The Tampa Bay Lightning have placed center Riley Nash on waivers today. Earlier in the day, the Lightning also re-assigned defenseman Darren Raddysh from the taxi squad to the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. While many were speculating that the Raddysh move signaled the return of Kucherov, the waiving of Nash is a much stronger signal that Nikita Kucherov is ready to return to the line-up Thursday night at home against the Calgary Flames.
The Lightning claimed Riley Nash on waivers from the Winnipeg Jets on December 7th. This was a time where the Lightning were dealing with some injury issues with both Kucherov and Brayden Point out of the line-up. Nash helped fill in the gap and played center on the fourth line during his short tenure with the Lightning. Prior to joining the Lightning, Nash played 15 games for the Jets without recording a point. He played in ten games for the Lightning and also did not record a point.
Nash provided some solid depth minutes for the Lightning playing a good defensive game while being flanked by a sometimes rotating cast of wingers as the Lightning had to fill in with some depth players while others were out with injuries and Covid protocol issues. He averaged 11:22 TOI and contributed on the penalty kill and won 52.9% of his faceoffs.
Nikita Kucherov has been out of the line up since October 16th, the third game of the season, with a groin injury that required surgery. He’s been nearing a return to game action, having been spotted at practices skating for a couple weeks now. The return of Kucherov, who has only played in three regular season games over the past two seasons, will be another big boost to the offense especially with the return of Brayden Point a few games ago. The power play has been a little anemic with the absence of both, and plugging Kucherov back in on the right wing of the first power play unit will provide an instant boost with the man advantage.
While Kucherov was out of the line-up, the Lightning were able to place him on Long Term Injured Reserve and didn’t have to worry too much about the salary cap since then. It’s allowed the team the freedom to call up players as needed for injury and Covid protocol replacements for the past two and a half months.
With Kucherov coming off of LTIR though, that meant that the Lightning needed to get back to their opening night roster to be salary cap compliant. That meant waiving one of the forwards. Riley Nash was always the most likely option because he was free to acquire and was a stop-gap solution to the team’s injuries. The only other possibility was Boris Katchouk, whose low point output and contract could have dissuaded other teams from claiming him. The only reason I could have seen the Lightning risking waiving Katchouk is that keeping Nash would have improved the center depth of the team.
In waiving Nash, the Lightning are indicating they’re fine with their center depth moving forward. If the Jets are the only team to claim Nash (which seems likely given that he hasn’t recorded a point in 25 games this season), they will be able to take him back and assign him directly to their AHL team. If no team, including the Jets, claim him, then the Lightning would be able to assign him to the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL. It’s also a possibility that should he go back to the Jets and the AHL, that the Lightning could consider flipping one of their two seventh round picks, or future considerations, or some other AHL piece to the Jets for Nash to keep him in the organization and keep him as a depth option if the need should arise again.