Kucherov led Tampa Bay in scoring last season, picking up a career high 30 goals with 36 assists while seeing his ice time jump by over three minutes per night to an average of 18:13. He also led the team in postseason scoring with 19 points in just 17 games while logging just over 20 minutes per game.
CSKA Moscow of the KHL reportedly offered Kucherov a contract this offseason although it doesn’t sound like that option has received any sort of real consideration. His agent, Scott Greenspun, has declined to publicly comment on negotiations.
Kucherov is coming off of his entry level deal that saw him earn an NHL salary of just $700K last season. There’s no doubt that he will be in line for a major raise, potentially as high as ten times that amount depending on how long the contract is for.
Currently, Tampa Bay has just shy of $6.3MM in cap space according to Cap Friendly. However, not only do they have to re-sign Kucherov, defenseman Nikita Nesterov is also in need of a new deal. When you factor in that teams like to not spend right to the cap at the beginning of the year to give themselves some wiggle room, it seems likely that a trade will need to happen at some point.
However, Yzerman doesn’t believe that a trade is mandatory before the start of the season. When Smith asked if both RFA’s could be signed without making a trade, his response was simply, “No question”. For that to work, the Lightning may have to settle for getting a bridge deal done with Kucherov although Ryan Callahan’s injury that will carry over into November can also provide a short-term solution via LTIR.
Further creating complications for Yzerman is the pending RFA status of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and Jonathan Drouin following the 2016-17 season. All three of those will also be primed for significant raises and the team already has roughly $55MM in cap hits for 2017-18. While Yzerman may believe that a trade isn’t necessary right away, it certainly looks like they will need to move some players (and money) out sooner rather than later.