Don’t expect the Oilers to pull a Kucherov with Evander Kane on the Long-Term Injured Reserve
By Cam Lewis1 year ago
Back in the NHL’s bubble playoffs in the summer of 2020, Nikita Kucherov logged 45:59 in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s quintuple-overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of their first-round series.
Following the game, it was revealed that Kucherov had pulled his groin. The 2019 Hart Trophy winner played through the injury and scored a league-leading 34 points over 25 playoff games, helping the Lightning win their first Stanley Cup since 2004.
A few months later, the Lightning announced that Kucherov would undergo hip surgery that would result in him missing the entirety of the pandemic-shortened 2021 season. While Kucherov’s absence was a big loss for the Lightning, placing him on the Long-Term Injured Reserve allowed the team to go be cap compliant through the season without having to jettison any other key players.
The Kucherov-less Lightning went 36-17-3 and finished third in the Central Division. When they kicked off their first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers, Kucherov suited up for the team in Game 1. Kucherov showed no signs of rust, as he again led the playoffs in scoring with 32 points in 23 games and the Lightning won their second of back-to-back Stanley Cups.
There was outrage that the Lightning simply allowed Kucherov to sit out for the latter part of the season rather than having him return when he was ready so that they could stay under the upper limit until the salary cap became irrelevant in the playoffs. Tampa used the LTIR to ultimately accrue a $98,840,470 cap hit over the course of the season, well over the upper limit of $81.5 million that had been set.
General manager Julien BriseBois defended the team’s handling of Kucherov, stating that “sometimes, the stars just 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 following the team’s Stanley Cup victory. “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.”
Was this actual cap circumvention? Was it just good luck? It doesn’t really matter, as nothing came of the situation and teams can still utilize the LTIR to help them navigate tricky salary cap situations.
Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
The Long-Term Injured Reserve is a relevant topic in Edmonton right now following Evander Kane suffering a gruesome wrist injury in the Oilers’ win over the Lightning earlier this week. Kane will be out for three-to-four months following wrist surgery and there’s a suggestion that the team should use the LTIR bonus cushion to acquire an impact player.
Kane has a $5.125 million cap hit, so him going on the LTIR would give the Oilers enough room to acquire a much-needed defender, such as Jakob Chychrun, who’s paid $4.6 million annually, right? Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. Just ask the Vegas Golden Knights.
Vegas pulled the trigger on a huge trade last November, sending Alex Tuch, Peyton Krebs, and draft picks to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Jack Eichel, their disgruntled captain who had requested a trade during the off-season.
Already pressed right up against the salary cap ceiling, the Golden Knights had some work to do in order to figure out how to fit Eichel and his $10.5 million salary under the upper limit. Eichel underwent neck surgery shortly after the trade was announced and the Golden Knights placed him on the LTIR so they had some time to sort the finances out. The expectation was that Vegas would dump some contracts ahead of the trade deadline or they’d pull a Tampa and just suddenly become fully healthy once the playoffs got started.
What wound up happening is the Golden Knights played a game of musical chairs in which one player came off the LTIR and another player went on the LTIR in his place to open up the salary cap room needed for the team to stay under the ceiling. Vegas never iced their ideal roster in 2021-22 and they wound up missing the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
Kane is expected to be out for three-to-four months, meaning he’ll return at some point between mid-February and mid-March, well before the start of the playoffs in mid-April. If the Oilers were to take on another significant contract while Kane is on the LTIR, they’d have to find a way to shed the same amount of money before he returns to play, otherwise, they’d go over the upper limit.
Another thing worth noting is that the league is cracking down on LTIR-related shenanigans more now since the outcry over what Tampa did in 2021. If the diagnosis on Kane is three-to-four months and there’s precedent for that specific recovery time, trying to push his return back a month or two so that he just makes it back for the playoffs could result in the Oilers being penalized by the league. Kane is also a competitive person and he surely wouldn’t respond well to being asked to sit around at home for an extra month while his team is playing down the stretch.
Having Kane on the LTIR will allow the Oilers the flexibility to operate with a full 23-man roster, which is something they couldn’t do over the first month of the season because of their salary cap commitments. Using the LTIR bonus cushion to add an impact player at this point will just create challenges down the road for the team to navigate, so don’t expect a big trade to be the response to Kane’s injury.
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