Following the 2015-2016 season that saw the Lightning go to their second consecutive Eastern Conference Final, they had 5 top players becoming free agents. Nobody expected them to re-sign all 5 (Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov), but they somehow pulled it off. Locking down their core for the coming years, Stamkos received the highest deal at 68M over 8 seasons.
The Lightning seemingly let Kucherov walk, but he fell back in their lap on a 3-year bridge contract. He took less than market monetary value to stay with the Lightning and continue to develop its winning culture. At the time, I was going to bat for Kuch in saying that he should’ve gotten the better deal. Kucherov had enormous potential, and had the most playoff goals in the team in both the 2015 and 2016 playoffs. His waiting paid off when he broke out to become the leader of the Lightning. Becoming one of the best statistical players in the entire sport, Kucherov inked an 8-year, $76M contract extension. This is the highest contract the Lightning have ever given out.
A fan favorite in a city that’s become very hockey oriented, Kucherov is a staple in the city of Tampa. But not only that, he’s the staple and cornerstone of the best team in the NHL. As of the date published (February 21st), Nikita Kucherov has more points scored this season than any other player in the game (99). He’s becoming one of the quickest players in a single season to reach 100 points in the history of the NHL and he compares considerably better against former Hart Trophy winners than any other player in hockey in the 2018-2019 season.
There’s a lot of people in the media that refuse to give credit to Kucherov (just like they did when he was drafted, led the Lightning through the playoffs on multiple occasions, and had a monster 2017-2018 season). Patrick Kane, the second leading scorer, is on the .500 Blackhawks. The disparity in wins is huge (46 wins to 26). The argument is that Kucherov has more around him, considering Brayden Point and the aforementioned Stamkos are once again having great seasons. This is true, but the Lightning are an average at best playoff team without Kucherov. With Kucherov, however, they’re by far the best team in hockey and have 10 more wins than the second place Boston Bruins. I’m willing to put money on the fact that if you take Kucherov out of the Lightning, the season isn’t nearly as dominant. Kucherov adds the most to the Lightning than any other player and is the cog that keeps the machine running so crisply. The routes he takes is incredible, and he’s a selfless player that will assist anybody on the ice and is always in perfect positioning.
The Lightning franchise record for points in a single season was set by franchise icon Vincent Lecaveliar. His 108 is not only on pace to be broken by Kucherov, but also shattered. Kucherov is on pace for more than 130 points this season. The record shared by Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis for 68 assists in a single season has already been broken. Kucherov sits at 71 on the season thus far.
Steven Stamkos has never had a 100 point season. Nikita Kucherov is 1 point away from having back-to-back 100 point seasons. Kucherov is the Bolts active playoff points and goals leader. He is 4 playoff goals and 9 points from breaking Marty St. Louis’ franchise records. Kucherov has certainly overtaken Stamkos as the face of the franchise; and anybody who thinks otherwise should honestly just quit watching hockey while they believe that they’re ahead. Just over 100 players have ever scored over 100 points in a single NHL season; and Kucherov has a chance to do it tonight for the second time. There’s still 21 games left in the season and Kucherov could still deliver some monster damage.
Among all of the players in hockey who have at least 50 minutes on ice this year, Nikita Kucherov has the most points scored a game on average (over 5). In the top 20, only 3 players have less time on ice than Kucherov does. This is very telling because he scores at a much higher rate than hockey’s most durable players and has played in all of the Lightning’s games this season. Nobody in hockey has been more efficient than Kucherov, and it takes a player that efficient to be an integral, prominent piece on a Cup favorite. His dominance cannot be topped by anybody in the NHL, and that is why he shouldn’t be punished for the team he played for.
Since the 2004 strike-shortened season, only 2 players (Carey Price and Taylor Hall) have won the MVP due to the argument against Kucherov. It didn’t matter for Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin, who had arguably better teams around him than Kucherov does now. Is it because of the reputation of the two? Potentially. However, it doesn’t matter. Kucherov’s the most dominant player in hockey in nearly every facet.
He is undoubtedly the best player in hockey and the most valuable because of what he values when he’s on the ice. He is the Bolts. And barring a very historic meltdown to close out the season, he should definitely be the odds on favorite as he looks to bring the Lord Stanley’s Cup to the Bay for the first time since 2004.
Who do you think is the Hart favorite as things stand right now?
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