Tampa Bay Lightning F Nikita Kucherov Refuses To Report To Training Camp

Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

Don’t expect to see Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov at Training Camp as he won’t be reporting until there is a new contract in place.

The very second the final buzzer sounded in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final and the Tampa Bay Lightning found themselves heading back to the Bolts Nation, the eyes of Lightning fans turned to the impending contract status of Lightning captain Steven Stamkos.

It wasn’t long until the 26-year-old Lightning sniper not only had a new eight-year contract in place ensuring his future with the Bolts but setting the bar for a number of other players on the team who soon followed with shiny new long-term contracts of their own.

Despite all the players who followed in Stamkos’ footsteps, there was still one player who didn’t have a contract in place for the upcoming season, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2015-16 leading point scorer Nikita Kucherov. As you can imagine, this could cause some serious issues for a Lightning team looking to make another deep run into the postseason in 2016-17.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman was able to calm the nerves of Lightning fans ever-so-slightly when he announced his hopes and intentions to have Kucherov signed to a new contract upon his return from the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Unfortunately, the four players the Bolts had representing them on Team Russia – forwards Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov, defenseman Nikita Nesterov, and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy – have all returned here to the Bolts Nation, but only three of those players have reported to training camp.

According to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times, Steve Yzerman was notified by Kucherov’ agent, Scott Greenspun, that Kucherov would not be reporting to Training Camp until there is a new contract in place between him and the team. This may seem like just another part of the business, but it certainly raises eyebrows around the Bolts Nation.

There is no denying Nikita Kucherov is a tremendous asset to the team and more than deserving of a rather large bump from the three-year $2.77 million contract that expired at the end of the 2015-16 season. It is believed in many circles that Kucherov will be looking for around a $6 million-plus contract moving forward.

The question is not whether or not Kucherov is deserving of such a contract. It’s more along the lines of whether or not the Tampa Bay Lightning can afford to carry such a contract moving into the new season. According to Sportrac.com, the Lightning are looking at around $5.86 million in cap space.

What does this mean, you may ask? Well, it means that if Nikita Kucherov is adamant about a $6 million-plus contract for the next couple of years, the Tampa Bay Lightning will have to make some sort of a move in order to remain cap compliant entering the 2016-17 season.

As of this point, the Tampa Bay Lightning have been able to keep almost all of the pieces in place that helped them make their way to the Eastern Conference Final in place heading into the new season. Should the Tampa Bay Lightning be forced to move one of their players in order to remain compliant, this could affect the chemistry of the team.

According to Yzerman, there is really nothing to see here and this is “all a part of the process.” In all honesty, there is a possibility Yzerman is one hundred percent correct. This may be a simple “part of the process.” On the other hand, this could be a bold move to get the attention of Steve Yzerman.

Related Story: Yzerman Hopes To Sign Nikita Kucherov Following World Cup

It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve seen this tactic employed. Earlier in the season, Tampa Bay Lightning rookie forward Jonathan Drouin elected to take his skates and go home until his request for a trade was acknowledged. While the details of the discussions between Drouin and Yzerman were never made public, and probably never will be, the two sides were able to come to an agreement and Drouin returned to the ice.

The real question here is what is holding up the negotiations? The follow-up question here is, if Kucherov is actively involved in negotiations with Yzerman and the team, who would be the issue with reporting to training camp. There has been nothing in his past that would dictate he had any sort of issue supporting the team and helping to ensure their victory throughout the season.

At this point, there have been no official comments from Nikita Kucherov or his agent regarding the status of his contract negotiations, his intentions moving into these negotiations, or when/if a new contract could be in place.

On the other hand, Steve Yzerman has plenty to say about this situation; however, his comments are not exactly what you would expect to hear from the General Manager in this situation.

"“I think a lot of it is the system,” Yzerman told Joe Smith. “With the restricted free agents, there’s not really a hard deadline. Closest deadline you can have is probably the first day of training camp or first day of the regular season. Because now both sides really got to make a decision, is the player willing to hold out? Every year, there’s a half dozen and this year there seems to be a few more of the restricted free agents without arb rights not yet signed. And I would assume, history has shown, gradually over the next couple weeks they all eventually get signed.”"

Unfortunately, it’s another one of Yzerman’s comments that cause concern among the fans here in the Bolts Nation.

"“What the contract ends up at will dictate what we need to do,” Yzerman told Smith. “We’ll do what we have to do to get under the cap.”"

This brings us back to a point we made a little earlier. There is a good possibility Yzerman may be forced to make a move in order to remain cap compliant. What exactly could Yzerman give up in order to remain cap compliant, while not stabbing himself in the foot moving into the 2016-17 season?

At this point, it seems there are many more questions than answers. There are so many ways in which this situation could come to an end that it’s almost impossible to predict the course it will take.

The one thing we know for sure is Nikita Kucherov is an integral part of the Lightning’s success. At the same time, we wouldn’t want to tear apart a team that has found a large amount of success as a collective unit.

Unfortunately, there is one saying in the hockey world that still remains true. The logo on the front of the jersey is far more important than the name on the back. In an ideal world, the Tampa Bay Lightning will be able to sign Kucherov and keep the remainder of the team intact.

This is an unpleasant situation for everyone involved, including Tampa Bay Lightning fans. While we are still very uncertain as to how this situation will ultimately play out, we have full faith that if there is a deal to be made, a General Manager like Steve Yzerman is the kind of GM who will get the job done.

Next: Lightning Re-Sign Nikita Nesterov To One-Year Contract

Only time will tell how this tumultuous situation will ultimately play out. The one thing we know for sure is those of us here at Bolts By The Bay are hoping for the ideal situation we spoke of earlier.