Tampa Bay Lightning: How Steve Yzerman Forever Changed an NHL Franchise

Stefan KubusAnalyst INovember 10, 2011

Tampa Bay Lightning: How Steve Yzerman Forever Changed an NHL Franchise

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    Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis have helped lead the Tampa Bay Lightning back from the basement of the NHL with their stellar play.

    These days, the Lightning are, without a doubt, a rejuvenated franchise.

    The ultimate reason?

    A sense of direction and pride created by owner Jeffrey Vinik and GM Steve Yzerman

    On August 7, 2007, Bill Davidson, chairman of Palace Sports & Entertainment and owner of several North American sports teams including the Lightning, announced he was selling the team.

    Without an owner for several months, the team was struggling, sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference at the All-Star break near the end of January.

    Finally, on February 13, 2008, OK Hockey LLC, a group headed by Oren Koules (a movie producer known for the Saw series) agreed to purchase the franchise.

    The Lightning would go on to finish dead last that season, using the No. 1 overall draft pick to select Steven Stamkos. 

    The very next season, The Bolts hired Barry Melrose as head coach. Melrose lasted just 16 games before assistant Rick Tocchet took over as interim head coach. The change made no difference. The Lightning finished the season with 66 points, their lowest total since the 2000-01 campaign.

    Although better in 2009-10, the team fell eight points shy of a playoff spot.

    However, one of the best things happened to the franchise during that season. The team was spun off to another owner. This time it was Jeffrey Vinik, a private investment banker from Boston. A day after the 2009-10 season came to a close, Vinik cleaned house, firing both Tocchet as head coach and GM Brian Lawton.

    A month later, Vinik hired Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman to take over as general manager of his newly-acquired Lightning. From there, he stepped out of the way, and essentially let Yzerman call the shots.

    The things Yzerman has accomplished with this franchise after just one season are tremendous. Recognized by the league, Yzerman was a strong finalist for the GM of the Year award in just his first year at the helm.   

Natural Connections to Success

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    Steve Yzerman has a dynamic relationship with success. Working with Scotty Bowman and the Detroit Red Wings his entire career, Yzerman was allowed to flourish in such an incredible atmosphere. It was there he learned invaluable lessons about the "model organization" many refer to as the Detroit Red Wings. 

    Following a legendary career and Hall of Fame induction, Yzerman served the Red Wings organization as Vice President of the club. 

    Naturally, over the course of such a career, you learn what it takes to win. Not just from a player or team standpoint, but from a front office standpoint as well. Nobody took these lessons to heart more than Yzerman did.

    When Yzerman took over as GM in Tampa, it was obvious he was going to try and bring some people over from Detroit to work under him. Yzerman hired Pat Verbeek, a longtime NHL forward and pro scout in Detroit, in early June to work as an assistant to Yzerman. And in case you've been living under a rock for the past 10 years, the Red Wings have done some remarkable things as far as scouting goes. 

Rebranding

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    For the 2010-11 season, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced they would be going forward with a completely new look. Under the new Jeff Vinik/Steve Yzerman regime, who could argue against it?

    Wearing their black and white Reebok Edge uniforms that made their debut in 2007-08, the Lightning played some of the worst hockey in franchise history, posting an 89-118-39 record under the ownership of OK Hockey LLC. That included an abysmal 2008-09 season that saw them register their worst point total since 2000-01.

    Trying to forget that era was certainly at the top of the list for Yzerman and crew. So the organization developed a fresh new look that was simple and lasting. Yzerman himself had a strong voice on this development—as he should have.

    At the unveiling at the St. Pete Times Forum, Yzerman stated:

    The long-term goal is for the Lightning to be an iconic franchise, rich in tradition with championship values and a strong legacy.

    Many are calling them copies of the Toronto Maple Leafs' uniforms—but is that a bad thing? The Maple Leafs are one of the NHL's most historic and iconic franchises, with a widely recognized logo and sweater.

    Regardless, the new Lightning uniforms have a much different shade of blue and include key aspects of the old uniforms, such as the lightning bolt featured on the side of the pants. These uniforms have grown on me so much, I would go so far as to say they're one of the best in the league right now. 

Guy Boucher

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    Perhaps the best move Steve Yzerman has made as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning thus far has been hiring the charismatic Guy Boucher as head coach.

    The longtime minor league coach was on Yzerman's radar as a strong candidate for the job from the beginning.

    Prior to the start of the 2009-10 campaign, Boucher was named the head coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL, after leading the QMJHL's Drummondville Voltigeurs to their best season in history and a President's Cup the year before.

    In his first season as an AHL coach, Boucher led the Bulldogs to a remarkable 52-17-11 record despite many top players being called up to help the parent Montreal Canadiens. Yzerman was so impressed with Boucher's work in Hamilton that he hired him and his coaching staff to take over the bench starting in 2010-11.

    A huge part of Boucher's success is his master's degree in sports psychology, unique to him alone of all NHL coaches. His humble, hard-working demeanor has paid dividends already for the Bolts, who may have one of the best coaches in the NHL right now. 

Addressing Needs

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    The Tampa Bay Lightning direly needed to address some gaping holes in their lineup left by former management.

    Just like he did as a player for years, Steve Yzerman didn't hesitate when faced with this challenge. He was tested early and responded by adding incredible depth to a squad that was lacking, to say the least.

    Yzerman signed forwards like Dominic Moore, Sean Bergenheim and Nate Thompson, who all played vital roles in the Bolts' success last season. Yzerman also critically re-signed the heart and soul of the Lightning, Martin St. Louis, to a four-year extension that will keep him in Tampa until 2015 and probably retirement.

    Stevie Y didn't shy away from being active during the season, too. In two brilliant moves, Yzerman acquired workhorse defenseman and captain Eric Brewer from the St. Louis Blues and nabbed veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson from the New York Islanders.

    Roloson, an ageless wonder, played extremely well after his acquisition on New Year's Day and backstopped the Bolts to the Eastern Conference finals. In those 17 playoff games, Roloson went 10-6 with a sparkling .924 save percentage and one shutout.  

Powerful, Deterministic Hockey Mind

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    If you're wondering what it takes to win a Stanley Cup, just ask Steve Yzerman.

    In 2001-2002, Yzerman played the second half of the season and the entire postseason on a busted-up knee. On one leg, Yzerman led by example, scoring 23 points in 23 games en route to the Red Wings' fourth Stanley Cup in six years. Following that run, Yzerman had reconstructive knee surgery, keeping him out for the first half of the following season.

    With Yzerman's will to achieve anything he puts his mind to, the Tampa Bay Lightning are in great hands. Yzerman's solid connections, knowledge of the game and persistent attitude will help the Lightning strike in many ways for years to come.

    Steve Yzerman is arguably the best captain the game of hockey has ever seen. When it's all said and done, he may also go down as one of the best general managers of all time.

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