Tire pump? Yzerman says Toews is ‘bigger, stronger, better’ than he was

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TAMPA — In 2011, Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas brought tire pumping to the forefront at the Stanley Cup Final.

Four years later, the practice may be back in vogue.

During Tuesday’s media availability, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was effusive in his praise for Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, claiming Toews is the superior player of the two.

“The reality is Jonathan’s bigger, stronger, better,” Yzerman said. “He just is. He’s just a tremendous all-around player, great person.

“Over the course of my career my play evolved and through Scotty Bowman. The way he wanted our team to play, we all became more defensive-minded players, more well-rounded players. Jonathan’s been that from day one.”

The Yzerman-Toews comparisons are nothing new (Chris Chelios noted it a while back): No. 19s, Canadians, centers, top-five draft picks (Yzerman fourth overall, Toews third) with each having won Stanley Cups, Olympic gold medals, Selke and Conn Smythe awards.

Yzerman’s point, however, is interesting. The knock on him prior winning the Cup in ’97 was that he didn’t have the complete game necessary to lead the Red Wings to a championship; Yzerman broke into the NHL as an offensive player, a scorer by trade, and his early point totals (155 points in 1988-89, remember) reflected as much.

Toews, meanwhile, isn’t the same offensive dynamo — he’s never broke the 80-point plateau — but attained playoff success far quicker than Stevie Y. Toews was a captain before he turned 21 and Stanley Cup winner before he was 23, whereas Yzerman didn’t hoist Lord Stanley’s Mug until he was 32.

That said… it’s Steve freaking Yzerman.

A first-ballot Hall of Famer and three-time Cup winner, Yzerman is now regarded as one of the greatest leaders in NHL history. He was the longest-serving captain of any team in North American major league sports upon retiring, and is an icon in Detroit. That reputation of winning has extended to his front office work, where he’s led Tampa Bay to an Eastern Conference and Stanley Cup Final in just five years on the job.

And this could be why he said what he did today.

Yzerman’s a shrewd guy, and knows how to work the media. The quiet, humble, aw-shucks-he’s-better-than-me routine fits into the narrative that many have written already, where the Bolts are the young, inexperienced, new kids on the block, underdogs against a Chicago team that’s been here before, done this before and is now looking to win a third Cup in the last five years.

To wit, I asked veteran Tampa forward Brenden Morrow — at 36, one of the few guys in this series to play against both Yzerman and Toews — what he thought of his GM’s remarks.

“They’re both competitors, but that’s just Steve being Steve,” Morrow said, smiling. “He’s a very modest and humble guy.

“He was a pretty special player.”