It's the best time of year!
When the Tampa Bay Lightning pried Steve Yzerman away from the Red Wings to be their new general manager last May, many felt owner Jeff Vinik got himself a rising star in the business. As it turns out, Vinik indeed hit a home run with the hiring of the man they call ‘Stevie Y.’
Yzerman – inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009 and put together the gold medal-winning Team Canada Olympic squad in 2010 – has completed an array of transactions in less than 12 months with the Bolts. There have been some misfires; but more times than not, he has pushed the right buttons to help the already-talented Lightning become a more complete team.
The rookie GM’s moves on July 1 last summer were expected to make the biggest impact. Dan Ellis was signed in free agency and Simon Gagne was acquired from Philadelphia. However, it’s the additions Yzerman made after the frenzy that have affected his hockey team the most.
Dominic Moore and Sean Bergenheim were signed later on in the summer, for $1.1 million and $700,000, respectively. Not only have they turned out to be bargains, but they make up two-thirds of the uber-effective third line (the other being Steve Downie) that has been the X-factor in the Lightning being the surprise team in this postseason.
Bergenheim has scored eight times in the playoffs (with nine points), becoming this spring’s equivalent of John Druce and Fernando Pisani. Meanwhile, Moore also has nine points and has been (wrongly) overshadowed a bit by Bergenheim. Moore is proving to be a valuable depth player for the second straight postseason (2010 with Montreal).
To put the cherry and whip cream on top, Yzerman then pulled the trigger on a pair of shrewd trades at mid-season.
Dwayne Roloson was acquired from the Islanders on New Year’s Day in exchange for prospect Ty Wishart. When Stevie Y made the deal, he was hoping Roloson could push the Bolts over the top with his playoff experience. The 41-year-old netminder has done just that, helping the team get past Pittsburgh and Washington with his miniscule 2.01 goals-against average and rock-solid .941 save percentage.
As the trade deadline drew near, Yzerman felt he needed to boost the blueline. Eric Brewer, dealt from St. Louis for prospect Brock Beukeboom and a third-round pick, was not exactly an earth-shattering addition in mid-February; yet he has arguably been the best defenseman in these playoffs. Brewer leads the Lightning in hits, blocked shots and ice-time, doing a little bit of everything in the process.
Last but not least, Yzerman brought in this no-name coach (at the time) to man the bench. Guy Boucher, the former Hamilton (AHL) bench boss, has been an absolute perfect fit in Tampa Bay. Boucher, along with the new faces in the front office, has changed the atmosphere and attitude in the Lightning locker room. Boucher’s suffocating 1-3-1 defensive system has been a huge part in the team’s playoff success.
What was this Lightning team lacking before this year? Organizational direction, intangibles and depth. Now that they have all three, the Bolts are turning heads.
No, Dan Ellis didn’t meet and Simon Gagne hasn’t met expectations. With that said, Yzerman, who is nominated for the GM of the Year award, has more than made up for those swings and misses with a slew of under-the-radar moves that have allowed the Lightning to hit a grand slam this spring.
Photo credit: Tampa Bay Lightning
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