Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Bolts Preview: Nikita Kucherov Jersey Card

This will likely be the preface to all of this year's Season Preview posts: 2020 is a different beast and requires adaptability; in my case, it means the joint posts with my "main/personal" blog will not be in the "player here/analysis there" format but rather the entire scope of the analysis will take place here and the player will have some sort of direct connection to what's written. Caveats: at this point, despite the season being set to start in Mid-January, several impact players haven't found a team yet and quite a few teams are currently above the salary cap, which means there is much maneuvering left to do.

One team whose cap cunnundrum was solved today is the Tampa Bay Lightning, who not only have the strongest team on paper but are also the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Unfortunately, the $9.5M in cap space comes in the form of an injury to star Nikita Kucherov that will see him miss the entire regular-season.

What makes their odds look good:
Despite losing Kucherov, they essentially replace him in-house with the return of captain Steven Stamkos, who missed half of last season and all but one playoff game, and a forward corps that still includes Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, Anthony Cirelli, Alex Killorn, Blake Coleman, Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde, which means goals will still come often for the Bolts. Add a Vezina-winning goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy, a Norris and Conn Smythe winner in Victor Hedman, a possible future Norris winner in Mikhail Sergachev, former All-Star Ryan McDonagh and a good support cast on defense and you've got one of the best teams in the salary cap era (although weaker than last season's with the departures of Zach Bogosian, Kevin Shattenkirk and the inevitable one or two pieces to leave for cap room (Johnson is a regular on the rumour circuit while I personally believe Braydon Coburn might fall victim to a bottom-role salary purge).

Question marks:
The only question mark I would normally have would be with head coach Jon Cooper suffering from messaging fatigue, but a Cup buys him leeway even if he fares badly during this shortened season, although I do not see that happening.

Tampa woud be first in any division, but placing them in the Central means they can even rest players during back-to-backs and move guys in and out of the Taxi Squad in the hopes of staying fresh for the playoffs. If the players accept to sacrifice statistical milestones for legitimate shots at multiple championships, that's one way to to have a clear path to another one.

First in the Central Division.

Kucherov's presence will be missed. While he's taken up more and more room as the years have passed - room that became legitimate as he had led the team in scoring for the past five seasons - this has been Stamkos' and Hedman's team for roughly a decade at this point, and #86 has merely been filling up the opposition's net for them, enough to have played in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 All-Star Games, which is where this card comes into play:
It's card #AS-NK from Upper Deck's 2018-19 SP Game-Used Edition and All-Star Skills Fabrics sub-set, featuring a swatch from the jersey in the picure, used in the 2018 NHL All-Star Skills Competition. Because of the talent in Tampa, Kucherov's career has been a bit overlooked at times, but he has three types of impressive numbers.

First, the comparisons:
His 529 points (212 goals, 317 points) in 463 games over the past six seasons are tied with Chicago Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane for the most in the NHL.

He also holds Lightning team records (the same team tghat once employed Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St-Louis):
Most Playoff Points - 95
Most Career Playoff Goals - 36
Most Career Playoff Assists - 59
Most points in a single season, 128 (2018–19)
Most assists in a single season, 87 (2018–19)
Most points in a single calendar month, 30 (2018–19)
Most assists in a single calendar month, 21 (2018–19)
Most consecutive games with a point to start a season, 11 (2017–18)
Most consecutive games with a goal to start a season, 7 (2017–18)
Most points in a single playoff season, 34 (2019–20)
Most assists in a single playoff season, 27 (2019–20)
He also holds two NHL records:
Most assists in a single season by a winger, 87 (2018–19) (Shared with Jaromír Jágr)
Most points in a single season by a Russian-born player, 128 (2018–19)
And he's still just 27 years old!

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