NHL contract grades: Jake Guentzel is a good fit and good value for Lightning

The contract

Tampa Bay Lightning sign winger Jake Guentzel to a seven-year deal worth a $9 million

A lot of focus on the Lightning heading into the offseason was on pending UFA Steven Stamkos — would Tampa Bay extend their captain, for how much, and how would they clear cap space to manage that? 

On Day 2 of the draft, Lightning GM Julien BreisBois got busy and created over $11 million in space by moving out Mikhail Sergachev and Tanner Jeannot. But that space wasn’t for Stamkos — it was for one of the top free agents on the market. 

Jake Guentzel is a bona fide goal scorer. He has hit the 40-goal mark twice so far in his NHL career and scored at a 35-plus pace in five of his eight seasons. The winger puts up a lot of shots and clusters them right to the scoring chance areas, both at five-on-five and on the power play.

But what makes him such an elite offensive creator is that he isn’t just a goal scorer. Guentzel’s a talented puck-mover who can be counted on to transition into the offensive zone with control to generate scoring chances or set his teammates up with primary passes. He’s a reliable forechecker who can extend zone time and help boost a team’s cycle game as well.

The elephant in the room at the trade deadline was the Sidney Crosby Effect: How much of Guentzel’s success over the years has been tied to playing a ton of his minutes with one of the best two-way centers in the game? 

With the Hurricanes, he proved what a play-driver he is in his own right. In all situations, at a 1.47 point per game pace with 25 points in 17 games. At five-on-five, Guentzel rocked a 68 percent expected goals rate and helped his team outscore opponents 14-4. 

All of that contributes to a plus-15 Offensive Rating that should make the Lightning an even more dangerous team. That’s worth about $10.5 million a year, leaving Tampa Bay with some surplus value on this deal. Guentzel’s $9 million cap hit also comes in under Evolving-Hockey’s seven-year projection of $9.7 million. 

Naturally, Guentzel’s value is going to be directly compared to Stamkos since he likely will essentially be replacing him on the books (unless the Lightning have some magic up their sleeve to retain their captain and add the best winger on the market). The vibes are obviously different considering what Stamkos means to the franchise. But Guenztel brings a lot more value now and in the future, considering the five-ish year age gap between the two. 

Stamkos was still crushing it on the scoresheet this year with 40 goals and 81 points. But at this point in his career, there isn’t that same oomph behind it. At five-on-five, he wasn’t as impactful and suffered a bit more in his own zone (although Tampa Bay’s weak blue line may have contributed to that). The power play also really inflated Stamkos’ scoring. Guentzel adds a bit more sustainability to those point contributions, which should help the Lightning try to extend their dynasty. It’s a different type of sustainability, with playing styles in mind and even power play positioning. But it’s one that Tampa Bay should welcome because they need to pick up the pace on both ends of the ice. The Lightning need a better scoring punch from their forward group compared to this past year, and even more now that there will be a bit less from the blue line with Sergachev’s departure. Guentzel helps accomplish that. 

Is signing an almost 30-year-old for seven years risky? Sure. There’s a reason why free-agent contracts usually don’t age well — they usually cover the later years of a player’s prime and onwards. But add that to the list of later problems the Lightning have been compiling. The focus is competing while their core players Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, and Andrei Vasilevskiy are still elite. Guentzel should play a huge role in that. 

Contract grade: A
Fit grade: A+

(Photo: Josh Lavallee / NHLI via Getty Images)

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