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Crafty Yzerman making his mark with Lightning

Michael Rushton, NHL Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman brought a copious amount of credibility to the organization when he was hired in May.

Less than two months later, he has also brought in a mass of talent that has the Lightning thinking big for 2010-11.

New Tampa Bay owner Jeff Vinik knew what he was getting when he hired "The Captain" on May 25: a four-time Stanley Cup champion with Detroit (three times as a player) who already had established success building teams on a national level. Yzerman served as Canada's general manager for the IIHF World Championships, winning gold in 2007 and a silver the following year before reaching the top of the mountain this past winter.

As executive director, Yzerman put together a Team Canada that won gold at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver with a thrilling overtime victory over the United States, leading to his exit as Detroit's team vice president and into his current role with Tampa Bay.

What Yzerman has done in his short time with the Lightning is nothing short of astounding. Taking over a team that finished tied for the fewest points in the NHL in 2007-08 and eight points out of a playoff spot last year, Yzerman has turned his franchise into a club that has enough talent to end a three-season playoff drought and maybe even challenge the powerhouse Washington Capitals for bragging rights in the Southeast Division.

Even with all of the moves Yzerman has made since becoming GM, his best might have come on Monday when the Lightning pulled the trigger on a trade with the Flyers that brought two-time 40-goal scorer Simon Gagne into the mix for a defenseman (Matt Walker) that isn't even likely to crack Philadelphia's NHL roster, along with a 2011 fourth-round pick.

Steve Yzerman has turned his franchise into a club that has enough talent to end a three-season playoff drought.
Yes, Gagne does come with some injury risk. The 30-year-old missed the start of last season due to abdominal surgery and also suffered a broken foot in the playoffs, though he returned early from that ailment. He has also battled groin and concussion issues in the past, but still owns 259 goals in his career and is a free agent at season's end.

In short, Gagne is a low-risk, high-payoff addition and Yzerman was able to pounce on the forward for such a low price because he knew the Flyers had to move salary to get under the cap.

"This trade not only makes us a better team in the short-term, it helps create long-term flexibility for us, which all along has been one of our top priorities," said Yzerman.

Also factor in that Gagne had to waive his no-trade clause to make the deal happen, and it shows that Yzerman has made Tampa, nowhere close to a hockey town, into an attractive place for players.

There isn't a single aspect of the Lightning's game that hasn't already been touched by Yzerman. Most importantly, he has done so while displaying a keen sense of how to work with the salary cap, an area many NHL general managers have struggled with since its inception following the lockout.

With a solid core of Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, Yzerman earlier locked up veteran and locker room leader Martin St. Louis to a four-year extension, and offset the cost of that new deal by shipping defenseman Andrej Meszaros' reported $4 million cap hit to the Flyers for a 2012 second-round pick.

And that was just the start.

When free agency began, the Lightning inked Dan Ellis, a former promising goaltender with the Predators who lost his starting job last year despite a solid 2.69 goals-against average and .909 save percentage. The best part is Ellis' deal -- a two-year, $3 million pact, which isn't bad for a player who could overtake Mike Smith for the starting role.

Then came the defense. Pavel Kubina, who won a championship with the Lightning in 2004, was brought back to add size and a point shot to the power play, while veteran Brett Clark was added to help mentor the young blueliners.

"I talked to Steve ... and I was very impressed with the direction he's going in with the team," Kubina said after signing with the club. "I always wanted to come home. Other than Czech, Tampa Bay is my second home. I still have my house there and even though I had other offers on the table, I couldn't pass this up."

A 2009 Hall of Fame inductee, Yzerman has wasted little time in transforming the Lightning into contenders, using a number of shrewd moves that would make a fantasy sports owner jealous.

His next task, and maybe the most difficult, is making the fans in Tampa care.

Winning will take care of that.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Michael Rushton at mrushton@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Michael Rushton on Twitter and Facebook.

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