The Detroit Red Wings are officially rebuilding for the first time in decades, and it sure isn’t pretty on the ice right now, having started the new season with a dismal 0-4-2 record.
Fans know that this frustration is a necessary step in returning the franchise to its former glory, and one major component of the rebuild could be arriving next season – and have the same effect it did 35 years ago the first time it happened: turning a team around.
When Steve Yzerman announced that he was stepping down as the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, speculation immediately ran rampant that he would be returning to the Red Wings and taking over from the stale policies of long-tenured general manager Ken Holland. During his time in Tampa Bay, Yzerman has built the Lightning into a perennial championship contender, and fans are pining for him to do the same for the Red Wings. Only this time, it would be from the front office, not on the ice.
Ahead of Thursday’s matchup between the Red Wings and Lightning, some of Tampa Bay’s players spoke about the effect that Yzerman has had on them during their careers. Star forward Steve Stamkos is particularly grateful for the impression and culture that Yzerman instilled in the team.
“Obviously a guy that was so respected around the league as a player, and then to see what he was able to do with our team — just build the culture here, and the winning attitude and bringing in the guys that he did,” Stamkos said. “The vision that he shared with our ownership group and (owner Jeffrey) Vinik, I mean, he brought a lot of stability to this organization. Really laid down the model which we’ll continue to follow.”
Forward Yanni Gourde spoke about the effect that an executive who wants to win has on the players, especially one that provides all of the means to do so for an extended period of time.
“He’s given us a chance to win,” Gourde said. “(Before) the last three years I wasn’t there obviously, but he brought up all these guys and (works) to improve this team every single year. For us, as a player, like he’s not giving up on us. He wants us to win, he wants to give us the right tools to make it happen. I think it’s comforting. It’s really nice of him to do that. Obviously as a player you want to win every single year. It’s not going to happen every year, but at least you have the tools to do it and you have the locker room, the players to make it happen.”
Meanwhile, defenseman Victor Hedman echoed his teammates sentiments, saying that Yzerman was a key factor in his development and the standard of winning he brought to the Lightning.
“He’s been unbelievable to me — believed in my development and my progress as a player,” Hedman said. “I’ve got a lot of thanks to give to him for believing in me and trusting my development. He’s a great guy, sets a high standard for us, and so does Mr. Vinik, but obviously Steve for eight-plus years has been kind of the guy pulling the strings on the hockey side. … You always want to put your best foot forward and play well for him.”
Will Red Wings players soon be saying the same thing about Yzerman should he return to Detroit and take over as GM? Time will tell.