Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman discusses team's young core, rebuild progress, decision to return
Yzerman officially introduced as new general manager of Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – Detroit Red Wings legend Steve Yzerman was officially introduced Friday as the team's new general manager.
"It is an extremely exciting day in the history of our franchise," Red Wings president and CEO Christopher Ilitch said. "I am thrilled to announce today that Steve Yzerman will return to the Detroit Red Wings in the role of executive vice president and general manager."
Ken Holland, who has been the team's general manager since 1997, was promoted to senior vice president and given a multiyear extension, Ilitch announced.
"With a leader like Steve in charge of our hockey operations and with the valued support of an accomplished executive in Ken, we feel that we've taken a strong management team and made it even stronger today," Ilitch said. "We continue to be laser focused on building a team for our incredible fans that consistently competes for Stanley Cup championships, and we believe Steve Yzerman is the perfect choice to lead our efforts."
Ilitch said Yzerman and Holland are close friends and praised Holland for agreeing to pursue Yzerman to take the job he's held for 22 years.
"Ken firmly believes it is in the best long-term interest of the organization that Steve takes over our hockey operations and begins to guide the Red Wings into the future," Ilitch said.
Holland oversaw the Red Wings from 1997-2019, leading the team to four Presidents' Trophies, 10 division titles and three Stanley Cups, in 1998, 2002 and 2008.
Last season, Holland became the winningest general manager in franchise history, passing Jack Adams.
Yzerman's success in Tampa Bay
Yzerman has spent the last nine years in the Tampa Bay Lightning front office, where he was the general manager, before stepping down and accepting an adviser role before this past season.
Yzerman was added to the Red Wings' front office in 2006 after retiring as a player. He spent four years in the role before moving on to Tampa Bay.
While Yzerman was there, Tampa Bay was a perennial contender, leading the National Hockey League in wins and goals scored since 2013-2014. The franchise is fifth overall in wins since Yzerman took over as general manager.
He earned the NHL General Manager of the Year award in 2015.
"What Steve has accomplished in Tampa is remarkable," Ilitch said. "He brings a unique perspective to the GM position as a Hall of Fame player, a captain, a Stanley Cup champion."
Yzerman excited to be back in Detroit
Yzerman was sure to thank those he worked with in the Lightning organization, but made it clear he is excited to be back in the city where he played for 22 years, racking up 692 goals and 1,063 assists in 1,514 games.
"I would like to start by saying I'm extremely excited to be back in Detroit with the Red Wings," Yzerman said. "This city, Red Wings fans, the state of Michigan were incredibly supportive of me throughout the ups and downs of my playing career. I am very excited to return to the organization and join the Red Wings again with our goal of getting the team back in contention for Stanley Cups and the championships that has come to be expected here in Detroit."
He said the Ilitch family has supported him throughout his playing and front office career. He expressed his gratitude that the family has enough confidence in him to bring him on as the new general manager.
Yzerman also thanked Holland for being a mentor throughout his hockey career.
"To Ken Holland, I'm going to start by saying, as the general manager for 22 years in Detroit, he has had a phenomenal tenure here in Detroit," Yzerman said. "He's extremely well respected by his peers around the league. For me, he has been a teammate way back in the day. He has been a scout for this organization, my general manager. He's been a great friend and he has been my mentor.
"I'm very, very excited to be back working with Kenny in this role, and I'm glad that he is here, and I will be relying heavily on his expertise and his opinions."
While Yzerman said he can't give a definitive timeline for when the team will be back in contention, he said he can't wait to get started.
"After we get through today, it's time for me to get to work," Yzerman said. "There's a lot of work to be done. This organization and this fan base, as you all know, is used to winning and being successful. We've got a lot of work to do, and depending on your age, you know that this takes time. We've been through this before. It's up and down for an organization. It takes time, and I caution everyone and temper the excitement that this is going to take time."
Since he was part of the organization for more than 25 years, Yzerman said he knows how things are done in Detroit. He said he's going to take the approach that he believes will get the team back to where fans expect it to be.
Specifically, he pointed to the importance of the NHL draft.
Yzerman said Holland did a "tremendous" job acquiring several picks in the upcoming drafts.
"It's imperative that we do well in the draft," Yzerman said.
Strong core of young players
Yzerman made it clear that the Red Wings have work to do to become a true Stanley Cup contender, but he's excited about some of the young players who could make up the future core of the franchise.
"I believe the foundation is here for a good core of players," Yzerman said. "It's the foundation for a core. It takes a pretty good number of players to have that core. I think we're off to a tremendous start as you watch the team this year with the likes of Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Filip Hronek. You have a foundation for a core there.
"We have some promising young prospects that played in the American Hockey League this year with Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen, who played in Detroit this year."
Yzerman said the combination of talented young players and draft picks is a strong starting point for him to continue the rebuilding job.
"There is an exciting group of young players, young prospects and a lot of draft picks," Yzerman said. "It's going to take some time, but I believe there's a foundation there for this team to be successful."
Yzerman supports Jeff Blashill
Fans around Detroit have mixed feelings about Jeff Blashill, but Yzerman gave the head coach a strong vote of confidence during the press conference.
"We have an excellent young coach in Jeff Blashill," Yzerman said. "He's had success at every level he's coached at."
Yzerman said he will honor the two-year contract extension Blashill signed earlier this month.
While Yzerman was in Tampa Bay, the Blashill-led Grand Rapids Griffins beat the Lightning's AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch to win the 2013 Calder Cup. Yzerman remembers being impressed by Blashill during that championship series.
"It stood out to me what an excellent job he did with that team, and managing his team and the way they played," Yzerman said.
He said the development of the Red Wings' young players this season was a sign of Blashill's ability as a coach. He also said continuity can be important for a roster of young players.
Timeline of events
Yzerman had one year left on his contract with Tampa Bay when he stepped down in September. He agreed to stay on as an adviser to the general manager for the 2018-19 season.
Yzerman said it was difficult to do the job the right way while his family was in Michigan. He said he had doubts that he could continue to do the job to the best of his ability and still have enough time with his family.
But as the season went on, Yzerman said he realized he wanted to be a general manager because he likes being in charge of running a team.
In March, the Red Wings were given permission by the Lightning owner to speak with Yzerman, and when he learned the team had asked about him, he agreed to speak with Ilitch and Holland.
When Holland called and told Yzerman he wanted him to be the general manager in Detroit, they agreed he would finish out the season with the Lightning.
Surprisingly, Tampa Bay was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the No. 8 seed Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning won 62 games this season and earned the No. 1 seed, but the playoff run came to an end Tuesday.
Three days later, Yzerman was officially introduced as the general manager of the Red Wings.
"Steve and I have had many, many conversations over the last couple of weeks leading up to today," Holland said.
Yzerman said it was important to get started in Detroit as soon as possible, especially with the draft approaching.
"The closest at hand would be the U18 championships next week, where we have the sixth pick in the draft plus three second-round picks and so on. There's a lot of those kids that could be in consideration for those picks at that tournament, so it's time to get to work," Yzerman said.
Yzerman asks for patience
The announcement of Yzerman coming to Detroit created a buzz around the Red Wings organization, but he cautioned fans not to set expectations too high for the very near future.
"This will take time," Yzerman said. "Much like the early part of my career, there's ups and downs. This fan base has supported us throughout the ups and downs and again, here we are. This is an excellent opportunity now. I want to stress that we're very appreciative of your support. We're going to ask for your patience and we're going to do things the right way."
He said he's extremely comfortable and excited to have the opportunity to come back because it's been such a successful franchise with people who know what it takes to win in the NHL.
"I recognize there's a lot of work to be done, but I'm confident if we do things well that everyone will be pleased and we'll get the results we're expecting," Yzerman said.
He said he's not going to come in and make a big splash just to get a little better by next year. He said getting better takes time and he'll capitalize if there are opportunities to expedite the rebuild process.
"I want to spend some time with Ken and talk about what we need, what he thinks we need," Yzerman said. "Coming back -- obviously I have close ties to the Ilitch family, to the Red Wings organization, to the city. I know a lot of people here. Regarding the job, I know the organization and I know what the Ilitch family expects.
"I'm pleased that people are excited. Most people are excited. I'm sure there are some doubters out there, but that's OK."
When asked about whether or not he's dreamed of returning as general manager of the Red Wings, Yzerman said he "thought he would be 100 years old" by the time the job was open.
He said his goal was always to land with a sucessful organization and win a Stanley Cup, as he did during his playing days.
But even while he was in Tampa Bay, he kept an eye on his former team.
"I didn't feel good about watching the (Red Wings) struggle because I know the people here, but also I know how hard it is, being in the league," Yzerman said. "It's hard, and that's the business we're in."
He said he has some ideas for what he'd like to do with front office positions, but he wants to speak with Holland, determine what they need and make a decision at a later time.
Yzerman didn't offer any specifics or reveal if he'll target any of his colleagues from the Lightning front office.
Familiarity with the players isn't a concern, however, according to Yzerman. He said he's already familiar with the players on the current Red Wings roster, as well as many of the prospects, because they went through the same scouting process in Tampa Bay.
He said it won't take long for him to be familiar with all the players in the organzation and have a solid idea of what the team needs going forward.
Holland joined Yzerman and Ilitch on the stage during the press conference to address the hiring and his new position.
"I feel very, very fortunate that, 22 years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch and my mentor, Jim Devellano, had the confidence in me to hire me as the Red Wings general manager," Holland said. "It has been a privilege and an honor to be the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings."
Even though it's been a roller coaster ride at times, Holland said he will forever cherish the three Stanley Cups the team won during his tenure.
Looking forward, he thinks the future is bright with Yzerman at the helm.
"Today is a real exciting day for the fans of the Detroit Red Wings and for the Red Wings organization," Holland said.
He said Yzerman was one of the best players to ever wear the Red Wings uniform.
Holland said he was a minor league goalie and Yzerman was a draft pick when they met at training camp. Now, he sees Yzerman as one of the top hockey minds in the NHL.
"When I sit in those managers meetings' and you look around, I respect Steve as being one of the top general managers in the National Hockey League," Holland said. "It's a real exciting day for me to see Steve Yzerman come back where he belongs, back in Detroit with the Detroit Red Wings."
You can watch Yzerman's full comments from the press conference below.
You can hear the comments from Ilitch, Yzerman and Holland in the video below.
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