When Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman took over as the general manager of the Lightning, free agents didn’t really want to come here, as it wasn’t the prettiest of sites. Oren Koules and Len Barrie had essentially run the team into the ground and fans had been driven away by inept ownership and management.
Then Jeff Vinik bought the team and things slowly began to change as he hired legendary Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman who had spent years working with Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland. During Yzerman’s first offseason, he had to overpay Matt Carle to come to Tampa and shore up a defense that well wasn’t much of a defense. Then he had to spend the next two years acquiring castoffs via waiver and through the draft along with trades as many free agents.
But Yzerman has slowly built a team that is now on the map with their most recent run to the playoffs, even though it didn’t go that well once they made it there. But, they still made it one year after having the 3rd overall pick at the draft.
There was a positive sign when pending UFA Ryan Callahan decided to sign and stay with the Lightning and mentioned some interesting reasons as to why he wanted to stay on with the Lightning organization.
“Being a couple of days away from July 1 is tough, but considering how much I like the Lightning organization, how much I enjoyed my time there, that didn’t really creep into my head too much,’’ Callahan said at his press conference. “There is my family, there is trying to win and then there is the money. I felt like the direction this team is going, the talent they have in that room, (winning) is something they are working towards and is attainable.’
Now free agents and pending free agents like Callahan want to come to Tampa. Yzerman’s busy free agency period where he signed Brian Boyle, who Callahan pitched to come to Tampa, Evgeni Nabokov, Brenden Morrow and Anton Stralman has shown that.
“It was pretty simple, I have a family of four kids and we’ve moved around a lot the past seven years in this league,’’ Stralman said after signing his deal with the Lightning. “We were looking for stability and a deal with security. And Tampa was the first team willing to give that, and Tampa is a real exciting group of guys right now. They are taking strides and is going to be a real interesting team to be a part of. I’m really happy and excited to be a part of it.’’
Yzerman is not only getting free agents but he is getting them all on fairly good deals as well. Callahan came in on less money than the New York Rangers were offering him and Stralman came in on less money than what the Washington Capitals paid for Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. What that means is that it really shows how much players are willing to come to Tampa and play in a “non-traditional hockey market” as they are not accepting top dollar or the most years.
It’s been an incredible turnaround for a franchise that many were saying would be relocated and now it’s a team that essentially took probably the best players in free agency and didn’t over pay at that.
For the first time since the 2004-2005 lockout, the Lightning are beginning to become stable and are providing that stability for their players and potential free agent players but most of all it’s providing stability in a “non-traditional” market. For Lightning fans it’s going to be a fun few years coming up—especially if Yzerman can have good offseasons like this.