Steve Yzerman is as iconic to the Red Wings as Sid Abel, Gordie Howe and octopi (Octopuses? Octopodes?).  That’s why it’s so weird that tonight, for the first time, Steve Yzerman will be employed by the Red Wings’ competition in a hockey game.

Sure, he’s not suiting up against the Wings, nor is he coaching against them, but the fact that he’ll be cheering for Detroit to lose tonight is definitely odd.

However Yzerman himself downplayed the strangeness of the whole thing recently:

I don’t think we should make any bigger deal than necessary about the game… I’m not the coach standing behind the bench, and obviously, I’m not a player playing the game.

Either way, outside of perhaps Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh, no single player has defined a franchise in the last 20 years like Steve Yzerman defined the Detroit Red Wings, so it’s still odd to see him as a member of the opposition.  The only thing that could make this situation weirder would be if the game was in Detroit.  Unfortunately that game won’t happen this season, unless of course the two teams meet in the Stanley Cup Final.

Now how weird would THAT be?

Right now, both the Red Wings website and the Lightning website have features praising Yzerman.  The Lightning piece focuses on Yzerman’s success thus far in Tampa Bay while the Red Wings article asks some of the Wings’ players about their feelings on tonight’s game and Yzerman’s Lightning in general.

“But he’s been putting his own stamp on the team and bringing in some guys that he believed in and thought that they could help the team. And they’ve been very successful,” said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom.

“”He’s done a lot of good things down there, and that team’s playing really well… It’s certainly going to be different going into Tampa and knowing that it’s Steve Yzerman’s hockey team,” said Kris Draper.

Both pieces make an excellent point.  The Tampa Bay Lightning look and feel like a completely different team under Steve Yzerman, and it’s not just because they’re changing their logo and uniforms.

Not only are the Lightning more competitive on the ice, but they feel more professional and established than ever before.  That seems a little strange to say for a team that’s been around for almost 20 years (yes, almost 20 years!) and has won a Stanley Cup, but it’s true.

When he came to Tampa Bay it was obvious that Yzerman’s goal was to make the Lightning a respected franchise with a tradition for winning, much like the Red Wings he had left.  Tonight will be a measuring stick for Yzerman’s Lightning for sure.  How will they fare?