Hockey Canada obviously didn’t want to mess with a good thing. Now the next obvious question is, will the owners of the Detroit Red Wings do the same?
Former Red Wings star and current Wings vice-president Steve Yzerman will return for a second stint as the GM for Canada’s entry in the World Championship this spring after being named to the post in a news conference Monday morning.
Yzerman, you’ll remember, put together a gold medal roster last year on his first try and Hockey Canada’s faith in Yzerman is an important sign. Hockey Canada desperately wants to win this year’s tournament, which is being held in Canada for the first time ever and coincides with the 100th anniversary of the International Ice Hockey Federation.
That Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson is prepared to hand Yzerman the keys again this season indicates the enormous amount of confidence he has in Yzerman and also proves how Yzerman has matured as a savvy hockey executive. It also creates an interesting dynamic within the hierarchy of the Red Wings and could force several dominos to fall over sooner than expected.
After almost two years off the ice after a Hall of Fame career as a player, Yzerman seems intent on forging a career just as successful in management. And most importantly, he continues to prove he wants the responsibility and pressure that comes with running a big-league team. That’s important because Yzerman made $65 million as a player and it would have been easy for him to kick back and take a glad-handing job with the Red Wings and ease his way into a new comfortable lifestyle.
But Yzerman appears intent on actually working his way to the annals of power and is proving that he’s not afraid to take on extra assignments or heavy lifting in order to reach that goal. Any player who has made the kind of money NHLers have for the past decade can talk a good game about wanting to be in management, but the proof of their intentions is in how hard they’re willing to work and whether or not they have desire to drive from Rimouski to Chicoutimi in a snowstorm.
Is Yzerman ready to take the next step at the NHL level? Well, that makes for some very interesting conversation, doesn’t it? And the answer to it has implications that could likely be felt around the league.
This much we know. Mike and Marion Ilitch, who sign the checks in Detroit, love Steve Yzerman like another son. There is no doubt one day Yzerman will be the alpha male in that organization. Another World Championship triumph would do nothing but add to his credentials.
Which then sets up an interesting little scenario. If Yzerman is ready to take over an NHL team – and in Detroit it’s not as though he doesn’t have a good support network if that’s the way things go – that leaves one Ken Holland available for employment. And who is looking for a president-GM to lead them out of the wilderness? Yup, the Toronto Maple Leafs, who coincidentally drafted Holland 188th overall in 1975 before he went on to an undistinguished career as a goalie in the minors.
Think about it. Yzerman could be moved into the president-GM role with the Red Wings and would still have the expertise of assistant GM Jim Nill, senior vice-president Jim Devellano, uber consultant Scotty Bowman and a top-notch amateur and pro scouting staff to help him. And if Yzerman isn’t ready yet, the Red Wings could promote Nill to the GM chair until Yzerman is ready to take over.
And if Holland does become available, he automatically becomes not only the frontrunner for the Maple Leafs, but the only candidate in whom they should have any interest. He is without a doubt the best GM in the league – THN named him that last season, so it must be true – and he meets every single one of the criteria needed to satisfy the Leafs.
But first, the next couple of months will give everyone a chance to watch Yzerman work in a pressure-filled situation, one where he’ll have to assemble a team of players whose seasons have ended and would probably rather be on a beach than spending a month playing in the World Championship.
There is talk former Phoenix Coyotes GM Bobby Smith and/or Quebec Remparts owner-GM-coach Patrick Roy will be involved in either the management or coaching groups, given that the tournament is being held in Halifax and Quebec City.
One person who isn’t involved – at least at the moment – is former Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson, who is believed to have coveted the job. Sunday night, Ferguson was at the Super Bowl in Arizona, thousands of miles and a couple of time zones away from Monday morning’s news conference in Halifax.
There is no doubt Canada’s squad for the World Championship is Yzerman’s team. It will be interesting to see how long it will take for the Red Wings to acquire the same designation.