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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

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Jets battle Panthers in Finland on NBCSN

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday afternoon’s matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and the Florida Panthers at 2 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

The Jets are looking to rebound after blowing a 2-0 lead in the third period last Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Losers of two out of their past three, the Jets are looking to climb the Central Division standings with a win in the first of a back-to-back in Finland as part of the NHL’s Global Series.

Meanwhile, the Panthers need to start winning. With just two wins in their first nine games of the season, the Panthers sit dead last in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

James Reimer gets the nod in net for the Panthers. Reimer has struggled in the absence of Roberto Luongo, posting just a single win in five game starts. His .878 save percentage leaves a lot to be desired and he’s in tough against the high-powered Jets offense.

Reimer will face off against Vezina finalist Connor Hellebuyck. Hellebuyck’s season hasn’t started in the same vein as it did when he won 44 games last year. He’s 4-4-1 with a pedestrian .907 save percentage in nine starts.

[WATCH LIVE – 2 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Winnipeg Jets at Florida Panthers
Where: Hartwall Arena (Helsinki, Finland)
When: Thursday, Nov. 1, 2 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Jets-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

JETS
Nikolaj EhlersMark ScheifeleBlake Wheeler
Kyle ConnorBryan LittleMathieu Perreault
Brandon TanevAdam LowryPatrik Laine
Brendan LemieuxAndrew CoppJack Roslovic

Josh MorrisseyJacob Trouba
Ben ChiarotDustin Byfuglien
Dmitry KulikovTyler Myers

Starting goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

PANTHERS
Evgenii DadonovAleksander BarkovNick Bjugstad
Jonathan HuberdeauVincent TrocheckMike Hoffman
Frank VatranoJared McCannDenis Malgin
Troy BrouwerJuho LammikkoColton Sceviour

Keith YandleAlexander Petrovic
Mike MathesonAaron Ekblad
MacKenzie WeegarBogdan Kiselevich

Starting goalie: James Reimer

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Auston Matthews expected to miss a month with shoulder injury

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Here we go again.

A hard hit, a grimacing Auston Matthews and a lengthy spell without one of the best players in the game.

For the second time inside a calendar year, a bone-crushing hit from an opponent will see the Toronto Maple Leafs superstar miss an extended period of time with a shoulder injury. The Maple Leafs announced on Monday that Matthews, the team’s leading scorer with 10 goals and 16 points, will miss a minimum of four weeks.

Matthews was walloped by Winnipeg Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba on Saturday night. The clean hit sent Matthews immediately to Toronto’s bench and shortly after that, right down the tunnel. He was not seen again on the ice and is now on injured reserve.

“It’s frustrating,” Matthews told reporters in Toronto on Monday. “There’s not much you can do. It sucks. It’s part of the game. I’m going to work as hard as I can to get back as soon as possible and feeling back to myself.”

Matthews said the injury is similar to the injury suffered to his right shoulder last season, only this time it’s happened to his left shoulder. He said he doesn’t need surgery.

The first shoulder injury cost him four weeks and 10 missed games.

Back in February, Matthews was caught between a rock and a hard place when two New York Islanders converged on him. The sandwiching hit knocked him out of the game that night as well.

The Leafs play 15 times over the next four weeks, so the impact of Matthews’ latest ailment is well-pronounced.

He’s been one of the best players in the NHL to start the season and a big reason why the Leafs have marched out to an 8-3-0 record.

The silver lining? Toronto faired reasonably well without Matthews during that 10-game chunk last season, going 5-3-2. And that was when they didn’t have the refuge of John Tavares in the lineup.

Every single Maple Leafs player will tell you that you don’t replace a talent like Matthews, and that is 100 percent accurate.

You manage.

The Leafs looked better equipped this time to do so this time around. You only have to look at Saturday’s game after Matthews was hit for some proof. Down 2-0 to the Jets, Toronto engineered a third-period comeback with three unanswered goals to take the game 3-2.

That said, Toronto’s depth is about to get tested.

The other worry here is Matthews’ proneness to injuries over the past two seasons. He played the full 82-game schedule during his rookie year but was limited to 62 games last season.

Injuries now to both shoulders, his back and a concussion have sidelined Matthews inside the past year. The Leafs were 11-7-2 during those times without the 21-year-old.

His, shoulders, specifically, have been a source of concern dating back before he entered the NHL.

And what becomes of the William Nylander talks now? Perhaps a little more leverage for the Swede?

Nylander still remains unsigned by the club, who could now use his scoring prowess. It’s unlikely the Leafs cave to his demands, but it has to be a little more appealing given the current circumstances.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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

Auston Matthews exits game with shoulder injury after big hit

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(UPDATE: Matthews is expected to miss about a month with the injury.)

Toronto Maple Leafs star center Auston Matthews had to leave Saturday’s home game against the Winnipeg Jets early the second period after he was on the receiving end of a bit hit from Jacob Trouba.

As soon as Matthews was hunt he was hunched over in obvious pain and skated off to the bench.

He exited the game and did not return with what the team is calling a shoulder injury.

After the game Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said that Matthews will not practice on Sunday and will miss Monday’s game against the Calgary Flames.

Matthews is one of the game’s best players and brightest young stars and has been off to an incredible start this season that had driven the Maple Leafs to the 7-3-0 start they took into play on Saturday. Entering the game he was on top of the league with 10 goals and two points behind Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen for the league lead (20).

You can see the play where the injury occurred in the video above.

Matthews missed 20 games due to injury a year ago.

Without Matthews in the game the Leafs scored three consecutive goals in the final 17 minutes of regulation, including two in the final three minutes, to erase what had been a two-goal deficit to take a 3-2 win.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.

WATCH LIVE: Leafs visit Jets on Wednesday Night Hockey

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

It’s the battle of the top two picks from the 2016 NHL Draft as Patrik Laine faces off against Auston Matthews. The two young NHL stars have already established themselves as impact players in the league and will be on display in of their two annual regular season matchups.

The Maple Leafs’ offense was sensational through the first 7 games of the season (4.71 goals per game), but has since hit a speed bump. They were shut out 3-0 against Pittsburgh and then fell 4-1 to St. Louis.

“We know we’re going to have to be at our best to beat a team like this,” said Jets forward Mark Scheifele.

Winnipeg’s matchup with Toronto will mark the end of their season-long six-game homestand. The Jets are 5-0-1 at home this season. Last year they were the best home team in the league at 32-7-2.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

WHAT: Toronto Maple Leafs at Winnipeg Jets
WHERE: Bell MTS Place
WHEN: Wednesday, October 24th, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVESTREAM: You can watch the Maple Leafs-Jets stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

MAPLE LEAFS
Zach HymanJohn TavaresMitch Marner
Patrick Marleau – Auston Matthews – Kasperi Kapanen
Par LindholmNazem KadriConnor Brown
Tyler EnnisFrederik GauthierJosh Leivo

Morgan RiellyRon Hainsey
Jake GardinerNikita Zaitsev
Martin MarincinIgor Ozhiganov

Starting goalie: Frederik Andersen

JETS
Patrik Laine – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Kyle ConnorBryan LittleNikolaj Ehlers
Andrew CoppAdam LowryBrandon Tanev
Brendan LemieuxJack RoslovicMathieu Perreault

Josh MorrisseyJacob Trouba
Ben ChiarotDustin Byfuglien
Dmitry KulikovTyler Myers

Starting goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

MORE: The Laine vs. Matthews debate