In case you haven’t heard, Nikita Kucherov of the Tampa Bay Lightning is rumored to have been offered a contract by CSKA Moscow. The 23-year-old Russian was drafted 58th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2011, but had a two-year stint with CSKA Moscow before heading over to the QMJHL, and eventually made his NHL debut in the 2013-14 season.
Over the past three years, Kucherov has proved himself as a worthy NHL player at a young age, scoring 66 points in 77 games during the 2015-16 regular season and averaging over a point a game in the post season. He is now an RFA for the Bolts, but he and the team haven’t negotiated a contract yet.
Earlier today, Evgeny Kuznetsov weighed in on the situation, saying that if he were in Kucherov’s position, he would have immediately accepted the KHL contract.
From ESPN’s Craig Custance: Most honest quote of World Cup media day comes from Evgeny Kuznetsov on Nikita Kucherov still not having a contract: “If I would be in his position, I would be signed in the KHL for sure… I would sign and say bye. That’s me. I would buy a beach house and a couple Rolls-Royces.”
Kuznetsov is no stranger to seeing players being strung along as RFAs or being taken to arbitration. Capitals forward Marcus Johansson has been taken to arbitration the past two seasons, and could have arguably been paid more. Braden Holtby was taken to arbitration last offseason after he and the organization couldn’t come to terms on a salary. This year, defenseman and fellow Russian national Dmitry Orlov is in a similar situation to Kucherov, as he and the Capitals haven’t come to terms on a contract. It’s also no secret that the Capitals are also exploring alternatives to signing Orlov as well.
While it may just be all talk since Kuznetsov is playing in the 2016 World Cup with his countrymen, the comments are also a bit frightening since his contract is up after the end of this season.
Kuznetsov is well aware that his value as a player has risen dramatically since he signed his two year, $3 million AAV deal with the Capitals, and he is also aware that he will be an RFA after this season too. He’s also seen other Russians go from the NHL to the KHL before the end of their careers for various reasons. Ilya Kovalchuk infamously left the league after the lockout season with 12 years left on his contract, citing family reasons, but it’s also known that after taxes he would be taking home more money in Russia. Pavel Datsyuk also left the league one year before the end of his contract, also citing family reasons.
It’s not hard to imagine the appeal of going back to your home country to play, especially with the matter of language barriers and family being overseas. Also, with recent negotiation issues between players and teams, it’s easy to understand being frustrated with the uncertainty of the future. To top things off, the expanding KHL is more competitive with the NHL now than ever before, even if there is still a sizable talent gap. Obviously, the Caps organization and fanbase want Kuznetsov to stay, but they can’t play around in the negotiation. Kuznetsov is a special player for the Caps. He’s a player that his teammates like playing with, a fan favorite, and an incredibly talented hockey player with a great hockey IQ. The organization should be doing everything they can to keep him.
Players like Kuznetsov don’t come around too often. With aging stars, his role on the team is larger than ever, and will only continue to get bigger.
By Justin Green
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