Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Yzerman: We Got Humbled a Little Bit

Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman addressed the media today, breaking down his team's failure to make the playoffs this season, and giving his opinions on the reasons that his team fell short. He was quick to praise the performance of the team down the stretch, and to praise a cast of young players that made significant contributions to the injury-riddled Lightning, but ultimately Yzerman placed the blame not on injuries but rather the team's inability to reduce Grade-A scoring chances against for much of the season.

"We as a team, we got humbled a little bit here," he said. "I know there was a lot of injuries, but ultimately I don’t think injuries are the reason we did not make the playoffs. It didn’t help by any means, but we’ve got to figure out ways to win games.

"There are a lot of positive things here. We’re encouraged by a lot of the things. Ultimately, I think we’re all better, we all learned from it. The coaching staff, myself, even our players go through this experience again. It’s somewhat of - I guess a road to trying to win the Stanley Cup. We hit a major bump in the road and we’ll continue on towards that goal."

Yzerman elaborated on the positives during his speech, but not before he addressed what he clearly felt was his team's weak spot. Defense.

"Ultimately break it down to this," he said. :For whatever reason, we gave up too many quality scoring chances for the better part of 50 games in this season. And that’s it. That goes towards our team. These Grade-A scoring chances we’re giving up, that’s the result of our team play. It’s not an indictment on our goaltending. It’s an indictment on our team play. We got away from it.

"The best teams in the league keep the puck out of the net," he said. "They keep the chances and the shots against down. Regardless of who’s in the lineup, who’s injured, who’s healthy - you’ve got to figure out a way to win hockey games. Usually when you’re missing some of your firepower, the best way to do that is to lock it down defensively. We had a tough time doing that for stretches of the season."

Yzerman did seem hopeful that his team could avoid the same fate next season. He expressed belief in the team's young core of players such as Brayden Point, Jake Dotchin, Adam Erne and Yanni Gourde--all of whom were a big part of the Lightning's late push to make the playoffs.

He also seemed to give head coach Jon Cooper a vote of confidence.

"I think our coaching staff had to make a lot of adjustments," he said. "Things weren’t working and they had to figure out ways to make it work. Then you get all these injuries and you’ve got to use all these players in different situations. We all learn a lot from it."

Yzerman clearly wants to see his team be better defensively in front of goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy next season, and Cooper will likely feel a bit more pressure if he can't get the team to do that. For now, it appears that a coaching change is out of the question. But that could change in this fickle business if history repeats itself in Tampa next year.

"For Coop and his staff, we’ll be in these situations again," Yzerman said. "Whether it’s October, November, whatever--injuries, slumps, and all that. Figure out ways to do things. What worked, what didn’t work. In general, I thought--again collectively, I know we’re extremely disappointed we don’t make the playoffs. But our players, our coaching staff - I think they did everything they could. We figured things out along the way to give us a good chance to win. We just come up short."

In a lot of ways, the Lightning could benefit from a maturity perspective from this difficult season. Because of so many injuries to key players, they were afforded a long look at many of the young bodies that will be the future of this club. The fact that players like Point and Dotchin were able to spearhead the Bolts down the stretch means that Yzerman might have some trade options this summer.

Tyler Johnson, Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat and Andrej Sustr are all unrestricted free agents. Shrewd mover that he is, Yzerman might want to get creative in the quest for molding a more defensively sound team.

Whether he does or not, there's a lot to like about the Lightning, regardless of their inability to squeeze into the playoffs this year. After a long summer of stewing this should be one of the toughest teams in the Eastern Conference next season.