Steve Yzerman won three Stanley Cups as a player
Steve Yzerman won three Stanley Cups as a player

Steve Yzerman, the newly named general manager of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, has his work cut out for him. And, if history is any indication, he won’t be a successful GM in the National Hockey League. Oh, he’ll try and make all the right decisions, choose the right players, spend thoughtfully…but he has something working against him that he can’t control.

Yzerman’s problem is that, as an NHL player, he was too good. He had too much natural talent. He had too much drive. He had too much skill. And he had way too much desire and leadership qualities. All these qualities in Yzerman helped the Detroit Red Wings go from NHL laughing stock (which they had been for about fifteen years when Stevie Y arrived in June 1983) to three-time Stanley Cup champions between 1997 and 2002.

He was an incredible captain. He led by example. Yzerman was enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. He was the Red Wings’ second all-time leading scorer – behind only the legendary Gordie Howe. But he’ll struggle as a GM.

He’ll struggle because every time he assesses a player, every time he makes a personnel decision, he’ll inherently expect that player to have the desire and skill and passion that he did. And that player won’t have it. He can’t. Yzerman is one-in-a-million. Stevie Y won’t understand why the work ethic isn’t there. Where’s the passion and drive, he’ll ask himself.

Oh, he did a fine job in selecting Canada’s gold medal-winning 2010 Olympic hockey team but, truthfully, how hard was that? Sit down with ten other hockey execs and choose the 23 best Canadian-born players. The first 17 were no-brainers. All he did, essentially, was choose six guys. Nice job, but not a real challenge.

Lightning centre Steven Stamkos

Centre Steven Stamkos had 51 goals, 95 pts last season

Leading the Tampa Bay Lightning will be. Even though they won the 2004 Stanley Cup, the franchise has pretty much been a Gong Show since they were born in 1992. Another former superstar, Phil Esposito, was their first GM. Espo liked to talk a lot, but he’s not going to the Hall of Fame as a GM. In their eighteen NHL seasons, the Lightning have only reached the playoffs five times.

Yzerman inherits some great talent on the way up. Steven Stamkos is already an elite NHL player. Defenceman Victor Hedman (second overall in 2009) could be some day. Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis are on the downside of fine careers. But how will Yzerman fill the other roster spots? What kind of player will a “Steve Yzerman player” be?
Be careful how high you set your sights, Steve. You won’t find another Yzerman. You won’t find guys with your desire. With your passion. Or perhaps even with your skill. Recognize that today’s players are a bit different than you were. And good luck trying to accept that.

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3 Responses to “GM Steve Yzerman has his work cut out for him with Tampa Bay Lightning”

  1. Guy says:

    So here is a question for you – if you are Steve Y and held the same pessimistic view of your potential as a GM, what else do you do? Can you really sit back and let hockey pass you by? I agree with your analysis – one only has to look back to Mr. Gretzky’s tenure in the desert to know that excelling at playing the game doesn’t’ often translate to coaching. But Steve may have to learn the hard way – I hope the owner has some patience.

  2. Fred says:

    So here is what your next story should be about – how has Glen Sather reigned so long in NY? His last success at anything is so far in the rear view mirror that you need binoculars, and even at that one could argue that he was just lucky with draft picks. What say you?

  3. The Big Mouth says:

    Slats in New York is a very strange one. I guess that’s what happens when you put a guy in the Hall of Fame while he’s still working. Edmonton was clearly a “right place, right time” deal for Glen. That doesn’t diminish his achievements there, just puts them in perspective. Frankly, I think the same deal goes for Cliff Fletcher – although he led both the Flames and Maple Leafs reasonably well.

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