Yzerman now one of the other guys
Feb. 14, 2011
Steve Yzerman may be the first-year general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he'll always be a Detroit Red Wing.
But on Thursday, for the first time since he was 18 years old, Yzerman will find himself in the unusual position of having to root against the team he captained for two decades. The Wings visit the Lightning on Thursday.
"I'm trying to take all the emotion out of it," Yzerman said on a conference call with the media Monday afternoon. "I'm trying to watch the game and analyze how does our team, our players, match up against one of the best teams in the league.
"I'm not trying to spend a lot of time thinking about the obvious."
That's fine, we can think about the obvious for him.
Although Yzerman is trying to downplay it, it's going to be very strange for him to be in the press box Thursday night, watching the only team he ever played for go against his new team, the one he's responsible for. How could it not be?
Yzerman is not a Dick Vermeil type so he's not going to get all weepy, especially over a regular-season game against a team that's not even in his conference.
Yzerman, 45, has consistently said that spending those years since he retired in 2006 with the Wings' front office was like "going to university." He said that even though he's not on the same team anymore, he still talks with Wings general manager Ken Holland quite a bit.
"It's not much different," Yzerman said. "I don't look at it like we're completely enemies, by any means. We're competing for the same players and on Thursday competing for two points, but all the conversations are pretty much the same.
"I saw (Wings assistant general manager) Jim Nill at a college game. I talk to Kenny on a regular basis, seek his advice about a lot of things."
Clearly, Yzerman has learned his lessons well and has put the advice to excellent use.
When you look at the records of the Red Wings and Lightning, it's astonishing to see how close they are.
Through 56 games, the Wings are 34-16-6 for 74 points. Through 56 games, the Lightning are 34-17-5 for 73 points. The Wings are second to the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference and the Lightning are second to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference.
When he took the Lightning job last May, Yzerman made moves that were more subtle than eye-catching.
He signed defensemen Pavel Kubina, Brett Clark and Randy Jones in an effort to be able to move the puck quickly out of their own zone.
He kept veterans Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier as holdovers from the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2004.
He traded for forward Simon Gagne and also signed Sean Bergenheim and Dominic Moore.
Perhaps his best move has been trading with the New York Islanders for goaltender Dwayne Roloson on Jan. 2.
"He solidified the position for us," Yzerman said. "We had good games from Mike (Smith) and Dan (Ellis), but we had trouble with consistency. He's a veteran who's played a lot of hockey, been around a long time, has the confidence of someone who's been a starter for a long time. He's a calming influence back there."
It's always calming when your goaltender posts four shutouts in his first 11 games with the team.
Yzerman probably also remembered the way Roloson played for the Edmonton Oilers when they knocked the Wings out in the first round in 2006.
Coming from a team that has not missed the playoffs in nearly 20 years to a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2007, Yzerman said he isn't taking anything for granted.
"We want to clinch a playoff spot," Yzerman said. "Our goal at the start of the year was to make the playoffs. That was our No. 1 priority. Once we get a playoff spot, then we can talk about competing for the division with Washington."
The Lightning are five points ahead of the Capitals for first place in the Southeast Division.
The Lightning have a big home game against the Flyers on Tuesday and then the Wings arrive.
"Detroit's a good team to watch players against," Yzerman said. "I've always said, if you can play well against Detroit, be an effective player against their defense and play good defense, then you're a really good hockey player, a good team."
The Wings will have their hands full with Lightning forward Steven Stamkos, who just turned 21 on Feb. 7. Stamkos, whom Red Wings defenseman Nick Lidstrom chose first for his All-Star team, leads the league with 40 goals and 74 points. St. Louis is second in the league with 46 assists and tied for fourth with 66 points.
But it won't be strictly business for Yzerman when the Wings come to town.
"I'm looking forward to seeing Mike (Babcock), Kenny, everyone, obviously," Yzerman said. "I'm looking forward to saying hello, chatting."