Steve Yzerman on Thursday gave every indication the Tampa Bay Lightning would not be going after Roberto Luongo, who is all but finished in Vancouver and willing to waive his no-trade clause.
Yzerman told a Tampa radio station, “My philosophy is I’m trying to find that Hall of Fame goaltender. But good luck trying to do that. It takes time. We’ll find that guy through the draft or unrestricted free agency … guy (Luongo) isn’t there at this time.
“I think everybody’s trying to find somebody that’s an elite guy,” Yzerman told the station. “I would say there’s probably five or six elite goaltenders in the league, and then there’s a group of good goaltenders, and then there’s a group of teams searching for that guy to lock up and not worry about for the present and the future.”
While the Lightning finished out of the playoffs this year, Tampa has a nice core group of players — led by Steven Stamkos, of course, who might be hockey’s best skater — and might only be a player or two away from a playoff spot.
And considering what’s developed in this year’s Stanley Cup party, you make the playoffs and anything can happen.
So you wouldn’t think Yzerman, the Lightning’s general manager, would be ready just yet to hand the ball — or puck, as it were — to an unproven 22-year-old, but given his choice of words Tuesday night at Mile One Centre, it wouldn’t be out of the question if Yzerman wasn’t even at least considering Dustin Tokarski.
And why wouldn’t he?
The Norfolk goaltender has a league-best 1.65 goals against average in the American Hockey League’s Calder Cup playoffs, and his .939 save percentage is third among puckstops.
Tokarski looks to have the Admirals sailing smooth waters right to the league championship.
The youngster from Saskatchewan made the IceCaps’ shooters look like they were firing cap guns in the Eastern Conference final, allowing only two goals as Norfolk swept St. John’s in four straight. He shut out the IceCaps in Games 3 and 4 in St. John’s and hasn’t given up a goal in 158 minutes and nine seconds.
As Admirals’ coach Jon Cooper is quick to remind, Tokarski has been a winner wherever he’s been — he was the MVP and top goalie in leading the Spokane Chiefs to the 2008 Memorial Cup championship, and the following year backstopped Canada to a world junior hockey championship.
“He’s been consistently good all year,” Yzerman said. “He was good last year, too.
“He’s gotten better in the two years I’ve been here and that’s what we want to see. The more playoff hockey these kids get, the better. It’s important they learn how to win, and the lessons they learn through these playoff runs will benefit them in their career.”
Yzerman watched the Admirals clinch the East final from the Mile One press box with his assistant, Julien BriseBois, and Tampa star Teddy Purcell of St. John’s.
See CALM, page B2
Purcell had a career year this season, finishing with 24 goals and 65 points. From the all-star break, Purcell was lights out, with 12 goals and 38 points in 34 games. Only four National Hockey League players — Evgeny Malkin with 51, Steven Stamkos (45), Ilya Kovalchuk (43) and Joe Thornton (39) — had more points than Purcell from Jan. 31 onwards.
“That’s not a surprise,” Yzerman said. “A year ago, he got stronger as the season went on, had an outstanding playoff, and again this year he took his play to another level. He got better throughout the course of this year and by the end of the season he established himself as an NHL regular, and on our team, he’s established himself as a core player.
“He’s skilled, he’s smart, he’s physically maturing and he’s getting more confidence. A lot of it comes with confidence and realizing, ‘I’m an NHL player, I’m a good NHL player and I can do things.’ I think the last year benefited him a lot. Believing in yourself, that’s what helps you do it every night.”
Steve Yzerman, like Wayne Gretzky, is a picture of class, carrying himself with grace, dignity and humility.
He granted all interview requests during his two days in St. John’s, responding with patience to even the most ridiculous and inane questions from some reporters.
I recall Yzerman at the 2010 Olympics, a picture of calm, cool and collected, even as the city was going nuts with the prospects of hockey gold on Canadian soil. The pressure on the Canadian hockey players was immense, yet Yzerman — like Gretzky in the two Olympics Games before him, in a similar executive director’s role — maintained a poker face throughout.
The last time Yzerman skated, he captained the Red Wings and they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the first round of the playoffs. Since then, he’s immersed himself into the front office, first with Detroit and now Tampa.
“I really enjoy my role and the responsibility,” he said. “The greatest thing in the world is to play the game, but I really enjoy this as much.
“It’s a great challenge, I love being around the players at the NHL level, going to see our kids play at the American league level, and working with our staff. It’s a great responsibility I really enjoy.”
Boy, those IceCaps supporters are a passionate lot, which is wonderful to see, really. Judging by the comments, the emails and the letters, you wouldn’t know that I’d said their mothers wore army boots. C’est la vie. Last time I checked, I was a neutral observer, a columnist paid to pen an opinion. And what I saw in Norfolk, Va. and in St. John’s was an IceCaps team vastly outplayed in the Eastern Conference final, a team that managed a measly two goals in four games, a team shut out at home in back-to-back games and a team that went down swinging one-for-25 on the power play. So to salute the IceCaps with a ‘Three cheers for the boys!’ slurp following a sweep would be, well, preposterous and not part of my makeup, nor any other journalist with a shred of credibility … O’Hehir Arena has been sold to the Bussey half of the Rogers Bussey law crowd. The rink will remain a rink, apparently ... Don Johnson would understand. Being a hockey guy, he would have known all too well I’d been tied up with hockey of late, and only now getting around to saying a final, few words. And besides, after Brendan McCarthy’s excellent tribute last week, what else is there to say? Only this: Don was my friend, and I’ll miss him. A lot …
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email email@example.com.