Nikita Kucherov puts comments in past, eyes Cup run
There hasn't been much rest in Nikita Kucherov's extended offseason.
After helping lead Russia to a bronze medal at the World Championships in mid-May, Kucherov, 24, returned to Tampa in early June. He's been skating locally five-to-six days a week for more than a month, including Tuesday's solo workout at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon.
Kucherov has also privately begun to work out any perceived issues with the Lightning. The All-Star wing met in late June with general manager Steve Yzerman, discussing some harshly-translated comments he made in the Russian media in late April. Kucherov had told Sovetsky Sport, a Russian daily sports newspaper, that some Tampa Bay players "got their money and stopped working." Kucherov also lamented how often the coaching staff changed lines.
"(Kucherov and Yzerman) did have a meeting," Dan Milstein, Kucherov's agent, told The Tampa Bay Times. "They got on the same page. There's no disagreements.
"Everything is good. What was said is done, stays in the past."
Kucherov passed on an interview request Tuesday, and it's unclear when he'll be available with training camp still more than a month away. Milstein maintains Kucherov's quotes came out of frustration, the Lightning having gone from preseason Stanley Cup favorite to missing the playoffs.
"He hopes to have a redo this year, and that everyone stays healthy," Milstein said. "He feels this is the year for them to win the Cup. He's very excited."
Other than spending a couple weeks with family in Russia after the World Championships, Kucherov isn't taking a vacation this summer, Milstein said. Kucherov had synthetic ice installed in the garage of his Tampa home so he could stickhandle on his own.
"He knows what's expected and wants to be great," Milstein said. "He wants to keep working, improving and building on last year's performance."
If Kucherov improves upon his 40-goal season - which followed 29 and 30-goal campaigns - he's going to be in line for a huge payday in a couple years. Kucherov has two seasons left on a deal with a $4.76 million annual cap hit, a bargain by most standards for one of the league's most dynamic players. Kucherov, who finished eighth in the league MVP voting, signed his first big endorsement deal with Bauer Hockey.
Considering the kind of salaries league-wide, MVP Connor McDavid getting $12.5 million a year on his recent eight-year extension, Kucherov could look to potentially double his current salary when he's a restricted free agent. Kucherov didn't have leverage last October when he signed his three-year bridge deal shortly before the season opener, saying then he didn't want to hold out. He'll have arbitration rights next time around.
Milstein said it's too early to discuss any future deal, but made it clear Kucherov hopes to remain in Tampa Bay long-term.
"We'll get him a good contract that Nikita will earn, that's satisfactory for both sides," Milstein said. "We're not going to try and break the bank. We'll see."