TAMPA - With one head coaching change already made and the goaltending situation remaining unresolved, some suggest Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman enters 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 back in June when Vinik signed off on the decision to buy out the final seven years on the contract of Vinny Lecavalier, 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 Final in Yzerman’s first season in 2010-11, the team has failed to finish higher than 21st in the league standings the past two seasons. Head coach Guy Boucher was fired in April last season and replaced by Jon Cooper while the team has started eight different goaltenders in three years.
But at the minor league level the organization has enjoyed success, winning an American League Hockey championship in 2011-12 and reaching the AHL final 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.’’
It’s a process Vinik completely agrees with and will continue to allow to develop.
“We want to win the Stanley Cup this year, and do we have a shot at winning the cup this year, yes we absolutely do and I hope we do. A couple of years ago we almost did, so there is no way of predicting,’’ Vinik said. “But the way to develop a program that is going to be in the top of the NHL year after year after year is to draft young players and have them develop through the system and be contributors over time. It takes patience, but we are getting there, these young players are coming up and making a difference right now.’’