Ask Gary: Is Yzerman ready to jump to Detroit?

by Gary Shelton on September 15, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, NFL, Tampa Bay Bucs

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Saturday, 4 a.m.

Steve Yzerman's decision to step down as GM of the Lightning was both sudden and unexpected. Do you think the most important factor in his mind is really to spend more time with his family or does he have a burning desire to return to the Red Wing organization where he spent so many years as a player and front office executive?

Larry Beller

If I had to guess, I would think Yzerman has toyed with the idea of going home to Deroit, but I think that he's is a pragmatic guy who knows he doesn't have to make a decision today. He's just declared free agency, and before it's all done, he'll have a lot of attractive offers.

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My guess? I think he wants to be with his family, but if all three kids are away at college, he might have waited too long. I do know that living in a city eight years while your wife is in another city has to be difficult. But remember when Michael Jordan said he wanted to be with his family, then immediately signed a minor league baseball contract? Family in front of the TV gets old in a hurry.

Yzerman might lean toward Detroit -- which would put him closer to his kids' colleges if they're going in the Midwest -- but he could have Seattle by snapping his fingers. That might be attractive after the success Las Vegas had this season.

Some guys are planters, and some guys are harvesters. Yzerman might well enjoy the building of a team rather than the final result. He might feel that the window will close on the Lightning in a couple of years.

I feel assured of this. It wasn't a blowup with Jeff Vinik, who worked well with Yzerman. It wasn't a huff where Yzerman is taking his toys and going somewhere else. Still, Detroit has to intrigue him.

One of the famous Bear Bryant quotations was when he was at Kentucky and Alabama had an opening. "Mama called," he said. Steve Spurrier, when he returned to Florida, said something similar. When you show up in a jersey, everything feels right in that arena.

Even after all of this time, Yzerman might feel some of that. I was there on the night he won his first Stanley Cup, and the fans loved him above all others. He was an elegant player, and the crowd adored him. I'm sure he still remembers how it felt.

Then, there is this. If I had to bet money, I'd think that Yzerman's general manager days aren't  finished. He's too good at it.

I didn't sense the normal warmth between Jeff Vinik and Steve Yzerman that I had seen before.  Any chance that Steve wanted out of his contract to take another job, and Vinik held him to the contract?
I wouldn't have been warm toward Yzerman, either, if he was leaving. I'm sure Vinik wanted him to stay. It's working. He was paying Yzerman a lot of money, and I'm sure he would have paid him more. Frankly, it wasn't a time for chucking the guy on the shoulder and tousling his hair.
Vinik has always operated with the game plan of hiring the best people and let them work. So I'm sure this was hard on him. It wasn't the plan.
But, sure, that's possible. Steve could have wanted to jump to Detroit right away, and Vinik could have held him to the contract. Heck, I would have. That way, BriseBois has a safety net as the Bolts make another run.
I've never been rich nor powerful, but anytime a coveted employee leaves, it has to feel a little like betrayal. My thoughts were that the Lightning tried way, way to hard to act like this was a battlefield promotion for BriseBois instead of a punch to the gut.
As I've said before, I wondered about the timing. If it was really about Yzerman's family, why did he wait until the kids were in college (and, as such, won't be around home).
I know this: If Yzerman does go to Detroit, a lot of people are going to believe the fix was in all along. Yzerman worked hard here, and he did well. But it hurts to know he might have a greater love.
Of course, if Yzerman re-ups with the Bolts after a year, most of the suspicions will be laid to rest. But do you think that's likely? Me, neither.

Here is an excerpt posted at https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/managers-on-the-third-time-through-the-order/  from a 2015 story regarding how starting pitchers do as they progress through the opposing hitters’ lineup for the first, second, and third time:

“The numbers speak for themselves. As the lineup turns over, a typical starting pitcher’s OPS-against climbs from .705 to .731 to .771.”

I don’t know what the numbers are for the 2018 season, but it looks like the Rays may have broken the code by pretty much abandoning starting pitchers in favor of ‘openers’, and multiple relievers as the game progresses, which pretty much prevents a pitcher from ever having to face the same batter a third time in a game.  Will this become the norm in MLB?

Scott Myers

One of the key analytics in baseball is that a pitcher becomes less effective with every batter's at-bat. For years, the Rays have tried to limit their pitchers facing a batter for the third time in the order. Your numbers were the first I've seen it so closely associated, however.

I think it will become a norm among teams that have more prospects than they do starting pitchers. It's a low-cash way to control matchups. I've already heard there are other teams that are interested in the idea.

For a team like Boston and New York, who can pay big bucks, the opener strategy doesn't make much sense. But for Oakland? Minnesota? Florida? I think those teams ought to be interested.

Personally, I'd prefer 2-3 "usual" starters and limit the number of bullpen days. But that's just me. But even a starter who is working his way through the lineup would have to prove to me that he's worth facing a hitter for the third or fourth time. The odds favor the hitter increasingly.

How much of the Bucs' 2003 Super Bowl title is Jon Gruden and how much of it was Tony Dungy? And how much of the very fact that people like me ask that question do you think motivated Gruden to head back to the sidelines, and specifically with the Oakland Raiders, which seems to be another part of his legacy he'd like to address?

Peter Kerasotis

Ah, Peter. I know you live on the East side of the state, so you may not be aware of this: You've just touched on the most lasting debate in all of Tampa Bay.

For some reason, fans love to debate this. Was it Gruden's fresh energy or was it Dungy laying the plan? We hate shared credit. We want it to be on one's guys resume, and his alone.

Personally, I've always thought it took both men to win it. The Bucs aren't competing for the title without Dungy's blueprint. But Dungy's offensive staff was so limited, I don't think he wins it unless the Bucs get a late push from Gruden. Individually, neither guy wins it. But together, they did (along with the players and general manager Rich McKay).

Look, Gruden had plenty of time to rebuild. And he never won another playoff game. But for that one year, Gruden hit the right buttons throughout. It's tough when you come to a new team where you aren't sure of which players are great and which aren't. Give Gruden credit for that. He brought in Keenan McCardell (and Joe Jurevicius was brought in by the front office).

But Dungy is the guy who stopped the losing. He persuaded Warren Sapp to lose weight. He moved Derrick Brooks from the tight end side (the year before, an assistant called Brooks the worst prospect he had ever seen) to the weak side where he could uses his speed. Dungy changed expectations.

But Dungy's teams could never score enough in his years in Tampa Bay. He'd have top five defenses, and he'd get into the playoffs, but the Bucs would lose a close game.

I've never understood why that isn't an acceptable response. Credit spreads thin. If you have to divide it up, I'd give credit for the Super Bowl to Gruden, but credit for the franchise turnaround to Dungy.

The rest of you can go back to arguing.

Last week, if Dirk Koetter would have somehow said they were going to the Superdome to play “track meet” against the Saints, I would’ve rolled my eyes and said he needed to switch to decaf.

It’s a credit to him and Todd Monken for their game plan. Even if this season ends up badly, as an individual game, I think it was historic for the Bucs. 

Among the best (regular season) games have been vs. St Louis in 2000, with some wild plays in the fourth quarter by Shaun King and Warrick Dunn, and vs. Washington in 2005, with Alstott scoring a walk-off two-pt conversion. I liked this one as much as those two. 

Carlos Ubinas

It certainly was a pleasure to watch, wasn't it?

If we're talking about great regular season games, I'd accept your two nominees. The Bucs and Minnesota had a great rivalry there for a while. I remember one game where Tampa Bay kept going for it on fourth down. Finally, Brad Culpepper got a big sack and the Bucs won.

In the locker room, Brad showed that he was wearing toenail polish. He had gone with his wife and she had gotten a pedicure, so he got one. I asked him what would have happened if the Bucs lost. "I'd have kept my shoes on," he said.

Remember the Atlanta game where Michael Spurlock finally returned a kickoff for a touchdown? Then there was the game against Atlanta where Derrick Brooks had Michael Vick talking to himself. Remember when Chris Simms played with a ruptured spleen?

If you're counting all games, nothing was better than watching Ronde Barber's return in Philly.

What is your prediction for the Bucs season? When will they be
good enough to fill half of  their stadium?

Richard Kinning

Richard, I said seven wins before the season, and I felt like I was being kind. I'll assess it again after this week's game. If the Bucs play the Eagles tough, I might go up by a game or two. But if the defense is horrible again, well, I'll stick to seven for now.

Mind you, I'm a terrible prognosticator. I'm usually a little more conservative than most fans, because I want someone to prove it to me.

I never bought that some people saw chaos. The Sporting News picked the Bucs to finish 1-15, and I thought they were high. This is a team that won five and played 10 close last year. One is just not doing your homework.

As far as attendance, that's tough. Tickets are very pricey, and the fans staying home actually get a better product, especially since games are all broadcast these days. (Replays, access to the fridge, free parking, better sightlines, bathrooms, avoiding the heat, etc). I know there is nothing quite like being there, but I'd only pay so much for atmosphere.

Lou Piniella used to say that attendance trailed performance by a year. In other words, if you're good this year, it pays off the next year. Maybe that's true. A live stadium adds something to the viewing experience.

After a terrible start will FSU have a new coach next year? Has
the search already started?

Richard Kinning

Not a chance. Zip. None. Nor should there be.

Willie Taggart signed a six-year, $30 million contract. No reasonable party would suggest he should be run off (and paid off) after eight quarters.

Look, I realize FSU fans are upset about the start. But let's be real here. FSU has won three national titles in the history of history. They aren't a team that plays for the championship every year. They're fun but they aren't God's gift to college football.

When Taggart was at USF, and he lost his first-ever game to McNeese State, I was the guy who asked "are you big enough for this job?" He said he was, and he backed it up. He recruited well, and it turned around.

Will the same thing happen at FSU? No one knows, but the early signs, admittedly, aren't good. But if you fire a coach two games into his career, and you're going to have trouble hiring anyone who is any good. Such a knee-jerk reaction would say far more about FSU than it would say about Taggart.

FSU fans need to hope for the best and try a little patience. It's the only choice that makes sense.

Just how good are the Bulls?

Richard Kinning

At this point, Richard, we don't know. I think they're promising on offense. They've got terrific speed, and they wear out the scorekeeper. But the defense has struggled for two games. We could be headed toward one of those seasons where USF is hanging on in the fourth quarter every week.

The big tests for USF are Houston (2-0) and UCF (2-0). Both teams were good last. year, and both beat the Bulls. Tulsa could be a test. Then there is Illinois. You always are concerned about a bad team from a good conference.

A football team evolves over the course of a season. You know that. The Bulls will be a bowl team, and the floor is about eight or nine wins. But if the team can get better defensively (where is all the speed we heard about), it could be a special season. Isn't that why we watch?

 

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry Beller September 15, 2018 at 7:02 am

It’s really hard to read Yzerman. He keeps all his cards so close to his chest but did is seem to you that he really enjoyed what he was doing all that much especially in the last few years? There were so many difficult decisions about how to navigate through what players to keep players without blowing through the salary cap, who to trade, negotiating major contracts, etc. The pressure had to be enormous. The amount of travel he was doing not only in his job but back and forth to Detroit for family matters had to wear on him. For that reason I don’t think he would take a job anywhere other than in Detroit.

I’m wondering if he doesn’t already know there is a position with the Red Wings waiting for him that would put him at a higher level than GM. Something like team President that would keep him insulated from the daily grind of GM duties. I don’t think there is any doubt he will become a Red Wing again in some capacity. Since the owner died in 2017 that organization is in transition and desperately needs leadership. Yzerman would be the perfect guy to fill that void.

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Gary Shelton September 15, 2018 at 7:41 pm

I had always heard that Yzerman was close to Ilitch, who owned the team when he was there, and not as close to his son. But it does make sense.

Steve was hard for me to read, too. He was friendly enough, but he never shared a quiet chuckle. He was serious enough that he squeaked.

If I were a betting man, I’d make Detroit the favorite for where he ends up. A vague title makes sense, too. That way, he can dabble in the draft and trades, but he could leave contracts to someone else. He could travel as much as he wanted.

Yzerman certainly would be popular in Detroit. They love him there.

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