TAMPA — With one head coaching change already made and the goaltending situation unresolved, some suggest Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman will enter his fourth year on the job on the hot seat.
Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, however, said that could not be further from the truth.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the job Steve Yzerman is doing,’’ Vinik said Saturday after speaking to the crowd during Fan Fest. “I think he has put together the best, or one the best staffs in all of hockey. I think they have done a great job of drafting and developing players. I think he has made a lot of great moves over the years. And my general manager has my support 100 percent.’’
That point was evident in June when Vinik signed off on the decision to buy out the final seven years on Vinny Lecavalier’s contract, a decision that cost the organization more than $30 million.
“Steve and I discussed that, and as you know Steve makes 100 percent of the decisions when it comes to the hockey program, but when it comes to decisions of that magnitude and frankly a $30 million expense, it’s obviously something we discussed,’’ Vinik said.
“And right from Day One, Steve and I share the same objective and that’s to have a championship team here year after year and to be one of the best franchises in all of hockey. Unfortunately, we love Vinny Lecavalier, he’s a great player, he’s a great part of the community, but the current CBA left us no choice but to buy out his contract.’’
Though the Lightning reached the Eastern Conference finals in Yzerman’s first season in 2010-11, the team has failed to finish higher than 21st in the standings the past two seasons. Head coach Guy Boucher was fired in April and replaced by Jon Cooper, and the team has started nine different goaltenders in three years.
But the organization has enjoyed success at the minor-league level, winning an American League Hockey championship in 2011-12 and reaching the AHL finals last season.
To Vinik, that’s a sign that Yzerman’s plan is on track.
“I think from Day One when we brought in Steve Yzerman, he talked about how to develop a hockey program — putting great hockey executives in place, which he’s done,’’ Vinik said. “And it takes time, it’s a process. He’s doing a great job drafting and developing players, he’s had a lot of success (in the American Hockey League) winning the championship two years ago and last year coming in second. We have great young talent coming up, we have good coaching and we feel we have a great mix of veterans and young players right now, so we think we are on the right track of developing this into a consistently winning program.’’
So far, so good
Through three days of work on the ice, no players have come up with an injury that would keep them out of workouts. And with today an off day for the players, any soreness will have a day of rest.
“I saw a few tired bodies out there (Saturday), but everybody was in pretty good spirits out there and again I think it was a good effort,’’ Cooper said. “(It) was a 200-foot practice. They were going up and down the ice. It was a little longer than the usual ones so they had a lot of excuses to slow, down but they didn’t.’’
Nuts and Bolts
Lightning alumni Dave Andreychuk, Chris Dingman, Brian Bradley, John Tucker, Jassen Cullimore and Stan Neckar took part in the Police vs. Firefighters game Saturday morning, and Pat Jablonski served as coach. ... Tampa Bay officials announced 4,516 fans were in attendance for Fan Fest on Saturday. ... The team held a shootout competition at the end of each session on Saturday. RW Nikita Kucherov and RW Geoff Walker were the winners in the two main team practices. ... After today’s off day, the players will return to the ice on Monday. The session at the Forum will be open to the public with the doors opening at 11:30 a.m. An intrasquad scrimmage will be held from 11:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.