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Situation Brewing in Tampa Bay When it Comes to Nikita Kucherov

Team are watching the Tampa Bay Lightning closely as Nikita Kucherov is back on the ice, but being pegged to return until the playoffs.

Nikita Kucherov Tampa Bay Lightning

When the Tampa Bay Lightning put Nikita Kucherov on LTIR, there was speculation he might not be back at all during this shortened regular season. But with recent news he’s back skating and on pace to return for the start of the playoffs, some are wondering if the Lightning could run into a problem if he’s ready earlier.

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Joe Smith of the Athletic notes that the 27-year-old actually did some light work with Tampa Bay in practice but is still long way away from being ready to return. That’s not what fans from other teams and some other media are suggesting. While Kucherov doesn’t at all look like he’s close to 100%, should his recovery take a positive turn, what happens?

The Lightning can’t afford to activate him off LTIR at all this season due to their salary cap situation. If he’s skating now, will it really take another two months for him to get back up to speed? Arpon Basu of the Athletic asks, “Just asking, but what happens if Kucherov is healthy ahead of schedule? Would the Lightning be allowed to keep a healthy Kucherov out of the lineup for cap reasons and then add him for the playoffs?” It was a question Pierre LeBrun decided to answer.

LeBrun responded that the Lightning are obliged to make room for him or in theory they can’t use him. He adds, “Which, again in theory, could affect his playoff availability. Call me naïve but I don’t think the Cup champs are playing around with this. The league is watching.”

Nikita Kucherov

Is This Cap Circumvention or Just Interesting Timing?

This is a situation that will certainly be worth keeping an eye on. For Tampa Bay, this has to be great news that one of their best players is looking like he could be back this season. For the rest of the NHL — at least those that are skeptics — if Kucherov looks good but doesn’t return right away, it’s cap circumvention.

Some are already suggesting the Lightning aren’t being honest about Kucherov’s condition. Dejan Kovacevic, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Penguins writes, “Yeah, no, this stinks of cheating. Can’t manipulate LTIR to be cap compliant. If Kucherov stays on the ice for a regular practice, as he did, he isn’t two months away from being ready. Where’s the NHL on this?”

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