The Tampa Bay Lightning have become a mainstay in the NHL playoffs for nearly a decade. Aside from the back-to-back Stanley Cups, they have not missed the playoffs since 2017-18 and have played postseason hockey in eight of the last ten seasons. Many see the success of the team over the last decade as the fruits of former general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman’s labor while in Tampa Bay. He took over as GM and vice president of the club in 2010, before stepping down in September of 2018. Then after serving as a senior advisor to the GM for the 2018-19 season, he took the GM job for the Detroit Red Wings for the 2019-20 campaign.
During his tenure as GM, Yzerman famously drafted Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, and Anthony Cirelli all after the first round. He also traded for present-day roster mainstays, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, and Patrick Maroon. While it is clear the impact he has had on the roster that we see today, many people disregard the job current GM Julein Brisebois has done to get this team to the level it is right now.
BriseBois took over after Yzerman stepped down in 2018 as GM of the Lightning. He had served as assistant GM since Yzerman took over in Tampa Bay in 2010. Before that, he started as an attorney in Quebec before joining the Montreal Canadiens as an in-house attorney. In nine seasons in Montreal, he took on the titles of director of hockey operations, vice president of hockey operations, and GM of the Montreal Canadiens’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Hamilton Bulldogs. After nine seasons in Montreal, he left to take the assistant GM job in Tampa Bay, hired to assist Yzerman in managing the salary cap and providing experience in contract negotiations.
BriseBois was met instantaneously with a lot of skepticism upon his hiring as Lightning GM in 2018. However, he has stepped in and filled the shoes of his legendary predecessor quite nicely. Not only does it seem that he has learned from his years in Yzerman’s shadow, but he’s put his own mark on this Stanley-Cup winning roster. While the Lightning are in the midst of another deep playoff run, let’s go over the top ways that he has enhanced the success they have had the last few years.
Building the Best Third Line in Hockey; Trading for Coleman & Goodrow in 2020
Possibly the two biggest deals BriseBois has made in terms of reaping the benefits are trading for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. Coleman was brought in prior to the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline for prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick. Having a year and a half left on a very team-friendly deal ($1.8 million cap hit) he fit perfectly into the Lightning’s lineup.
Days later, BriseBois acquired Goodrow from the San Jose Sharks for prospect Anthony Greco and a first-round pick. This series of moves made it clear the intentions he had set for his club that season; win now. It became clear throughout the 2020 NHL Bubble Playoffs that Tampa had the deepest 12-forward group thanks to the midseason moves by BriseBois. The exchanging of future assets allowed the team to get over the hump and win their first Stanley Cup since 2004.
Trading Tyler Johnson to the Chicago Blackhawks
This past summer BriseBois traded forward Tyler Johnson to the Chicago Blackhawks for a second-round draft pick and defensemen Brent Seabrook. While the return seemed puzzling to outsiders, he was able to get a bad contract off the books in exchange for a draft pick. Johnson had spent the majority of the 2020-21 season on the fourth line while costing the Lightning a $5 million per year cap hit. Making top-six forward money and providing depth forward value, he became a burden to the team with so many talented forwards providing more production for just as much, if not less of a cap hit. In this move, Seabrook was placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), meaning the Lightning didn’t incur any of his $6.875 million cap hit. The move gave BriseBois some much-needed salary-cap space to build another roster that could make the deep playoff run fans are currently witnessing, all while regaining future assets.
The Nikita Kucherov LTIR Siutation
Moving Johnson was just one example of the creativity BriseBois has shown in managing the salary cap. Perhaps an even better example of this came from the handling of superstar forward Kucherov on the long-term injured reserve list (LTIR) during the 2020-21 season. Kucherov underwent hip surgery keeping him sidelined for the entire regular season. BriseBois was smartly able to put Kucherov on LTIR, allowing for the Lighting to not incur any of the $9.5 million cap hit from his salary. This gave them the cap relief to take care of the rest of the roster, including signing extensions for big pieces such as Anthony Cirelli, and Mikhail Sergachev.
Kucherov returned to the lineup fully healthy for the first game of the playoffs after missing the entire regular season. With limited salary cap restrictions in the postseason, a healthy Kucherov returned for the first game of the playoffs in 2021 without the Lightning having to make any major roster adjustments. They were over $18 million of the salary cap, but BriseBois had finessed his way around this situation, putting a Stanley Cup caliber roster on the ice, within the rules of the NHL.
The 2022 Trade Deadline: Rebuilding the Third Line with Hagel & Paul
After moving on from last year’s third line this past summer, what many considered to be the best in the league, Brisebois got to work on re-building that third line come the trade deadline this year. With Barclay Goodrow signing a six-year contract with the Rangers, Blake Coleman signing a six-year contract with the Calgary Flames, and losing Yanni Gourde to the Seattle Kraken in the NHL Expansion Draft, it was clear the 2021-22 Lightning didn’t have the forward depth to the level of the previous Stanley-Cup winning teams. Recognizing this, BriseBois traded for Ottawa Senators forward Nick Paul, giving up forward Mathieu Joseph and a fourth-round pick. Paul has been a staple in the Lighting lineup throughout this playoff run, being able to play up in the lineup with the injury to Brayden Point, and has given the team depth scoring down the stretch of the 2022 Playoffs.
Just a few days prior, BriseBois traded for Chicago Blackhawks forward Brandon Hagel. While many questioned the large sum of assets he gave up for him, he has proved his worth down the stretch. At just 23 years old, and on the first year of a three-year contract at just $1.5 million per year in average annual value (AAV), he can only grow from the already invaluable third-line talent, while still on a team-friendly deal. Upon losing most of the team’s depth up front that helped win a Stanley Cup in 2021, BriseBois has rebuilt the depth that has made the Lightning successful in past years, and as they are one game away from their third straight Eastern Conference Final, seems to be continuing to work.
Lightning’s Future Under Julien BriseBois
It is seemingly clear why BriseBois was originally brought in to be a salary cap expert for Yzerman nearly 12 years ago. He has proven that he is one of the league’s best at managing the salary cap while putting a talented roster on the ice. Not only has he built and re-built a deep, playoff-ready lineup, but he has also been able to manage player salaries to the point where the Lightning’s talented core is locked up long-term. Outside of Palat, none of their top talent will be unrestricted free agents this summer. Regardless of the outcome of these current playoffs, they will likely have the pieces in place for another playoff run next season, and it’s all thanks to BriseBois.
Salary cap and contract information and values from capfriendly.com