Despite Departures, Lightning Offseason Can Still be Bright

You can make a solid argument that the previous month has been one of the worst in Tampa Bay Lightning history. After finishing off the 2018-19 season with 62 wins, the Lightning had what can be described as the week from hell. This included getting swept out of the 2019 playoffs without putting up much of a fight against Columbus Blue Jackets, then watching Steve Yzerman, the architect behind their successful rebuild, announce that he was going to be leaving the franchise to join their division rival, the Detroit Red Wings.

Steve Yzerman, Christopher Ilitch
After helping rebuild the Tampa Bay Lightning into a Stanley Cup Contender, Steve Yzerman parted ways with the franchise in order to take over the role of General Manager with the Detroit Red Wings. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Following that bad week, the Lightning watched the Blue Jackets flounder their way out of the playoffs against another division rival, the Boston Bruins, all while rumors swirled about whom Yzerman was going to take with him back to Detroit. At points, it seemed all but certain that assistant general manager Pat Verbeek and director of scouting Al Murray would be packing their bags and leaving the franchise this offseason, along with Stacy Roest and Jamie Pushor.

If this came true, suddenly the Lightning would be without the heart and soul of their rebuild, as both Verbeek and Murray were two of the key figures who turned the franchise from a laughing stock into a contender. Losing their collective experience and network of scouts would have been that moment that negatively affected Tampa Bay for years to come.

Lightning Spared a Total Loss

When the announcement finally came, it turned out that things weren’t so bleak for the Lightning. Yes, Verbeek chose to leave for Detroit, taking over as assistant general manager for the storied franchise.

Murray, Roest, and Pushor, on the other hand, decided to stay with the Lightning. All three men were given the title of assistant general manager while keeping their respective roles with the franchise.

This is inarguably the best-case scenario for the Lightning, as their rookie general manager, Julien BriseBois, will be spared having to completely revamp his staff during his first offseason at the helm of the franchise. Tampa Bay is due to have an active offseason anyway, so avoiding the stress of hiring new staff will be a considerable boon for BriseBois and the team as a whole.

Murray of Key Importance to Lightning

In many ways, the biggest keep for Tampa Bay was Murray. By retaining his scouting expertise, the Lightning will be able to enter the 2019 Draft with a clear schedule for BriseBois and company to follow.

Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat
By finding NHL caliber talent like Ondrej Palat in the seventh-round of the NHL draft, Al Murray helped re-stock the Lightning’s barren prospect pipeline throughout his tenure with the franchise. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

It was, after all, Murray and his scouts who consistently found NHL-level talent throughout all rounds of the draft, a key quality that has enabled the franchise to build and develop one of the best core units in the league. As the Lightning’s cap crunch grows tighter, the team will need to rely even more on these late-round draft picks to fill in gaps on the roster.

Lightning Can Still Thrive

This doesn’t mean that the Lightning won’t miss Yzerman or Verbeek, of course. Both of these men will always hold a special place with the franchise, as it was their blood, sweat, and tears that brought Tampa Bay to the top of the NHL.

What it does mean, though, is that this isn’t the end for the Lightning. By keeping his core of Murray, Roest, and Pushor, BriseBois will have some of the top hockey minds in the world to help him survive and thrive throughout his first offseason as general manager.

Related: Yzerman’s Lasting Legacy With the Lightning

So, while this was far from a win for the franchise, it wasn’t necessarily a loss either. Given the state of the Lightning over the last month, that is a positive outcome to build upon as a grueling offseason approaches.