Photo Credit: Kim Klement/USA TODAY SPORTS
No GM had a better off-season this year than Tampa Bay’s Steve Yzerman. You can tell this because of all the people who are saying it. Had Yzerman not had the best off-season, very few people would say it. But of course, people are saying it, because it’s Steve Yzerman. Yzerman has transcended being underrated. He is now underrated (and classy) to an extent in which he’s simply too underrated (and classy) for us to describe with mere human words. We all recognize the brilliance, the humility, the leadership, the greatness, and the goodness of Steve Yzerman, but we can never really give him the credit he deserves.
So, how did he do it? Well, you may have heard, a couple of guys named Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman re-signed. They’re kind of good. It was incredibly brilliant work to lock up Victor Hedman on July 1st. Steven Stamkos got locked up even before that. He was so sure he wanted to follow Steve Yzerman’s plan that he signed on June 28th. That was three whole days before free agency, and he’d only even gone and met with a few GMs before he made that decision. Yzerman managed to get his business done early in re-signing Hedman, which is the mark of a GM. Since Stamkos was technically not a free agent, despite his ability to negotiate with other teams, June 28th of his free agent year is also early.
If he were late, he would’ve signed him to July 1st. Sure, some will point out that Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Jamie Benn, Victor Hedman, and many other superstars on expiring contracts signed long before June 28th, but who cares when it gets done, so long as it gets done?
So, Stamkos is back. That makes them a super team. Think of it this way. Steve Yzerman now has all the guys who were already under contract to the Lightning for the 2016-2017 season, AND Steven Stamkos. Those players were all with the Lightning the last two seasons and won five playoff rounds in those two seasons. Now add Steven Stamkos to the mix. They could win five playoff rounds this year.
It always made the most sense for Stamkos to go back to Tampa. He has a better chance of winning in Tampa than Toronto. That’s because the Lightning are Contenders, and the Leafs are Rebuilding. As Contenders, the Lighting have a good chance at winning the Stanley Cup. As a rebuilding team, the Leafs better hope they finish in the bottom five, because if they don’t, they cost themselves a good draft pick. Even if they somehow won the Stanley Cup, it would be a wasted year that distracts from the long-term plan.
They won’t do that, of course, because they’re not contenders, and to become contenders, you have to win something. That’ll be difficult, because to win something, you have to be Contenders. This is the perilous situation the Maple Leafs find themselves in. Maybe had they been built by someone who won three Stanley Cups with the Red Wings, who are the best organization in sports, having won more championships in the last 20 years than any team in sports (except four of them, plus the other continents).
It’s also reality that signing big name free agents is bad. That’s why it’s good for Tampa to get Stamkos, but bad for Toronto to get him. Had he signed in Toronto for the same contract, it would have been bad, because he changed teams.
Expensive, big name acquisitions never work out. Just look at the New York Yankees. They try this kind of stuff all the time. The only times it worked were in 1977 and 1978 with Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter. Oh, and in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000 with David Cone, Roger Clemens, Tino Martinez, John Wetteland, and Chuck Knoblauch. Sorry, and in 2009 with Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and AJ Burnett.
That’s just seven championships in 40 years. The Lightning could conceivably win seven championships in the seven years. Don’t believe me? Check the math. There is one Stanley Cup at stake per year, so there are SEVEN championships available in the next seven years. The Lighting will be eligible to win all of them, in large part because their GM is Steve Yzerman. Steve Yzerman wins everything.
Now, there were things Yzerman didn’t do this off-season. He still hasn’t decided what to do with Ben Bishop, and he hasn’t re-signed Nikita Kucherov yet. Now, Bishop is a good goalie, but the Lightning also have Andrei Vasilevskiy. He’s barely played in the NHL, which means we don’t even know at all how great Steve Yzerman has decided he is. Sure, getting something for Bishop might be good, but he knows when to make that move.
He traded Martin St. Louis, and was able to get a late first round pick, and a player he was able to sign to an inflated long-term contract despite the fact that, had he signed him as a UFA three months later, it would have been bad. But it was his player, so it’s entirely different. As for Kucherov, since Yzerman knows more than we do, he either doesn’t want to be paid in money, or Yzerman knows that he’s secretly bad at hockey.
Besides, the players on the roster don’t matter too much, because Yzerman has Jon Cooper to turn his personnel decisions into standings points. Cooper is a good coach because he pushes his best players, be it out of their natural positions, to the bottom of the lineup, or even into the press box. He maintains his expectations that they play at a high level in even the most arbitrary circumstances, so much so that arguably their three best forwards have been reported to have issues with him and have considered moving on from a Stanley Cup contending team because of him. How many coaches can say that?
Now, to get back to Stamkos’ alternative. He could’ve signed in Toronto. But the Leafs are garbage and the pressure literally murdered Larry Murphy and Phil Kessel, who couldn’t put it together again after they left. Plus, as we said before, they’re rebuilding, and rebuilding teams can’t win anything. Rebuilding takes years. Take the Chicago Blackhawks. They were bad in 2006, and 2007, and it took them until 2010 to win the Stanley Cup.
That means that it takes four years of awful play at very minimum. Sure, the Leafs were basement dwellers and got high picks in 2014 and 2015, but that was by accident. William Nylander and Mitch Marner were acquired by accident, so those top 10 in the world prospects aren’t part of the prospect pool. When the Blackhawks crashed and burned in 2006, they had signed Nikolai Khabibulin and Adrian Aucoin. We all thought they were good, but they weren’t, but since they’re the Blackhawks and trophy hindsight reveals all, it’s now obvious that they were actually Stealth Tanking to get Jonathan Toews. That’s the brilliance of the Chicago Blackhawks.
At the end of the day, we have to trust Steve Yzerman. He’s won three Stanley Cups, including one this century. The Red Wings drafted him in 1985, and like magic, 12 years later, Sergei Fedorov and Nicklas Lidstrom were the best two players on a Red Wings Stanley Cup team. That’s the kind of leadership Steve Yzerman provides. He wins. It only takes 12 years. He’s so underrated, even as we know of his perfect combination of leadership, class, humility, goodness, and greatness. An example? He had a two-hour jersey retirement ceremony. If you were as classy and humble as Steve Yzerman, wouldn’t you let the opposing team’s fans bask in your glory for two hours?
The Lightning are guaranteed Cup winners, very soon. They were one of the top ten NHL teams as far as Score-Adjusted possession went last year. One of the top ten teams in the NHL almost always wins the Stanley Cup. Stamkos signed an eight-year contract, and the Leafs are at least eight years away from winning the Stanley Cup. I mean, disagree? The Lightning were bad in 2008, and eight years later, they still haven’t won anything. The Leafs can never hope to win a Cup during those eight years. They can try, but Steve Yzerman is there, and he’s great. Steve Yzerman brings those qualities to the Lightning, and that’s going to put them over the edge.
Eventually, Steve Yzerman will take over as GM of the Red Wings. The Red Wings are the NHL’s model franchise. They’ve been the best team in the league for the last 26 seasons, and only unluckily lost the Stanley Cup in 22 of them. The Red Wings and Yzerman should improve each other. They’re each adding perfection to perfect. You may be saying now “it’ a physical impossibility to improve upon perfection,” and you’d be right. But to do the impossible.. isn’t that exactly the kind of thing Steve Yzerman would do?