Can Yzerman Forge a Red Wings Team as Strong as Tampa Bay?

One of the most exciting storylines of the offseason for Detroit Red Wings fans has been Steve Yzerman returning to the hockey club as its new general manager, as shown by NBC Sports. Replacing Ken Holland, who had been in the role for over two decades, Yzerman returns having been captain of the Red Wings for 20 years as a player and helping to win three Stanley Cups.

Already bringing in Pat Verbeek as his assistant general manager, Yzerman has been quick to get to work as he knows the lofty expectations placed upon him. Not only does the fan base and franchise know his winning ways as a player, but his work down in Tampa Bay holds the general manager in high esteem across the league. Making a change at assistant coach, deciding against renewing Pat Ferschweiler, is an early baby step towards ushering in a new era in Detroit, which many hope will mirror his success with the Lightning.

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Creating one of the best teams in history

On 11 September 2018, Steve Yzerman shocked the hockey world, according to Sportsnet, by removing himself from the position of general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since taking on the role on 25 May 2010, Yzerman had built a super-team in the NHL through expert draft picks and opportunistic trades. This season, the team he built – which was ultimately left mostly unchanged when they switched at GM to start the season – landed a record-equalling 62 wins, as shown by the NY Times, and a mighty 128 points to etch the team in history.

Had Yzerman remained at the helm, the historic team may have gone on to even bigger and better things, perhaps with a timely deadline trade. But it wasn’t to be for the seemingly unstoppable Bolts this year. They were unceremoniously swept 4-0 by the Blue Jackets with the shame enhanced by their conquerors not even going on to win the Cup. Their lead Atlantic Division rivals, the Boston Bruins, beat Columbus in six games, and now, as of 13 May, are the favourites with Betway at 1/1 to win the Stanley Cup, with the San Jose Sharks just behind at 6/4 in the odds.

The team that Yzerman initially inherited had missed the post-season for three consecutive seasons. In his first season as their GM, the Detroit legend took the Lightning to the Conference Finals. Although they didn’t win the Stanley Cup during his eight-year spell, Yzerman’s Bolts went to the post-season five times, finishing in the Conference Finals thrice, the first round once, and coming ever so close to glory in the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals. The bottom line is that Yzerman knows how to build an incredible team that can dominate in the modern NHL: all he needs is time.

Building the next Lightning

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The key to Steve Yzerman’s success in Tampa Bay was his drafting. It was very much a case of finding the next Datsyuk or, in other words, later round gems. In the 2011 draft alone, the Lightning drafted Ondrej Palat, Nikita Nesterov, and the league’s top point scorer with 128 points this season, Nikita Kucherov, all of which came from the second round onwards.

As was the case when he took over the Lightning, it’s going to be a long road ahead for the Detroit Red Wings. Bloomberg reports Yzerman as saying: “there’s a lot of work to be done. We’ve been through this before”. With enough time for his strategic draft picks to mature, the Red Wings could benefit in a similar way to Tampa Bay, but patience will be key.

That said, Yzerman is not a patient GM and has got to work immediately. On 6 May, Yzerman snapped up impressive Finnish defenseman Oliwer Kaski. After struggling to impress in the NCAA with Western Michigan University and then for HIFK in Liiga, Kaski exploded for 19 goals and 51 points in 59 top league games for the Lahden Pelicans, putting him on the radar of many NHL teams. At 23-years-old, Kaski has accrued enough experience to be able to take the NHL head on, with his play in the offensive end and top-class skating making him a lethal weapon from the blueline.

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That’s just Yzerman’s first roster move: he also has a lot of currency to play within the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft. As shown by Cap Friendly, the Red Wings have ten picks this year, keeping all of their regular selections but adding two more in the second round and another in the fifth. In 2020, Yzerman already has up to five picks in the first three rounds to use as well.

Furthermore, there’s already a lot of young talent in the organization for Yzerman to cultivate, including blue-chip prospects like Filip Zadina, Jonathan Berggren, Joe Veleno, and Jared McIsaac. It’s not among the strongest prospect pools in the league, but with a nice salary situation and plenty of picks, Yzerman can create a gold mine over the next few years. The Red Wings also boast plenty of top young talents in their NHL lines already.

It’s an exciting time to be a Detroit Red Wings fan. The return of Steve Yzerman looks to be a match made in hockey heaven, set to usher in a new era of success for the legendary franchise. Whether it can rival the strength of the Lightning is yet to be seen, but the foundations and master craftsman are certainly in place.

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