Last week, the NHL honored Tampa Bay Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov as their third star of the month. That makes two out of three months this season that the Russian winger has earned the distinction of being one of the top three players in the league. His numbers, once again, speak for themselves. His 18 points were tied for the second-most in the league, and only five players scored more than his seven goals. Due to his continued dominance, he is also the Raw Charge Bolt of the Month.
These accolades cap off an outstanding calendar year for Kucherov. While 2017 will go down in history as one of the most unpredictable and chaotic for the franchise, the one constant was Kucherov showing up in the boxscore. From January 1 until December 31, he accumulated 104 points in 80 games. Over that time period he topped the NHL in goals (51), power play points (40) and cheeky shootout goals.
In addition to the two Stars of the Month accolades he earned this season, he was also the First Star of the Month in March of last season. So, he’s actually been a top player in three of the last four months of regular season hockey. You would think a player like that would show up in a few more promotional items around the league.
While his 2017 scoring run was most impressive, it wasn’t the top year by a member of the Lightning. In 2010, Steven Stamkos racked up 114 points (including an astonishing 61 goals). Even that gaudy total by the captain is only second in franchise history.
The best calendar year by a Tampa Bay Lightning player in the history of the organization belongs to the man whose number is being retired in just a few weeks - Vincent Lecavalier. In 2007 Lecavalier strung together 57 goals and 58 assists for a grand total of 115 points, topping Sidney Crosby by one point for best in the league. Before any Pittsburgh apologists cry injury, Crosby actually played in one more game (83 to 82) over that stretch.
Kucherov duplicated Lecavalier’s feat by leading the league in points for 2017. The 104 points were two more than Connor McDavid, anointed by some as the “best player in the game today”, despite playing in two fewer games than the Edmonton star.
The casual fan might be surprised that Kucherov had more assists than goals because the little promotion that he gets from the NHL focuses on his goal-scoring prowess. For the Lightning fan, that assist number might be surprisingly low considering the number of times he’s elected to pass the puck instead of shooting it from a prime location. If he was more “selfish” that goal total might be even higher. Would the Lightning be a better team? That’s hard to say, especially since this season one of his main passing options is Stamkos.
Kucherov’s consistency over the year was admirable. During the 80 games over the course of the year he was held pointless in a game 21 times. Only once - ONE FREAKING TIME - did he go more than two games in a row without recording a point. He then followed that up with one of his more dominant scoring stretches, racking up 14 points in his next six games. Two things were constant as the sun rising in 2017, awkward social media interactions from people in power and Nikita Kucherov showing up in the box score after a Lightning game.
Not a bad return for a player making an average of $4.7 million a season. With 2018 underway and Kucherov not slowing down, he’s picked up points in three of the four games the Lightning have played this year, and his three-year extension might be the greatest bridge contract signed in the history of the Lightning, if not the NHL.
It’s rare that a team shells out that much money and can consider it a value, but on a cost-per-point basis, Kucherov’s $41,381 per point is fifth lowest for the Lightning this season. Brayden Point’s insane $9,770 per point is the best on the team and only trails Jonathan Marchessault’s $8,689 in the league. Over the 2017 calendar year, Kucherov’s cost-per-point is approximately $45,139, a number that is absurd for the best goal scorer in the league.
So, congratulations to Kucherov for being a stud in 2017 and congratulations to General Manager Steve Yzerman for using the leverage provided by the CBA to signing him to that contract.