17 For ‘17: Top Tampa Bay Business Stories Of The Year

While attendance at Little Caesars Arena, the Red Wings' palatial $863 million home rink for which the public is helping pay, has remained among the NHL's best, continued losing eventually could begin to siphon revenue and possibly the loyalty built among fans and corporate advertisers over the decades of success.

The Red Wings ranked fifth in NHL attendance this season with a 19,120 per game average. They were fourth in 2017-18 and third in 2016-17. Detroit hadn't ranked outside of the top four in attendance average since coming in seventh (18,870 per game) in 2007-08 when the recession hit the region especially hard.

Detroit's estimated $171 million in 2017-18 team revenue ranked 11th in the 31-team NHL, according to Forbes calculations. In December, Forbes estimated the team is worth $775 million thanks in part to $40 million in revenue growth attributed to the new arena. The $775 million was good for eighth among the NHL's 31 current teams, a one-spot improvement over the season prior.

All of the financials will improve, as will attendance and other franchise health metrics, if the team can again be a regular Stanley Cup contender again.

The Ilitches, buoyed by their Little Caesars pizza fortune, always have spent lavishly on the Red Wings. Prior to the 2004-05 NHL lockout that scrapped a full season and ended with the implementation of a salary cap, the family spent $77.8 million on players in 2003-04 when the average NHL team payroll was $44.4 million.

They've been at or near the cap ceiling most years. Detroit leads the NHL with $84.9 million in player spending, which leaves the team with about $5.6 million in salary cap space.

Yzerman has a core of young talent in Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Bertuzzi, Anthony Mantha, and Filip Hronek as a base for his plan to create a playoff roster. There also are teenage prospects Filip Zadina, the Czech-born left winger who Detroit took with the No. 6 pick in last year's draft, and Joe Veleno, the Canadian center taken with last year's No. 30 overall pick.

Yzerman will have 10 draft picks in the June 21-22 NHL Entry Draft, including the No. 6 overall selection and three second-round picks.

"There are a lot of things in place here. I think we're off to a tremendous start," Yzerman said. "You have a foundation of a core there."

He repeatedly cautioned that he doesn't have a timeline for success and will need time to create a contender.

"This will take time," he said. "We're going to ask for your patience. I can't give you a specific timeline."

He'll have help on the business side, too: former teammate Kris Draper has been in the front office to help with scouting, player evaluations, free-agent signings and trades for eight seasons after 17 years as a Red Wings player, and Ryan Martin has been assistant general manager for the past eight seasons specializing in collective bargaining agreement administration and compliance, salary cap management, player contract research and analysis, and salary arbitration preparation. Jiri Fischer, another former player, has been in the front office a dozen years and is director of player evaluation. Shawn Horcoff has been director of player development for three seasons.

Yzerman on Friday said he needs to take time to talk to the current staff and others before making any decisions on changes or additions. He and Holland are headed to Sweden this weekend to scout the 2019 Men's World U18 Ice Hockey Championships.

What can fans expect out of an Yzerman-led rebuild, and how soon will they get back into contention?

"Yzerman will be decisive. That's one of his biggest strengths as an executive. He's willing to make tough decisions. When the Lightning didn't have the look of a playoff team, he sold at the deadline. When it was time to push, he was as aggressive as anyone," veteran hockey journalist Craig Custance of The Athletic Detroit wrote in an analysis of Yzerman's style as general manager. "For the fans of Detroit, he's a link back to the glory days. But more importantly, to the Red Wings rebuild, he brings cachet, respect and instant credibility. If he's hard-lining a player in contract negotiations, they know he's serious. Just look at the salary structure in Tampa. If he wants in on a big name, they're taking his call. The combination with Holland, as connected and well-liked as anyone in hockey, is a powerful one if it remains intact."

Two key figures from Detroit's current regime remain.

The Red Wings gave coach Jeff Blashill, 45, a two-year contract extension on April 2. In four seasons he had a 135-143-47 record. Blashill was hired as a Red Wings assistant coach in 2011-12 and then in 2012-15 was head coach for the American Hockey League's Grand Rapids Griffins.

"We have an exceptional young coach in Jeff Blashill," Yzerman said, adding that he doesn't know him well but plans to chat with him soon.

Holland, 63, has been with the team since 1983 as a scout and assistant general manager, and was named general manager in 1997. He was given a new two-year contract a year ago, and a new multi-year extension as senior vice president. After years of success that made Detroit the envy of pro hockey, the Red Wings under Holland have largely been a non-entity for the past decade, and as the roster of speedy Russians and Swedes aged criticism mounted that his teams were saddled with bad contracts and poor trades. Stil, he remained in the role while fans grew restless or even angry when Yzerman -- thought by some to be the natural successor — and longtime assistant general manager Jim Nill left Detroit to run other teams.

On Friday, Ilitch had nothing but praise for his out-going GM.

"Nobody has worked harder to bring success to the Detroit Red Wings than Ken Holland," Ilitch said.

Now, Holland finally appears to be ascending to a role similar to what former general manager Devellano has held since 1990. Devellano was the Ilitches' first hire in 1982 and was GM for eight seasons. He is considered the godfather of the team's modern era of success as senior vice president. It was Devellano who drafted Yzerman when Waterford Township's Pat LaFontaine was taken ahead of him in 1983, and he also would go on to hire Holland and future coach Scotty Bowman. He remains senior vice president and alternate governor.

On Yzerman's advice, Devellano drafted Sergei Fedorov in 1989 in a move that laid the foundation for the future "Russian Five" that would power Detroit's Stanley Cup run, according to a profile last year from The Athletic. Yzerman has gone on to draft Russian players in Tampa, a strategy that may carry over to his new regime in Detroit.

Renewed success in Detroit would be a feel-good next chapter for Yzerman's story locally that dates to the first Reagan administration.

He was the team's first pick in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft and fourth overall — Detroit had wanted LaFontaine, who was taken one spot earlier by the New York Islanders — and he was the first draft pick under new owners Mike and Marian Ilitch. Known as "The Captain," Yzerman helped Detroit win Stanley Cup championships in 1997 — its first since 1955 — and two more in 1998 and 2002.

His Detroit playing career, which unfolded entirely with home games at soon-to-be-demolished Joe Louis Arena, spanned 1,514 games (11th all-time), saw him score 692 goals (eighth all-time) and tally 1,063 assists (seventh all-time). His 1,755 career points rank sixth all-time in NHL history, according to the team's website.

Yzerman earned $64.4 million during his playing career. Financial details of hew front office contract, nor its length, haven't been disclosed.

The Red Wings retired his No. 19 jersey number in January 2007.

Yzerman said he appreciates the fan reaction to his hiring, and reiterated that his familiarity with the team and region will help him settle into the new role more quickly, but added that his long playing career is a different chapter that's separate from what he does as a hockey executive.

"Regardless of what you think of my playing career, it's irrelevant to the job I'm doing as a manager," he said.

Yzerman is a native of Cranbrook, British Columbia, and was general manager of Canada's national team that won Olympic gold medals in 2010 and 2014. As a player, he also won gold for Canada as an Olympian on the ice in 2002.

Ilitch said he called Lightning owner Vinik in March to discuss hiring Yzerman, and then asked Holland and Yzerman to talk to ensure they could work together. Ilitch also said he had a four- or five-hour sit-down meeting with Yzerman to discuss his strategies, philosphies and business plans if he took the job.

A deal was struck to keep Yzerman in place with the Lightning until their playoff run was finished — which happened shockingly early. Ilitch said Yzerman didn't want an announcement any sooner because he didn't want anything to be a distraction for Tampa Bay.

Not everything has been perfect about Yzerman's tenure in Florida. The Lightning missed the playoffs in 2011-12 and 2012-13. The team, which was once owned by late Detroit Pistons owner William Davidson, was 62-16 this season, a record the tied the 1995-96 Red Wings for the most victories in an NHL season. However, Tampa Bay was swept in a first-round shocker by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I'm very disappointed we didn't win a Stanley Cup in my nine years (in Tampa Bay)," he said.

Now, Yzerman will attempt to replicate his success with the Lightning in Detroit and take it further by winning Stanley Cups.

"This fan base has supported us through ups and downs. And again, here we are. I'm grateful to all for bringing me back here," he said.

Source : https://www.crainsdetroit.com/sports/steve-yzermans-homecoming-aims-return-glory

17 For ‘17: Top Tampa Bay Business Stories Of The Year


17 For ‘17: Top Tampa Bay Business Stories Of The Year