SANTA CRUZ, November 22, 2013 — When Steven Stamkos remained on the ice, clutching his right leg, Steve Yzerman’s heart sank. After being stretchered off the ice with what proved to be a broken tibia, Yzerman had likely moved from shock, to despair and finally to acceptance.
Steve Yzerman is the general manager of Steven Stamkos’ Tampa Bay Lightning, and Stamkos was the best player on the team when he went down. In just 17 games, Stamkos had amassed 14 goals and 9 assists for 23 points and was also an impressive plus 11. He was on his way to becoming the team leader Yzerman had hoped he would be when the Lightning parted ways with long time captain Vincent Lecavlier over the summer.
Yzerman, a legendary player in his time, is an up and coming general manager in the National Hockey League, one who has made all the right moves early on in his new position. Letting fan favorite Lecavlier leave for Philadelphia was a controversial move, but one that Yzerman knew had to be made. He then released head coach Guy Boucher, who had taken Tampa Bay into the playoffs after a lengthy postseason drought, and replaced him with John Cooper, a virtual unknown, both gutsy moves for a new general manager in a fickle hockey market.
Stamkos and the rest of the Lightning players, under Cooper’s guidance, have been making Yzerman look like a genius so far this season. Tampa Bay is currently in third place in the eastern conference, playing a vibrant, entertaining style of hockey while maintaining strong defensive responsibility. The roster, with a few exceptions, is full of younger players Yzerman has drafted or acquired, and the team is getting stellar goaltending from Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback.
The Stamkos injury not only sucks the wind out of Tampa Bay’s early season surge, it also presents Yzerman with another dilemma. Yzerman is the general manager charged with assembling Canada’s Olympic hockey team, which will compete in Sochi in February. Stamkos was a lock, not only to make the team, but to play on its top line. While early indications are that Stamkos could be ready for the Olympics, it is a long shot.
Tampa Bay’s season is at a crossroads without its leading scorer for an indefinite amount of time. The pressure will be on players like Martin St. Louis, Valtteri Filppula and Teddy Purcell to carry the offensive load until Stamkos can return. For Canada, there is suddenly a top forward opening and it will be interesting to see how Yzerman tweaks his Olympic roster to adjust.
Russ Rankin writes about hockey, music & politics. You can find him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter. He also sings for Good Riddance and Only Crime. Find out what he’s up to by checking out his website.
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