Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman's offseason can't have gone much better, especially after he re-signed captain Steven Stamkos and locked up cornerstone defenseman Victor Hedman long-term.
But after avoiding arbitration with center Vladislav Namestnikov Tuesday by signing him to a two-year deal, Yzerman has one big item left on his to-do list:
Sign Nikita Kucherov.
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 will sign Kucherov. It just might take a while, with Yzerman suggesting negotiations could last until the start of the season. Agent Scott Greenspun declined to comment.
The Lightning is in a cap crunch, with an estimated $5 million to $6 million left for next season and needing to sign Kucherov and fellow restricted free agent defenseman Nikita Nesterov. Yzerman said he doesn't need to make a trade to create cap space before signing both Russians, but he will have to become cap compliant before the season starts.
With Namestnikov signing, at a $1.93 million cap hit for the next two seasons, the Lightning could 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.
"(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."
CARLE LANDS: Defenseman Matt Carle, bought out by the Lightning this summer, signed a one-year, $700,000 deal with the Predators. Carle still carries a $1.833 million cap hit for the Lightning in each of the next four seasons.