Grading Steve Yzerman’s Tenure as Red Wings GM

It turns out that Detroit Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman and I have a few things in common.

No, really. There are a handful of parallels with our current endeavors. 

I’m about to finish the third year of my MBA program at Virginia Tech – my undergraduate alma mater. Likewise, Yzerman is about to finish his third season as the Red Wings’ GM—his playing days “alma mater”—and is currently undertaking a graduate-level task in guiding Detroit’s rebuild.

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While my program has focused mostly on analytics and business transformation, Yzerman’s curriculum has included three drafts, three free agent classes, a slew of trades, and a handful of personnel decisions. I don’t envy his workload. (That’s a lie – I’d love to be an NHL GM.)

With that being said, let’s dive into the four main concentrations of Yzerman’s work and grade the Hall-of-Famer on his performance thus far as Red Wings GM.

Yzerman’s Personnel Decisions

Since taking the reins in April 2019, Yzerman has made more than a few personnel decisions with the organization’s best interests in mind. 

For one, he opted to retain Jeff Blashill after an abysmal 2019-20 season, which certainly raised some eyebrows. It was a savvy move though – Blashill followed through and guided the Red Wings to an improved 2020-21 season. That success did not last – Yzerman recently decided to let Blashill go after the team plateaued in 2021-22.

Jeff Blashill Detroit Red Wings
Jeff Blashill (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In addition, elevating Kris Draper to oversee Detroit’s draft strategy and amateur scouting was a smart decision. Likewise, bringing back Nicklas Lidstrom raised the collective average of Detroit’s front office hockey acumen.

Yzerman brought in Mike Barwis to lead Detroit’s sports science department – a role that did not exist previously. He also kept Niklas Kronwall in the fold to work with the organization’s prospects. The former Red Wings blueliner was invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic, as most of Detroit’s top prospects skated in Kronwall’s native Sweden while they waited for North American leagues to resume. 

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It’s clear that Yzerman has surrounded himself with a variety of great hockey minds. There’s still room for improvement, though. Building out the analytics department—currently just director of statistical analysis Bryan Campbell—may be a worthwhile venture and one that brings in additional perspectives on the game.

Grade: A

Red Wings Drafts Under Yzerman

First and foremost, it should be noted that Yzerman does not make every decision pertaining to the draft. Draper handles most of it – especially in the later rounds. 

That said, Yzerman oversees everything and provides input on the high-priority selections. This grade focuses mostly on the first two rounds, diving deeper on the pick quality, value, and the strategy that goes into each draft.

Draft Class201920202021
Quality A- B+ A-
Value A- A- A-
Strategy A A- B+

The reach-turned-steal of Moritz Seider may be Yzerman’s best draft-related move so far. Overall, Seider’s 2019 draft class grades out well, as do the top three picks of this year’s draft.

Yzerman has done an outstanding job revitalizing Detroit’s prospect pipeline, building from the back out. The organization has outstanding defensive depth and a goalie of the future thanks to the past three drafts. The Red Wings have some intriguing forwards, but still need more firepower up front.

Grade: A-

Red Wings’ Recent Free Agent Signings

Since taking over, Yzerman generally has been passive in free agency – at least when it comes to signing the big fish of each year’s free agent class. This has partially contributed to Detroit’s outstanding salary cap picture. Each contract has been reasonable – something that hasn’t always been the case in Detroit.

When grading Yzerman’s signings, I excluded entry-level contracts and minor league signings to focus solely on internal and external free agents brought in to contribute at the NHL level. In addition, I looked at the value/role of the player, the salary cap impact, and the strategy that went into each signing. And finally, I weighted the signings based on their magnitude.

Yzerman’s top-three signings (or re-signings) include:

  1. Pius Suter (2021) – 2 years, $3.25 million AAV
  2. Michael Rasmussen (2021) – 3 years, $1.46 million AAV
  3. Troy Stecher (2020) – 2 years, $1.7 million AAV

At the opposite end of the spectrum, the two worst contracts dished out by Yzerman are:

  • Valtteri Filppula (2019) – 2 years, $3 million AAV
  • Marc Staal (2021) – 1 year, $2 million AAV

In all, Yzerman has a strong batting average when it comes to the 33 internal and external free agents that he has signed. The fact that Staal’s new contract was one of the worst speaks to Yzerman’s proficiency in this category. Most contracts graded out as a B or better.

Grade: B+

Detroit’s Trade King

Most general managers will say that it’s impossible to win 100 percent of your trades. Instead, the goal is to win more than you lose.

Yzerman has definitely won the majority of his trades. 

Steve Yzerman, Ken Holland
Steve Yzerman and Ken Holland have agreed to two deals so far. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Like with his free agent signings, I graded each of Yzerman’s 20 trades and weighted them based on their magnitude. Trades were organized according to the season in which they were completed. Offseason trades were factored into the following season since that’s when the acquired players would actually take the ice.

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2019-20: Acquiring Robby Fabbri for Jacob de la Rose is still celebrated today. Yzerman also completed his worst trade as GM of the Red Wings by trading prospect Alec Regula for Brendan Perlini. His eight 2019-20 trades averaged out to a B.

2020-21: We’re going to look at the Anthony Mantha trade tree in a few years and marvel at all it brought the Red Wings. The other trade deadline deals didn’t bring back much, though. Yzerman’s six trades completed leading up to and during the 2020-21 season averaged out to a B+.

Related: Red Wings Re-Sign Jakub Vrana to Curious Contract

2021-22: The Alex Nedeljkovic trade graded out as an A. Moving out a sixth-round pick for Mitchell Stephens was a low-risk, high(ish)-reward deal. And while the 2022 Trade Deadline was a lackluster one comparatively, acquiring Oskar Sundqvist, Jake Walman, and a second for Nick Leddy was a win. Overall, Yzerman gets a B+ for his 2021-22 trades.

Grade: B+

Final Word

There’s still plenty of work to do, but so far, Yzerman grades out well. It’s fair to say that a majority of his free agent signings and trades have panned out – sometimes well-above expectations.

But more importantly, Yzerman’s best work has been the foundation of the organization. He has brought in fantastic personnel to guide the franchise and has drafted well since 2019. This is how a rebuild should be managed.

Overall Grade: B+

How would you grade Steve Yzerman’s work as Red Wings GM? Comment below.

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