It’s been a busy couple of months for Steve Yzerman.
Since being hired at the end of May, the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning has gone through his first entry draft, guided his first team through free agency, pulled off some big trades, and added a coaching staff.
When the Lightning hired Yzerman, I was more cautious than most, saying “This was a good hire. But it’s going to be a while before we know if Yzerman is a good NHL general manager.” The reasoning there – that despite the solid resume we didn’t know what Yzerman would do with the job – was valid, but the early results have been very impressive indeed,
I’m going to leave the 2010 Entry Draft alone for the most part, since we don’t know how much of that was Yzerman and how much of that was his scouting staff, but I will say I’m happy with what they did. After adding Brett Connolly early on and Brock Beukeboom some time later (a bit of a gamble with Connolly but I understand both picks) the Lightning stockpiled a bunch of undersized defencemen with great offensive totals in Major Jr. hockey – guys who may never play in the NHL, but also guys with more potential to have an impact if they do make the show than the average late pick.
The hiring of Guy Boucher was a bold move and one I’m firmly in favour of. Boucher has carved out a reputation as an innovator at a very young age, he’s a highly educated man in a profession that doesn’t always value that, and he isn’t afraid to say what he thinks. He was also the AHL coach of the year last season (more on Boucher here). Boucher brings along two men who he has history with; both Martin Raymond and Daniel Lacroix assisted him in Hamilton last year and Raymond coached with Boucher in the QMJHL. The coaching staff is rounded out by Wayne Fleming, who has a highly impressive resume and who seemed to do a good job in Edmonton last year. Fleming brings nice balance to a younger coaching group.
Yzerman next chose to buyout enforcer Todd Fedoruk after he cleared waivers; it was a solid move for the team despite the cap implications. Last season, Fedoruk played fourth line minutes and the Lightning posted terrible results with him on the ice.
The next move was a salary dump, as Yzerman sent away Andrej Meszaros, a good two-way NHL defenceman who hadn’t brought much offence to the table over two seasons with Tampa Bay but was signed for $4.0 million per season. Meszaros had recorded 39, 35 and 36 points in his three NHL seasons prior to signing with Tampa Bay; over two years with the Lightning he recorded just 33 points – simply not enough offence to justify his salary, despite his above average defensive game. Yzerman was able to get a second round draft pick out of the Flyers in that move.
On the same day, Yzerman brought in 1A/1B-type goaltender Dan Ellis on a two year, $1.5 million per season deal, apparently to compete with Mike Smith for the starting job. I’m a big fan of employing two goaltenders of this type; the odds are good that one of them will be at least a serviceable starter, it’s a cheap system and there’s insurance and competition built-in. It’s a system Detroit has had a lot of success with and I’m not even a little surprised to see Yzerman go that route.
Also on July 1, Yzerman locked up Martin St. Louis on a four year deal that will see him with a cap hit of $5.625 million each year over the next four seasons. This is a big deal given St. Louis’ hesitancy to sign in Tampa Bay; they could ill-afford to lose him. The dollars were reasonable and if there’s one place to overspend a little it is on high-end talent.
On July 2, Yzerman moved to replace Meszaros, signing Pavel Kubina to a two-year deal worth slightly less money. Kubina brings a very similar skill-set to the table as Meszaros, but he’s been more effective offensively, costs less, and is signed for a shorter term. Basically, Yzerman saved a little coin, improved the calibre of offensive defenceman he was using, and added a second round pick. It’s really not a bad pair of moves.
Yzerman’s biggest move to date saw him once again return to the Flyers, this time snagging Simon Gagne out of Philadelphia for Matt Walker and a fourth round pick. Gagne’s a fantastic player, aside from his injury troubles: he’s topped the 40-goal mark twice since the lockout, and Yzerman added him for a decent third-pairing defenceman and a late draft pick. Given that Walker was slightly overpaid at $1.7 million, that’s great work.
Along the way, Yzerman stole Hamilton Bulldogs G.M. Julien BriseBois out of the Canadiens organization; the young lawyer will serve in the same role with Norfolk and also gets the title of assistant general manager with the Lightning. He also added draft disappointment Marc Pouliot on a two-way deal, and gets credit for that: Pouliot is an incredible AHL player and at the NHL level, despite his failure to live up to his draft position, he’s been cheap and effective. The Lightning need cheap and effective.
There’s still a lot of work left to be done (the Lightning’s forward corps is awfully sparse right now) but the early returns are highly encouraging.