BUFFALO, N.Y. — Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois characterized himself this week as a steward of the franchise’s rare collection of talent, responsible for taking the necessary risks to ensure the team gets the most out of the championship window. Draft stocks can’t win the Stanley Cup this season, so the immediate pursuit takes priority.
Now, after one of the NHL’s busiest trade seasons came and went with the Lightning forced to be mostly observers, BriseBois doubles down that this year’s team has enough gas in the tank for a fourth straight run to the Cup Final.
He picked 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 funds, BriseBois said, and the Lightning acquired both, even though Jeannot cost Tampa Bay five draft picks.
If history is any indicator, these moves will likely pan out, just as those for Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel have, and those for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow did before that.
But they paled in comparison to the crazy moves made by some of the Lightning’s potential playoff opponents in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re focused on our team,” BriseBois said Friday after the Lightning had a quiet deadline day, making no final moves before the 7 p.m. deadline. 3 p.m. “We’re trying to build the best possible iteration of our team and I guess my colleagues are trying to do the same with their respective clubs.
“We knew going into what our cap range was; we knew going in what our draft capital was. We knew what our composition was and areas where we thought we could help the group become a tougher team to eliminate once the playoffs are reached.”
Jeannot and Eyssimont should help the Lightning become harder to eliminate, BriseBois said. He hopes that Jeannot, Ross Colton and Paul can form a third line that makes opponents pass like the Yanni Gourde line once did. Eyssimont’s bread and butter is forechecking, and he can accelerate 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 feels good about the Lightning’s defensemen, even though Tampa Bay has struggled defensively of late, allowing four or more goals in four of its last five games. The Lightning moved right-shooting defenseman Cal Foote in the Jeannot trade, but BriseBois said AHL Syracuse defensemen Darren Raddysh and right-shooting Philippe Myers are suitable complements.
The Lightning created cap space in the Eyssimont trade when San Jose took Vladislav Namestnikov and half his salary, so they have room for callups if they need depth.
“So that’s not a problem area for me,” BriseBois said of the defenders. “I’m pitting our D Corps against everyone 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-handed defenseman John Klingberg, who was shipped to Minnesota just before the deadline, BriseBois said that after acquiring Jeannot and Eyssimont, he expected a quiet deadline day.
“We didn’t have any particular goals going into (Friday),” BriseBois said. “Once the (Eyssimont) trade was completed, as much as we were looking for opportunities, we didn’t have anything going on (Friday) that we thought we hoped to take advantage of.”
The Lightning would have been hard pressed to make a blockbuster move comparable to those made by their conference competition. They are in line for a first-round playoff rematch with the Maple Leafs, who acquired forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Sam Lafferty while rebuilding 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 Rangers and Devils made flashy moves, acquiring Patrick Kane and Timo Meier respectively.
But BriseBois conveyed confidence in his group, believing the Lightning will break out of their funk and be at their best entering the postseason. The Lightning are 1-2-2 in their last five games, their games marred by sloppy late play.
“It’s going to happen over the course of a season,” BriseBois said. “It may be a bit of human nature, as much as we don’t want to admit it, that we have a bit of a cushion in terms of securing a play-off spot. We play against teams that are often in the middle of their playoff battle already at this point. And we haven’t necessarily matched the speed of our opponents.
“And I have all the faith in the world in our players and our coaching staff that it will work itself out in the not-too-distant future.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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