Thursday, August 9, 2012

Steve Yzerman is a good GM

I think he takes undeserved flak sometimes.
Let's look at his first season. His team makes the playoffs. The Lightning had the 7th-best score-tied Fenwick and were strong on both special teams. It came within one win of the Stanley Cup Finals. Why make drastic changes?

So Yzerman didn't. He let go of Sean Bergenheim, Simon Gagne, and Mike Lundin, the latter two of whom were remarkably healthy in 10-11 (and, predictably, weren't in 11-12). In hindsight, losing Bergenheim, one of the team's better possession players, was a mistake. It's not like the team had much cap room to spare, though. With Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman--they're already really good and still young enough to have huge growth years ahead of them--and Brett Connolly in the fold, though, some potential improvement to help counteract those losses was there.

Start 2011-2012. Tampa has a decent start but other teams started getting better--look at that point per game pace right around 1; the Lightning finished with 84 points in 82 games--and Tampa falls behind. Yzerman could have gotten desperate and made a trade, but it would have cost a fortune to increase the team's Fenwick% by three points (to put that in perspective, that's the fall the Capitals had from losing Sergei Fedorov, one of the best possession players in the league in 08-09) or to acquire goalies that weren't awful (a league-average .920 there would have saved the Lightning over 40 goals, all else equal, making it a ~even goal differential team and a playoff team, probably. For the first 30-40 games of the season, Mattias Ohlund was also expected to return at some point during the season, giving Tampa Bay additional defensive depth.

What should he have done?

So he waited out the season. I feel like it's easier to recover from mistakes of inaction than mistakes of action. Yzerman didn't go for a stopgap like Roloson was, but he waited until FA. He signed underrated Matt Carle to a solid contract and netted Sami Salo as well. He traded for Anders Lindback--a risk, but cheaper than trading for a top-goalie (of which there is exactly one available). He signed a decent possession player in Benoit Pouliot to try to mitigate Bergenheim's loss.

Yzerman also signed Victor Hedman to a new contract that will be providing value from Day 1 (remember that Hedman faced very difficult zone starts and didn't get much PP time. He tied for 57th among NHL D in ES points with 18, but did it in fewer games than all but Kulikov). He also got Teddy Purcell on a decent non-overpay.

All in all, the Tampa Bay healthy lineup now looks something like this:

Teddy Purcell-Steven Stamkos-Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone-Vincent Lecavalier-Benoit Pouliot
Brett Connolly-Nate Thompson-Tom Pyatt
Dana Tyrell-Adam Hall-BJ Crombeen

Eric Brewer-Victor Hedman
Matt Carle-Sami Salo
Marc-Andre Bergeron-Brian Lee/Keith Aulie

Anders Lindback
Mathieu Garon

That's a formidable top six and top four. If Boucher can get his stuff figured out--and I don't think there's much reason to think he won't get Tampa to get better next season from a "possession baseline" standpoint--then Tampa should be fine.

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