Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman discusses the Bolts’ performance this season, defensive improvements, roster depth, and the Syracuse Crunch.
Transcribed for accessibility. For the sake of clarity and fluency, I have omitted extraneous uses of the phases, “and,” “um,” “so,” and “you know.”
Based on the off-season and coming into September, we expected to get back into a team that’s contending for a playoff spot. That was our expectation. That was our hope. To say we thought we would - that our goal was, “We’re going to win the division” or, “We’re going to be in first place in January,” - [we] hadn’t really given that a thought.
Again, we expected based on how we finished, we’ve got to be a playoff contender. In that sense, we’re kind of where we want to be.
But collectively as a team, we’ve improved. Our penalty killing is greatly improved, although we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Dan Girardi - bringing Dan in has helped out on that. We’re getting more offense out of our D [defensemen] which is one thing we felt we needed. It wasn’t necessarily expected to be getting this much.
We knew we were getting it from Heddy [Victor Hedman]. Mikhail [Sergachev] has come in and really produced a lot. Dan Girardi’s got ten or eleven points, which - every guy has got ten or eleven points. It all adds up. We have improved our team defensively. Our play defensively - we still have work to do there. Our penalty killing is better, it still has work to do as well.
We’re getting a lot of contributions from a lot of players. It makes it more difficult for the opposition to really key on, say Stammer [Steven Stamkos] and Kuch [Nikita Kucherov] right now. Johnny [Tyler Johnson] has heated up. You’ve got Brayden [Point]. We can get you from a lot of different directions, from a lot of different lines.
It gives Coop [coach Jon Cooper] a lot of options to mix and match his lines. Things don’t always run smoothly. You have to try different combinations. We’re finding different combinations that work which will benefit us when we hit a bump in the road down the line.
They’ve all done a really good job. They play hard, they’re skilled. Throughout the season, we’ve gotten great contributions. They’ve been a difference-maker from one game to the next. You pick and choose each night, “Wow that guy was the difference tonight.” The more guys you have doing it, the harder you are to play against.
Yeah, the Crunch got off to a tough start. Although they played really hard from the start of the season - they generally out-shot their opponent on a nightly basis. We had trouble scoring a lot early and keeping the puck out of our net. That’s a bad combination. [chuckles] It’s hard to win. We made the trade to bring in Louis Domingue and he’s kind of settled the goaltending down.
Connor Ingram is - between Louis and Connor - kind of feeling his way earlier. A rookie in the American Hockey League, he’s getting better and better. Louis solidifying it, playing the bulk of the games.
Then we had a whole slew of young forwards playing their first games in the American Hockey League. It’s a big jump going from junior hockey into the AHL and they’re getting better from week to week.
Things have really come together. We were able to kind of hold on for a while until everybody got their footing and the team has taken off. They’re a fun group to watch. They play hard, they play fast, and they’re a very exciting team. We’re real happy and hopeful they can keep it going.
Emergence of Sergachev
In regards to Mikhail, our expectation coming in was - we’re going to give him an opportunity. Our projection is he’s going to be a top-four defenseman in the National Hockey League. Is it going to be this year? Is it going to be next year? I’m really not sure.
He’s got the physical tools as far as the size, the strength, the skating ability. It’s more really can you process the game quick enough? He’s learning over time. It takes some experience, how you handle certain situations. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes you need to do more. He’s figuring that out, he’s smart.
He’s an intelligent hockey player, but he’s an intelligent young man too. He’s done fine every step of the way. We’re still expecting him to continue to improve, adjust, and have a bigger impact on our team. We’re going to need it, quite frankly, as we go forward here in the second half [of the season] and towards the playoffs.
Our schedule’s been pretty busy lately, coming off the long road trip. Going into the five day break, I have kind of mixed feelings for it. As a player, I think it’s good for them. We just have to understand when we come back out of it, you’re right back into a full schedule. A very busy schedule, the most difficult part of our season. We’re building to - our goal is to get better at the end of the season, not go the other way.
As you know, our team is pretty conscientious. They’re very professional, they work hard, they’re in good shape. We want to finish off with a real good game against Calgary and then let the players enjoy their time off. Coaches who work very hard, very long hours, enjoy that time off.
For me, I’ve got the pro scouts coming in next week. I’ll get a chance to see Syracuse, see a couple of pro games and an amateur game. We’ve had our amateur scouts here. I’ve got some work to do and then back next week and ready to go. Time to ramp it up.