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Who is going to run the Crunch?

With Julien BriseBois in the big office in Tampa, will he have time to keep an eye on things in Syracuse?

Scott Thomas Photography

If the last eight years have taught Tampa Bay Lightning fans anything, it’s that the organization always has a plan. It might not make sense at the time, but in the end it tends to work out. So, when on the eve of training camp opening, General Manager Steve Yzerman announced he was stepping aside and Assistant General Manager Julien BriseBois was taking over the top job, it was assumed that there would be a replacement named as the Syracuse Crunch’s general manager. That was the position BriseBois had previously held, in addition to his assistant manager position with the Lightning. Well...Not so much.

In the press conference announcing the news, BriseBois confirmed that he will remain as the titular General Manager for the Lightning’s AHL affiliate. He’ll be assisted by Pat Verbeek, Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel, and Stacy Roest, Director of Player Development. Mr. Yzerman will also offer his input in his role as Senior Advisor. To add to the mix, Jamie Pushor, Director of Professional Scouting, will also have a say. It’ll be a “GM by committee” situation.

Now, anyone who has spent time in the corporate world dreads a manage-by-committee approach. There are simply too many voices in the room for anything productive to get done. These situations tend to drag on in mediocrity until someone steps up and assumes a leadership role.

Sports tends to be the same way. Any baseball fan who has heard the phrase “closer by committee” knows that they can look forward to a lot of blown leads in their future. Generally, running something by a committee isn’t a permanent solution to a problem. It’s a stop-gap due to a lack of the proper resources.

This raises some valid questions. Why are the Lightning, an organization known for being run as well as any in sports, relying on one man to run both the NHL club and the AHL club (plus committee input)? Shouldn’t they have a more traditional means of succession in place, especially since they’ve been working on a plan since at least late July?

What fans are most worried about boils down to one question: Will BriseBois fall into the habit of taking the Crunch for granted, treating them as just another thing he can tick off a list on his daily duties?

It’s awkward being a minor league team. The primary role is to be a feeder system for the big-league affiliate, developing talent that will one day lead their parent club to raising a championship trophy. At the same time, the minor league club has to make sure they are satisfying their own fan base who, in some cases, couldn’t care less about the big club.

There have been grumblings in the past among the fans in Syracuse that the Lightning do sometimes take the Crunch for granted. There have been moments when it seemed like the organization’s attention was on cap issues and/or personnel problems, with Syracuse’s struggles just necessary collateral damage. Given that, it was a nice bit of marketing to have the announcement of the extension of the affiliation between the two teams as BriseBois’ first official act as general manager in Tampa.

The act was a genuine gesture showing things are indeed “business as usual.” Overall, ever since the two clubs joined up prior to the 2012-13 season, it’s been no less than a template for a near-perfect relationship. Prospects have graduated to the Lightning while the Crunch, for the most part, have remained competitive overall year-in and year-out.

BriseBois is a big part of why they’ve been able to do that. Working with Yzerman, he has been able to properly balance the development of the prospects and the presence of the right veterans. That has resulted in two Calder Cup Finals appearances during his tenure as general manager of the Crunch. Part of the reason of his success was the time he put in, going on road trips and putting in a lot of time in the stands in Syracuse.

How is Mr. BriseBois going to be able to devote his full attention to both clubs a the same time? Simply put, he’s not. He won’t be afforded the luxury of being able to go to Syracuse to watch them live very often, and nor should he. It’s expected that Yzerman will drop by Syracuse to watch more than just his usual game or two, and with Roest and Pushor chiming in, BriseBois is going to have to let his control of the Crunch go a little bit.

At the moment he might be the “guy connected to what’s going on there,” as he told Syracuse.com. But that won’t be the case in the future, especially once camp breaks and the prospects decamp to Syracuse. Unexpected things will crop up with regards to the Lightning (hello Jake Dotchin) that will deflect his attention from the day-to-day operations of the Crunch. When that happens, he will need to make sure that there is a someone in place to take the reigns in Syracuse.

One thing we can be fairly sure of is that Yzerman will not be that someone. His role will most likely be as a guru or sounding board for the rest of the leadership staff. Yes, it sounds like he’ll be dropping by the newly-renovated War Memorial Arena more often than he has in the past, but it’s unlikely that he will be there enough to take over day-to-day management of the team. After all, he’s not giving up winters in Tampa to spend the time on the road in Utica, Laval and Cleveland.

Most likely it will be either Verbeek or Roest stepping in as general manager in practice if not in title, and then they’ll develop a working relationship similar to the one BriseBois had with Yzerman up until this week. Having both of them increase their attention on the Lighting’s AHL club could also provide a bit of redundancy that is beneficial in the long run.

Last spring it was reported that the Lightning gave Verbeek permission to speak with other teams, but nothing resulted out of any conversations that he might have had. Having been a Yzerman hire, he might be looking to further his career outside of the organization. Managing a minor-league affiliate would be a nice addition to his resume should he be interested in furthering his career.

So why not just flat out name him general manager of the Crunch? Maybe BriseBois is hesitant to give up control and wants to make sure he still has the last say in what happens with the Crunch, a team he’s built into a pretty good hockey club. Or, perhaps BriseBois and Vinnik want to make sure it’s a correct fit. Also, by having Roest and Pushor involved, it gives them a few other options of people who will be intimately familiar with the Syracuse organization should Verbeek leave.

In a sense, things are just like before, and they are just continuing a management style that has pretty much been in place since Yzerman took over the Lightning. The two GMs always worked close together on all matters concerning both clubs, whether it was contract negotiations or signing players to PTOs in Syracuse. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that style continues, just with different people in the office. Moving forward, it’ll be important for BriseBois to value the input of his co-workers that have more of a day-to-day understanding of the situation in Syracuse.

What this all comes down to is that the Lightning are covering all of their bases right now with the Crunch. While it makes for a crowded room at the moment, in the end it will prevent them from having to scramble in the future.