Steve Yzerman doesn’t look good in blue and sliver. Red is his color. But for five years now the former Detroit star has been wearing another team’s colors and it doesn’t seem right.
It’s very possible that this playoff season the Red Wings will see Yzerman in blue and silver up close a lot. Detroit and Yzerman’s Tampa Bay Lightning are on a collision course to meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Lightning have always had a connection to Detroit. Their second official coach was the old Quebec Frenchman Jacques Demers, who had guided the Wings for four seasons in the 1980s. Their first big scoring threat was Dino Ciccarelli, a sharpshooting sniper who they snatched from the Wings. When the Lightning franchise was first put on the selling block in the late 1990s, Pistons’ owner Bill Davidson was rumored to be interested. He eventually bought the Lightning in 1999. The deal included a bonus for the Bolts — Davidson was bringing his minor league team the Detroit Vipers along to become Tampa Bay’s top affiliate. As a result, over the next few seasons many Vipers made their way south to play in Florida. Davidson also appointed longtime Pistons’ executive Tom Wilson as his first president. Wilson maintained a front office position with the Pistons and when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004 and the Pistons won the NBA title that same spring, Wilson and Davidson became the first owner and CEO tandem to hold two major sports titles at the same time.
But the biggest and most controversial connection between the Lightning and Wings is Yzerman, a Hall of Famer who is beloved in Motown as one of the iconic figures of Detroit sports. Yzerman’s gritty leadership and amazing talent that led the Wings to three Stanley Cup titles, has earned him a status that approaches the level of Gordie Howe in Hockeytown history.
But in 2010 fans were shocked when Yzerman was hired away from the Red Wings to serve as general manager of the Lightning. It was assumed that Stevie Y would remain in the Detroit front office and continue to help Detroit be one of the most successful franchises in professional sports. But his departure was like a punch to the stomach. Now nearly five years later, Yzerman has proven himself to be as good a leader in a shirt and tie as he was in a hockey sweater. This season his Lightning are in 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, one spot ahead of the Red Wings. If that positioning stays in place, the two teams will meet in the first round of the playoffs.
The Red Wings and the Lightning have never met in the postseason, the Lightning having spent all but one year in the Eastern Conference and Detroit only shifting that conference a few seasons ago. Though they entered the NHL as an expansion team for the 1992-93 season, the Lightning have fared pretty well for a young franchise. They’ve never finished in last place and they’ve earned a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs seven times so far in 22 years. They won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04, exciting their fans with seven game victories in the conference finals and Cup finals.
What will be going through Yzerman’s head if he’s sitting in Joe Louis Arena watching his Lightning take on his old team? How will Detroit fans react?
Don’t expect any boos for Yzerman. Expect lots of camera shots of his #19 jersey hanging in the Joe Louis rafters. Detroit fans will always give him a loud ovation (at least real Detroit fans will), and Yzerman will be gracious for sure. But in his chest is a heart that beats for one thing — winning. The very thing that endeared Yzerman to Motown fans for more than two decades will also be on display in a first round matchup between the Wings and Lightning. And it’ll be in his team too, should they get the chance to face off against the Red Wings.
A 24th straight trip to the playoffs for the Detroit Red Wings will be sweet, but a matchup against Yzerman’s team will make the first round interesting on many levels.