Steve Yzerman Returns Home, And With Him, Brings Hope
Early on Friday morning, the Detroit Red Wings have confirmed that the worst kept secret in hockey is indeed coming to fruition. The team will introduce Steve Yzerman as the new general manager in the Motor City during a press conference at 3:00 p.m. ET. Ken Holland, who has been running the ship since 1997, will remain with the organization as the senior vice president.
Yzerman’s reunion with his former team has been speculated since the summer of 2018, if not earlier. Once he relinquished his GM duties to Julien BriseBois at the start of the 2018-19 season, rumours ran rampant. Alas, the prodigal son has returned to the city he led to glory back in the late-1990s and early-2000s, although, the franchise is in a much different state. The Red Wings were synonymous with success for much of Yzerman’s playing career, but the team has missed the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. They have not won a playoff series since 2012-13. Likewise, gone are the familiar faces that carried the torch when Yzerman retired in 2006. Nicklas Lidstrom has been out of the league since 2011, Pavel Datsyuk has been in the KHL since 2016, and Henrik Zetterberg’s wonky back forced him to retire after the 2017-18 season.
In their place, stands a new young core that Yzerman will attempt to build around. Dylan Larkin is the unquestioned leader of the team at 22-years-old. His 73 points in 2018-19 were the most by a Red Wings’ player since Zetterberg tallied 80 points back in 2011-12. Larkin is the odds-on favourite to become the team’s captain heading into next season and has blossomed into a legitimate NHL center. Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi, and Andreas Athanasiou showcased they are capable of being difference-makers in the waning stretch of the season as they collectively produced 71 points from February to April. Taro Hirose, the Big-10 player of the year in the NCAA, showed promise during a 10-game trial with the team while Filip Zadina, the sixth-overall pick from 2018, is still a tantalizing prospect that will make the jump to the NHL next season.
The defensive side of the roster is a mess, aside from the emergence of Filip Hronek, as aging veterans like Mike Green and Niklas Kronwall are relied upon far too much. This is the largest area that Yzerman will need to overhaul in the coming years if the team is going to regain relevancy. Kronwall does not have a contract for the 2019-20 season yet, and at 38-years-old, it may be best to utilize his roster spot on a younger rearguard like Dennis Cholowski. In goal, Jimmy Howard signed a team-friendly deal for the upcoming season while NCAA-stalwart Filip Larsson is still a few years away.
The team’s salary cap situation is drastically improving, even though there are still some albatrosses on the roster (looking at you, Justin Abdelkader). The Red Wings could have upwards of $19 million in cap space assuming they do not re-sign Kronwall and Thomas Vanek. Furthermore, the Trevor Daley and Jonathan Ericsson will come off of the books at the culmination of the 2019-20 season. While snagging a premium free agent like Artemi Panarin or Erik Karlsson this summer is a fantasy to consider, it does not seem likely that one player will change the fortune of the franchise overnight. With that being said, Yzerman has not shied away from making a big splash in the past. Regardless, financial flexibility allows Yzerman to shape his roster how he pleases.
Yzerman will also have plenty of picks at his disposal for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. While the lottery balls did not fall the Red Wings’ way, they own the sixth-overall pick as well as three picks in the second round. If anything was proven during Yzerman’s tenure with the Lightning, it was his savvy drafting ability (although some credit must be offered to their scouting department). He produced players like Nikita Kucherov (58th overall), Ondrej Palat (208th overall), Brayden Point (79th overall), and countless other NHL-caliber players outside of the draft’s top round. In today’s NHL, drafting well is the only way to build a sustainable winner and Yzerman will be leading the war room come June 21.
All of this equates to one word: hope. Yzerman, a fresh-faced center out of Peterborough, gave the Red Wings hope when he was drafted back in 1983. He blossomed into a star and gave them hope in the 1990s when they had not won the Stanley Cup in 42 years. Now, he is back to the lead the team, albeit in a different role, but with hope riding on his shoulders yet again. It may not be a quick fix, but Yzerman is the man for the job, and he has Red Wings fans daydreaming about the future once more.