TAMPA — Julien BriseBois admits he didn’t think he’d be able to pull off a trade for veteran defenseman David Savard.
The Lightning’s general manager knew he wanted Savard, and that the bounty for the rental would be high, but two big obstacles remained. Would the Blue Jackets, still in the race for a playoff spot just seven points out of fourth place in the Central Division, be willing to unload a Savard? And how would the Lightning find the money to fit Savard on their roster given their salary-cap constraints?
Ultimately, BriseBois had to pay a high price with precious draft picks, but he found two teams willing to eat salary in Columbus and Detroit.
Officially, this is how the trade went down: The Blue Jackets traded Savard to Detroit, and the Red Wings sent him to Tampa Bay. The Lightning sent this year’s first-round pick and next year’s third-round pick to Columbus and this year’s fourth-rounder to Detroit.
As part of the trade, Columbus will pay for half of Savard’s remaining salary and the Red Wings will cover the other half. Savard’s remaining cap hit is about $1 million. The Lightning also received AHL defenseman Brian Lashoff from the Red Wings.
“We (essentially) used our draft picks to purchase cap space to acquire a good player and squeeze him onto our team,” BriseBois said. “And I know that we’re going to be a harder out now come playoff time because David Savard is going to be be wearing our jersey.”
Savard, who spent his entire 10-year career with the Blue Jackets, seemed headed to another team since he was a healthy scratch for Columbus’ game Thursday against the Lightning.
“The last 48 hours have been kind of interesting,” Savard said. “It was kind of a weird situation to be to be in, not playing and battling with your teammates. But obviously the way it turned out, I’m really excited to join Tampa. They’ve had a great team for a number of years, so I’m really excited to be going to the team that has a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”
Like last season, when BriseBois traded first-round picks for forwards Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, he dealt three draft picks to make this move work.
The Lightning’s defenseman corps — particularly the right side — has been decimated by injury, and as he prioritized acquiring a top-four, right-shot defenseman, BriseBois targeted Savard as the best fit.
“We had the chance to see David play against our team during the last two playoff runs, get to see how hard he is to play against, to see how tough he is and heavy he plays and how reliable he is defensively,” BriseBois said. “And we knew that he’s the type of player that you want on your team for a long playoff run.”
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The Lightning were without veteran Ryan McDonagh for four games, and their top right-shot defenseman, Erik Cernak, returned Thursday after missing seven games. Another right-side defenseman, Jan Rutta, is on injured reserve.
Savard, 30, gives the Lightning a tough, battle-tested defenseman who can play on the penalty kill. Last season he was second in the NHL with 163 blocked shots.
In the Lightning’s past deadline moves — trading for Braydon Coburn in 2015, McDonagh and J.T. Miller in 2018, and even Coleman and Goodrow last year — they made deals for players who remained under team control beyond the season they were acquired. Savard becomes a free agent after this season, but BriseBois said he believed he owed it to the team to upgrade if he had the means.
“My thought was, if I have the opportunity to acquire David Savard, and I pass up on that opportunity, and then the playoffs start and eventually we fail in our quest for a championship because our right-side D wasn’t good enough, that was gonna hurt,” BriseBois said. “That’s going to hurt a lot.
“It is so hard to win a championship,” he added. “It’s really, really hard to win the Stanley Cup, and as for any great feat, if you’re going to accomplish something great, you kind of have to put yourself out there at some point and you have to be willing to make sacrifices.”
BriseBois said he’s unlikely to make another move before Monday afternoon’s trade deadline, but then again, he didn’t have faith he would pull this one off. The Lightning also expect to get leading scorer Nikita Kucherov back for the postseason.
Savard could play in his first game with the Lightning as soon as Tuesday. He is expected to meet the team in Nashville on Sunday, and Savard hoped to practice Monday. BriseBois said it is realistic to expect Savard to pass through all the proper protocols to play Tuesday.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.