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Yzerman 'confident' Lightning can sign Nikita Kucherov

Nikita Kucherov, 23, is one of the league's top young stars, and is due a hefty raise from the $700,000 he made last season.

DIRK SHADD | Times

Nikita Kucherov, 23, is one of the league's top young stars, and is due a hefty raise from the $700,000 he made last season.

With captain Steven Stamkos and defenseman Victor Hedman both locked up for eight more years, the attention turns to another foundation-type player, wing Nikita Kucherov.

Kucherov, 23, is a restricted free agent, due a big bump from the $700,000 he made last season, when he racked up 30 goals. He'll likely garner in the range of the six-year, $36 million extension Predators forward Filip Forsberg got this week, maybe more.

GM Steve Yzerman said Friday the team is engaged in negotiations, and optimistic a deal can get done.

"We'll do our best to get (it) done as quickly as possible," Yzerman said. "It's a process, hopefully sooner than later. I'm confident in that at some point, we'll be able to reach an agreement."

Kucherov could theoretically get an offer sheet from another team, which Tampa Bay is allowed to match. But it would prove costly if the team ends up signing him, costing that team compensation of a first, second and third round draft choice (if Kucherov makes between $5.6 million and $7.5 million annually).

Kucherov, who has seasons of 29 goals and 30 in back-to-back seasons, is also a clutch playoff performer, with 42 points in 45 career playoff games. He's a plus-50 in 211 career games.

"He's an outstanding player, good in all aspects of the game," Yzerman said. "Offensively, defensiely, he's a scorer, he's a playmaker, really good defensively, a hard worker. He's still relatively young, three years of pro hockey, he's becoming a leader on our team. Really a go-to-guy for us. He can play in a lot of situations, do a lot f things on the ice. Nikita is going to continue to develop. He's determined to be an elite hockey player and a complete hockey player."

Developing: With the Lightning already reeling in its big fish - captain Steven Stamkos - it doesn't expect to be very active when free agency opens at noon Friday.

The focus for GM Steve Yzerman will be on signing its own free agents, specificallly wing Nikita Kucherov, who is a restricted free agent.

Kucherov, 23, is one of the league's top young stars, and is due a hefty raise from the $700,000 he made last season. It's uncertain what Kucherov will demand, but the six-year, $36 million deal Predators forward Filip Forsberg got seems like a good starting point/range. So that means a good chunk of the $13 million Tampa Bay has left on the salary cap for next season could go to Kucherov.

Though both the Lightning and Kucherov's camp have been talking, no deal appears imminent. Timing is important because at noon today, other teams can give Kucherov an offer sheet (which Tampa Bay can match, but it'd likely drive up the price).

"That's obviously a concern," Yzerman said. "I don't know what other teams' plans are. If we're put in that situation, we'll make decisions when we have to."

The Lightning is also in discussions with other restricted free agents Alex Killorn (who made $2.7 million last season) and Vladislav Namestnikov. They're also open to getting offer sheets after noon, though it'd be less likely than Kucherov.

The fact that Stamkos signed - for a less than market value deal of eight-years, $68 million deal - was an encouarging sign for the Lightning. And Yzerman can only hope that his future free agents, whetehr its Kucherov, or Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat next year, are willing to work with him to keep the group together.

Hedman is eligible to sign an extension as early as today at noon - being one year away from unrestricted free agency. While that's not expected to happen today, talks pushed on back burner awaiting Stamkos, other decisions, agent Peter Wallen told the Times he's optimistic a deal can get done, and would be shocked if it lingered a while into next season.

If the Lightning does target anyone in free agency, it'd likely be a right shot defenseman (help on power play) or a depth forward. Tampa Bay could also eventually free up space if it decides to deal goalie Ben Bishop, or defenseman Jason Garrison.

[Last modified: Friday, July 1, 2016 6:59pm]

    

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