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Steve Yzerman steps down in Tampa, fueling speculation of him landing in Seattle

By Andy Eide

What was a quiet Tuesday morning in the hockey world turned wild after a giant bolt of lightning ignited speculation in Florida, Michigan, and yes, even here in Seattle.

Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman announced that he would be stepping down from his position with the Lightning after an eight-year run. At a Tuesday afternoon Press Conference, Tampa Bay owner Jeff Vinik also announced that Julian BriesBois would be taking over as the new Lightning General Manager.

Yzerman, who has one year remaining on his contract, will stay on with the Lightning and serve as the Senior Advisor to the General Manager.

“This change is important for me,” Yzerman said during Tuesday’s press conference. “I’m very excited in my role changing (to) allow me to spend more time with my family.”

While Yzerman mentioned several times that this move was to be able to spend more time with his family during Tuesday’s press conference, the speculation throughout the hockey world was on overdrive. The fervor started in Detroit, where fans were hoping Tuesday’s move was the first step into a return of one of the Red Wings’ favorite sons.

After all, Yzerman spent 22 years in a Detroit sweater and is a legend second only to Gordie Howe. His resume is staggering. He played over 1,500 games for the Red Wings, won three Stanley Cups as a player, was a nine-time NHL All-Star, won a Conn Smythe award in 1998, a Selke Award in 2000, he’s sixth all time in the NHL for points scored, his number 19 is retired, and he won another Stanley Cup in 2008 as an executive with the Red Wings.

Oh, and he has a street in Detroit named after him.

It seems like a no-brainer so why would there be excitement in Seattle?

For starters, the Red Wings already have a general manager in place. Just this past April the Red Wings re-signed Ken Holland for two more seasons and you have to wonder if the team would look to replace him so soon after signing him.

Then there is the Seattle connection to consider.

Yzerman worked as Tampa Bay’s general manager alongside new Seattle Hockey Partners CEO Tod Leiweke and the two had a successful run with the Lightning. Vinik first hired Yzerman to be his general manager in 2010 and would bring in Leiweke as the team’s president a couple of months later.

The two worked together and got the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015 before ultimately losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. Leiweke left the team that summer to join the NFL as COO but Yzerman continued to turn the Lightning into perennial contenders and is widely considered one of the top general managers in the league.

Add to that connection the fact that one of Seattle’s majority owners, movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer, is a lifelong hockey fan who grew up in Detroit and the dots start to connect. Bruckheimer, along with partner David Bonderman, have stressed that their interest is building a winner.

They went after Leiweke, who is thought of as one of the best executives in all of sport, to run the team. Then Dave Tippett, one of the game’s top coaches, was brought in as a senior advisor.

So, why wouldn’t they also be looking to lure the game’s top general manager?

The timing of Tuesday’s move also makes some sense. Yzerman is still under contract with the Lightning and stated Tuesday that he would stay on in the advisory role through the upcoming season.

Seattle’s Tippett recently offered some timeline for a general manger hire in Seattle during an interview with Sports Illustrated. Based on his comments, things could line up perfectly.

“We’re looking at next spring.,” Tippett told SI’s Alex Prewett. “I think we’ll hone in on a GM and see how that goes. We might have to wait until after the draft next year. In Vegas’s case, George McPhee wasn’t working so they hired him in June. We’ve got a lot of planning to do before then, solidifying the timeline of when we’re going to start up.”

The key line there is ‘after the draft next year’. The NHL Draft is in June, also when Yzerman’s contract with Tampa Bay should be up, making him a free agent.

It should be stressed that this is 100-percent speculation, and nobody really can say for sure where Yzerman will end up. Tippett’s comments are the closest anyone can expect to come from the NHL Seattle group at this time.

Leiweke and company are currently focused solely on securing an agreement with the City of Seattle on the new Seattle Center Arena construction. That vote is expected from the City Council on the 24th of September. After that, there will be a presentation to the NHL’s Executive Committee in New York on October 2nd.

It’s expected that the NHL will then have a full Board of Governors vote on expansion in December. Until that happens, there will not be any official talk of Yzerman, or any other general manager, coming to Seattle.

Leiweke has been cautious in his comments and wary to get too far ahead of the process. And, while he does have a great relationship with Yzerman, we won’t know if the Hall-Of-Famer is headed for the Northwest for several months.

On Tuesday, Yzerman wasn’t offering any clue either.

“I’m in the role I’m in and 100-percent committed this year,” Yzerman said on Tuesday. “Beyond this year I don’t have an answer for you.”

Let the speculation run wild.

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