You never know where you will find inspiration. It can come from anywhere at any time.
But for Steve Yzerman, inspiration doesn’t seem to be an accidental endeavor. As he embarks on his third season undertaking a rebuild as the Detroit Red Wings’ general manager, Yzerman seems to be searching for inspiration and guidance that can help from every corner of the sports world.
Liverpool Football Club.
Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.
And yes, even from across Woodward Avenue, where the Detroit Tigers are starting to win, beat good teams and show proof that they’re leading Motown’s sports revival.
“Not only the local sports teams,” Yzerman said in a conference all Wednesday, “but I really do pay attention to the sports world, team sports and what they’re doing, whether it be a championship-level team or a team like the Detroit Red Wings who are rebuilding.
“I take note of the way they do things, try to pay attention. … Obviously I understand it a little bit more in the NHL, but I follow what other teams in other sports are doing because I think I can learn a lot from it.”
Yzerman doesn’t have to be this way. He’s a Hall of Famer and a Detroit sports deity who had a huge role in building the Tampa Bay Lightning’s back-to-back Stanley Cup champion teams. He’s also probably one of the most bulletproof GMs in sports. Yet, on the eve of training camp, Yzerman admitted he was searching for something beyond talented players.
The fact is Yzerman knows the Wings don’t have enough to seriously compete this season. As the team remains in the nascent stages of its rebuild, it’s got a long way to go before enough prospects are called up and given a chance to deliver on their promise.
Yzerman started his playing career in rebuild and had to wait years before Jimmy Devellano and Scotty Bowman put it all together and made the Wings a consistent contender. It takes the right mix, the way Al Avila and AJ Hinch are showing us, for any sports team to even start to gain traction.
So Yzerman is searching on pitches in England and diamonds in America, on gridiron and courts and rinks. Anywhere he can extract some knowledge, like from his favorite soccer team.
“Partly because I’m a big fan of the sport and the team,” he said, “Liverpool soccer club, what they’ve done over the course of the last 10 or 15 years and how they’ve built a kind of culture, a style of play, (that’s) one that comes to mind for me.”
Because the Wings and Tigers are both owned by the Ilitch family, Yzerman has been able to speak with Avila, exchange ideas and has enjoyed learning about how and why some personnel decisions have been made. Even within the NHL, Yzerman is constantly educating himself about the process of building a winning team.
“I talk a lot to other general managers and pick their brain on where they’re going, what they’re doing, why they make the moves they make,” he said. “I learn a lot from that. It’s probably a sin to say, but with Bill Belichick and what he’s done in the NFL with the Patriots, how he’s made and run that franchise has been very, very interesting for me.”
Yzerman didn’t mention the Detroit Lions specifically, but he was in such a playful mood with reporters Thursday that I thought he had just gotten out of his “How to Handle the Media” seminar with Dan Campbell. Yzerman teased one reporter about winning the grand prize for being the first to ask about vaccinations.
When the reporter asked about collecting the grand prize, Yzerman offered this gem that low-key trolled his only unvaccinated player, Tyler Bertuzzi: “It’s a doozy. It’s a Red Wing mask for when you interview Tyler.”
As for where he thinks the team stands and where it can show improvement, Yzerman wouldn’t say much beyond wanting to see improvement in every aspect and not wanting to call up prospects until they could play significant minutes. I tried to pin down Yzerman on one aspect of the team that he would like to see get better but he was hesitant.
“The objective in the offseason and for every team is to try and improve your team,” he said. “For us, improving our team, I look at it as OK, are some of our younger players ready to play? Can we count on them to play? In some cases we are counting on them. In some cases, they’re going to have to show us they can do it.
“So for all of these (statistics), it’s kind of an educated guess really. I think we’re going to score more goals, I think our power play’s going to be a little bit better. I expect it to be. To what percentage or what number, I don’t really know.”
As much as we might want Yzerman to quantify improvement, it’s just not going to divulge itself that way because there are too many moving pieces on a transitioning team. It was telling that when he was asked which players might replace Frans Nielsen and Luke Glendening as alternate captains, Yzerman said: “Well, they have to make the team. Start with that.”
Yeah, that’s where this team is. Looking for players and hoping for leaders as its GM searches for inspiration.
As Yzerman continues to toil through what is sure to be another challenging season, keep in mind he’s trying to find help anywhere he can find it, and perhaps even in the sentiment of his favorite soccer club’s anthem, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which promises brighter days for those who remain hopeful in the darkness.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.