For years Steve Yzerman
spent his summers relaxing away from the rink before gradually working his way back into playing shape. His first four post-retirement summers weren't all that stressful, either, as he merely dipped his toes into the deep waters that surround and sometimes drown NHL front-office men.
His world is so, so different now.
Yzerman dove off the high dive and head first into the deep end this summer as the new general manager and vice president of the Tampa Bay Lightning
, and the few times he came up for air he revealed another shrewd move aimed at bringing the franchise back to the championship level it reached in 2004.
Was it a whirlwind for the Hall of Fame player?
"In June and July, yeah, my head was spinning so what I did was just try to focus on a few things," Yzerman told NHL.com. "I was trying to chip away at things over the course of time. It was important to get a coach hired, to get ready for the draft and for free agency. Then, as July wore on a little bit, things slowed down and I could focus on some other things."
Yzerman has drawn praise and high grades from many in the hockey community, from his former bosses to his new subordinates and in between. His May 27 hiring created an immediate stir around the Lightning, but his work on the roster this summer has so many people buzzing about the potential for the team this season.
"There is a level of expectation for all of our players and they have a responsibility. We're going to challenge them and push them. I'm happy there is a positive energy around the club, but we still have to go out and do it. We haven't played a game yet. This isn't going to be an overnight thing. We're trying to become a Stanley Cup contender and that's going to take time."
-- Steve Yzerman
"Part of being successful in life is experience," Detroit GM Ken Holland, Yzerman's former boss, told NHL.com, "and he had lots of experiences to prepare himself for this Tampa opportunity."
Nobody is calling Tampa Bay a Stanley Cup contender right now, but on paper the Lightning look like a playoff team. They haven't been to the spring dance since 2007.
"We'll see," Yzerman said in his typical understated style. "There is a level of expectation for all of our players and they have a responsibility. We're going to challenge them and push them. I'm happy there is a positive energy around the club, but we still have to go out and do it. We haven't played a game yet. This isn't going to be an overnight thing. We're trying to become a Stanley Cup contender and that's going to take time."
It may not be that long if Yzerman stays as determined every summer.
He took over with some key pieces to the puzzle already in place, including captain Vincent Lecavalier
, veteran scorer Martin St. Louis
, co-Rocket Richard winner Steven Stamkos
, burly forward Ryan Malone
and promising blueliner Victor Hedman
One of Yzerman's first orders of business from a player personnel perspective was to re-sign St. Louis to a four-year extension; he got it done amidst the chaos July 1. Yzerman later completed his top-six forward core by adding Simon Gagne
via a trade with Philadelphia and re-signing Steve Downie
to a two-year contract.
He worked on the goaltending by signing Dan Ellis
to a two-year contract. He'll play in tandem with Mike Smith
Defensemen Pavel Kubina
and Brett Clark
were signed to multi-year contracts to stabilize the blue line and help Hedman as he develops into a top-flight NHL defenseman. Dominic Moore
was brought in as a third-line, penalty-killing center. Sean Bergenheim
, a double-digit scorer for three straight seasons, also was signed to give the bottom-six forward group some added scoring punch.
Yzerman also looked to the future, and his salary cap, by trading defenseman Andrej Meszaros
to Philadelphia for a 2012 second-round draft choice. Meszaros' contract calls for him to make $18.25 million over the next four seasons, but that's not Yzerman's concern any more.
"We've got an interesting mix," Lightning coach Guy Boucher
told NHL.com. "I think Steve has done a tremendous job this summer of providing us with some guys who can move the puck quickly. We've added Kubina and Clark on defense and they can move the puck well, too. We have forwards with some speed and they can do some damage. It gives me a lot of liberty as a coach to deal with these types of guys. Sometimes we look at these guys in terms of numbers and points, but to me, what I look at is it gives me the freedom to interchange some guys at different positions and in different situations. With the names we've got, I've got different options."
The already established Tampa players paid close attention to everything Yzerman did this summer.
"I'm very excited about the moves he's made," Stamkos told NHL.com. "The respect factor just instantly kicks in with our team now. The whole atmosphere has changed for the better and we can't wait to get the season going."
Prior to making all these moves, Yzerman sought guidance from close friend Pat Verbeek
. He hired his former teammate as Tampa's Director of Professional Scouting on June 8, taking him away from the Red Wings. Verbeek had worked as a pro scout for Holland from 2006-09.
"He had an opportunity in Detroit to evaluate the set-up of our front office and how he wanted to put his office together," Holland said. "He obviously took Pat Verbeek
with him because it's important to hire people you think are going to bring the information to you."
BEHIND THE BENCH
Boucher was the only real option to be the coach. Yzerman just had to close the deal, and he did that two weeks after he was hired by the Lightning. He compared Boucher to Red Wings coach Mike Babcock in that both were highly successful coaches in junior hockey and the AHL before moving to the NHL.
"He has made positive impressions, been successful and has had an impact on players in their development and success on the ice," Yzerman said. "I just felt like he's a bright young mind, an up-and-coming coach, and I think it's the right direction for the Tampa Bay Lightning
Yzerman allowed Boucher to bring with him assistants Marty Raymond and Dan Lacroix while also hiring veteran assistant Wayne Fleming to fill out the staff. Raymond was Boucher's coach at McGill University, and he and Lacroix were on Boucher's staff with the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs last season.
"When you bring in guys like Steve Yzerman
and Guy Boucher
, what two better guys to bring in to start an organization," Stamkos said.
Two weeks after hiring Boucher, Yzerman sat at the head of a draft table for the first time and selected forward Brett Connolly
with the sixth pick of the first round. Connolly was ranked third among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. Yzerman said Connolly "fits the mold of the type of player we are looking for."
The Lightning made eight selections at the Entry Draft in Los Angeles -- five defensemen and three forwards. Yzerman called it a successful weekend, but he's thinking future drafts could be even better with new chief amateur scout Al Murray running the show.
Yzerman met Murray, a former Director of Amateur Scouting for the Kings, through Hockey Canada. Murray had spent the previous three years as the head scout for Canada's national men's teams and helped put together several gold-medal winning rosters, including the 2008 and 2009 World Junior Championship teams.
Is it possible that years from now we'll be calling Murray the steal of the 2010 offseason?
"He's just someone I got to meet in a hockey rink and when you think of forming a staff one day, the type of people you want, his name always came to mind," Yzerman said. "The work he's done the last few years for Hockey Canada has given him more experience, different experiences that expand his knowledge and his ability to assess players.
"The ultimate success of a hockey team, if you're going to be consistently successful, you have to draft well. That's the most important part of the organization and it starts with Al. He will work with our staff to build this thing long term."
THE NUMBERS MAN
With the roster set, the coaching staff in place and the scouting being handled by some of the best in the business, Yzerman now needed someone who could assist him in the day-to-day operations of running a team in the new NHL.
Enter Julien BriseBois, Tampa Bay's new capologist.
BriseBois, only 33, was a fast-riser behind the scenes with the Montreal Canadiens
. He spent nine years with the Habs and held various titles, including Director of Legal Affairs, Director of Hockey Operations, Vice President of Hockey Operations and GM in Hamilton, where he worked closely with Boucher.
"He is regarded as one of the best young minds in the game," Yzerman said.
So is Yzerman. He proved it in just one summer.
"Everybody respects him," Lecavalier told NHL.com. "It's obvious that they want to make a first-class organization."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl