Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov is perhaps the best player still without a contract for 2016-17. Of course as a RFA without arbitration rights and given there is practically no chance another team would dare an offer sheet, Kucherov has almost no leverage to use in negotiations for a new deal. Regardless, Kucherov is going to get a significant raise over the modest $700K he earned in salary this year. That might not bode too well for Tampa, who has around $6.5MM in cap space with Kucherov and D Nikita Nestorov still to re-sign. Still, despite the relative lack of apparent progress, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman is quite confident a deal with Kucherov will get done, as Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times writes.
Naturally, knowing a deal will get done and knowing what that done deal will look like are two very different things. Smith speculates that the six-year, $36MM ($6MM AAV) contract Filip Forsberg signed with Nashville serves as a good comparable.
Like Kucherov, Forsberg was coming off his ELC when he agreed to his new pact. In terms of offensive production, there are strong similarities between the two. Forsberg has averaged 0.33 Goals/Game and 0.73 Pts/Game during his 182-game NHL career. Kucherov counters with nearly identical scoring rates of 0.32 Goals/Game and 0.71 Pts/Game over 211 games. Forsberg’s deal certainly would seem to represent a fair comparable.
Yzerman is as patient as they come in his role as GM and he will only make a deal if he feels it fits into the club’s salary structure. Not long ago it seemed all but certain that Steven Stamkos would sign a contract worth close to $10MM annually, whether with Tampa or another club, as that is the going rate for elite players. Yet Yzerman sold Stamkos on his long-term vision for the program and convinced the star sniper to take a more palatable figure for the team.
After getting Stamkos’ name on the dotted line, Yzerman moved to sign franchise defenseman Victor Hedman a year before he would have hit free agency. Ultimately, Hedman and the Lightning agreed to an eight-year, $63MM deal many in the industry feel is a steal for a player of his caliber.
Yzerman might not be the perfect GM (the Ryan Callahan contract already looks like it’s going to be an anchor) but he has done a tremendous job getting most of his own guys to re-sign for fair-market value or less, allowing enough space to get his RFA’s done.
That being said, Kucherov’s representation might look elsewhere for comparable contracts to base their argument on. One such deal is the eight-year, $60MM pact Vladimir Tarasenko obtained from the St. Louis Blues earlier this year. If we again take into account relative offensive production over the last three seasons, Kucherov matches up fairly well with Tarasenko. The Blues winger is slightly more productive offensively, both in the goal scoring (0.37 goals-per-game) and points departments (0.75 points-per-game). But the difference is small enough that Kucherov’s camp could reasonably push for a contract somewhat closer to Tarasenko’s in AAV.
On the other side of the coin, Mike Hoffman, who recently inked a four-year extension with Ottawa worth $20.75MM ($5.1875MM AAV) could also be used as a marker for Kucherov’s value. Hoffman comes up just shy in terms of points-per-game (0.68) but is essentially equal as a goal-scorer based on rates. Hoffman has averaged 0.36 goals-per-game over the last two seasons while Kucherov has recorded 0.37 per, over the same time frame.
At the end of the day, the Forsberg contract is likely going to be close to what the two sides end up agreeing upon. Kucherov has outproduced Hoffman enough to justify an AAV higher than $5.1875MM. And while Kucherov isn’t too far off from Tarasenko offensively, the Blues winger is the more electric goal scorer and goals pay better than assists. Those factors combined with Yzerman’s ability to make deals on his terms point to the likelihood of something in the range of $6MM annually.