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When Yzerman bought in, overall success followed

Thursday, 11.05.2009 / 12:59 PM / Features
By Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer
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When Yzerman bought in, overall success followed
When Steve Yzerman focused on becoming a two-way player, personal success combined with team success. More than 1,700 points and three Stanley Cups later, he\'s a worthy member of the Hockey Hall of Fame
How do you get a prolific scorer, someone who had put together six straight 100-point seasons, to buy into being a two-way player if that's what you think the team needs?

In the case of Steve Yzerman, all Scotty Bowman had to do was ask.

"I mentioned to him that his stats would go down, but hopefully the team would do better," Bowman told NHL.com of one of his first conversations with Yzerman when he took over as the Red Wings coach in 1993. "He was the reason that it did better because he understood what it took and he wanted to be on a winner."

Yzerman's willingness and ability to put the team ahead of his own stats was, according to Detroit GM Ken Holland, one of the table setters for the wave of success the Red Wings have ridden since the mid-1990s.

Detroit's long-time captain -- the longest-serving captain for one team in NHL history (20 years) -- never put up another 100-point season and only once scored over 90, but after Yzerman turned into a two-way threat, Detroit won three Stanley Cup championships in four trips to the Final, and won the Presidents' Trophy five times.

While the first part of his career was about personal stats, the second clearly was all about the team. Put it together and you've got a legendary career worthy of induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Yzerman will be inducted Nov. 9, along with former teammates Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille, as well as Brian Leetch and Lou Lamoriello.

Nobody in that class has done more winning than Yzerman, who also owns an Olympic gold medal (2002) and a Stanley Cup ring in a management role (2008). He'll try to win another gold as the architect of Canada's Men's Olympic hockey team in 2010.

"Scotty had the authority as director of player personnel and there were a lot of rumors that he was looking to trade Steve (to Ottawa)," Holland told NHL.com. "To Steve's credit, he decided that he didn't want to leave Detroit and he wanted to have success in Detroit. He sacrificed his offensive game to become a complete two-way player. And once your best player buys into the program and can play against anybody else on the other team in every part of the rink, that's when we started having playoff success."

Yzerman said his transition wasn't difficult, but it did take some time.

In Bowman's first season, 1993-94, Yzerman put up 82 points in just 58 games. Once the League came back from the lockout in 1995, Yzerman skated mostly on a line with grinders Bob Errey and Darren McCarty.

He finished with 12 goals and 26 assists in 47 games, and Holland remembers wondering early in the season if Yzerman was failing under Bowman's watch.

"If I'm not mistaken there was a stretch in there for about 15-20 games where Steve maybe scored a goal or two and I wasn't sure if he would ever score again," Holland said. "He was going through the transition of being a great offensive player and now he had to really think about what areas of the ice he was supposed to be on. During that work-stoppage year, the second half, the last 10 or 15 games, he started to be a real good offensive player and a great defensive player. He found that mix that defense led to offense and we went on to the (Stanley Cup) Final that year."

Yzerman had 95 points in 1995-96 and then led Detroit to back-to-back championships in 1997 and '98. He paced the Wings with 24 points over 22 games during the 1998 playoffs. Four years later, he led them to a third Stanley Cup, with 23 points in 23 playoff games.

"He took it to heart," Bowman said of Yzerman's adjustment to becoming a two-way player. "I gave him the comparison to Jacques Lemaire and Mario Lemieux, two guys I coached before I got to Detroit. The reason those players became Stanley Cup winners is because they started to play some defense, too, and kill penalties in tight games. It was kind of an easy transition for him."

It was because all Yzerman wanted to do was win.

He came to the Red Wings as the fourth pick in the 1983 Entry Draft. Jim Devellano, Detroit's GM at the time, is on record as saying he was hoping local product Pat Lafontaine would fall to the Wings at No. 4.

The Islanders, though, grabbed Lafontaine with the third pick, leaving Yzerman, equally skilled but not nearly as well-known in Michigan, for the Red Wings.

Yzerman, though, made the team as an 18-year-old straight out of the Ontario Hockey League and wound up with 39 goals and 87 points in his rookie season. He was runner-up to Tom Barrasso for the Calder Trophy as the League's Rookie of the Year.

"You knew that this guy, the kid with the funny name and the funny letters, was a tremendous player, a great skater and competitor," said Holland, who was a goalie in the Red Wings organization during Yzerman's first two seasons (1983-85). "He had a great change of pace with the puck. He would be going one speed, stutter step and change his pace. He obviously also had the hands, hockey sense and scoring touch."

Yzerman would score 308 points in his first four seasons and was named the Red Wings captain as a 21-year-old prior to the 1986-87 season. He had 90 points in 80 games in his first season as captain and led the Wings to the Campbell Conference Finals.

He finished the next season with 102 points and led the Wings to their first division title in 23 years. They won 41 games and accumulated 93 points and returned to the conference finals, but again lost to the dynastic Edmonton Oilers.

Yzerman followed with the best personal numbers of his career in 1988-89. He had 65 goals and 90 assists for 155 points in 1988-89 and the Wings won the Norris Division again, only this time with only 34 wins and just 80 points.

They didn't make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
He sacrificed his offensive game to become a complete two-way player. And once your best player buys into the program and can play against anybody else on the other team in every part of the rink, that's when we started having playoff success. - Wings' GM Ken Holland
Despite Yzerman's 475 points over the next four seasons, Detroit would win only one division title and one playoff round from 1989-93. It was time for a change, so Bryan Murray was out as coach and GM and the legendary Bowman was called in.

"Stevie was very talented and he had great offensive skills and when Scotty got here he got him to play more in key situations like killing penalties, being more aware of the defensive zone and where to be," current Wings captain and long-time teammate Nicklas Lidstrom told NHL.com. "Scotty asked a lot of Stevie when he first got here."

Bowman's first season was more about evaluating, but he put his plan into place in his second season and Yzerman's ability to adapt started to get called into question. He later heard his name mentioned in trade rumors.

"The most difficult part is when you're not putting up a lot of numbers and there are questions about your ability," Yzerman said. "You're effective in one way, but it's difficult when you've got to deal with or listen to, 'He's not an offensive player, he's become expendable.'"

"I recognized I had very little control over the situation," he added about the trade rumors. "We just went on and played."

Yzerman answered by putting up 95 points in 1995-96 and the Red Wings blew away the competition to win the Presidents' Trophy with 131 points. They reached the Western Conference Finals, but lost to Patrick Roy and the Colorado Avalanche in six games.

They didn't lose another playoff round until 1999, a span of nine straight series that included two Stanley Cup parades through downtown Detroit. They had a third four seasons later, and now the address for Joe Louis Arena is 19 Steve Yzerman Drive.

"I didn't have to do much," Bowman said. "We put in a system and he had no problem. He was a smart player, so he had no problem grasping any system. He wanted to do it anyway, so that made it easier."





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