The Tampa Bay Lightning announced on Tuesday afternoon that general manager Steve Yzerman will be stepping down from his position, being replaced by assistant GM Julien BriseBois. BriseBois has been Yzerman’s right-hand man since 2010 when Yzerman first took the position as the Lightning GM. Yzerman will be a special advisor for BriseBois this upcoming season, but my guess, along with the popular opinion, is the legendary Detroit Red Wing returns home to help rebuild the team that he led to three Stanley Cups in 1997, 1998, and 2002.
This hurts. This sucks. But this should not be a surprise to anyone at this point. This Lightning are maxed out on cap room and talent. The time is now to take the next step and hoist the Stanley Cup in 2019—their first one since 2004.
Yzerman inherited franchise cornerstones Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, but drafted exceptionally well to set up the juggernaut the Lightning have become. Yzerman’s first NHL draft in Tampa was very average, but he more than made up for it in 2011. His first-round selection was center Vladislav Namestnikov, who was the centerpiece of the deadline trade that brought defenseman Ryan McDonagh and left winger J.T. Miller to Tampa this season. He did okay in the second round, selecting a right winger by the name of Nikita Kucherov, and then finished the draft by selecting left winger Ondrej Palat in seventh round. The crazier thing is that star center Tyler Johnson was signed to a three-year entry-level contract that March as an undrafted free agent since no one wanted him because of his size.
This quality draft paired with the signing of Johnson was just the beginning of what Yzerman had in mind. Here are where the rest of the Lightning core was drafted over the last eight years:
Slater Koekkoek- 1st round, 2012
Andrei Vasilevskiy– 1st round, 2012
Cedric Paquette– 4th round, 2012
Jake Dotchin– 6th round, 2012
Alex Killorn- undrafted entry-level contract, 2012
Jonathan Drouin– 1st round, 2013 (traded for defenseman Mikhail Sergachev last offseason, who recently turned 20, and has all sorts of All-Star potential)
Adam Erne– 2nd round, 2013
Brayden Point– 3rd round, 2014 (He was an All-Star in 2018 at the age of 21)
Yanni Gourde- undrafted entry-level contract, 2014
Anthony Cirelli– 3rd round, 2015
It is truly remarkable how little the Lightning have had to dip into free agency during Yzerman’s tenure. The dude drafted out of this world and used free agency to bring in established defenseman. This Lightning core has been to three of the last four Eastern Conference Final, including the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 against the Chicago Blackhawks where they lost in six games.
Yzerman’s focus the past two offseasons has been to lock up this core players for the foreseeable future. Stamkos, Palat, Johnson, Kucherov, Killorn, Hedman, and McDonagh all deservingly received contract extensions. As a Lightning fan, I am 100% okay with making sure the foundation of the team is taken care of, but these moves create a sense of urgency to win now. There is a long list of young, talented players (Gourde, Erne, Point, KoekKoek, and Dotchin) that will be entering free agency after the 2018-2019, and with most of the cap space the Lightning have locked up, the Bolts will have no chance to keep everyone.
Yzerman is the Daryl Morey of the NHL, and without him at the helm in the Tampa Bay front office, I am concerned if the franchise will be able to maneuver through the 2019 offseason to keep the roster as stacked as it currently is. If the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in 2019, fans will not be worried about the long-term stability of the team, but that indicates one thing— 2019 is championship or bust, simple as that.
The Lightning were one inexplicable eight period goal drought away from taking down Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals to make their second Stanley Cup Final in four years. I expect the team to make it back to where they reached last season, and there is no reason they cannot break through and get back to the Stanley Cup Final. This team is loaded and Yzerman should be the first man to get credit for that.
Fans are going to get pissed about Yzerman leaving and I get that, but I am genuinely happy for him. The guy is a hockey legend. He played for the Red Wings for over 20 years, 19 of those serving as the team captain. He won three Stanley Cups for the city. If the assumptions become a reality, how cool would it be for Yzerman to rebuild the team that he spent his whole playing career for? I am a sucker for a great storyline, and that one is as good as it gets in the NHL.
The Tampa Bay Lightning hockey franchise would not be where it is with Steve Yzerman, and I want to thank him for all he did, but now it is time to focus on the 2018-2019 season. It is time to win the Stanley Mother Fucking Cup. It is now or never.
#Boltsyear (sorry @PFTCommenter)