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The timing was wrong. And Steve Yzerman knew it.
When asked if it was fate that Yzerman, who wore No. 19 as a player, would be named the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings on April 19, 2019, he smiled and cracked a joke.
“To me, it’s ironic,” he said in a news conference on Friday. “Hopefully, it brings us some good luck.”
And yet, it was bad luck that brought Yzerman to Detroit this early. This announcement, which was pretty much planned ever since Yzerman stepped down as the Lightning GM days before the season began, was supposed to occur two months from now, long after the playoffs ended and he had capped off the season with the Stanley Cup.
Instead, the date got bumped up after Tampa Bay was swept in the first round.
That experience will stick with Yzerman now that he’s rebuilding a team again from scratch. Yzerman seemingly did everything right in Tampa Bay. Well, everything except for the one thing that mattered.
“I have my own feelings on the job I did in Tampa. Some good, some not so good,” he said. “I’m very disappointed that we didn’t win a Stanley Cup in the nine years with the assets that we had … I was expecting to win a Stanley Cup. I was hoping to win a Stanley Cup. I wasn’t able to do that, so I’m disappointed.”
Now that he’s back in Detroit, where he’s won as a player and as part of the management team, don’t necessarily expect success to immediately follow. Listening to him speak on Friday, it didn’t sound like he was in a rush to win championships. Rather, he sounded a lot like Brendan Shanahan laying out his Shanaplan.
There was no talk of ending a three-year playoff drought or being aggressive in free agency. There were no promises, except the promise of a long-term plan and sticking with it.
This isn’t the same situation Yzerman found himself in nine years ago when he inherited a Lightning team with Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman already on the roster and immediately took them to the conference final.
The Red Wings, who finished with the fourth-worst record in the NHL, has no one close to that skill level, though Dylan Larkin is coming off a 73-point season and Filip Zadina is a highly regarded prospect. To make matters more challenging, they have $79.5-million committed to 18 players next season.
No wonder he looked happy to be on the job earlier than expected.
“This will take time,” said Yzerman. “Much like in the early part of my career. There’s ups and downs…. We are very appreciate of your support. We’re going to ask for your patience. We’re going to do things the right way.”
TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT
With Yzerman in Detroit and Joel Quenneville hired as the head coach of the Florida Panthers, an already competitive Atlantic Division is going to get a lot more competitive, especially once the Buffalo Sabres get around to naming a new coach. Not that Maple Leafs head coach is concerned. “I think that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” said Mike Babcock. “Don’t you want to be the best and beat the best? To me, that’s what elite sports is all about. It’s not supposed to be about finding someone soft to play against. This is why this time of year is so exciting. It’s best on best. Let’s go” … With Niklas Kronwall’s contract set to expire on July 1, I wonder how hard Yzerman will go after pending free agent Erik Karlsson this summer. Karlsson, like all Swedish defenceman, idolized Nicklas Lidstrom. And Detroit is fairly close to Ottawa, where Karlsson’s fiancée is from … As of now, Ken Holland remains with the Red Wings organization. But don’t expect him to be there long. If Edmonton or Seattle hasn’t contacted him yet, they soon will.
HERE’S ONE FOR YOU
Even before Quenneville was hired in Florida, the thinking was that the Panthers had the inside track on landing both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky this summer. But that was before the Blue Jackets swept the Lightning. Winning cures all. And watching Panarin and Bobrovsky hugging their teammates with ear-to-ear grins splashed across the faces, you have to wonder if their plans have changed. GM Jarmo Kekalainen certainly hopes so. “I don’t really want to speculate on that, because we’ve said all along we respect the rights that they have come July 1,” Kekalainen told me this week. “They will decide what they want to decide. We’ve always done what we can to let them know how much we appreciate them. That hasn’t changed. Right now, we just want to concentrate on the playoffs. After that, we’ll see what happens” … Last year, the “Golden Misfits” took Vegas to the Stanley Cup final. This year, the team is being led by Mark Stone, Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny, who’s combined salary next season is $23-million. Call them the “Golden Paycheques” … Turns out that there is not a switch slumping players can turn on once the playoffs start. If there was one, James Neal broke it.
FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH
The question being asked in San Jose today is what version of Martin Jones will be in net for Game 6: the one that was pulled in Games 2 and 4 and allowed six goals in Game 3 or the one who stopped 30 of 32 shots in Game 5? … Evander Kane calling Ryan Reaves the “Muffin Man” was funny. What isn’t funny for the Sharks is that Reaves, a fourth-line forward, has duped Kane into being assessed a post-season high 41 penalty minutes. That’s two periods of hockey where the 30-goal scorer was off the ice … Don’t blame Alex Ovechkin for knocking out 19-year-old Andre Svechnikov in a one-sided fight that some have said Ovechkin shouldn’t have engaged in. Blame Svechnikov’s teammates for not stepping in and fighting on his behalf … At the top of Edmonton’s wish list this summer is finding a winger to play with Connor McDavid. Meanwhile, ex-Oiler Jordan Eberle has four goals and six points in four games for the Islanders … Is it too late to change my Norris Trophy vote for Brent Burns?
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