Yzerman named Lightning general manager

Since June 8, 1983, Hockey Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman had been associated with only one NHL team -- until now.

At a Tuesday press conference, the Tampa Bay Lightning announced the hiring of Yzerman -- the iconic Detroit Red Wing player and executive -- as the sixth general manager in franchise history.

Yzerman, who held the title of Vice President/Hockey with the Red Wings since announcing his retirement as a player on July 3, 2006, seemingly was being groomed to someday take over for current Detroit GM Ken Holland, who has held the position since 1997 and is the seventh-longest tenured GM currently in the NHL.

But Yzerman's stock rose considerably as an administrator and talent evaluator and put him on the fast track to take over an NHL team after winning the gold medal at the 2010 Olympics as Team Canada Executive Director, charged with the difficult and highly pressurized task of selecting the nation's roster for a tournament played on native soil in Vancouver.

"This did not take us by surprise because for years Stevie has said one day he would like to be a general manager in the NHL," Red Wings Senior Vice President Jim Devellano told the Detroit News. "It was something he wanted to do, but it had to be the right opportunity for him and his family.

"It was a tough decision for Steve, that's why it took such a long time," Devellano, who drafted Yzerman No. 4 in 1983, said. "It's not easy leaving Detroit for somebody like Steve. He's been with us for 27 years. He came as an 18-year-old and just recently celebrated his 45th birthday. So it was not an easy decision for him to make.

"We are all happy for Steve," Devellano said. "This is something he wanted, a challenge that he desired and worked hard for. At the same time, we are going to miss him. He's been such a major part of all of our lives, both on the ice and in the front office."

The wooing of Yzerman began after Boston-based businessman Jeff Vinik became the owner of Tampa Bay on March 3. As the franchise's sole owner, Vinik serves as Governor and Chairman of the Lightning.

Yzerman, 45, fills the post left vacant after Brian Lawton was fired as Tampa Bay GM in April. Assistant GM Tom Kurvers had been running the Lightning since Lawton's dismissal. Vinik also fired coach Rick Tocchet in a front office shakeup for a franchise that finished 34-36-12 and has missed the playoffs for the last two seasons.

“Buying the Lightning and joining the Tampa Bay community is a dream come true,” Vinik, 50, said after reaching an agreement to purchase the team. “I pledge to our fans that I will work my hardest as the caretaker of this franchise to build it into a world class organization, both on and off the ice. We will do our utmost to build a winning team on the ice, make the fan experience at the St. Pete Times Forum even more enjoyable and increase the presence of the Lightning and the Lightning Foundation across Tampa Bay.”

When the 2010-11 NHL regular season schedule is released, a Tampa Bay visit to Detroit will be a highly-anticipated event. After all, the Red Wings play at Joe Louis Arena, which resides at 19 Steve Yzerman Drive. Yzerman's No. 19 hangs from the arena rafters.

He won three Stanley Cups as a player (1997, 1998, 2002) and one more as management (2008). After 22 seasons -- 20 as captain -- and 1,514 games all wearing the Winged Wheel, Yzerman is second on the all-time franchise scoring list with 1,755 points, trailing only the immortal Gordie Howe. Yzerman's name dominated the Detroit record book.

Yzerman was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009.

Contact Rocky Bonanno at rbonanno@nhl.com