• By: Dave Gross

Hey Tampa, this wasn’t supposed to happen


So here we are in the era of the great equalizer, aka the National Hockey League salary cap.

In a very great way, the salary cap was intended more for restriction than anything else. To be more precise – restrictive to any kind of dynasty. In no way whatsoever is a dynasty possible; let the bottom-feeders work their way up in due course (kind of hockey socialism).

No more NY Islanders or Edmonton Oilers of the late and early 1980s. No Montreal Canadiens of the . . . well, pick any era up until 1980.

The closest we’ve come to breaching that lengthy gap was with Pittsburgh (2015-16, 2016-17) and Chicago (three Cup wins in six years, 2010s).

Cold fact was the money game in the NHL had drastically been altered with the introduction of the cap. Teams just couldn’t afford to maintain a stacked and stocked lineup anymore.

Well, somebody might want to shake the Tampa Bay Lightning awake and let them know: “Hey buddy, no way you get to three straight Cup finals in this day and age.”

If the Hockey Hall of Fame opened its doors to such things, the entire Tampa management group would be enjoying immediate induction. The Lightning have become that good and that durable.

Back in September of 2018, the team promoted Julien BriseBois from assistant general manager to GM; this after Steve Yzerman stepped down. Since that time, he’s overseen the development of players from the American Hockey League’s Syracuse Crunch like J.T. Brown, Anthony Cirelli, Yanni Gourde, Radko Gudas, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Cedric Paquette, Andrej Sustr and Andrei Vasilevskiy.

BriseBois’ also morphed into a very sage cap manager. In other words, he plugs holes better than most with less than most.

Look at this year for instance when BriseBois lifted Nick Paul from Ottawa and Brandon Hagel from the Chicago Blackhawks. Paul, a west Toronto native, was the series hero during Round 1 when the Bolts slipped, barely, past his hometown club. Hagel has been a savvy add, a combination of grit and skill and smarts.

Both are key.

And that’s reminiscent of the year 2000 when BriseBois landed both Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow as ballast for his bottom six near the trade deadline. When both opted out on rich free agent contracts this past summer (Coleman with Calgary, Goodrow with the Rangers. Both on six-year deals), BriseBois checked out the market and eventually re-imagined his third line bringing on board Paul and Hagel.

To top it all off, BriseBois barely needs to lift his head off the pillow this summer as all his top skaters are locked up on deals. The only significant players who will be looking for new contracts are Paul, Ondrej Palat and Jan Rutta. (Of the three, Paul would be a priority.)

The Lightning are also fortunate behind the bench. Jon Cooper, brought on board in early 2013, is currently the NHL’s longest tenured head coach. The idea that Cooper’s never won a Jack Adams Award is a head-shaker. Cooper manages like Bobby Fischer on a chess board; all the pieces go to the right spots.

This Tampa team might not top the Colorado Avalanche for this season’s Stanley Cup, however, the fact that they’re even there – again – is testament to how well this organization’s been run.

THOUGHT, SEEN AND HEARD: Rumblings and rumours continue surrounding what Ottawa does before and during the draft. Keep hearing the name Alex Formenton in trade discussion/debate . . . Shane Pinto’s name is popping up as well . . . That’s two very big ‘gives’ by this franchise if anything comes to fruition . . . If there’s any truth to a Matt Murray to Toronto rumour, knock me over with a soft breeze. Love to hear the rationalization behind that one . . . This from late April in Postmedia: “I hope we can get it done rather quickly. I don’t really want that hanging over my head all summer.” . . . That’d be Josh Norris awaiting a new contract . . . Tweet of the week goes to comrade James Cybulski: “Vasilevskiy: 2 goals against and a .980 save % in three close out games vs TOR, FLA & NYR this spring. Forget Mariano Rivera, the Lightning goalie is now the best closer in sports . . . I’d go with Rollie Fingers. But that’s just me . . . Finished 2-0 in the conference final predictions (not much guess-work there) after going a combined 8-4 in the previous rounds . . . Taking Colorado in this one, although betting against Andrei Vasilevskiy is generally a fool’s game.

Photo: via sportsnet.ca