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Steve Yzerman Has Work Cut Out For Him, But Cupboard Is Not Bare

May 25, 2010 – 4:45 PM
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Adam Gretz

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After putting together an Olympic Gold Medal winning team for Canada at the Vancouver Olympics back in February, Steve Yzerman is set to take on an ever bigger challenge: returning the Tampa Bay Lightning to the top of the hockey world.

It's not going to be an easy task, seeing as how the team has had just two winning seasons since it hoisted the Stanley Cup six years ago (and only five winning seasons in 17 years of existence). The situation in Tampa has been, to say the least, rather tumultuous over the past couple of seasons, thanks to a number of problems trickling down from the top, including (but not limited to): owners fighting with owners and owners fighting with (former) coaches. It's been chaos.

Despite the problems, and the recent playoff drought, Yzerman isn't inheriting a hopeless situation.

The Franchise: Steven Stamkos

Vincent Lecavalier may be the team's highest paid player and captain, but make no mistake, the 20-year-old Stamkos is the most important player in the organization. Already owning a share of the Rocket Richard Award (league leader in goals), Stamkos is coming off a 51-goal, 95-point season that saw him become the third-youngest player in league history to eclipse the 50-goal mark. With his skating ability and rocket of a shot, Stamkos has seemingly limitless potential. He's been one of the best goal-scorers in the league since the second half of his rookie season, scoring 68 goals in his last 114 games, after tallying just six in his first 47. And he's still one of the youngest players in the league. There's probably not a player in the NHL under the age of 21 that's a better centerpiece for a franchise than Stamkos.

The Other Building Block: Victor Hedman

And the second most important player for the team's long-term success is last year's second overall pick, Victor Hedman. As a 19-year-old he logged over 20 minutes per game for the Lightning, which was fourth among all rookies. His debut season was up-and-down, but that's to be expected from a teenager. Defensemen with 6-foot-6, 230-pound frames and the ability to jump into the play and be a force in the offensive zone don't grow on trees.

If Hedman fulfills his potential, he, along with Stamkos, will give Tampa Bay an enviable core to build around.

The Talented, Yet Sometimes Troubled Youngster: Steve Downie

Steve Downie has had his problems on the ice. He's twice been the subject of a 20-game suspension (once in the NHL, once in the AHL) and his reputation as a player is not one of the better ones in the NHL. This past season, however, Tampa Bay seemed to find a way to get the best out of the former first-round pick (acquired from Philadelphia in a trade for Matt Carle) as he had a breakout year, scoring a career-high 22 goals, and helping to form one of the NHL's better lines along with Stamkos and Martin St. Louis. He's still only 23, and has plenty of talent. He can be an extremely valuable player if he can continue to avoid the NHL's Wheel of Discipline.

The Wily Veteran: Martin St. Louis

Martin St. Louis will turn 35 on June 18, and he's only signed for one more season in Tampa Bay. But he's still a top-tier player, finishing in the top-10 in scoring for the third time in a career that's seen him win a scoring title, an MVP Award, a Lester B. Pearson Award and a Stanley Cup.

The Elephant In The Room: Vincent Lecavalier

What to make of Vincent Lecavalier? A fantastic individual talent that throughout his career has been one of the best players in the league and, also, at times a disappointment. His contract? Huge, and perhaps unmovable. He's locked in for the next 10 years with a cap hit of almost $7.5 million per season, while his production the past two years has dropped. Moving him would probably be helpful, but his no-trade clause has already kicked in. If Tampa Bay gets the 2006-08 version of Lecavalier, that's great news. If it gets the '08-10 version ... that's going to be a problem.

Along with the players listed above, Yzerman will also have useful veterans like Ryan Malone and Mattias Ohlund, as well as the No. 6 overall pick in next month's draft (Brandon Gormley? Erik Gudbranson? Nino Niederreiter? Brett Connolly?), which will be the team's third straight pick in the top-six. It's not a perfect situation, obviously, but there's plenty to work with here. Like the two potential franchise players that are already in the building.
Filed under: Sports