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The Yzerman Influence


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I have written about this same thing on the Detroit Red Wings forum in the past, but haven't really had much occasion to talk about it concerning the TBL...until now.


Steven Stamkos resigned with TBL for $8M over 8 years, when he could have had upwards of $12M per year for 7 years with other teams. Granted, people are talking about the tax differences between Florida and, say, the Toronto Maple Leafs, which I will concede are significant--for a salary of $10M per year, in FL he would net roughly $6.5M per year after taxes, whereas with Toronto he would only net about $4.5M.


However, I think that there was more than that to do with signing Steve Stamkos, and I really think it had a lot to do with Steve Yzerman. Let me explain.


Years ago, before the cap was even an idea with any chance of being based in reality, Steve Yzerman had a difficult decision to make. You see, he was up for free agency in the offseason, and he was on a Red Wing team that had won multiple President's Trophies and been to the playoffs numerous years in a row, but they hadn't been able to seal the deal on a Cup. Not only that, but his coach, Scotty Bowman--the greatest hockey coach in history--was telling him that he needed to play a more defensive-style of hockey, which would likely cost Stevie some personal statistics offensively. To that point in his career, it has been Gretzky, Lemieux and then him. It was a point of pride to be generally considered the 3rd best player in the game. But Scotty was telling him you either need to do things MY way or perhaps you need to find another team. It was the only time in his career, which he spent its entirety in Detroit--that there was any serious talk of Stevie NOT being a Red Wing. As I said, Stevie had to make a very tough decision.


And he made it. He made the decision that more than anything else, he wanted to win a Stanley Cup. He had been close in the past, but never had the team that could get him there, despite his abilities. He decided not only to stay with the Detroit Red Wings, not only to publicly submit and commit to Scotty Bowman's left wing lock system of defense-first hockey, but he also approached Mike Ilitch and the front office and told them that he would be willing to take less $--significantly less money--to allow them to buy other talent to skate and play with him in order to be good enough to win a Stanley Cup.


Some of the results were immediate: the Red Wings traded away Coffey and Primeau for Shanahan and they acquired Larry Murphy. They also has to sign Sergei Fedorov and ended up, after him sitting out for most of the regular season, signing him to a contract with a $12M bonus if the Red Wings made it to the SCF's, which they did. They won their first Cup in 1997 and followed it with another in 1998, even after losing one of their best defenseman to a car accident which would end Vladimir Konstantinov's career.


But the effects weren't JUST immediate. The precedent was set within his organization. Years later, Niklas Lidstrom took significantly less money per year--similar to the difference Steve Stamkos was looking at--to stay with the Red Wings in order to let the team continue to supply the talent around him that would let him compete for more Stanley Cups. They won 2 more. And he did it, because he saw Stevie Y's example and decided that winning was more important to him than $. Stevie Y had taught him that.


Now fast forward to Stamkos. He has been close to winning the Cup now 3 times, but hasn't been able to seal the deal. But he gets a chance to cash in if he bolts. But just like The Captain decades ago, Stamkos had to make a decision to either leave the team he'd always known for more money, or choose to stay for less for the chance to win. I'll just bet Stevie Y looked him right in the eye at some point and said, "I have been where you are, Steve, and I chose to take less for the chance to win, and if given the chance to do it again, I wouldn't change a thing."


Stevie and Niklas did it before the cap was a reality. It is even more important in the cap era to have leaders like this. I think it is very interesting and a testament to Yzerman's continuing leadership that his new team's leader is following his example. I wonder, now, if the TBL will do exactly what the Wings did with Lidstrom, which was tell any FA considering joining the Wings that, "Nobody gets paid more than Stamkos." Wouldn't surprise me at all.


Yzerman's fingerprints can be seen now not just within the Red Wings organization, but now with the Tampa Bay Lightning moving forward. This is a very good thing for the TBL and their fans.


As my tag line says, history does have a tendency to repeat itself. Case in point.

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As I have always said:


If the Lightning can duplicate even HALF the success that the Red Wings have over the course of a couple decades, I will be a very happy fan.

Even better, not only will I get to enjoy season after season of quality NHL product on the ice I can root for, but because the blueprint for success is already in place, I suspect future GM's would want to continue the tradition of excellence and competitiveness that was started by not only Steve Yzerman and his Detroit influence, but by owner Jeff Vinik, who had the foresight to hire a guy like Yzerman in the first place!


From what I understand, and tax breaks aside, the TB organization treats its players, coaches, and various other personnel the right way.

Oh sure, tough business decisions need to be made sometimes....including things like buyouts and letting coaches go...just like any other business or organization, but they are done with truly the best interests of the franchise.


I think a guy like Steven Stamkos knows this all too well.

Yes, I do believe Florida tax breaks and the fact that the Bolts are still a Cup ready contender had much to do with him staying, but I think he also knows a class organization when he sees it (not that other franchises aren't classy), and one that he is very comfortable in. So why make the change to another team, given all those things, just for a few million more when realistically, he is financially set for life even giving the Bolts a 'hometown discount'?


As far as Yzerman's work, I can just sit and smile when I think back to some of the lunkheads who actually believed Yzerman was stepping into the GM's shoes without a clue as to what he was doing (yes, this was a thing when he was first hired, believe it or not!).

And those same people continued to criticize some of his personnel moves when the endgame wasn't plain to see for the average joe or jane.


Many even believed Yzerman was using his position as Tampa GM to raise his professional profile, only to dump the position the minute the same position became available with the Wings.

Not saying Yzerman won't ever, at some point, want to "go home" to the Wings again, but I think it's a farce to have believed he was just using the TB position as a stop gap.


The man is a winner, who came from a winning organization, and he is proud. I don't see any way that he can do his GM job except to be the absolute best he can be, build a champion, and continue that on for as many seasons as he can.


Props to owner Jeff Vinik for not just hiring Yzerman, but to basically stay 'out of the way' and let Yzerman and any staff he hires do their jobs.


No doubt even with retaining Stamkos, the TB GM still has his work cut out for him as he will need to decide what players moving forward will be part of the championship core he obviously has in place.

As Chicago has shown, you can still lose good players and continue to be championship ready....so long as you have the right people in the front office retaining the RIGHT players on the ice, and managing the budget the most optimal way possible.


And as the Red Wings have shown, cap or no cap, spending money or being limited as to what they can spend, scouting and development go a LONG way towards maintaining a winner at the NHL level.

I think the Lightning are taking their cues and learning their lessons just fine from seeing how the Hawks and Wings have been doing business over the years.


You just KNOW a damned good job is being done by all involved when a northern winter sport can take hold and be an anchor in a market like Tampa that is known more for it's golfing, beach volleyball, football, and retirement.


I am looking forward to continued great seasons from the Lightning, win or lose....and hope that in about 3 or 4 more decades, due to the continued maintenance of a winner, that the TB fanbase can be as large, widespread, and hardcore as some of the league's long standing fanbases!


Go Bolts!



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If not the best GM in the game he is absolutely on the short list. I was hoping Holland would go out to pasture and Steve would take his job before he ended up in Tampa, oh well. Our loss is certainly their gain.

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