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Tampa Bay Lightning GM Defends Nikita Kucherov LTIR Salary Cap Decision

The Tampa Bay Lightning are one round away from returning to the Stanley Cup Finals. Before the champs can think about defending Lord Stanley Cup, they will need to deal with a motivated New York Islanders team.

The Islanders are coming off an impressive series where they beat the Boston Bruins in six games. On the flip side, the Lightning disposed of the Hurricanes in five games.

Following the series, Hurricane defenseman Dougie Hamilton pointed out how the Lightning used the salary-cap rules to their advantage.

“We had a great season. We lost to a team that’s $18 million over the cap or whatever they are,” Hamilton said, per The Athletic.

Hamilton’s comments were due to the Lightning being over the salary cap once Nikita Kucherov returning from long-term injured reserve. Kucherov, 27, had hip surgery before the start of training camp and he missed the entire regular season. 

Because the Lightning placed Kucherov on long-term injured reserve, his $9.5 million salary did not count towards the salary cap. The Lightning were then able to make other moves to fill out their roster. The NHL does not enforce the salary cap during the playoffs, the Lightning would activate Kucherov for the playoff run.

Circumventing the Cap?

Fans and media have been critical of Tampa Bay and have stated the Lightning “circumvented” the salary cap to acquire additional players for the season and playoffs. As the Lightning were coming into the season it was no secret the team was up against the salary cap. Kucherov’s injury and future surgery helped the team out. Once Kucherov was placed on long-term injured reserve the team was able to address free agent center Anthony Cirelli and Tyler Johnson.

The Tampa Bay Lightning on the surface may have looked like they were “circumventing” the cap but in fact were playing within the confines of the rules. Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois stated that the team “got some cap relief during the season”. However stated that the organization was “unsure how things would unfold” following Kucherov’s surgery.

The Kucherov situation is not the first time a team placed a player on LTIR. Back in 2015, the Blackhawks placed Patrick Kane on LTIR after he suffered a broken collarbone. He was placed on LTIR in February of 2015 and would later return for the playoffs and scored 11 goals and 23 points that postseason. The Blackhawks defeated the Lightning in the Stanley Cup that season.

Rules are the Rules

The NHL stated that the salary cap was going to remain flat at $81.5 million for the season due to the financial impacts of the pandemic. While its easy to say the Lightning “cheated” but the facts are simple, the Lightning did not cheat. The facts are on the Lightning’s side when it comes to the Kucherov situation.

When Kucherov’s surgery was announced, it had a five month turnaround before he could start to play. Everyone heals at different speeds and Kucherov is no different. The Lightning used a rule within the salary cap to place an injured player who had surgery on LTIR. It can be easy for fans to be upset because of the success the Lightning have had over the years. The team has been a wagon during the regular season the last few years and extremely tough during the playoffs.

The NHL has the authority to investigate the Kucherov injury situation and review medical records and consult with the team and doctors. The Lightning played within the NHL rules regarding LTIR. The fans, media and bloggers can say that Kucherov was ready because he was practicing but that holds no water.

The rules are the rules.

The Lightning legally placed Kucherov on LTIR, retained other players with the salary cap space available and look primed to win another Stanley Cup.

Conclusion

Kucherov is one of the Lightning’s best players and due to the the team’s success it is easy to say Tampa Bay cheated and used extra salary cap space for this season. If you are complaining that the Lightning cheated, I hate to break it to you, they didn’t. Whether or not he was practicing with contact and non-contact jerseys is irrelevant.

“I didn’t make the rules, whether it’s cap space or something like that,” Kucherov said Friday. “It’s not me, I didn’t do it on purpose. I had to do the surgery.”

If this was not the Lightning and this was another team and player would this be a major story?

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