Sneak Preview of Nikita Kucherov’s Contract

Tampa Bay Lightning fans should heed the recent news out of Nashville regarding the new contract the Predators struck with Filip Forsberg. The six-year, $36 million deal is a good barometer of what Nikita Kucherov should be looking for from the Lightning. Being a restricted free agent as Forsberg was, Kucherov is waiting for his new deal from the Lightning.

Kucherov and his representatives can easily validate that all contract talks must be in this range. He would be completely justified to expect at least the same level deal as Forsberg and Nashville just consummated. I am sure that some might think these two aren’t comparable players, so allow me to make my case.

Someone Compares 2 U

Kucherov just turned 23-years-old this month and Forsberg will turn 22 in about seven weeks. Kucherov has 211 NHL games under his belt which is only 29 more games than Forsberg has experienced. Kucherov has 67 goals so far in his NHL career while Forsberg has lit 60 lamps.

Looking at these couple of stats and their respective ages and it appears that they are virtually the same player offensively. The only major difference between these two budding NHL stars is playoff experience. Kucherov has played in 45 playoff games and has tallied 42 points in those games. Forsberg has put up 10 points in his 20 postseason games.

So when Nashville locks up Forsberg for the next six years with this deal it feels eerily similar to the deal that the Lightning should lock up Kucherov. Sure, Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman has a lot of plates spinning but the Stamkos plate is beginning to wobble. Even with Yzerman spinning Ben Bishop’s plate to give himself more time, he needs to watch the Kucherov plate.

Some Tampa observers saw the deal between the St. Louis Blues and Vlad Tarasenko inked a year ago for eight years and $60 million. While all three players are dynamic young NHL difference makers, Tarasenko has a bit more experience than the other two and frankly, has been slightly better offensively than both Forsberg and Kucherov.

So, assuming that the Lightning can see the Forsberg and Kucherov similarities, logic dictates that Kucherov will get the same kind of deal. Therein lies Yzerman’s problem. With about $20 million left to spend in the upcoming season, Yzerman has to sign Kucherov along with three other restricted free agents, Vlad Namestnikov, Alex Killorn, and Nikita Nesterov. Oh yeah, Yzerman has an unrestricted free agent by the name of Steven Stamkos.

Lock Up the Russian Rifle

If, and this is a big IF, Yzerman locks up Kucherov to a Forsberg-like deal, then one or more of the remaining free agents won’t be on the Lightning roster come next season. There may be other moves. Rumors of possible trades involving Ben Bishop made the rounds during Draft Weekend.

Yzerman could buy out a contract or two of players who are not playing up to their cap hit to free up some extra dollars. Thinking of a buyout and Matt Carle comes to mind. It will cost the team some money but it’ll save a bit more. At a time where Yzerman and his staff are looking to stretch every dollar, this could be the time for such a move. In any case, despite the serious cap crunch he faces, Yzerman must lock up Kucherov for the long run.

Kucherov continues to shine in the postseason and that’s where players make their bones. At the least, he appears to be a 30 goal scorer heading towards 40 as quickly as one of his patented wristers. No less an authority than Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin has a bold take on Kucherov’s future:

[quote_left author=””]I think easily he can score 50, obviously, he’s getting better and better every year. He’s matured. And with the skill he has, he has the typical European skill, more of a Russian guy, it’s always nice to watch him grow as a player.[/quote_left]

The majority of veteran NHL observers believe that like Forsberg, Kucherov is only going to continue to improve. How high can he go? Maybe, Ovechkin is right that Kucherov could score a half a hundred but even if he’s slightly off as a prognosticator, Ovie knows a lethal shot when he sees one.

The long-term upside by signing Kucherov to a deal he cannot say nyet to is a no brainer. Make it happen Stevie Y! Lock up your Russian Rifle. I may be the last person in the Tampa area to still believe that the team will sign Stamkos, in the event that my hopes are dashed, Kucherov must be made happy with his deal.

It may be painful to see a player like Stamkos wear a different sweater if he signs elsewhere. It will hurt to see Bishop minding another team’s net even if a trade isn’t what he asked for or even wanted. But if one or both of those things were to happen, making the right deal for Kucherov is paramount to the short and long term future of the Lightning.