What Detroit Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman’s past says about his NHL trade deadline plans

Detroit Free Press

During his second trade deadline as a general manager, Steve Yzerman engineered a transaction that netted his team a franchise goaltender.

That was in 2012, when Yzerman was in his second year in charge of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The  Lightning had superstars in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman when Yzerman took over in May 2010, but needed more assets to become a Stanley Cup contender. That’s what Yzerman set out to accomplish, playing the role both of seller and buyer.

Now in his second year in charge of the Detroit Red Wings, Yzerman’s role as a seller gives him an opportunity to boost the rebuild.

The Wings, who are on pace to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight year, have multiple players who will draw interest as the April 12 trade deadline nears.

Jonathan Bernier should appeal to teams worried about depth in goal. Luke Glendening has drawn offers at this time of year for years because he’s an exemplary defensive forward who is excellent on faceoffs and provides leadership.

Yzerman as good astold Bobby Ryan when he was signed in October that odds were he would flip Ryan for draft picks. He’s a natural scorer and his $1 million salary holds extra appeal with the pandemic having savaged revenue for the past year. Teams eyeing a long playoff run always want to shore up defensively, and that’s where veteran Marc Staal fits, though the Wings likely would have to retain some of his $5.7 million salary cap hit.

Trading Bernier or Glendening would be bold because moving Bernier would rob the Wings of their best goaltender, and Glendening, an alternate captain, is a huge part of the fabric of the locker room.

But Yzerman’s history shows a determination to build a contender.

Steve Yzerman’s options: Predicting who Wings deal at trade deadline ]

In 2012, Yzerman was part of a three-way deal with the Wings and Colorado Avalanche that involved the Lightning sending fan favorite Steve Downie to the Avalanche and gaining a first-round pick from Wings. That pick was used on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who in 2020 backstopped the Lightning to the Stanley Cup championship. (The Wings got Kyle Quincey to pad a defense corps decimated by injuries, but considering the Wings were ousted in the first round in 2012 and Quincey never made an impact, this trade was enormously lopsided in Tampa’s favor.)

Of course, the Bolts didn’t know what they had in Vasilevskiy yet at that time. That’s why at the 2013 deadline, Yzerman acquired goaltender Ben Bishop from the Ottawa Senators, giving up Cory Conacher and a 2013 fourth-round pick.

Bishop emerged as the No. 1 goalie the next season. When it became clear Vasilevskiy was ready for the job, Yzerman traded Bishop in a package deal at the 2017 deadline that yielded defenseman Erik Cernak, who, at 23, is now in his third season with the Lightning.

Yzerman was busy again at the 2014 deadline. Star winger Martin St. Louis had gone public about wanting a trade. Yzerman complied, sending St. Louis to the New York Rangers for forward Ryan Callahan, first-round picks in 2014 and 2015, and a seventh-round pick in 2015. Callahan became a fan favorite, and the move also ultimately netted Anthony Cirelli in the 2015 draft, after Yzerman flipped one of the picks.

THE REBUILD: Red Wings hope they’re not sellers much longer

BRIGHTER FUTURE: Influx of prospects bodes well for Red Wings

Yzerman and the Rangers did business again in 2018. The Bolts were still trying to establish themselves as contenders, having failed to qualify for the playoffs in 2017. Yzerman was bold: He gave up his 2018 first-round pick, a 2019 first-round pick, and forwards Vladislav Namestnikov and Brett Howden — both former first-round picks drafted by Yzerman. That package went to the Rangers in return for defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward J.T. Miller. The price was worth it, as McDonagh became a cornerstone of the Bolts’ defense.

Vasilevskiy, McDonagh, Cirelli and Cernak were key parts of the 2020 championship.

Yzerman was in a different position in Tampa; even though the Bolts missed the playoffs three times during his tenure, they weren’t in a rebuild like the Wings are. He had different assets; the Wings don’t have a St. Louis-type player. The pending unrestricted free agents — Bernier, Glendening, Ryan, Staal, Sam Gagner, Patrik Nemeth, Jon Merrill — are all rental-type players; teams aren’t going to overpay for them.

While Yzerman may not consider anyone on the roster untouchable, there are guys it doesn’t make sense to trade. Dylan Larkin, Tyler Bertuzzi and Filip Hronek are key parts of the rebuild, and no offer is going to be better than what the Wings already have in them.

Anthony Mantha is on the bubble of that group. He has the tools to be a power forward but that was nowhere to be seen through a lethargic first-half performance. It would, however, be hard to get fair value for him.

At last year’s trade deadline, Yzerman made two trades, both with his former mentor, Ken Holland, who was named GM of the Edmonton Oilers three weeks after Yzerman took the job in Detroit on Good Friday, 2019. Yzerman gave up Andreas Athanasiou, a one-time 30-goal scorer, and Ryan Kuffner (a college free-agent signing) primarily to receive second-round picks in 2020 and 2021. The deal also sent Gagner to Detroit; he was a pending unrestricted free agent but fit well as an inexpensive stop-gap piece in the rebuild and was re-signed.

In the other deal, Yzerman gave up veteran defenseman Mike Green in exchange for a 2020 conditional fourth-round pick (that wasn’t much of a return, but Green had battled injuries and retired after the season).

Yzerman is poised to make a bigger splash this trade deadline, given he has more assets that will appeal to contenders with an eye for fiscal responsibility. One thing is certain: He won’t hesitate to make a deal to boost the future of the Wings.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail. 

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