Yzerman expects to get Nikita Kucherov signed
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman's offseason couldn't have gone much better so far, especially with the re-signing of captain Steven Stamkos and locking up cornerstone defenseman Victor Hedman long-term.
But after avoiding arbitration with center Vladislav Namestnikov Tuesday - signing him to a two-year deal - Yzerman has one big item left on his to-do list.
Kucherov, 23, one of the league's top young stars, is a restricted free agent, and is due a hefty raise from the $700,000 he made last season. He's coming off a 30-goal season, and another clutch playoff performance. Think of the Predators' six-year, $36 million deal with Filip Forsberg as an example.
Yzerman said Wednesday he remains confident the Lightning can sign Kucherov, though would not put a timeline on when it'd happen. Yzerman suggested it could take until the start of the season. Agent Scott Greenspun declined to comment on negotiations.
"We continue to communicate with his representation," Yzerman said. "And we expect to have him under contract to start the season."
The Lightning has roughly between $5-$6 million remaining cap space for next season, and still needs to sign Kucherov and fellow restricted free agent defenseman Nikita Nesterov. Yzerman said they'll have to eventually make a move before the season to become cap compliant, but doesn't need to make one before signing Kucherov and Nesterov. Yzerman said they have the room.
The fact the Lightning is in a cap crunch would seem to make it possible another team could give Kucherov an offer sheet, potentially driving up the price. Tampa Bay, of course, could match. There's no offer sheet believed to be on the table currently.
"We've got to be under the cap at some point," Yzerman said. "Depending on the health of players, Ryan Callahan had surgery and if he's not ready to to start the season, that buys us some time. We can do that (long-term injured reserve) if we need to. At some point, we're going to have to be cap compliant to start the season, there's no way around it."
Yzerman indicated that just because Kucherov isn't signed yet doesn't mean there's any snags in negotiations. "Every negotiation is different and some take longer than others," Yzerman said. "Sometimes they get done when they get done. You can't force it."
With Namestnikov signing, at a $1.93 million cap hit the next two seasons, it could open up the opportunity to try to deal veteran center Valtteri Filppula, who is due $5 million each of the next two seasons. Namestnikov is coming off a career-year with 14 goals and 21 assists, while bouncing up and down the lineup, alternating between center and wing.
Yzerman said eventually Namestnikov needs to settle into a more defined role and in his best position, up the middle. Dealing a center, like Filppula, would in theory create an opening on the third-line. Veteran Brian Boyle is under contract for one more season.
"(Namestnikov) pretty much became a regular in the lineup," Yzerman said. "He's very versatile. Ultimately we see his best position is in the middle, at center, but he can play in all positions and he has the ability to play on both special teams as well. We're pleased with the step he took last year, we expect him to continue with that. Eventually he will settle into a specific position with a more defined role on our team. I'm not going to give you a timeline or (say) it's going to happen today or a week from now, a month from now. It will all work itself out."
And so, apparently, will be the Kucherov contract.