The verdict is in: Steve Yzerman is loved by all.
In 2015 Yzerman won the award for the league’s top general manager. He wasn’t among the top three this year, but pretty much everyone is predicting he’ll get all the votes after what he was able to accomplish this offseason.
ESPN’s Joe McDonald went so far as to declare the following:
We're months away from the start of the 2016-17 season, but Steve Yzerman has already won the General Manager of the Year Award for keeping his team intact and becoming the early favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Not only that, but fans have confidence in him too. The Lightning topped the NHL in a recent Hockey News survey that asked how confident NHL fan bases are with their team’s front office. More than 200 people ranked their team on a scale of 1-10 on the following:
The categories in question are roster building, cap management, drafting and development, trading, free agency and vision.
The overall ranking was then weighted by how important respondents deemed each skill to be relative to the others. Those surveyed viewed drafting and development as most important, followed by roster building and vision, then cap management, then trading, with free agency seen as the least important.
The Lightning came in first in roster building, cap management, draft and development and vision, was second in free agency and sixth in trades with an overall confidence rating of 8.37.
It’s almost hard to fathom that it had to be the right time and opportunity for Yzerman to be named the GM of the Lightning. He did it the “right way.” Yzerman, the lifelong Red Wing whose fans still refer to him only as “The Captain” spent close to four years in various positions in Detroit’s front office after hanging up his skates. He didn’t jump into a GM’s seat right away, which he could have, and which we’ve seen former players do to varying degrees of success.
After four years though, serving on positions like vice president and alternate governor, Yzerman left Detroit because the Wings weren’t willing to give him what he wanted — the title of general manager. Or rather, longtime Wings GM Ken Holland wasn’t willing to step aside for Yzerman, according to The Detroit News, even when Wings owner Mike Illitch wanted Holland to.
Yzerman waited for the right opportunity. The Lightning came calling. So did the Minnesota Wild. He turned down the Wild and accepted the Lightning job.
What we’ve learned in the years since is that Yzerman’s philosophy as a manager is to be patient and make his moves strategically, but at the same time isn’t afraid to make moves that are perceived to be difficult either. He let Guy Boucher go without waiting until the end of the season. He bought out Vincent Lecavalier. He demoted Jonathan Drouin to the minors.
Assembling a team is like a puzzle piece: You begin the job with all these pieces and try to figure out how they fit, getting rid of or trading pieces you think doesn’t work for the right ones. This offseason, Yzerman somewhat surprisingly re-signed the two pieces that came with the job: Steven Stamkos (because most expected him as good as gone and he re-signed to an extremely reasonable deal) and Victor Hedman (because he still had a year left).
There were several other moves in addition, but there’s still more work for Yzerman to do. The job of a general manager is never-ending. The immediate question mark (or two) remains on Nikita Kucherov (come on, any day now) and Ben Bishop (will he stay or will he go?)
But what Yzerman has been able to accomplish this offseason is more than fair to consider him as an early frontrunner as the top general manager of the league. On June 20, The Hockey News named Yzerman as the fourth-best GM in the league — it didn’t take into account any of the signings because it was published before any of it. The men ahead of Yzerman on THN’s list either have multiple Stanley Cups or have been in the front office a lot longer than Yzerman.
More recently, The Score named Yzerman the top general manager in the NHL and cited the assets he has gathered as a reason for that distinction.
With Tampa, Yzerman is trying to create a legacy just like he did during his playing days. But at the end of the day, there’s so much a general manager can do. Yzerman has done his part to gather all the right pieces. Now it’s a matter of all those pieces proving that the puzzle fits and is complete.