Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov is expected to miss the entire regular season because of a hip injury that requires surgery.

General manager Julien BriseBois ruled out Kucherov on Wednesday for the 56-game season that begins Jan. 13 and ends May 8. Kucherov played through a groin injury in the playoffs on the way to helping the Lightning win the Stanley Cup in late September. He complained of the hip problem in early December.

Losing the 2019 NHL MVP and leading scorer from the 2020 playoffs is a major blow to the defending champions, but they’ll be able to use long-term injury relief from Kucherov’s $9.5 million salary-cap hit to re-sign their final key restricted free agent, centre Anthony Cirelli. BriseBois said Tampa Bay had the framework of a contract in place with Cirelli.

Kucherov, 27, had a post-season-best 34 points on seven goals and 27 assists in the NHL bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. He led the league in scoring with 128 points in the 2018-19 season to earn Hart Trophy honours.

The Lightning are making the most of the bad injury news by getting other signings done this week. On Tuesday, they re-signed Erik Cernak to an $8.85 million, three-year deal and brought back fellow defenceman Jan Rutta for $2.6 million over two years. On Wednesday, they re-signed forward Mathieu Joseph for $1.475 million over two years and Alex Volkov for $700,000 this season.

Without Kucherov's injury, Tampa Bay likely would have needed to trade a key player to get under the $81.5 million salary cap that's flat in light of the pandemic. The team put veteran forward Tyler Johnson on waivers in October to clear his $5 million off the books, but he went unclaimed by the league's other 30 teams.


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