It’s rather ironic that just 363 days ago, I wrote an article in response to a Detroit Red Wings beat writer suggesting that Detroit should do everything in it’s power to get Steve Yzerman back to be their General Manager. After an even more disappointing season than 2015-16 for the Red Wings, the story has come up again via Deadspin. This time around, there’s a little bit more evidence to support Tampa’s case.
If you spent enough time drinking beers in Detroit since Stevie Y skipped town, you’ve heard the rumor that Ilitch wanted Holland to move upstairs so Yzerman could be GM. Last year, Gregg Krupa at the Detroit News finally confirmed it: Not only did Ilitch ask Holland to make room for Yzerman, but Holland refused.
Mike Ilitch was one of the best owners in the NHL. Easily a top-five contender for the title. By all accounts, Yzerman was like a son to Ilitch and his wife Marian. It’s easy to see why Yzerman would have wanted to stay with the Red Wings. With general manager Ken Holland unwilling to give up his job for Yzerman, Yzerman’s only option left was to move on from the Red Wings despite his relationship with the team, the city, and, most importantly, the owners.
Rumors swirled—as the elder Ilitch’s health ebbed and Chris [Ilitch] stepped into the day-to-day work—that the heir apparent wasn’t as easy to work for as his father. “Chris is extremely tight with money and he’s very hands-on,” the former Ilitch employee says. “I think he’s very impatient.”
“Steve Yzerman will not come back,” the former employee continued. “Chris has full control. The rest of the family is either too screwed up or just completely uninvolved, and are basically just collecting their checks. So Chris is it for the family and I don’t think you can be in that position and not work directly with Chris because Chris is very hands-on. And Steve Yzerman won’t work for Chris Ilitch.”
In Jeff Vinik, Yzerman has found a fantastic owner to work for. Vinik was smart enough to talk to people around hockey and ask for advice on who he should bring in to run the hockey operations. Yzerman’s name was sure to come up plenty in such talks. Vinik went after Yzerman and got him.
Vinik has continued to run the business side of the Lightning along with his real estate and other business ventures outside of the team. He’s left Yzerman with the keys to the zamboni: he’s given Yzerman a great amount of trust and freedom to run the team according to his vision.
For Yzerman, that means he’s in control. There may be some things he’d have to get permission for (like buying out Vincent Lecavalier’s contract), but for the most part he’s the final say on what happens with the roster, with the draft, with just about everything. He doesn’t have someone looking over his shoulder, questioning every decision he makes.
Obviously Yzerman still answers to Vinik if things go awry with the performance of the team on the ice. But every indication from Vinik is that he has been happy, even grateful, to have Yzerman in his organization.
Detroit will always be a special place for Yzerman. It’s impossible for it not to be with how many years he was there, with the Stanley Cups he lifted, with being able to be referred to simply as “The Captain.”
Tampa is unlikely to ever replace Detroit in that regard. But it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have room to consider Tampa a special place either. He’s planted the seeds for a dynasty. Not everything has gone perfectly to plan. But that’s hockey. That’s life.
Yzerman is already a legend in one city. He has the opportunity to become a legend in Tampa Bay too.