Nikita Kucherov still doesn’t have a contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and it remains to be seen how GM Steve Yzerman will get one of his star forwards locked up.
According to the Tampa Bay Times’ analysis, it may take a trade:
The website capfriendly.com calculates that the Lightning has $6.2 million in cap space remaining for this season, if defenseman Slater Koekkoek makes the team, as some expect. And that’s with only 12 forwards and six defensemen on the 23-man roster. But the amount is likely closer to $5 million if defenseman Nikita Nesterov, also a restricted free agent and who had a $742,000 cap hit last season, is re-signed (or veteran defenseman James Wisniewski makes team on a tryout deal), and a 14th forward is included at a minimum of $575,000.
That doesn’t leave a ton of room for Kucherov, unless another move is made. And that could explain why his situation is still unresolved. Is the Lightning trying to clear cap room?
Tampa Bay can clear some space by making a trade, whether that’s goalie Ben Bishop ($5.95 million cap hit, partial no-move clause), forward Valtteri Filppula ($5 million cap hit, no-move clause) or defenseman Jason Garrison ($4.6 million, no-trade clause).
The newspaper did ask Yzerman if Kucherov and Nesterov could be signed without making a trade first, and Yzerman’s response was, “No question.”
Ryan Callahan can go on LTIR to start the season, but that’s only temporary relief.
So, unless Kucherov signs a bridge deal — and the trend has been moving away from that kind of contract, particularly for players of Kucherov’s caliber — it’s going to be interesting.
The Lightning open the regular season on Oct. 13, just over a month from today.