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Former Detroit Red Wings vice-president Steve Yzerman addresses the media during a news conference in Tampa, Florida, May 25, 2010. Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman was named general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning following his turn as executive director of Canada's gold-medal winning Olympic ice hockey squad, the NHL team said on Tuesday. (BRIAN BLANCO/REUTERS)
Former Detroit Red Wings vice-president Steve Yzerman addresses the media during a news conference in Tampa, Florida, May 25, 2010. Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman was named general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning following his turn as executive director of Canada's gold-medal winning Olympic ice hockey squad, the NHL team said on Tuesday. (BRIAN BLANCO/REUTERS)

NHL PLAYOFFS

Yzerman credits off-ice team for Lightning's on-ice success Add to ...

Even as a general manager, Steve Yzerman talks mostly about "the team."

Only in this case, in his first season running the Tampa Bay Lightning, that team is the staff he put together - a group of coaches and executives he now leans on for advice.

So when Yzerman is asked about acquiring a player such as checking winger Sean Bergenheim, whose seven goals are tied for the NHL's postseason lead, he credits "Dan" for recommending him. And when centre Dominic Moore's name comes up, kudos go to "Julien and Guy."

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Yzerman may be top dog in the organization, but he often attributes his team's success to the likes of assistant general manager Julien BriseBois, head coach Guy Boucher and assistant coach Daniel Lacroix.

Together for less than a year, and one of the youngest staffs in the league, they have nonetheless turned the Lightning into this NHL season's surprise success story, with a 23-point improvement and a date with the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference final.

"I think my plan is very general," Yzerman said. "I don't think it's a real secret. For long-term success for an organization, initially I started by bringing in the best possible people I could find at all positions.

"I want to surround myself with the brightest and most enthusiastic. People that really love the game. If they love what they're doing, they're going to do their job well."

Yzerman landed in Tampa as a rookie GM less than a year ago, signing a behemoth deal on May 25, 2010, with new owner Jeff Vinik to take on a franchise that had been run through the gutter by previous ownership.

He had some key pieces in place with offensive stars such as Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier, but the organization desperately needed a few good men in the front office.

That led to nervous times for the Detroit Red Wings, as that organization's long-time former-captain-turned-executive was sure to look to the only franchise he had ever known for support staff.

Yzerman's first hire followed that course, as he brought in former teammate and Red Wings scout Pat Verbeek to fill that role with the Lightning two weeks after he was hired as GM.

His next bid was for a coach, and two days after the Verbeek hiring, Yzerman landed Boucher, a rising star in the Montreal Canadiens organization who had only one year's experience coaching in the pros.

At the same time, he had been attempting to lure assistant GM and salary capologist Ryan Martin from the Red Wings, a two-week courtship that played out in the press but ultimately ended with a "no."

A month later, Yzerman was back raiding the Habs, as he settled on BriseBois - at 33, the youngest GM in the American Hockey League with the Hamilton Bulldogs - to be his right-hand man.

A week after that, Lacroix and Martin Raymond became Boucher's assistants, bringing to four the number of staffers the Lightning garnered from the 2009-10 Bulldogs team that went 52-17-3-8.

In the end, rather than having ties to the Red Wings and the Western Conference, Yzerman ended up with a distinctly Eastern Conference group, one with a francophone flavour - hardly the cast many expected him to put together.

It's worked brilliantly so far, with Yzerman up for GM of the year and the Lightning looking like a championship team for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.

The GM, however, says his goal is to build an organization in the Red Wings mould: a powerhouse in the front office and on the ice and a team that is a contender every year.

"This isn't just a one-year thing," Yzerman said. "We're trying to build a solid franchise. … That will take time, but I think we're off to a good start because we had a lot of good people in the organization when we all joined a year ago."

A fitting ending to a dream season, meanwhile, may be in the works. If the Lightning can get past the Bruins, Yzerman's former team may well be waiting for a date in the Stanley Cup final, in which his past would meet his present.

Follow on Twitter: @mirtle

 

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