For most of our existence, we’ve done our best to mock Steve Yzerman’s reign as GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The scars of damage inflicted during his playing days do not heal so fast, or at all, dear friends. We simply wouldn’t relent. And as the Lightning struggled at times, we laughed and pointed and mocked. It was made even better at Red Wings fans cried their usual rivers of tears and motor oil (all of which they dump in Flint) that Yzerman was allowed to leave Detroit at all.
And yet, here we are, and Yzerman is leading the best team in the league at the moment and almost certainly the Cup favorite. And they were that before the season. And we have to admit…hang with us here…this isn’t going to be easy…
Steve Yzerman is pretty good at his job.
His drafting record is among the best you’ll find. The first one in 2010 didn’t go so well, but did provide two NHL-ers in Brett Connolly and Radko Gudas, even if the latter should be sitting in front of a parole board/firing squad at the moment. The following year netted the Bolts Vladislav Namestnikov, Nikita Kucherov, Nikita Nesterov, and Ondrej Palat. The following year saw Slater Koekkoek, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Cedric Pacquette, and Jake Dotchin. 2013 brought Jonathan Drouin, which turned into Mikhail Sergachev. Brayden Point was taken in 2014. That’s 12 players that either are on this team now, have contributed heavily in the past, or were turned into pieces that are contributing now. And in Kucherov he’s got a potential Hart Trophy winner.
Yes, Yzerman inherited Stamkos and Hedman, which are the two big building blocks and any GM should be rated on the the foundational pieces he brings in. But certainly Kucherov and Palat are building blocks as well. Sergachev may well turn into one.
Yes, Yzerman has had a blind spot on his blue line, where contracts have been handed out to Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, Jason Garrison, and one or two other overgrown sloths with gloves. That’s been balanced this year by Sergachev and Anton Stralman a few years ago. It clearly hasn’t killed them.
Where Yzerman’s real creativity has come in has been dancing around the salary cap. “CAPOCALYPSE!” has been predicted for the Lightning for a few years now, and it just hasn’t materialized. The big piece was convincing Steven Stamkos that the no-state-income-tax in Florida would benefit him greatly, even if his salary wasn’t as high as it would have been in New York or Toronto or Montreal. Stamkos on pace for 120 points at $8.5 million sure seems value now. Tyler Johnson’s $5 million a season might be a bit of an overreach, but hardly scandalous. Same with Alex Killorn’s $4.4, though the fact that runs from here until President’s Warren’s swearing-in might be an issue.
What’s more is that the Lightning have two or three years more to this window that’s already seen them get to a Final and a Game 7 Conference Final. Kucherov is due new paper after next season, and considering the numbers he’s putting up he could ask for something in the $10 million range. Certainly in the Stamkos range, even if he will be only a restricted free agent. But that same offseason will see the Lightning clear Stralman, Coburn, and Girardi off the books. Only Namestnikov is due an extension after this season of any player who matters. Even if Kucherov needs the moon Yzerman will have $11 million or so to play with to give to him if need be. That doesn’t even factor in whatever raise the cap will have by then.
All told, the Lightning should get a run of four or five, maybe six, years at the top of the league. That’s about the maximum anyone gets in a cap world. You can’t argue.
Of course, this kills us. The orchestrator of so many of our nightmares running a team the way we’d like to see one run. It never ends, the horrors never leave, the pain is always present.
Game #21 Preview