Lightning lose Nikita Kucherov for entire regular season, avoid severe cap consequence

EDMONTON, ALBERTA - SEPTEMBER 19: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning warms up before Game One of the NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Dallas Stars and the Tampa Bay Lightning at Rogers Place on September 19, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

For the Tampa Bay Lightning, the good news is that they should be able to escape serious consequences related to the salary cap.

The bad news is that they will be without their most dynamic forward and the league’s former MVP for the entire 2021 regular season.

Lightning GM Julien BriseBois announced Wednesday that Nikita Kucherov requires surgery on an injured hip and will miss the entire 56-game campaign in order to recover from the injury and essential intervention.

As a result, Kucherov’s complete $9.5 million salary will be shifted to long-term injured reserve, which should allow BriseBois to fit the remaining pieces under the salary parameters — outstanding work that includes striking an agreement with restricted free agent forward Anthony Cirelli.

While the cries suggesting circumvention are heard round the league, it’s hard to argue that this decision — while perhaps intentional from a timing perspective — is a positive one for the Lightning. Kucherov is a significant, significant loss, even for a team that just proved it can win championships without the services of key players.

That said, the hope (and perhaps design) for the Lightning is that Kucherov would be able to return when the postseason rolls around, or when teams are allowed to exceed the salary cap threshold. Surely, then, opposing teams and fanbases will voice their displeasure with the Lightning’s ability to avoid the same consequences many other teams have endured.

Kucherov had 33 goals and 85 points in 68 games last season. He added seven goals and a postseason-high 34 points in 27 games as the Lightning won the franchise’s second Stanley Cup inside the secure Edmonton bubble.

Tampa’s title defence will begin without Kucherov — and inside the re-designed Central Division — on Jan. 13 versus the Chicago Blackhawks.

BriseBois also provided a brief update on Steven Stamkos, saying that he expects Tampa Bay’s captain to be ready for the start of the season.

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