Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois brought the same mentality to the trade deadline that his players must employ come playoff time: Do what you have to do to find a way.
The defending Stanley Cup champs have flown under the radar a bit during this odd season, especially because most of the league hasn’t got that in-person reminder of just how good this club is. The Bolts — who shutout potential first-round opponent Nashville 3-0 on Saturday and hold the fourth-best record in the league by points percentage (.707) — are that much better now that BriseBois found a way to stuff defenceman David Savard under the salary cap and onto the right side of his top-four.
People have been screaming “cap circumvention!” at the Bolts ever since Nikita Kucherov went on long-term injury reserve before the season and there was more grumbling Sunday when old friend Steve Yzerman — who left Tampa to run the Red Wings a couple of years ago — was made a part of this deal with Columbus so Detroit could eat half of Savard’s remaining salary after the Jackets initially swallowed 50 per cent themselves.
If people want to seethe, let them clench their teeth. When you’ve got a team capable of becoming just the second back-to-back Cup winner in the Cap Era, you move heaven and earth to get those final pieces. Last year, BriseBois knew his squad needed more muscle, so he went out and got Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Both those players played significant minutes on a team that finally won four playoff rounds last summer.
This time out, BriseBois — having watched righties Kevin Shattenkirk and Zach Bogosian move on in the off-season — went out and got a defenceman superior to both those players, a hard-nosed, bearded blue-liner who has the look of a guy who might have manned the gritty New York Islanders back end for all those early-‘80s Cups. Savard, who could conceivably slot in on the first or second pair in Tampa, said he was thrilled to be joining a team he’s faced in each of the past two post-seasons, knowing full well the Lighting stand a great chance to make another deep run.
From BriseBois’s perspective, it was about damage assessment and coming to the conclusion that forking over a first-rounder for a second straight year leaves way less of a mark than the sinking feeling you left something on the table with a veteran team trying to hang all the banners it can.
“As I was contemplating this trade,” BriseBois said Sunday, “my thought was, 'If I have the opportunity to acquire David Savard and I passed up on that opportunity and then the playoffs start and eventually we failed in our quest for a championship because our right-shot D wasn’t good enough, that was going to hurt. That was going hurt a lot.'”
That’s why you get off your wallet and pay the freight for the guy you want.
• Grabbing Taylor Hall (and Curtis Lazar) for a second-rounder and winger Anders Bjork is about as no-brainer as it gets for Boston. Not to pile on, but as miserable as things have been in Buffalo this year for Hall, I still thought the Sabres would get much more for him, especially considering they wound up swallowing half of his remaining salary.
In the past, Hall’s first-overall pedigree and his Hart Trophy campaign have driven his stock a little higher than it should be for a player who has not been extremely durable and is an offence-only guy at the least-valued position. That said, he doesn’t turn 30 for seven months and now that he will be looked upon to provide secondary scoring, as opposed to being the first option, I like the odds he makes Bruins GM Don Sweeney look smart here. Basically, Hall slots into the complimentary role Phil Kessel filled when he won two Cups in Pittsburgh. Also, given the Bruins have a little more salary cap flexibility than most perennial contenders, it seems as though — if things go well in the next month or so — there’s real potential for a marriage that lasts beyond 2021 here.
• Kyle Palmieri’s first goal as an Islander was exactly the type of net-front, whack-it-home tally GM Lou Lamoriello envisioned when he got the gritty winger out of New Jersey along with veteran pivot Travis Zajac.
Zajac, by the way, played more during Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Rangers than every Islanders forward other than Brock Nelson. How crazy would you have sounded if, when this team lost captain John Tavares for nothing in the summer of 2018, you declared the Islanders would not only be consistently making the playoffs in his absence, but that they’d be justifiably moving first-round picks at the deadline in two straight years (last season it was to acquire Jean-Gabriel Pageau from Ottawa) to bolster their squad? The 78-year-old Lamoriello is still going to be throwing 100 when he’s 100.
• Quick Canadian team round-up so far: Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas told us for weeks he was all in, so it was no surprise to see him move a first-rounder for Nick Foligno and a third for goalie David Rittich. Foligno, for what it’s worth, averaged more 5-on-5 ice time per 60 minutes in 10 playoff games last year than every Blue Jackets forward except Alexandre Texier. He’s the kind of player John Tortorella trusts, which means he’s built for playoff hockey. As far as “Big Save Dave” goes, with “Frequently Hurt Freddie” on the sidelines, it’s a relatively small price to pay for peace of mind at the most important position.
Also, when Dubas moved Toronto’s 2019 first-rounder to get Jake Muzzin two years ago at the deadline, the Leafs found Nick Robertson at No. 53 overall. When the Leafs had to attach a 2020 first to Patrick Marleau to get him off the books, Dubas flipped Kasperi Kapanen to Pittsburgh for a first-rounder. Moving a 2021 first might not sting all that much in the end.
In Montreal, it’s basically five-foot-nine defenceman Victor Mete out (Mete was placed on waivers yesterday), six-foot-three Jon Merrill in. Merrill can play both sides of the ice as a left shot and figures to start on the right side of the third pair. Montreal wanted another body back there and will have seven guys who satisfy GM Marc Bergevin’s blue line vision once Ben Chiarot returns from a broken hand. Size is no issue for the Canadiens on the back end. Speed and puck-carrying ability, on the other hand…
• Love a good out-of-the-blue move at deadline season and I really like the fit of Jeff Carter in Pittsburgh.
• On the seller’s side, Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen did well to pocket two first-round draft picks in this buyer’s market. And for all the times we talk about a player signing back with the team that moved him in the summer, it sure seems like there’d be a fit to bring Foligno back after he’s done skating for the team his dad, Mike, played 18 playoff games for at the end of his career.
Regina Pats phenom Connor Bedard has been making eyes pop all season, hanging out at the top of the WHL scoring charts as a 15-year-old with 28 points in 15 games. On Friday, he made those same eyes a little misty when he scored two goals — including the game-winner — and pointed skyward at “Grandpa Garth” after both tallies. Bedard’s grandfather was killed Tuesday during a car accident in Sicamous, B.C. The team offered to send Bedard home to be with his family, but after giving it some thought he chose to stick around for what was always going to be his final WHL game before heading to the U18 world championships with Team Canada. Here’s hoping the 2023 draft-eligible star does some more things on the international scene that would make his grandpa proud.
The Week Ahead
• Still a couple more hours to go until the deadline hits at 3 p.m. today. This is your annual reminder to keep refreshing your browser for 15 minutes or so past the hour as last-minute deals get processed by the league.
• Buffalo visits Hall and the Bruins on Tuesday, the same day Rittich could be in a Leaf uniform hosting his old friends from Calgary.
• There’s at least a chance we’ll have a fight for the final playoff spot in the North. The Canadiens have a six-point lead on Calgary, and Montreal holds three games in hand. Things will get a little more interesting, though, if the Flames can pull off regulation-time wins Wednesday and Friday in Montreal. The teams play a total of five more times in the back half of this month.