The Tampa Bay Lightning made it to the playoffs without star forward Nikita Kucherov last season, and they’ll have to again operate without him for the next few months. The team has announced that Kucherov will be out approximately eight to ten weeks following a successful procedure yesterday on a lower-body injury. The team did not disclose the specific injury.
Kucherov proved he could perform at a high level in last season’s playoffs despite a long layoff, as he led all players with 32 points despite having missed the entire regular season. If Tampa wants to three-peat, he’ll have to pull off the same trick after going down three games into the year. Kucherov did have four points in those three games, but will now miss at least two months with another major injury.
The 28-year-old forward is without a doubt one of the most talented offensive players in the world, but his usual durability has been thrown out the window. From 2014-15 when he became a full-time member of the Lightning through 2019-20, he missed only a handful of games for the Lightning. It could very well be 2022 by the time he makes his return this season.
This case isn’t exactly like last season, where the Lightning were basically able to use Kucherov’s entire cap hit to add more talent for a playoff run, only to have him back when they needed him most. Since he is returning during the season and won’t spend the entire year on LTIR, they have to be careful with who replaces him on the roster. Still, given the team is already deep into LTIR relief with Brent Seabrook’s deal, moving Kucherov there does open some other options for a team that is extremely comfortable operating on the fringes of the salary cap rules.