Quick Note: For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases, “and,” “but,” “so,” “you know,” and “I mean.”
Steve Yzerman: Well first off, thanks a lot for coming everyone. I think I would start off everything by just saying over the last few days, we have traded Ben Bishop, Valterri Filppula, and Brian Boyle. All three of these players were significant contributors to the success we’ve had over the last three seasons.
It’s very important that I make note of what a great contribution they made to our organization and provided us with great hockey, great leadership, and were major contributors to the success we had. On that, I’m very appreciative of all their effort and their professionalism to our team. Having said that, I open up to questions.
Question: Now that the smoke has cleared, are you convinced this team’s better off for the future?
Yzerman: We’re in a position to be better off for the future. Now we’ve got to make some good decisions along the way here to improve our team. But this - we needed [salary] cap space. One, to protect the cap for next year - and two, to sign our players.
Now we’ve got to make good decisions moving forward. It just positions us to do things that we need to do and want to do to become better. So to say we’re better off right now - cap-wise, we are. Competitive-wise, we’ve got work to do.
Question: Steve, clearly the season hasn’t gone the way you guys expected. If you were holding a playoff position right now, would these deals have gone through?
Yzerman: Depends on what position.
Question: How much flexibility do you have moving forward with some of these deals, especially the Val[terri Filppula] move. Obviously it clears the [salary cap] space. It clears an expansion [draft] opportunity in terms of protection. So how much flexibility do you have now with these moves that you made?
Yzerman: Well - again, it eases I guess some of the uncertainty for expansion. With a no-move clause, Val - we would have been required to protect Val, or potentially go to Val and ask him to waive it [the no-move clause] for the expansion draft. Whether that would - I never did ask him that. That’s something for the off-season.
It, I guess, eases a little bit of the tension or the stress of who’s going to be protected, or what we need to do to be compliant, or who’s going to get exposed. Ultimately, we free up cap space this year, which I’ve talked about recently. We free up cap space that allows us to apportion all of our entry-level contracts, our performance bonuses on the kids, into this year which maximizes our cap space for next year.
I was able to not acquire or retain a contract or retain salary for next year, which would also hurt our cap. As I know, we want to sign our restricted free agents [Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, etc]. We’ve got the space. I don’t know if we have flexibility. ‘cause what we got - when we get our players signed, we’re not going to have much flexibility again [smiles]. We needed to create space so we can sign our players.
Again, we’re in a position where we’ve got to decide - with the expansion draft, our protection list. We’re in a position now if I did nothing, we’re probably going to lose a player off our - we are going to lose a player off our roster that I’d prefer not to. I don’t necessarily have flexibility. I don’t necessarily have flexibility next year. But we don’t have the commitment, so we can kind of decide. We have, I guess, flexibility on what decision we want to go - or what decision we want to make.
Question: Steve, how should the perception be for the fans out there that look at three - perhaps some of the biggest names on this team, having to be moved in a situation like this?
Yzerman: I think everyone that follows our team knew we were going to have to make decisions at some point. Which direction we went - I think there was a little bit of uncertainty. Depending on, for our fan base, who was your favorite player or what not would be, “I hope this doesn’t happen or that doesn’t happen.”
I think we have a pretty educated fan base who knew the challenges we were facing. We’ve had a very competitive team the last couple years. We were hoping, at this stage, to be in a different place in the standings than we are today.
But again, I think it’s been no secret. Everybody knows, “Hey. We’re going to get crunched at some point,” and some of the decisions on this roster are going to have to be made. Whether it was by today or the end of the season, they were going to have to be made. I had to make some of those decisions now because these opportunities wouldn’t be here at the end of the season.
Question: You mentioned creating cap space for some of the RFAs [restricted free agents] you have to sign this summer. Obviously, this accomplishes some of it. Does it accomplish all of that? Or do you think you need to make some more moves, potentially in the summertime, to create some of that space too?
Yzerman: It, I guess - it would depend on the type of contracts that we sign. The term of the contracts, that’ll affect the - obviously, their cap numbers. But we will - our team, as we sit today, we are outside the playoffs. We’re close. We’re hoping to make the playoffs, but we’re hoping to improve our team.
We’ll continue to explore ways, once the season ends, to try and improve our team. I don’t know that we necessarily have to make moves to be cap compliant, but we will look at ways of improving the team.
Question: The trade of [Syracuse Crunch goalie] Adam Wilcox for [Springfield Thunderbirds goalie] Mike McKenna, was that purely to help Syracuse...
Question: ...in the playoffs...
Question: [Tampa Bay Lightning prospect goalie] Connor Ingram, the fact that you have him in the organization, help alleviate the fact that you’re trading a 24 year old goaltender [Wilcox] now?
Yzerman: Yes. Our intention to date is to have Connor [Ingram] in Syracuse playing next year. That’s our plan and we’d like to have an experienced guy with him there as well.
Question: [March 1 was also the deadline to assign players to the Syracuse Crunch for AHL playoff eligibility] I know you did with those three guys [Adam Erne, Gabriel Dumont, Jake Dotchin], but you had a chance for Brayden Point. Was there a reason you didn’t put Point on that list to have him eligible? Or is he eligible?
Yzerman: We could have put him on there and decided not to. Ultimately, he’s been on our team from day one. We believe he’s an NHL player. We debated making him eligible to play in the [AHL] playoffs in Syracuse. At the end of the day, I decided not to.
Question: With Luke [Witkowski], you didn’t want to lose him to waivers. Is that why he wasn’t on that...
Yzerman: Pardon me?
Question: Luke Witkowski, was that the kind of...
Yzerman: Yeah, that was a concern for us for sure. Like he was the captain of that team and an important player. Our thought was we might lose him - we didn’t want to lose him. He’s a player - he hasn’t played in a while - but we’re only carrying seven defensemen right now and I wanted to protect that as well for our team.
It would have been great if - in the event Syracuse is in the playoffs and we’re not, then I would’ve liked to [send Witkowski down for the AHL playoffs], but I didn’t want to make him - I didn’t want to lose him [on waivers]. Whether we would have or not, I didn’t want to take that chance.
Question: As this team tries to chase a playoff spot down, did the team have to be addressed, knowing about these trades coming up? From either you or [head coach] Jon Cooper, just to kind of keep their confidence up with twenty-something games to go?
Yzerman: I know Coop spoke with the team prior to our last game. I’m assuming - I’ve been pretty busy the last two days, so I’m assume - I know he’s going to address the team today. If I get an opportunity at some point to address them - it might not be before the game - but I’d like to do that.
Question: Bit concerned over the reaction from them? They responded Monday with a nice win [5-1 over the Ottawa Senators].
Yzerman: Played very well. We got off to a bit of a slow start, which is understandable, but they played extremely well. Essentially my word to the team is going to be, "Guys, we’re in a position in the standings at the trade deadline. I’ve got to make decisions based on our record. And if our record is different, we would make - we would potentially make different decisions. But these particular ones had to be made at some point. Our record dictated that we had to make them now."
We’re within striking distance of a playoff spot. We’re expecting and we feel we have a very good team, a lot of very good players. Some young players are going to come up and get more opportunity. Everybody’s going to get more opportunity here now.
They’re professionals. Their job is to show up and play and play well and to win. Our expectation is to win tonight’s game. We win tonight’s game, then we’ll move on to Pittsburgh and Buffalo on the weekend and try and win those games.
We’re trying to get to the playoffs - trying to get a playoff spot. We’re trying to win. Our players - this is a tough part of the business. They show up and do their part and win and play extremely well. That’s all they can do. That expectation hasn’t changed.
Question: Is it realistic financially for you guys to try and improve your team in the short term for the rest of this season, as far as - whether it’s a rental, or maybe a player...
Yzerman: Yeah, well rental-wise, we have a lot of cap space with using LTI (long-term injured reserve). We could’ve done that. With what I needed to do and then kind of go both - start to move players out and then get into the rentals, kind of didn’t make sense for us to do that.
Ultimately, we tried to do certain things but for me, the preference was to try to do things that would help us this year, but next year and beyond. Those opportunities I wasn’t able to accomplish.
Question: Steve, how have you seen the trade deadline evolve in your time here? Because it used to be pretty busy and now it seems like it’s sort of slowed down. A number of trades that are being [inaudible].
Yzerman: Yeah, I guess a lot more teams had more cap space at the time. The cap, for the first few years there - until the last two or three years, the cap was growing each year. In the last couple years, the cap hasn’t grown at the same rate it’s been in the past. It’s made it tricky. A lot of teams are at or close to the cap.
I think the expansion draft has an impact on what teams wanted to do, but it’s - again, just getting more and more difficult to make a trade. I’ve found at the deadline, teams aren’t as willing to give up draft picks. They’re being much more conservative. Things have just changed - the way everyone’s doing business.