TAMPA — No doubt about it, the cost of this Lightning trade was outrageous.
Yet, for general manager Julien BriseBois, the price of doing nothing was far higher.
That’s the calculation. That’s the dividing line between reckless and bold. BriseBois knew he was giving up more than he was getting back on paper, but he was willing to pay the additional freight that comes with chasing a Stanley Cup.
So he made a trade that was daring, audacious and, quite possibly, foolish. He gave up defenseman Cal Foote and five draft picks to acquire Tanner Jeannot, an undrafted forward with five goals in 56 games with Nashville this season.
BriseBois may be the only general manager in the NHL who would have made that trade this week, but that’s because he’s the only GM with a generational roster and an obligation to horde as many championships as possible before Tampa Bay’s window slams shut.
Even so, the easier path would have been to do nothing. If he said the cost was too high, the salary cap was too tight, the draft cupboard had already been picked bare, no one would have argued with him.
Instead, he placed a bet on his guys. He bet that Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brayden Point and the rest of the Lightning core still have another year, or two, or three of championship hockey with the right pieces surrounding them.
“My job, my responsibility as the custodian for this group, is to sometimes take risks to maximize our potential return on this era,” BriseBois said Monday morning. “And that’s what I did (Sunday) night. We’re taking a risk. A calculated risk.
“The reality at the trade deadline is you’re going to have to overpay. That’s how you get the player.”
The official tally — third-, fourth- and fifth-round picks in 2023, a second-rounder in 2024 and a first-rounder in 2025 — sounds like a king’s ransom for a player who does not have a royal pedigree.
And it means the Lightning have now dealt seven first-round picks and four second-round picks in the past five years. Not to mention, they have traded the players they drafted in the first round in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019, including Foote. That’s more than a decade’s worth of top prospects that have been jettisoned in the name of winning today.
And you know what? It’s been worth it, so far.
The Lightning have won 84 postseason games since 2015. The next-closest franchise has won 45. That’s the kind of domination that books and documentaries are made of. Tampa Bay has appeared in six conference finals, four Cup finals and won it all twice.
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So the thought that BriseBois is looking at the 2023 version of the Lightning and sees a pathway to another championship should be exhilarating no matter what the future cost.
The Lightning changed their fortunes forever when they started investing in players such as Pat Maroon, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Players who might not challenge for end-of-year awards, but who made the Lightning a nasty, desperate team come playoff time.
And that’s what BriseBois sees in Jeannot.
Put him on the third line with Nick Paul and Ross Colton, and the Lightning may have a group that could approximate the grit that the Yanni Gourde, Coleman and Goodrow line once had.
The Lightning do not need Jeannot to score. They’ve got enough of that. He’s here to shut down the top lines of playoff opponents by any means necessary.
“He’s hard to play against. He plays with pace, finishes checks often and hard. He can defend. He manages the puck well, he brings his teammates into the fight,” BriseBois said. “By all accounts he’s an all-around great teammate. He’s the type of player who helps you win when it gets hard.”
The flip side to this argument is the Lightning may already be approaching the end of their reign. They barely survived Toronto in the first round last season, and it would not be a shock if they were taken down by the Maple Leafs in the first round this year.
If that happens, a trade that looked sketchy in February will seem downright atrocious by May.
That’s what makes this deal so intriguing. It’s not a simple player-for-player swap. It’s a statement. It’s a declaration. It’s a way for BriseBois to show the players in the dressing room that he has their backs.
Faced with a challenge, he is dropping his gloves.
He is picking a fight with common sense, and trash-talking convention wisdom. In his tailored suit and measured facade, BriseBois is fighting for the Lightning in the most fierce way a general manager can.
With his reputation.
And with the franchise’s future.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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