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Lightning keep cashing in on ex-GM Steve Yzerman’s masterfully built roster

Steve Yzerman rebuilt Tampa Bay before heading home to Detroit.

Steve Yzerman rebuilt Tampa Bay before heading home to Detroit.
Image: Getty Images

The NHL playoffs have been robust, entertaining, competitive, hard-hitting, and full of intrigue. Last night, however, was none of those things. The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning absolutely waxed the New York Islanders 8-0. Although former General Manager Steve Yzerman has returned to his Detroit roots, his fingerprints are still all over this roster.

When Yzerman took over as general manager in 2010, the Lightning had missed the playoffs for three straight years. His Lightning, between 2010 and 2018 when he stepped down, made one Stanley Cup final appearance and three conference finals. They never won a championship during his tenure, but the foundation for a powerhouse was laid. A year after he left, the team that he helped build won it all.

It was through the draft where the pillars of last night’s drubbing were put in place. Nikita Kucherov, whom Yzerman drafted in the second round in 2011, had three assists last night. Ondřej Palát, seventh-round pick in 2011, had a goal. Brayden Point, third-round pick in 2014, scored a goal as well (more on Point in a bit). Anthony Cirelli, third-round pick in 2015, had an assist. And then there’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, their 2012 first-round netminder, who is now arguably the best goalie in the game. He pitched a shutout and is a rock-steady option between the pipes.

In the deluge of goals last night, a late one was scored on a power play by Point, who extended his goal streak to eight games. He is one of only two players in NHL history with a playoff goal streak of that length, joining Reggie Leach, who notched a 10-game streak in 1976, as the other.

Last night was Game 5 in a tied series. The previous four games had been decided by a total margin of five goals. The Islanders had just won on Saturday 3-2. Tampa Bay apparently decided that enough was enough and dominated — truly dominated — from puck drop. They won the opening faceoff, and Steven Stamkos opened the scoring deluge only 45 seconds into the game.

The Lightning would score twice more in the first period, three times in the second period, and twice more in the final period. It was the equivalent of doing your dishes with a firehose.

Yzerman’s rebuild has Tampa Bay poised as a dominant force in the NHL. For Detroit Red Wings fans, who have watched their historic franchise flounder after a record 25 straight seasons of playoff berths came to an end after 2016, should be encouraged by every good showing they see from the Lightning.

The rebuild in Detroit is underway, but it will require patience for a fanbase that is not used to going about things in this way. Yzerman, undeniably, is not in a rush. He has refused on multiple occasions to put a timeline on the rebuild, carefully and patiently acquiring young talent and allowing them the luxury of developing before being asked to contribute to the NHL club. Defender Moritz Seider, sixth overall pick in 2019, and Lucas Raymond, fourth overall pick in 2020, have been developing in the Swedish league. Seider won the award for the league’s best defenseman last season.

“Well, I wouldn’t be committing to these guys being on the roster yet,” Yzerman said of his young top prospects. “They have to make the team. If they make the team, we’ll be thrilled. But they’re young guys. I want them to make the team and have a positive impact. Our expectation and our hope is that Moritz is ready to go. We’ll see that next fall. Lucas, I don’t want to rule it out, but we’ll let the situation play itself out. And if they prove they’re ready to go, they’ll be on the team. But I’m not going to force it or rush them. If they’re on the team and playing, we’ll be really happy. We have expectations for them. But is it next season or the season after? I’m not sure.”

Yzerman has five picks in the first two rounds in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, including the sixth overall pick once again. For Hockeytown, as Detroit is called, the future is bright. Remain patient, and trust the Yzerplan.

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