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Fennelly: Change is part of the game for Lightning GM Yzerman


Published:   |   Updated: March 27, 2013 at 02:48 PM
TAMPA -

It took more than a bad Canada trip, or a month of lousy hockey, for Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman to knock on Guy Boucher's Winnipeg hotel room door and give him the bad news.

Yzerman's decision to fire Boucher wasn't knee jerk, done lightly or quickly. That's not him, though the result is that now he's instantly on the clock himself, one coach into his GM career. It's nearly always the GM the next time.

Jon Cooper, the new coach, was at the Forum for Tuesday night's game with Buffalo. Now, or pretty soon, would seem a good time to make sweeping changes. Don't count on it. Yzerman is methodical, a patient man.

So you just know something must have unraveled over time rather than overnight for him to dump Boucher.

What went wrong here?

It had to be philosophy — that was part of it, particularly the Bolts' 1-3-1 scheme, especially in their own end, sending two defensemen along with a forward to the puck, leaving neither D in front of the net.

Boucher's buzzing system worked wonders his first season (Yzerman's first, too) and the Lightning swept to the Eastern Conference finals. But teams caught up last season, changed their game against the Bolts, found the open spaces, and the Lightning didn't always respond, at least to Yzerman's way of thinking. It's clear by what just happened that the GM decided that his coach was unwilling to adjust.

Put yourself in Boucher's place. He got where he was by doing it his way on the way up, he'd never failed, and he was a smash when he first hit the NHL.

Put yourself in Yzerman's place. His hockey career taught him that change is everything. He played for Scotty Bowman, the greatest pro sports coach in history, who, as granite-like as he seemed, made a career out of adapting to his team and the times, winning all sorts of ways. That's how you can flourish, that's how you survive.

Yzerman had to learn about change, adjusting his game as his career went on, chafing at first under Bowman, until he became a great two-way player, and that's when he became a champion who lifted the Stanley Cup. I think that's where he partly must have been coming from when it came to Boucher, the idea that change should be part of anyone's game.

Don't think it's a small thing that Cooper, the new coach, dumped the 1-3-1 after one season coaching it at the Lightning's AHL affiliate in Norfolk. Cooper, as much as he wanted to mimic the system being played by the Bolts' NHL club, didn't think it worked for his team. I don't think Yzerman is looking for obedience from Cooper, just an open mind.

I'm sure there was other stuff, like maybe a difference of opinion on how to use superstar Steven Stamkos. Maybe Yzerman sees a bit of himself in No. 91, the young shooting star who needs to improve all parts of his game. Maybe Stamkos wasn't tracking that way under Boucher, at least not as quickly as Yzerman wanted. That's only a guess.

As much as Boucher was Yzerman's first big hire as GM, how Stamkos turns out, and Victor Hedman, matters more for Yzerman — and the Lightning — than how good a coach Cooper turns out to be. OK, whether goaltender Anders Lindback sinks or swims, that's huge for Yzerman.

The general manager has tough decisions ahead. It's easier said than done to blow up this thing. Vinny Lecavalier's contract is like Kryptonite. He'd already be gone if he didn't own a no-trade clause. And where does Marty St. Louis fit in? Yzerman was a huge reason why St. Louis stayed here to fight the good fight.

Yzerman might be the key again as St. Louis considers his options. It will be Marty's call.

Guy Boucher was Steve Yzerman's call — to hire him and now to fire him. Neither man will bash the other. They're too classy. And there's more to life than that, perspective every day, including Tuesday, with the news that Wayne Fleming, an assistant coach on the 2011 playoff team, had died after a long battle with cancer. This other stuff, it's just stuff.

It still took a lot for Yzerman to make that trip to Boucher's room in Winnipeg.

Now, it's a matter of whether Jon Cooper makes it the right move.

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