No one likes seeing a player that they love leave the franchise that they cheer for. Even if you know that their departure is imminent due to the salary cap, it still hurts knowing that a fan favorite will no longer be suiting up for the team come next season.
For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the 2021 offseason will be one of loss. After years of success and winning back-to-back Stanley Cups on borrowed time, it is clear that change has to happen. No matter how hard general manager Julien BriseBois tries, he has to find ways to shed some salary in order to become cap compliant once again.
This meant that veteran players who were part of the core for years would be leaving the franchise, especially with the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft providing an opportunity to clear some needed space. Every fan understood that this had to happen and that there would be no way around losing a good player.
However, just because you know something is going to happen, it doesn’t make it hurt any less, especially when that lost player is fan and franchise favorite, Yanni Gourde.
There’s a reason why Gourde is so beloved by the hockey community. He is the ultimate fighter, who took one of the harder routes to the NHL in recent memory.
As an undersized forward, he went undrafted but kept fighting to make his NHL dream a reality. By his third season in the QMJHL, Gourde was showing signs of the player he could become, scoring a league-high 124 points en route to winning the QMJHL MVP for the 2011-12 season.
Despite this impressive showing, Gourde still didn’t find a sure footing in the league. He would go on to play two seasons in the AHL and ECHL, and only post middling scoring numbers. By the time that he signed with the Lightning to play with the Syracuse Crunch, he was seen as a pure depth prospect that only had some upside.
With the Crunch, Gourde started to blossom. He would go on to lead the team in goal scoring during the 2014-15 season, and quickly established himself as one of Tampa Bay’s top prospects. By the time that he made his full-time NHL debut in 2017-18, there were expectations that he would be that next great rookie, even at age 26. He didn’t disappoint, either, as he set the Lightning’s record for most goals and points scored by a rookie.
After this breakout, Gourde became a permanent member of the Lightning’s line-up. He signed a six-year, $31 million contract and eventually found himself on the third line, acting as a driving force for the team’s incredible success. To put it simply, without his strong play, Tampa Bay likely never wins back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Perhaps the ultimate compliment to Gourde’s game is the fact that no one talks about his size when he is brought up. At 5-foot-9, every discussion could start with “Despite being undersized, he still found a way to be successful in the NHL.” Instead, the conversation is always about his drive on the ice and no one mentions his size because it’s irrelevant to his play.
Whenever Gourde stepped onto the ice for the Lightning, no player wanted to win more than he did. He played every second like he was trying to win the Stanley Cup, whether it was Game 37 of the regular season or Game 6 of the Final.
It’s rare to find a player who just never quits, but when you look back at his journey, it makes sense why Gourde had this mindset. His route to the NHL was long and he never took for granted just how hard it was to break into the league.
For the Lightning, losing Gourde was an unfortunate but necessary move in the salary cap world. While they will attempt to replace him, you just can’t find another player who brought his energy to the team. This drive to win will forever be his legacy with the franchise, and even if it was only for a few short years, Tampa Bay was lucky to have him on their roster.