By LARRY LAGE
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Saturday, April 20, 2019
DETROIT -- The Captain is coming home.
Hockey Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman was appointed general manager of the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, returning to the franchise where, as a player, he was part of three Stanley Cup championship teams and a captain for a league-record 20 seasons.
"I'm extremely excited to be back in Detroit," Yzerman said at a packed news conference at Little Caesars Arena.
For the Red Wings, who have moved Ken Holland to senior vice-president after more than two decades as GM, the return of their fierce, long-time leader whose No. 19 hangs in the rafters alongside those of Gordie Howe and other greats is a welcome ray of hope. The man adored by fans and affectionately known as The Captain is back.
"Stevie's a fan favourite in Detroit like no other," Toronto coach Mike Babcock told reporters as the Maple Leafs prepared to face Boston in the first round of the playoffs. "I remember one night in Detroit in overtime or the shootout, he jumped over the boards and the place started to shake."
For the second time, the Red Wings hope he can lead their return to glory.
Yzerman is taking the reins of a team that has missed the playoffs three straight years in 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 sell tickets.
"There's a lot of work to be done," Yzerman said. "We've been through this before."
Detroit drafted Yzerman No. 4 overall in 1983 and he helped turn around the franchise.
As the general manager, he'll have a chance to do it again.
"We believe Steve Yzerman is the perfect choice," Red Wings owner Chris Ilitch said.
The team has been rebuilding under Holland, who has created salary cap space, stockpiled draft picks and developed a core of promising young players including 22-year-old centre Dylan Larkin.
"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 Babcock, who coached Yzerman in his final NHL season and worked with him on the Red Wings' 2008 Stanley Cup victory and Canada's Olympic golds in 2010 and 2014. "He's set up and ready to go.
They're good friends, they'll work well together."
The new GM tried to tone down the excitement his hiring has generated, saying, "This is going to take time."
Yzerman stepped down as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning 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 by Columbus (after tying a league record with 62 wins). He built Tampa Bay into a perennial contender in eight seasons as GM, making three trips to the conference final and an advancing to the Stanley Cup final in 2015, when the Lightning lost to Chicago.
Ilitch said the Lightning gave the Red Wings permission to speak with Yzerman in March about bringing him back to Detroit.
Yzerman went into management immediately after retiring and Holland was his mentor in the front office. He began his management career as vicepresident of hockey operations under Holland in Detroit and was part of the organization as a Stanley Cup winner in 2008 before leaving to lead the Lightning.
"[Holland] has been a teammate, way back in the day, a scout for this organization, my general manager and a great friend," Yzerman said. "He has been my mentor."
Yzerman spent his entire playing career trying with the Red Wings. He is regarded as one of the best leaders in NHL history and developed into a two-way player under Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman after breaking into the league as a skinny, 18-year-old kid 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, 1998 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 said. "It has been nine years. It's time. Home is home."
Steve Yzerman answers a question at a media conference on Friday in Detroit where he was introduced as the new general manager of the Red Wings.