BUFFALO, NY — Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBois described himself this week as overseeing the franchise’s rare talent pool, responsible for taking the necessary risks to ensure the team makes the most of the championship window. Draft draft pick stocks can’t win the Stanley Cup this season, so spot-hunting takes priority.
Now, after one of the busiest commercial seasons in the NHL has come and gone with the Lightning being forced to be mostly markers, BriseBois is doubling 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 Esimont were the Lightning’s primary targets due to the team’s lack of salary cap space and trade assets, BriseBois said, and the Lightning acquired both, although Jeannot cost Tampa Bay five picks.
If history is any indication, these moves will likely pan out, just like the ones by Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel, and those by Blake Coleman and Barclay Goudreau before that.
But they pale in comparison to the cliché moves some of the Lightning’s potential Eastern Playoff opponents have pulled off.
“We’re focused on our team,” BriseBois said Friday after a quiet Lightning day on the deadline, making no final move before the 3 p.m. deadline. “We’re trying to build the best possible iteration for our squad, and I assume my team-mates are trying to do the same with their clubs.
“We knew going into our cap space; we knew going into our capital draft. We knew what our roster formation was and the areas where we thought we could help the group be a tougher team to chip away at game time.”
BriseBois said that Jeannot and Eyssimont should help Lightning to be hard to kill. He’s hoping Gano, Ross Colton and Paul can form a third line that causes opponents like Jani Gord’s line to match. Eyssimont’s bread and butter is in check, and he can add speed to the bottom six. Lightning like the upside it offers despite it being its third stop in less than two months.
BriseBois said he’s fine with the Lightning defense, though Tampa Bay has struggled on defense lately, allowing four or more goals in four of the past five games. The Lightning moved right defenseman Cal Foote in a trade for Jeannot, but BriseBois said AHL Syracuse right defenders Darren Raddysh and Philippe Myers are suitable complements.
The Lightning created plenty of space in the Eyssimont trade when San Jose took Vladislav Namestnikov and half of his salary, so they have room to make call-ups if they need depth.
“So that’s not an area of concern for me,” Brisboa said of the defenseman. “I’m going to put our D corps up against everyone else. We’re up there with some of the best D corps in the league.”
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Despite being linked with Anaheim right defenseman John Klingberg, who was sent to Minnesota just before the deadline, BriseBois said that after acquiring Jeannot and Eyssimont, he expected a quiet day at the deadline.
“We didn’t have any particular goals on Friday,” BriseBois said. “Once (Eyssimont’s) trade was complete, as much as we were looking for opportunities, we didn’t have anything to get into (on Friday) that we thought we were hoping to capitalize on.”
It was hard for the Lightning to make a huge move similar to the one made with their conference competition. They’re in line for a first-round rematch with the Maple Leafs, who acquired forwards Ryan O’Reilly and Sam Lafferty while retooling their defense. The Bruins that the Lightning could play in the second round added forward Tyler Bertuzzi and defenseman Dmitry Orlov. The Metropolitan teams, the Rangers and Devils, made flashy moves, gaining Patrick Kane and Timo Meyer, respectively.
But BriseBois conveyed confidence in his group, with faith that the Lightning will break out of his funk and be at his best in the postseason. The Lightning have been 1-2-2 in their past five games, and their struggles have been marked by sloppy play on their end.
“It will happen over the course of the season,” BriseBois said. “It may be a little human nature, as much as we don’t like to admit it, that we have a little bit of protection in terms of securing a play-off spot. We play against teams who are often in the midst of fighting for their play-off lives already at this point. The level of urgency of our opponents.
“And I have great confidence in the world in our players and coaching staff that this will be resolved in the not too distant future.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at [email protected]. Follow EddieintheYard.
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