't know' about future beyond this season

by Nicholas J. Cotsonika @cotsonika / NHL.com Columnist

The news struck like, well, a lightning bolt. Steve Yzerman was stepping down as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Why? And why now? 

Yzerman answered some questions in a news conference Tuesday, when the Lightning announced he will be a senior adviser to the new GM, Julien BriseBois. But he left a big one hanging.

What's next?

 

[RELATED: Yzerman steps down as GM of Lightning]

 

"We're going to play this year," Yzerman said. "And after that, I don't know."

The news is shocking for two reasons: Yzerman has unfinished business in Tampa Bay, and the Lightning have the ability to finish it.

Since Yzerman became GM in 2010, the Lightning have made the Eastern Conference Final four times, including three times in the past four years. Each time they lost, they lost in a Game 7. They made the Stanley Cup Final in 2015.

"I'm proud of what we were able to build," Yzerman said. "I'm disappointed we haven't won a Stanley Cup yet."

The Lightning are among the favorites this season and in position to contend for years. They can win it. And Yzerman, the competitor Kid Rock sang was "in it to win it," is giving up the GM job?

If he wants to be a GM again, where else is he going to have a better chance to win the Cup? Would he really rather start over with a rebuild?

But Yzerman's home is Detroit. He spent his entire 22-year NHL playing career with the Detroit Red Wings and another four years learning in the front office. When he took over the Lightning, his family stayed behind.

"I have done a lot of traveling and it has worked," Yzerman said. "I feel I've been able to do the job, be where I need to be [for the Lightning] as well as be where I need to be for my wife and daughters.

Video: Yzerman stepping down as Lightning GM

"At this point now, I have to make a decision again. At some point, it's either sign another contract to be the general manager, or remain as the general manager, or not. And with some time to reflect, to do the job the way it needs to be done, the way I feel it needs to be done, and ultimately to be with my family as well, it's becoming difficult to do.

"And hence the decision."

Yzerman, who had one season left on his contract, said he made the decision in July before sitting down with owner Jeff Vinik to discuss an extension. It took time to iron out the details. The Lightning wanted to make an announcement before training camp began Thursday to avoid distractions and focus on the season.

The best thing for the Lightning would have been for Yzerman to sign an extension, but this is the next-best thing. If Yzerman is not committed for the long term, then promote BriseBois, the assistant GM widely regarded as a top GM candidate, with Yzerman still around to ease the transition.

"He is more than ready and deserves the opportunity and has earned that," Yzerman said.

BriseBois said he and Yzerman had discussed a long-term role as a senior adviser, but Yzerman wouldn't commit to that, either.

"He wants to try it out for the year," BriseBois said. "I would love for him to stay beyond one season. At the end of the year, we'll sit down, and if he enjoyed his new role, then obviously I would be more than happy if he were to stay on board with us."

The obvious speculation is that Yzerman will return to the Red Wings, though he would be a top candidate for any opening. He would be home with his family. He would be where he became a legend, winning the Cup three times as a player and once as an executive. He would be where he is beloved.

During the ceremony after the last game at Joe Louis Arena on April 9, 2017 -- with the Red Wings missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1989-90, Yzerman's seventh season in Detroit -- the fans chanted, "Come home, Stevie!" 

We'll see.

Red Wings president Chris Ilitch, the son of late Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch, declined to comment in Detroit on Tuesday because Yzerman was still under contract with the Lightning.

Red Wings GM Ken Holland signed a two-year contract extension April 7. Ilitch praised Holland then, saying, "He has my support and that of our owner, Marian Ilitch, and we are completely aligned on our strategy for building a Stanley Cup contender."

In the meantime, Yzerman said he was 100 percent committed to this role this season. The Lightning still have the same people, the same plan, the same expectations. BriseBois said he was confident the Lightning could hoist the Cup.

"Everyone is in it to win it," BriseBois said.

Like you know who.

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