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Yzerman as a two-way player

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Old
09-07-2012, 09:59 PM
  #1
StarLightning
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Yzerman as a two-way player

Hockey fans like myself who were too young to see Steve Yzerman in his high scoring days have been told that he wasn't good defensively in his offensive prime. We are then told that when Scotty Bowman became Detroit's coach, he got Yzerman to sacrifice his offense in order to become a better two way player.

However, Yzerman himself disputes that. Quote from the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals: "I always considered myself a decent two-way player," he said. "It's just that I never got noticed about playing defense until I stopped scoring."

For those of you who saw all of Yzerman's career, does he have a point?

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09-07-2012, 10:13 PM
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tombombadil
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stars and Bolts View Post
Hockey fans like myself who were too young to see Steve Yzerman in his high scoring days have been told that he wasn't good defensively in his offensive prime. We are then told that when Scotty Bowman became Detroit's coach, he got Yzerman to sacrifice his offense in order to become a better two way player.

However, Yzerman himself disputes that. Quote from the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals: "I always considered myself a decent two-way player," he said. "It's just that I never got noticed about playing defense until I stopped scoring."

For those of you who saw all of Yzerman's career, does he have a point?
I'm a little young, too. I remember him well in the 80's, but i just wasn't old enough to be really watching, if you know what i mean.

As for his Selke... to be totally honest, I think he was good, and committed, defensively. I don't feel he was the best defensive forward. I feel like he was Paul Newman in the Color of Money... like, 'we really like you, you've done a lot, and you have sacrificed some numbers for your team and coach, and it ended up with Cups..... so, you have this coming, even if this isn't your best movie"

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09-08-2012, 02:24 AM
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Rhiessan71
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It was never about whether or not Stevie could play well defensively, it was that it wasn't required of him.
His job was to score goals and take chances, he was the Wings offense.
He was always a hell of a PKer and not just as an offensive threat like Lemieux and Gretzky were. He blocked shots, stayed in his lanes and played great positionally when killing penalties.
He was also always a very strong faceoff guy.

The only real difference between Stevie in '89 to Stevie in '99 is that he didn't "cheat" anymore.
He played on the defensive side of the puck, not the offensive side. Anyone who has played hockey at competitive level, you know what I'm talking about.

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09-08-2012, 02:42 AM
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RabbinsDuck
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The idea Yzerman sacrificed his offense to play better defense has been a little romanticized as his falling offensive numbers had just as much if not more to do with his numerous injuries.

Yzerman played mainly an offensive role during his high-scoring years, but he was still a gritty player always willing to battle for the puck and sacrifice his body.

While his main duty was to score, he was also often double-shifted on the checking line to skate against the opposing top line and he was always on the PK unit.

He wasn't the Selke winner defensively that he would become, but he was far more defensively responsible than most of the all-offense-all-the-time star forwards of the era.

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09-08-2012, 07:37 AM
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ozzie
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He always had a more then solid two way game, thanks to his time on the Petes in the OHL.

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09-08-2012, 07:52 AM
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LSnow
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Same kind of quote was from Kovalchuk when reporter asked him why his defensive game improved alot when coming to New Jersey, he said something like " I didnt become better defensively, i was just used differently"

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09-08-2012, 05:49 PM
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Dark Shadows
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The stigma that he became much better defensively later in his career is true. From my personal experience watching him, that is my opinion.

Yes, you can argue "he was used differently later" but always had those skills. The fact of the matter is, when he was putting up huge point seasons he was not solid defensively. He was not a 200 foot player. His job was to go create offense and score goals and his defense suffered as a result.

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09-08-2012, 05:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rhiessan71 View Post
It was never about whether or not Stevie could play well defensively, it was that it wasn't required of him.
His job was to score goals and take chances, he was the Wings offense.
He was always a hell of a PKer and not just as an offensive threat like Lemieux and Gretzky were. He blocked shots, stayed in his lanes and played great positionally when killing penalties.
He was also always a very strong faceoff guy.

The only real difference between Stevie in '89 to Stevie in '99 is that he didn't "cheat" anymore.
He played on the defensive side of the puck, not the offensive side
. Anyone who has played hockey at competitive level, you know what I'm talking about
i think i know what your trying to say, if you could use your basic english language skills i could understand it a little better. i dont have many memories of steve yzerman

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09-08-2012, 06:08 PM
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Originally Posted by um View Post
i think i know what your trying to say, if you could use your basic english language skills i could understand it a little better. i dont have many memories of steve yzerman
I'm not exactly sure what you want me to re-phrase there?
Playing on the offensive side of the puck means you are leaving your own zone a little early, playing high in your own zone and jumping up, looking for lead passes. You are running the risk of going the wrong way on a turnover and getting caught up ice.
Playing on the defensive side, you are playing deeper in your zone, not leaving the zone till the puck does and not jumping ahead of the puck carrier. You're not getting yourself in a position to get caught up ice on a turnover.

I don't know how else to explain it unless you have played hockey at a highly organized level.

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09-08-2012, 06:33 PM
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I think it's fair to say this about 3 similar players in the Western conference.

Yzerman came from the Petes so he wasn't a defensive liability but he did become a more complete player as his career progressed.

Sakic was an offensive guy when he entered the league and as time went on he became better defensively, although the Selke had become the best defensive center who scored alot when he won it.

Modano was a strictly offensive guy when eh entered the league and even a bit lazy but his defensive game matured more than the other two guys, in part because eh started further back.

None of these guys were Bob Gainey or Mike Keane though.

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09-08-2012, 10:22 PM
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This is what ive pieced together:

Yzerman's favorite player before he joined the league was Bryan Trottier (as a really young kid it was Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito) and Yzerman has said many times that he tried to model his game after him and he has said during the early 90s - maybe earlier but i havent seen anything. Bryan Trottier is generally perceived as a paragon of a complete player (though i have heard things about Trottier changing his own game and sacrificing his O to become a checking center in his late career) and it is pretty clear that Yzerman has this perception of Trottier too. Interesting note is what Trottier has to say about Yzerman's two way play. Funny thing is, Steve Yzerman doesn't think he has changed much at all. "When you come into the league as an offensive player," he says, "people think you can't play defense." Trottier, who battled Yzerman for more than a decade before retiring in 1994, knows better. "Who are these people who say that?" Trottier says. "I played against him back then and I remember him killing penalties, hustling and back-checking. I guess no one else does."

Darren Pang who played with him before he went to the OHL has said many times that Yzerman always played the two way game.

DIck Todd who coached him in the OHL has also said the same thing repeatedly.

The Red Wings that Yzerman joined in 84 were comprised of what is characterized a bunch of selfish veterans who had (statistical) incentive-based contracts. Ogrodnick who was Yzerman's winger especially had a reputation like this and there was said to be some beef that Yzerman wasnt passing the puck enough to Ogrodnick. In the summer before the 86 ssn Yzerman lost a significant amount of weight and his play suffered a lot. He was also criticized for floating as well as the rest of the team. Didn't find anything on his early coaches on this except for Polano saying (after the fact) he wanted to make Yzerman captain after 85.

When Jacques Demers came in 87 things turned around. The Red Wings were molded into a physical and defensive team. Yzerman was made captain and by his own words took the captaincy very seriously and was the comeback player of the year. Demers has stated both at the time and after the fact replying to comments about Yzerman's transformation that Yzerman always played well defensively, killed penalties, blocked shots, won key faceoffs. Yzerman for his part has repeatedly said that Demers was the first one to play him in a defensive role in the NHL. Yzerman got a lot of credit for the Red Wings disciplined defensive style that took them to two conference finals. The team started to crumble by 89 and is said to have tuned Demers out and the first thing to go was the tight defensive structure (the Goose Loonies incident is refered to as the starting point but Yzerman has explicitly said otherwise saying that its effect was vastly overrated).

When Bryan Murray came he once again tried to bring a structured defensive style to the team like he did with Washington. He also cut Yzerman's icetime significantly as the Red Wings had Fedorov and Carson at center. By the 2nd half of 91 the Red Wings were playing much more structured team D. 93 somewhat changed that trend. Murray got better wingers like Ciccarelli. Yzerman noted how in 92 he didnt play on an offensive line as compared to 93 with Ciccarelli. Murray had always wanted a superstar defenseman to anchor the D and in 93 he got one but it was Paul Coffey lol... Murray said at the time that Yzerman played both ways, worked as hard on D as any star in the league, and was in general just a complete player. Havent seen Murray make comments on this issue after the fact.

Bowman let the team continue to play offensively in 94 (the D actually suffered) before Barry Smith brought over the left wing lock from Sweden before 95. Bowman has said that he told Yzerman to take a defense first role and sell the system to his teammates that his stats would go down. Bowman has also said that it was easy for Yzerman to make the change and that he was the reason the team changed because it wouldnt have been accepted without his acceptance which goes against notions that Yzerman and Bowman clashed on the D issue. Bowman has also said that the team when he got there was offensively gifted but defensively porus but i have not seen him say anything of the sort about Yzerman's D.

In 95 and 96 Yzerman was playing on a checking line for quite some time with Errey. From 97 he went back to being in the top offensive center role but that was when the rep came. Bowman called him the best two-way player in the league and more blah blah blah. This is also when the anachronistic and simplistic foiling of Yzerman's career began. Yzerman won the Selke in 00, shockingly when he scored 30 goals and was top 10 in scoring (reminds me of Fedorov who lost the Selke in 92 when he was playing a more defensive role but then won in in 94 when Bowman told him to be selfish and play more offensively).

As for some others:
Holland has said Yzerman was one dimensional in his prime.
Devellano has explicitly said Yzerman was bad defensively early on.
Larry Kelly (agent) has disagreed in response to Devellano.
Dave Lewis has been ambivalent saying that there were still a few things to learn.
Barry Smith has said the ability was always there and he was just asked to do it.
(these are all after the fact)

The last thing is that players like Sakic, Lindros, Forsberg were also considered "two way" in their era and even got Selke consideration although they were nowhere near the defensive ability of players like Yzerman, Fedorov, Modano. In Yzerman's era defense seems to be much more of an afterthought for elite offensive players. Yzerman said he wasnt noticed for his D when he was scoring in the late 80s/early 90s but had his prime come 10 years later that might be different.

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09-08-2012, 10:52 PM
  #12
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Originally Posted by Dark Shadows View Post
The stigma that he became much better defensively later in his career is true. From my personal experience watching him, that is my opinion.

Yes, you can argue "he was used differently later" but always had those skills. The fact of the matter is, when he was putting up huge point sea Ysons he was not solid defensively. He was not a 200 foot player. His job was to go create offense and score goals and his defense suffered as a result.
The thing is, *everyone* who played in the 1980s who was still active in the mid-1990s played a totally different sort of defensive game.

Did Yzerman get much better defensively in the 1990s? Yes, absolutely. Did he get much better relative to his peers? A bit, but not nearly so much.

He was still an above-average two-way forward in the late '80s, but the game was so different then that even 'above average' looks pretty crap by today's standards.

Same thing with a lot of players. When you watch Al MacInnis play defense during his Calgary years, some of his reads and decision-making are absolutely shocking by 2012 measures, but he wasn't considered poor defensively at the time. The game just changed, he changed with it, and he looked totally different in his St. Louis period.

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09-09-2012, 02:19 AM
  #13
billybudd
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dark Shadows View Post
The stigma that he became much better defensively later in his career is true. From my personal experience watching him, that is my opinion.

Yes, you can argue "he was used differently later" but always had those skills. The fact of the matter is, when he was putting up huge point seasons he was not solid defensively. He was not a 200 foot player. His job was to go create offense and score goals and his defense suffered as a result.
That's my recollection as well. Those 140+ point centers didn't really have a two way game...any of them. Maybe they'd start being responsible in a close playoff game...but that's about it.

Yzerman may have thought he was always a good two-way player, but Bowman sure didn't think that when he got to Detroit.

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09-09-2012, 02:47 AM
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I think some people are hitting the nail on the head here. In 1989 I don't think you wanted Yzerman to sacrifice his offense. No one on the Wings could score at that time, so if he is cracking 60 goals you let him do his thing. Yzerman was a notch below Mario and Wayne at that time, but he was certainly one of those players who you let him play his game without any deviation. He had that type of skill.

That being said, I have never thought he was poor defensively. Yzerman was always a competitor. He always wanted to win long before 1997. He would have done whatever it took. To this day Mike Keenan's snub of Yzerman in the 1991 still looks foolish. You just don't cut a guy like him regardless of what style of hockey he plays.

I also can't think of times when he was a lazy backchecker. To me, that is a person who is poor defensively when they refuse to backcheck. That wasn't Yzerman at all. He was at least "present" at both ends of the ice even if it took him longer to excel in the defensive end. There are countless players in NHL history where you can claim they never back checked and seemed to not care about their own end. Even in his offensive years I never thought that about Yzerman

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09-09-2012, 10:13 PM
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I think Trottier has a point when he says people assume that elite offensive players automatically can't play defense. It seems to be a common assumption here on this forum (an annoying one too, I must add). I think the reason this happens is because since at a glance an elite offensive game is more noticeable, a high scoring player's scoring ability may simply overshadow his defensive abilities. Meanwhile, if an elite defender has a lackluster offensive game, his play in his own end is more noticeable since his offensive game can't overshadow it.

As for Yzerman, even before hearing this quote, I always found it weird that people thought him becoming a better defender dropped his point totals. Injuries and the NHL moving into the dead puck era seem like more likely factors than him committing to defense. From what I've heard fans say, it's like they assume he could still score that much had he kept playing the same style, but with injuries and the DPE beginning, I don't think he could have.

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09-10-2012, 07:30 PM
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Originally Posted by Stars and Bolts View Post
I think Trottier has a point when he says people assume that elite offensive players automatically can't play defense. It seems to be a common assumption here on this forum (an annoying one too, I must add). I think the reason this happens is because since at a glance an elite offensive game is more noticeable, a high scoring player's scoring ability may simply overshadow his defensive abilities. Meanwhile, if an elite defender has a lackluster offensive game, his play in his own end is more noticeable since his offensive game can't overshadow it.
That was Yzerman who said that.

Funny thing is, Steve Yzerman doesn't think he has changed much at all. "When you come into the league as an offensive player," he says, "people think you can't play defense."

Trottier, who battled Yzerman for more than a decade before retiring in 1994, knows better. "Who are these people who say that?" Trottier says. "I played against him back then and I remember him killing penalties, hustling and back-checking. I guess no one else does."


Quote:
As for Yzerman, even before hearing this quote, I always found it weird that people thought him becoming a better defender dropped his point totals. Injuries and the NHL moving into the dead puck era seem like more likely factors than him committing to defense. From what I've heard fans say, it's like they assume he could still score that much had he kept playing the same style, but with injuries and the DPE beginning, I don't think he could have.
Exactly. You have these a player who is 30 years old, has had major knee injuries (both right and by the mid 90s left) and also back injuries (check out the stats after 94 after the neck/back injury and notice Yzerman's goal scoring drop), and is playing in a league that is in general playing conservatively and defense first instead of offense first along with improved goaltending. And yet the only factor in Yzerman's point drop is his own commitment to defense and so it is made to seem like he had to sacrifice THAT much offense.

It seems to me that if Yzerman didnt focus on D so much and also didnt play on a team which rolled 4 lines... you would still have to account for his age, injuries, and general league context and so maybe he would be scoring 90-100ish points instead of 70-85 in the late 90s - i mean hes in his 30s and has been through some serious injuries already.

And yet here by some playing defense first is seen as some kind of flaw as if buying in and changing your style to fit a team system so your teammates would follow suit and which led to a ton of success is somehow a knock on a player. Especially when that player's best offensive years are clearly past with age/injuries anyway.

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09-10-2012, 10:33 PM
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RabbinsDuck
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Just because I heard the quote again recently, but it bears repeating Scotty Bowman states Yzerman had the highest pain threshold of any player he coached or knew. Nothing really to do with the discussion, buy felt like posting it - just a huge statement and compliment as to the type of player he was.

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09-10-2012, 10:50 PM
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Ziggy Stardust
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From my viewings, and as an impartial fan who was not too fond of the Wings growing up, I recall Bowman making some changes (remember the Left Wing Lock)? Part of those changes included more of a commitment by the forwards to back check. The changes precipitated after the Wings were regularly dominating during the regular season but being upset in the playoffs.

They became a far more aggressive team after their battle against the Avs in 1996. The season prior they were swept by the Devils and pushed around by Stevens and the Devils' Crash Line. The Wings sacrificed finesse for grit (and did so by moving Coffey for Shanahan) and were then able to sustain bigger, physical teams like the '97 Flyers. Part of their success has to be attributed to Yzerman's commitment to become a more complete player.

Do note that there was a period of time where Steve Yzerman's name was coming up in trade rumors. One of those rumors involved Yzerman being sent to Ottawa for Alexei Yashin.
http://the6thsens.com/2009-articles/...to-ottawa.html
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According to legend, on February 26th, 1996, Detroit's VP and GM, Jimmy Devellano and Ottawa's GM, Pierre Gauthier agreed in principle to a trade that would have seen Chris Osgood and Steve Yzerman dealt to the Senators in exchange for Alexei Yashin, Damian Rhodes and Ottawa's first round picks in 1996 and 1997.

Over the years, there's been a lot of speculation as to why Devellano backed out on the trade. Some theorize that owner, Mike Illitch, vetoed the deal because Yzerman was one of his favorites. Another theory is that Devellano backed out because he only wanted to put a scare into Yzerman using the threat of a trade. At the time, it was well publicized that Head Coach Scotty Bowman was having issues getting Stevie Y to commit to the defensive side of the game.
I remember reading in one of my old print hockey mags about a rumor during the 90s involving Steve Yzerman and Scott Stevens. I don't doubt that there was a period of time where some within the Red Wings coaching staff/front office questioned if Yzerman could elevate his game and become a better leader.

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