Well, after the initial shock wore off, I’ve come to terms with this. And I’ll say to The Captain up front, with more feeling this time: good luck in Tampa. You’re going to do great things there (with one qualifier I’ll get to in a minute). You’ve studied at the best hockey management school in the business and I know you have it in you to turn a bad situation into a great one for the Lightning. I’ve never really been one to spare fanship for a team other than the Wings, but I’ll be keeping on eye on Tampa Bay from now on for sure.
And I hope to see a stable ownership situation. The foundation on which the Wings’ success is built is the stability of the ownership situation. Of course, plenty of teams have stable ownership and don’t get anywhere (see Chicago prior to the passing of Bill Wirtz), so it’s not everything. But the best hockey minds in the business are going to have a hard time doing their jobs if the name on the boss’s door keeps changing.
I know nothing about Jeff Vinik beyond what little I’ve picked up from reading about the process behind Yzerman’s job change, but if he can offer anything like the longevity or stability the Illitches have provided the Wings over the years, Steve’s job of building a contender out of a team that often helps put the least in Southleast becomes that much easier.
It’s just as important that Vinik gives Yzerman the time and leash to do what he needs to do. If they’re really going to get the Lightning off the ground, the owner fiddling with operations isn’t going to do the trick. So it’s good that the question of direction has been settled at the onset. Of course, you never hear of a hire like this being told he won’t have the reins, but you can bet Yzerman wouldn’t have left if he wasn’t sure the arrangement would stick.
And The Captain’s going to have a fair starting point. Once I got past the initial visceral reaction of “Tampa Bay?! Haha teh suck,” I remembered guys like Steve Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Vincent Lecavalier (assuming he’s not dealt somehow), and Martin St. Louis. He doesn’t have a lot of players signed going in, but with over $21 million in cap space, he’ll have some room to bring guys over, even in a weak market. They don’t have the world’s greatest development system, it seems, but that can come.
The first big thing, obviously, is to find the right coach. There are a bunch of names out there, and it’s impossible to really know what he’s thinking. But I’m just going to throw Barry Smith’s name out there. They have a history, theoretically Smith would use an Yzerman-approved system (presumably, he wants something like the Wings have used and what he shot for with Team Canada), and, most importantly, he’s available. And maybe interested in working in a warmer environment than Russia. Who knows?
Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting to watch. I just hope he’s given the time needed to form the team he needs. The Wings’ success didn’t come immediately and neither will the Lightning’s. Here’s hoping expectations in Tampa Bay are set accordingly. If given the time and leash, and if backed by stable ownership, I think we can expect great things of Steve Yzerman in this new role. He won’t be the GM to Wayne Gretzky’s coach.
Thanks for everything, Steve. It’s hard to imagine you as no longer a member of the Wings in a formal capacity, but we’ll deal. Good luck. We’ll be watching.