The Tampa Bay Lightning have signed forward Nikita Kucherov to an eight-year, $76 million contract extension, the team announced Tuesday. The deal carries an annual cap hit of $9.5 million and will kick in during the 2019-20 season following the last year of his current three-year, $14.3 million contract that’s set to expire next July.
We have signed Nikita Kucherov to an eight-year contract extension worth an average of $9.5 million.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) July 10, 2018
At 25 years old, Kucherov has proven to be among the elite players in the NHL. Whether it’s the regular season or the postseason, the Maykop, Russia-native has dominated the league. Though he had a bit of a slow start in his rookie season with nine goals and 18 points in 52 games, Kucherov did shine in the AHL that season with 13 goals and 24 points in only 17 games.
It wasn’t until his second season that he really showed the Lightning what he could do as he scored an impressive 29 goals and 65 points in 82 games. He also added 10 goals and 22 points in 26 playoff games that season. That was only the beginning for Kucherov as he would increase his point-totals to 66, 85 and 100 in the following three seasons respectively with a 30-goal, 40-goal and 39-goal campaign in those same seasons to boot.
Kucherov brings a unique ability to excel as a playmaker and with his shot – the playmaking aspect becomes a lot easier when flanking a player like Steven Stamkos, naturally, but the fact that Kucherov is arguably the best forward on a Lightning team that does include a player like Stamkos says something in and of itself.
Lightning Doing This Right With Kucherov
The Lightning locked up Kucherov early to avoid any sort of contract disputes or concerns given the experience they had with Stamkos in the not-so-distant past. Kucherov’s last deal came in Oct. of 2016 when he was a restricted free agent. Though many expected the young winger to get paid a huge contract off of his performance from the previous season, Kucherov would instead sign a team-friendly three-year deal carrying a cap hit of $4.766 million. It was an excellent move by general manager Steve Yzerman.
While Kucherov probably could have been signed to less money on an eight-year term at the time, the Lightning were able to sign him to a very affordable contract during their Championship window (one that is still very much open now) and were then able to sign him to another team-friendly deal coming in at under $10 million per season.
While his new contract may be the richest in team history, the fact that it still carries a cap hit lower than that of players like Connor McDavid, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Anze Kopitar shows that Kucherov was willing to take a little bit less to stay in a familiar place where winning was the only objective. The grass isn’t always greener and Yzerman has done a good job of showing his star players that during his time as general manager.
The Lightning are currently pegged among the favorites to win the Stanley Cup this coming season after the re-signing of Ryan McDonagh and reports that the Lightning are working hard to acquire Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators. Keeping Kucherov in tow just reinforces their claim as one of the best in the league.