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Yzerman already making mark as Tampa GM

by Mike G. Morreale /
Since taking over as Vice President and General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning two months ago, Steve Yzerman has certainly been firing on all cylinders.

In fact, you get the feeling he's taking the been-there-and-done-that approach, despite the fact he really hasn't. Well, that's if you discount his four years alongside some of the best executives in the business as vice president of the Detroit Red Wings.

But after playing a monumental role as executive GM for the gold medal-winning Canadian Olympic Team in Vancouver in February, Yzerman really appears to be in a comfort zone in Tampa.

"My role in the Olympics has helped in the decision-making process," Yzerman said. "With Team Canada, I went through the process of hiring a coaching staff, building a management team and making timely decisions. That helped me a lot. But I know running an NHL team as a manager versus that of the National Team are different; a lot more goes into (the NHL side)."

Still, those decisions made have been timely and executed with confidence.

It began with the hiring of the youngest head coach in the League in 38-year-old Guy Boucher and continued at the Entry Draft in Los Angeles in June, when Yzerman scoffed at the injury rumors surrounding Brett Connolly (hip flexor) and selected him with the sixth pick. Now, it's ongoing during the stressful free agency signing period.

For Yzerman, managing a team is a process -- every move should be thoroughly examined and calculated.

"When taking the job initially (on May 25), I explained what my plan was, so to speak," Yzerman said. "What I wanted to get to and how I want to get there. It takes time. I'm not coming in and promising a Stanley Cup in two years … certainly if we're in that position, I won't refuse it. But these things take time. To build a program correctly takes time, and as long as we go about it the right way I think the educated hockey fan will understand that there is a process to this and there is some direction, and we're going in that direction.

"There's a danger in trying to get too good, too quickly, and you get tied into commitments you can't get yourself out of and that prevents you from doing the things that need to be done," he added.

And make no mistake, Yzerman is doing things his way.

Yzerman first freed up $4 million of salary for next season and $18.25 million over the last four years of Andrej Meszaros' contract when he dealt the defenseman to the Philadelphia Flyers for a 2012 second-round draft choice.

While unrestricted free agents Alex Tanguay (Calgary Flames), Kurtis Foster (Edmonton Oilers) and Antero Niittymaki (San Jose Sharks) were changing allegiances, Yzerman was locking up All-Star forward Martin St. Louis for four more seasons, in addition to signing goalie Dan Ellis and defenseman Pavel Kubina, each for two years.

Ellis should challenge Mike Smith for the No. 1 role in net. He split the goaltending job with Pekka Rinne in Nashville last season before Rinne took over after the Olympic break. Ellis finished 15-13-1 with a .909 save percentage and 2.69 goals-against average.

"Dan sensed an opportunity, and his agent sensed an opportunity where there was an opportunity to play and where money isn't necessarily the most important thing," Yzerman told the St. Petersburg Times. "We were able to get a goalie we feel really good about at a contract that works for us."

"The Lightning are an up-and-coming team that has all the right pieces," Ellis said. "They picked up a world-class coach and general manager this summer and it is a team that is headed in the right direction. As soon as I saw that they quickly became my No. 1 option."

The Kubina signing was particularly important since Foster was the team's only right-handed shot along the blue line. A righty himself, Kubina scored 35-plus points in five of his last six seasons and should certainly fill the void left by Foster on the back end.

Kubina, 33, started his NHL career with the Lightning back in 1997-98. He played in Atlanta last season and produced 6 goals and 32 assists in 76 games. The previous three seasons, Kubina skated for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

"There's a danger in trying to get too good, too quickly, and you get tied into commitments you can't get yourself out of and that prevents you from doing the things that need to be done."
-- Steve Yzerman

"The biggest thing is not to get too excited and go beyond your plan," Yzerman said. "But it's been fun. It's been interesting."

Yzerman was ecstatic to lock up St. Louis, who was entering the final season of his contract.

"Marty means so much to this franchise, both on and off the ice," Yzerman said. "His hard work and dedication are unsurpassed and we are thrilled that he will finish his career in Tampa Bay."

St. Louis, meanwhile, likes what he sees in the rookie GM.

"We have a lot of holes to fill, but I have full faith in what Steve is trying to accomplish," St. Louis said. "We've had so many bad articles written about the Lightning the last two years, it was so draining. Steve brings a calm. It kind of like stops the storm. We have to earn respect with our play, but I feel the bad weather is behind us."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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