TAMPA — As Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois detailed the list of injuries his players persevered through during his end-of-season news conference Tuesday, he became choked up, holding back tears thinking about the physical sacrifices the team made throughout its championship run.
He detailed seeing the X-rays of Alex Killorn’s broken fibula. “It was broken in two very distinct pieces all the way through,” BriseBois said. Three days later, Killorn had a metal rod placed in his leg with the hopes of returning before the end of the final and was skating five days after the injury.
“That’s how you win the Stanley Cup,” said BriseBois, fighting back his emotions.
Defenseman Victor Hedman played for more than three months with a torn meniscus, an injury he sustained during a game against Columbus on March 30. He was slated to have meniscectomy surgery Tuesday with a three- to four-week recovery timetable, BriseBois said.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh and forward Barclay Goodrow played with broken hands. Star forward Nikita Kucherov, who had a non-displaced broken rib from the crosscheck he took in Game 6 of the semifinals against the Islanders, wore a protective flak jacket and received nerve-block injections the day before every game. That kept the postseason’s leading scorer on the ice during the most critical time of the year.
“It makes his performance during these playoffs, both before the injury and post broken rib, all the more impressive,” BriseBois said of Kucherov. “He’s a tough hockey player, he’s an incredible hockey player. All of us in Bolts Nation are happy that he’s our Kuch. So couldn’t be happier for him. There is no more determined player out there than Nikita Kucherov.”
BriseBois said all existing injuries should be resolved before the beginning of training camp in September.
“I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed watching them play during this playoff run, not only as the general manager of this organization but as a hockey fan,” BriseBois said of his team’s grit. “Obviously such a talented group, but most importantly, so much collective heart. All the blocked shots, all the hits given and taken, all the punches given and taken, all of the competing through injury, it was outstanding, and so inspiring to watch on a game-to-game basis.”
Asked about the condition of the Stanley Cup, which was damaged at the end of the Lightning’s championship celebration on Monday, BriseBois joked that it was “out with an upper body injury for the next couple days.”
“It’s second-hand, but my understanding is one of our players was presenting it to our fans, showing it off and dropped it,” BriseBois said of the Cup, which will be repaired in Montreal but expected to return to Tampa by the end of the week.
Now that their celebration is over, the Lightning will move on to what will be a busy and critical offseason. The biggest challenge will be keeping as much of their team together while getting under the $81.5 million salary cap.
Before then, the Lightning will have to choose which players to protect for the expansion draft, but BriseBois said Tampa Bay is one of the teams talking to the Seattle Kraken about a potential trade that would allow the Lightning to dictate what player or players the team will lose.
“It all depends on what’s that going to cost me,” BriseBois said. “I am having conversations with Seattle as is everyone. Maybe we will cut a deal. I think it’s also very possible that we’re going to present our list, they’re going to pick a player and that’s how it goes.”
• • •
The Tampa Bay Times will commemorate the Lightning’s second consecutive Stanley Cup title with a new hardcover coffee table book, Striking Twice. Pre-order now.
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.