“He was a leader. He was a captain. He was the face of a franchise,” Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland said of Steve Yzerman. That was what Yzerman did for 19 years – lead as captain of the Red Wings. On October 26, 1997, he became the longest-serving captain, not only of Detroit, but in the entire NHL.
When, on October 7, 1986, Yzerman was named the 34th captain of the Red Wings at 21, he became the youngest NHL captain. He had gained a reputation for making many sweet goals, and fans began returning to the team. His teammates soon realized that he “led by quiet example,” and he became known simply as “The Captain.” Making captain in his fourth season, he captained the team for the next 19 seasons, through 1,300 games. During that time, the Red Wings finished first or second in their division for all but two seasons.
At the height of Yzerman’s career, he led the Red Wings to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships in 1997 and 1998. In between the two, Yzerman surpassed Alex Delvecchio’s record of 11 years, 12 games as the longest-serving captain. With the win (5-1 against the Vancouver Canucks) on October 26, 1997, the Red Wings started the season 6-0-0. At the end of the season, Yzerman won the Conn Smythe Trophy (as playoff MVP). He also earned the Lester B. Pearson/Ted Lindsay Award (in 1989), the Selke Trophy (in 2000), and the Bill Masterton Trophy (in 2003). Yzerman’s team won another Stanley Cup championship in 2002. For his final season, 2005-06, Yzerman led the Red Wings to another Presidents Trophy for finishing first in the league. That summer, he officially retired after having played 1,514 games and amassing enough career points (692G, 1063A, 1755P) to place him seventh all-time in the league. His successor as captain, Nicklas Lidstrom, said, “He was a true leader for us to follow. He showed a tremendous commitment in those playoffs, playing through injury, through pain.”
After retiring, Yzerman became vice president of his franchise, and three years later, the Red Wings won their fourth Stanley Cup championship in eleven years. Then, in 2010, he moved on to the Tampa Bay Lightning as vice president and general manager and “built the Lightning into a Stanley Cup contender.” For which, in 2015, he received the NHL’s General Manager of the Year Award. On the international stage, Yzerman had skated with team Canada in the Olympics held in 1998 and 2002 (when Canada won gold). He then served as executive director for Team Canada for the Olympics, earning two more gold medals (in 2010 and 2014).
Detroit honored Yzerman’s contributions by renaming the road leading to Joe Louis Arena Yzerman Drive. On January 2, 2007, the Red Wings retired his No. 19 – the same number as the number of seasons he served them as captain.
- Kirk McKnight, The Voices of Hockey: Broadcasters Reflect on the Fastest Game on Earth (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 65.