Canadian-born Julien BriseBois did not start his career as a general manager in the National Hockey League. He likely never imagined he would be managing the most recent Stanley Cup winner, the Tampa Bay Lightning. His journey to leading Tampa to win the Stanley Cup started with his first career involvement in the league as the director of legal affairs for the Montreal Canadiens.
He later took on a different role with the Canadiens by overseeing their AHL team, the Hamilton Bulldogs–who won the Calder Cup in 2007. BriseBois was eventually hired in 2010 by former Lightning GM Steve Yzerman as the assistant general manager where he oversaw the Lightning’s affiliate team, the Norfolk Admirals.
When Yzerman departed in 2018, he left BriseBois with star players Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman locked into long term contracts, but not without a cost. A few of the non-team-friendly contracts on the roster are littered with no-trade clauses and no-movement clauses, making BriseBois’ new position as GM a little more difficult.
These roadblocks have made signing restricted free agents nearly impossible for him without possibly disrupting the depth of the team. Brisebois first ran into a problem that required player contract movement when it came time to re-sign Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Locking in Tampa’s Vezina Trophy Winner
Starting goaltender and Vezina Trophy winner Vasilevskiy was one year away from becoming a restricted free agent in July 2019. It was a time when Tampa had little cap space to spare for re-signing him at the value he would deserve. The situation left Brisebois with limited options for moving player contracts, much like the problem he is facing this year. He wanted to get ahead with signing Vasilevskiy instead of leaving it for 2020 when there would be four RFAs all in need of a contract. In order to make space for Vasilevskiy, BriseBois had to move a player.
In June, during the 2019 NHL Entry Level Draft, Brisebois traded J.T. Miller to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Marek Mazanec, two draft picks, a 2019 third-round pick, and a conditional first-round in the 2020 Draft. Tampa had previously received Miller in 2018 in a trade that also netted the team their top-pairing defenseman, Ryan McDonagh, from the New York Rangers in return for Vladimir Namestnikov, two prospects (Libor Hájek and Brett Howden), and two draft picks.
Miller recorded 47 points in 75 games his final year with Tampa in the 2018-19 season. While Miller was a fan favorite during his time with the Lightning, his was contract was the best to move in order to keep Vasilevskiy, Tampa’s hero when the defense falls short. The trade worked out in favor of both parties: Tampa locked down Vasilevskiy on an eight-year contract worth $9.5 million a year, and Miller had a career-high of 72 points with the Canucks.
The deal BriseBois struck with Vasilevskiy seemed like it may turn out to be too expensive and longer than it needs to be. The inclusion of another no-movement clause added to the list for years two through five of the contract was questionable, but the benefits BriseBois worked into the agreement show how this trade will pay off big time. By the time the contract ends, Vasilevskiy will be an unrestricted free agent at 33 years old: hardly old in terms of the average NHL goaltender age.
The bright side of this contract is that Tampa paid market value for a goaltender that proves to better himself every season. In the same offseason, the Florida Panthers signed Sergei Bobrovsky, 30 years old at the time of the signing, to a seven-year contract worth $10 million per season. (from ‘Panthers sign goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to 7-year, $70 million deal; add veteran forwards, defensemen,’ Florida Sun-Sentinel, 07/01/2019)
Bobrovsky will be locked into a contract until the age of 37, while Tampa will be able to move Vasilevsky, if needed, by the time he hits 30. Until that time may come, BriseBois locked in one of the best goaltenders in the NHL without having to give up a major asset.
BriseBois’ Impact Before His GM Role with the Lightning
In the last 10 years, Brisebois has played many roles within the team’s organization, ranging from player development to contract negotiations. Some of the players he helped prepare for the NHL included Kucherov, Vasilevskiy, and Anthony Cirelli, but one of his biggest roles was the hiring of current head coach Jon Cooper. BriseBois hired Cooper in 2010 as the head coach for the Admirals, one of his very first moves while overseeing the affiliate team. After the firing of Guy Boucher, the Lightning’s head coach from 2010 to 2013, Cooper took over the position.
Ever since Cooper’s promotion, Tampa has been on the incline, only missing the playoffs once, in 2017. Under Cooper and BriseBois, the Lightning had a record-tying regular season with 62 wins in 2018-19 and was awarded the Presidents’ Trophy.
After the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs ended in a shockingly brutal sweep for Tampa, they rebounded by winning the Stanley Cup in one of the most trying years after Covid-19 cut the regular season short. The shockingly good eye that BriseBois has shown for hiring and signing talent to the team is just one of the reasons he has been an asset for the Lightning organization.
2020 Additional Pieces
Everything BriseBois has contributed to the Lightning organization in the last 10 years is likely just the start. Since his promotion two years ago with the departure of Yzerman, BriseBois added the depth Tampa needed to take home the Cup. When the Lightning coasted their way into the playoffs in 2019, it looked like they were untouchable with the perfect team that required no change.
After Tampa was swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets, BriseBois wasted no time bringing in more grit and defensive forwards. The missing pieces for Tampa to win it all were the additions of Pat Maroon, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow. At the time, many were accusing coaching as the reason for the 2019 Playoff collapse, but BriseBois stuck by his decision to extend Cooper’s contract as the Lightning’s head coach.
Maroon quickly became a fan favorite in Tampa. He recorded six points in the 25 postseason games, contributing to the team’s successful playoff run. After the playoffs ended, Maroon signed another contract with the team for an average annual value of $900,000. This deal looks good for Tampa after Maroon became a two-time consecutive Stanley Cup winner this year.
Brisebois snagged forward Coleman from the New Jersey Devils in February 2020. Coleman put up a total of 13 points in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs while playing on a line alongside Goodrow, who produced 6 points, and Yanni Gourde. Goodrow and Coleman had chemistry that paid off big when their line faced some of the opposing team’s top lines. Coleman was also on the Lightning’s penalty kill and contributed to their 86.1 percent penalty kill rate. Brisebois gave up more in the trade to get Coleman, but after he shined in the playoffs it proved his cost was worth it.
Brisebois has shown his ability to be a successful general manager for Tampa with each trade and signing so far. It will be interesting to see what BriseBois does next with the salary cap crunch and pending re-signings of restricted free agents.