The Tampa Bay Lightning may be without one of their best players when the season begins, as Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reports that Nikita Kucherov is dealing with an injury that may keep him out “awhile.” The Lightning are expected to clarify the specifics later this week, but Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic adds that Kucherov got a hip injection last week.
Notably, as Friedman suggests, this could potentially be a fix for Tampa Bay’s cap problems. If Kucherov is forced onto long-term injured reserve, the team would theoretically not need to move any of their other high-priced assets to get under the $81.5MM salary cap ceiling. A return at any point during the regular season would obviously complicate the situation, though as James Mirtle of The Athletic points out with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, there is no salary cap come playoff time (which is only a few months away in a shortened season).
Still, losing Kucherov is obviously a huge blow for a team looking to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. The 27-year-old forward is one of the very best offensive players in the entire world and scored 85 points in 68 games last season. That, amazingly, only landed him the 13th spot in Hart Trophy voting, but the year prior he took home the Hart, Art Ross, and Ted Lindsay awards as the undisputed best player in the league. He recorded 41 goals and 128 points in 2018-19, a true example of how dominant Kucherov can be when healthy and surrounded by talent.
It may be some time before we get to see that Kucherov on the ice again.