TAMPA — A couple of weeks ago, Yanni Gourde said that no player can ever really be secure in the NHL, but the Lightning forward just got a little more security. Gourde has signed a six-year contract extension worth an average $5.166 million a year.
"I'm very excited," he said Friday. "It gives me a lot of stability for once in my career. It's pretty amazing."
Gourde, who first signed with the Lightning in 2014, spent four years playing in the minor leagues, including parts of two seasons in the ECHL. He previously hadn't had a contract longer than two years. He could have been an unrestricted free agent in the offseason.
"It's great to be able to do that for my family," he said. "My wife has followed me around for all these professional years. It's nice to finally be somewhere we know we really like and … that's perfect for us."
The 26-year-old center got his first sustained taste of the NHL with 20 games two years ago, then played every game last season. Gourde was the Lightning's fourth-leading scorer last year with 64 points.
He is tied for second in points through the first 12 games this year, averaging a point a game. Gourde figures that strong start helped get a deal done more quickly than expected.
"I wanted to make a good impression," he said. "I was just saying, 'Let's see where it leads me, and whenever they call, we'll be there to answer the phone.' "
Gourde was one of 10 Lightning players whose contracts are up after this season, including five of the eight defenseman on the roster. Tampa Bay was projected to have $12 million of salary cap space next year before Gourde's new contract. That doesn't leave a lot of space to work with.
"We want to keep Yanni on board," general manager Julien BriseBois said. "The sooner we know that, the better read we have on our needs going forward."
BriseBois had set a 10-game mark to assess where the team was. No urgent needs had arisen, and Gourde was doing what he expected. The deal came together in a matter of days.
Among the potential restricted free agents is forward Brayden Point. BriseBois and Point's agent, Gerry Johannson, have agreed to talk after the season. BriseBois said that will give both sides a better idea of proper compensation.
"We knew all along it is going to be a challenge," BriseBois said of the looming cap situation. "It's been the reality for the past four years that we have these challenges. It's a good sign because it means we have good players."