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Top Shelf: Hire Stevie for GM, just don’t forget ‘Y’

Executive director Steve Yzerman looks like a genius after putting together a gold medal-winning squad for the 2010 Olympics. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

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Executive director Steve Yzerman looks like a genius after putting together a gold medal-winning squad for the 2010 Olympics. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

We all know how much value Canada places in a gold medal triumph, but how much stock should a wealthy mover and shaker put in Steve Yzerman’s ability to craft a championship team at the Olympics?

Yzerman is going to be the main shot-caller for an NHL club at some point in the future. That much is certain.

His qualifications are so blatant that he’s actually not linked to every real or potential GM vacancy because people understand he’s in a position to be discerning about where he eventually plunks down his ‘The Buck Stops Here’ sign.

But how much of that should be tied to his success with Team Canada, I believe, is up for debate.

Here’s the bottom line on being the executive director of a Canadian hockey team that wins Olympic gold on home soil. First off, regardless of which watering hole you’re in from St. John’s to Vancouver and even though you’ve got millions in the bank, you’re never paying for a drink again.

And that sudden lack of mobility you feel is because you’ve instantly become deeply entrenched in the rugged landscape of Canadian hockey lore.

The head of a brain trust that provides a golden hockey moment for Canada attains instant hero status, but based on the amount of no-brainers wearing red and white, how much does constructing an Olympic winner truly correlate to running an NHL team?

I don’t want to take anything away from Yzerman and Co. because I think you need titanium cojones just to undertake an endeavor where the zero-sum stakes are win and be revered, don’t and be dogged endlessly.

And as much as a Canadian roster writes itself, not everybody would have the fortitude to place 20-year-old Drew Doughty on the team when so many other safer options exist.

By the same token, I don’t know exactly which member of Saudi Arabia’s royal family is in charge of economic policy, but if it became me tomorrow, I bet the plan would remain eerily similar; sell oil.

Could Joe Flag Waver build a Canadian team that has as much chance for success as Stevie Y? Maybe. It’s close enough that if you were hiring Yzerman based on the glory of Vancouver gold, you probably haven’t looked close enough at the situation.

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If I was handing Yzerman the keys to my franchise, I’d be much more encouraged by the fact he’s apprenticed as vice-president, hockey operations for a Detroit management team that has long set the standard for how successful clubs are run.

Being an NHL GM has become a more complex, intricate vocation as the salary-capped years float on by. Certainly many of the responsibilities can be delegated to people with acumen in a given field, but there’s still far more information to synthesize in the decision-making process than ever before.

Mark Messier will soon set about putting together Canada’s entry at the 2010 World Championship. If he can follow Yzerman’s victorious lead, does that fully endorse his ability to put winning pieces in place in the NHL? It sure doesn’t hurt. More than anything, it would thrust him into a positive spotlight and get his name in the heads and on the lips of people who make big decisions at the NHL ownership level.

But that same group of people can’t get blinded by the bling. Cutting down a tree with a chainsaw is a far different exercise than hacking through oak with an axe.

Hire Yzerman or Messier for their years’ worth of experience in the game, the company they’ve kept and their compulsion to indulge competitive juices.

Just don’t get carried away by placing top podium finishes in the wrong context.

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Thursday and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesday.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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