Although it’s common for teams to swap players, it’s a little less common to swap coaches and even rarer to move general managers from one team back to their original team. Steve Yzerman, who has served as the general manager (GM) for both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings, has made these transactions possible – affecting the futures of both teams.
I’ll explain the complex relationships and how the franchises are intertwined as the teams are set to meet for the first time this season on Dec. 6.
It All Starts With Steve Yzerman
Yzerman was a tremendous player, finishing his career with 1,755 points in 1,514 games, all with the Red Wings. But, as accomplished as he was as a player, he has become legendary as a GM. When he retired from playing, he was hired as vice president and alternate governor of the Red Wings in 2007-08 and won his fourth Stanley Cup. Two years later, he left the only NHL team he had known to head to Tampa to serve as the GM of the Lightning. In eight years, he created the blueprint for the current core group that has advanced to three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals and won two championships.
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So, it’s no secret that the Lightning’s success stems from Yzerman’s vision for building a team by drafting and developing internal prospects from late-round draft picks. Under his leadership, the team drafted future superstars Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, and Ondrej Palat – who was nabbed in the seventh round. These five players were instrumental in winning back-to-back Stanley Cups.
To help Yzerman build a winning team in Tampa, he hired Julien BriseBois as his assistant general manager. He served in that role from 2010-2018, learning how to be a world-class hockey executive before succeeding Yzerman when he left to rebuild the Red Wings. The Lightning’s GM has continued the team’s success of developing homegrown talent and finding players at the trade deadline who make the difference in the playoffs. Year after year, he has continued to put a competitive team on the ice while navigating the salary cap.
Cooper, Lalonde & Blashill
Not only does Yzerman have an eye for on-ice talent, but also for grooming the talent behind the bench. One of his greatest moves came in 2013 when he promoted Jon Cooper, who was coaching for the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Syracuse Crunch, to his first NHL head coaching job with the Lightning. Currently, he is the longest-tenured NHL coach.
Derek Lalonde may have only been an assistant coach with the Lightning for four seasons (2018-2022), but they were arguably the most successful period in the team’s history. His contributions to the players’ development paved the way for Yzerman to name him the head coach of the Red Wings, giving him his first chance as a head coach in the NHL. Jeff Blashill, who had served as Detroit’s head coach since 2015, signed with Tampa to replace Lalonde as an assistant coach. Interestingly, it wasn’t the first time that Lalonde succeeded Blashill, as he replaced him in 2002 as an assistant coach at Ferris State University in Michigan.
Lightning Players Moving to Hockeytown
In the past several years, there have been a lot of players who have gone from Tampa to Detroit, and in Vladislav Namestnikov’s case, back to the Lightning. Yzerman spent a first-round draft pick on the Russian center in 2011, who ended up playing his first four seasons with the Lightning. He eventually played on the top line with Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, where he had his most impressive season in 2017-18, scoring 44 points in 62 games before being traded to the New York Rangers. He then signed with the Red Wings, where he played for two seasons.
After bouncing around with various teams over the past several seasons, BriseBois brought Namestnikov back to the Lightning on a one-year contract for $2.5 million. He scored his first goal of the season against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 3, but he hasn’t made much of an impact on the scoresheet. His strength comes from providing grit along the boards and retrieving pucks. Although he is the most recent transplant, there are several other players who went from the Lightning to the Red Wings since 2014-15 including Brad Richards, who helped the team win the 2004 Stanley Cup, Valtteri Filppula, Adam Erne, and Gemel Smith.
Detroit Following in Lightning’s Footsteps
Currently, the Red Wings are fourth in the Atlantic Division, with 29 points – two points behind the Lightning. Preseason predictions had the Bolts as one of the top seeds in the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings, on the other hand, were predicted to be improved, but still not a legitimate playoff team. While the season is barely over the quarter mark, it remains to be seen if Lalonde’s team can sustain the success they have shown early in the season. Comparably, Cooper’s team should compete in the postseason and could advance to their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup Final.
No matter how many wins and losses the Red Wings end the season with, it is apparent that Yzerman is embracing the Hockeytown moniker that he helped introduce as a player. As the team captain, they broke the record for most victories in the 1995-96 regular season (from ‘Lightning tie Detroit Red Wings’ wins record with No. 62 in season finale,’ Detroit Free Press, April 6, 2019). Twenty-three years later, the Lightning tied them for the most regular season points with 128. The common denominator for both teams: Yzerman.
Although BriseBois is responsible for leading the team to two Stanley Cups, Yzerman laid the foundation that has made Tampa the Hockeytown of the south. Now he is back in Detroit trying to do the same thing.
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Lydia Szyjka is a writer for The Hockey Writers. Growing up in Tampa, she graduated from H.B. Plant High School—never dreaming her Tampa Bay Lightning would win three Stanley Cups. She is director of communications for a Catholic university, where she is the editor of the alumni magazine. An avid hockey fan, she and her husband live in Delaware and watch every Lightning game on the NHL’s Center Ice.