The Lightning had eight days from the day they won the Stanley Cup until the NHL draft and two of those days were spent flying and celebrating.
General manager Julien BriseBois has to make quick work of what remains.
The quick turnaround from Cup final to draft is not new. Eight days is the fewest in the last six years, but only barely. The Bruins and Blues only had nine last year; the Capitals and Golden Knights had the most with 15 days in 2018.
What is new is that BriseBois and his management staff have to establish a plan to address a difficult salary cap situation. The cap is remaining at $81.5 million for next year, which means, as it stands, the Lightning have less than $13 million to play with and only 15 of 23 players under contract.
BriseBois knows he’s going to have to look at making some trades. He’d like to return next year with the exact same lineup, but that’s never an option and even more so this year.
“I think it’s important for everyone to get a chance to properly celebrate this championship as a team, with their teammates," he said. "I wish I didn’t have to have the kinds of conversations I’m going to have to have as soon as I will. But it’s just the reality of our business.”
BriseBois doesn’t have the luxury of taking time to celebrate before figuring these things out himself, however.
He’s already been in contact with all of the Lightning players' agents and touched base with players whose contracts are up. Next, he’ll talk with his counterparts around the league. BriseBois wants to gather more information but also noted the sooner he can do that, the better because the longer they take the fewer options there will be.
Other teams could make moves, whether they be trades or re-signing current players, that would make what the Lightning have to offer no longer relevant.
The team had a four-person management contingent in the bubble: BriseBois, assistant general managers Jamie Pushor and Stacy Roest as well as director of hockey operations Mathieu Darche. They had a suite at the arena from which they saw each of 11 teams play at least four games.
They discussed what makes those teams work as well as who might be trade partners going forward. It was also a unique opportunity for the four of them to work closely looking ahead to the challenges they currently face.
“We got to brainstorm a lot, about our organization,” BriseBois said, “and about other organizations, how they got to be a playoff team, what worked for them, what didn’t work for them, what they need to do going forward, how they might match up with us in terms of helping each other out going forward with trades and the like.”
He called it a very productive experience from a management perspective.
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This will not be an easy offseason and BriseBois and his team need to start making decisions quickly. He’s not sure what the team will look like when next season starts, just that they will be salary cap compliant and competitive.
As for the short turnaround, well that’s entirely worth it.
“I know in 2015, when we went to Game 6 in the Stanley Cup final, we had the same turnaround," BriseBois said (he was assistant general manager then and had 10 days), "but I didn’t win the Cup. This is way better.”
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