“We’re very happy with the guys we got” said an exhausted Tampa Bay Lightning G.M., Steve Yzerman. This came after day one of the NHL Free Agent signing period. The last 72 hours brought a realization to me of what the word – FRENZY, really means. I know I didn’t get much sleep since Sunday and I was just scouring the internet to see what Yzerman was actually doing. I can’t imagine that he slept much in the last week.
But it was all worth it to the organization. Steve Yzerman and his staff continued to put into place the “YzerPlan” and greatly improved the team that finished 3rd in the Eastern Conference last season.
Even though the NHL Free Agent Frenzy was over the last three days, the YzerPlan began taking hold almost immediately after the playoff sweep by the Montreal Canadiens.
The start was slow and flew mostly under the radar. The Lightning announced signing its first round draft pick from 2011, Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Russian goalie had been playing in the KHL the last two years. Most people wouldn’t have taken notice but then it happened. THE SAVE. Vasilevskiy made an incredible save that went viral. It became the save of the year in the KHL.
Then the YzerPlan puts it into second gear and the re-signings take place. First co-finalists for the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat agree to identical three year contracts. It picks up steam as the team announces that it has re-signed Forward, Alex Killorn to a two year deal.
Now as we approach the NHL Draft as well as the NHL Free Agent signing period, Yzerman really hunkers down with Al Murray, Director of Amateur Scouting. The YzerPlan is moving forward and moves from second gear to third and cranks it to fourth within a two day period that has them re-signing Ryan Callahan to a big six year deal, while exercising their second and final compliance buyout of the Ryan Malone contract. Yzerman was ‘Swapping Ryans’. Big moves, and little did we know this was just a warmup.
Next came the draft on June 27th. The Lightning had two first round draft picks. Theirs and the one they acquired in the Callahan trade. As I begin to prepare to watch the NHL Draft, the news comes across that the YzerPlan has secured a trade with the Vancouver Canucks. The Lightning has acquired Defenseman Jason Garrison and the rights to Forward, Jeff Costello and a seventh round pick in the 2015 Draft in exchange for the Lightning’s second round draft pick in this year’s draft.
Just like that, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s defense has improved tremendously and I hear myself saying: “wow, this YzerPlan is crazy enough to work” to nobody in particular.
Then the draft begins and with the 19th pick in the first round, the Bolts take defenseman, Anthony DeAngelo, an 18 year old kid from South Philly. As I begin to calculate who the Lightning are looking to take with the 28th pick, a trade is in the works. The Lightning trade their other first round pick to the New York islanders for two second round draft picks. Now, I think, Yzerman is just toying with me. YzerPlan, schmizerPlan, he’s just doing this so my head explodes.
The second day of the draft and the Lightning select Dominick Masin, a 6’2” Czech defenseman and Johnathan MacLeod and 6’1” defenseman from the US. Nice size, both are 18 so they aren’t NHL ready but the YzerPlan isn’t just about next season.
In round three, Brayden Point a center from Moose Jaw joins the organization and in round four, Ben Thomas, a 6’1” defenseman from Calgary is selected. I catch my breath in round five because apparently Yzerman traded away that pick. Finally, I can take that sorely needed bathroom break.
In the last two rounds of the NHL Draft, Yzerman selects LW Cristiano DiGiacinto from Windsor and Cameron Darcy, a center who at 20 is the only non-18 year old drafted by the team this year.
Whew, the draft is over, Callahan, TJ, Palat and Killorn are re-signed. Got a couple days before the NHL Free Agent Frenzy is to begin on Tuesday. WAIT A MINUTE, breaking news from the Tampa Bay Lightning, they re-sign J.T. Brown. Okay, got it, another move in the YzerPlan and everything is going according to schedule.
Quiet Sunday morning, as I review the draft picks, turns into a lazy Sunday afternoon. I imagine Yzerman is feeling good in the direction he has the team heading. All of a sudden a trade. Enigmatic Forward, Teddy Purcell has been traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Sam Gagner.
I start to think about this deal, why would Yzerman trade Purcell for Gagner? It makes sense to trade Purcell to give yourself more cap space for the NHL Free Agent Frenzy which is less than 48 hours away, but why take on Gagner’s contract?
Just as I start gathering information on Gagner, BOOM, another trade is announced. Gagner and B.J. Crombeen are traded to the newly named, Arizona Coyotes, for their sixth round pick in the 2015 draft. Okay, that makes sense. Getting rid of Purcell, Gagner and Crombeen frees up some dollars for the NHL Free Agent Frenzy just around the corner.
Just as I think, Yzerman must be getting some long overdue YzerSleep, WHAM, another trade. The YzerPlan has run amok. This thing has taken over. Center Nate Thompson, the leader of the penalty kill for the last five seasons has been traded to the Anaheim Ducks for a fourth and seventh round pick in next year’s draft. This one hurt.
Just a slight personal sidetrack: When my son turned 10, I took him to his first Lightning game a few years ago. The giveaway that night was a Nate Thompson hockey card. In between periods, when the Zamboni cleans the ice, another Zamboni shoots t-shirts into the crowd and my son caught one of those. He treasured both the shirt and Thompson’s card. Thompson became his favorite player. It crushed me to have to tell him that Nate was traded. His only question to me was: “would it be ok with you if I still rooted for Nate”. Absolutely, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sorry for the digression. The Thompson trade, clears up more cap space and the night before the NHL Free Agent Frenzy begins, I take note that we need a top 4 D-man, a backup goalie and it would be nice to get a replacement for Thompson, especially on the PK.
The NHL Free Agent Fenzy begins officially at 12 noon yesterday. Nothing for the first hour and I think the YzerPlan has run out of juice. Then it happens, Anton Stralman, defenseman who played last year with the New York Rangers signs a five year deal with the Lightning. Nice pickup. With Garrison and Stralman, our defense is so much better than it was last year.
But Yzerman with his YzerPlan isn’t done. Center Brian Boyle, also formerly of the New York Blueshirts signs a three year deal. Then Evgeni Nabokov, goalie who played last year with New York, Islanders not the Rangers, signs a one year deal to backup Ben Bishop.
I see Yzerman on a video talking about the day, the frenzy, the newest Bolts and he looks tired. I hear the quote that I started this article with. “We are happy with the guys we got” and I think, ‘we are happy with the GM we got’. Thank you Steve. Thank you Mr. Vinik for hiring him. I believe. I believe in the YzerPlan.