Restricted free agent Filip Forsberg's six-year, $36-million contract extension with the Nashville Predators, announced Monday, was a slam-dunk deal.
In 2015-16 left winger Forsberg, 21, became the franchise's first player in six years to crack 30 goals, equalling Jason Arnott's team record of 33. Forsberg has averaged 29.5 goals and 63.5 points over his first two full NHL seasons, playing all 164 games. He's safe, he's young, and he's already the best young scorer in Preds history. Six years at $6 million per? Fair deal for both sides. General manager David Poile has about $7.1 million in remaining cap space to play with for 2016-17. Some will go to re-signing RFA Calle Jarnkrok but, assuming Poile lets unrestricted free agents Paul Gaustad and Carter Hutton walk, he may have enough cash left for a medium-impact free agent signing.
Nashville can feel good about Forsberg's deal. It's an open-and-shut case. Forsberg got about exactly what we figured he'd get. What's more interesting is pondering how it'll affect negotiations involving a player with a comparable resume: Tampa Bay Lightning right winger Nikita Kucherov.
Kucherov's regular season stat lines are virtually indistinguishable from Forsberg's over the past two seasons. Kucherov has scored 29 and 30 goals and 65 and 66 points. His 30-goal, 66-point effort this season was a slight spike in per-game production given he missed five games. Kucherov, 23, has done enough to bypass a bridge deal, just as Forsberg did, and his base asking price can start at Forsberg's $6-million cap hit.
But, really, Kucherov should command more. He has an extra season of NHL service, having played 52 games in 2013-14. More importantly, Kucherov has a sparkling playoff resume. He's played 43 games in the past two springs during two long Lightning runs, ripping off 21 goals and 41 points over that span. He's established himself as one of the league's best big-game scorers.
Kucherov, then, has the look of a $7-million player or something close, slotting him just below the $7.5-million AAV Vladimir Tarasenko got from the St. Louis Blues last off-season. Sounds about right. And, as long as Ben Bishop and his $5.95-million cap hit remain in tow, a major Kucherov extension should make it dicey to re-sign Steven Stamkos. Especially when the likes of Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Victor Hedman need new deals next summer.
Kucherov has been talked up as a serious offer-sheet candidate this off-season. General manager Steve Yzerman responded in kind with a qualifying offer to Kucherov, announced Monday, which ensures the Lightning the right of first refusal or draft-pick compensation in the event of an offer sheet.
Forsberg's signing was predictable and thus may not have seemed like big news, but it could be a domino transaction. It set the market for Kucherov, whether that's for a long-term deal with Tampa Bay or for an offer sheet, and Kucherov's fate could impact Stamkos', too. Things are about to get very interesting.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin