Although there is no timetable on negotiations with restricted free agent forward Nikita Kucherov, the Tampa Bay Lightning are confident they'll sign him to a new contract, general manager Steve Yzerman told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday.
"We continue to communicate with his representation," Yzerman said. "And we expect to have him under contract to start the season. ... Every negotiation is different and some take longer than others. Sometimes they get done when they get done. You can't force it."
Kucherov, 23, scored an NHL career high 30 goals and led the Lightning with 66 points in 77 regular-season games. His 11 goals and 19 points in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games also led Tampa Bay.
The Lightning have $6.6 million of NHL salary-cap space, according to General Fanager, to sign Kucherov and restricted free agent defenseman Nikita Nesterov.
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"We've got to be under the cap at some point," Yzerman said. "Depending on the health of players, (Forward) Ryan Callahan had [hip] surgery and if he's not ready to start the season, that buys us some time. We can do that (long-term injured reserve) if we need to. At some point, we're going to have to be cap compliant to start the season, there's no way around it."
The Lightning re-signed center Steven Stamkos to an eight-year contract worth $8.5 million annually on June 29 and defenseman Victor Hedman to an eight-year contract extension worth $7.875 million annually on July 1.
Tampa Bay also signed free agent forward Coy Conacher to a one-year contract worth $575,000 on July 13, and avoided arbitration with forward Alex Killorn, who signed a seven-year contract with an average annual value of $4.45 million on July 17, and with center Vladislav Namestnikov, who signed a two-year contract with an average annual value of $1.9 million on Wednesday.
"[Namestnikov] pretty much became a regular in the lineup," Yzerman said. "He's very versatile. Ultimately we see his best position is in the middle, at center, but he can play in all positions and he has the ability to play on both special teams as well.
"We're pleased with the step he took last year, we expect him to continue with that. Eventually he will settle into a specific position with a more defined role on our team. I'm not going to give you a timeline or (say) it's going to happen today or a week from now, a month from now. It will all work itself out."