The Tampa Bay Lightning are the talk of the NHL again and it’s the guys in suits who have created the buzz.
After three years out of the playoffs, the 2004 Stanley Cup champions and their new owner Jeff Vinik landed the league’s prize management prospect by signing Detroit Red Wings icon and Canadian Olympic team executive director Steve Yzerman as general manager.
Yzerman then hired innovative young coach Guy Boucher from the Montreal Canadiens organization in another sign the Bolts want to put some zap back in their game.
They take over a team with two killer attacking lines, but Yzerman is aware the squad that finished 12th in the conference needs time to become a Cup threat again.
“There is no easy fix,” Yzerman said at his hiring May 25. “I don’t sit here with the notion that there is a magic wand I can wave and make changes and we’re a Stanley Cup contender.”
There are five new coaches and four new GMs in the league this season. It’s no surprise that most of the change comes in the woeful Southeast Division, where the Lightning plays in the shadow of Alex Ovechkin’s Washington Capitals, who won the division by 38 points (the next widest gap was Chicago by 10 points in the Central Division).
Atlanta Thrashers long-time GM Don Waddell moved upstairs April 4 and gave his job to his assistant Rick Dudley, who reached into the Boston Bruins’ staff to get veteran Craig Ramsay as his head coach.
A little more than a month later, the Florida Panthers got a new GM in Dale Tallon, who did much of the work building the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup team. Tallon, who replaced Randy Sexton, kept Peter DeBoer on as head coach of a team rebuilding through the draft.
In the Western Conference, the rising St. Louis Blues moved player-personnel director Doug Armstrong into the GM job to replace Larry Pleau.
The other new coaches are John McLean in New Jersey, Scott Arniel in Columbus and Tom Renney, who is the second new coach in as many years in Edmonton.
Yzerman, the Hall of Famer who spent four years as Ken Holland’s understudy in Detroit, felt the time was right to take over his own team. He had served as GM of Canada’s squads at the 2007 and 2008 IIHF world championships and capped that by leading the management team for Canada’s Olympic gold in Vancouver in February.
“In Detroit, I could really make my own schedule and it was convenient,” the 45-year-old said of his new job. “Now I’ve got to be places.”
Boucher took Drummondville to a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League title in 2009 and a year later brought the Hamilton Bulldogs to the AHL final.
The 39-year-old brings some original ideas to both his defensive zone coverages and attack, but the former McGill University star with a master’s degree in sports psychology puts the accent on personal relations.
“I’m not coaching systems, I’m coaching individuals,” said Boucher, who turned down the Columbus job to work with Yzerman.
He will coach his first regular-season NHL game Oct. 9 against Ramsay, an assistant coach on the Bolts’ 2004 Cup team. The 59-year-old Ramsay has mainly been a highly respected assistant since he retired as a player in 1985, but also was head coach for a season each in Buffalo and Philadelphia.
In Edmonton, veteran Renney will get to coach a last-place team with a remarkable crop of young draftees, including No. 1 overall Taylor Hall, junior star Jordan Eberle and speedy Swede Magnus Pajaarvi. It is his third NHL coaching job.
The Blue Jackets haven’t existed 10 years and already have a sixth head coach in Arniel, who replaced Ken Hitchcock. The former Winnipeg Jet had been coaching the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
McLean moved into the New Jersey job when Jacques Lemaire stepped down, but it should be an easy transition for the former Devils player. He finished the season when Larry Robinson stepped aside in 2005-06 and did most of the day-to-day coaching when GM Lou Lamoriello took over from the fired Claude Julien in 2007.
While change is the norm in a league where only five coaches have been in their current jobs for five or more seasons, Lindy Ruff enters his 13th season behind the Buffalo bench and Barry Trotz, the only coach Nashville has had, goes into his 12th campaign.
With 483 career wins, Ruff should get No. 500 this season and then pass Pat Burns (501) for 14th place all-time.
Among GMs, Lamoriello has been on the job in New Jersey since 1987-88.