Sunday, November 18, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Meet the former tax lawyer taking over for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman

TAMPA — It felt as if a thousand tons of bricks fell on the Lightning on Tuesday.

Bye-bye, Stevie Y.

Underneath it was the new general manager.

Julie B?

J.B.?

Um, not so much. Make it Julien, Julien BriseBois.

The new man isn't a headliner. He also isn't new. The seventh GM in Lightning history has been here all along, brought in by the legend he then worked alongside for eight years.

And he can do this job, whether Yzerman stays on as GM whisperer or rides off to the Red Wings.

For all the seismic news on the eve of training camp, there was a seamlessness to Tuesday. It spoke to Lightning owner Jeff Vinik's confidence that one of the best-run franchises in sports will keep humming with 41-year-old BriseBois running things.

First sign: the opening news conference. True to the new man's nature (like Yzerman before him) there were no bells or whistles. You often see family in the front row at the big hires, proud, beaming. Brisebois' family, his wife Marie, their young sons, Justin and Jacob, were not present. GM's call.

"This isn't about me. It's about the Lightning," BriseBois said. "This isn't Julien BriseBois' day. It's an announcement. It's business as usual at work and it's business as usual at home. Right now — what time is it, 4:30? — my boys should be doing homework. Maybe they saw the presser. But it's business as usual for everyone."

Oh, and he can do this job.

BriseBois inherits a team poised to follow through on Yzerman's original plan of producing another Cup winner in Tampa Bay. He came up short. The new GM has no choice. It's win or else, right off the puck drop. That goes for Lightning coach Jon Cooper and his staff, for everyone in the Bolts dressing room.

BriseBois is a lawyer by training. He and former lawyer Cooper could form their own firm, Brisbois & Cooper. First case: Lightning v. Lord Stanley.

The new man has been in demand as a GM over the years, including in Montreal, where BriseBois cut his teeth in Canadiens upper management for nine years. Former Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke probably would have considered BriseBois as GM material for expansion Seattle. And for good reason.

BriseBois has worked hand-in-hand with Yzerman in Tampa, so much so that you didn't know whose hand it was. BriseBois wasn't out getting the coffee. He was all in, the silent partner. Contracts. Arbitration. Drafts. Development. Salary Cap. He can do this job.

It was BriseBois who helped Yzerman find Cooper in Green Bay of the USHL to help guide the then Lightning affiliate in Norfolk to an AHL title in 2012. Cooper was at Tuesday's news conference.

"People say Jon Cooper coached that team," Cooper said. "Julien BriseBois built it. He has spent eight fantastic years with Steve. Julien is a sponge, and he's learning from the best, and now he's getting his chance to shine."

It was BriseBois who helped develop a lot of the Lightning's bounty of farm talent, who helped spot talent like Jonathan Marchessault and Yanni Gourde in other organizations, ready for the picking.

He never played or coached professional hockey. He has a law degree and business degree. He isn't in the Hockey Hall of Fame. He would prefer to stay in the background. Yzerman could never do that.

BriseBois will have to manage to salary cap, especially after superstar Nikita Kucherov's extension kicks in next year. And Cooper needs a new contract. Or not. BriseBois will have to manage and steer the Lightning roster toward a championship, even if it doesn't mean organizing a search party for Erik Karlsson.

"In any job, the name of the game is winning," BriseBois said. "You're going to have to win. If anything, at least we're built to win right now."

But: He was to win right now.

"Usually, you get a GM job you're building something, laying the foundations," BriseBois said. "In my case, it's more about putting on the finishing touches. It's a lot more work for a smaller increment of improvement that we're looking for at this point."

They're looking for a Cup.

That's a long way from when a young BriseBois, fresh from law school in Montreal, had different dreams.

"The truth is my plan … was to be a tax lawyer," he said. "And I did get a job at a major law firm out of law school."

He told the head tax lawyer at the firm his plans. The man said, "Look, you don't want to do that." The man gave BriseBois a complicated tax case to work on and asked for a memo the following Monday.

"Sir, I will prove you wrong," BriseBois told him.

That following Monday …

"I handed him the memo and said, 'Sir, you were right,'" BriseBois said with a grin.

That wasn't the job for him.

Is this?

Everyone is watching. It's life in the NHL, fast, furious, unforgiving. The seventh GM in Lightning history smiled. Then he went off to do more homework, while hoping his boys were back home doing the same. Camp starts Thursday. Business as usual.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029

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