SIMMONS SAYS: Where did Steve Yzerman's golden touch vanish to with Red Wings?

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Not long after he won an Olympic gold medal in Sochi as architect of the most dominant any Canadian hockey team has been at a modern Winter Games, Steve Yzerman and his Tampa Bay Lightning played for the Stanley Cup for the first time.

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Stevie Y seemed on top of the world then — the great player turned great hockey executive.

He had done the pressure-filled thankless work to bring Team Canada to gold and put together the best team in the NHL.

That was then. Now we wonder: Where did that Steve Yzerman go?

How did he lose his way after returning home to run the Detroit Red Wings, the only NHL team he ever played for?

This is five seasons now of Yzerman in Detroit and nothing much to show for it. The Wings missed the playoffs the three years before he was named general manager and other fancy titles, and have missed the playoffs five straight years under his direction.

They have one great draft pick — defenceman Moritz Seider — who was selected just days after Yzerman was hired in 2019, which meant he really had little to do with the pick.

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Since then, they’ve added Lucas Raymond with the fourth pick overall, Simon Edvinsson with a sixth pick, Marco Kasper with an eighth pick and Nate Danielson at ninth in the draft.

This year in free agency, Yzerman added some unusual choices such as goalie Jack Campbell, diminishing forward Vladimir Tarasenko and defenceman Erik Gustafsson, who has played for seven teams the past five seasons.

The Red Wings might be the 12th best team in the Eastern Conference this season. Might be. It’s a long road back for what used to be the brightest operator in hockey. He used to be Steve Yzerman.


The Maple Leafs announced the signing of six free agents on July 1. Five of them have since been added to their roster. Defenceman Jani Hakanpaa has not. When the Leafs first announced Hakanpaa’s signing, I did what I usually do when the Leafs sign any player I don’t know particularly well. I asked people who would know about him. I made similar calls about Chris Tanev, goalie Anthony Stolarz and veteran defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and heard nothing but good things about them as players and as people. What I was told about Hakanpaa was the belief that he would never play again in the NHL. I was told that his bone-on-bone knee was apparently shot. I was told — from two sources — that they didn’t think that any team would sign him. I asked the Leafs about the injury on Monday and was informed that he was cleared by the Toronto doctors. Since then, though, there has been no official word on Hakanpaa being a Leaf. His signing hasn’t been announced individually. He’s not listed on their roster. The Leafs say they have finalized nothing at this point with Hakanpaa, which is a shame because a 6-foot-7, penalty-killing, stay-at-home defender is something they could use. If he can play. But so far, nothing official on him being a Leaf after the team indicated he was … Hearing nothing but great things on Tanev. The Dallas Stars were 15-4 during the regular-season time he spent with them. And wisely, the Stars didn’t pair him with Miro Heiskanen, their star defenceman. I wonder if it makes more sense to pair Tanev with Jake McCabe rather than the consensus thinking that he’ll be with Morgan Rielly on the Leafs No. 1 pairing. But if the Leafs can develop two strong pairs, one with Tanev and one with Rielly, they may be better off long-term … Ekman-Larsson once scored 23 goals in a season for Arizona. No Leafs blueliner has ever scored that many before. Al Iafrate and Ian Turnbull both hit the 22-goal mark once. Rielly had 20 once. Borje Salming had 19. Only three Leafs defencemen in history have had 20-goal seasons … Are the Buffalo Sabres still in the NHL? Sometimes it’s hard to tell … When I heard defenceman Joel Edmundson had signed in Los Angeles for four years and $3.8 million, I originally assumed it was for $950,000 a season. I thought that was a reasonable number. Then when it was announced it was $3.8M per season for four years, I figured L.A. GM Rob Blake has either lost his mind or Edmundson is a member of the family, like one of LeBron James’ kids.

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The Blue Jays are scoring 3.97 runs per game, which is the lowest the franchise has mustered in 43 years … The Jays apparent starting outfield of George Springer, Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho has a combined batting average of .200 heading into play Saturday in Seattle. The starting outfield of the expansion Jays of 1977 — Otto Velez, Alvis Woods and Gary Woods — had a combined batting average of .259 … A lot of teams in baseball have an interest in acquiring Yusei Kikuchi at the deadline. He’s seen as someone who could start at playoff time if need be and also work effectively out of the bullpen for a contender. He’s probably the Jays’ best trade piece for the July 30 deadline if the club has no thoughts on dealing Bo Bichette or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. … I’m not a betting man but if I was, I would have bet on Bichette and starter Kevin Gausman having great years with the Jays. Neither is playing to their level but both seem like the kind who will always deliver …. This is how bad the baseball season has been in Toronto: The Yankees went 3-14 and the Jays picked up one game on them in 18 days … Rookie pitcher Paul Skenes has made just 10 starts for the Pittsburgh Pirates but is already drawing comparisons to Sidney Crosby, Ben Roethlisberger, Evgeni Malkin and Mario Lemieux in the Steel City. In eight of those 10 starts, Skenes has allowed two or fewer runs. His earned run average is 2.12. He’s struck out 78 batters in his first 59 big league innings … No Blue Jays manager since Jimy Williams has gone on to manage another big league team after being fired in Toronto. Charlie Montoyo, John Gibbons, Cito Gaston, Carlos Tosca, Buck Martinez, Roy Hartsfield, Bobby Mattick and Tim Johnson all never managed after leaving the Jays. John Farrell wasn’t fired in Toronto — he should have been — but he wound up traded to Boston, where he won a World Series.

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The sporting world is on some kind of unexplainable axis in North America. Canadian soccer is now better than American soccer. American hockey is now deeper than Canadian hockey. Canadian basketball — at the highest level individually — is equal to or better than American basketball. And who saw any of this coming? … Wonder why the NHL thought it would be a good idea to schedule a Canucks home game at about the same time as Grey Cup Sunday in Vancouver … Grey Cup-winning coaches Mike O’Shea, Scott Milanovich and Chris Jones have a combined 1-12 won-lost record in this early strange CFL season … Dwane Casey had opportunities to return to NBA coaching with the Lakers and the Chicago Bulls, but turned down assistant positions for family reasons. He figures he’ll return to the NBA in the next few years, but is just not sure when or where …. Show me a good quarterback and I’ll show you a good football coach, veteran coach Jim Fassel once told me. He’s probably right. Bill Belichick won 77% of the games he coached with Tom Brady at quarterback and just 45% of the games when someone else played QB … The great Canadian rise in tennis has flattened out. The men, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov seem middle of the pack. The accomplished Milos Raonic is almost at the end. And the women, Bianca Andreescu and Leylah Annie Fernandez, a former U.S. Open winner and finalist respectively, don’t appear as contenders for big titles. All of them are now out of the singles competition after six days of Wimbledon … The hockey world seems obsessed with the fact that state taxes in Florida and Texas are lower than everywhere else, which has led to a competitive imbalance in the sport and a whole lot of internal bitching. But what never gets mentioned: Why teams in the NFL, NBA and MLB in Florida and Texas don’t seem to have much success wooing free agents to their markets because of the tax breaks. Ball players would much rather play in Los Angeles and New York, where taxes are high, than just about anywhere else … Anyone knowing the whereabouts of Kyle Dubas please contact the authorities.

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In free agency on July 1, ESPN should have gone out and got itself a No. 1 hockey announcer. Sean McDonough, excellent at bringing you baseball, basketball or football, doesn’t have the right cadence for hockey. He’s nowhere near a Doc Emrick or Bob Cole. Americans need that kind of voice of excitement that they get from Kenny Albert on TNT but don’t get from ESPN’s top man … An NHL-NBA culture difference: Steven Stamkos spent 16 seasons in Tampa, won two Stanley Cups with the Lightning and was an exemplary captain. When the Lightning basically low-balled him out of town, he thanked them rather politely. When Klay Thompson was given similar treatment after 13 seasons and four championships with Golden State , he bad-mouthed the Warriors saying he was leaving with a bad taste in his mouth. Stamkos wound up signing in Nashville. Thompson wound up in Dallas. Stamkos probably has more left than Thompson … The Predators spent all kinds of money on July 1, the most on Stamkos, but what they couldn’t acquire is what the franchise has never had: A No. 1 centre. Stamkos is more winger than centre in his later years. Nashville is a top-line centre away from being a serious Stanley Cup contender … How tough will it be to get to the Stanley Cup next season? Edmonton goes in as heavy favourites in the West, followed by Dallas, Colorado, Vegas, Vancouver and then Nashville alongside Winnipeg. The East is almost as deep with Florida, Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, the Rangers, New Jersey and Carolina all in some kind of contention … Don’t love the Bruins signing of Elias Lindholm, coming off a very average year. But something happens to players when they wear Boston colours. They just get better. So you have to figure the Bruins now have Lindholm, Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle at centre and may wind up moving Zacha to the wing … The Oilers don’t have a GM but president Jeff Jackson made good use of free agency by signing Jeff Skinner and Viktor Arvidsson for below-average salaries. So now Edmonton has Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Zach Hyman, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Evander Kane (assuming he’s healthy), Skinner, with all of his 30-goal seasons, and the usually productive Arvidsson up front. They also kept their effective third line together signing Adam Henrique, Connor Brown and Mattias Janmark. And at the same time, the Florida Panthers paid too much for Sam Reinhart, lost key defencemen Brandon Montour and Ekman-Larsson in free agency and some depth forwards as well off their championship roster … The best story out of Leafs’ development camp: Taking Russian kids golfing for the first time. They didn’t know you couldn’t drive a cart on to the green. That one is right out of a John Candy movie … Wasn’t that nice of the NHL to announce that Joel Quenneville and Stan Bowman are allowed back in the NHL — and they made the announcement around dinner time on July 1, with more free-agent dollars being thrown around than ever before. It’s a story they didn’t want to release on a quiet Tuesday. The league decided they did their time after the sexual assault scandal in Chicago in 2010 … True story: One of the first beats I ever had in this business was chuckwagon racing. I think of it every time the Calgary Stampede comes around. This is how small the sport is: Sons and daughters and grandchildren of the people I wrote about in 1980 are now racing chucks in Calgary … Happy birthday to Brad Park (76), Joe Sakic (55), Kevin Nash (65), Ron Duguay (67), Pao Gasol (45), Zion Williamson (24), Willie Randolph (70), Manny Machado (32), Lisa Leslie (52), Chase Claypool (26), Sylvester Stallone (78) and Ringo Starr (84) … And hey, whatever became of Helen Kelesi?

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