Steve Yzerman: Architect of a Stanley Cup Contender

Steve Yzerman, The Leader

His Hall of Fame career has been well chronicled. Here are but a few of the highlights: Played 22 seasons in the NHL, all with the Detroit Red Wings. Named captain at 21 years old, won three Stanley Cups as a player and one as an Executive with the Red Wings. There simply isn’t enough room in this article to detail all of Yzerman’s accomplishments as a player but suffice it to say, he is in the top ten all-time in the NHL in Goals, Assists, Total Points, Short-Handed Goals and Shots on Goal.

People in and around the NHL look at Chicago Blackhawk’s captain, Jonathan Toews as the prototype of a captain in today’s NHL. Captain Serious, they call him. If Toews is Captain Serious, then Yzerman was Captain Bound and Determined.

Ask any of the former teammates that took the ice with Steve Yzerman and there is a real good chance that you will hear why they would skate through a wall for their captain. Don’t take my word for it, watch:

If there is any question about just what Steve Yzerman means to Hockeytown, simply look at this:  In the 13 years before Yzerman arrived in Detroit, the Red Wings made the playoffs just one time.  This was an era derisively known in Motown as the Dead Wings Era.

Once Stevie Y comes to town the Wings make the playoffs in his rookie and sophomore years.  In Yzerman’s third year, the Red Wings failed to make the playoffs.  How does Detroit management respond?  They named Steve Yzerman as captain for the 1986-1987 season as a 21 year-old.

For the next 19 years the Red Wings with Yzerman as their captain, made the playoffs 18 times.  From the 1990-1991 season, the organization rolled off 24 consecutive playoff appearances including this season.  Now, Steve Yzerman would be the first person to tell anyone who would listen that there were scores of individuals that all played a role in this unparalleled success.  Most people would also know that Yzerman was leading the way for the organization.

Let us not underestimate the importance of this man leading the team from the Dead Wings to what we know today.  The Detroit Red Wings are an NHL model for success.  Not for a year or two, not for a few years of playoff runs and not even for a decade of top flight play.

One playoff appearance in the 13 years BSY (before Steve Yzerman) and 29 appearances in 31 years since Yzerman first took the ice for Detroit.  This is no coincidence.

Steve Yzerman, The Executive

Upon retirement, there are different routes for NHL players.  Some go into broadcasting, some go into coaching and a few others have the chance to go into management.  Less than 90 days after Yzerman announced his retirement as a player, the Detroit Red Wings named Steve Yzerman as a team Vice President.

The following year, Hockey Canada named Steve Yzerman the GM of Team Canada for the IIHF World Championship.  After selecting the team that won this international competition building his reputation, Yzerman was named Executive Director of the Canadian Olympic team for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.  The golden touch of winning ways continues to follow Yzerman as Canada wins the gold medal in the 2010 Olympics.

Working with Ken Holland and Scotty Bowman in the Detroit organization, Yzerman got an up close and personal education on running a successful NHL operation.  There was little doubt that Steve Yzerman was heading towards running the show by himself for some organization.

That opportunity showed up for Yzerman prior to the 2009-2010 season when the Minnesota Wild offered him their GM position.  Yes, he turned that job down but the wheels were in motion for Steve Yzerman’s future.

On May 25, 2010, about four years after retiring as a Hall of Fame player, Steve Yzerman was hired to be Vice President and General Manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.  By the end of his first year steering this ship, the Tampa Bay Lighting were battling the eventual 2011 Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals.  The Lightning lost 1-0 in Game 7 but that success continued to open eyes to Yzerman’s accomplishments.

In 2014, again leading Team Canada as the Executive Director of the Canadian Olympic team, Yzerman put together a team and coaches that won a second consecutive Olympic goal.  The achievements of his career as an Executive and GM are beginning to match the success of Yzerman’s playing career.

Steve Yzerman, The Complete Legacy 

Anyone who played with or against Steve Yzerman during his NHL career, can attest to the level of competitiveness he possesses.  The pain tolerance of Yzerman is legendary.  During the 2002 playoff push and into the post season, an MRI showed that Steve Yzerman had no remaining cartilage in his left knee.  How he played defies not only logic but the medical profession.

In the annals of the NHL, Steve Yzerman will always be mentioned along with the greats of the game, past and present.  He not only earned enshrinement into the Hall of Fame but when the Red Wings retired his #19, they included the “C” signifying he was their captain then, now and forever in their rafters.

Knowing the characteristics that made him the unique, successful player he was, is it really any surprise that he has his team, the Tampa Bay Lightning playing for the Stanley Cup in his fifth year at the helm?   Furthermore, Yzerman has been named as a finalist for the NHL’s Executive of the year.  Along with other nominees, Bob Murray of the Anaheim Ducks and Glen Sather of the New York Rangers, Steve Yzerman should be considered strongly for this honor.

Just a few of the decisions that Yzerman and his Scouting Department, led by Al Murray have completed to put the Lightning on the precipice of hockey’s Holy Grail.  He signed an undrafted Tyler Johnson.  He traded Cory Conacher to the Ottawa Senators and received Ben Bishop in return.  He hired unknown Jon Cooper from the USHL to coach the organization’s AHL affiliate.  Oh, by the way, they won the Calder Cup within two years paving the way for Cooper’s ascension behind the Lightning bench.

Drafting Ondrej Palat in the seventh round and trading unhappy captain, Marty St. Louis to the New York Rangers for Ryan Callahan and a couple of 1st round draft picks.  Signing Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle as free agents and trading for Jason Garrison prior to last year’s draft.

Conventional wisdom in the NHL says top four defensemen don’t grow on trees.  Yet, somehow Steve Yzerman knowing this was a weakness on his team, added three top fours since last year’s playoff.  Stralman, Garrison and Braydon Coburn have solidified the defensive corps for the Lighting and most likely earned Yzerman the Executive of the Year nomination.  Frankly, if Yzerman isn’t a runaway choice for this trophy, the NHL ought to stop awarding the damn thing.

Whatever outcome the Stanley Cup Finals brings, one thing is certain.  The legacy of Steve Yzerman is continuing and as it progresses it is clear that victories will be the result.  It is no secret that all those years playing and beating the Chicago Blackhawks pleased Yzerman as much as the Detroit fans.  It should also be known that Steve Yzerman will not rest until an NHL team he runs wins Lord Stanley’s Cup.  How apropos would it be to come at the expense of one of his bitter rivals as a player?