TAMPA — No question about it, the cost of this Lightning trade was outrageous.
Still, for general manager Julien BriseBois, the price of doing nothing was far higher.
That’s the math. It is the dividing line between reckless and bold. BriseBois knew he was giving up more than he was getting back on paper, but he was willing to pay the additional freight that comes with chasing a Stanley Cup.
So he made a trade that was bold, daring and, quite possibly, foolish. He gave up defenseman Cal Foote and five draft picks to acquire Tanner Jeannot, an undrafted forward with five goals in 56 games with Nashville this season.
BriseBois might be the only general manager in the NHL who would have made that trade this week, but that’s because he’s the only GM with a generational roster and a commitment to racking up as many championships as possible before Tampa Bay’s window slams shut.
Still, the easier path would be to do nothing. If he said the costs were too high, the salary cap too tight, the draft cabinet was already picked bare, no one would have argued with him.
Instead, he bet on his guys. He was betting that Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brayden Point and the rest of the Lightning core still have another year, or two or three of championship hockey with the right pieces around them.
“My job, my responsibility as a steward of this group, is to sometimes take risks to maximize our potential return on this era,” BriseBois said Monday morning. “And that’s what I did (Sunday) night. We take a risk. A calculated risk.
“The reality of the trade deadline is you have to overpay. That’s how you get the player.”
The official tally — third-, fourth- and fifth-round picks in 2023, a second-rounder in 2024 and a first-rounder in 2025 — sounds like a king’s ransom for a player who doesn’t have a royal pedigree.
And that means that the Lightning have now handed out seven first-round picks and four second-round picks in the past five years. Not to mention, they’ve traded the players they drafted in the first round in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019, including Foote. That’s more than a decade’s worth of top prospects that have been jettisoned in the name of winning today.
And you know what? It’s been worth it, so far.
The Lightning have won 84 postseason games since 2015. The next closest franchise has won 45. That’s the kind of dominance books and documentaries are made of. Tampa Bay has appeared in six conference finals, four cup finals, winning all twice.
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So the thought of BriseBois looking at the 2023 version of the Lightning and seeing a path to another championship should be exciting no matter what the future costs.
The Lightning changed their fortunes forever when they began investing in players like Pat Maroon, Kevin Shattenkirk, Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Players who may not challenge for this year’s honors, but who made the Lightning a nasty, desperate team, will make the playoffs.
And that is what BriseBois sees in Jeannot.
Put him on the third line with Nick Paul and Ross Colton, and the Lightning might have a group that can approach the toughness that the Yanni Gourde, Coleman and Goodrow line once had.
The Lightning don’t need Jeannot to score. They have enough of that. He is here to shut down the top lanes of playoff opponents by any means necessary.
“He is difficult to play against. He plays with tempo, finishing checks often and hard. He can defend. He controls the puck well, he brings his teammates into the game, said BriseBois. – By all accounts, he is a fantastic teammate. He is the type of player who helps you win when the going gets tough.”
The flip side of this argument is that the Lightning may already be nearing the end of their reign. They barely survived Toronto in the first round last season, and it wouldn’t be a shock if they were taken down by the Maple Leafs in the first round this year.
If that happens, a trade that looked sketchy in February will seem downright cruel by May.
That’s what makes this deal so exciting. It’s not a simple player-for-player swap. It is a statement. It is a declaration. It’s a way for BriseBois to show the players in the locker room that he has their back.
Faced with a challenge, he drops the gloves.
He battles common sense and trash-talking conventional wisdom. In his tailored suit and tailored facade, BriseBois fights for the Lightning in the fiercest way a general manager can.
With its reputation.
And with the future of the franchise.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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