BUFFALO, N.Y. — Lightning general manager Julien Pricebois positioned himself this week as a steward of the franchise’s rare talent pool, charged with taking the necessary risks to ensure the team makes the most of its championship window. Stockpiles of draft picks won’t win the Stanley Cup this season, so the immediate chase is prioritized.
Now, after one of the NHL’s busiest trade seasons came and went with the Lightning, forced to be mostly a spectator, BriseBois is doubling down on having enough gas in the tank to make a fourth straight run to the team’s Cup final this year.
He took reinforcements. Forwards Tanner Jeannot and Michael Eysimont were the Lightning’s primary targets because the team lacked salary-cap space and traded assets, Pricebois said, and the Lightning acquired both, although Jeannot took five draft picks from Tampa Bay.
If history is any indicator, these moves will be as revealing as they were for Nick Ball and Brandon Hagel, as they were for Blake Coleman and Barclay Kudrow.
But they paled in comparison to the splashy moves of some of the Lightning’s potential playoff foes in the Eastern Conference.
“We’re focused on our team,” Pricebois said Friday, after the Lightning had a quiet deadline day and made no final moves before the 3 p.m. deadline. “We’re trying to build the best iteration of our team and I assume my colleagues are trying to do the same with their respective clubs.
“We knew what our cap space was; we knew what our draft capital was. We knew what our roster makeup was and we thought we could help the team be a tough team to eliminate come playoff time.
Jeannot and Isemont should help make Lightning harder to get rid of, Brisboys said. He believes Gennett, Ross Colton and Paul can form a third line that matches opponents like the Yanni Court lineup once did. Eyssimont’s bread and butter is forechecking, and he can add six paces down. Lightning like lightning he delivers despite being his third stop in less than two months.
BriseBois said he feels good with the Lightning’s defense, though Tampa Bay has struggled to defend of late, allowing four or more goals in four of its past five games. The Lightning moved right-shot defenseman Cal Foote in the Jeannot trade, but BriseBois said right-shot AHL Syracuse defensemen Darren Radish and Phillip Myers are suitable complements.
The Lightning created cap space in the Eyssimont trade when San Jose picked up Vladislav Namestnikov and half his salary, so there is room for calls if they need depth.
“So that’s not an area that worries me,” Brisboys said of the defensemen. “I’ll put our D corps up against anybody else. We’re up there with some of the best D corps in the league.
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Although Anaheim has been linked to right-shot defenseman John Klingberg, who was sent to Minnesota before the deadline, Brycebois said he expects a quiet deadline day after acquiring Jeanette and Eisemont.
“We don’t have any specific goals (Friday),” BriseBois said. “We don’t think we’re looking to take advantage of anything (Friday) as far as looking for opportunities once (Eyssimont) trades off.”
The Lightning would be hard-pressed to make a blockbuster move comparable to those made by their conference rival. 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. The Bruins, who could play the Lightning in the second round, added forwards Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov. Metropolitan Division teams Rangers and Devils acquired Patrick Kane and Timo Meyer respectively.
But Bryceboys expressed confidence in his team, hoping the Lightning can break out of their funk and enter the postseason in good shape. The Lightning are 1-2-2 in their past five games, with their struggles characterized by lackluster play at their end.
“It happens in a season,” BriseBois said. “Maybe it’s a little bit of human nature and we don’t want to admit it, we have a bit of a cushion in terms of securing a playoff spot. At this point we’re playing against teams that are often already fighting for playoff life. We’re not matching the urgency of our opponents.
“I have all the faith in the world in our players and our coaching staff that it will be resolved in the not-too-distant future.”
Eduardo A. Contact Encina [email protected]. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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