TAMPA — The Lightning saw Yanni Gourde grow from an undersized project to the motor of a championship team.
And Wednesday night, Tampa Bay had to part ways with another key piece of its back-to-back Stanley Cup title teams, as the Seattle Kraken chose the 29-year-old Gourde to be one of the franchise’s building blocks.
The Kraken, who selected one player from each team except Vegas in the expansion draft, had their choice of several key pieces from the Lightning’s title teams, including forwards Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Ross Colton and Mathieu Joseph.
They selected Gourde, whose non-stop energy and relentless pursuit for the puck set the tone for his teammates on the team’s third forward line. He also played on the Lightning’s second power-play unit.
Gourde isn’t expected to be ready to play when the season starts in October because he had shoulder surgery this week, according to TVA Sports. He is anticipating a November return.
Gourde established himself as a fan favorite for his endless hustle, dedication to playing a 200-foot game and ability to frustrate opponents and skate away smiling.
“One of the most important players on this Cup champion team,” ESPN hockey analyst Dominic Moore said on the broadcast. “He’s a momentum-changing player. He does it all. There’s not that many players in the league that can do a little bit of everything. That’s exactly what Yanni Gourde does.
“He’s tenacious on the forecheck and just a relentless player overall. (There were) a lot of good players available from Tampa. This is an awesome pick.”
Gourde scored 13 goals over the past two postseasons, including four game-winners. He scored two of the biggest goals of the playoffs, netting the only goal in the Lightning’s Game 7 win over the Islanders in the semifinals and a tip in front of the net in Game 1 of the final that turned out to be the game-winner.
“There’s never a dull moment on the ice with him,” linemate Blake Coleman said during the postseason. “There’s always something going on that’s exciting, and he’s obviously got the talent to go with the motor. ... You just can’t get enough Yanni Gourdes in your lineup.”
Gourde was undrafted out of juniors and spent his first three pro seasons toiling in the minors before the Lightning took a chance on him in 2014. He’s put together four straight seasons of 10 or more goals and at least 30 points.
Now after scoring 18 goals and 36 points during the Lightning’s 56-game regular season, Gourde figures to have a more prominent role in Seattle as a top-six forward and top-two centerman.
Choosing to preserve their back-end core, the Lightning protected four defensemen — Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak — which allowed the team to protect just four forwards (Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli).
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The Lightning need to clear salaries to get under the $81.5 million salary cap for next season, and losing Gourde helps in that manner. He will make $5.166 million next season and is signed for the next four seasons. Without his salary, the Lightning are around $80 million with just 16 players signed.
With Gourde’s departure, the Lightning will have to rebuild one of their most effective lines. Gourde centered the Lightning’s third line with forwards Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman to form a unit that might have been Tampa Bay’s most consistent of the postseason.
Their success was built, as Gourde said, in playing simple. They concentrated on mastering the little things, chipped pucks into the opposing zone and were aggressive on the forecheck. They weren’t designed to be a scoring line, but they scored some of the biggest goals of the season.
Goodrow and Coleman are both pending unrestricted free agents due significant raises, and the Lightning last week traded Goodrow’s rights to the New York Rangers, who are reportedly planning to sign him to a six-year deal. Coleman also is expected to get a long-term deal, likely pricing both players out of a return to Tampa Bay.
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