Julien Brisebois

Joe Sakic wins 2022 NHL GM of the year award

Joe Sakic
Dave Sandford, Getty Images

Colorado Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic has won some of the biggest awards in the sport. Stanley Cups as a player and general manager. The Hart Trophy as league MVP, the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP, and the Lester B. Pearson award.

On Thursday night he added another individual award to his personal trophy case when he won the 2022 Jim Gregory Award as the NHL’s general manager of the year.

Sakic has built a powerhouse team in Colorado that has been one of the league’s best over the past five years. That core finally broke through during the 2021-22 postseason to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 2001 when Sakic was still a player on the team.

Along with building the team through the draft with home run top picks including Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Cale Makar, the Avalanche under Sakic’s leadership have also made a number of home run trades and free agency signings in recent years to build their roster.

That includes a series of moves this season.

[Related: Trade with the Colorado Avalanche at your own risk]

Back in the offseason Colorado acquired starting goalie Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes for a first-round draft pick. Kuemper was an outstanding replacement for Philipp Grubauer after he signed with the Seattle Kraken in free agency and helped backstop the team to a championship.

During the season Sakic made a couple of strong trades before the trade deadline, acquiring Arturri Lehkonen from the Montreal Canadiens and Josh Manson from the Anaheim Ducks.

New York Rangers general manager Chris Drury and Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois were the other two finalists for the award.

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    Strikingly smart: How Tampa Bay Lightning were built

    It’s settled: the Tampa Bay Lightning will face the Colorado Avalanche in the 2022 Stanley Cup Final. So, how did each team get here? After covering the Avalanche, let’s consider how the Lightning were built.

    As defending repeat champs and “three-peat” hopefuls, the Lightning have clearly been built to last. In fact, PHT chronicled how the Tampa Bay Lightning were built last year.

    Will this be the year that the Avalanche forcefully remove the torch from the Lightning? We’ll see. Even if that happens, it’s reasonable to maintain the stance that the Lightning are the gold standard for NHL team-building.

    Let’s take a broader view of how the Lightning built their core. Also, we’ll ponder the tweaks they’ve made over the years, including around the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline.

    Tampa Bay Lightning: dynamos at drafting, development

    The Lightning share some parallels with the Avalanche and other teams who placed crucial parts of their core together in the age-old way. They were bad at the right time to draft foundational players in the first round.

    Back in the 2020 Stanley Cup run, Stamkos was limited to just one playoff game, and one memorable goal. Essentially winning a Stanley Cup without Stamkos may have prompted some belief that he wasn’t needed.

    [MORE: Stamkos thriving in different role with Lightning]

    This current run reminded us of what he’s capable of. Really, it’s another chance to wonder where Stamkos’ numbers would be without some of the terrible injury luck he’s endured.

    • Increasingly, it seems like Hedman (second overall) should’ve been selected first over John Tavares in 2009. He’s easily one of the best defensemen of his era.
    • For each miss (Brett Connolly, sixth in 2010) or player whose impact happened elsewhere (Tony DeAngelo, 19th in 2014), there was a huge hit like Andrei Vasilevskiy. Around a time when teams were increasingly risk-averse about drafting goalies high, the Lightning were rewarded for selecting the future Hall of Famer at 19th overall. Granted, they selected Slater Koekkoek at 10th that same year, so they’re not total soothsayers.
    • Of course, the most fun draft picks echo former GM Steve Yzerman’s current team in Detroit (who stole the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk from draft obscurity).

    Most NHL teams got at least two shots at Nikita Kucherov, who went 58th in 2011. Key pieces Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, and Alex Killorn were all third-rounders.

    Where other teams can and cannot learn from the Lightning in drafting/developing

    There’s not much other teams can learn about high picks like Hedman and Stamkos. The lesson there is “cross your fingers that you’re bad (then lucky) at the perfect time.”

    Yet, with players like Brayden Point, the Lightning targeted a market inefficiency. Teams were too dismissive of skilled players who were small. That allowed players like Cole Caufield and Alex DeBrincat to slip in their respective drafts, as well.

    So, the Lightning can find diamonds in the rough. Yet, when that happens often enough, there must be something more. This franchise isn’t just great at finding talent, but also getting the most out of those players.

    Just look at how capable NHL players just keep popping up from the AHL. Ross Colton‘s the latest of a long line of players to go from “Who?” to “How do they keep doing this?”

    Theory: because they’re smarter than the rest of us.

    (That thought resonates each time Jon Cooper out-coaches someone in the playoffs.)

    Lightning build defense, depth with trades

    Then again, some of the Lightning’s best trades boil down to knowing when to part ways with picks and prospects who don’t quite pan out. Beyond Hedman, it’s the catalyst for their unusually deep defense.

    Interestingly, the Avalanche also supplemented a star draft pick (Cale Makar/Victor Hedman) with other key defensemen through trades.

    Maybe the signal there is to pour resources into pro scouting and/or shrewd analytics teams to identify help on defense?

    Learning to love LTIR: Lightning are masters of salary cap management

    Someone, somewhere might still be bitter about the way the Lightning leveraged LTIR over the years.

    And, fair enough, this team will always need to wiggle around such claustrophobic cap circumstances. This screenshot of their Cap Friendly page just feels right.

    Some feel like it’s “cheating.” That said, it’s fair to guess that there’s a level of jealousy. Plenty of fans must wonder “Why can’t my team do that too?”

    (Lightning management must have scoffed and muttered “amateurs” at the Golden Knights this season.)

    Leveraging that state tax advantage, careful planning to keep stars when others would lose them

    That prevailing feeling of “How do they keep getting away with this?” permeates through the Lightning’s salary cap structure.

    Repeatedly, it seemed like the Lightning would lose someone like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, or Anthony Cirelli for salary cap reasons. Over and over, Tampa Bay instead found ways to hammer out relative bargain contracts.

    [Stunning Numbers from the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs]

    No doubt, you can credit state tax advantages and weather. Still, there are a handful of other franchises with fairly similar advantages. None of them exploit the situation like Tampa Bay does.

    And, even when someone can’t fit in the puzzle, the Lightning tend to handle it better. Everyone and their uncle knew that they were in salary cap trouble when they traded J.T. Miller. Even so, the Lightning got the Canucks to cough up a first-rounder to get Tampa Bay out of trouble.

    (At least Miller’s been even better than most of us realized.)

    Overall, the Lightning are like Nikita Kucherov faking Aaron Ekblad out of his skates. Tampa Bay’s a step or three ahead of others. Sometimes, it’s to the point where they make you look bad.

    Semi-new wrinkle: trading for cap-friendly depth

    Over time, some might have exaggerated the impacts of the Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman trades.

    Sure, they both helped the Lightning during their repeat runs — Coleman, especially. But the Lightning still lean heavily on their top players: Kucherov, Hedman, Vasilevskiy, Point, Stamkos, and Cirelli.

    Still, those trades laid down a template for Lightning trades that help them survive the salary cap squeeze. At this past trade deadline, the Lightning rolled out that blueprint for Brandon Hagel.

    Hagel, 23, has already been a find. He’s not only cheap now, but also in the future, as his $1.5 million cap hit runs through 2023-24. The Blackhawks landed a pretty noteworthy haul for Hagel, yet it follows the Coleman and Goodrow examples. A rebuilding/retooling team gets serious assets, like a first-rounder (or more). The Lightning buy themselves some salary cap relief by adding a player who’s almost certainly worth more than they’re getting paid.

    Everyone wins, right? Pretty much. But it’s probably not a coincidence that the Lightning win more. They tend to do that.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    NHL Rink Wrap: Yeo can’t end Flyers’ streak; Canucks win Boudreau debut

    NHL Rink Wrap: Yeo can't end Flyers' streak; Canucks win in Boudreau debut
    Yeo photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images; Boudreau photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images
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    Top player from Monday in the NHL

    Jamie Benn helps Dallas Stars extend winning streak

    Monday, like other recent NHL nights, brought little relief to teams on losing streaks — like the Flyers. But not every extended streak was a negative one.

    Considering how bad the Coyotes have been, the Stars probably weren’t pleased with a 1-1 tie heading into the third period. Jamie Benn took care of that in the final frame.

    First, Benn assisted on Jacob Peterson‘s eventual game-winner. Then Benn put the game out of reach with two goals, including a power-play tally.

    Generally, the Stars’ winning streak has been about their top line (no longer featuring Benn), among other strengths. Benn carried a personal five-game pointless streak into the NHL games on Monday.

    Playing like this (now 12 points in 22 games) won’t justify Benn’s contract. That said, if he can take over games every now and then like Vintage Jamie Benn™ (particularly on off nights for that blistering top line), the Stars could really be scary.

    Highlights from NHL games on Monday

    Travis Green, somewhere, grumbling: “Might have kept my job if Brock Boeser scored in the past month.”

    Not a lot of highlights for the Coyotes this season. Shayne Gostisbehere really provided a nifty one, though.

    Somehow, it took until December for Tom Wilson‘s first fight of the season. (And there wasn’t even a COVID/lockout caveat as a loophole for a late start to the season.)

    Impressive all-around-effort by Jamie Benn in scoring his second goal of the night.

     

    NHL takeaways from Monday

    Canucks address firings, Boudreau debuts as head coach

    After a dizzying weekend, the Canucks no longer employ Jim Benning as GM or Travis Green as head coach. Despite a short turnaround, Bruce Boudreau debuted as Canucks head coach during Monday’s NHL action, where the Canucks hosted Alexander Edler and the Kings.

    Naturally, it’s foolish to read too much into the Canucks winning during Boudreau’s debut. That said, it sure beats … not.

    Also, if you need a smile, you can do worse than to watch Bruce Boudreau’s introductory press conference as Canucks head coach. He admits he’s been dying to get back to the gig, and gives the impression that he’ll at least bring some levity to what’s been a grim Canucks team lately.

     

    Francesco Aquilini and interim Canucks GM Stan Smyl also addressed the media before Monday’s NHL games. Here’s a link to that press conference.

    Flyers fire Alain Vigneault; maybe it’s time to find some new ideas?

    Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher, son of longtime hockey executive Cliff Fletcher, maintains a tentative grasp on his job. After a lengthy run with the Wild, this is Fletcher’s second, expensive crack at being an NHL GM. It’s also the second time Mike Yeo’s been his head coach, as Yeo carries that interim title after the Flyers fired Alain Vigneault on Monday.

    This was Vigneault’s fourth NHL head coaching gig (1,363 regular-season games over 19 seasons). The Flyers bench was full of NHL head coaching experience. Michel Therrien, also fired, held that role for 12 seasons — including two shots with the Canadiens.

    The Flyers mark Mike Yeo’s third chance at being an NHL head coach. Memorably, he gave way to an interim head coach with the Blues — Craig Berube, who went on to win the franchise’s elusive first Stanley Cup.

    No doubt, experience is a valuable commodity.

    Still, at some point, NHL teams should probably try to … I don’t know, turn over a few other stones? Not just roll through retread after retread to diminishing returns? Should we be that surprised that a Flyers franchise almost dusty with old ideas hit a wall like this?

    [At least Jeff Gorton seems willing to consider people outside of the hockey bubble]

    So far, it doesn’t seem like teams are that interested in innovating.

    This thought resurfaces after some interesting discussion about the Montreal Canadiens’ goal of moving on from GM Marc Bergevin. When word surfaced that the Canadiens would need a GM who could speak French, it sounded like they’d limit their pool of options to an even smaller group. Unless they simply expanded their scope in a simple way that still seems to elude “hockey men.”

    The Flyers (with Fletcher or not), Canucks, Canadiens, and other struggling teams could easily find fresher ideas if they considered something beyond cronyism. MLB front offices are light years ahead of the NHL, poaching Ivy Leaguers and Wall Street executives.

    And it’s not as though the NHL lacks examples of successes at least a bit off the beaten path.

    To be clear, there’s room for a wide variety of voices in any room. For every uninspired retread, there’s a coach with a proven track record of actually improving teams. (As tough as the Canucks job is, Boudreau might nail it. And Darryl Sutter’s been a revelation for the Flames.)

    Being the first to do something, or even to do something unusual, can be scary. But being stuck in the same rut for decades is pretty scary, too.

    Flyers lose to Avalanche, see their losing streak grow to nine games

    After zooming out, let’s zoom back in. In a 12-goal game, the Avalanche beat the Flyers, extended Philly’s losing streak to nine games. Here’s a recap of a funk that partially cost Vigneault his job.


    Nov. 18: Flyers’ losing streak begins with 4-3 shootout loss at home to the Lightning.

    Nov. 20: After that, they dropped a 5-2 loss at home against the Bruins. Memories of Carter Hart‘s strong start begin to fade.

    Nov. 23: Uh oh, those Bolts again. In that case, it was a 4-0 loss to the Lightning in Tampa Bay.

    Nov. 24: A back-to-back set in Florida isn’t an easy task. After falling to the Lightning, the Flyers saw their losing streak extend in a 2-1 OT loss to the Panthers.

    Nov. 26: Another tough one against a challenging opponent. They dropped a 6-3 loss at home vs. the Hurricanes.

    Nov. 28: Never feels great to lose by a nearby rival. That happened in the Flyers’ 5-2 loss to Devils in New Jersey.

    Dec. 1: The Flyers dropped a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

    Dec. 5 (Sunday): big loss at home vs. Lightning.

    Dec. 6 (Monday): In Mike Yeo’s first game as Flyers (interim) head coach, it was a wild one.


    To avoid the losing streak stretching to 10 games, the Flyers need to beat the Devils on Thursday. That contest in New Jersey begins a three-game road trip. Overall, the Flyers play nine of their next 12 games on the road.

    So, uh, good luck with that, Mike Yeo.

    Monday’s big story

    Can the Islanders end their losing streak, or will it go to 12 games?

    Hey, at least Barry Trotz conjured so much magic as Islanders head coach that this losing streak probably won’t threaten his job security. Right?

    Will the 11-game losing streak serve as too big of a hole for the Islanders to dig out of, overall? Money Puck places their playoff odds at a respectable 25.8-percent. Models from sites like Sports Club Stats (3.2 before Monday’s NHL games), and Dom Luszczyszyn aren’t nearly as optimistic.

    Beating the struggling Senators would be a small step for the Isles. But, really, if the Islanders can’t end their losing streak here, will it already be time to panic?

    Monday’s NHL scores

    Avalanche 7, Flyers 5
    Capitals 4, Ducks 3 (SO)
    Senators 3, Devils 2 (SO)
    Stars 4, Coyotes 1
    Canucks 4, Kings 0
    Penguins 6, Kraken 1

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Lightning dealt with these serious injuries during Stanley Cup repeat

    Lightning dealt with these serious injuries during Stanley Cup repeat
    Getty Images
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    Broken hands, nerve blocks, surgeries, and plenty of pain: these are the types of injuries the Lightning needed to endure to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. During press availability on Tuesday, Lightning GM Julien BriseBois detailed some of the injuries players fought through.

    BriseBois detailed injuries experienced by Lightning players including Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn, Blake Coleman, and Ryan McDonagh. It’s a pretty dizzying list of players who likely experienced dizzying pain.

    Lightning injury list is lengthy following Stanley Cup repeat

    Maybe the best news — and perhaps something to dull future complaints about the Lightning being over the salary cap? — is that BriseBois said he expected everyone to be ready for training camp. (Of course, not everyone would fit under the salary cap. So consider that everyone who’s still around.)

    Let’s roll through the Lightning’s injuries from that Stanley Cup repeat.

    • As noted above, Victor Hedman is expected to need up to a month to recover from a torn MCL. Apparently, Hedman suffered that knee injury on March 30, which likely explains why he struggled by advanced metrics.
    • After (controversially) missing the entire regular season recovering from surgery, Nikita Kucherov accrued new bumps and bruises. That included a broken rib, which required Kucherov to wear a flak jacket and receive “nerve block” injections.
    • Both Barclay Goodrow and Ryan McDonagh suffered broken hands during that Stanley Cup repeat run.
    • Alex Killorn missed most of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final series after suffering a broken fibula. Now it’s clearer why it seemed like Killorn had at least an outside chance to return:

    Beyond those injury updates, it wouldn’t be surprising if other Lightning players were dealing with ailments. Steven Stamkos, for one, seemed a little banged up at times.

    Even the Stanley Cup itself suffered an “upper-body injury” during the Lightning repeat run celebration.

    No LTIR/salary cap circumvention this time?

    Based on those early injury updates from Lightning GM Julien BriseBois, it seems like there won’t be Kucherov-style LTIR salary cap shenanigans. But maybe we should wait until we see how the Lightning actually manage their salary cap situation? The Seattle Kraken expansion draft could be particularly illuminating.

    It won’t be easy, but then again, neither is repeating as Stanley Cup champions. Just consider the toll it took on Lightning players.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

    Salary cap threatens Lightning depth, but Stanley Cup core should remain

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    Before the Lightning completed their Stanley Cup repeat, we already heard about how next season’s team will be different. Jon Cooper described it as a “last day of school” feeling.

    Between the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, an unforgiving (though not invincible) flat NHL salary cap, and important supporting cast members ready to hit free agency, the Lightning figure to look different when they try to strike thrice.

    Simply put, we don’t know how different. (Especially since we’ve seen this movie before, and the Lightning wiggle out of salary cap traps like hockey Houdinis.)

    But, even if the cuts end up hurting, it feels safe to pencil the Lightning in as a Stanley Cup contender in 2021-22. Just ask the Vegas oddsmakers.

    There will be losses

    If there’s an essential takeaway, it’s this.

    Yes, the Lightning could take some serious hits from a depth perspective. At times, though, it might be wise to look at depth as a “luxury.” When it comes to the essentials of building a Stanley Cup contender, it still looks like the Lightning should check most of the boxes of that “blueprint.”

    [More on who the Lightning could lose]

    In the likely event that Blake Coleman signs somewhere else in free agency, that will sting. And, if I were running the Lightning, I’d sweat bullets hoping that Yanni Gourde doesn’t get snatched up in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft.

    Consider how important Gourde, Coleman, Alex Killorn, and others were during the regular season by glancing at the Lightning’s leaders in expected goals above replacement (via Evolving Hockey):

    Salary cap threatens Lightning depth, but Stanley Cup core should remain xGAR chart
    Yes, Kucherov is not on this chart because he missed the regular season. You may have heard about that. (Chart via Evolving Hockey)

    That could be painful, especially if things finally stop going the Lightning’s way. Yet, again, it must be said. If you rattled off the most important elements of a Stanley Cup contender, the Lightning would fit the bill.

    They have that No. 1 center, and could remain strong down the middle overall

    Maybe Brayden Point isn’t your prototypical top center because of his diminutive size. But he’s playoff proven, just 25, and forms a truly dynamic duo with Nikita Kucherov. And he’s not the only center of note.

    The 2020-21 season wasn’t always kind to Anthony Cirelli after he previously broke through as a dark horse Selke candidate. But at 23, he’s the sort of center other teams would clamor for. (Though none were smart and/or brave enough to ink him to an offer sheet.)

    Ideally, the Lightning could keep massively underrated Yanni Gourde, but it’s a strong group either way.

    Their key pieces are in their primes

    Truly, it’s difficult to believe that Nikita Kucherov topped all playoff scorers two years in a row, made everyone mad with an epic shirtless press conference, generated one of the best salary-cap era seasons with 128 points on his way to a Hart Trophy, already has 127 career playoff points, and yet is just 28 years old.

    (Catches breath for a moment after listing Kucherov’s accomplishments.)

    For all Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s accomplished, you’d think he would be older, too. Instead, he’s merely 26. Victor Hedman (30) and Steven Stamkos (31) are really the only main forces over 30.

    Naturally, the wear-and-tear of two consecutive playoff runs (and other deep pushes) will carry costs. Still, the Lightning’s most important players feel like they have wider windows than that of, say, the Penguins, Capitals, or Bruins.

    Elite defense, all-world goalie

    There’s room to debate if Victor Hedman was Norris finalist material in 2020-21, but generally speaking, he still ranks among the elite. He’d be on the short list of defensemen you’d build a blueline around.

    And behind Hedman, the Lightning boast almost certainly the best goalie in the world in Vasilevskiy. So, to summarize the bare Stanley Cup necessities, the Lightning boast:

    • A No.1 center, and the sort of No. 2 who can shut opponents down.
    • A top defenseman.
    • Gamebreaking scoring in Kucherov to go along with Point.
    • An all-world goalie.
    • Most of those players being in their prime.

    Like with forwards, defensive depth could take a hit, but the Lightning also go deeper than almost any other team there. Hedman may eventually pass the torch to Mikhail Sergachev. While the expansion draft and/or salary cap might complicate matters, there’s also Ryan McDonagh, Erik Cernak, and Cal Foote.

    Salary cap threatens Lightning depth, but Stanley Cup core should remain 2020
    (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

    Bright people running the ship

    Oh yeah, they also have Jon Cooper, the longest-tenured coach in the NHL. Frankly, GM Julien BriseBois probably deserves more credit than he gets, even acknowledging Steve Yzerman’s crucial work before him.

    That’s where we get that “seen this movie before” feeling.

    Would it be that shocking if the Lightning traded their way out of salary cap trouble? If they need to bribe the Seattle Kraken for expansion draft reasons, maybe the Lightning can minimize the damage. (Shudders to think about the outrage if, say, Alex Killorn’s broken fibula warrants a trip to LTIR.)

    Even if NHL teams finally back the Lightning into a salary cap corner, they could just reload from within. Seriously: would you drop your jaw if the Lightning found more gems in, say, Ross Colton and/or Alex Barre-Boulet? Or maybe someone we haven’t even heard of yet?

    At some point, these developments become less about good fortune and more about the Lightning simply knowing what they’re doing. The Lightning didn’t get here by mere luck and salary cap shenanigans.

    Now, that doesn’t mean this will be “easy”

    Granted, with less depth, the Lightning may no longer be quite the same matchup machine. Don’t forget that the Lightning began the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road. If the Atlantic Division ends up as tough as it looks, it may be a challenging regular season.

    (They also might be playing with fire by leaning on Vasilevskiy so much, who strained when he first became a top goalie. Could they somehow make all of this work and make time to find a reliable backup?)

    You can boil this down to “wants vs. needs,” though. Potential losses might leave Tampa Bay less versatile going forward. They might not be able to get away with playing the entire regular season without Kucherov.

    Ultimately, though, the Lightning still figure to have the most important pieces in place to contend for a Stanley Cup once again.

    James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.