TORONTO – It’s the kind of thing you rarely expect to hear from Steve Yzerman.
Standing in a room full of people in designer outfits—wearing a stylish Hugo Boss suit himself—the man of the hour at a chic Hudson’s Bay Company clothing launch quietly concedes he’s not completely comfortable.
“I’m a bit of a fish out of water,” Yzerman said Thursday night. “I think most hockey players, we don’t really have the build for high fashion.”
You’d never have known. Despite the admission, Yzerman radiated confidence as he shook hands and made small talk with all who approached.
Very few possess this skill—the ability to adapt to any situation. Yzerman seems to have it in spades, as was evidenced by his performance on Thursday night.
The Bay’s new spokesman for its high end clothing division wore plenty of suits during his playing days in the NHL, but was never a huge fan of getting dressed up.
“When I was younger we cared a lot more about them,” said Yzerman. “But gradually as we got older, we were on charter planes, and it was really about comfort. It’s funny, we always joked about it as players, but we have to put on suits and ties and all we’re doing is getting on an airplane, off an airplane, on a bus and off a bus—nobody actually sees us.
“As you got older, it was more about comfort and less about how you look.”
The 45-year-old has repeatedly shown a knack for making successful transitions.
As a player, he went from a scoring star to a responsible two-way centre with the Red Wings. As a Team Canada architect, he went from winning gold at the IIHF World Hockey Championship to winning gold at the 2010 Olympics; and as a budding NHL executive, he went from the comfort of Detroit’s front office to the general manager’s post with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Yzerman is still getting used to his latest move.
“I’ve just got to be really organized and plan ahead,” he said. “I like being busy, I do. I like having things on the schedule, things to do.
“In Detroit, I could really make my own schedule and it was convenient. Now I’ve got to be places.”
Even when he’s not at work, the work is never far away.
“Mostly, you have to answer your phone, return calls and return emails,” said Yzerman. “That’s important. You can do a lot of the work really from anywhere but you have to be in constant touch.”
Despite Yzerman’s strong pedigree, success is far from guaranteed. However, it’s hard to find anyone in the hockey world who thinks he’ll fail. In fact, there’s almost an accepted inevitability about the fact the Lightning will turn things around under his stewardship.
Outside of the Red Wings organization, few worked as closely with Yzerman in recent years as Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson.
You can add his name to the list of those expecting good things.
“His leadership qualities as a player continue to come out in a management role,” Nicholson said Friday. “He’s very clear on what he wants done. I think one of the best qualities he has is that he includes people in the decisions.
“He’s going to make them, but he’s going to make people part of the decision-making process.”
There will be more decisions in the coming days.
Like every NHL team, Tampa will have to decide on its opening night roster by Wednesday afternoon. As usual, the GM is taking it in stride.
“None of (the decisions) are real easy,” said Yzerman. “Most of the players are on two-way contracts that we’ve got to decide on. Any decision we make to send a player down, we can bring them back.”
One place Yzerman isn’t eager to return is a modelling studio. Large photos of him were scattered throughout the Bay on Thursday night—they were taken over a couple hours in August—and he cringed when asked about them.
“I’m not much of a model,” said Yzerman.