Cap Comparables: Kucherov cashes in, but doesn’t break the bank

NHL insider Chris Johnston explains why Nikita Kucherov’s 8-year deal with Tampa Bay actually makes the Lightning even more in on trading for Erik Karlsson.

The Tampa Bay Lightning locked up star winger Nikita Kucherov to an eight-year, $76-million extension on Tuesday.

The deal, which locks up the would-be 2019 RFA through the 2026-27 season, is not at all surprising. Sure, $9.5 million is a big price tag — $1 million more per year than captain Steven Stamkos’ $8.5-million average annual value — but Kucherov is worth every penny and likely could have gotten even more. To put things in perspective, just look at the league’s list of scoring leaders from the past two seasons: the only player ahead of him in points is Connor McDavid, and Kucherov’s annual cap hit comes in at $3 million less than that of the Oilers’ captain.

“About a year ago, I said publicly that Nikita wasn’t looking to break the bank. He was looking to get a reasonable, good deal but also give Tampa room to sign other players as well,” Kucherov’s agent, Dan Milstein, told The Jeff Blair Show on Tuesday. “In my opinion, and in Nikita’s opinion, and I think Steve Yzerman would agree to that as well, this is a good deal for both sides. I’ve seen some recent signings, and of course we could have waited and of course we could have asked for more but what was important for Nikita is to get back on the ice and to win the Stanley Cup. The one thing that he wants is to win the Stanley Cup.”

Does this affect the Lightning’s chances of landing (and extending) Erik Karlsson? As Sportnet’s Chris Johnston explains, it’s the opposite, as the Lightning are “still very much in on” Karlsson trade talks.

“They may even be the favourite, depending on who you trust on this,” Johnston explained on-air on Tuesday. “If anything, this signing of Nikita Kucherov gives Steve Yzerman more certainty about what his roster picture will look like for years to come, and not making this trade guessing what they might need to pay Nikita Kucherov next summer. So the real takeaway from this is that they’re even more in on getting Karlsson rather than out of the running after giving out this big contract.”

There are plenty of comparables — prouction-wise, Kucherov has posted similar numbers to Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko ($7.5 million per year), and he makes similar money to Predators forward Ryan Johansen ($8 million per year) — so we’ve highlighted a few that are particularly interesting:

Jamie Benn (eight years, $76-million, 9.5-million cap hit)
Kucherov’s contract is identical to the one Benn signed with the Stars two summers ago, at about the same age. Benn, 28, has played almost twice the number of NHL seasons as Kucherov, but their stats are very similar when you look at the past five years since Tampa’s winger entered the league. Benn has registered 172 goals and 403 points since the 2013-14 season, while Kucherov has 147 goals and 334 points with steady improvement.

Claude Giroux (eight years, $66.2 million, $8.275-million cap hit)
Giroux signed his eight-year, $66.2-million deal back in 2013 at age 25, the same age Kucherov is now. The two players’ contract history is similar, too, as both were approaching the end of affordable three-year bridge deals when they inked their extensions (Kucherov has one year left with a $4.67-million cap hit).

Steven Stamkos (eight years, $68 million, 8.5-million cap hit)
Remember how crazy Stamkos Watch was? Yzerman cut all that out in signing Kucherov, who won’t even sniff free agency until 2027. Kucherov’s pricetag comes in at $1 million more per year than his captain — making him the highest-paid player on the team — makes sense, and he’s led the team in goals and points in each of the past three seasons. How much fun is it going to be to watch these two hit the ice together for the next six years?

So, who’s up next?

Kucherov, of course, was one of many pending free agents (RFAs and UFAs) eligible for a new deal this summer. Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine are among the league’s brightest young stars ready for their biggest payday as they prepare for the final year of the entry-level contracts, but here’s a look at a few more relevant comparisons to Kucherov in terms of who might be next up to sign a hefty extension like his.

Tyler Seguin
Dallas’ 26-year-old centreman has three seasons’ worth of experience on Kucherov, but has similar production, with Kucherov surpassing Seguin’s point totals in each of the past two seasons. Though they play different positions, with Seguin at centre and Kucherov on the wing, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Stars sign their leading scorer four of the past five seasons to a similar deal, matching the contract given to linemate Jamie Benn two years ago.

Artemi Panarin
Panarin, 26, lit up the league as a rookie three seasons ago with the Chicago Blackhawks, and hasn’t slowed down. The Russian left winger and pending 2019 UFA will surely be due for a sizeable raise once his two-year, $12-million deal expires after the 2018-19 campaign, but the big question here is, who will be picking up the cheque? Panarin said earlier this off-season that he’s not ready to lock himself into a long-term deal with the Blue Jackets at this time as he’s unsure if he wants to play out his prime in Columbus. It’s shaping up to be an off-season of trade rumours for Panarin. Kucherov’s place in the league is better established, but Panarin’s production through three seasons should see him join the upper echelon of NHL contracts.

Mark Stone
Buried amid Erik Karlsson trade talk is the fact the Senators owe RFA Mark Stone a new contract (Matt Duchene, too, who will be a UFA next July). Stone might just be one of the biggest bargains in the league right now, earning just $3.5 million in each of the last three seasons, while posting consistently strong numbers on a team that … lacks consistency right now. The elite two-way foward has reached the 20-goal plateau in each of the last four seasons, hitting 60 points or more in three of them. He filed for arbitration, but the Senators would be smart to lock him up long-term to a deal similar (thought likely a bit less) than Kucherov’s contract.

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