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Lightning Round: Some thoughts on the Nikita Kucherov situation

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He’s back on the ice and in the heads of other fans

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

There was a jolt of excitement running though the Tampa Bay Lightning fandom this weekend when word surfaced that Nikita Kucherov was on the ice during the morning skate. Excitement for Lightning fans; disgruntlement for the rest of the NHL. It’s always fun when people get upset at the same thing multiple times.

When it was first announced that Kucherov was undergoing hip surgery and his recovery would last roughly the entire regular season, fans outside of the Tampa area cried foul...well, actually they cried circumvention. How dare the Lightning cast aside the rules that all other teams must abide by and work with their own salary cap? Of course, they forgot the part where Tampa Bay would be without the best player (non-goalie, non-defenseman division) on the team.

So that was a fun news cycle for about 48 hours. Now, with Kucherov taking his first steps on the ice as the next part of his rehab, the same complaints are coming from the same people (how ya doin’ Leaf fans?). Look, y’all already brought this up. Find something else to complain about.

The Lightning are doing everything by the book, much like they have done throughout the Vinik Era. Is the timing extremely fortunate for them? Were they able to weather the cap storm this offseason because of it? Yes on both counts. Still, other teams could have taken advantage of the situation by throwing some offer sheets around or actually pulling off a trade for Tyler Johnson, weakening their offense. No one did that. So hear we are.

There are ten weeks left until the playoffs start and Kucherov can return to the team without cap implications. It looks like the Lightning will make the playoffs (they are twelve points ahead of fifth-place Columbus with three games in hand). Their offense hasn’t missed a beat without their most creative playmaker and Andrei Vasilevskiy seems determined to carry the team to the top seed all by himself.

Ten weeks isn’t that long of time when a player is rehabbing. Just because he’s on the ice right now doesn’t mean he’s ready to play tomorrow. It’s not just the skating, it’s being able to take or throw a hit. It’s playing on back-to-back nights and working through scar tissue. He needs to be at the top of the game when he returns, not 75% or 80%. Once he’s back at full strength, then it’s getting his rhythm back and rounding into game shape. It’s not like he’s coming back to play a preseason game against Nashville, he’s going to be thrown right into the playoffs.

The Bolts aren’t going to rush Kucherov through this. They have a pretty solid history of making sure their players are really healthy before they let them back on the ice. Look at the history of Steven Stamkos for example. From his blood clot a few seasons ago to the core injury last season, they were overly cautious with his rehab. The same will go with Kucherov.

The problem does arise if Kucherov is ahead of schedule with his rehab. The team literally can’t afford for him to return early. That is one thing the league will be monitoring closely but there really isn’t much they can do about it short of strapping Nikita to a lie detector and asking him if he’s healthy enough to return.

So, as Lightning fans, I suppose we do have to be kind to the critics. If Toronto or Chicago was doing something similar we’d be raising similar concerns. While the Bolts haven’t violated the letter of the law in regards to the salary cap, they sure as heck are kicking the crap out of the spirit of the rules. That’s what good teams do. Trading for contracts on LTIR can be considered violating the spirit of the salary cap, yet many teams do it and no one bats an eye.

So let the other fans complain. It isn’t going to change anything. The Lightning will still have a second Stanley Cup in their trophy case, they will still be one of the best teams in the league, and come playoff time, the good lord willing and the creek don’t rise, they will add a world class player to their line-up (triggering yet another round of people complaining about the same thing).

Lightning Links

Brayden Point still leaving teammates awestruck

Brayden Point is 25-years-old. On one hand that seems really young. On the other, it means he’s entered the “veteran” stage of his career. He may be getting older, but he’s not slowing down. He was a dynamo against Nashville on Saturday.

Lightning fans are to quick to dismiss Jan Rutta

Rutta is a bit of a lightning rod for the local fandom. He’s at his best when you don’t really notice him on the ice (the curse of being a defenseman). At his worst, Lightning fans want him banished to the furthest outpost from the Tampa Bay area (would that be Winnipeg?). In the end, he’s a perfectly average defenseman.

Vinik Foundation donates $50k to local food truck

First of all, “Pop Goes the Waffle” is a great name. The local food truck/business was the first to recieve a $50,000 marketing grant as part of the Vinik Foundation’s “Back the Bay” initiative. They will hand out nine more grants over the next ten months to local businesses.

Your Coleman Family Moment of Cuteness

Hockey Highlights

NHL.com’s top moments of the year...so far

Did any Lightning moment’s make it on this list? No. (checks standings) That’s ok. We’ll wait till the end of the season and see if they make a list or two.

Jack Johnson on waivers

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Senators beat Leafs behind stellar play from Joey Daccord

Maybe Leafs fans are worried about the Lightning’s cap situation because they’re upset that their team can’t beat the Ottawa Senators. On Sunday it was Joey Daccord making 33 saves in a 4-3 victory over the Leafs. Ottawa has now beaten Toronto three times in six games this season, but at least they didn’t lose to a Zamboni driver.

One more look at Brayden Point’s goal from Saturday night