Lightning takes advantage of exploiting the plug loophole with Kucherov
Nikita Kucherov would have much preferred spending the season with his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates rather than spending all 56 games on the sidelines while recovering from hip surgery.
âMissing a whole year, you ask any player, you don’t want to be that guy,â Kucherov said.
Kucherov was that guy. Tampa Bay’s 2020 Stanley Cup scorer did not play a game after hoisting the trophy in September until mid-May, when the playoffs began.
In between, the Lightning were able to secure a waiver for Kucherov’s salary cap, which allowed them to keep their core of players together and – with a bit of gymnastics – even add an important player at the trades.
All of this meant that Kucherov was back for the opening game of the playoffs, when the collective agreement in effect since 2005 states that the cap does not count because players only receive salaries during the regular season. He now leads all playoff scorers as the stacked Lightning try to win back-to-back titles.
âSometimes the stars align for you,â said General Manager Julien BriseBois. âI didn’t know how things were going to turn out. Fortunately for me and for our organization, I don’t think they could have gone better.
It didn’t go so well for the Florida Panthers, who lost to Tampa Bay in six games in the first round, or the Carolina Hurricanes, who were ousted 4-1 in the second.
âWe’ve had a great season,â said Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton. âWe lost to a team that went over the $ 18 million limit or whatever, an amazing goalie and all that. We played them pretty close.
This isn’t necessarily a complaint from Hamilton, but rather his way of expressing how steep the climb has been for the Hurricanes against the Lightning. Members of the Panthers and now the New York Islanders, who will face the Lightning in the semifinals, were careful not to make Kucherov’s situation a point of contention.
“I’m not a ‘capologue’, I’m a coach, but I can tell you Kucherov is a great player,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. “His skills are out of the ordinary. He has a lot of disappointments. His release. There are so many dangerous aspects that he is one of the league’s superstars.”
New York general manager Lou Lamoriello chose to echo Trotz in saying of Kucherov: âHe’s a great hockey player. I don’t think you need to say more. Certainly, its past and its success speak for themselves.
Florida coach Joel Quenneville in the first round went even further, saying the Panthers “weren’t complaining” about Kucherov.
“It’s like that,” said Quenneville. âIt’s one of the rules, and you take care of it. He was a big part of their team last year. Not like he hasn’t been around them, so that’s where it’s going, so there’s no complaint here.
The Chicago Quenneville Blackhawks did something similar with Patrick Kane in 2015, placing him in the long-term injured reserve during the season and taking action on the deadline to prepare for another run at the Chopped off. Kane, like Kucherov, was back for Game 1 of the playoffs and tied for first in scoring en route to Chicago’s third championship in six years.
There were grunts then about going around the ceiling, and the NHL investigated the Lightning this time around. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league had looked at the prognosis for Kucherov’s injury, the nature of the injury and its treatment, and concluded there was “no problem.”
In fact, the Lightning still claim that Kucherov returned earlier than expected.
âIt just so happens that this season, due to the extraordinary circumstances, this regular season only lasted four months,â said BriseBois. “He was able to have the surgery, missed all season, we got cap relief during the season, and he was able to come back a little earlier than expected, and it just happened to coincide with Game 1 of the playoffs. “
Kucherov said it took him a few games to get his legs under him after missing so much time. Still, his 19 points in 12 games was five more than the next closest player in the playoffs and it looks like the 2019 NHL MVP hasn’t missed a beat.
âTo be in the situation he experienced in such an intense game at such a high level and to be able to play like he did is remarkable,â said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. âBut he’s a great player, and you guys can count on a hand you guys could claim to be the best player in the league. He’s one of them.
Similar to Kane six years ago, which is why there is now a certain buzz about closing the long-term injury loophole and preventing similar situations. But league officials know it could be them next time around. And, as Kucherov points out about his injury and operation: “I didn’t do it on purpose.”
âI didn’t set the rules, whether it was the ceiling space or something like that,â he said. “I had to have surgery and had to go through the five months of rehab, and when the time came I was ready to play, it was the playoffs.”
Follow AP Hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno