Julien BriseBois Exit Interview Transcript

The Lightning GM gives his thoughts on the season and the upcoming offseason.

Julien BriseBois Exit Interview Transcript
Julien BriseBois. Screenshot courtesy of the Tampa Bay Lightning via their website.

Below is a transcript of Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois' exit interview from May 2, 2023. His comments have been edited for clarity.

Good morning. As I stand here today after we've been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs I would characterize our season as a missed opportunity. That's the case every year when you're a Stanley Cup contender and you don't win the trophy. Every year that is also the end result for every Stanley Cup contender but one.  Even teams that do a lot of winning year after year, most seasons  they don't end with them raising the Stanley Cup above their heads.

I went into the playoffs this year believing we had what it took to bring The Cup back to Tampa and I still do. We had a roster that checked every box. We have a great coaching staff that puts our players in the best position to succeed. We had a group that was committed to putting the team first. That believed, and that was hungry. We have a locker room full of players with an 'over my dead body' attitude. That's a big part of what makes them such a special group.

At the same time, as is the case every year, I knew that we weren't the only Stanley Cup contender. I knew that Toronto could make the same claim. I agree with Steven Stamkos' postgame comments from Saturday where he said that we played better in this year's playoffs versus Toronto than we did in last year's playoffs versus Toronto.

And I agree with Coop's [Coach Jon Cooper] comments that we dictated play and and held the upper hand for longer stretches of play than Toronto did. But Toronto was able to accomplish a lot, get a lot done, in the stretches where they did have the upper hand. They did a tremendous job of taking advantage of their opportunities and they showed tremendous resilience, especially in winning Games Three and Four.

For eleven playoff series going into last year's Final, we were the team that found a way, including when we played against Toronto last spring. This year, Toronto found a way. They found a way to beat us four times before we could do it to them. They just did a better job of taking advantage of their opportunities and taking advantage of their breaks versus the job we did of taking advantage of our breaks.

In the end, congratulations to the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans. They certainly well deserved to move on to the next round of the playoffs.

As for our group, obviously we're disappointed that we don't get to say mission accomplished this season. At the same time we've done so much winning here that I think it's easy for us to take this team for granted. We're very fortunate to have so many great players wear our jersey and most of them are under contract and will be back next year.

We have a great coaching staff, led by a great head coach. That's why, even though the flat salary cap levels the playing field, and every year there are new teams that emerge as Cup contenders I fully expect us to remain one next year. Every decision we're going to make between now and the start of next season will be made with an eye to making sure we are a Stanley Cup contender not only next year, but beyond.

Any questions?

Is parity at the highest level it's ever been?

It certainly feels that way, but it's felt that way the last few years. The salary cap in and of itself is set up that way. The salary cap and to a certain extent, the NHL entry draft is set up to kind of level the playing field and prop up some teams and make it harder for some teams to sustain success. But the flat salary cap obviously brought it to a whole new level. Add to that two expansions in the last few years where teams were losing players.I think it does bring a certain level of parity right now, competitive balance that we haven't seen before.

So, the President's Trophy winner is already out, the last two finalists are out. The year after we beat Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final, they miss the playoffs the year after. When we beat Dallas they miss the playoffs the year after. Three of the four conference finalists from last year are already out. It's not great for us [small laugh], but it's great for the game and it's great for the league.

Does that make you appreciate what you were able to accomplish the previous three seasons?

I do feel we have something special going on here and we're going to do everything we can to keep it going. Now, we've had what I consider a legitimate Stanley Cup contender since 2015. So that's what, eight or nine years? We've won two Cups, went to four Finals. Some of those years we didn't win the Cup, let's bounce back next year and put ourselves in a good position to come into the playoffs, put our best foot forward. Make the playoffs, which is going to be a challenge. Be in a position to put our best foot forward and see where that takes us.

Is the silver lining that this will be the first time you get some rest?

I know that's a narrative. I don't know how much I buy into it or don't buy into it. I don't think any of our players are looking forward to rest. They wish they were getting ready to play Florida.

Any health updates on players?

We're doing exit physicals today so I don't have anything new. I can talk about the players that missed games. Tanner Jeannot had a high ankle sprain. Mikey Eyssimont missed a game with concussion-like symptoms. Erik Cernak missed a number of games with a concussion. He's doing better now, would not have been cleared yet. I spent some time with him yesterday, he's really progressing. The worst is behind for him. Victor Hedman missed a game with a hip impingement. Brayden Point didn't miss any games, but played with rib cage cartilage fracture.

Any offseason surgery required for Hedman?

I don't expect any, no.

Did Jeannot injury kind of wear him down as the series went on?

He was cleared to play, but he wasn't 100%. Call that whatever you want.

Changes in the offseason, will internal players take on a bigger role?

That's our hope. They're [the Syracuse Crunch] playing a big Game Five of a best-of-five on Saturday. I'm going to be there in Syracuse to watch them play. Hopefully they can get on a run themselves so that's valuable experience for our young players.

I expect, and certainly hope, some of those players are going to be able to take a step and help us here in Tampa next year.

Is it a likely scenario that you will have to subtract from the roster again?

If you mean subtract, trading a player that is under contract, that's certainly not the plan today. That's not my expectation, no. Will we be able to retain all of the players that are up and need new contracts? Realistically we won't be able to, but we're going to try and keep as many as we can.

Salary Cap are you in better shape than last year?

No, I would say this is probably the worst offseason we've had [chuckles]. Just the number of roster spots we need to fill and the cap space available to us is probably the most limited we've ever had it.

Re-signing Alex Killorn

Time will tell. Certainly he hopes so. I know it's going to be a challenge. What helps us is that I know Alex loves it here, he wants to stay here. We'd love to have him here. He's coming off a career season. He means so much to our organization both on the ice and off the ice. I'm sure his parents are very proud of him, as they should be. [Laughter off camera]

Do you expect changes to the coaching staff?

I certainly don't expect to make any changes myself. If teams call for some of our staff members obviously they'll be granted permission to explore those opportunities if they want to.

How active are things at the GM position at this time of year?

It's been awhile since I've been in this position [chuckles] so I'm not sure. I think the difference is usually we've been very fortunate to get all the way to the end. So we've had to do a lot of our planning as we were playing in later rounds. This year we get to take a step back, debrief, go through maybe a more formal review of where we are as an organization, what we need to do more forward, and we're going to take the time allotted to us to do that.

It is a little bit different. I haven't started talking to other GMs. I've reached out to all the agents for players of ours whose contracts are up just to give them kind of an idea of timeline, what I'm going to need in terms of time before I can get back to them. We're going to meet as a staff in Syracuse this weekend, all of our pro scouts. I'm meeting with the coaches on Friday. What will come from those meetings will start to put a plan in place and then we'll put that plan into motion.

Did Nick Perbix and Darren Raddysh bring down the stress levels on the question of the defense heading into next year?

I think that they, A: played awesome in the playoffs and established themselves as NHL players. They're first year players, a little older for first year players, but I think they're only going to continue to get better, especially in the case of Darren Raddysh. Big shout out to our coaching staff in Syracuse who do a phenomenal job helping our players reach their potential.

Credit mostly goes to Darren. He bought into the program, did a lot of extra work, worked on his skating, worked on his strength. He came into pro hockey as a quarterback-type, power play specialist coming out of junior and has turned himself into a reliable two-way, really good defensive defenseman at the NHL level.

That's a really good success story for our development program and certainly helps us because he's signed for next season at a very reasonable cap number and that helps our cap situation a little bit, yes.

Will he go back to Syracuse [this season]?

No. He would need waivers to go back down. Considering he has another year of contract, I'm not willing to take that risk.

Do you have a number for the cap space for next year?

I guess it all depends on how you're looking at it. I don't have a number. We need to make decisions on how to make the most on whatever is available. How do we move different pieces of that puzzle to end up creating the best team possible.

Any reason the little things that the Lightning did to find a way in the past, didn't happen against Toronto.

A - the randomness of hockey. Game to game, but even in a seven game series randomness does play a big part. And two, credit to the Toronto Maple Leafs. They found a way. They made the most of their breaks. I guess they're the answer.

Were there any signs of fatigue?

We looked for those signs because we had the same concerns, but pretty much to a man the guys were hungry, they were fresh mentally and physically, and they were ready to go.

Steven Stamkos eligible for an extension this summer

I'm aware, and Brandon Hagel is another one, so those are two whose contracts will be up a year from now and play significant minutes for us. The hope would be to keep both depending on what happens with the cap and different things, are we going to be able to do it this year? We may not be able to do it this year, but we'll have those conversations once we've kind of settled on something we can make that public.