Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov to have surgery, out for regular season

Tampa Bay Lightning star winger Nikita Kucherov is undergoing hip surgery next week and will miss the entire regular season, general manager Julien BriseBrois announced Wednesday.

Though Kucherov's designation to long-term injury reserve will give initial relief to cap-strapped Tampa Bay, it's a significant blow for the defending Stanley Cup champions. The 27-year-old Kucherov, the 2019 MVP, has scored 398 points over the last four seasons, which trails only Connor McDavid for most in the league.

"Those are the cards that we've been dealt,'' BriseBois said on a video call Wednesday. "It's our job as a group -- players, coaches, management -- to get ourselves into the playoffs so that we give Kuch an opportunity to compete this year and help us defend this Stanley Cup championship as we're chasing another one.''

BriseBrois said he hoped Kucherov could return for the playoffs.

"Nobody loves playing hockey more than Nikita Kucherov," he said. "I know how much it pains him that he will be missing the regular season. I also know how hard he's going to work to get back as soon as possible.''

Stashing Kucherov's $9.5 million cap hit means the Lightning aren't forced to move any other contracts to remain cap complaint. After re-signing Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, Mathieu Joseph and Alex Volkov this offseason, the Lightning found themselves about $7.6 million over the $81.5 million salary cap -- which remains flat this season due to the pandemic.

On Thursday, Tampa Bay announced a three-year, $14.4 million deal to bring back restricted free agent Anthony Cirelli.

Kucherov had a team-high 34 points in 25 games during this fall's Stanley Cup Final run. In his MVP season, Kucherov scored 128 points, which was the most-ever for a Russian-born player.

One silver lining for Tampa Bay: BriseBrois said he expects captain Steven Stamkos to be available for opening night. Stamkos missed the entire postseason -- except for one brief appearance and goal in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final -- while dealing with a core muscle injury.

The Lightning open their 2020-21 season Jan. 13, with a banner-raising ceremony before hosting the Chicago Blackhawks.