Steve Yzerman Season Ending Press Conference | 5/27

The NHL might have been on pause from a playing standpoint due to the COVID-19 pandemic since March 12, but that does not mean Steve Yzerman has been taking a break.

After commissioner Gary Bettman's announcement Tuesday that the league planned to finish the 2019-20 season with no more regular-season games, just a 24-team playoff, that meant the Red Wings officially moved to offseason mode.

Although the NHL Entry Draft, originally set for June 26-27 in Montreal, has been postponed to an as-yet-undecided future time, the Wings' executive vice president and general manager has been preparing.

"Actually we've been quite busy," Yzerman said during a video conference call Wednesday. "Between reviewing last season, having different hockey department meetings all done over the internet, virtually, preparing for the draft, preparing for free agency, doing some budgeting for next season, we found ourselves pretty busy throughout the week. So my time hockey-wise has been occupied regularly. Constantly."

Normally at this time, Yzerman and his staff would be getting ready to head to Buffalo, N.Y. for the annual NHL Scouting Combine which was set for the first week of June, but that event was also postponed.

"It doesn't look like we'll get to physically spend some time with the kids," Yzerman said. "We don't have the luxury of being at the combine to get the physical testing results from that. We'll be as prepared as we can be.

"All these kids coming in for the draft, some of them are going to college, some in Europe, they're all over the world. I think it would be hard to plan a combine to put that all together. So we're under the assumption we'll prepare for the draft and not have a combine."

As everyone has adjusted to working from home and using the technology available, that has also applied to teams getting to know the prospects available in this year's draft.

"Like all of our meetings, they've been done virtually, whether it be on this format (Zoom) or another format," Yzerman said. "They've worked pretty well. I don't think we want to work remotely forever. I think human contact and being together as a company, as a staff, is important, but it's worked reasonably well. We've been able to do what we can do and discussions have been good, everyone has been focused. We're very comfortable with how the meetings have gone. They've worked as well as they would have in person. We've been together for a while, we know one another, the staff is familiar. The negative is we haven't had a chance to sit in a room with the kids and watch them jump up and down at the combine to get more information."

Bettman announced Tuesday that the draft lottery would take place June 26 with a possible second phase of it if one of the teams in the qualifying round moves up to one of the top three spots.

"First I heard of it was yesterday," Yzerman said. "I have mixed feelings about it. Knew the league was going to do whatever they felt they had to do to make it work. So it is what it is. We're excited about -- obviously we'd all love to get the highest pick we possibly can, us included, and we're confident where we're picking we're going to be happy with the player that we get."


Since captain Henrik Zetterberg was forced to stop playing due to a back injury, the Red Wings have opted to go with several alternate captains the last two seasons.

But that is about to change.

"The plan is to name a captain prior to the start of our next season," Yzerman said. "I can't really give you a timeline on when we'll do that but that is the intention."

Players who have served as alternate captains included Niklas Kronwall, now retired, Justin Abdelkader, Dylan Larkin, Frans Nielsen and Luke Glendening.

Larkin, a Waterford, Mich. native, is among those who would likely be under strong consideration.

Yzerman was able to get to know Larkin better throughout this past season, Yzerman's first year back in the organization after nine seasons as Tampa Bay's general manager.

"I didn't know him very well. I don't think I was at the combine his draft year, so I didn't get to meet him then," Yzerman said. "Obviously, know the player really well, knew him very well as an opponent and as a prospect watching him through his time at Michigan and the U-18 program and then him playing for the Red Wings while I was in Tampa. He's a dedicated professional, he's a hard worker, he's very competitive, he's a very good hockey player. I've enjoyed my conversations with him and discussions about hockey and our team and whatnot throughout the course of the season, so I'm very impressed with him.

"Being a member of the Red Wings and improving this team is very important to him and he takes it seriously. He's an excellent player for us, he's a very important player, he's a great leader and he's dedicated and mentally strong and committed, so I've been very impressed in getting to know him over the course of the year."

Larkin has led the team in points the last three seasons, with 63 (16-47-63) in 2017-18, 73 (32-41-73) in 2018-19 and 53 (19-34-53) in 71 games in 2019-20.


Among the items on every team's to-do list in the offseason is signing free agents, both the team's own restricted free agents and unrestricted free agents, and other teams' unrestricted free agents.

With the NHL Playoffs not set to start at least until after July 1, the normal first day of free agency, things are a little up in the air.

"We've got some critical dates coming up for qualifying offers for restricted free agents, European unsigned draft picks coming up, July 1 free agency," Yzerman said. "All those are, I think, a work in progress that the league is working on with the players' association in conjunction with restarting the league and playoffs, working on sliding those dates that make it work for everybody -- the players, the teams, the league. That's a work in progress and we don't know exactly those dates yet."

Among the Wings' restricted free agents are forwards Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, Adam Erne, Robby Fabbri, Brendan Perlini, Christoffer Ehn and Dmytro Timashov, along with defenseman Madison Bowey.

"We will get them signed," Yzerman said. "To what term and AAV remains to be seen. Those are some of our best, young players, the restricted free agents. We're not going to let them go anywhere. We'll get deals done with them. I can't tell you that's a week from now or sometime in the offseason. I've kind of been waiting to see what the offseason was going to be like, how this season was going to end and then get as much clarity on next season as I possibly can.

"I can't say that goes for all of our restricted free agents. We have to make some decisions on some of them. Are we going to qualify them? Do we want to bring them back? Do we want to look at other players for those spots? But we will prioritize certain guys and some of them will be signed. It's just a question for how long and for how much."

As for free agency, Yzerman isn't expecting to be overly aggressive at this stage of the rebuild.

"Ultimately, the plan is to draft, hopefully draft well, hopefully run a good development program, have as competitive a team as we can at this time to help the Dylan Larkins, the Anthony Manthas, the Tyler Bertuzzis, that young core, help them get better and try to improve our team," Yzerman said. "But it's going to take time. I don't want to go into free agency to make a splash. We're going to look to make sensible signings, signings that help improve the team, the right type of people, the right type of player and then ultimately the contract has to work for us as well.

"We're prepared to do anything we can in free agency but it's not get a player at all costs, that's not the plan. We're trying to build a good team over time and reality is I think it's very difficult to do that with free agency, to get those elite players, if in fact they're there, you got to spend a lot of money for a long time and I don't know if we're a market for those types of players at this time. That's the reality. If a player wants to play in Detroit, we're certainly going to explore every opportunity but the deal has to work for both parties.

"We're trying to use free agency wisely."

The Wings' unrestricted free agents are forward Sam Gagner, defensemen Jonathan Ericsson, Trevor Daley, Cody Goloubef and goaltender Jimmy Howard.

"Anything is possible, really, but I kind of anticipate us sitting, watching, hopefully we do play the playoffs and things go well, that means the world is improving and we are able to get this in and then I anticipate once the season is completed having maybe an abbreviated but relatively normal offseason that gives us all time to plan for next year -- the draft, free agency, sign our players," Yzerman said. "Off the top of my head, once the season is completed, I don't know if there will be a need, other than to adjust dates, knowing that the salary cap will be, I think we'll work under a normal circumstance after that but I don't know for certain."


The 25-year-old is listed at 6-feet, 183 pounds and led his team, Orebro HK in the Swedish Hockey League, in assists and points as he had 43 points (17-26-43), was plus-10 and had 22 penalty minutes in 52 games.

"I didn't get a chance to watch him play live this year, I watched a lot of his games on video," Yzerman said. "He's a good skater, he's a left winger, has good skills, he's a worker, very competitive with good hockey sense. Is he a late bloomer? He probably had his best year or two in the Swedish league in the last year, he's become a real good player in that league. We're hopeful he can make the transition to play in the NHL. I like his hockey sense, I like his competitiveness.

"He's not a Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk type of finesse player, he's a worker with some skills and can contribute and can make plays and finish a little bit. We're see if that translates in the NHL. With Hakan (Andersson, director of European scouting) and Thomas Carlsson, our scouts in Sweden, they know the young man well, like the majority of Swedes, high character, great teammate. We're hopeful he can make our roster and inject a little bit more offense but be a good two-way player for us."


Yzerman is not a native of Detroit, he just feels like one as he spent so much of his career with the Red Wings.

He certainly knows the impact the Wings -- as well as the Tigers, Pistons and Lions -- can have on the city and entire state.

"I certainly empathize, sympathize with everyone in Detroit and Michigan for situation we're in and the economic situation we're in in the pandemic," Yzerman said. "As far as sports teams go, I came here in 1983, the Tigers won the World Series in '84. They've had their ups and downs, they've been in multiple World Series since then, playoffs, they're rebuilding again now. I watched the Pistons win championships. The Red Wings, we go through our ups and downs. I watched the Lions and we're all hoping for the Lions and I had some great years with Barry (Sanders) and when Wayne Fontes was coaching, some exciting playoff times and seasons. It's all cyclical. We're going to get back there one day. That's what's exciting about sports. I believe all four teams will get back on top at some point. We're going to work our way through and get there."

After spending nine years away when he was with the Lightning, Yzerman was pleasantly surprised when he returned last spring.

"One of the most exciting things for me returning to Detroit last year was the energy and growth and development in the city and downtown Detroit," Yzerman said. "My kids who go down there would always tell me about it, what's going on in Detroit. I'd read about it and then in the last year being down there, I thought it was fantastic atmosphere, what's happening in Detroit. I really look forward and enjoy going downtown. This is a major setback, which is probably a gross understatement. But Detroit will survive and we will come out of it. "It's a very resourceful state and a resourceful city and we will get through it and we will look back on this time and be stronger and better for it."