Yzer will to win and quiet demeanour have earned him respect
(CP) - Steve Yzerman's tremendous will to win and his quiet demeanour have made him one of the most respected men in hockey.
He's worn the C on his jersey for 20 of his 23 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, making him the longest-serving captain in NHL history. But the 41-year-old star forward may have donned that sweater for the final time. After the top-seeded Wings were upset by Edmonton in the first round of the playoffs, he said he would decide fairly quickly if he'll continue playing or retire.
Yzerman has earned Stanley Cup rings in 1997, in 1998, when he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and in 2002.
NHL players voted him winner of the Lester B. Pearson Award after he scored 65 goals in 1988-89. It is an award that he has continued to treasure because it came from his peers.
He's always had a down-to-earth attitude.
"If you play well and win, you're a heck of a leader," he once said. "You don't win, you're an OK leader.
"If you don't play well and you don't win, you're a lousy leader."
Yzerman has gradually and unselfishly traded in gaudy statistics amassed with an all-out offensive style for a two-way role to help the team get ahead. The transformation led to his selection as the NHL's best defensive forward. He has also devoted himself to an off-ice conditioning regimen which has kept him among the best-prepared players in the league.
But he has paid a physical price through the years. He required surgery in 1994 to remove a herniated disc from his neck.
He was barely able to skate when Detroit won its last championship. He required osteotomy surgery for knee realignment, and he missed most of the following season, returning to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance and sportsmanship.
"When I first got here, I was in awe of him," says teammate Kirk Maltby. "My buddies back in Toronto couldn't believe I was his teammate.
"I quickly found out that he's just an easygoing, approachable guy whether you're a young kid trying to make it or a veteran star."
Yzerman suffered a terrible eye injury during the 2004 playoffs. He didn't want that to be his goodbye and, after the lockout wiped out the 2004-2005 season, he devoted himself to one more season. He helped the Red Wings finish first overall.
He missed two playoff games this spring with a rib injury, and first-round elimination was a huge disappointment.
"He's been a courageous competitor," said coach Mike Babcock. "He probably shouldn't have played (Game 7) but he perceives this as his team and he wanted to lead them."
It may be time for Detroit to rebuild and time for Yzerman to hand off the torch and give his body a break.
No matter what he decides, his No. 19 will be the sixth jersey to be retired in Joe Louis Arena, and he'll be an automatic pick for the Hockey Hall of Fame when the three-year waiting period expires.
Besides his brilliant NHL career, which has seen him amass 1,755 points to put him sixth all-time, Yzerman has played often and well for Canada beginning in 1983 with a spot on the country's world junior team. He won an Olympic gold medal in 2002. It was one of his proudest moments - that and hoisting the Stanley Cup a few months later.
Yzerman's impending exit from the playing ranks raises the possibility of his continued involvement in the NHL in an executive or coaching capacity. It's hard to imagine him anywhere but Detroit.
"I enjoy the game," he says. "It's obviously something I've done all my life and have a passion for.
"So I'd like to stay within the game . . . I definitely would like to stay within hockey."