It is the end of an era in Tampa, with general manager Steve Yzerman’s surprising departure marking the conclusion of a front office run for the books.
Under his watchful eye, the Tampa Bay Lightning became a formidable hockey club.
Yzerman, who announced his retirement from the post on Tuesday, joined as general manager in May of 2010 and served for eight seasons. He had a year to go on his contract when he stepped down and will step into a role as advisor, with new general manager Julien BriseBois taking over.
But it’s impossible to move on without discounting what Yzerman did for the Lightning.
Sure enough, he had a young and hungry Steven Stamkos in the fold immediately. When Yzerman replaced Brian Lawton as general manager, Stamkos was already scoring goals by the truckload. He ended the 2009-2010 season with 51 goals, tying with Sidney Crosby, and was an elite player. Any general manager would benefit from such a scoring machine.
But as a team, the Lightning struggled. Lawton was let go because Tampa was missing the post-season and putting up poor numbers. Yzerman made a few trades in his first season, picking up goalie Dwayne Roloson and defenceman Eric Brewer, and his team made it to the conference final before falling back off in 2012 and 2013.
Still, the general manager seemed to be on the right track and something was happening in Tampa.
And soon, the man who started his off-ice career as a front office apprentice in Detroit was building a powerhouse with the Lightning. He swapped for goalie Ben Bishop in 2013, sent Martin St Louis to the Rangers for Ryan Callahan and some picks in 2014, traded Jonathan Drouin to Montreal in 2017. And so on.
Yzerman’s shrewd ability to make big trades was perhaps only matched by his drafting prowess, which manifested in the likes of Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat in 2011, Jake Dotchin in 2012, Brayden Point in 2014, and potential breakout Anthony Cirelli in 2015.
For Yzerman, the decision to leave Tampa at this juncture was a personal one. Time with his family had been waning since the start of his front office journey, even way back in 2007 when he was an executive for Team Canada just a few months after his retirement as a player.
The decision, like most of Yzerman’s decisions, was also a smart one. With a year to go, his call to pull the plug is one of timing. There will be no speculation about his future to overshadow Tampa’s critical work in the 2018-2019 season. And BriseBois is a logical choice, serving as his apprentice for eight years.
Will Yzerman find himself in another general manager role, perhaps in the Motor City where he can be closer to his family? Perhaps. And believe me, the Red Wings are serious need of what their former star can offer.
But for now, Yzerman’s legacy as general manager in Tampa is intact and his professional career in that capacity is finished in fine fashion.
“[I believe in] doing what I think is the right thing,” Yzerman told reporters Tuesday. “I believe I’ve done that. In that sense it made it an easier decision. It’s what’s right for the Tampa Bay Lightning and what’s right for me personally and professionally.”