Lightning hire Steve Yzerman as new GM

Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman is the Tampa Bay Lightning’s new

general manager, taking on the task to rebuilding a franchise

that’s fallen on hard times since winning its only Stanley Cup

championship six years ago.

The former Detroit Red Wings captain and executive was

introduced Tuesday as Brian Lawton’s replacement during a press

conference at St. Pete Times Forum. Lawton and coach Rick Tocchet

were fired April 12.

“This is a long-term project for me. I believe building a

Stanley Cup caliber team takes time and there will be many

decisions, some lengthy, that will be made over the course of

time,” Yzerman said.

“There is no easy fix. I don’t sit up here with the notion that

there is a magic wand I can wave and make changes and we’re a

Stanley Cup contender. I plan on making the Lightning better for

the upcoming season, but the long-term goal is to make this team a

perennial contender.”

Since retiring in 2006, Yzerman has worked as a vice president

for the Red Wings, the only team he played for during a 22-year

career in which he scored 692 goals, amassed 1,755 points and was

part of three Stanley Cup winners.

The 45-year-old recently led Canada to men’s Olympic hockey gold

as Hockey Canada executive director at the Vancouver Games.

Tampa Bay’s new owner, Jeff Vinik, fired Lawton and Tocchet

after the struggling franchise missed the playoffs for the third

straight season. The Lightning went 34-36-12 this season and were

53-69-26 in just under two seasons under Tocchet.

Detroit owners Mike and Marian Ilitch congratulated Yzerman but

said his departure was hard on them, the team and the city.

“Steve Yzerman … has been synonymous with the Red Wings and

Hockeytown for as long as most of us can remember,” they said in a

statement. “We drafted him as a young and shy 18 year old – just a

year after we bought the team – and he has been part of it all: the

ups and downs, highs and lows, the (Stanley) Cups, the

celebrations, really everything Red Wings over the last 27

years.”

Yzerman was not going to get a chance to be Detroit’s GM soon

because two executives above him, Ken Holland and Jim Nill, are

expected to sign long-term deals.

“After talking to many people throughout the league, I came to

the conclusion that Steve was the person to bring a winning culture

back to this team,” Vinik said.

“Steve is in charge of all hockey-related decisions,” the

owner added. “He does answer to me, but I trust his judgment and

his insight.”

Many felt Yzerman would be reluctant to leave the only club he

had worked for, however he relished a chance to be a GM and had

conceded he might have to leave Detroit to get that

opportunity.

“I have mixed emotions, both good and sad,” said Red Wings

senior vice president Jim Devellano, who drafted Yzerman fourth

overall in 1983 and watched him lead the franchise’s turnaround on

the ice.

“He’s been such an integral part of the Red Wings for 27 years,

first as a player and then as a front-office person,” Devellano

added. “I’m sad for us, but happy for him to get this wonderful

opportunity.”

Yzerman was born in Cranbrook, British Columbia, and he became

one of the best two-way players in NHL history. He was a Red Wings

captain for two decades and won a fourth Stanley Cup title as part

of Detroit’s front office in 2008.

Yzerman experienced the high of helping Canada win gold in 2002

and the disappointment of a fourth-place finish at the 1998 Nagano

Games in two of his eight international competitions as a

player.

As GM, Yzerman led Canada to gold at the 2007 world championship

and silver the next year before focusing on the Olympics.

Yzerman was chosen to lead Canada’s quest for gold again after

his predecessor, Wayne Gretzky, failed to help the team repeat four

years ago. He made all the right moves at the Olympics, assembling

a perfectly blended roster that gave the hockey-crazed country what

it wanted.

In Tampa Bay, Yzerman’s inherits a team that’s made three

coaching changes in two years but is not devoid of talent.

The roster includes two stars from the Stanley cup winner,

Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, as well as Victor Hedman

and Stephen Stamkos, the top pick in the 2008 NHL draft who scored

51 goals this season to tie Sidney Crosby for the league lead.

“Stevie will work for a singular owner – similar to the setup

we have in Detroit – and he’s got a handful of players to work with

right away,” Devellano said. “Stamkos and Hedman are promising

young players while St. Louis and Lecavalier are good

veterans.”

There’s been lots of speculation of about Lecavalier’s future.

The team’s highest-paid player has a no-trade clause in his

contract but has said he’d like to help the club get back to the

playoffs.

In addition to hiring a coach, preparing for next month’s NHL

draft will be a priority in coming weeks.

Yzerman welcomes the challenge.

“It was very difficult to leave the Red Wings. I’ve been there

my whole career and I was very safe there, surrounded by people I

knew and looked out for me,” Yzerman said. “That’s my home and

where my children were born. So this is a major decision, and one

I’ve thought about for a long time.”

AP Sports Writers Larry Lage in Detroit and Fred Goodall in St.

Petersburg, Fla.; AP reporter David N. Goodman in Detroit; and AP

freelance writer Mike Camunas in Tampa contributed to this

report.