Mission accomplished! Mark it the hell down. Steve Yzerman is finally coming back home to Detroit to save the godforsaken Red Wings. At least, that’s the only logical conclusion one can draw from today’s news:
This is wonderful, and it’s what every Red Wings fan’s been dreaming about since at least 2015, when a Lightning team constructed by Yzerman took down an aging, sputtering Red Wings squad in the first round of the playoffs. Since that series, Detroit has made it to the playoffs just once—losing more decisively to the Lightning in the following year’s opening round—while Tampa made it to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, then came within one win of the Final in two of the last three seasons. From Michigan, watching the greatest living player in Red Wings history come this close to titles with some random Florida franchise that basically didn’t exist until this century while the historic hometown dynasty he presided over crumbled into ruins has been kind of tough, to say the least.
After serving as GM since 2010, Yzerman leaves the role with the Lightning as one of the Stanley Cup favorites for the upcoming season, and he can take a lot of credit for that. While Steven Stamkos was already an established stud when he took over, Yzerman successful managed to transition from the Lightning’s Martin St. Louis/Vincent Lecavalier era to a new juggernaut centered around new blood. Throw a dart at the current Lightning roster and you’ll hit a shrewd move from Yzerman: Nikita Kucherov was a late second-rounder who became one of the most exciting offensive players in hockey; Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson were both undrafted free agents; Ondřej Palát was a seventh-rounder, Brayden Point a third-round pick; young goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was swapped in for Ben Bishop at the exact right time. Oh, and Yzerman also put together the 2014 gold medal-winning Canadian Olympic hockey team.
Meanwhile, in Detroit, years and years of win-now decision-making has finally caught up with GM Ken Holland and left him beaten by the side of the road. Holland, who still has his job after more than three decades with the organization, deserves at least partial credit for the four Stanley Cups the Red Wings won in the past 21 years—those teams were built by a combination of brilliant scouting and Mike Ilitch’s flashy free agent spending. But in the salary cap era he’s struggled to break free of blind loyalty to veterans and hasn’t hit on another genius diamond-in-the-rough on the level of Pavel Datsyuk, and the Red Wings have been stuck in mediocrity (by their standards) since at least 2011.
Worse, there’s no reason to be optimistic for a resurgence any time soon, as the Red Wings still sit at the very end of the Henrik Zetterberg era rather than the beginning of anything new. Twenty-two-year-old Dylan Larkin, now entering his fourth season, is Detroit’s best hope for a franchise player, but even he slots firmly in the second tier when compared to peers in his age group like Brock Boeser, Jack Eichel, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, and—obviously—Connor McDavid. Larkin and fellow youngsters Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou could very well have long, productive careers with the team, but franchise saviors they are not.
Ken Holland got a two-year contract extension last April, and Yzerman promises to stick around in that “advisory role” in Tampa, presumably until his contract runs out at the end of the season. If there’s going to be a front office shake-up in Detroit, it seems extremely unlikely to happen before the Red Wings sleepwalk through one more pointless season. Still, there’s one report, via the Detroit Free Press, that gives everyone hope:
A source told the Free Press that Yzerman told Lightning players he was going home to Detroit. Yzerman has continued to live in the metro Detroit area during his tenure with the Lightning.
Of course, you can take “going home” 100 percent literally and just assume Yzerman means he wants to chill out in Bloomfield Hills and eat square pizza with his family. But I’m so freaking ready for meaningful Red Wings hockey again that I don’t give a shit. The fans want him back. The Red Wings have an “internal appetite” to evolve the front office. Yzerman has done nothing to indicate that he doesn’t want to be Detroit’s new GM. I’m buying a brand new Yzerman jersey and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.