Yzerman, Sakic still impact players with similar approaches
Joe Sakic and Steve Yzerman have similarities that go beyond the fact they both wore No. 19 during NHL careers.
Both were dominating, exceedingly competitive NHL centers. Each played for one team his entire career, won multiple Cups and went directly to the Hall of Fame. Neither enjoyed speaking about their individual successes. They were well-spoken, but each was too genuinely humble to share any meaningful insight about what made them a force with skates on their feet and a stick in their hand.
They wanted to do their jobs, and let results speak for themselves.
Now in their 50s, Sakic and Yzerman are both general managers and their approach hasn’t changed. Both men do their job and neither wants, or needs, any fanfare. Yzerman has a Detroit Red Wings team that he’s building from scratch and Sakic commands a Colorado Avalanche team that seems close to winning it all.
Sakic and Yzerman are on different journeys, but yet their approach is still the same. Steady on the wheel. Patience over impulse shopping. Stick to plan. Focus on the objective. No flash. All substance.
Yzerman seemed to have two missions coming into this offseason: He wanted to continue to build through the draft while adding short-term veterans to make the Red Wings more competitive than it was last season.
The Red Wings, the NHL’s worst team in 2019-20, were often unwatchable. Yzerman signaled his intention to address that when he completed a trade with the New York Rangers for defenseman Marc Staal.
Yzerman stayed true to his desire to build through the draft by picking up a second round pick in exchange for Staal’s hefty $5.7 million cap hit for one season. But Yzerman also liked the idea of adding a veteran defenseman to his lineup.
Picking No. 4 in the draft, Yzerman took Lucas Raymond, a slick Swedish sensation with the potential to be as good as anyone taken ahead of him. He also earned high praise for his second round pick of 6-foot-4 Swedish defenseman William Wallinder, said to be mobile and rich in offensive potential.
Yzerman was also active in the free agent market, adding forward Bobby Ryan, two more veteran defensemen in Troy Stecher and Jon Merrill, plus goalie Thomas Greiss and center-winger Vladislav Namestnikov. All of them will help make the Red Wings modestly better, and none of them received more than a two-year deal.
You never heard a single rumor about any of those moves until it was about to happen. That’s not how Yzerman operates.
That’s not how Sakic operates either. Speculation had the Avalanche possibly pursuing Taylor Hall and maybe making a move to upgrade their goaltending, even though Sakic said publicly he was content with his goaltending.
Instead of pursuing Hall aggressively, Sakic secured a trade with Chicago for Brandon Saad. He gave up inconsistent defenseman Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm for Saad and defenseman Dennis Gilbert.
Later, he gave up a pair of second-round picks to the New York Islanders for smooth skating defenseman Devon Toews, a player whose puck-moving, particularly his first-pass skill, seems perfect for today’s game. The Islanders didn't want to trade Toews but were forced to by salary cap issues.
Saad’s value comes from his 20-goal ability, plus the experience of having won two Stanley Cups with the Chicago Blackhawks. These moves seem perfect for a team that is considered one of the teams to beat for the 2021 Stanley Cup.
Like Yzerman, Sakic made calculated moves, acquisitions that fit perfectly into their game plan moving ahead.
Both Yzerman and Sakic have earned reputations as quality traders. Sakic is referred to as Trader Joe. Remember that it was Sakic that traded Matt Duchene to the Ottawa Senators for Kyle Turris, Shane Bowers, a first round pick (Bowen Byram in 2019) and a third round pick. The Avs then flipped Turris to the Predators for Sam Girard, forward Vladislav Kamenev and a second round pick.
The Predators, who now also have Duchene on their roster, just bought out Turris. They were disappointed in Duchene’s first season in Nashville.
After Sakic added Saad and Toews, the running joke on social media was that any NHL general manager who receives a call from Sakic should immediately hang up.
Yzerman retired in 2006, and Sakic hung up his skates in 2009, but both are still impact players for their organizations. Sakic is closer than Yzerman, but both likely will win a Cup as a GM. The NHL is continually evolving, but Yzerman's and Sakic's approach to the game will always be the same.
It's 2020 and Yzerman and Sakic are still trying driving relentlessly to win Stanley Cups for Detroit and Colorado.