Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman joined Scott Laughlin and Greg Gilbert on the Sirius XM NHL Network to discuss the Bolts late season playoff push, if and when we could see Steven Stamkos back, and what his thoughts are on the offside reviews.
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.”
Scott Laughlin: The Hall of Famer. Tampa Bay Lightning Executive Vice President and General Manager joining us here on the Power Play. Scott Laughlin with three time [Stanley] Cup champion Greg Gilbert. How ya doin’, Steve?
Steve Yzerman: I’m doing great, guys. How about yourselves?
Laughlin: We’re doing well. Thank you very much for dropping by. Your thoughts on this one tonight versus Chicago [Blackhawks] and where you’re standing here in an Eastern Conference playoff race.
Essentially you’re looking at three or four teams still battling for position in the Atlantic, but most importantly three or four teams battling for position in the Eastern Conference.
Yzerman: Yeah, every night it’s extremely important for all the teams.. They’re all fighting it out. Carolina [Hurricanes] has quietly made a run and is nipping at our heels as well. I don’t think Philly [Philadelphia Flyers] is out of it as well. We’re all trying to win. We all gotta win.
It looks like Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto - I think they’re, whether they feel it or not, I think they’re comfortably in. The rest of us are trying to get that last [wild card] spot.
We’ve played really well on the road. I listened to [head coach Jon] Cooper’s words - we weren’t very disciplined in our last home stand. We’ve got a crucial home stand here now that we need to [inaudible].
Greg Gilbert: Steve, for all the years you’ve been in the game - in the National Hockey League especially as a player and now as a GM - have you ever seen a team go through what your team has gone through this year with the rash of injuries?
Usually you see a team go through it for one stretch at a time or one stretch through the course of the year, but you’ve faced this like two to three times through the course of the year up to this point. How have you guys been handling it as a coaching staff and as a management [staff]?
Yzerman: Well every year there’s one or two teams that get hammered by injuries and this has been our year for that. You find a way to win as many games as you can and sustain it.
I think Jon [Cooper] has done a great job, him and his staff, of kind of getting creative with the line-up at times and using players in different spots. Whether it be, remember when Brian Boyle was here using him on D [defense] and Luke Witkowski playing him up front and centermen on the wings and vice versa.
We’ve been able to hang in there. There’s nothing you can do about it other than get the guys that are injured the best medical care you can and get them back as soon as possible. You just deal with the injuries.
The players we’ve brought up from Syracuse have all contributed really well. So again, we just keep trying to figure out a way to win games and just collect points whether you get it to overtime, get a point in overtime, or lose in a shootout or whatnot.
Just collect as many points as you can. Early in the year we kind of threw away some points in games where we’d look like we were at least going into overtime and those losses have really hurt us right now.
Laughlin: Steve, there’s been a lot of conjecture certainly about Steven Stamkos. The guy’s been working hard to get back. It recently came out that it didn’t look good for him to play again, at least during the regular season. Is that still the case? Has anything changed on that front? If you guys were to get back into the playoffs, would he be a possibility at that point, would you think?
Yzerman: Yeah, well I’m not going to say anything definitively one way or the other. He’s working hard every day, increasing the work-load in practice every day. He’s getting closer to returning. I can’t give you a date on his return, but I’d say there’s a chance he’ll come back.
Laughlin: The [NHL’s] first star of the week from last week is your Nikita Kucherov. Tell me about this kid’s development because clearly you have been able to witness an emerging superstar in this league.
Yzerman: He’s been outstanding since he’s come to North America. We drafted him in 2011, second round pick. He spent I think two years in Russia.
Then he came over and played a year of major junior hockey in the Quebec league for Patrick Roy [who was head coach of the Quebec Remparts at the time] and then [head coach] Andre Tourigny in Rouyn-Noranda. Both those organizations did a really good job in educating Nikita and pointing him in the right direction about how to play in North America.
I’d say this about him, he’s as driven and as motivated a player as I’ve ever seen. I think he’s really underrated for his two-way play. He’s an intelligent hockey player and extremely competitive. He’s just turned it up a notch this year as he continues to improve.
Gilbert: Steve, Coop [head coach Jon Cooper] mentioned about a week, a week and a half ago, he had some concerns about the guys - not so much cutting corners, but making that commitment to play defensively. I think he said, “You’re not going to play in your own end, you’re not going to win hockey games.” In the last little bit, have you seen that starting to change around, the guys really starting to make more of a commitment to play a 200-foot game?
Yzerman: Teams that win Stanley Cups, their Goals Against Average is low. They’re in the top 10 of the league every year, the Stanley Cup champions, in goals against. This year, it’s been - one, with injuries - and then we haven’t been scoring.
When you’re not scoring, it’s more difficult to say, “Hey, just be patient. Let things happen.” There’s a tendency, it’s human nature to try to force and generate some offense. We went on the road, prior to the last home stand, went in and won two really tight games against both Ottawa and the Rangers. We had a tight one the other day against the Red Wings in Detroit and were able to win that in overtime as well.
It’s just getting comfortable winning low-scoring games. It’s difficult when you’re not scoring, you want to press a little bit, try and generate some offense. The reality is with all the injuries we have, you don’t have the depth. We’re going to have to be prepared to win low-scoring games and eke them out with a power play goal here or there, but mostly it’s keep the puck out of our net.
Laughlin: Steve, clearly you had to make at the trade deadline some very very tough decisions and you moved out some players. Ben Bishop, with his status going into this season, the final year of his contract, when you look back on it now - I know you’re not the type of guy to have too many regrets, but do you feel like his situation impacted the team’s play or his individual play at all, at any point in time this season?
Yzerman: I can’t speak on how Ben feels about it. I think if I was in his shoes, having the uncertainty, that would bother me. To what extent, I’m not sure, but it would bother me. He’s a good guy. He’s a human being.
Everybody kind of feels more comfortable when they’re settled. Again, that would be more of a question for Ben. For our team, I don’t know. The players are professional. They understand, including Ben, the situation.
All I can say is everything that I know throughout the course of the year, Bish was nothing but a professional every day. He really really helped Andrei Vasilevskiy a lot. Knowing the possibility, or at least what the situation was, he did nothing but do everything he could to help Andrei.
Laughlin: I think when you look at Vasilevskiy, this is kind of what you expected to see from this kid. He seems like, for the most part, he’s been pretty good since Ben Bishop moved on. You know how these things work sometimes, Steve. You don’t have that guy looking over your shoulder a little bit - and you can’t miss a guy as big as “Big Ben” is. You must be pretty happy with the way that Vasilevskiy, for the most part, has responded since being handed the keys to the car.
Yzerman: Yes, he’s played really well. He’s a young goalie. I think he’s still only 22. I don’t think he has 100 games in the league yet. He’s relatively inexperienced. He’s performed well in every situation we’ve put him in.
Even prior to coming over to North America, whether it was with the Russian national junior team, whether it was in the KHL in the playoffs. He came here, last year going straight into the semi-finals against Pittsburgh, did a great job, and he’s learning along the way.
I believe he’s got the physical and the mental make-up to be a really good starting goaltender for a long time.
Gilbert: Steve, tell us a little bit about Libor Hajek, a new signing out of Saskatoon that you guys just put the ink - I guess it was today or yesterday. Tell us a little bit about him.
Yzerman: Well, Libor is a second-round pick out of the draft last year. He’s a young Czech player, played in the Western Hockey League, he’s got one more year of junior eligibility. His season ended in the Western league last week.
We signed him to a contract and we have him playing in Syracuse. He played his first game in the American Hockey League last weekend and we feel he did extremely well. Great young man; strong, smart hockey player.
Again, he’s got another year of junior eligibility, but seeing him go to the American league - it’s a tough league to play in, particularly jumping in there at this time of year. Over the weekend, he acquitted himself really well. We’re very optimistic that he has a bright future ahead of him.
Laughlin: Hey Steve, I know you were asked before you made that visit to the Joe [Louis Arena in Detroit] what you were looking to take from your final visit there. You said “two points” and you guys got the 2-1 victory, most importantly for your team. When you look back on it now, what kind of feelings do you have with regards to your old arena here? Because Little Caesar’s [Arena] is going to open up coming up next season and we’re all looking forward to that.
Yzerman: I loved playing in the Joe. Greg, you were in that building a lot as well. It was a great rink to play in. The ice was generally very good. The boards had a little bit of give to them, so when you got hit into them, it didn’t hurt as much as some of the other rinks.
The atmosphere was good in the building. Everything about it, from a player’s perspective, was really really comfortable. Obviously we had a lot of good memories on the ice, some disappointments in there as well. I saw a lot of great concerts in that building as well. I will miss it.
I haven’t been in the new arena yet, but everyone that I’ve talked to - every picture, photograph I’ve seen of it - it’s going to be outstanding. I think we all look forward to a beautiful new arena in downtown Detroit.
Laughlin: Just before we let you go Steve, I just want to ask you about off-side video review, while we have you. Are you happy with the way it’s working right now? Do you have concerns about the way it’s working? What are your thoughts on it? Clearly when you guys went down to Boca [for the annual NHL General Managers meeting], everybody said it seems to be working well enough to just kind of leave it alone for the time being.
Yzerman: Well, I have mixed feelings on it, or mixed views on it. I would be more in support of just breaking the plane for off-side. I thought that would be easier, but the majority of the group felt that they were comfortable with the way it was.
I just, on video review - my issue with it all is like we only review off-side and goalie interference with the idea we just want to get it right. Well I want to get every call right, so I don’t know. We should either be reviewing everything or reviewing nothing. That’s the way I feel about it.
Laughlin: Yeah, I kind of wish it would go back to the old days, the old way as it used to be. I’m the “get off your lawn” guy. Steve, thanks very much for doing this. We appreciate it. Best of luck tonight versus the Blackhawks and best of luck here in your push for the playoffs.
Yzerman: Okay, guys. Appreciate it. Nice speaking with you.