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Yzerman doesn't think you can 'build a team through free agency'

Red Wings GM discusses replacing Holland, the 2019 Draft, Kronwall with

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- Steve Yzerman was not surprised when Ken Holland left the Detroit Red Wings to become general manager of the Edmonton Oilers.

But he didn't expect it to happen so quick.

On April 19, Yzerman was named executive vice president and GM of the Red Wings and Holland, who had encouraged the move, was promoted to senior vice president and was to serve as a senior adviser to hockey operations after completing his 22nd season as GM.

On May 7, Holland was by the Oilers.

"I was looking forward to work with him," Yzerman said. "I really enjoy being around him, talking hockey with him, listening to his rationale, how he manages situations. I was really looking forward to that. But I know -- we talked about it -- he loves managing. He has a burning desire to do it.

"I think things happened very quickly, more quickly than even he expected. And I'm happy for him that he's happy."

In a recent wide-ranging discussion with, Yzerman elaborated on life without Holland in Detroit, why he doesn't think teams can be built via free agency, and the future of veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

You consider Ken Holland a mentor. What kind of legacy has he left on the Red Wings organization?

"At the end of the day, I understood where he's coming from. Mostly, he's happy about his move so we're all pleased for him. In the Detroit organization, he's done so much for us. Not only building Stanley Cup teams, all of us who have worked with him, he's been a friend, a father figure, a professional adviser to us all, and he's looked out for us all. We're all grateful for everything he's done for us and we're going to miss him."

Holland always stressed the importance of the NHL Draft, as did you when you were GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. You have the No. 6 pick in the 2019 Draft, how key is it to hit on this selection?

"The Draft is so important. You have to acquire your talent some way. To do it through unrestricted free agency, you're not going to build a team that way. At least I don't think you can build a team that way. How you do it is acquire the young talent and try to develop them. I think we're fortunate to have a small core of the [Dylan] Larkins, the [Anthony] Manthas, the [Tyler] Bertuzzis coming. There's the foundation there and we have to add to it. They're all good young players."

Judging by those comments, should we not expect a big splash from the Red Wings in free agency?

"I've never used free agency to make a splash. I like when people use that term. I'm not trying to make a big splash, I'm trying to build a good team. And I don't think you can build a team through free agency. But collectively and selectively, you can improve your team."

Speaking of Mantha, he had a great performance for Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Championship with 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in nine games. How big was that for his confidence heading into 2019-20?

'It was great, good for him. I thought all the Detroit players did really well in the tournament. Was happy to see them go and to all play well. For Anthony Mantha, I thought he progressed as he went on this past season. He finished the regular season strong as did all the young players did in Detroit. Now to go over to the Worlds to play with and against some of the best players in the world, I think it's a big confidence boost to play against these guys. I think it's a stepping stone to bigger and better things."

Video: BUF@DET: Mantha picks the corner on the power play

Kronwall has not yet decided if he is going to retire. Have you heard anything from him?

"He's going to take some time. We'll get a decision from him one way or the other. I'm in no rush. I'm not putting any pressure on him or feel the need to put undue pressure on him. Take all the time that you want and make a decision. We're prepared. At this time, we can plan moving forward with him and without him. Free agency starts July 1, and I don't know if free agency even has an impact on whether he stays or not. We still have got to do what we've got to do. Obviously, there's cap space and a roster spot to consider, but we've got plenty of time to do that. We'll just wait and when [Kronwall's] comfortable announcing any decision, he'll let us know. I thought he played well last year. On and off the ice he'd be a welcome addition back."

Video: DET@COL: Kronwall beats Varlamov through traffic

You've been on the job in Detroit for about six weeks. How has the transition gone?

"Just a lot of new faces in the organization since I left, so trying to get to know people. It's June. It's the busiest time of year for teams whether you're playing or not -- behind the scenes, getting ready for the Draft, getting things in place. So when a new manager comes in, there's a lot of things to be done. It was a similar process when I went to Tampa. You go in, you're relatively unknown to a lot of people. It's the same process."

Finally, what is your goal for the Red Wings in 2019-20?

"Improvement. Looking on and off the ice in a lot of areas for it, and hopefully it's reflected in the standings. But it may not."

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