The first day of training camp is consumed with medical matters and media interviews. There is little to no action on the ice, but what the players and executives say, help mold the season to come. On Wednesday, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois addressed the media (in an actual room and not over Zoom!) and answered their questions.
He spoke for about eleven minutes and answered questions ranging from the team’s identity (play with pace), the Olympics (great opportunity for the players), injuries (just Cal Foote), and managing the workload of Andrei Vasilevskiy (he’d play every game if they let him).
Below is the transcription of his answers from the interview (questions are shortened). As usual, the responses have been edited for clarity and to remove pauses, or repeated phrases (shockingly few in the case of Mr. BriseBois).
On the identity of the team:
“We don’t want to lose our identity. Our identity has always been based on pace. Being hard to play against and pushing the pace. So we try and bring in players that can compliment that through various ways. It can be trough skating, through thinking, through skill, through compete, fitness level. But we don’t want to lose our identity. Our identity has always been built around pace.
We draft accordingly. We develop in Syracuse accordingly. That’s how we want to play games. That’s how we think we can go out there and compete to win games and hopefully championships. So with the guys we bring in, I’m really excited to see where they fit in when it’s all said and done. In terms of lines, in terms of responsibilities on special teams, who plays with whom. That’s part of why it’s exciting going into the season, it’s the novelty of players we’ve been really excited to have been able to bring in, that are really good and have something to contribute to this team and see how it all comes together over the next few weeks and months.
Who are some of the young guys you’re keeping your eye on?
I think there’s a number of them. You bring up Ross Colton, which is a very good example. You never knew who it’s going to be. I don’t think 16 months ago we would have thought Ross Colton would be scoring the game winning-goal in the Stanley Cup Finals. That doesn’t mean we didn’t see the potential in him doing that, but there was still some growth that needed to occur and you never know at what pace these young players are going to grow, at what pace they’re going to be able to catch up to NHL play and be able to keep up with that pace night in, night out over 82 games.
There’s a number of them. I could throw out names and then forget some. The beauty is that we have seven preseason games. Some of the players we were able to see in our prospect showcase, and see some of them and see how they’re doing and see how they did. And we have these seven games where players are going to be given the opportunity to showcase themselves. A few internal scrimmages before that and we’ll see, cream usually rises to the top, and we’ll see who that is.
Thoughts on what you’ve seen around the league in terms of roster changes
Well there’s always turnover. Some of that is healthy, actually. There’s always new guys pushing in and earning spots around the league and some players ageing out. I think the particularity of this offseason was Seattle for one. So now you’re bringing in a new team that gets to select a player off of every team. So off the top, theoretically we all lose a player.
Then, the flat cap also creates pressures around the league to keep players, fit [in] players. It kind of redistributes the talent a little bit because teams that had a certain wealth of good players weren’t able to keep all of them.
How hard was this offseason for you?
It wasn’t easy to see those guys go. They contributed to two Stanley Cup championships. Some of whom I go way back with, even previous to them joining our organization. The run they had, I don’t know if it could have gone any better with our organization. I’m more glass half full type. I’m looking forward. You asked me how my summer was, well we won a Stanley Cup this summer. It was a great summer, nothing else, right? [Big smile and a laugh]
Lets start with that, and after that I’m really excited about the guys we were able to bring in. The Corey Perry’s, the Pierre Bellemare’s, the Brian Elliot’s, bringing back Zach Bogosian. I think these guys all have something to contribute to our team. They’re hungry, they’re fresh, they’re healthy, they’re competitive people, and they all decided to join our organization because they wanted to be part of something special. So, I think that bodes well for us. We have a number of young players that are pushing and they’ll have opportunities to earn a spot on our team and that’s exciting as well.
Surprised at being able to manage the cap and bring in pieces?
I’m happy with how it played itself out. Throughout the summer I’m very fortunate I get to learn from the great counsel of Al Murray, Jamie Pushor, Stacey Roest, and Mathieu Darche in particular in helping me make these decisions and I’m happy today with how the summer unfolded all things considered. Considering the challenges we had now I’m excited in looking forward to see how it all comes together on the ice.
Were all the players able to get here?
I think we have one that gets here on the 26th. [says something unintelligible]
Where do you stand on how the players approach the Olympics
It’s a tremendous opportunity for our guys and I hope we have as many guys as possible going. It means A - that they’re having a good season, and two - I think that experience is going to be incredibly valuable to them personally and in terms of growth as a hockey player. The players that are probably going to go the Olympics this year have never gone before and I think it’s going to be a great learning experience for them.
I think that the players that don’t go get the benefit of having two, almost three, weeks of rest at a critical juncture of the season and I think that will benefit them. The players that do get to go benefit from the sense that they’re going to be playing at such a high level. Those games, the pace is tremendous, the desperation, the emergency on the ice to win games I think will just get them ready ready for hopefully a long playoff run.
First we need to have a really good training camp. We need to have a good day today, a good day tomorrow, and hopefully have a good start to our season. If we want to have a good ending to our season we need to start with having a good start and that begins today.
How do you prevent burnout/fatigue?
I think it comes down to mindset more than anything and from talking to our players - the new guys, the returning players, everyone is still hungry for more and I think that’s going to fuel them. So I’m not really concerned with fatigue right now. It’s day one of training camp. Everyone, almost everyone is healthy. We should be good to go, so not a concern today.
What have Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh done to put themselves in position to make the team?
I think it’s their ability to play at such a high level - to bring their A game night in, night out last season in Syracuse. That’s what we’re looking for. Almost everyone that’s playing in the American Hockey League could come up and play a game in the NHL and at the very least survive. That’s not enough to help you win games. You need players that can come and strive and bring it night in, night out.
The challenge for young players, and it’s around the league, is that consistency. Being good enough, being fit enough, being professional enough to bring it night in, night out. You mentioned two players, Taylor and Boris, who were able to do it from day one of training camp all the way to the end of the season. There was no lull in their play so that bodes really well them, and for us.
What do you want to see from Cal Foote?
Unfortunately he’s the one player that’s hurt. He had surgery on his hand a few weeks back to repair a tendon in his pinky. So he won’t be able to play any of the preseason games. He’s probably going to miss, there’s a range of two-to-four weeks at the start of the season. So that’s unfortunate.
What we want to see from him is continued growth. Keep pushing the pace, being assertive. I thought he took huge strides last year. Eventually, for cap reasons we had to assign someone down. We looked at who was the best fit for the team and at the time we decided Luke Schenn was the best fit to be the sixth defenseman because we could only carry six. So we sent Cal down to Syracuse to get some games, get some mileage. He had a really good year last year, showed progression throughout the year, has shown progression over the last few seasons, and with continued growth I would expect him to be a regular at some point.
Is everyone vaccinated on the team?
Yes, everyone is vaccinated.
Does having Brian Elliott allow you to give Andrei Vasilevskiy some more time off?
It’s trying to find the optimal time for Vasy. There is a wrinkle this year, the Olympics. We brought that up earlier. That is a wrinkle we have to factor into our decisions. Being able to know we can count on Brian Elliot, who is a veteran, who has played this role for many years, who can handle the workload, obviously that brings us great comfort. That’s why we brought him in.
How much do you have to manage Vasy?
I don’t know if it’s more than in years past, but it’s ongoing just like we have to manage everyone’s load. You’re right, Vasy would play every game if he could, but he understands that our priority is to make sure he is at his best. Specifically at his best when it matters. He was able to do that the last two years and we just need to manage his minutes to make sure that’s the case this year.