Tuesday, 11 September 2018

More Earth-Shattering News

Steve Yzerman, the man who has built the Tampa Bay Lightning into a perennial Stanley Cup favorite over the last number of years, shocked the hockey world today in announcing that he was stepping down from his role as the General Manager of the Lightning. In hearing his reason why he's making the change, I can't blame him, but it's still hard to fathom that the man who turned a floundering franchise in 2010 into one of the model organizations - from the NHL club right through to the minor-legaue affiliations - won't be in charge of the Lightning's hockey operations any longer as he stepped down from the GM role and into a "Senior Advisor" role.

In his place, the Lightning have promoted Julien BriseBois from Assistant General Manager to the GM role, and that's a solid replacement for Yzerman. BriseBois is seen as a sharp hockey mind with an eye for details, and with his contract expiring next summer there would have been many teams keen on interviewing BriseBois for their GM positions. His work with the Syracuse Crunch have made turned them back into a solid AHL franchise on the ice after the AHL affiliation moved from the Norfolk Admirals to Syracuse. Three teams that BriseBois has overseen have made it to the Calder Cup since taking the role eight years ago, and winning the AHL's top trophy with the Admirals in 2012 when his player moves saw the Admirals rattle off an AHL-record 28-game winning streak. In other words, the Lightning and its affiliates are still in good hands.

It's still shocking, though, to see a man who was so passionate about his team and his job take a step back. The reason, though, is one that any parent or partner can certainly empathize with as Yzerman made the tough decision to spend more time at home in Detroit with his family. The weekly flights to and from Detroit were starting to wear on the former Red Wings sniper, and Julien BriseBois was almost certainly gone come next summer. Having had BriseBois see Yzerman's vision through over the last eight years, Yzerman was in no position to prevent him from moving to greener pastures if the opportunity arose nor would it surprise anyone of BriseBois explored those options. He had earned it. Instead, Yzerman once again did what his hockey-playing career may be defined by: he knew it was time for change.

"I'm doing what I think is the right thing," Yzerman told reporters on 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."

Like he did under the tutelage of Scotty Bowman, Yzerman went from being the centrepiece of the Red Wings offence to a better two-way player. In the end, the handful of Stanley Cup rings can be attributed to the team's success, but would the Red Wings have reached that pinnacle without Yzerman transitioning to a more complete, 200-foot player who worked as hard as or, perhaps, even harder in his own zone than he did in the offensive zone? Would the Red Wings have been as complete as they were without that complete, 200-foot game from one of their most cerebral centermen?

The 53 year-old Yzerman leaves the Lightning on solid footing. In his eight seasons with the club, the Lightning made five playoff appearances, three trips to the conference final, and an appearance in the 2015 Stanley Cup final. While the ultimate goal of bringing the franchise's second Stanley Cup parade to the Tampa-St. Petersburg area has yet to be realized, Yzerman reassured reporters, fans, and the Lightning together that he was "100 per cent committed" to the Lightning for 2018-19.

"We got to Game Six of the Finals and we've gotten to three Game Sevens of the conference finals," Yzerman stated. "So hopefully it's this year. If not this year, beyond."

Whatever Steve Yzerman plans to do following this season is anyone's guess. There were reports that he may be looking to replace Ken Holland in Detroit, but Holland recently signed a new two-year deal to keep him in place. There are reports he may take a year off and just be a family man with the time he's now acquired. Regardless of what he plans to do in the future, there's no doubt that Steve Yzerman has the ability to call his next shot thanks to the legacy he's left in Tampa Bay. He's well-respected not only in NHL hockey circles, but on the international stage as well, and he's certainly still young enough to do any job for any team on the planet. The Lightning, under Julien BriseBois, will still be competitive thanks to the framework that Steve Yzerman built.

This isn't a story of sadness. It's a story of greatness. Its author, Steve Yzerman, has shown his greatness on the ice as a player, in the front office as a general manager, and in the Yzerman household as a husband and father. If you want to know about Steve Yzerman's future, there is one thing that is certain: it's as bright as any future has ever been.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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