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.
BriseBrois said he hoped Kucherov could return for the playoffs.
“Nobody loves playing hockey more than Nikita Kucherov,” BriseBrois said. “I know how hard he’ll 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.
Tampa Bay still needs to reach a deal with restricted free agent Anthony Cirelli, though BriseBrois said there is a framework deal in place for the 23-year-old forward.
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.