When Steve Yzerman left the Tampa Bay Lightning two years ago to return to the Detroit Red Wings as general manager, he apologized to Tampa Bay owner Jeff Vinik for not winning a Stanley Cup.
Despite building championship-caliber teams during eight years as general manager and one year as senior advisor to current GM Julien BriseBois, the Lightning failed to duplicate the success of the franchise’s first Cup-winning team in 2004.
Hired in 2010, Yzerman’s teams advanced to the conference finals three times with an appearance in the 2015 Cup final against the Boston Bruins but his tenure ended on a losing note when the 2019 Presidents’ Trophy team, which tied the 1996 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a season (62), was upset in a first-round, four-game sweep against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Brisebois remembered sitting in the stands with Yzerman in the final seconds of Game 4 in Columbus and knowing that they would never have their names on the Cup together in Tampa Bay.
“It would’ve meant a lot to me to see him (Yzerman) win the Cup again,” BriseBois said in a Detroit News interview last year.
On Monday night, the Lightning won the Stanley Cup for the second time in the franchise’s 28-year history, beating the Dallas Stars 2-0 in Game 6 to take the final 4-2 in the pandemic-delayed playoffs.
On Saturday night, Yzerman addressed the prospect of the Lightning winning the Cup during a video conference call to announce the Red Wings’ acquisition of New York Rangers veteran defenseman Marc Staal and a 2021 second-round draft choice for future considerations.
“I would be thrilled for them to win,” Yzerman said before the Lightning lost 3-2 in double overtime in Game 5.
“I’m not sure if it’s satisfaction but I would be really happy for the organization, Jeff Vinik, Julien BriseBois, the players, the coaching staff. That community is really a great little hockey market, a really cool community and they really embrace the Lightning.”
Yzerman also acknowledged the accomplishments of Dallas general manager Jim Nill, a former teammate and assistant GM with the Red Wings and Stars coach Rick Bowness, an assistant coach with the Lightning for five seasons.
“I have great friends (in Tampa Bay) and you know the players, I got to know them well and they’ve built up to win a championship so yes, being so close to the Tampa franchise, I think it would be wonderful for them to win.”
There were several other local connections to the Tampa Bay organization:
►Yzerman’s former teammates Stacey Roest (the 17th ex-member of the Grand Rapids Griffins to win the Cup) and Jamie Pushor are assistant general managers and directors of player development.
►Head coach Jon Cooper was a Michigan attorney who also coached the high school hockey team at Lansing Catholic.
►Executive vice president of communications Bill Wickett is a graduate of the University of Michigan and handled public relations duties with the Detroit Pistons.
“Steve (Yzerman) laid the foundation, for sure,” Wickett said in a text while the team celebrated on the ice in Edmonton on Monday.
►Caley Chelios, who grew up in Detroit while her father Chris Chelios played for the Red Wings, is a Lightning radio color analyst and reporter.
►Pat Verbeek was Yzerman’s first hire in Detroit as assistant general manager after spending nine years as Tampa Bay’s assistant GM and director of player personnel.
Yzerman’s record for most continuous years as captain until winning the Stanley Cup is also still intact.
Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who played just 2:37 in the playoffs because of an injury but scored a goal in Game 3, took seven years to win the Cup after replacing Martin St. Louis in the 2013-2014 season.
Yzerman, named the youngest captain in Red Wings’ history at age 21 in 1986, was the captain for 11 years before Detroit ended a 42-year drought by sweeping the Philadelphia Flyers in 1997.
Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin ranks second in the NHL’s 103-year history. He was Washington’s captain for eight years before winning the Cup three years ago.