Thursday, February 28, 2013
Steve Yzerman back working for gold
By Pierre LeBrun
NEW YORK -- Watching his Tampa Bay Lightning players go through their morning skate drills Thursday at Madison Square Garden, general manager Steve Yzerman was puzzled at first when this ESPN.com hockey writer wished him a happy third anniversary.
Reminded of a certain gold-medal game on this very day in 2010, the Team Canada Olympic GM figured it out.
"It seems like forever ago," Yzerman said. "A lot has happened in three years. You’re totally engrossed with your [NHL] team. I didn’t realize that about today."
But with that, Yzerman took a few minutes to reminisce on that overtime victory over Team USA, a game as memorable for the young American team’s refusal to die -- tying the game late on Zach Parise's goal -- to of course the host Olympic country partying all night after Sidney Crosby found a hole and beat Ryan Miller.
"It seems like forever ago," Steve Yzerman said of winning gold in 2010. "A lot has happened in three years."
"It was an incredible experience." Yzerman said. "It was like nothing I had been through throughout my entire career."
Truth be told, though, he most remembers one thing from that day in Vancouver.
"At the end of it, it was really about relief," he said, chuckling. "As much as you enjoyed the whole process, it was just a sense of huge relief."
Now that pressure is about to get ratcheted up again as Yzerman in the next 10 months figures out his Canadian roster for the Sochi Olympics (if indeed NHL players are going, which at this point appears more likely than not.)
"This is the fun part, you’re watching games, you’re watching players, you sit and debate it," Yzerman said. "The whole process is real enjoyable. Obviously, if you win it, it makes it all worthwhile."
Yzerman figures his management staff, which includes Detroit GM Ken Holland, St. Louis GM Doug Armstrong and Edmonton president Kevin Lowe, will get together around the March 20 GM meetings in Toronto to further discuss the process and their thoughts on players.
As we speak about the Olympics, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos are among the last two players off the ice at Tampa’s morning skate, which is nothing new. Work, work, work.
It’s obviously a foregone conclusion that Stamkos -- the NHL’s leading scorer as of Thursday morning -- will make his Olympic debut, but what will be intriguing is where St. Louis, 37, fits into that.
No one should ever be second-guessed when they deliver a gold medal, but Yzerman was criticized by some for not picking St. Louis three years ago.
Ironically, just three months after winning Olympic gold, Yzerman become Tampa’s GM. One of the first things he did was deal with the elephant in the room and talk to St. Louis about the Olympic snub.
It was a smart thing to do. The two haven’t talked about it since.
"No, we haven’t," St. Louis told ESPN.com Thursday. "I didn’t tell him he made a mistake, but I told him it didn’t matter what he told me, I’ll still be disappointed forever. He was put in a position to make big decisions and there were a lot of guys who weren’t happy that didn’t make it, not just me. But it was a tough time for me at that time for sure."
One thing’s for sure: Whether St. Louis makes it or not in 2014, Yzerman has grown to know him better being around him every day.
"He’s playing extremely well, he’s one of the leading scorers in the league, he continues to be a good player," Yzerman said. "What he’s doing is not being ignored."
Some will point to St. Louis turning 38 in June, but to me he’s like a younger Teemu Selanne, and he’s kept his game at a world-class level despite his age. With the bigger ice in Sochi, St. Louis has a real good shot at making it.
And needless to say, Sochi is a goal for St. Louis.
"For sure, I think as a player when you stop being hungry for things like that or stop trying to get better, you’re in a fading process," St. Louis said. "As you get older, some people expect that any day. So you’re fighting that every day. I’m doing everything I can to put myself in a position to be on that team."
There obviously will be new faces on Team Canada given that Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger are no longer around, plus the obvious evolution of young stars.
"It’s not only the young faces that are coming up but also the veteran guys that play extremely well that were in consideration last time and maybe they’re the right fit this time," Yzerman said. "It makes it really interesting. But I also like following the young players and seeing their development. When the decision comes, are they ready to step in and do a better job than some of the older guys?"
Yzerman needs to balance and blend youth and experience on his roster.
"Everybody wants to put the young guys in there, but the end of the day, the older guys have been through it and know how to win," he said. "You don’t necessarily need them all but you need some of them."