Red Wings name Steve Yz­er­man GM

The News-Times - - SPORTS -

DETROIT — Steve Yz­er­man is get­ting an­other chance to re­turn the Detroit Red Wings to glory.

The Hockey Hall of Famer did it as one the game’s all-time great leaders, help­ing Detroit end a

42-year cham­pi­onship drought with the first of three Stan­ley Cup cel­e­bra­tions of his playing tenure in Detroit.

Now, he has a shot to do it as the Red Wings’ gen­eral man­ager.

The Cap­tain is com­ing home, a move that fired up a fan base and drew emo­tional re­sponses from own­er­ship. Per­haps in vain, Yz­er­man tried to pump the brakes on all the ex­cite­ment.

“This is go­ing to take time,” Yz­er­man said re­peat­edly Fri­day as he made a plea for pa­tience.

Yz­er­man pro­vides hope and a jolt of energy for a fran­chise that des­per­ately needs both af­ter go­ing three straight years with­out a play­off ap­pear­ance. His re­turn means Ken Hol­land’s run as GM is over af­ter 22 years, but he isn’t go­ing far: He starts his new job as se­nior vice pres­i­dent with a mul­ti­year con­tract, re­plac­ing his GM deal that had only one sea­son re­main­ing.

Chris Il­itch, the pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Il­itch Hold­ings, which owns the Red Wings, said Hol­land en­cour­aged him to hire Yz­er­man to re­place him af­ter the Tampa Bay Light­ning gave the Red Wings per­mis­sion to talk to him about the job in March.

“He said, ‘Steve should be the next gen­eral man­ager of the Red Wings,’ ” Il­itch re­called.

Mar­ian Il­itch, the founder of Il­itch Hold­ings, ap­peared to get choked up dur­ing Yz­er­man’s news con­fer­ence and couldn’t stop smil­ing after­ward as she cel­e­brated the re­turn of a man she refers to as one of her boys.

“I did have a feel­ing that some­day we would be to­gether again,” she said.

Detroit drafted Yz­er­man at No. 4 over­all in 1983 and he helped turn around the fran­chise. His No. 19 jersey hangs in the rafters along­side those of Gordie Howe and other greats along with the fran­chise’s 11 Stan­ley Cup ban­ners. He re­tired in

2006 and left two years later to lead the Light­ning.

And now the man adored by fans and af­fec­tion­ately known in the Mo­tor City as The Cap­tain is back.

Yz­er­man is tak­ing the reins of a team that is en­dur­ing its worst stretch since the early 1980s when the team was known lo­cally as the “Dead Wings” and needed to give away a car at each home game to get peo­ple to at­tend.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Yz­er­man said. “We’ve been through this be­fore.”

The Red Wings have been re­build­ing un­der Hol­land, who has cre­ated salary-cap space, stock­piled draft picks and de­vel­oped a core of promis­ing young play­ers such as 22-year-old cen­ter Dy­lan Larkin. Yz­er­man said he will re­tain coach Jeff Blashill, who was signed to a two-year con­tract ex­ten­sion to­ward the end of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“Kenny Hol­land has done a real good job set­ting up so when the gen­eral man­ager came in, he’s ready to go con­tract-wise, draft pick-wise,” said Toronto Maple Leafs coach Mike Bab­cock, who coached Yz­er­man in his fi­nal NHL sea­son and worked with him when he led the Red Wings to the

2008 Stan­ley Cup and Canada to Olympic gold in 2010 and ’14. “He’s set up and ready to go. They’re good friends, they’ll work well to­gether.”

Yz­er­man went into man­age­ment im­me­di­ately af­ter re­tir­ing and Hol­land was his men­tor in the front of­fice. He be­gan his post­play­ing ca­reer as vice pres­i­dent of hockey op­er­a­tions un­der Hol­land in Detroit and was part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion dur­ing that ’08 cham­pi­onship.

Yz­er­man stepped down as gen­eral man­ager in Tampa Bay last year just two days be­fore train­ing camp, trig­ger­ing talk he would come back to run the Red Wings. Yz­er­man’s con­tract with the Light­ning ex­pired when they were elim­i­nated in the first round of the NHL play­offs ear­lier this week. He built Tampa Bay into a peren­nial con­tender in eight sea­sons as gen­eral man­ager, mak­ing three trips to the con­fer­ence fi­nal and ad­vanc­ing to the 2015 Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal where the Light­ning lost to Chicago.

“It’s a real ex­cit­ing day for me to see Steve Yz­er­man back where he be­longs,” Hol­land said.

Yz­er­man spent his en­tire playing ca­reer with the Red Wings. He de­vel­oped into a two-way cen­ter un­der Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bow­man af­ter break­ing into the league as a skinny 18-yearold from Cran­brook, Bri­tish Columbia, who was talented enough to score 39 goals and have 87 points as a rookie.

His body broke down over time and his 22-sea­son ca­reer ended with his re­tire­ment in 2006 af­ter lead­ing the Red Wings to ti­tles in 1997, ’98 and 2002. His ca­reer ended with 1,755 reg­u­lar-sea­son points, a to­tal that led all ac­tive play­ers when he re­tired and trailed just five in NHL his­tory.

“I knew he would want to get back home,” Bow­man told The As­so­ci­ated Press. “It has been nine years. It’s time. Home is home.”

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