Detroit — The rumor mill just got fired up to maximum level. And it’ll be churning for quite some time.
Steve Yzerman, the Hall of Famer and former Red Wings captain, on Tuesday stepped down as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning after eight seasons — a staggering development with training camps set to open around the NHL — spurring speculation he could return to the organization he led to three Stanley Cup championships over 22 seasons.
“This change is important for me, which will allow me to spend more time with my family,” Yzerman said at Tuesday’s press conference in Tampa, Florida, in announcing the move.
Yzerman told players in a meeting he was returning to Detroit, according to several news reports. Yzerman has never sold his home in the Metro Detroit area, with Yzerman commuting regularly. So it’s unclear whether that meant returning to Detroit to live or someday rejoining the Wings organization.
With his wife and three daughters — all of whom are now in college — still in Michigan, Yzerman appeared determined to cut down on his travel.
Yzerman said he reflected on his situation the last couple of summers, and prior to meeting with owner Jeff Vinik in July about a new contract, Yzerman decided he wanted to step aside as GM.
Yzerman’s assistant, Julien BriseBois, was promoted to general manager.
With one year remaining on his contract, Yzerman will take on an advisory role in the Lightning organization. Asked if he wanted to remain in Tampa beyond this season, Yzerman was non-commital.
“Beyond this year, I don’t have an answer for you,” he said.
That triggered speculation Yzerman could step into a management role with the Wings possibly next year — and maybe replace general manager Ken Holland, who signed a two-year extension in April.
Holland has shepherded the Wings to three Stanley Cups since becoming GM in 1997, restocking the roster with hidden draft gems and superstar acquisitions along the way. But in recent years he has faced steady criticism from fans because of cumbersome contracts to aging stars and draft picks that never panned out.
Players such as Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm and Danny DeKeyser all received lengthy contracts that have strangled the Red Wings’ salary-cap situation — although many of the contracts are coming off the books the next couple of seasons.
With the roster getting older, the Wings have missed the playoffs two years in a row, and haven’t been able to restock or replace veterans because of failed drafts.
Picks such as Riley Sheahan, Xavier Ouellet, Jakub Kindl, Brendan Smith, Petr Mrazek, Ryan Sproul and Teemu Pulkkinen all had time in the NHL, but failed to stick with the Red Wings.
Owner Chris Ilitch, who was at Comerica Park on Tuesday for the annual Tigers team picture, didn’t comment regarding Yzerman, per NHL policy.
“I have no regular contact (with Yzerman), but again, it’s not my place to comment on any personnel who are under contract with another organization,” Ilitch said. “That’s per NHL rules, and we have our own policy that supports those rules.”
BriseBois, for his part, told reporters he’s optimistic Yzerman will take to his new role and was hopeful Yzerman will remain in the Tampa organization beyond this season.
Yzerman, 53, joined Tampa in 2010 and has built the Lightning into an annual Stanley Cup contender and one of the marquee organizations in the NHL.
Despite a tight salary cap, Yzerman has been able to keep stars in Tampa — Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman are signed long-term — while continually adding pieces to the roster.
Fans, and media, long have speculated that Yzerman would return to Detroit and take over the Red Wings organization — and the talk will surely intensify with Yzerman in his advisory role in Tampa.
Yzerman spent 22 seasons in Detroit as a player, leading the Red Wings to Stanley Cup championships in 1997, 1998 and 2002. He had 692 goals and 1,063 assists, both of which rank among the top 10 all-time in the NHL, before retiring after the 2005-06 season and joining the organization’s front office.
If Yzerman is looking for other opportunities, Vancouver is another organization that might interest Yzerman. The Canucks have a lot of young players to form a competitive base, and Yzerman was born there.
Staff writer Lynn Henning contributed.