DENVER — Tampa Bay’s Julien BriseBois and Colorado’s Joe Sakic, the 2 basic managers on this Stanley Cup Final, as soon as have been teammates.

At the GM conferences simply earlier than the pandemic within the spring of 2020, the group of executives gathered at a luxurious resort in Boca Raton, Fla., for the annual array of conferences, breakout teams and discussions on the whole lot from EBUGs to the offsides rule.

But throughout a break, BriseBois bought a couple of friends out to an area tennis membership for considered one of his passions: pickleball.

They picked groups, with BriseBois and Sakic dealing with Wild GM Bill Guerin and Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekäläinen, a robust tennis participant. Guerin ruined a very good pair of trainers that day however was struck by how significantly BriseBois took the match, all the way down to his wardrobe.

“He’s an intense guy, very competitive,” Guerin stated. “When he began enjoying, there was no center of the highway. He’s bought all of the gear, the correct racket, the correct garments, the correct footwear. He goes all-in.

“We beat them, and he’s been trying ever since to get us on the court for a rematch.”

Ask different GMs about BriseBois, they usually possible have a pickleball story. There have been the 2020 bubble playoffs in Toronto, the place Kekäläinen after which assistant GM Bill Zito had each day matches with BriseBois and Tampa assistant GM Mathieu Darche. BriseBois and Darche would finally make their very own court docket within the rink in Edmonton, drawing their very own traces on the world’s concrete flooring, however in Toronto, Kekäläinen and Zito would bus over from the Fairmont to face the Lightning duo at Hotel X’s courts.

“I remember we played and it was 2-2, we each won two, played for an hour,” Zito stated. “I used to be exhausted. I used to be like, ‘Let’s go.’ (BriseBois) is like, ‘No we’re enjoying Game 5.’ I’m like, ‘You’re out of your minds, I can’t even transfer.’ They wished to play extra.

“That’s how Julien is. You can’t stop him.”

With BriseBois’ Lightning 4 wins away from a historic three-peat, unprecedented in a wage cap world, his friends have been impressed with how the fourth-year GM has finished it. They describe a passionate, clever and artistic government whose aggressive hearth is at all times burning, however not on the expense of his relationships with others.

“He’s about as ego-free as it gets,” Zito says.

They admire BriseBois guts in his deadline strikes, like buying Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman in 2020, and Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel this March. BriseBois, a voracious reader of books on management and innovation, doesn’t have the hockey background of a Hokcey Hall of Famer like Sakic, and as an alternative has taken a more “serendipitous” and distinctive path. He paid his dues starting in the Canadiens group and gained his first pro title with Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate earlier than changing into Steve Yzerman’s right-hand man for a decade.

But he constructed these Cup winners lots like he performs pickleball.

Competitive. Intense. Detailed. And all-in.

“He’s respectable and humble,” Kekäläinen stated. “It’d be easy to be a little more cocky having won two Cup rings and having that confidence, but I don’t think it’s changed him at all. He plays very calm, cool and collected. He’s got that fire inside of him, I can tell from the outside of hockey. We all try to keep it inside quite a bit, and there could be a storm in there, but we’re trying to look calm. And he always is.”

When information broke on Feb. 24, 2020, that the Lightning had acquired Goodrow in a commerce from San Jose, with the Lightning giving up a first-round decide (whereas retaining a third-rounder), Guerin remembers being stunned by how a lot BriseBois gave up.

“I was like, ‘Woah, that’s kind of a lot,” Guerin stated. “But look what he did for them. He knew the participant nicely. He knew what he might do for the workforce. I feel that reveals (BriseBois) has balls, too. You know he gave up a first-rounder for a task participant, which is ballsy.

“But he knew what he wanted and went after it.”

Then-Sharks GM Doug Wilson stated he didn’t plan on buying and selling Goodrow and awoke that morning on the workforce resort in Philadelphia believing the heart-and-soul-type participant would stay. But BriseBois was persistent, chatting a couple of dozen occasions main as much as the deadline. Wilson drew a line within the sand: he’d solely deal Goodrow if a first-round decide was coming again.

By 2:37 p.m. on commerce deadline day, simply wanting the three p.m. deadline, BriseBois and Wilson bought the deal finalized. The hockey world noticed Tampa Bay giving up a first-round decide for a “role” participant. BriseBois noticed a possible difference-maker on the penalty kill and backside six who might excel if given the correct position, and a participant who was beneath contract for an additional 12 months at a team-friendly worth. And, in getting a third-rounder again, he primarily solely moved again 45 picks. (Tampa Bay dealt that decide in unloading the ultimate 12 months of Ryan Callahan’s contract to Ottawa, a significant cap-saving measure.) BriseBois had watched Goodrow’s earlier 20 video games, both on TV or the pc, and had a very good learn on him.

“What I really like about him is that he’s all-in every year to win,” stated longtime GM Jim Rutherford, one of many sport’s greatest sellers, who’s now president of hockey operations for the Vancouver Canucks. “He can read where his team is at. He can recognize whether he feels they have a chance. He has a team that has a chance every year and he makes those moves that are key ones. You can’t always win with your top guys. You need other guys that are going to be able to perform on nights where top guys are getting shut down. Julien is always on top of that.”

Julien BriseBois. (Andy Devlin / NHLI through Getty Images)

With the Coleman deal, then-Devils GM Tom Fitzgerald stated there have been a number of suitors for the versatile winger. That included Tampa Bay’s rivals, the Bruins. And it wasn’t till BriseBois stepped in and provided high ahead prospect Nolan Foote that he secured the deal.

That’s the way it labored, too, with the Paul commerce in March. BriseBois had already taken a giant swing in touchdown Hagel from Chicago, sending prospects Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk together with two first-round picks (2023 and 2024).

The Lightning felt Winnipeg’s Andrew Copp was too costly, however made a suggestion to Vancouver for Tyler Motte, who ended up going to the New York Rangers for a fourth-round decide. Paul could have been “Plan B,” however he was a man Tampa Bay wished. Assistant GM Stacy Roest had seen Paul play since his first 12 months in junior with Brampton, where he played on a line with Goodrow. They seen Paul’s enchancment up to now 12 months or so, believing the middle — sent up and down 11 times with Ottawa — might thrive in the correct position on a contending workforce.

The Senators, up till the weekend earlier than the deadline, have been negotiating a possible extension with Paul, and have been believed to have provided him a four-year cope with a $2.5 million AAV. What was the second GM Pierre Dorion felt he wouldn’t re-sign Paul? “When Mathieu Joseph came into the equation, very simple,” Dorion stated. “I think when Julien put that name on the table, you’ve got to think about that one.” BriseBois didn’t need to deal Joseph however believed he couldn’t afford what the younger ahead would get in arbitration as an RFA this summer season, so transferring him for a robust asset made a number of sense.

BriseBois stated in any deal, the Lightning consider the participant, the individual and the contract, and Tampa Bay was thrilled to land Hagel and Paul. Paul has been a difference-maker since his deadline arrival, together with becoming the Game 7 hero within the first-round sequence in opposition to Toronto. Hagel is a key piece of a shutdown line with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli, a trio that can face Nathan MacKinnon’s high line on this Cup Final.

“We’re looking for guys who have pride and guys who have ambition,” BriseBois stated. “Because the pride is what’s going to drive you and keep pushing yourself when things aren’t going for you. The ambition is what’s going to fuel your continued success. When things are going well, you’re hungry for more. The fact our group has won two Cups and is still fighting for another one shows our players have those qualities.”

What has struck different GMs about BriseBois in commerce negotiations is how he’s good however smart. Aggressive however agreeable. Most importantly, he’s trustworthy.

“He’s very straightforward. There’s no B.S.,” Zito stated.

“No goofing around,” Rutherford stated. “No games.”

“It’s very quick and to the point with Julien,” Guerin stated. “He knows what he wants and what he thinks is fair. And that’s it. You can go through it a little bit. He’s not afraid to get creative either and throw ideas at you, see if you can work through it. But I just like how you know right away if there’s going to be a deal made or not. I don’t like wasting a lot of time going back and forth, making millions of phone calls if we’re not going to get serious. I kind of like to cut to the chase.”

Early into the four-month, pandemic-sparked pause in April 2020, Ryan Hamilton opened up his e-mail to seek out an inspiring message from BriseBois.

Hamilton, Tampa Bay’s sports psychologist, stated the notice was despatched to gamers, workers and hockey operations of us.

“We’re going to play hockey again,” BriseBois wrote. “We’re going to be the most prepared team when we play hockey again. And we’re going to win the Stanley Cup.”

It fired up Hamilton. So did BriseBois’ message that they have been going to be essentially the most “well” workforce.

BriseBois had chatted with GMs from all sports activities, from MLB to the NBA and NHL to rugby and soccer. They have been brainstorming concepts on easy methods to deal with breaks of their seasons. One GM felt an important factor once they got here again was the psychological side. It struck a chord with BriseBois.

Want to know why the Lightning gained the Cup within the 2020 bubble playoffs? The play on the ice was most essential, in fact, however they have been arguably essentially the most ready group behind the scenes. Hamilton, one of many few sports activities psychologists within the bubble, despatched newsletters weekly to gamers and workers with tips about coping. A spotlight group of Tampa Bay workers despatched out surveys to gamers and workers asking for favourite snacks, video games, motion pictures, and quotes, with Czech beer and Russian meals introduced in to present private touches to foreign-born gamers.

The workforce gathered household images to place in digital frames in each participant’s room, with wives and youngsters sending elaborate movies to point out the gamers earlier than every spherical. In totally different seasons, BriseBois and coach Jon Cooper have introduced in visitor audio system and authors as an example the significance of tradition and management.

The private contact has been BriseBois’ m.o.

“He’s a competitive guy, but let me tell you, he has an EQ that matches his IQ,” Zito stated. “He understands folks. He cares about folks. He understands that whether or not it’s analytics or whether or not it’s hockey, whether or not it’s a bodily achievement or measurement, on the finish of the day, it’s the folks that matter. I do know he will get that.

“He’s very thoughtful, very innovative and creative. I don’t know if some of it comes from his skill set, some of it from his intellect. … What will give him the edge? But it also comes from empathy. He cares about the players. All these things make him just a little bit ahead of everyone.”

Zito, who took over as Panthers GM two years in the past, stated BriseBois was comfortable to be a sounding board for him as he transitioned into the brand new position. Like BriseBois, Zito was a former legislation pupil who began as a GM for an AHL affiliate. Zito appreciated the truth that BriseBois, when he has provided concepts on the AHL conferences or NHL GM conferences, at all times reveals curiosity in what’s finest for the sport, not simply himself or his workforce.

Neither Zito nor Kekäläinen was stunned when, after the Lightning bought stunningly swept by their Columbus workforce within the 2019 first spherical, BriseBois remained affected person. There’s no knee-jerk response in something that BriseBois does, and this was an instance of him having a stage head and extensively evaluating and believing in what they’d. They needed to make some tweaks, positive. But they didn’t blow all of it up.

“They made a lot of changes that paid off for them, and they’ve been able to stay champions for two years and now have a chance at a third,” Kekäläinen stated. “It’s admirable, one thing that everyone desires to have — a dynasty that they’ve constructed. Their core group has been there for some time. They skilled the ups and downs, they know what it takes to win and are utilizing their expertise.

“I always talk about trying to see behind the results, so you don’t get too caught up with, we didn’t get the result this year. But we played great, the team is growing. Let’s stick to our path and stick to our plan. If we keep getting better, the results will be there. It’s so easy to make a knee-jerk reaction when you don’t see the results. Everyone talks about us being in the business of winning. We like to talk about how we’re in the business of improving every day. The results will come.”

The outcomes have been staggering, with BriseBois’ Lightning successful two championships in his first three years as basic supervisor.

Yes, it is a workforce that Yzerman should deserve a lot of credit for constructing. He introduced a downtrodden franchise instantaneous credibility in 2010. But Yzerman has stated that BriseBois did an important job finalizing the roster, making the sort of strikes wanted to place the workforce over the hump.

“Steve is definitely a tough act to follow but he’d be the first to say Julien was instrumental in that as well,” Guerin stated. “And he put his own mark on it. Julien is a very confident guy. He’s got some swagger himself, and I think he was more than ready for it. Every day, you knew how important Julien was to Steve. We all have people like that, people we all need. I have people I couldn’t do without, too. They’re both very professional, detailed, super-smart guys. They built something great.”

Stars GM Jim Nill, who labored with Yzerman in Detroit, has been impressed with how BriseBois has been prepared to pay the value when wanted, very similar to these with the Red Wings did, together with Jimmy Devellano and Kenny Holland. If the lacking piece prices you a bit extra, but it surely helps you win, it’s price it.

“Somewhere down the road, it might catch up with you,” Nill stated. “But when you’ve got a team that has an opportunity, you want to keep it going. It’s so, so hard to win in this league. Even when you do the right things, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win. You just try to give yourselves the best chance you can every year and they’ll come a time where you say, ‘You know what, maybe I have to back off.’ But right now, they’re a team that is as good as anybodys. They’ve got a world-class goaltender and they’ve made all the right moves.”

The solely factor left to win — nicely, apart from the Stanley Cup once more — is a rematch with Guerin and Sakic on the pickleball court docket. It possible gained’t occur throughout the Stanley Cup Final, although Guerin stated BriseBois brings it up on a regular basis. Kekäläinen stated BriseBois is a robust tennis participant too — a ton of topspin on his forehand, “goes after every ball” — however he’s bought his personal signature pickleball fashion.

“Some guys are thinkers and some guys are drivers,” Kekäläinen stated. “And Julien is more of a driver. He’s going to drive the ball every time. So you’ve got to find other ways to get to him.”

“He’s a pretty cool cat to me,” Guerin stated, “in all situations I’ve seen him in, or interacted with him in pressure situations. He’s always been relatively calm, unflappable. The same old Julien — not just in Game 5 of pickleball.”

(Top photograph of Julien BriseBois: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

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