NHL.com’s Q&A feature called “Five Questions With …” runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois.
TAMPA — When Julien BriseBois needs a sounding board this season, he often turns to his predecessor and mentor, Steve Yzerman.
“I learned so much from working with him for the previous eight years, so why wouldn’t I?” BriseBois said. “You can bounce things off him. He’s seen a lot of things, so it helps in the decision-making process.”
Yzerman stepped down as general manager of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sept. 11 and was replaced by BriseBois, his assistant for the previous eight seasons. Yzerman now serves as a senior adviser.
The transition has been a seamless one.
One season after reaching the Eastern Conference Final, the Lightning (35-9-2) lead the NHL with 72 points and seem poised for another deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“That’s the goal,” BriseBois said. “From the moment we were eliminated in the third round by the Washington Capitals last spring, the goal was for all of us to get better.
“I think we’ve done that. I think our team is better. So many guys have taken their games the next step – Yanni Gourde, Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, the list goes on and on – and that’s encouraging. They’ve worked for it.”
Tampa Bay has advanced to the Eastern Conference Final three times in the past four seasons and was eliminated last season by the Capitals in a seven-game series. In 2015, the Lightning lost a six-game Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks.
With the NHL season past its midway point, the 41-year-old recently spoke on a handful of key issues with NHL.com.
Here are Five Questions with … Julien BriseBois:
The passing of the torch from Yzerman’s hands to yours has gone so smoothly, both for you and the team. How much do you attribute that to having worked together since 2010?
“A lot. Every day you are picking up stuff even though you might not realize it at the time, especially over eight seasons. Even this season I still get to pick his brain and work a lot.
“It would be hard to just pinpoint one thing. But I know when I came in I’d been with [the Montreal Canadiens] for a long time. That’s the only other organization I’d ever worked for. Steve had been with [the Detroit Red Wings] for a long time. That’s the only organization he’d ever been with. And we were able to compare notes. How we did things in Montreal, what worked, what didn’t work. Same thing with how things were done in Detroit. Eventually Steve molded all of that into a Tampa Bay way of doing things. That’s the plan and vision I share with him. And that’s the plan I hope to continue and work with.”
Victor Hedman was so crushed after your Game 7 loss to the Capitals last spring, he sat in his stall for 15 minutes staring ahead into space and saying nothing. What has been the key to Hedman and his teammates rebounding this season after such disappointment?
“Will and work ethic. It’s been there the past few years. I think we have a team whose players believe they can go all the way. I feel they believed that coming into camp this year. I felt the same way. But you have to put in the work. Other teams are feeling the same way. They’re aspirations are just the same as ours. So, I don’t know if that’s different. What’s different is that we go through new experiences and learn from them. We — players, coaches, management — have worked to get better. And we’ll keep doing that. Because so far we haven’t gotten where we need to be.”
How active do you plan to be at the NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25?
“I’ll make a trade if there’s one to be made. I don’t know what that will be right now. Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller were deadline acquisitions last year, so the possibility is always there. You can’t predict. Some years there are deals to be made, sometimes there aren’t.”
Forward Brayden Point, who will turn 23 on March 13, can become a restricted free agent on July 1 and is set to get a significant pay day. How difficult could this situation potentially be for the organization?
“He’s going to get a nice raise. I don’t know what that will be. It’s going to be a priority.
“That’s the way the game is going these days. The League is younger. There are very few players over 35 now, even over 30. Eighteen years ago when I started, often the older teams were the better ones. They were battle tested. They were experienced. They knew all the tricks. Back then, it was the guys 31 and older who were being paid in free agency. But the CBA has changed that since then and so have a lot of other things in the game. Players skill sets are higher, and at a younger age, too. Coaching has changed all the way to the youth level. I have two boys in minor hockey and all the emphasis is about skill. Agility in skating, agility with the hands, working on the shot. We just have a generation of players who have grown up with that type of teaching and end up being really on skill because they’re really, really skilled.
“Ultimately you want a good team and your good players are going to get paid. If you have to pay good players, well, that’s a good problem. What you don’t want to do is pay players whose performance doesn’t necessarily correlate with the cap space they’re using up. How much value are they bringing to the team? How much bang are you getting for your buck.? That’s what you’re trying to do.”
You like your wings hot and your steaks well-done. You also went to the same school and played baseball growing up with Eric Gagne, who went on to record 187 saves in Major League Baseball. What was that like?
“It was a sports-oriented school (Polyvalente Edouard Montpetit in Montreal). We would go to school from 8-12 and then we would work on our various sports. Eric and I were both in the baseball program. Russell Martin went to the same school. He went to the same program.
“It was a great experience. To this day I still love competing. That’s what happens when we have staff hockey. I’m not very good but I give it my all. I was a better baseball player. We were surrounded by good athletes. So, whether we were playing baseball or ball hockey or volleyball or badminton, the level of competition was really high. And I loved that. Still do.”