Tampa Bay Lightning GM Steve Yzerman isn’t worried about getting a deal done with restricted free agent Nikita Kucherov, even as he remains one of the final players the Lightning need to lock up as the off-season winds on.
That should come as no surprise given Yzerman has taken care of every major situation the Lightning have had to deal with over the past season, including the trade request of Jonathan Drouin and the free agency of captain Steven Stamkos. That’s not to mention Yzerman made another move Tuesday to avoid arbitration with Vladislav Namestnikov, inking the 23-year-old to a two-year, $3.875-million deal.
So panicking about not yet having Kucherov under contract? That’s not going to happen.
"Every negotiation is different and some take longer than others," Yzerman said, via the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith. "Sometimes they get done when they get done. You can't force it.”
Yzerman said the expectation is that the Lightning will lock Kucherov up before the season begins, and Yzerman added that the team continues to “communicate with (Kucherov’s) representation” about a new contract. The question, however, is what it takes to get the deal done.
Over the past two seasons, Kucherov has scored 59 goals and 131 points in 159 games. He’s been the second-most productive player in the Lightning lineup, only five points behind Stamkos in the same amount of games. Not only that, but Kucherov having nearly back-to-back 30-goal seasons puts him in the top-15 in goal scoring league-wide over the past two seasons. Suffice it to say that Kucherov is due a healthy raise from the $700,000 he earned this past season.
There are a few interesting comparisons to look at, the first of which is Filip Forsberg, who signed a six-year, $36-million deal with the Nashville Predators this off-season as a restricted free agent. Forsberg’s 59 goals and 127 points in 164 games puts him slightly behind Kucherov in terms of production, but it’s a near wash. The biggest difference is that Kucherov has gone off in the past two post-seasons, posting 21 goals and 41 points in 43 games. Forsberg has managed six goals and 10 points in 20 playoff games over that same span.
Then there’s the eight-year, $49-million deal signed by Mark Scheifele. The Winnipeg Jets center is coming off of his first real breakout season when he notched 29 goals and 61 points in the 2015-16 season. That Scheifele hasn’t put together more than one big year and still got $6 million-plus per season on a long-term deal means Kucherov’s asking price likely went up.
And last off-season, the St. Louis Blues handed sniper Vladimir Tarasenko a massive eight-year, $60-million deal. It’s unlikely Kucherov’s cap hit gets all the way up into Tarasenko territory, but there could be reason for Kucherov’s asking price to be up in the $7-million range. When Tarasenko signed his deal, he was coming off of a 37-goal, 73-point season and had scored 58 goals and 116 points in the two seasons leading up to his payday. That puts he and Kucherov on a level playing field in terms of points per game leading up to their RFA deals.
The trouble for the Lightning in all of this is that they have to be very wary of their cap situation moving forward. Signing Kucherov to a deal worth $7 million would put Tampa Bay roughly $410,000 over the salary cap, and that’s without re-signing RFA blueliner Nikita Nesterov. Yzerman has an answer for that, though, which appears to be placing Ryan Callahan and his $5.8-million cap hit on the long-term injured reserve as he works his way back from a hip injury.
The real problems come the following season, though, when the Lightning would need to figure out a way to sign Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Andrej Sustr. Assuming the salary cap doesn’t rise by much, the Lightning would have roughly $11 million to work with if their roster stays largely the same. That won’t be enough to lock up the players that will be in need of new deals, and that $11 million figure doesn’t even include a potential Nesterov contract.
As Yzerman said, the Kucherov signing will no doubt get done. It’s only a matter of time. But even once that deal is done, Yzerman will still have a lot of tough work ahead of him.
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