Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning managed to secure another measure of value on a long-term contract with a member of their superstar core, announcing Tuesday that they have signed Nikita Kucherov to an eight-year contract extension worth $9.5 million annually.
The $76-million investment — which makes Kucherov the highest-paid Bolt — isn’t totally without risk, but it’s difficult to nitpick with the big-money agreement. Kucherov has drastically increased his point total over the last three seasons, most recently eclipsing the 100-point mark.
Only Connor McDavid has more points over the last two seasons, and Kucherov only just turned 25 after finishing his fifth NHL season. This is far from a diminishing asset.
Aside from his restricted free agent status, Kucherov entered the offseason with quite a bit of leverage had he decided to negotiate terms on a long-term pact with one year remaining on his current deal — which pays him less than $5 million. So buying up what remained of his prime seasons for less than $10 million is an obvious win for the Lightning.
There is, however, one potential sticking point.
Does this kill the Erik Karlsson dream?
For as much work had to go into the Kucherov extension in discussions over the last 10 days, it’s believed that Yzerman’s efforts have been focused moreso on trade discussions with the Ottawa Senators.
The Kucherov announcement prefaced Tuesday morning with Larry Brooks of the New York Post reporting that talks between the Senators and Lightning have “subsided,” and that the Stars have reemerged as favourites in the Karlsson sweepstakes, is presumably no coincidence.
Though as Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston notes, we shouldn’t be quick to cross the Lightning off the list of suitors.
Extending Nikita Kucherov does not take #TBLightning out of the Erik Karlsson trade talks. Quite the opposite; it gives them more certainty about their future.
Word is they continue to engage outside teams on a potential three-way deal with OTT.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) July 10, 2018
Signing Kucherov both complicates and declutters matters as it pertains to Karlsson.
Certainly having $76 million committed to one star impacts the ability to add another under the rigid salary structure. But knowing the extent of Kucherov’s footprint does reduce the uncertainty moving forward. Besides, he could very easily take another considerable season-to-season stride this upcoming year, and drive his price up further.
So Yzerman now knows exactly how his pieces fit. Does it leave room for Karlsson?
In the short term, the answer is yes. As mentioned previously, Kucherov still has one more year at a bargain-rate salary and Karlsson himself is entering the last season on his modest $6.5-million deal.
However, considering the randomness to which championship are won in the NHL, it’s unlikely that Yzerman will satisfy the Senators’ needs by forfeiting their futures without the promise that Karlsson will sign long term with the Lightning. At least not now.
Looking ahead to next season, between Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Ryan Callahan, Ondrej Palat, J.T Miller, Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn, the Lightning have committed just a shade below $58.5 million. Assuming Karlsson won’t settle for a long-term contract below $10 million, that gives the Lightning in the neighbourhood of $12-15 million to complete their roster with a large segment of that ready to be syphoned into Brayden Point’s savings account and only three defenders under contract.
Until Yzerman surrenders some high-end talent, or punts his entire middle class, adding a luxury like Karlsson for 2019-20 and beyond seems unmanageable.
Though we sort of knew that before he bought up Kucherov’s productive seasons at below market value.
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