New Tampa Bay Lightning owner, Jeff Vinik, hit a home run last week with his announcement former Red Wings great, Steve Yzerman, would become the sixth GM in franchise history. Yzerman taking over the reins in Tampa has provided yet another much-needed shot of adrenaline into the fan base.
The first piece of good news was Vinik buying the club. When the regular season ended and Vinik immediately ruled out a return engagement for Brian Lawton as GM, the fan base responded positively. Vinik pledged to hire a “world class” CEO who would then hire a world class GM who would, in turn, hire a world class coach.
But as early April turned into late May, no CEO was on board and rumors swirled Yzerman had turned down the GM post. The fan base was also unnerved by news other candidates, like Toronto Maple Leafs senior vice-president, hockey operations, Dave Nonis, had taken themselves out of the running.
Last Tuesday’s announcement put Vinik back on a winning streak. Yzerman is world class and he’s as great a person as he was a hockey player. He learned from one of the best organizations in professional sports, working under people such as Jimmy Devellano, Ken Holland, Jim Nill and Mike Ilitch. Yzerman brings instant credibility, a Rolodex of connections and contacts and he arrives in Tampa carrying hope on his shoulders.
There was thunderous applause at the press conference to announce Yzerman’s appointment. The people doing the clapping were the employees on the business side of the house tasked with selling season tickets, sponsorships, advertising, luxury suites, etc. These people know how important it is to have a well-respected hockey person sitting in the manager’s chair and their jobs become much easier with ‘Stevie Y’ on board.
In the days and weeks ahead it is important for Yzerman to continue to capitalize on all that good will. He needs to start by surrounding himself with a great staff. He needs an assistant GM who can handle CBA issues, league mandates and make sure all the i’s are dotted and all the t’s crossed on the paperwork side of the business. Liz Sylvia and Ryan Belec, two long-time Lightning employees, will be great resources for Yzerman in the front office, but he needs a strong assistant to lean on, possibly Damian Echevarrieta from the NHL’s hockey operations department.
Yzerman also needs to get out into the community to touch the fans and citizens of the Tampa Bay region 1-on-1. Tampa is a big “small town” and pressing the flesh is important.
On the hockey side, he needs a No. 1 goalie. He must also decide the fate of Vincent Lecavalier and then honestly communicate that decision to Vinny. Either express confidence in Lecavalier and help him get back to his 50-goal form, or tell him they can work together on an ideal trade. Yzerman must also decide whether Martin St-Louis is part of the plan going forward and, if so, attempt to re-sign him before his current deal runs out in 2011. If not, Yzerman must trade St-Louis before the 2011 trade deadline and get value for him.
Superstar-in-waiting Steven Stamkos needs a contract extension now, not next summer. If Stamkos is allowed to become an RFA July 1, 2011, Yzerman will learn how quickly his colleagues will stab him in the back as Stamkos will receive multiple offer sheets. Finally, Yzerman needs to continue to upgrade the blueline, with Victor Hedman being an important part of the corps going forward.
There are challenges in Tampa, to be sure. However, Lightning Nation is resting a lot easier these days, believing in both the new owner and his new GM. Here’s hoping ‘Stevie Y’ can do for the Lightning as a manager what he did for the Wings as a player.
Jay Feaster is a former GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he took over in 2002 and helped build the team into a Stanley Cup champion in 2004. As he did last season, he will blog on THN.com throughout the 2009-10 campaign. Read his other entries HERE.