Of all the holdouts occurring in training camps right now, one holdout in particular affects not only the state of their team in the present day but well beyond this season alone. Tampa Bay Lightning restricted free agent Nikita Kucherov is a rising star with a nose for the net that has helped the 23 year-old reach 28 and 30 goal seasons in his last two seasons. Without a contract in hand, Kucherov is not participating in the Lightning’s training camp as it stands right now. With the Lightning’s season opener on October 13th fast approaching, the clock is ticking on a deal to be completed.
What’s the hold up in negotiations? Why haven’t the Lightning locked up their top scorer?
It’s not as easy as it seems.
The thing is, with the considerable amount of young talent Tampa Bay has, a plethora of dollar will need to be distributed in the next 1-2 years, paying Kucherov the dollar he’d likely get on the open market just can’t be done in Tampa Bay.
As it stands now, the Lightning have 5,866,667 in cap space to play around with to make Kucherov an offer. On the open market or via an offer sheet, Kucherov’s AAV likely could succeed the 5.8 million dollars the Lightning have in cap space. Because of this, a team could make an offer sheet in between the 5,632,847 to 7,510,464 dollar range which would a) Virtually force the Lightning to surrender Kucherov and b) only acquire a rising superstar for a first, second and third round pick, via the compensation rules for restricted free agents.
TSN insider Bob Mckenzie believes that Kucherov ” won’t be available” via trade which would mean a salary shedding move would have to occur for the Lightning to retain Kucherov. A player that’s salary is a prime candidate to shed would be Ryan Callahan. But not so fast, a no-movemnet clause would likely limit the Lightning dumping Callahan’s 5.8 million dollar cap hit.
Jason Garrison perhaps could present a viable candidate to move. The 31 year old defensemen’s contract has a no-trade clause attached to it, but it may be worth it for Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman to explore if Garrison would waive his contract, with the possibility of freeing up 4.6 million dollars of cap space.
All these moves are possibilities, but they are just temporary fixes. There’s much bigger issues at hand.
Kucherov’s contract is not the only one Tampa bay is worrying about right now. Looking onwards to the 2017-2018 season where Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson will need new contracts, the Lightning are in store for a headache amount of money to distribute. It’s no wonder that contract talks with Kucherov’s camp are at such a stalemate, there isn’t much wiggle room to negotiate with.
With the way the Tampa Bay Lightning are currently constructed, it will be more than likely they lose at least one of their pending restricted free agents if they can’t shed some serious dollar. Whether it be Kucherov this year, or one of the triplets next year.
Alike years past, Tampa Bay looks to be heavy Stanley Cup contenders for this upcoming season. But even with that being said, the success the team has may not be able to garner four hometown discounts in contract negotiations. The Bolts lured away Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman from the glamour of the open market and signed them to below market valued deals. That was a pretty bold statement by the two, showing they were bought in to the Lightning’s approach. Can Steve Yzerman get three rising youngsters to take considerable discounts?
Money may be tight, but the Lightning need to make it work with this core as they might not have the same kind of young stardom they have right now ever again.
The Kucherov contract negotiations don’t just affect the status of Nikita Kucherov, but it presents a domino effect with the team’s other future restricted free agents and ultimately, the team’s future.