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Awards are great, but what’s ahead really matters for Nikita Kucherov

The newly crowned league MVP has the ability to take the Lightning over the top and get that one coveted trophy.
Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov poses with, from left, the Ted Lindsay Award, Hart Memorial Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy after winning the honors at the NHL Awards, Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov poses with, from left, the Ted Lindsay Award, Hart Memorial Trophy and the Art Ross Trophy after winning the honors at the NHL Awards, Wednesday, June 19, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Published Jun. 20, 2019

They handed Nikita Kucherov trophies Wednesday night in Las Vegas. It wasn’t the trophy, the Stanley Cup, the prize Kucherov and his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates still want, painfully so after that abrupt Hindenburg conclusion to what had been a record-setting hay ride.

But here’s to Kucherov winning the Hart Trophy as the most valuable player in the National Hockey League and the Ted Lindsay Award as the players’ MVP pick. He was nothing short of the best player in the game, in the world, in 2018-19. That his or his team’s best wasn’t enough didn’t matter Wednesday. That Kucherov wants more is what really matters.

On one level, this awards show, the Lightning all dressed up with nowhere else to go, seemed a bit out of place given the carnage that was its epic first-round playoff sweep at the hands of Johnny Torts and his Columbus Blue Jackets. The sweep included Kucherov’s no-show, and his frustration and petulance on display, that cheap hit and one-game suspension it brought during that series. Not the way to leave a season.

But Kucherov won the Hart and Ted Lindsay as well as the Art Ross Trophy for being the league’s scoring champion. In game shows, these are known as lovely parting gifts.

But this is a time to celebrate what Kucherov did and, more to the point, what might lie ahead.

Related: RELATED: Nikita Kucherov wins Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP

Only two athletes in Tampa Bay’s major professional sports have ever been voted league MVP. No Bucs player has, though Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks were defensive MVPs. No Rays player has ever achieved it. Only the Lightning, namely Marty St. Louis and his magic in the franchise’s 2003-04 Cup season, and now Kucherov. That’s it. And that made Wednesday special.

This season, Tampa Bay fans witnessed performance art on a nearly nightly basis. No one was better than No. 86. Even now, it’s hard to see Kucherov like we saw Marty. Maybe it was Kucherov’s occasional silent way, maybe it was his Russian heritage, or maybe it was that he didn’t finish it all off with his game’s ultimate prize, all that he cared about anyway.

But his was a season that took your breath away. He scored 41 goals and had 128 points, the most ever for a Russian-born player, and don’t think that didn’t mean something to Kucherov.

He led the league in points, assists and power-play points. He shattered Lightning records. He had 38 multipoint games. Every time we looked up, he was doing something else, something better, something bigger. It was child’s play at times, no-look passes, breakaway talent on hockey’s greatest stage. He made everyone who played with him better.

Related: RELATED: Andrei Vasilevskiy wins Vezina for best goalie

Behind it all was a drive that didn’t quit. It was the same drive that propelled Kucherov from a kid who once was a healthy scratch in 2014 playoff games against Montreal into a major force in Lightning fortunes.

Kucherov turned 26 on Monday. It is all in front of him. He is coming off consecutive 100-point seasons, and there is no reason to believe that streak won’t grow. This might be the start of something we’ve never seen in this town, a superstar who comes with a growth chart.

It’s all about the next step for Kucherov. He and his teammates failed to punctuate a season that demanded an exclamation point. Kucherov dropped his guard and let immaturity into his head, and it left a bad picture in a lot of our heads. It raised the question: Is Kucherov going to be able to take the Lightning over the top?

He has the ability. He has the inner drive to grow. This team is counting on that. The window remains open. Now Kucherov has trophies, hardware. But what’s ahead is what matters. Kucherov knows that only one trophy matters. Lucky for Lightning fans, it’s the one he wants most.


  1. Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Alex Killorn (17) celebrate after he beats Arizona Coyotes goaltender Adin Hill (31) to score the first goal of the game during first period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    The Lightning forward has hovered just below 20 goals for years and finally reached the mark on Friday.
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos (91) leads the celebration as players contratulate right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) after he beat Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick (32) to tie the game 3-3 in the final moments during third period action at Amalie Arena on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Tampa. The Lightning went on to win 4 to 3 in the shootout.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Tampa Bay went from sixth place in the Atlantic Division to second behind a 10-game win streak.
  3. Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) gets beaten by a shot from Tampa Bay Lightning's Nikita Kucherov (86) as Lightning's Steven Stamkos (91) looks on during first-period NHL hockey game action in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. [JOHN WOODS  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay pours on the goals with seven total, including two from Nikita Kucherov.
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Luke Schenn (2) celebrates his goal, the first of the game, along with right wing Nikita Kucherov (86), defenseman Mikhail Sergachev (98) and center Tyler Johnson (9) beating New York Rangers goaltender Alexandar Georgiev (40) during first period action at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Tampa. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Tampa Bay also reassigned Alex Volkov to AHL Syracuse as Pat Maroon returned to the lineup.
  5. Minnesota Wild's Zach Parise (11) tries to control the puck the puck against Tampa Bay Lightning's Jan Rutta (44) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN  |  AP]
    Tampa Bay falls off a recent trend of strong defense and lets Minnesota dictate the game.
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper watches from the bench as his team plays against the Minnesota Wild during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, in St. Paul, Minn. [HANNAH FOSLIEN  |  AP]
    Even if the play is erased by an earlier offsides, the penalty still must be served.
  7. Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) in the tunnel before heading out to the ice for warms ups before taking on the New York Rangers at Amalie Arena on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Tampa.  [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
    Playing in Minnesota is special for McDonagh, who grew up 12 miles from St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
  8. Canada's Geneviève Lacasse (31) blocks a shot by United States' Kendall Coyne Schofield (26) during the third period of a rivalry series women's hockey game in Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer) [MICHAEL DWYER  |  AP]
    Teams representing the United States and Canada will play a 3-on-3 scrimmage as part of the festivities in St. Louis next week.
  9. TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 14: (Editor's Note: Image was digitally altered)  The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Los Angeles Kings fathers, brothers and mentors during the Kings' annual team trip at Amalie Arena on January 14, 2020 in Tampa. (Photo by Casey Brooke Lawson/NHLI via Getty Images) [CASEY BROOKE LAWSON  |  NHLI via Getty Images]
    The Kings are the latest team to bring their annual trip to Tampa. The Capitals and Senators have also done so this year.
  10. Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Alexander Volkov (92) before Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Kings. [CHRIS O'MEARA  |  AP]
    Also, Kings’ Jonathan Quick takes a Steven Stamkos one-timer up high.