Right wing Nikita Kucherov signed an eight-year, $76 million extension that kicks in for the 2019-20 season, with an average annual salary of $9.5 million against the salary cap. Kucherov would have been a restricted free agent next summer. He has one more year on his current contract, carrying a $4,766,667 cap hit.
"I'm truly grateful to sign this contract extension to keep me in Tampa for the next eight seasons today," Kucherov said in a statement. "I'd like to thank the Lightning organization and all of the fans for the support since making the Bay Area my home."
Kucherov, 25, hit 100 points for the first time last season in 80 games, with 39 goals and 61 assists. His 1.20 points per game average over the past two seasons ranks behind only Connor McDavid of Edmonton (1.27) and Evgeni Malkin of Pittsburgh (1.21) among NHL leaders. His 19:49 in average ice time led all Tampa Bay forwards last season. In this career, Kucherov has 147 goals and 187 assists in 365 games.
In the playoffs, Kucherov had 17 points in 17 games and played with a considerable physical edge. The Maykop, Russia, native has 59 points in 62 postseason games in his career.
Kucherov started with the Lightning in 2013, and played on the fabled "Triplets" line with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat that powered the Bolts to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. Over the past two seasons, he's partnered with star Steven Stamkos on the Lightning's top line, when Stamkos has been healthy, to form one of the most effective offensive duos in hockey.
The $76 million contract extension comes during a summer of big-fish hunting for the Lightning. They met with star free agent center John Tavares before he signed a seven-year deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They've been pursuing a trade with the Ottawa Senators for star defenseman Karlsson, who is signed for this season but hits unrestricted free agency in summer 2019.
With Kucherov signed, the Lightning now have 12 players under contract for 2019-20 with just $13.697 million in cap space available, according to Cap Friendly. That includes only three defensemen: Victor Hedman, the recently signed Ryan McDonagh and last year's rookie sensation Mikhail Sergachev.
It's expected that Karlsson would command at least the $11 million against the cap that Los Angeles paid defenseman Drew Doughty.
General manager Steve Yzerman has some work to do. But getting cost certainty on Kucherov through 2027, and one of the NHL's premiere offensive players locked into the Lightning lineup, helps add some clarity to that picture.
"My thought is we get the opportunity to open negotiations after July 1 of their last year of their contract, let's sit down with the players and their agents, and see if we can get something done early," Yzerman said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters.
"From a player's perspective, I think it eases their minds and they can plan their future a little bit and settle in. And from the team's perspective, it helps us going forward knowing the cap number of the players, knowing the commitment that we have, to make other decisions accordingly."