The Tampa Bay Lightning’s season is over and now the team must shift its focus for next season. And while the Lightning have a t0-do list for the upcoming season, don’t expect Nikita Kucherov’s extension to be among the top priorities for the team, writes The Athletic’s Joe Smith (subscription required).
Kucherov is in the last year of the bridge deal he signed in 2016 as a restricted free agent and will receive $4.77MM next year before reaching restricted free agency once again. The difference in the next negotiations is that the 24-year-old forward will have arbitration rights, giving him the leverage to potentially double his salary. An arbitrator could very likely side with a player who just put up 39 goals and tallied 100 points this season and reached the all-star game for the second time in his career.
However, Kucherov’s agent Dan Milstein says there haven’t been any talks of a new extension and he doesn’t expect any to start until after the 2018-19 season starts. After all, Kucherov isn’t going anywhere. Even with arbitration rights, Kucherov will be staying in Tampa Bay, but the Lightning will spend as much time as it can evaluating the play of Kucherov.
“He wants to stay in Tampa — he doesn’t want to go anywhere,” Milstein told The Athletic. “Worst-case, it’s arbitration, they’re not going to lose him. Both sides want him to be in Tampa.”
One possible reason is the way Kucherov struggled in the playoffs, especially in the final series before the Lightning were eliminated by the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals. The lack of scoring from Kucherov and linemate Steven Stamkos were a major issue. While he put up solid 2018 playoff numbers (17 points in 17 games), most of those offensive numbers came in their first-round series against the New Jersey Devils as he scored five goals and five assists in five games. However, from that point on Kucherov struggled, managing just two goals in the next 12 games. He also admitted that he was not dealing with an injury in the playoffs.
“Definitely you want to score goals,” Kucherov said. “Sometimes, it just doesn’t happen, doesn’t go your way.”
Perhaps the lack of an extension will be a motivating factor for Kucherov. He is expected to take a 10-day trip to Russia (half the length of last year) before returning to Tampa Bay to begin training for next season.