Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov is expected to miss the entire regular season because of a hip injury that requires surgery.
General manager Julien BriseBois ruled out Kucherov on Wednesday for the 56-game season that begins Jan. 13 and ends May 8. Kucherov played through a groin injury in the playoffs on the way to helping the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in late September. He complained of a hip problem in early December.
Losing the 2019 NHL MVP and leading scorer from the 2020 playoffs is a major blow to the defending champions, but they’ll be able to use long-term injury relief from Kucherov’s $9.5 million salary-cap hit to re-sign their final key restricted free agent, center Anthony Cirelli. BriseBois said Tampa Bay had the framework of a contract in place with Cirelli.
Kucherov, 27, had a postseason-best 34 points on seven goals and 27 assists in the NHL bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. He led the league in scoring with 128 points in the 2018-19 season to earn Hart Trophy honors.
The Lightning are making the most of the bad injury news by getting other signings done this week. On Tuesday, they re-signed Erik Cernak to an $8.85 million, three-year deal and brought back fellow defenseman Jan Rutta for $2.6 million over two years. On Wednesday, they re-signed forward Mathieu Joseph for $1.475 million over two years and Alex Volkov for $700,000 this season.
Without Kucherov's injury, Tampa Bay likely would have needed to trade a key player to get under the $81.5 million salary cap that's flat in light of the pandemic. The team put veteran forward Tyler Johnson on waivers in October to clear his $5 million off the books, but he went unclaimed by the league's other 30 teams.