Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman has lengthy to-do list in weeks ahead
Detroit — Steve Yzerman mentioned it a few times during the news conference Friday introducing him as the Red Wings’ new general manager.
After the news conference was over, after the interviews were done and the bright lights were put away, it was time to roll up his sleeves.
“I have a lot of work to do,” said Yzerman, more than once, during and after Friday’s introduction.
He truly does.
The Red Wings have missed the playoffs three consecutive seasons and, heading into the summer, appear a good bet to push the streak to four next year.
They finished 24 points out of a playoff berth, and in a strong, talented division, it’s going to be difficult to earn a postseason spot.
Yzerman believes there is a talented base from which to build.
“I’m excited about the young group we have,” said Yzerman, singling forwards Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi and Anthony Mantha, and defenseman Filip Hronek. “We have good prospects as well (Dennis Cholowski, Michael Rasmussen, Filip Zadina). It’s imperative we draft well, we continue to develop and provide these young kids the environment and opportunity to fulfill their potential.”
Yzerman has a busy schedule in the days, weeks and months ahead.
Here’s what's on Yzerman's to-do list before September’s training camp:
► Under-18 tournament: Yzerman will fly to Sweden this week for the world under-18 championships. Many of the top prospects in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft will be competing, and with the Wings’ picking sixth overall in the first round and with 10 picks overall, it’ll be another invaluable chance to deepen the depth in the organization. Yzerman noted it’ll be an excellent opportunity to spend time with the amateur scouting staff.
► Get acquainted/finalize staff: When Yzerman returns, he said he’ll meet with players still in town, employees around the office, and sit down with coach Jeff Blashill. Yzerman said he talked briefly Friday with Blashill, who received a two-year contract extension toward the end of the regular season (which Yzerman complimented Friday). But the key in the weeks ahead is to get to know people.
“I’ll meet with as many people as I can, as soon as I can,” Yzerman said. “Whenever there are changes made, there’s uncertainty and it’s important to reach out.”
Yzerman isn’t expected to make major changes to the staff. Ken Holland has been moved to a senior vice president role, and assistant general manager Ryan Martin was someone Yzerman attempted to recruit to Tampa Bay. One possible move could be bringing in Al Murray, Tampa’s director of amateur scouting, at some point.
► World championships: Blashill is coaching Team USA at the tournament in Slovakia, and Larkin and Luke Glendening (USA), Mantha, Athanasiou and Bertuzzi (Canada), and several other Wings could potentially play in the tournament. This tournament is always a good place to sign undrafted free agents who have pro experience overseas.
► Organizational meetings: Usually in late May/early June, it’s a period in which the organization develops a final plan for the entry draft and unrestricted free agency, and discuss any potential buyouts or trade possibilities.
► Buyouts/trades: The buyout period is June 15-30 and though it’s unlikely, forwards Justin Abdelkader and Frans Nielsen are two players with multiple years left on their contract whose roster spots could be used for younger prospects.
Yzerman always has been aggressive in making trades, and along with Abdelkader and Nielsen, defensemen Trevor Daley, Jonathan Ericsson and Mike Green, all of whom have one year left on their contracts, would be potential trade candidates.
► NHL draft (June 21-22): The Wings pick sixth overall in the first round, have three second-round selections, and 10 picks overall. The Wings would prefer to draft a defenseman in the first round, and Bowen Byram (Vancouver, WHL) and Philip Broberg (Sweden) are leading prospects, though forwards Kirby Dach (Saskatoon, WHL) and Dylan Cozens (Lethbridge, WHL) might be difficult to pass on.
► Free agency: The Wings weren’t expected to be a destination spot for many top free agents July 1, but with Yzerman aboard — and the team expected to have about $15 million of cap space available — the organization might be aggressive. Yzerman cautioned Friday he wouldn’t anything to make the Wings simply “a little better." But if a player such as defenseman Erik Karlsson or forwards Matt Duchene or Artemi Panarin become available, the Wings could be interested.
Yzerman also must make a decision on Wings’ free agents defenseman Niklas Kronwall — who is debating whether to return for another year at age 38 — and forwards Thomas Vanek and Luke Witkowski.
► Name a captain: Likely to occur closer to training camp, but all signs are pointing to the Wings naming a captain this season (they didn’t have one last season after Henrik Zetterberg retired). It’s likely Larkin will receive the "C" from Yzerman, one of the Wings’ legendary leaders, and the new man in charge of the organization.