Those ties factored in heavily Tuesday as Yzerman explained a decision that shocked the hockey world: He is stepping away as general manager to take on a senior advisory role with the Lightning.
“I feel this change in role is important for me to allow me to spend more time with my family and to still make sure the Lightning is managed to the level everyone has come to expect,” Yzerman said at a press conference.
Yzerman, 53, is in the last year of his contract. Asked about his future beyond that, Yzerman said he’s “100 percent committed” to his role in 2018-19.
“After that, I don't know.”
A source told the Free Press that when Yzerman addressed Lightning players, he told them he is returning to Detroit.
Yzerman’s decision ignited immediate speculation as to whether he merely meant his metro Detroit home, or Detroit as in the Red Wings.
Yzerman has close ties with Wings management. He and Wings general manager Ken Holland golfed together two weeks ago in Detroit. Wings senior vice president Jimmy Devellano lives in the Tampa area in winter, and attends Lightning games. He has had many cups of pre-game coffee with Yzerman.
“I was stunned,” Devellano said. “I had no inkling of it.”
Julien Brisebois takes over Yzerman’s duties as general manager. Yzerman will help him with the transition, much as Devellano did 20 years ago when Holland replaced him as general manager of the Wings.
“To do the job the way it needs to be done and to be with my family as well, it’s becoming difficult to do,” Yzerman said. “Hence the decision. I will be wherever I’m needed to be for Julien moving forward.”
Yzerman honed his management skills for four years under Holland, from retiring as a player in 2006 to taking the Lightning job in 2010. Yzerman won four Stanley Cups with the Wings; three as captain, one as part of management.
The possibility of his return is intriguing.
Holland, 62, was in the last year of a contract this past April when he was signed to a two-year extension. The term was at his behest, not that of owner Chris Ilitch. Holland has swung the Wings into rebuilding mode, and urged Ilitch to see where the team is in two years. The Wings seem on a good path after two good drafts that yielded such prospects as Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno, Jonatan Berggren, Jared McIsaac and Michael Rasmussen, but they are at least two-to-three years from being competitive.
Yzerman, on the other hand, seems to be pulling away from a contender: Since inheriting his two best players (Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman), Yzerman has forged a team that made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 and to the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 and 2018. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik is considered one of the best owners in the NHL, one who has given Yzerman everything he wants and let him run the team as Yzerman wants, without interference.
Stepping back for a year is likely to suit Yzerman. He played 22 seasons for the Wings, logging 1,514 games, plus 196 playoff games. He segued immediately from playing to front-office apprentice to full-time general manager of a team expected to become a contender.