Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman. (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
In re-signing Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, Steve Yzerman showed off the patience that makes him one of the NHL’s best executives.
While other NHL GMs overspent to plug holes in their lineup, Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman locked up his top two stars on bargain deals.
How did he do it?
By being patient.
In fact patience just might be Yzerman’s calling card as one of the NHL’s best executives.
That was evident in his handling of 2013 first round draft pick Jonathan Drouin, who walked out on the organization and demanded a trade in early January. There are plenty of other GMs who would have immediately booted Drouin’s butt to the curb and traded him for whatever he could get in an effort to let his team get on with the season. But not Yzerman.
Drouin was unhappy with the fact he was not included among the Lightning’s top six forwards and even more put out about being sent to the minors. He felt dissed even though he had done nothing to warrant a better standing in the Tampa Bay organization. The No. 3 pick was beginning to look very much like a bust.
Of course, Yzerman entertained trade possibilities. He did his due diligence knowing he had a valuable asset. At the end of the day, Yzerman wanted value in return if he was going to move Drouin. He didn’t get it so he let the kid stew.
Ultimately Drouin came crawling back with his tail between his legs, promised to do whatever it takes to get back in good standing with his boss, not to mention his teammates. He returned to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL and shot out the lights, promptly earning a recall to the Lightning where, finally, he showed his true colors as a gifted, hard-working forward who collected five goals and 14 points in 17 playoff games. Safe to say Drouin’s days in the minors are a thing of the past.
While Yzerman handled the Drouin debacle, he also had a little matter of negotiating a new contract with his team’s captain and best player, Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos, a sharp-shooter in an era when goals are hard to come by, entered this past season with 276 goals and 498 points in 492 games and expected to be compensated accordingly.
Yzerman’s problem, if you can call it that, is he has assembled a very talented team – a Stanley Cup contender – and he had a handful of other players who will expect maximum compensation, too. If Yzerman handed Stamkos the keys to the vault, it would mean he would have to cut corners down the road and quite possibly lose one or two of his young rising stars.
So Yzerman held firm, risking the possibility that his top asset would bolt the Bolts with little-to-no compensation. He even resisted the trendy temptation of trading Stamkos’s negotiating rights in hopes he could ultimately work out a deal to keep him in Tampa Bay.
Yzerman’s plan worked. While other GMs followed the annual NHL tradition of overpaying aging players on July 1, Yzerman managed to lock up his captain for what amounts to a bargain deal and in doing so, established a cap within the organization by which no player would be paid more than the captain.
A mere hours before he was eligible to become an unrestricted free agent, Stamkos signed an eight-year, $68 million deal to remain with the Lightning. Not long afterward, star defenceman Victor Hedman signed an eight-year, $63 million extension with the Lightning. Hedman has a year remaining on his current contract, but Yzerman took advantage of his first opportunity to lock the gifted defender up for the long term well ahead of time.
Both players surely could have wrestled more money out of another team by going to unrestricted free agency, but ultimately decided being part of an organization that is not only committed to winning, but is within striking distance of being a champion, was the way to go. If they left a million or two bucks on the table, so be it.
Yzerman’s work is not done. He still has to work out contracts with Alex Kilorn and Nikita Kucherov and Drouin, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson’s deals are up following next year. Such is the life of an NHL GM who has assembled a wealth of talent.
In the end, though, Yzerman’s patience paid huge dividends. Entering the 2016-17 season the Lightning is, along with the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, solid candidates to claim the prize next season.
Stamkos and Hedman stayed put to be part of a potential championship team. Or maybe they just like the guy who runs the show.