BUFFALO, N.Y. — Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois this week characterized himself as a steward for the franchise’s rare assembly of talent, responsible for taking the risks necessary to ensure the team makes the most of its championship window. Stockpiles of draft picks can’t win the Stanley Cup this season, so the immediate chase takes priority.
Now, after one of the NHL’s busiest trade seasons came and went with the Lightning forced to be mostly an observer, BriseBois is doubling down that this year’s team has enough gas in the tank for a fourth straight run to the Cup final.
He did pick up reinforcements. Forwards Tanner Jeannot and Michael Eyssimont were the Lightning’s primary targets given the team’s lack of salary-cap space and trade assets, BriseBois said, and the Lightning acquired both, though Jeannot cost Tampa Bay five draft picks.
If history is an indicator, these moves likely will pan out, just as those for Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel have, and the ones for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow did before that.
But they paled in comparison to the splashy moves some of the Lightning’s potential playoff opponents in the Eastern Conference made.
“We’re focused on our team,” BriseBois said Friday after the Lightning had a quiet deadline day, making no final move before the 3 p.m. deadline. “We’re trying to build the best iteration possible of our team, and I’m assuming my counterparts are trying to do the same thing with their respective clubs.
“We knew going in what our cap space was; we knew going in what our draft capital was. We knew what our roster makeup was and areas where we thought we could help the group be a harder team to eliminate come playoff time.”
Jeannot and Eyssimont should help the Lightning be harder to eliminate, BriseBois said. He hopes that Jeannot, Ross Colton and Paul can form a third line that causes opponents fits like the Yanni Gourde line once did. Eyssimont’s bread and butter is forechecking, and he can add speed to the bottom six. The Lightning like the upside he presents despite them being his third stop in less than two months.
BriseBois said he is fine with the Lightning’s defensemen, though Tampa Bay has struggled to defend of late, allowing four or more goals in four of the past five games. The Lightning moved right-shot defenseman Cal Foote in the Jeannot trade, but BriseBois said right-shot AHL Syracuse defensemen Darren Raddysh and Philippe Myers are suitable supplements.
The Lightning created cap space in the Eyssimont trade when San Jose took Vladislav Namestnikov and half of his salary, so they have space for callups if they need depth.
“So it’s not an area of concern for me,” BriseBois said of the defensemen. “I’ll put our D corps up against anyone else’s. We’re up there with some of the best D corps in the league.”
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Despite being linked to Anaheim right-shot defenseman John Klingberg, who was sent to Minnesota right before the deadline, BriseBois said that after acquiring Jeannot and Eyssimont, he expected a quiet deadline day.
“We didn’t have any particular targets going into (Friday),” BriseBois said. “Once (the Eyssimont) trade had been completed, as much as we were on the lookout for opportunities, we didn’t have anything going into (Friday) that we thought we were hoping to take advantage of.”
The Lightning would have been hard-pressed to make a blockbuster move comparable to the ones made by their conference competition. They’re in line for a first-round playoff rematch with the Maple Leafs, who acquired forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Sam Lafferty while retooling their defense. A Bruins team that the Lightning could play in the second round added forward Tyler Bertuzzi and defenseman Dmitry Orlov. Metropolitan Division teams the Rangers and Devils made flashy moves, acquiring Patrick Kane and Timo Meier, respectively.
But BriseBois conveyed confidence in his group, having faith that the Lightning will break out of their funk and be at their best entering the postseason. The Lightning are 1-2-2 in their past five games, their struggles characterized by sloppy play in their end.
“It’s going to happen over the course of a season,” BriseBois said. “It might be a little human nature, as much as we don’t want to admit it, that we have a little bit of a cushion with regards to securing a playoff spot. We’re playing against teams who often are in the midst of fighting for their playoff lives already at this point. And we haven’t necessarily matched the level of urgency of our opponents.
“And I have all the faith in the world in our players and our coaching staff that that will get resolved in the not too distant future.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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