Everything Else

It’s rather fascinating to look at the state of these two teams now three years and some change after they matched up in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Lightning were an ascending team at that time and a lot of people seemed to think they might end up being the next kind of team to have an Era like the Blackhawks had. It hasn’t happened for the Lightning in the postseason obviously, but they’ve remained one of the better teams in the NHL since then while the Hawks now find themselves closer to the cellar than the ceiling.

With the amount of young talent the Lightning have, it’s not exactly surprising they’re second in the league in points right now. They’ve built their team extremely well around their core stars in Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman while also supplementing the whole deal with really talented depth – hey, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it? They made what now looks like one of the smartest trades in recent memory to get Mikhael Sergachev from the Habs, and then got aggressive in adding good veterans along the way as well. They’ve made the absolute most of their situation as they look to win a Cup in what looks like a really wide open window for them.

But perhaps their greatest and no doubt the most surprising find has been Yanni Gourde, who I promise you is not some random pumpkin-themed comic book villain. If you’re reading this and thinking “who the hell is Yanni Gourde?” you are probably not alone. As a 25-year old rookie, Gourde came out of absolutely nowhere last year to post 64 points (25G, 39A) in 82 games last year and solidified himself as one of the Bolts’ key depth contributors. This year he’s gotten off to an even better start to the season with 21 points (9G, 12A) in 22 games, and he just signed a huge, six-year extension in Tampa with an AAV of $5.167MM. It’s not often you see that kind of rise from guys with just 22 games of NHL experience before they hit 25-years-old.

The thing that feels so weird about Gourde is that all of his success just seems so unsustainable, and yet he’s sustained it. He shot 18.4% last year and is shooting 19.6% this year. On his entire career he’s at 18.9% shooting. That’s basically a goal for every five shots he takes, which just doesn’t make any damn sense. Mike Bossy is one the best goal scorers in NHL history, and he shot 21.2% for his career. Gourde’s own teammate Stamkos is one of the best modern goal scorers, and he’s shot just 16.4% on his career. Alex Fucking Ovechkin is probably gonna end up as the best goal scorer ever, and he’s shot just 12.5% on his career (though he does shoot more than most). Gourde’s conversion rate isn’t just high – it’s almost unprecedented in the modern age.

Obviously that doesn’t discredit Gourde in any way, because at this point it’s easy to think it’s just more dumb luck. This might be who he is as a scorer. Maybe he just has a shot that fools goalies better than most players, or maybe he just picks his spots really well. He’s been a brilliant addition for the Lightning, obviously, and he’s exactly the kind of sneaky good addition that high level teams tend to fall ass-backwards into. It’s not like the Blackhawks didn’t have similar lucky finds – Patrick Sharp didn’t score 20 goals until he was 25, and from that point forward he was a virtual lock to reach that benchmark. But even in Sharp’s case he never shot higher than 17.2% in a season.

Gourde is a fun player to watch, and like I said before he is a fun story. I am happy for him, and I definitely don’t want him to stop being fun and good at hockey. I am not sure that he will keep being able to score at that kind of rate, but even if he does eventually falling off a cliff in terms of shooting percentage, he’s still going to be a productive player. But at this point, he seems to be a Cinderella Story with a clock that won’t strike midnight.

Game #23 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Geofitz is a contributor at RawCharge.com. Follow him on Twitter @GeoFitz. 

How big is Vasilevskiy’s injury? Could it be something of a blessing in disguise in that he’ll be fresh come April?

Whenever you’re talking about a Vezina caliber goalie going out with an injury, it’s big. But you’re right that it is a bit of a blessing that it’s coming now rather than later in the year. The Lightning went out and got Louis Domingue as a reclamation project during last season and decided to go with him as the back-up over the older Peter Budaj. The coaching staff has been talking that they wanted to limit Vasilevskiy to around 60 starts and now they are basically forced to with this injury. One good thing is that this is a fairly easy stretch of schedule with more non-playoff teams than playoff teams on the schedule between now and when Vasilevskiy is expected to return.

Brayden Point busted out last year with 66 points, but is topping it this year. Is it just the 28% shooting percentage? Something else? And what about his contract situation in the summer?

It’s hard to see his goal totals continuing to go as they have early this year because of that unsustainable shooting percentage. But with the way he plays, it’s certainly not out of the question for him to reach 80 points and be in the Selke conversation. Patrice Bergeron obviously has that award on lock down, but in Point you’re potentially looking at the next Bergeron. As for his contract, that’s hard to say. There’s a lot of moving pieces coming up over the next two summers. Besides Point, Sergachev and Vasilevskiy will also be up for some big new contracts too. The Lightning could try to bridge him with a deal similar to what they did with Kucherov, but if he does have an 80-point season, that may be difficult. I’m confident they will get something done. Point is a team player and I don’t think this will be a Nylander situation.

Same question as Point, but about Yanni Gourde.

Yanni Gourde is quite the success story. Undrafted and unwanted. Earned an ELC with Tampa when San Jose declined to offer him one. And now he has long-term financial security. I know it’s a cliche to say this, but it’s true with Gourde; he has a motor that never stops. He is always on the go. He’s also a lot like Brendan Gallagher in that he is not afraid of going to the rough areas despite his smaller stature. That bulldog mentality has served him well and will continue to. Even if his production dips from what it was last year and what he is putting up so far this year, his contract isn’t likely to be an albatross and represents a discount on his current production level.

Deep down, they know they can’t play Dan Girardi with Hedman forever, right?

When the Lightning signed Girardi, I was pessimistic on one hand, but optimistic on the other hand. The big question was could he show himself to be more effective in a lesser role where he doesn’t have to be a #2 defenseman. His advanced stats still don’t look great, but the staff is at least keeping his minutes down. He is last in EV TOI and 5th in overall TOI among the Lightning’s defense. Hedman gets some breaks from carrying Girardi around by taking the occasional shift with Sergachev or Anton Stralman. Hedman plays two minutes more EV TOI per game than Girardi does.

Bonus Answer (No, seriously, he just gave us this. Imagine enjoying your team that much)

A couple of young rookies to keep your eye on are Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph. Cirelli got an extended cup of coffee at the end of last year and played in every playoff game for the Lightning as a rookie professional. Joseph made the team out of camp this year. Together, they’ve formed a strong third line with veteran Alex Killorn. They have some of the best advanced statistics on of any line on the team. They don’t get as much ice time as the big boys for obvious reasons, but they are always on the puck and creating chances. The trio would have more points and goals in their pockets if they had been able to find some luck earlier in the year when it seemed like they couldn’t catch a break with posts and missed shots. Cirelli is everything you could ask for in a third-line two-way center that plays a 200-foot game. Joseph is a blazer with his speed. Over and over this year, we’ve watched him get icings waved off because defensemen loafed it to the puck while he blew the doors off of them to get to the puck.

 

Game #23 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built