Twenty-three year old Vladimir Tarasenko needed a new deal, and ultimately signed an 8-year, $60 million dollar contract ($7.5 million AAV) to stay with the St. Louis Blues yesterday.
The 2014-15 season was Tarasenko's third in the NHL, finishing up the entry level contract he signed with the Blues following being drafted 16th overall in 2010.
Twenty-two year old Nikita Kucherov needs a new deal before next fall.
The 2015-16 season will be Kucherov's third in the NHL, finishing up his entry level contract signed with the Lightning following being drafted 58th overall in 2011.
See what I'm getting at here?
Tarasenko and Kucherov are remarkably similar players not just because of their shared nationality and dynamic play style. Their production over the course of their very team-friendly ELCs has been surprisingly close. Tarasenko has been a noticeably better scorer, but not by such a huge margin that the Lightning can hope to go through another regular season like the last one Kucherov had and hope they can sign him at a salary closer to Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat's:
|TOI/Game||Points/60||On-Ice Shooting%||Corsi Rel|
In terms of raw boxcar stats, Kucherov scored 65 points in 82 games, while Tarasenko scored 73 in 77. Tarasenko grabbed plenty of national attention with highlight-reel plays on a seemingly nightly basis, while Kucherov was quietly doing almost exactly the same thing, albeit as part of a "Triplets" line that was often praised as a unit, more than the sum of its parts.
The similarity in production is hard to ignore, however, and it should serve as a reminder to the Lightning to get their young Russian winger under contract sooner rather than later.
There are understandably some concerns about Kucherov's on-ice shooting luck; that 11.65% number is more likely to come down in 2015-16 than it is to stay the same. Still, his overall production could still trend upwards with a likely bump in ice time. 14:57/game overall in the regular season includes the first third of the year, before the "Triplets" (or "TKO Trio") existed and before they were Tampa Bay's "2nd" (read: de facto 1st) line.
During the playoffs Kucherov's ice time leapt up to 16:59 per game, near what Tarasenko saw on a per-game basis in St. Louis' top six with Jori Lehtera and Jaden Schwartz. Adding to that, Kucherov is also likely in line for an uptick in power play usage:
By the end of the playoffs, Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Steven Stamkos formed the bulk of Tampa Bay's top power play unit, with the lone defender switching mostly between Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. Should that usage continue, Kucherov could be in line for more 5v4 production in 2015-16 which would offset some on-ice 5v5 shooting regression.
Furthermore, Kucherov has added value as one of Tampa Bay's best play-drivers; on a very good possession team, Kucherov led the Lightning in Relative Corsi, indicating that his presence on the ice significantly impacted the team's overall possession game in a decidedly positive fashion. Whenever he came over the boards, the Bolts were likely to gain control of the puck and keep it in the offensive zone for a long stretch.
His dCorsi (used to rate a player's impact on possession against what he would be expected to do given his usage) also suggests he is an elite play-driver, with his dCorsi Impact coming in at +103.44 (as opposed to Tarasenko's +5.27). Tarasenko remains the superior scoring option, but Kucherov is no slouch and might be a better possession player.
That means locking him up long-term -- like the Blues did with their young star -- should absolutely be a priority. While the Lightning front office is (rightly) focusing on another long-term extension right now, Kucherov should absolutely be on or at least near the frontburner.
Ideally, the Lightning bypass the bridge contract with Kucherov, the same way the Blues did with Tarasenko. But instead of waiting until the summer after his entry level deal expires, they extend him now -- while his NHL resume is still reasonably thin. Another huge season and the Lightning are in a conundrum with not enough cap space to keep all the home-grown talent. But sign him now to a deal not dissimilar to Victor Hedman's last contract with the Lightning -- a 5 year, $20 million dollar pact that essentialy 'gambled' that Hedman would continue to develop into a very good NHLer -- and you end up with an elite player on a bargain deal for a good chunk of his peak playing years. It's a risk that paid off fantastically with Hedman, and a risk worth taking again with Kucherov.
Cap inflation means that exact number likely won't suffice, but the concept should absolutely be applied -- skip the bridge and sign Kucherov with term now, or be forced to pay an even bigger price later.