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