After a week of good news regarding player signings, a lump of coal was thrust into Lightning fan’s stockings on Wednesday when General Manager Julien BriseBois announced that former Hart Trophy winner and all-around super-talented winger Nikita Kucherov will be out for the entire 2020-21 season as he will undergo hip surgery. Kucherov becomes the third Tampa Bay Lightning player in recent years, after Yanni Gourde and Brayden Point, to have similar types of procedures done. The team does expect him to make a full recovery.
GM Julien BriseBois on Nikita Kucherov during today’s availability: “Unfortunately, [he] has a hip injury that will require surgery.... that means he will not be available to play this upcoming regular season.”— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) December 23, 2020
The Lightning are losing one of the top-five players in the league, a forward who has racked up 529 points (212 goals, 317 assists) since his first full season in the NHL in 2014-15. That’s tied for most in the league with Patrick Kane. He is the Lightning’s top right-wing forward and the key to their power play.
Even with a healthy Steven Stamkos returning to the ice this season, this leaves a gaping hole in the Lightning’s offense that will be impossible to replace and dramatically alters the roster for a team that was close to returning an identical line-up to the one that won the Stanley Cup just last season. Coach Jon Cooper will most likely spend the bulk of the upcoming training camp restructuring the lines to lessen the blow to the offense.
The only silver lining is that with Kucherov’s entire contract now eligible to be placed on Long Term Injury Relief, the Lightning should be able to re-sign Anthony Cirelli to a fair deal and still be cap-compliant at the beginning of the season. During his virtual press conference, Mr. BriseBois indicated that they have a framework for Cirelli’s deal and he’s comfortable with it.
While that is good news, it is not enough to offset the loss the team is going to suffer on the ice. Defending the Cup just became a lot tougher.