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Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik shakes hands with former Detroit Red Wings vice-president Steve Yzerman after announcing Yzerman as the Lightning's new general manager during a news conference in Tampa. (BRIAN BLANCO)
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik shakes hands with former Detroit Red Wings vice-president Steve Yzerman after announcing Yzerman as the Lightning's new general manager during a news conference in Tampa. (BRIAN BLANCO)

Yzerman takes Tampa Bay GM job Add to ...

Day 1 as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning came with more questions for Steve Yzerman about the Detroit Red Wings than his new franchise - and it's not hard to imagine why.



The Yzerman era, after all, spans the past 27 years with the Wings, from his evolution as a teenager into a Hall of Famer and then an executive, all within an organization that's come as close to a dynasty the past two decades as we're likely to see in the modern NHL.

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And despite some rocky early years, now long-forgotten, he and Detroit, together, became synonymous with success.



After four years learning on the job as a vice-president in one of the deepest front offices in the league, Yzerman said Tuesday he is anxious to show what he can accomplish off the ice and a world away from Hockeytown.



"I was very safe there," Yzerman said after being introduced by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. "I was surrounded by good people that really protected me and looked after me. We had a lot of success.



"But I didn't want to live on just being a hockey player - I feel I'm a young guy and I have a whole new exciting career ahead of me."



In Tampa, there's no "we" - at least not yet. Yzerman will have the last word and be on his own at the top, handed the reins by a rookie owner to reshape what's become one of the league's more troubled franchises of late.



But building his own team is the sort of challenge he wanted, one those who know him well said he had thought a lot about going back to his playing days. Yzerman said Tuesday his work with Team Canada, at the world championships and the Olympics, only "reaffirmed" his desire to take charge.



Even so, wooing him wasn't easy.



One source close to the situation said that despite his relative inexperience, Yzerman received a five-year contract for $2.5-million (U.S.) a season, a deal on par with some of the NHL's top executives.



His decision, meanwhile, came as a surprise to some in the hockey world, given he joins an organization that's been headed in the opposite direction of the Red Wings since the 2004-05 lockout, one that has finished among the bottom six teams in the NHL three years running, and where attendance has fallen nearly 4,500 fans per game in that span.



All that losing, however, has given the Lightning a few key set pieces - Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman among them - the type of young stars that could help transform Tampa Bay into the Chicago Blackhawks South.



There are also some hard decisions to be made - with captain Vincent Lecavalier and his behemoth 11-year contract extension at the top of the list - something Yzerman acknowledged.



"There is no easy fix," he said. "I don't sit up here with the notion that I can wave a magic wand, make changes, and we're a Stanley Cup contender."



While Vinik sported a big grin and was effusive in his praise of Yzerman at Tuesday's press conference, there are mixed feelings in a Detroit organization clearly sad to see one of its favourite sons go.



Senior vice-president Jim Devellano, who drafted Yzerman fourth overall in 1983, said the organization knew that it might lose him given his reputation around the league.



"He's intelligent, he has passion and he's trained with some of the best people in the league, in my opinion," Devellano said. "He's aspired to be a general manager for many years - even when he was playing. He and I had many conversations about it.



"And he understood he likely had to go somewhere else to accomplish that."



With Yzerman in demand, however, Detroit had looked into potentially shifting him into the GM's role recently. Owner Mike Ilitch told a local radio station earlier this month, he had asked current GM Ken Holland if he would consider becoming the team president to allow Yzerman to be promoted, but Holland declined.



That left only a bittersweet departure, with Yzerman driving to the Ilitches' home to inform the only owners he's ever known of his decision to leave the nest.



"This has been a difficult thing for me to do," Yzerman said. "To pull away. In some ways it's scary. I've been sheltered for a long time in Detroit, and it's almost that I'm stepping out on my own for the first time really since I was 18 years old.



"But this is something I wanted to do and decided this is the right opportunity for me to do that."







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