The Tampa Bay Lightning have approximately $6.59 million in cap space as of today, and if I’m Steve Yzerman I’m sitting in my office every day contemplating giving Kucherov $6-6.5 million of that hit before the season begins. In fact, as the days get closer and closer to the start of the 2016-17 season the more Yzerman’s hand is forced to offer Kucherov this kind of money, and these are the reasons why he must work towards keeping Kucherov in Tampa Bay.
The Stats Don’t Lie
Nikita Kucherov has been one of Tampa Bay’s most dynamic players the last two seasons after putting up 29 goals and 65 points in 2014-15 (good for third on the Lightning) and leading all Lightning players with 30 goals and 66 points this past 2015-16 campaign.
A natural goal-scorer with playmaking abilities, Kucherov also possesses a reliable defensive game. He finished the 2014-15 season with a +38 rating, and though that statistic dropped this year to a plus-nine, he proved that he can still play against other teams’ top players without being a defensive liability. Kucherov is also a force on the power play for Tampa Bay, scoring nine PP goals last season and adding three more in the playoffs.
With the Nashville Predators signing Filip Forsberg to a six-year contract extension worth $6 million annually after posting similar statistics to Kucherov, the Lightning are expected to offer a similar contract in regard to the annual cap hit, though it may be for shorter term given their upcoming cap issues and plethora of players needing new contracts after this 2016-17 season.
He’s a Playoff Performer
Kucherov put up 10 goals and 22 points in 26 games for the Lightning during their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, and added to his playoff dominance this past postseason after recording 11 goals and 19 points in just 17 games before the Lightning lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final to the eventual Cup winners, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kucherov was arguably Tampa’s most important player this past postseason after franchise centre Steven Stamkos was limited to just one game due to blood clot issues.
With Tampa Bay needing to resign a number of key players next summer, and their budget sitting tight, they may want to invest heavily in Kucherov now and take one last shot at Lord Stanley’s Cup while the band’s still all together.
Kucherov has played the majority of the past two seasons on a line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat, allowing all three to put up great offensive numbers and ultimately receiving the name “The Triplet Line” for their undeniable chemistry. Losing a player with the scoring ability that Kucherov possesses wouldn’t be easy to replace, and it could ultimately affect the games of both Johnson and Palat in the long-run if a suitable player wasn’t brought aboard to replace his presence. The chemistry these three players have together is without a doubt one of the best in the league and it would be a shame for that fire to be extinguished before they could bring another Cup title to the Sunshine State.
Yzerman knows he has a legitimate Stanley Cup contending team in place right now, but that team will need to see Kucherov playing in their top-six next season if they want to overcome other high-scoring powerhouse teams. Next offseason will arguably be Yzerman’s biggest challenge with a number of key players needing new deals, but Kucherov is his main focus right now and the Lightning are looking to win the Stanley Cup with just about everyone returning to the lineup from last season. The biggest question remains, what will it take to keep Kucherov in Tampa Bay?