The only word to describe the sudden announcement that Steve Yzerman, the general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning, will be stepping down from his role with the organization is shock. Of all the things that could have happened this offseason, no one would have thought this was even a slight possibility. However, less than a month away from the start of the 2018-19 season, the Lightning have new leadership in the form of Julien BriseBois at the helm of the franchise.
While this was a sudden change, it does give an opportunity to look back at the impact Yzerman has had on the Lightning and towards what the future may hold for the franchise under BriseBois.
Yzerman Rebuilt the Lightning From the Ground Up
When he took over the role of Lightning general manager in the summer of 2010, Yzerman inherited a largely stagnant franchise with one of the weakest prospect pools in the NHL. Outside of two franchise faces in Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, and two more potential pillars in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, there was little to be excited about in Tampa Bay. The team had been, at best, mediocre and at worst a bottom dweller since winning the Stanley Cup in 2004.
However, it didn’t take long for Yzerman to start reshaping the franchise. After assembling a team of journeymen players who marched all the way to the 2011 Eastern Conference Final, he would truly start building a legacy during the 2011 offseason. In this year, he drafted future stars like Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat and Vladislav Namestnikov while signing undrafted free-agent Tyler Johnson. Then after a disappointing 2011-12 season, he would trade off the journeymen starters who carried the team in the prior year at a premium, giving the franchise a surplus of picks and prospects for the future.
As the years went on, Yzerman would continue to build the franchise on the back of smart drafting and frugal contract extensions, allowing him to re-sign most of the star talent that carried Tampa Bay to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. By the 2018 offseason, he had assembled not only one of the best starting rosters in the NHL, but a franchise with a stockpile of great, young talent as well.
What’s the Future for the Bolts Under BriseBois?
Once the knee-jerk panic of Yzerman stepping down is over, fans around Tampa Bay will naturally ask the question: What’s next? With the start of the 2018-19 season so close, a change in management could be a serious distraction for both the coaching staff and players as they enter training camp. The good news for the Lightning, though, is they had the best case scenario with BriseBois ready to take over at a moment’s notice.
While he may not be a household name like Yzerman, BriseBois has been no less important to the rejuvenation of the franchise over the last decade. He has not only acted as the assistant GM for the Lightning since 2010, but he has also been the GM of their AHL affiliate (Norfolk Admirals from 2010-2012, Syracuse Crunch from 2012-2018). During his time running the Admirals and Crunch, BriseBois built incredible rosters, including one of the truly great AHL teams in the 2011-12 Admirals, who won 28 straight games en route to capturing the 2012 Calder Cup.
As said by Lindsay Kramer of syracuse.com:
In the past six years, BriseBois had built a Syracuse team that twice reached the Calder Cup finals and last season finished with the best points percentage in franchise history.
Needless to say, there’s no reason to believe that BriseBois will not be able to handle the role of a full-time NHL GM. Not only has he trained under Yzerman for eight years, he helped scout and develop incredible talents like of Palat, Johnson, Kucherov, Andrei Vasileveskiy, and head coach Jon Cooper. This means that there shouldn’t be any lame-duck period as he tries to decide which players and coaches stay and who will be parted with since most of the current roster and coaching staff are his top-picks anyways.
In fact, there will be a looming milestone that will act as BriseBois’ first great test as an NHL GM. If he can sign Brayden Point to a Yzerman-esque bridge deal before he becomes a restricted agent in the 2019 offseason, then there should be little concern that the franchise is in good hands.
BriseBois Ready to Shine
There’s no easy way to say that a beloved GM is stepping down from his role. Understandably so, the mood around Tampa Bay will be a bit dour as the new season approaches and fans learn how to pronounce BriseBois ahead of the Fan-Fest in September.
Once the season starts, however, things should go back to normal. At no point throughout the offseason did Yzerman shirk his duties as GM while he decided on his future, which has left Tampa Bay with a deep roster ready to make another run at a Stanley Cup. This means that the Lightning are in no worse shape for the future today than they were yesterday before this announcement was made. This team still is a Stanley Cup favorite, and they should continue to be so for years to come.
No matter where Yzerman ends up in the future, he will always have a home in Tampa Bay. It’s impossible to know what the long-term impact of this leadership change will be on the franchise, but one thing is for certain. During his tenure as general manager, he did more than just rebuild the Lightning… He helped to show that Tampa is a true hockey town. Now, this team has one more opportunity to show their respect for his work, and give him a Stanley Cup as a parting gift.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.