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.