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Julien BriseBois didn’t rush but made the Lightning a better playoff team

The Tampa Bay executive was a finalist for the NHL’s general manager of the year but did not win.
Lightning GM Julien BriseBois was a finalist for the NHL's general manager of the year award.
Lightning GM Julien BriseBois was a finalist for the NHL's general manager of the year award. [ SHADD, DIRK | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sep. 13, 2020|Updated Sep. 13, 2020

Julien BriseBois' route to Lightning general manager couldn’t have differed more from his predecessor’s. Steve Yzerman made his name on the ice. BriseBois came up through the ranks.

BriseBois played baseball growing up. He decided to go into law, with TV shows such as L.A. Law and Night Court on his mind, not working in sports.

But that’s where he ended up. And this season, his second as the Lightning’s general manager, BriseBois, 43, was recognized by his peers as a finalist for GM of the year. The Islanders' Lou Lamoriello was named the winner Saturday, but being one of the three finalists — the Stars' Jim Nill was the other — is an acknowledgement of what BriseBois accomplished to get the Lightning from a historic playoff disappointment a year ago to the Eastern Conference final.

Related: Could the Lightning get Brayden Point back for Game 4?

He didn’t build this team, though he played a part while working with Yzerman during he Hall of Fame player’s tenure as general manager from 2010-18. But he did make the Lightning a better playoff contender than they were a year ago.

There seem to be two paths to being a general manager in the NHL: play in the league or become a lawyer. BriseBois worked his way from sports arbitration outside the league to Canadiens director of legal affairs at age 24, to AHL general manager to Lightning general manager at 41.

BriseBois learned the ropes from former players. And his path through law taught him a lot about decision-making.

Those around him laud BriseBois' methodical approach.

“There’s no standing on the fence, and Julien doesn’t stand on the fence. He listens, he takes in information, and he makes a decision,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, whom BriseBois hired 10 years ago as an AHL coach for the franchise. “And he doesn’t do it by the seat of his pants.”

BriseBois didn’t rush anything after the Lightning were swept in the first round of last year’s playoffs by the Blue Jackets. He said he wasn’t going to blow up the team, and he didn’t.

What BriseBois did, along with his front-office team and the coaching staff, was find the right pieces to produce the tweaks the Lightning wanted to see in their game. He added a big, physical forward in Pat Maroon, and veteran defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Luke Schenn in free agency in the offseason. Then at the trade deadline, he added more pieces.

Two months before the February deadline, BriseBois said prices for players are always high at that time, so he wanted to be intentional with the Lightning’s moves. He was skeptical of rentals — players on expiring contracts — because he went back through past trades and didn’t believe the value was there.

Related: Steven Stamkos stayed. John Tavares left. But the Lightning and the Islanders ended up in the same place.

So BriseBois went looking for value. He paid a high price — a combined two first-round draft picks and a first-round prospect — for forwards Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman, but he liked the physical play he thought they’d bring to the team.

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BriseBois also liked their contracts; each has another year at a reasonable price (Goodrow $925,000, Coleman $1.8 million) as the Lightning face a salary-cap crunch. He also signed defenseman Zach Bogosian, a free agent whose contract had been bought out by the Sabres.

The prices were questioned at the time, but each of the three players has made an impact during the playoff run. Goodrow and Coleman combine with Yanni Gourde as one of the Lightning’s top-performing lines. Bogosian has settled in on the top defense pair with Victor Hedman.

Jay Feaster, who was the Lightning’s general manager during the 2004 Stanley Cup run and is now vice president of community hockey development, has known BriseBois since those days working in arbitration. Nothing he has seen from BriseBois has surprised him because he knew BriseBois as a “bright, bright guy.”

“He’s clearly not one of those guys who wants to be surrounded by sycophants and yes men,” Feaster said. “He wants different opinions. And he’s strong enough in his convictions that he knows the decisions rest on his desk.”

BriseBois is quick to reference the team around him — the one on the ice and the one in the front office. He’s not looking to be “the guy” and often defers attention to players over himself. But he can be “the guy” in the office, and that’s where the Lightning need him.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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