TAMPA — You love the Lightning’s grit. Their spirit and spunk.
But what about the man who brought it here?
You finally have faith in Tampa Bay’s defense. A dependable top-six group after too many years of disappointment.
But what about the GM who added the finishing touches?
You’re thrilled the Lightning have beaten the New York Islanders in consecutive seasons to earn a spot in the Stanley Cup final.
So why has the Islanders boss won the General Manager of the Year award the last two years?
Strange, isn’t it? We applaud the stars on ice for their performance. We appreciate Jon Cooper for pushing all the right buttons. We even acknowledge a debt of gratitude to Steve Yzerman for putting the core of this Lightning team together.
But what about Julien BriseBois?
The Lightning general manager has been unfairly overlooked for the work he has done since taking over hockey operations. Yes, he inherited a roster of stars. Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Steven Stamkos and a half-dozen others were already in place when BriseBois replaced Yzerman almost three years ago.
His first year on the job, the Lightning stormed through the regular season as if they were playing a game the rest of the league was still learning. Then came the collapse in the 2019 playoffs, and a reckoning that changed a franchise’s direction.
While Cooper was trying to instill a defense-first philosophy, BriseBois was working the edges of a roster that was already, in some ways, the envy of the league. But the Lightning were pushing the limits of the salary cap, which meant BriseBois couldn’t spend a lot of money and was limited in the trades he could make.
It was as if he was trying to retouch a Rembrandt while using crayons.
Yet in a span of six months, BriseBois made a series of mostly under-the-radar moves that made the Lightning a bigger, tougher, more menacing opponent come playoff time. He signed Pat Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk to dirt-cheap deals. He jumped to sign Zach Bogosian when the defenseman became available at midseason after a messy split with Buffalo.
Then he acquired Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman in separate deals at the trade deadline.
“Julien has been the difference-maker,” said Jay Feaster, who assembled the Lightning’s first Stanley Cup championship team in 2004 as general manager. “The Lightning are not the 2020 Stanley Cup champions without the grit of Maroon, Goodrow and Coleman, and without the blue line upgrades of Shattenkirk and Bogosian.
“If Julien doesn’t make the team tougher to play against the way he did — both physically and mentally tougher — it would still be what it was: Incredibly skilled and talented and beatable in the playoffs.”
That’s not an exaggeration. Point, Hedman, Kucherov and Vasilevskiy were the stars of the 2020 postseason, but Coleman, Goodrow, Maroon and Shattenkirk changed the way the Lightning played and, more importantly, the way opponents tried to attack.
And if those moves led to the 2020 Cup, BriseBois has been equally important during the 2021 run.
Needing to squeeze under the salary cap, he traded Cedric Paquette for two players he knew where destined for the Long Term Injury (LTI) list, which gave him $1.65 million in relief. He watched as Bogosian, Shattenkirk and Carter Verhaeghe signed more lucrative deals elsewhere, then pulled the trigger on a trade for David Savard to bolster the defense late in the season.
“He deserves a ton of credit for, in my opinion two years in a row at the trading deadline, making really ballsy moves to bring in at great expense what he thought was the missing pieces between us and the championship,” Lightning owner Jeff Vinik said. “So kudos to him for recognizing those needs and fulfilling those needs.
“He wasn’t afraid to make those moves, and he wasn’t afraid to not blow up the team when we had such a devastating loss in 2019. That’s Julien’s makeup. Calm, thoughtful, smart, well-researched. He’s got the whole package in terms of decision-making.”
He also infuriated fans in other cities with a move he had little choice on. Kucherov had surgery for a hip labrum tear in December, which made him eligible for longterm injured reserve, and allowed the Lightning to carry an extra $9.5 million in salary cap space. The NHL investigated the surgery, the rehab process and Kucherov’s return to play, and determined everything was within league guidelines.
“I didn’t know how things would unfold. Luckily for me and our organization, I don’t think it could have unfolded any better,” BriseBois said. “At the time when I was looking at all the possible scenarios and outcomes, none were as good as this one and there were a lot that weren’t very good.”
For good measure, BriseBois was also the general manager of the Norfolk Admirals in 2010 when they hired a junior hockey whiz named Jon Cooper to coach a professional team for the first time in his career.
So who deserves credit for the Lightning’s success? Everyone. That includes owner Jeff Vinik, Cooper, the players and, yes, Yzerman. But the role BriseBois has played deserves a lot more credit than he has received up to this point.
Here’s the bottom line:
Since he took over as GM in 2018, the Lightning have won more regular-season and more postseason games than any team in the league. Yet in all of that time, he’s never won the GM of the Year award, and has only been a finalist once.
On other hand, BriseBois can still toast the other winners while drinking from the Stanley Cup.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
Who deserves the credit for the Lightning’s foundation? Well, obviously, Steve Yzerman played a huge part. The former general manager and hockey Hall of Famer was in charge when the core of this team was assembled. But Julien BriseBois was hired as assistant general manager just weeks after Yzerman came aboard in 2010 and has refined the roster to make it more postseason-ready since replacing Yzerman in 2018.
Here is a breakdown of players from the past two postseasons and when they were acquired:
⋅ Alex Killorn: Draft 2007
⋅ Steven Stamkos: Draft 2008
⋅ Victor Hedman: Draft 2009
⋅ Ondrej Palat: Draft 2011
⋅ Nikita Kucherov: Draft 2011
⋅ Tyler Johnson: FA 2011
⋅ Andrei Vasilevskiy: Draft 2012
⋅ Cedric Paquette:* Draft 2012
⋅ Brayden Point: Draft 2014
⋅ Yanni Gourde: FA 2014
⋅ Anthony Cirelli: Draft 2015
⋅ Ross Colton: Draft 2016
⋅ Carter Verhaeghe:* Trade 2017
⋅ Erik Cernak: Trade 2017
⋅ Mikhail Sergachev: Trade 2017
⋅ Ryan McDonagh: Trade 2018
⋅ Jan Rutta: Trade 2019
⋅ Luke Schenn: Trade 2019
⋅ Curtis McElhinney: Free agent 2019
⋅ Pat Maroon: Free agent 2019
⋅ Kevin Shattenkirk:* Free agent 2019
⋅ Zach Bogosian:* Free agent 2020
⋅ Barclay Goodrow: Trade 2020
⋅ Blake Coleman: Trade 2020
⋅ David Savard: Trade 2021
* No longer with the team.
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