Steve Yzerman stopped this reporter in his tracks halfway through an opening prelude to what was going to be an opening question.
When I began to talk about how I felt we might all look back one day and feel that Tampa Bay’s acquisition of Anders Lindback might end up being the best move of the entire 2012 NHL offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning GM jumped in and, although I couldn’t see him across the phone line, I pictured Yzerman waving his hand down at me as if to calm things.
Whoa, Nelly, let’s not put the cart before the horse.
"In fairness to Anders, he’s shown great potential when you watch him play in the games that he’s played in," Yzerman said this week. "Let’s just see how it plays out and not put any undue expectation on him."
In other words, quiet down with the franchise goalie talk, the kid doesn’t need that kind of pressure right now.
But let’s also be fair. The Lightning are hoping this 24-year-old is the answer to their goalie prayers.
With him having played only 38 career NHL games, it’s a gamble, for sure. But at 6-foot-6 and coming out of the Nashville Predators organization having played and learned behind the great Pekka Rinne, it sure seems like a worthy gamble.
"I think he’s got real nice skill and ability," said a goalie coach from a Western Conference NHL team. "But I do feel like there’s some holes there with his game. They’ve got fine-tuning to do, technically, with him. They’ve got a good goalie coach there who has the ability to do it. They’re rolling the dice a bit with that goalie, but they needed somebody and there is absolutely a chance he turns out to be a stud."
Hey, Yzerman knows it’s no sure bet. But what is in this business, especially when it comes to the quirky world of goaltending?
"New Jersey has had Marty Brodeur for 20 years," Yzerman said. "The Devils and their fans have been able to sleep well at night for 20 years knowing they’ve had an elite starting goaltender. Every team is searching for that. Our goal is to find that. We’re hoping with the group of young guys we have -- Anders and Andrey Vasilevskiy, Adam Wilcox, Dustin Tokarski and Riku Helenius -- out of that group, we’re hoping at least one of those guys will emerge into that starting goaltender that will be here for a very, long time."
For now, Lindback gets the first crack. It was a long search by Yzerman. Jonathan Bernier in L.A. might have been another option, but I don’t believe Tampa Bay and L.A. ever went very far down that patch.
For starters, the Kings' price for Bernier began with a first-round pick. The Bolts got Lindback for a pair of second-round picks plus a third-round pick.
And in the end, I believe Lindback is the guy Yzerman wanted all along.
"We took everything into account," Yzerman said. "No. 1 is the player’s ability and his upside, then his contract situation (a bargain this year and next at $1.8 million per season) and the cost of acquiring the player. All those things get taken into account. With Anders, we like the fact he’s a young goaltender with potential to be here a long time. His contract situation fit well for us in our payroll structure at this point. And of course, we really like the goalie."
Now, would Yzerman have loved a shot at Roberto Luongo? He won’t say, but I’m guessing that in a perfect world, of course. You’d always take the more established goalie, one who helped you win Olympic gold in Vancouver three years ago. But in a nontraditional market that already has some big contracts on the books in the form of Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Matt Carle and Victor Hedman, there are only so many of those babies you can carry on your payroll, and that’s obviously why Luongo was never a real possibility for Tampa.
And so the bet is on Lindback, who, for the first time in his young career, gets to step out of Rinne’s shadow and prove he can be a No. 1 goalie.
"I think it takes time for a goaltender to adjust to playing a lot of games," Yzerman said. "We’re fortunate to have Mathieu Garon, a veteran guy that can play a good number of games, as well, to ease the burden on Anders and let him just gradually get comfortable playing a lot of games."
Garon, the veteran backup, was a smart pickup by Yzerman before last season. He knows his role as the backup, and he delivers in his role.
"He’s a really good guy," Yzerman said. "He’s well-liked by his teammates; he has a good demeanor. Mathieu’s personality, I think, [can] really help a young goaltender like Anders."
Life without Lidstrom
It begins. Life at Joe Louis Arena without No. 5 calmly skating out onto the ice and slowing the fastest game on earth down like nobody else could during his era.
"We got 20 incredible years from Nick; I look at it like we got five bonus years from him," Wings GM Ken Holland said this week. "A lot of European players go back home when they’re 35 or 36; he stayed until he was 43 and won a Norris at 41. I’m not looking back. We were so fortunate. That 20 years is in the [NHL] Guide and Record book."
So now what? Well, you obviously don’t replace him, just as Bobby Orr wasn’t replaced in Boston.
"We’re defense by committee," Holland said.
The veteran GM, who has done an incredible job keeping the Wings among the NHL’s elite for so, so long, is realistic but upbeat when he talks about life after Nick.
The "committee" on defense starts with Detroit's top defender, talented and bruising Niklas Kronwall. No need to elaborate there; he’s Detroit most dependable force on defense.
"I think, in the last year, Jonathan Ericsson established himself in our mind, finally becoming the player that we thought and hoped he would," Holland said. "He became a good penalty killer, a good matchup guy. He’s a guy that we think can eat up more minutes."
"Those three guys are legitimate, solid NHL players," Holland said. "We’ve got Brendan Smith, who we think can play in the top four. We’ve got Jakub Kindl, as well. So it’s going to be defense by committee."
Smith, 23, is being counted on to take the next step in his career. He’ll be given plenty of opportunity to do so.
It’s not as bad as some people would have you believe, but there’s no denying that, when you lose Lidstrom, plus another quality veteran in Brad Stuart (who signed with San Jose), the Wings aren’t what they had been on defense.
"That’s obviously the question mark on the Detroit Red Wings," Holland said.
Therefore, it’s obviously on defense where I think Holland will tinker if he has a chance to add help.
A source told ESPN.com Wednesday that the Wings were mulling the merits of approaching Wade Redden once he becomes an unrestricted free agent and is officially bought out by the Rangers. But it wasn't clear whether Detroit would go ahead and do so.
Life without Zach
Sometimes the story line isn’t so obvious on some teams in preseason.
For the New Jersey Devils, it hits you like a jackhammer.
Life without Zach Parise will be the huge test of the 2013 season.
"Absolutely," Devils coach Pete DeBoer told ESPN.com this week. "Not only was he your captain but that’s 30 goals out of your lineup. And not just the goals but the other opportunities he creates for other people by his work ethic and his forecheck. It’s a big hole. We’re obviously not filling it with one person. It’s going to have to be by committee."
There’s that committee thing again.
But it’s also reality. New Jersey simply did not replace Parise on any level.
But the Devils’ way is not to pout or cry over spilled milk. Lou Lamoriello’s teams always seem to find a way to get over obstacles. The Devils have been the ultimate definition of the team concept in the NHL the past two decades.
So, forge on without Parise they will.
"We’re going to need another Adam Henrique this year to surprise out of the minors," DeBoer said. "And we’ll need more career years from people like David Clarkson and Travis Zajac and people like that."
Add in Petr Sykora's exit and that’s another 21 goals out of the lineup in addition to Parise’s 31 goals. With Alexei Ponikarovsky's seven goals after coming over to New Jersey last season, suddenly that’s 59 goals the Devils have to replace this season.
Bobby Butler, Mattias Tedenby, Jacob Josefson, veteran invite Mathieu Darche and 18-year-old prospect/rookie Stefan Matteau are the candidates who might have a chance to try to replace some of those missing goals.
"Those are the names that are probably at the forefront for those jobs," DeBoer said.
DeBoer, who did a masterful job behind the New Jersey bench last season en route to a surprise Stanley Cup finals berth, changed the team’s style in 2011-12, and not only was it more fun to watch but it produced results.
"We were more aggressive last year, and we did that by maintaining our defensive integrity," DeBoer said. "I think we were second or third in shots against per game. I think we showed we played a pressure game and still [were] responsible defensively. But ... we’re going to have to find some goals somewhere."
Henrique, DeBoer said in our Monday interview, was still 10 to 14 days from being healthy, but once that’s the case, the coach figures his two main offensive pairs up front will be Ilya Kovalchuk with Zajac on one line and Henrique with veteran Patrik Elias on the other.
"Those are our two pairs at the top that I want to keep together, but who rides shotgun for those guys are the jobs that are up for grabs," DeBoer said.
As Tom Gulitti noted in the Bergen Record this week, it might be that the Devils eventually try to add offense in a trade and deal from the club’s surplus on defense. I agree with that notion. I don’t think Lou will sit back too long and do nothing if his team can’t score early on.