Steve Yzerman 'thrilled' for Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup success

Mark Falkner
The Detroit News

When Steve Yzerman left the Tampa Bay Lightning two years ago to return to the Detroit Red Wings as general manager, he apologized to Tampa Bay owner Jeff Vinik for not winning a Stanley Cup.

Despite building championship-caliber teams during eight years as general manager and one year as senior advisor to current GM Julien BriseBois, the Lightning failed to duplicate the success of the franchise's first Cup-winning team in 2004.

Tampa Bay forward Ondrej Palat lifts the Stanley Cup after defeating the Stars 2-0 in Game 6 in Edmonton on Monday.

Hired in 2010, Yzerman's teams advanced to the conference finals four times with an appearance in the 2015 Cup final against the Chicago Blackhawks but his tenure ended on a losing note when the 2019 Presidents' Trophy team, which tied the 1996 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a season (62), was upset in a first-round, four-game sweep against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

BriseBois, who helped turn Tampa Bay into a "strong, sustainable, winning program" in eight years as assistant GM, remembered sitting in the stands with Yzerman in the final seconds of Game 4 in Columbus and knowing that they would never have their names on the Cup together in Tampa Bay. 

Julien BriseBois, center, listens between Steve Yzerman, left, and owner Jeff Vinik during a news conference in 2018 to announce Yzerman is stepping down as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"It would've meant a lot to me to see him (Yzerman) win the Cup again," BriseBois said in a Detroit News interview last year. Yzerman won four Stanley Cups in 26 years in Detroit, three as the captain (1997, 1998, 2002) and the fourth in 2008 during his four-year apprenticeship as vice president and alternate governor.

On Monday night, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup for the second time in the franchise's 28-year history, beating the Dallas Stars 2-0 in Game 6 to take the final 4-2 in the pandemic-delayed playoffs.

On Saturday night, Yzerman addressed the prospect of the Lightning winning the Cup during a video conference call to announce the Red Wings' acquisition of New York Rangers veteran defenseman Marc Staal and a 2021 second-round draft choice for future considerations.

"I would be thrilled for them to win," Yzerman said before the Lightning lost 3-2 in double overtime in Game 5.

"I'm not sure if it's satisfaction but I would be really happy for the organization, Jeff Vinik, Julien BriseBois, the players, the coaching staff. That community is really a great little hockey market, a really cool community and they really embrace the Lightning."

Yzerman also acknowledged the accomplishments of Dallas general manager Jim Nill, a former teammate and assistant GM with the Red Wings and Stars coach Rick Bowness, an assistant coach with the Lightning for five seasons.

"I have great friends (in Tampa Bay) and you know the players, I got to know them well and they've built up to win a championship so yes, being so close to the Tampa franchise, I think it would be wonderful for them to win."

There were several other local connections to the Tampa Bay organization:

►Yzerman's former teammates Stacy Roest (the 17th ex-member of the Grand Rapids Griffins to win the Cup) and Jamie Pushor are assistant general managers and directors of player development.

►Head coach Jon Cooper was a Michigan attorney who also coached the high school hockey team at Lansing Catholic.

►Executive vice president of communications Bill Wickett is a graduate of the University of Michigan and handled public relations duties with the Detroit Pistons.

"Steve (Yzerman) laid the foundation, for sure," Wickett said in a text while the team celebrated on the ice in Edmonton on Monday.

►Caley Chelios, who grew up in Detroit while her father Chris Chelios played for the Red Wings, is a Lightning radio color analyst and reporter.

►Pat Verbeek was Yzerman's first hire in Detroit as assistant general manager after spending nine years as Tampa Bay's assistant GM and director of player personnel.

Yzerman's record for most continuous years as captain without winning the Stanley Cup is also intact. Yzerman, named the youngest captain in Red Wings' history at age 21 in 1986, was the captain for 11 years before Detroit ended a 42-year drought by sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997.

Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who played just 2:47 in the playoffs because of an injury but scored a goal in Game 3, took seven years to win the Cup after replacing Martin St. Louis in the 2013-2014 season.

"It's the trials and tribulations that make a person," said NHL Network analyst and former Lightning GM Brian Lawton, who drafted Stamkos with the first overall pick in 2008. "Even though he was great for two minutes and 47 seconds in the final, he's got a chance to show the world he's got a lot more to give moving forward."

Lawton recalls when Yzerman said a "hard no" to Stamkos and St. Louis when Yzerman was the executive director of the Canadian team for the 2010 Olympics. Yzerman led Canada to back-to-back gold medals in Vancouver and Sochi in 2014.

"Business is business with Steve Yzerman," Lawton said. "I was mad about Stammer and Marty not making the Olympic team but he made the tough call. He's proven he can do that. There's nobody more professional, fair and honest."

Lawton expects Yzerman to be among 30 GMs to contact BriseBois about unrestricted free agents like forwards Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat with the Lightning squeezed up against the $81.5-million salary cap and still having to sign defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak and forward Anthony Cirelli.

"Right now, they have 10 forwards signed for next year and that doesn't include Cirelli who they'll sign," Lawton said. "They can't move forward without reducing some salary. Now the battle is on. That's the price of winning in the salary-cap world."

Lawton, who will be part of the Hockey Network's draft coverage next Tuesday (7 p.m.) and Wednesday (11:30 a.m.), says he would take a defenseman like Jamie Drysdale or Jake Sanderson with Detroit's fourth overall pick.

Last year, Lawton was one of the few draft analysts who had German defenseman Moritz Seider among the top 10 players. Seider was taken sixth overall with Yzerman's first pick in his first draft since leaving the Lightning.

"They're going to have to make a tough call," Lawton said. "If (Tim) Stuetzle or (Quinton) Byfield fall to fourth, I would take them over a defensemen. Then there's Cole Perfetti, who reminds a lot of people of Brayden Point. It's a really good draft. They could get a Stamkos or a (Victor) Hedman at four if they chose wisely."

Twitter: @falkner