Yzerman, Lightning ‘continue to communicate’ with Kucherov

Nikita Kucherov easily splits the Maple Leafs D, goes in all alone, roofing the backhand home.

Despite getting bounced from the Stanley Cup playoffs in the Eastern Conference final by the eventual champion Pittsburgh Penguins, there has been no shortage of reasons for Tampa Bay Lightning fans to celebrate this summer.

The Lightning locked up Stamkos with an eight-year, $68-million contract ahead of free agency, setting off a domino effect that saw the club secure many of its key contributors to long-term deals. The next order of business for general manager Steve Yzerman is to re-sign his 2015-16 leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov.

Kucherov remains an unrestricted free agent, with the Lightning seemingly immune to the threat of an offer sheet for the 23-year-old. Yzerman isn’t sweating it, apparently.

“We continue to communicate with his representation,” Yzerman told Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times. “And we expect to have him under contract to start the season.”

From a business perspective, it’s been a banner off-season for Yzerman and the Lightning.

Defenceman Victor Hedman inked an eight-year, $63-million extension, while forwards Alex Killorn and Vladislav Namestnikov and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy all signed multi-year deals.

Kucherov, and defenceman Nikita Nesterov, are the last two RFAs left on Yzerman’s summer to-do list. The former is due for a significant raise from the $894,166 he earned against the salary cap in the final year of his entry-level contract. Kucherov totalled 30 goals and 66 points in 77 games with the Lightning in 2015-16.

You can look to the deals signed by Florida Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov (six years at $5.9 million per), Colorado Avalanche’s Nathan MacKinnon (seven years at $6.3 million per), and Nashville Predators’ Filip Forsberg (six years at $6 million per) as measuring sticks.

It’s just a matter of time, according to Yzerman.

“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.”

Kucherov has registered 67 goals and 148 points in 211 career games.

The Lightning selected Kucherov in the second round, 58th overall, at the 2011 NHL Draft.

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