Detroit — It was interesting to hear Tuesday, upon the Tigers’ announcement of naming Scott Harris as president of baseball operations, that Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman was a key recruiter in the process.
Christopher Ilitch, owner of the two teams, credited Yzerman Tuesday with a role in getting Harris to the Tigers.
Yzerman, while giving his state of the Wings address Wednesday before the start of training camp, was excited about Harris joining the Tigers.
“I look forward to, in the future, picking his brain more,” Yzerman said. “He’s a wealth of experience and knowledge.”
Yzerman met Harris several years ago while attending a Chicago Cubs game. Former Wings teammate Chris Chelios invited Yzerman to the game, and with Chelios knowing the Cubs front office well — including then-Cubs front-office czar Theo Epstein — Yzerman had a chance to meet the Cubs’ brain trust.
That included, at the time, Harris, who was an assistant under Epstein.
“I had a chance to sit with Scott and the management team, and that was the initial meeting (with Harris), and pick their brains,” Yzerman said. “They were very gracious and polite to me, while bothering them in a middle of a game. That was my first meeting and we had a chance to meet last week when Scott was in town and talked a little bit about Detroit and the different companies, and the Red Wings, and philosophies of building a team.
“I picked his brain a little bit and I really enjoyed the meeting.”
Harris has spent the past three years as GM of the San Francisco Giants, and before that spent seven seasons with the Cubs. Harris also has spent three years in Major League Baseball’s front office, and before that, interned for the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds.
Harris, 35, also earned a bachelor’s degree from UCLA, a master’s from Northwestern, and also attended Columbia.
“Tremendous resume and very tremendous education and background, not only scholastically, but in the business of baseball and pro sports,” Yzerman said. “I really look forward to exchanging ideas and learning and observing Scott lead the Tigers forward.”
Harris was apparently only one of the candidates Yzerman met with, as prospective Tigers’ leaders were brought in to meet with different managers within the Ilitch Holdings empire.
“I really enjoyed it,” Yzerman said. “I got a chance to talk with them, and could have spent all day (talking) about so many different topics. I really enjoyed meeting the candidates, and they appreciated getting to know the people within, not just the Red Wings, but all the different companies.”
Yzerman gave an update on injured Red Wings, including one that was previously unknown.
Forward Andrew Copp (Ann Arbor/Michigan), one of the Wings’ key free-agent signings, had abdominal surgery during the summer. Yzerman said Copp should return during the first week of the regular season, but will not take part in any exhibition games.
Yzerman said forward Robby Fabbri (right ACL knee surgery) isn’t likely to return until January.
“I anticipate — and it’s a cautious return — for Robby about some time after January 1, or January 15, in there sometime after the New Year,” Yzerman said.
Yzerman anticipates a similar timeframe for defenseman Mark Pysyk (Achilles tendon), likely in early January, and defenseman Jake Walman (shoulder surgery) is likely to return to the lineup in mid-November.
Yzerman added forward Chase Pearson, who spent the majority of the season in Grand Rapids but was called up to the Wings late in the season, will be out indefinitely “dealing with some personal things.”
Yzerman reiterated the experience new head coach Derek Lalonde gained while on coach Jon Cooper’s staff in Tampa Bay the last several seasons is likely to help Lalonde.
The Lightning won two Stanley Cups and took Colorado to Game 6 in The Finals last season before losing to the Avalanche.
Lalonde has been a head coach at every level except the NHL, but working under Cooper in Tampa, Yzerman said, was a key.
“(Lalonde) worked with great players, the system they played is a very effective style of play, and he’ll bring not exactly the same way as Jon Cooper would run things, but he’ll do it in his own way,” Yzerman said.
Yzerman has often stressed Lalonde’s communication skills, and he did again Wednesday.
“One of his greatest attributes,” Yzerman said. “With everybody (Lalonde) works with, whether it be players most importantly, the management staff, even the media. In talking with everybody who has worked with him, they point that out as one of his greatest strengths.”
New entry status
The news early this week that Canada will no longer require vaccination status to enter its country beginning September 30 is good news for forward Tyler Bertuzzi and the Wings.
Bertuzzi was one of the few players in the NHL who chose to be unvaccinated against the coronavirus and wasn’t able to enter Canada. He didn’t play in any of the Wings’ 10 games against Canadian opponents.
Given the new relaxed requirements, Bertuzzi should be available for all games.
“We’re a better team with Tyler Bertuzzi in the lineup,” Yzerman said. “That (the new entry rule) opens the door to get back to normal and have the ability to play in Canada, which would help us. We get one of our guys who has been on the first power-play unit, one of our top two lines every year, and to lose him for those games, it’s tough.”
Yzerman was pleased with the Wings’ performance in the recently completed NHL Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, but focused on a prospect who spent last season in Grand Rapids.
Forward Jonatan Berggren, 22, had 21 goals and 43 assists with the Griffins, and could be in consideration for an NHL roster spot with a good training camp.
“Jonatan had an outstanding year,” Yzerman said. “He adjusted well. I saw him in Detroit last week and he’s in excellent shape. He quietly went about his business (last season) and did well. I’m very interested to see him in the preseason. He’s an interesting one. He’s worked real hard and I’m real happy with his attitude and determination.
“He’s one for all of us to follow closely.”
Defenseman Simon Edvinsson, 19, the Wings’ 2021 first-round draft pick, will be in the running for a roster spot with the Wings. But Yzerman stressed Edvinsson’s age and North American pro inexperience are factors.
“Moritz (Seider) had the benefit of playing a year in the AHL (with Grand Rapids) and going over during the pandemic to Sweden and got an extra year of development before he stepped in,” Yzerman said. “Simon has a good chance, but I can’t sit here and definitively say he’ll be in the lineup on opening night.”
Yzerman wants to make sure Edvinsson is playing regularly this season, and playing in different situations.
“I don’t want him in and out of the lineup and not getting an opportunity on special teams, at least of the units,” Yzerman said. “We’ll figure out which level he’s ready for.”
Yzerman admitted with Walman and Pysyk both injured and unavailable, it does create opportunities for different players to grab hold of positions.
Yzerman also pointed to young defensemen Albert Johansson and Eemil Viro, two players who made their North American debuts in the tournament, as players to watch in the exhibition season.
“(They) performed very well last week, as well,” Yzerman said. “We have a lot of young guys (including Donovan Sebrango, Seth Barton) and again, if they’re ready to play and ultimately are better than some of the veterans, we might have to make a decision. But we’ll let that sort itself out.”