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Campbell's Cuts: Management acumen overfloweth in Detroit

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

When Hockey Canada names its braintrust for the 2010 Winter Olympics in a couple of weeks, there is every expectation Steve Yzerman will be named executive director.

Good choice.

Unlike others in the NHL, Yzerman is not encumbered by the oppressive duties and the built-in biases that come with being a full-time GM in the NHL. He also has proven on two occasions with Canada’s world championship team that he is capable of putting together all-star teams that can have success in a short tournament.

What will make the dynamic interesting is his bosses, Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland and assistant GM Jim Nill, will also be named to the management team. Which means when it comes to the Olympics, Holland and Nill could technically be working for Yzerman.

How long can the Red Wings continue to horde the best off-ice talent in the league for their front office? Yzerman has been learning the business for three years now and, judging by what he told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press this past weekend, he’s getting a little antsy.

“I guess I would just say that I’ve got certain things that I want to accomplish in hockey and that opportunity may or may not be here in Detroit,” Yzerman said. “I’m really happy doing what I’m doing and I’m enjoying working in the organization and trying to add value and help out. I’ve learned a ton and I will continue to learn just by being around. But I have goals and because the organization is so deep in the management level and our guys are successful and they’re young, at some point, we’re going to have to sit down and discuss it.” Like Nill and Holland, Yzerman is under contract to the Red Wings until 2011. When owner Mike Ilitch signed Nill and Yzerman to their contract extensions last year, he told both of them they would not be given permission to speak to other organizations and if they wanted to go elsewhere, it would be best if they did not sign long-term. Both of them accepted their fates and signed. But how long can the Red Wings realistically keep three qualified GMs happy and productive? The New Jersey Devils have been able to keep GM-qualified David Conte in the organization for two reasons. First, much of the NHL is an old boys’ network and the contrarian and individualist Conte is on the outside looking in. Second, the Devils have paid him like a GM and have given him expanded duties. But that can’t work with three people who are all not only capable of being GMs, but also of doing a very good job at it. Holland, hands-down, is the best GM in the game today and is only 52, which puts him in about the middle of the pack when it comes to age among GMs. He’s not going anywhere and there’s nothing to suggest he will lose his acumen for judging talent and managing a salary cap anytime soon. Nill is one of the best judges of talent on the planet and certainly deserves to run his own hockey department, either in Detroit or elsewhere. He has been patient and loyal to the Red Wings and is owed the opportunity to take over for Holland, if Holland ever decides to give up the day-to-day grind of being a GM. This leaves Yzerman, another guy who has built up a mother lode of loyalty chips with the organization as well. If an opportunity presents itself and he wants to spread his wings as a GM with another organization, would it be fair for Ilitch to hold Yzerman to his agreement? Actually, yes it would. But it probably would not be practical. The last thing you want in your organization is someone who wants to be elsewhere. And Yzerman has already passed the biggest litmus test for former players wanting to get into management. He made almost $70 million as a player and the Red Wings had to find out how committed he was to learning how to be a GM. Would he be willing to drive through a snowstorm to see a prospect? Would he show up at the office every day? Yzerman has proved over the past three years he has both the skill and the desire to be a GM. The Red Wings have already lost Scotty Bowman from their front office and the betting here is sometime shortly after the 2010 Games, Yzerman will be making tracks out of Detroit as well.Ken Campbell is a senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His blog appears Wednesday and Fridays and his column, Campbell's Cuts, appears Mondays.For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.


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