DETROIT – Players and coaches from the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup teams for the Detroit Red Wings can see that the current club is way off their level.
However, they are confident that the man in charge will regain the glory of the franchise.
The same drive that Steve Yzerman displayed as captain a quarter century ago has been evident during his career as general manager, for his eight years with Tampa Bay and now in his fourth season in Detroit.
“I see the same work ethic that Stevie had as a player, his determination to want to get there again, and his desire to have a championship team again,” said Niklas Liedstrom. “I’ve seen it, whether it’s in practice or in the gym or during matches. I see it now in a different way but the same kind of work ethic as GM, and the way he’s still grinding as he did as a player to find ways to succeed.”
Leadstrom, a seven-time Norris Award winner, was appointed as the Red Wings’ vice president of hockey operations in January, joining several other former players in the front office. Many have gathered in the past few days at Little Caesars Arena to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
The first confrontation was between Igor Larionov and Iserman competing head-to-head at the 1985 World Championships.
“You can see the level of skill, intelligence and drive in Team Canada,” said Larionov, who is part of the five Russian Red Wings team. “When I played with him day in and day out, you could see his determination and his desire to be the man who would lead the way for our group.
“He didn’t say much, but he was setting an example on the ice. Today I know he has the biggest mission to get the team back to its glory days with Chris (Draper) and some of the other guys who have been around building the team.”
Draper, longtime Grind Line center and current director of the amateur scouting team, said Yzerman puts the work ethic in the front office.
“It’s funny, I got a call from him today and I thought it was going to be the weekend (the celebration), and it was work,” Draper said. “It ended with a 20, 25 minute conversation. He always goes in and thinks and always challenges you. He did it as a player and now as president he does the same. The work ethic the Detroit Red Wings had from 97 to 98, the front office and the staff have a work ethic too This is something you are very proud of.”
When Ken Holland was promoted to General Motors in 1997, he thought Yzerman might one day take his seat. Jim DeVillano, the club’s senior vice president, and Weatherman negotiated a clause in the captain’s contract that would allow him to remain in the organization beyond his football career.
“I remember the last two or three decades, we did it in private,” Holland said. “He kind of took his agent out of the mix because he wanted to have that negotiating experience. He was in the process of preparing for post hockey.”
When Yzerman retired in 2006 he became a private consultant to the Netherlands and began learning all aspects of management.
“He sat for four years at all the meetings — pro meetings and amateur meetings,” Holland said. “We traveled to Grand Rapids a few times. In 2008 when he became the general manager of Canada’s entry into the world championships, he had to put this team together, work with agents, and get the players to play.
He asked a lot of questions. He was talking to all the people, to (former assistant to GM) Jimmy Neal (former amateur scout) Joe McDonnell. Lean on Jimmy Devilano. He was always thirsty for knowledge. I’m not surprised by the success he’s had, in Tampa and now the building in Detroit. His passion, work ethic, commitment and inquiring mind, he is always trying to find more and more information.”
These experiences made a smooth transition to his first job at General Motors in 2010 with Tampa Bay. Former Red Wings coach Scotty Bowman attended Lightning matches for many years while living in Sarasota, getting an up-close look at the job Yzerman did in building the team that won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021.
“Steve was instrumental in getting a lot of these players,” Bowman said. “A lot of the guys on this team weren’t drafted or (picked up) in the late rounds. It was quite a story. It’s very similar to the story in Detroit when I came here (in 1993). The players we were able to add, Some of them weren’t very good where they came from, but they came to Detroit and became important players.”