Steve Yzerman hired as Lightning GM

By LARRY LAGE
AP Sports Writer

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — 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 off 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.

Received 05/25/10 08:59 pm ET