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Lightning keep signing rising stars to killer deals

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While mere mortal franchises struggle to convince their William Nylanders and Jacob Troubas to stick around, the Tampa Bay Lightning find ways to sign homegrown talent to what are almost always absolute bargain deals. They keep doing it, over and over again.

Apparently they’re continuing to do so now that Julien BriseBois is in charge as GM instead of Steve Yzerman.

The Lightning announced that rising star forward Yanni Gourde agreed to a six-year extension that carries a modest $5.166 million cap hit (so just under $31M overall).

“We are very pleased to have Yanni as a part of the Lightning organization for the foreseeable future,” BriseBois said. “Yanni personifies our team’s identity with his speed and relentlessness on the ice and his strong character off of it. He is proof of how far hard work and dedication can take you, and we look forward to him continuing his career in Tampa Bay.”

BriseBois didn’t say it, but Gourde also fits the profile of many of the prospects of the Yzerman/BriseBois era by a) being a player just about any team could have had, as he went undrafted and b) likely being passed over because of his lack of size.

The Lightning have been feasting on that scouting prejudice/deficiency for years now, and while they haven’t won a Stanley Cup in the Steven Stamkos era, they’re very much in the mix for the present and at least the near future.

Another bargain extension

Locking up talent like Gourde to relatively cheap deals – often showing foresight in doing so while their resumes are small – ranks as a big reason why the Lightning boast depth that other teams can only dream and drool about.

Gourde, 26, covers a lot of the bases you’d hope for.

He’s flourishing in the most exceedingly obvious ways, with 12 points in as many games so far this season. Gourde broke through in 2017-18, generating 25 goals and 64 points in 82 games. It says a lot about his overall polish that Gourde also has positive possession numbers, even relative to his teammates.

This deal reminds me a lot of the Nashville Predators getting an absolute bargain for Viktor Arvidsson. Both players are productive forwards who probably could have commanded more money, yet their teams were able to retain their services thanks to some combination of being a part of a talented roster, earning long-term security over maximum dollars, tax breaks in Florida/Nashville, and possible internal ceilings.* Arvidsson continues to assert that he’s a legitimate top-line winger, and Gourde sure seems slated for a similar designation.

Shrinking to-do list

Extending Gourde to what could be an extremely team-friendly extension crosses a big name off of the Lightning’s to-do list, and it provides another bullet point in case things get dicey with Brayden Point, the other splendid young Bolts forward who’s currently approaching RFA status in a contract year.

With all due respect to Anton Stralman, Braydon Coburn, and Dan Girardi, the biggest situations to settle outside of Point’s future come with contracts that will expire after 2019-20. Mikhail Sergachev will see his rookie deal end then, while Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s bargain $3.5M cap hit will evaporate, too.

Some painful decisions may come soon, yet the Lightning continue to solve tough riddles earlier than most of the league.

Smart gambles, but gambles nonetheless

Even so, there really are a lot of investments in Tampa Bay. Take a look at the players signed to significant deals (at least three years remaining):

Stamkos, 28: $8.5M through 2023-24
Kucherov, 25: $4.767M this year, $9.5M through 2026-27
Hedman, 27: $7.875M through 2024-25
Ryan McDonagh, 29: $4.7M this season, $6.75M through 2025-26
Ondrej Palat, 27: $5.3M through 2021-22
J.T. Miller, 25: $5.25M through 2022-23
Gourde, 26: $1M this season, $5.16M from 2019-20 to 2024-25
Tyler Johnson, 28: $5M through 2023-24
Alex Killorn, 29: $4.45M through 2022-23

Phew. That’s a lot, right? Cap Geek estimates that the Lightning will have $72.425M in cap space devoted to just 14 players in 2019-20, and that’s without whatever significant dough Point will command.

Now, sure, the Lightning will see some troublesome deals expire. Again, Girardi’s is up this season, and Callahan’s problem contract ends in two seasons.

It’s also true that there are some contracts that could be moved out; Tyler Johnson’s name has cropped up already, and will probably boil to the surface even more as time goes on and the cap crunch really starts to add some bite.

So, there are some worries, yet almost every other team in the NHL would pull a hammy running over to trade situations with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Signing Gourde for what’s likely to be a fantastic bargain only cements that notion.

The nature of the salary cap beast is that, even with a situation that seems generally well-managed (sometimes to the level of potential witchcraft), the Lightning are making some gambles. This Gourde one just happens to be a wise one.

And not just because his first name inspires jokes about a widely mocked musician, while his last name is perfect for the fall season of gourds, not to mention other cheesy puns.

Gourde really might be a steal in that area alone, to be frank.

* – One would think that it’s easier to limit a player’s asking power when Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman are signed to fairly thrifty contracts.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Stamkos best of an era; Russian Rangers revival

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Steven Stamkos is the best shooter of the salary cap era. (Raw Charge)

• What active NHLers are Hall of Fame worthy? Here they are, ranked. (Yardbarker)

• Pittsburgh has players who rank among the best, worst at converting shots into goals. Who are they? (Pensburgh)

• Russian invasion fueling Rangers revival. (Featurd)

• Why the folding of the National Women’s Hockey League could be best thing for the sport. (AZ Central)

• Panthers view Bobrovsky signing as needed element for return to playoffs. (NHL.com)

• It’s time to move on from Jon Gillies. (Matchsticks & Gasoline)

• Competition aplenty as under-the-radar depth piece Nicolas Aube-Kubel re-signs with Flyers. (NBC Sports Philadelphia)

• NHL stands out when strengths of major pro leagues are pondered. (StarTribune)

• The latest on the changes and improvements coming to NHL 20. (Operation Sports)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Seattle close to naming Ron Francis as GM

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle’s NHL expansion team is close to an agreement with Hockey Hall of Famer Ron Francis to become its first general manager, a person with direct knowledge tells The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity Tuesday because the team had not made an announcement.

The expansion Seattle franchise is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season as the NHL’s 32nd team.

After longtime Detroit GM Ken Holland went to Edmonton, adviser Dave Tippett left Seattle Hockey Partners LLC to become Oilers coach and Vegas’ Kelly McCrimmon and Columbus’ Bill Zito got promotions, there was a limited pool of experienced NHL executives to choose from for this job. Francis fits that bill.

The 56-year-old has been in hockey operations since shortly after the end of his Hall of Fame playing career. All of that time has come with the Carolina Hurricanes, including four seasons as their GM.

Carolina didn’t make the playoffs with Francis in charge of decision-making, though his moves put the foundation in place for the team that reached the Eastern Conference final this past season.

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Provorov’s next contract presents big challenge for Flyers

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Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has been busy overhauling his roster this summer and still has two big jobs ahead of him when it comes to re-signing restricted free agents Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov.

With close to $14 million in salary cap space remaining, he should have no problem in getting them signed and keeping the team under the salary cap.

Konecny’s situation seems like it should be pretty simple: He is a top-six forward that has been incredibly consistent throughout the first three years of his career. The Flyers know what they have right now, and they should have a pretty good idea as to what he is going to be in the future. There is not much risk in projecting what he should be able to do for them.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Provorov, on the other hand, presents a far more interesting challenge because he is still somewhat of a mystery whose career seems like it can go in either direction.

Along with Shayne Gostisbehere, Provorov is supposed to be the foundation of the Flyers’ defense for the next decade and entered the league with much fanfare at the start of the 2016-17 season. From the moment he arrived the Flyers have treated him like a top-pairing defender and pretty much thrown him in the deep end of the pool.

At times, he has flashed the potential that made him a top-10 pick in the draft and such a prized piece in the Flyers’ organization.

During his first three years in the league he has not missed a single game, has played more than 20 minutes per game every year, and over the past two seasons has played the fourth most total minutes in the NHL and the third most even-strength minutes. The Flyers have also not gone out of their way to shelter him in terms of where he starts his shifts and who he plays against, regularly sending him over the boards for defensive zone faceoffs and playing against other team’s top players.

In their view, based on his usage, he is their top defender.

Or at least was their top defender over the past two seasons.

Given the performance of the Flyers defensively during those seasons, that may not be much of a statement.

The concern that has to be addressed is that so far in his career Provorov has not always performed like a top-pairing defender in those top-pairing minutes that he has been given.

Just because a player gets a lot of playing time and the toughest assignments does not necessarily mean they are going to handle those minutes or succeed within them. That has been the case at times with Provorov in Philadelphia. This is not like the situation Columbus and Boston are facing with Zach Werenski and Charlie McAvoy this summer where both young players have already demonstrated an ability to play like top-pairing defenders and have already earned what should be significant, long-term commitments from their respective teams.

This is a situation where a young, talented, and still very promising player has been given a huge role, but has not always performed enough to justify that much trust.

He is also coming off of what can probably be described as a down season where his performance regressed from what it was in 2017-18. He not only saw a steep drop in his production offensively, but the Flyers were outshot, outchanced, and outscored by a pretty significant margin when Provorov was on the ice no matter who his partner was.

He struggled alongside Shayne Gostisbehere. He also struggled alongside Travis Sanheim, while Sanheim saw his performance increase dramatically when he was away from Provorov.

The dilemma the Flyers have to face here is how they handle a new contract for him this summer.

On one hand, he does not turn 23 until January and clearly has the talent to be an impact defender. But he has also played three full seasons in the NHL, and even when looked at within the context of his own team, has not yet shown a consistent ability to be that player. Every player develops at a different pace, and just because McAvoy and Werenski have already emerged as stars doesn’t mean every player at the same age has to follow the same rapid path. Because they most certainly will not.

It just makes it difficult for teams like the Flyers when they have to juggle a new contract.

They were in a similar position with Gostisbehere a couple of years ago when they signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract when he came off of his entry-level deal. But while Gostisbehere had regressed offensively, he still posted strong underlying numbers and at least showed the ability to be more of a possession-driving player. His goal-scoring and point production dropped, but there were at least positive signs it might bounce back. That is not necessarily the case with Provorov.

Even though Provorov has played a ton of minutes, put up some decent goal numbers at times, and been one of the biggest minute-eating defenders in the league, this just seems like a situation that screams for a bridge contract to allow the player to continue to develop, while also giving the team an opportunity to figure out what they have.

Provorov still has the potential to be a star and a bonafide top-pairing defender.

He just has not played like one yet or consistently shown any sign that he definitely will be one, despite being given the role.

Related: Werenski, McAvoy should be in line for huge contracts

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals re-sign Vrana for two years, $6.7 million

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Washington Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan took care of his biggest remaining offseason task on Tuesday afternoon when he re-signed restricted free agent forward Jakub Vrana to a two-year contract.

The deal will pay Vrana $6.7 million and carry an average annual salary cap hit of $3.35 million per season.

“Jakub is a highly skilled player with a tremendous upside and is a big part of our future,” said MacLellan in a statement released by the team. “We are pleased with his development the past two seasons and are looking forward for him to continue to develop and reach his full potential with our organization.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Vrana was the Capitals’ first-round pick in 2014 and has already shown top-line potential in the NHL. He took a huge step forward in his development during the 2018-19 season, scoring 24 goals to go with 23 assists while also posting strong underlying numbers. He is one of the Capitals’ best young players and quickly starting to become one of their core players moving forward.

It is obviously a bridge contract that will keep him as a restricted free agent when it expires following the 2020-21 season. If he continues on his current path he would be in line for a significant long-term contract that summer.

With Vrana signed the Capitals have under $1 million in salary cap space remaining. They still have to work out new contracts with restricted free agents Christian Djoos and Chandler Stephenson. Both players filed for salary arbitration. Djoos’ hearing is scheduled for July 22, while Stephenson has his scheduled for August 1. If the Capitals want to keep both on the NHL roster on opening night they may have to make another minor move at some point before the start of the regular season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.