Nikita Kucherov signed an eight-year, $76 million contract extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.
The contract has an average annual value of $9.5 million and starts with the 2019-20 NHL season. The 25-year-old forward is beginning the final season of a three-year, $14.298 million contract he signed Oct. 11, 2016, after which he could have become a restricted free agent. He became eligible to sign an extension July 1.
"Definitely huge for me and for my family," Kucherov said. "Being locked up for the long term here and to be able to not think about the contract and stuff during the season ... I'm happy to be here. I'm happy to be in Tampa. We have a good chance to win the Stanley Cup and that's the reason I like Tampa.
"I love living here. It's good weather. … I didn't think twice when I had a chance to sign."
Video: Nikita Kucherov on signing extension
Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said having Kucherov's contract taken care of this far in advance was the best outcome.
"My thought is we get the opportunity to open negotiations after July 1 of the last year of their contracts, let's sit down with the players and their agents and see if we can get something done early," Yzerman said. "From a player's perspective, I think it eases their mind and they can plan their future a little bit and settle in. From a team's perspective, it helps us going forward knowing the (NHL salary) cap numbers of the players, knowing the commitment we have to make other decisions accordingly."
Yzerman said the Kucherov signing does not preclude him from further activity during the offseason. That could include a trade for Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson. The Ottawa Sun reported July 5 that the Lightning were one of the teams pursuing Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner who can become an unrestricted free agent after this season. Sportsnet reported the Senators gave Karlsson permission to speak to other teams about a contract July 2.
"I don't think it's impossible," Yzerman said about the Lightning adding another significant contract, though he was not asked specifically about Karlsson. "But if you just look at our one-way commitments for the following season. We still have cap space left for this year to add if we wanted. But if we were to bring in a significant contract we would have to make the money work so to speak, and going forward it would be the same situation beyond this year."
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Kucherov was third in the NHL last season with 100 points (39 goals, 61 assists) and was named a First-Team All-Star. He also had 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in 17 Stanley Cup Playoff games to help the Lightning reach the Eastern Conference Final.
His 100 points were a personal NHL best and his 39 goals were second to the 40 he scored in 2016-17. His 79 goals the past two seasons are third in the NHL behind Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (82) and Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine (80). His 185 points the past two seasons are second to Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (208).
Kucherov said he has started skating and working out with a pro team from Switzerland in Clearwater, Florida.
"I just started last week, getting ready for a long season," he said. "Hopefully we'll make it to the Cup and win the Cup. I just want to be 100 percent sure that I feel good during the season and I'm able to play 100 games during the season. I want to make sure my body feels good and take care of my body."
Video: Kucherov signs eight-year extension with Lightning
Selected by the Lightning in the second round (No. 58) of the 2011 NHL Draft, he has 334 points (147 goals, 187 assists) in 365 NHL games, all with the Lightning. He has 59 points (29 goals, 30 assists) in 62 Stanley Cup Playoff games and has played in the NHL All-Star Game the past two seasons.
Yzerman said the Lightning would like to sign forward Brayden Point to a contract extension. Point, 22, was third on the Lightning last season with 66 points and second with 32 goals. He is entering the final season of his three-year entry-level contract and can become a restricted free agent after this season. He became eligible for an extension July 1.
"I think at some point between today and next July 1 we'll have a chance to talk to Brayden and his agent," Yzerman said. "So yeah, it's something we'd like to get to work on and we're going to start today."