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BriseBois expects

Although the news that Steve Yzerman stepped down as Lightning GM came as a shock to many, BriseBois doesn’t expect much to change under his leadership.

“Once we are done with this announcement, it will be business as usual for the Tampa Bay Lightning,” BriseBois said.

 

[RELATED: Yzerman steps down as GM of Lightning]

 

That business, beginning with opening of training camp Thursday, remains the pursuit of the Stanley Cup. 

The Lightning came close in their eight seasons under Yzerman, losing in six games to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final and to the Washington Capitals in seven games in the Eastern Conference Final last season, but weren’t able to get over the hump. Tampa Bay is one of the favorites to contend for the Cup again this season, and BriseBois, who has been preparing for this opportunity for 17 years, doesn’t view Yzerman’s departure as an impediment.

“The name of the game is winning,” he said. “You have to win. If anything, at least we’re built to win right now.”

BriseBois, 41, has long been viewed as a future GM. Yzerman, who was named senior adviser to the GM so he can spend more time with his family in Detroit, was aware of that when he hired him as his assistant in 2010. 

Unlike Yzerman, who won the Cup three times as captain of the Detroit Red Wings and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009, BriseBois isn’t a former player. Yzerman said he doesn’t think that matters.

“Playing background doesn’t ensure anything,” he said. “You have the instincts, you learn, you work hard, and you pick it up. Ultimately, he has good instincts.”

While BriseBois was studying at the University of Montreal Faculty of Law, he never dreamed he’d be an NHL GM.

“My plan when I was in law school was to be a tax lawyer,” he said.

Video: Yzerman steps down, Lightning name BriseBois new GM

As an attorney at Heenan Blaikie in Montreal, BriseBois got his start in professional sports by representing NHL and Major League Baseball teams in salary arbitration cases and advising in contract negotiations. He joined the Montreal Canadiens as their director of legal affairs in 2001.

BriseBois was promoted to director of hockey operations in 2003, when he was 26 years old, and in 2006 became Montreal’s vice president of hockey operations and GM of its American Hockey League team in Hamilton, which won Calder Cup in 2006-07. He joined the Lightning in 2010 as Yzerman’s assistant and GM of Tampa Bay’s AHL team, which was in Norfolk at the time and moved to Syracuse in 2012.

One of BriseBois’ first moves with the Lightning was to hire Jon Cooper as Norfolk’s coach. Cooper, who won the United States Hockey League championship with Green Bay in 2009-10, coached Norfolk to the Calder Cup in 2011-12 before being promoted to coach Tampa Bay on March 25, 2013.

“Julien gave me my first crack at pro [hockey],” Cooper said. “He was the guy that found me in Green Bay somehow and we went through the interview process and he believed in me enough to hire me. That’s a pretty big leap of faith for somebody that didn’t have any pro experience.”

After Cooper was hired by the Lightning, Syracuse continued to excel, losing in the Calder Cup Finals in 2013 and 2017, and developed a number of NHL players including Lightning forwards Nikita Kucherov, Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. Throughout BriseBois’ ascension, his intelligence and commitment stood out.

“Julien spent a lot of time in Syracuse,” said former Syracuse radio play-by-play announcer Dan Duva, who is now with the Vegas Golden Knights. “He wasn’t on every road trip, but he made a point of being with the team. He would be working out of the coach’s office in Syracuse and sometimes you’d see him working out in the gym after the players had left for the day. You could just see the routine: very detail oriented, very direct, very businesslike.”

Video: Julien BriseBois named General Manager of Lightning

BriseBois’ reputation throughout the NHL grew and he generated interest from other teams, but none were able to lure him away from Tampa Bay. BriseBois credited Yzerman and Lightning owner Jeff Vinik for that.

“They made it very hard to leave, both in how well I was treated here and how much I was involved in the decision-making process, the role that I had,” BriseBois said. “I felt like I was contributing, and I felt like I had a voice in our decisions, and a lot of those decisions were delegated to me as well.”

That prepared BriseBois for this next step. Although he’s the third youngest NHL GM behind John Chayka, 29, of the Arizona Coyotes and Kyle Dubas, 32, of the Toronto Maple Leafs, BriseBois paid his dues.

“If you want to put together a syllabus to become a leading executive, Julien’s followed it: Get educated, watch, get experiences, learn, get around smart people,” said TSN analyst and former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button, who first encountered BriseBois when he was handling salary arbitration cases. “He’s never been in a race to get somewhere yesterday. He’s been in a place to get where he wants to go prepared and ready to be very good at it. I don’t have any doubt he’ll be superb.”

Main photo courtesy of Scott Audette/ Tampa Bay Lightning

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