Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman addressed the media prior to the start of training camp. He discussed a variety of topics, including expectations for this season, his perspective on Stamkos, the blend of experienced players and talented rookies, as well as what to expect from Callahan this season.
Quick Note: For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phrases “and,” “you know,” “but,” and “um.”
Steve Yzerman: Yeah, definitely. Around the organization, from [team owner] Jeff Vinik all the way down - but outside of our organization, with our fan base too. Our expectations are high. Our fan base’s expectations are high. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We want to get back. We feel we’re a good team. We feel we should be a playoff team, but the rest of the league doesn’t just go along with us sometimes [smiles].
Question: How hard was it for you? The first couple months of the summer - the playoffs are going on, you’re used to being there. For you, as competitive as you are, [inaudible] it’s got to be tough overall.
Yzerman: Yeah, well it’s humbling for us all. You’re watching the games, you want to be out there as the players. We all want to be involved in it. Even say [gestures to reporters] how enjoyable it is from a media perspective. It’s a lot more fun. You’re covering a team that’s playing in the playoffs.
It’s hard to watch. But we’ve got work to do. Try and learn from last season, and do things better - all of us. It’s not going to be easy again this season. We have to - a lot of things have to go right, and not everything does go right. You have to overcome the things that don’t go right.
Question: What are you expectations from [team captain] Steven Stamkos early - in training camp and early in the season?
Yzerman: Well, any players that’s been out for a long time - I can’t predict whether it’s going to be game one or game ten to really feel comfortable. Stammer’s dealt with injuries and overcome them in the past. I believe his enthusiasm and passion for playing - his motivation, his drive to work out and train. I think he understands the challenges that you face for being out for a long time.
I don’t have any reservations about his play. Does he score ten in the first ten games? I don’t know. It would be great if he did, but if he doesn’t it’s not a concern for me.
Question: He said he can’t replicate obviously game situations in his rehab and in his training. Curious at all to see what he looks like in those exhibition games? He wants to play a little bit more, maybe.
Yzerman: That’ll really be between Coop [head coach Jon Cooper] and Stammer, decide how many he really needs to play and how many he wants to play. But there is something to be - you get into games, you get banged around. You’re moving very quickly, decisions have to be made really quickly where you’re not necessarily thinking and protecting a particular body part or whatnot. So that takes a little bit of time.
With each step of training camp, I think it’s a necessary evil. You train all summer to be ready for the first day of training camp. You get into training camp and some of the practice drills and some of the scrimmages are a notch up. And then you get into the preseason games, they’re a notch up. And then you get into the regular season - so everything builds.
I think coming into the season, every year Stammer’s at the top in our fitness testing in his test scores. I’m sure that’ll be the same again this year and he’ll be ready to go and just go through the process.
Question: You’ve been around him a few years now. Does he have a little more hunger in him because of what he’s gone through [multiple injuries] the last couple of years? Do you sense that or see it in him?
Yzerman: Honestly, he’s pretty self-motivated every year. Whether it was his rookie year, second year, third year, injury, whatnot. He’s driven and he loves playing. He loves everything about the game. I think just for being out for such a long time in the prime of his career now - just getting into it, really. It’s, “Let’s get going.” You get the sense from all of our guys that they’re eager to get going, eager to play. They all are very motivated for a lot of different reasons.
Question: After this summer and all the roster moves that were made, do you feel pretty comfortable with the roster that you have? How will you evaluate what kind of spots are open and that sort of thing as you go into the next couple of weeks [of training camp and preseason]?
Yzerman: Certainly our final roster isn’t set. That was a message we did deliver to our players today. We’ve got some young players that are determined to make the team - those are junior age players as well as players that played in Syracuse. Some got time with us last year, some didn’t.
With our free agent signings coming in and our holdovers from previous years, everybody - we’re not sure exactly were the lines are going to be, what the defensive pairings are going to be, how many games Peter Budaj and Andrei Vasilevskiy are going to play. That’s all going to be worked out. Legitimately this year for the players - guys are fighting for ice time, guys are fighting for positions on the team, guys are fighting to make the 23-man roster. Guys will be going to Syracuse, trying to stay in that lineup every night.
As competitive as a training camp can be, I think we’ve kind of sent that message to the players. This is an important one for a whole host of reasons. The players that we know are on our team, that are our leaders, and our core - it’s an important training camp to make sure we hit the ground running for our home opener, for the first game of the season. That we’re in tip-top shape and we’re cohesive and we’re playing the way coaching staff wants them to play. Everybody’s got a lot of work to do.
Question: Is that a little bit different than in previous years? Because you go back to the team that went to the Cup Final (in 2015), I think there was one [roster] change that year?
Yzerman: Yeah, I can’t remember off the top of my head. It’s certainly different. You go to the Stanley Cup Finals, you’re a little bit more confident. You’re a little bit more assured. Now we missed the playoffs, as we all know, and things can’t just be the same.
We’re not going to make change just to make change, but we’re trying to - we had an expansion draft, we have a salary cap. We have to make changes for various reasons. Everything is designed to come in here and improve our hockey club. Coming into this year, not making the playoffs, the attitude is definitely different.
Question: I know there are some young guys who are trying to make the team, but overall is there a bit more of a veteran or experienced feel to the core group of guys you have on this team? Not just the guys you brought in - Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz, but the guys like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat...
Yzerman: Yeah, again. With Stammer and Heddy [Victor Hedman] - we know the veteran players and you mentioned Chris [Kunitz] and Dan [Girardi]. But Stammer, Killer [Alex Killorn], Andrej Sustr - that group that has been in our organization for five to eight years now, they’re in the primes of their careers but they’re the veterans.
Even Brayden Point comes in his first year and really asserted himself and has fit in. We have an experienced group, we’ve been through a lot - good, and last year some disappointment. We have to be better because of that. Learn from it, and our players will.
As a manager, as a coaching staff, we’ve dealt with some situations last year that we haven’t. [If] we’re in the same situations, try to not end up where we ended up last year. [laughs]
Question: This is Vasilevskiy’s first time going into [the season] as a the number one goalie. Do you have an expectation of how many starts, ideally with health, that you’d like to have? You have a veteran back-up - Peter [Budaj] can play a lot of games.
Yzerman: Yeah, I don’t know what the exact number is. Vasy’s still a young goalie - hasn’t played a ton in the league, but we’re really confident in him. Every young goaltender, it can be a challenge. Even for the veteran guys, they’re playing their best, there can be some ups and downs.
We’re confident that he’s going to be an excellent starting goaltender for a long time. Will it be a completely smooth road? I hope so, but it might not be. We believe that he’s got the character and the mental toughness to ride it out. He struggled a little bit at times last year, got through it, and down the stretch was really good.
For a young goaltender, I don’t want to say he’s learning on the job, but just being in these situations I thought he handled it admirably last year. If anything, his expectations are way higher than anything - mine or yours - for himself. He’s a really driven young man and has great expectations for himself. He’ll get there. Obviously we’re hoping it goes right smooth from the start and we’ll support him if it doesn’t.
Peter [Budaj] is a great veteran, did a good job in L.A., and for us did a great job not only with the limited games he played, but more his impact on our team was very crucial for us and that was one of the big reasons we brought him back.
Question: Steve, who is the next Brayden Point? Given what he did, cracking the lineup so young?
Yzerman: [smiles] Well I think I’ll refrain from mentioning names, but there’s some young players that we think really have the ability or are at that early stage of their playing career that can push for a spot on this team - there really are. I think it would be unfair to them or to the other players for me to let you know who I think those guys are at this point. [smiles]
Question: You have three guys that are injured to start camp [Erik Condra, Otto Somppi, and Jonne Tammela]. What are the chances they’ll be cleared for contact by the time you start making cuts?
Yzerman: Not in the next week. They’re all skating, at different levels. The two junior players, they’re more weeks away. I think Otto [Somppi] will be ready to go to start the season in Halifax [with the junior team], or close to it. Jonne [Tammela] will probably be a little bit longer. I really need an update on Erik [Condra] - he continues to skate lightly. He probably won’t be ready for contact tomorrow and I’m not sure the exact date when he will be ready for that.
Question: Do you like what you’ve seen so far from Mikhail Sergachev at rookie camp? Has he made the necessary strides in the off-season to potentially have a spot on this team?
Yzerman: I like what I saw in Nashville [at the rookie tournament] for sure. He played two of the three games. We had eight defensemen and we dressed seven every night. Ben Thomas played two, Dominik Masin played two, and then we decided to hold Mikhail [Sergachev] out for the third game.
He certainly has the size. He has the strength. He has the skating ability. And I believe he has the skill level to play in the NHL today. Is he ready to go? We’ll find that out. We’ll get him into the preseason games. There’s no rush to a decision. We’ll kind of let things play out. Let’s let him settle in here with our veterans now. But we were really pleased with what we saw in Nashville in the two games that he played. We’ll just go step by step here.
Question: How much could Ryan Callahan’s recovery - the way he’s feeling right now, be a difference maker for him. Compared to what you saw last year when his hip was nagging him. Did it seem like he played his game or...
Yzerman: Well he just didn’t play enough games. And when he did play, Cally [Callahan] gives you everything he has every shift. I think getting back healthy - and we kind of debated this last year, surgery or not surgery, and then coming back. He battled through it, trying to work his way through it, and he wasn’t able to.
In the limited games that he played, he was still a pretty effective player for us. Maybe not on goals and assists, but in doing all the little things that he does well that make him a valuable player when he isn’t scoring - he was able to do those. Ultimately we know how it turned out and he missed the bulk of the season.
Getting back healthy will enable him - one, he’s an important player on the team, on the ice and off the ice. Being healthy and getting his - just feeling good and getting into a rhythm of playing games. He’ll get back to his old self.
Great, all right. Thank you. Appreciate everybody being here.