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Lightning GM defends Kucherov LTIR move: ‘Sometimes the stars align’

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois defended his team’s handling of Nikita Kucherov‘s injury and contract this season, saying “sometimes the stars align for you.”

“We had a player who was injured, needed surgery with about a five-month expected rehabilitation time. It just so happened with this season, because of the extraordinary circumstances, the regular season was only lasting four months,” BriseBois said in a press conference Saturday. “So he was able to have surgery, miss the entire season, we were able to get some cap relief during the season, and he was able to come back a little sooner than expected.”

Kucherov, the 2019 Hart Trophy winner, missed the entire season after undergoing hip surgery in December. The injury allowed the Lightning to place Kucherov on long-term injury reserve and — combined with LTIR contracts for Marian Gaborik and Anders Nilsson — maximize their spending under the cap without having to make any major subtractions from the roster.

According to CapFriendly.com, the Lightning finished the season with a league-high $98,840,470 cap hit, including $17,340,469 in salary on LTIR. The St. Louis Blues were a distant second at $90,143,266 in cap spending. The maximum salary cap was $81.5 million and 19 teams dipped into the LTIR pool at some point this season.

In April, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported the NHL had warned teams that it was watching for any questionable transactions. BriseBois confirmed Saturday the NHL investigated the Lightning’s handling of Kucherov’s contract and found that no rules were broken.

“When you place a player on long-term injury and get the salary cap exemption and this year, in particular, the NHL investigated I believe all of the LTIR requests. I know they investigated the Nikita Kucherov one,” BriseBois said. “We had to be able to justify the surgery, the rehab time, the return to play clearance to make sure everything was done according to the rules and according to the circumstances. Those were the cards that we were dealt and that’s how we handled it.”

Kucherov returned in time for Game 1 of the team’s opening-round series against the Florida Panthers and, through two rounds, leads all skaters with 18 playoff points in 11 games.

The Lightning open the semifinal round against the New York Islanders – a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Final – Sunday afternoon on Sportsnet and SN Now. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET/ 12 p.m. PT.

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