As our week of hypothetical trades rolls on, we shift gears today to look at the possibility of acquiring a forward instead of a defenseman. For this, we head back to Tampa, where the Lightning seem likely to be forced into some wheeling and dealing to clear cap space this summer.
The Target: Forward Yanni Gourde of the Tampa Bay Lightning
The Suggested Modest Trade Proposal: Yanni Gourde for Miles Wood (salary 50% retained) and a 2021 3rd round pick.
Why the Lightning Should Entertain Such a Deal: Simply put, Tampa is going to have to do a lot of maneuvering over the next couple years to stay cap compliant while keeping their window open. Brian touched on this Tuesday with his post targeting Erik Cernak. The Lightning, to their credit, have done a solid job at locking in their biggest stars on reasonable deals over the past 3-5 years, giving them the flexibility to pay their middle-tier guys a fair, near-market price to stick around and give them the arguably-league-best roster depth that they have. The squeeze is really coming for Tampa, though, especially with the new reality of a flat cap over the next few years. You can’t pay too many guys near their market rate and not end up with cap casualties in this league, even if none of the deals are particularly egregious.
One of the reasons that Tampa has been so good in recent years is because their second and third lines are filled with good NHLers to go along with their dominant trio of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point. Behind those big names at forward, there are a quartet of good forwards on medium-sized contracts that help Tampa win matchups against opponents but that are an increasingly large strain on their cap situation. Those forwards are Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, and Alex Killorn. Brian fiddled with the idea of including one of those players in his Cernak deal as salary dump Tuesday but concluded it might make things too unwieldy for this exercise. Today we’re looking at them dealing one of those four in Gourde as just a straightforward salary dump from Tampa’s perspective.
Why Tampa May Consider Moving Gourde: Gourde just doesn’t have a big enough role on Tampa right now to justify the money they are paying him. Whether due to the crowded nature of the Lightning roster, him falling out of favor with the coaching staff, a stretch of bad luck, or some combination of the three, Gourde was pretty much buried on Tampa’s roster this year and his results, specifically his raw point totals, suffered for it. Tampa just signed him to a six-year extension at his $5.167M AAV price tag last season, but for whatever reason they saddled him with crummy linemates and slashed his PP time in the very first year of that deal. If anyone is set up to exit Tampa right now from that middle tier of forwards, Gourde’s usage seems to put him in the crosshairs.
Why the Devils May Want Gourde: Point totals from this season aside, Gourde is a strong NHLer and he’d be a major upgrade for their roster that would provide them much needed depth on the wing. The Devils have cap space to work with and about as much long-term roster flexibility as any team in the league. The Devils have only eight players under contract for the season after next and somehow only two players signed through 2022-23. As RFAs are signed and other players are brought in, that will obviously change, but the Devils have space to work with and can use it to buy low on good pieces for relatively minor returns.
This piece over at Raw Charge from last fall dug into just how good Gourde was for Tampa in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, which makes his relegation to full-time bottom-six duty in 2019-20 all the more confounding. A look at his isolated impacts (from HockeyViz) over his career and his RAPMs from the last three years (from Evolving Hockey) show that Gourde has consistently been a strong positive territorial contributor since he broke into the NHL in 2016-17. He consistently moves the needle in the right direction at both ends of the ice in Tampa and, before this season when he started to get buried, put up strong production to back up those territorial results.
I think it’s fair to wonder how worth his contract Gourde is going to be, based on the 30-point campaign that he just had and the fact that he’ll turn 29 this winter, but the underlying numbers are good, he really was brutally unlucky for stretches, and I’m not kidding when I say Tampa buried him this year. His top 4 most common linemates this season were Cedric Paquette, Pat Maroon, Mitchell Stephens, and Carter Verhaeghe. The last two of those guys are players whose existence I had no knowledge of before sitting down to start writing this piece. Essentially, Gourde spent his season skating with a declining Pat Maroon and three Kevins Rooney — to wit, Maroon is the only one of that group with a 20-point season in the NHL. The fact that he put up 30 points alongside that crew with minimal power play time could even be a point in his favor. Put him on the wing of Nico Hischier or Jack Hughes, and I’m willing to bet you get something a fair bit closer to his 2017-19 output than his 2019-20 production.
Why New Jersey Would Be Willing to Part with Wood and a 3rd for Gourde: Gourde is an upgrade for a roster in need of them in a lot of spots. Meanwhile, Miles Wood hasn’t really built on, or even come close to matching, the 2017-18 season that earned him his current four-year deal. Wood seems like he can be a useful player in the right context and with players who can cover for some of his shortcomings, but his usefulness as an agitator and a speedster that can stretch the ice against opposing defenses are diminished in New Jersey, where they don’t currently have the depth to help cover for his weaknesses (namely defense, where he was a five-alarm fire-level disaster this season).
Meanwhile, I went back and fourth on what type of pick seems fair for what amounts to a salary dump for Tampa, but a third feels like little enough that the Devils aren’t mortgaging too much on bringing in a contract that carries some definite risk in term and dollars to go with the potential reward of improving the roster. Gourde represents a chance to make the roster better and weaponize some of that cap space we’re always hearing about without having to give up much in the way of important futures for the system.
Why the Lightning Would At Least Consider This Return: This would be a roster downgrade for the Lightning, but they are heading into desperate times, cap-wise, and there won’t be a ton of great landing spots for salary dumps in the NHL this upcoming season. Teams are unlikely to be lining up to pay big asset prices to help out Tampa’s cap situation. Given that context, a (maybe) useful roster player in Miles Wood (on the cheap for them after retaining 50%) and a mid-round pick are likely to be as attractive a return as they can get back for a guy like Gourde. Sometimes your roster gets worse when you have to jettison a cap casualty like Gourde, but Tampa is going to need a lot of space to figure out how to fit new deals for Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli under the cap’s upper limit. It’s not much, but a third-rounder allows Tampa to at least save some face for signing an extended deal with a player they immediately marginalized.
Why Gourde Would Waive His No-Trade Clause to Come to New Jersey: This is a major potential sticking point for this deal. I don’t think anyone would argue the fact that going from Lightning to the Devils is an extraordinary downgrade in team quality, but there are some things could make it an attractive move for Gourde. First and foremost, the Devils can promise Gourde a substantial role in New Jersey and get him out of a situation where he has been relegated to a bit player for whatever reason. Winning of course means a lot to guys, but they also want to feel valued, and I can’t imagine Gourde is feeling the warm and fuzzies about his role in Tampa right now. Playing with Hischier or Hughes probably has a better ring to it than playing with Cedric Paquette or Mitchell Stephens. Maybe that’s not enough to get him to go to a situation like New Jersey, but he has to be feeling the sting of getting back-burnered in Tampa and also recognize the potential financial impact of sticking around if he ends up bought out by the Lightning at some point.
What Would Happen After This Deal?: The Lightning, for their part, would have about $4M of shiny new cap space to put toward their RFAs and a potentially useful bottom-six pest in Wood for only a little over a million per year the next couple seasons. They’d also get a lottery ticket for next year’s draft in the form of a third-rounder that they could use to stock their system or move for a rental at the 2021 deadline.
For the Devils, they bolster their situation at forward to help out their depth and give them a proven option to line up alongside Hischier or Hughes or to potentially even center a third line in spots, as Gourde has played both positions in his career. They do fill some of their cap space going forward, which obviously is something the need to be careful with, but a player of Gourde’s caliber for around $5M isn’t an overly expensive price as long as he’s utilized properly. The Devils need to create an environment where their young players have enough support to succeed and adding good players like Gourde to help with the NHL transition helps create an environment for a rising tide to lift all boats.
Your Thoughts: What do you think of the potential of bringing in a player like Yanni Gourde? Is this the type of deal the Devils should be pursuing? Do you think Miles Wood and a 2021 third is too much to give up in salary dump-type deal? Alternatively, do you think it’s not enough to get Tampa to bite? Do you think bringing in Gourde would help improve the roster? Comment with your thoughts below and thanks for reading.