Former Red Wings believes Steve Yzerman’s drive and determination will take team to the top
DETROIT — The players and coaches on the Detroit Red Wings’ 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup championship teams can see that the current club is a long way from its prime.
They are confident, however, that the glory of the franchise will be restored by the man at the helm.
The same drive Steve Yzerman showed as his captain a quarter-century ago has been on display throughout his career as a general manager, eight years with Tampa Bay and now in his fourth season in Detroit.
“I see the same work ethic as Stevie as a player, his determination to want to get back there, want to get back to a championship team,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “I saw it, whether it was in training, in the gym or during the games. I look at it in a different way now, but with the same kind of work ethic as a GM, the way he’s still working as hard as he did as a player to find ways to be successful.”
Lidstrom, a seven-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, was hired as the Red Wings’ vice president of hockey operations in January, joining several former players in the front office. Many gathered in recent days at Little Caesars Arena for the 25th anniversary celebration.
Igor Larionov’s first meeting with Yzerman was head-to-head at the 1985 World Championship.
“You can see the skill level and the IQ and the leadership on Team Canada,” said Larionov, who is part of the Red Wings’ five Russians. “When you played with him day in and day out, you saw his determination and his desire to be the guy that leads our group.
“He didn’t say much, but he was leading by example on the ice. And today I know he has the biggest task of getting the team back to the glory days with Kris (Draper) and some other guys that have been around building the team.”
Draper, the longtime Grind Line center and the team’s current director of amateur scouting, said Yzerman sets the work ethic in the front office.
“It’s funny, I got a call from him today and I thought it was going to be the weekend (celebration) and it was work,” Draper said. “It ended up being a 20-25 minute conversation. He’s always going, always thinking, always challenging you. He did that as a player and now as a boss he’s doing the same thing. The work ethic that the Detroit Red Wings had back in the 97 and 98, the front office and staff have that work ethic as well and that’s something to be very proud of.”
When Ken Holland was promoted to GM in 1997, he thought Yzerman might be filling his seat one day. Jim Devellano, the club’s senior vice president, and Yzerman had negotiated a clause in the captain’s contract that allowed him to remain with the organization after his playing career.
“I remember their last 2-3 contracts, we did them one at a time,” Holland said. “He took his agent out of the mix because he wanted to get that negotiating experience. He was in the process of getting ready for after hockey.”
When Yzerman retired in 2006, he became a special advisor in Holland and began learning all aspects of management.
“For four years he went to every meeting — professional meetings, fan meetings,” Holland said. “We went to Grand Rapids a few times. In 2008, when he became the general manager of Canada’s entry into the World Championships, he had to put this team together, work with agents, get the players to play .
“He asked a lot of questions. He would talk to all the people, (former assistant GM) Jimmy Nill, (former amateur scouting chief) Joe McDonnell. He leaned on Jimmy Devellano. He’s always had a thirst for knowledge . I’m not surprised at how successful he’s been, in Tampa and now the building in Detroit. His passion, his work ethic, his commitment, his inquiring mind, he’s always trying to find more and more information.” .
Those experiences made for a smooth transition into his first GM job in 2010 with Tampa Bay. Former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman has attended Lightning games for many years while living in Sarasota, getting an up-close look at the work Yzerman did building the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021.
“Steve was instrumental in getting a lot of these players,” Bowman said. “A lot of players on this team didn’t get drafted or (were) picked up in the late rounds. It’s been quite a story. It’s a lot like the story of Detroit when I came here (in 1993). The players that we have might add, some of them weren’t doing so well where they came from, but they came to Detroit and became important players”.
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