Nikita Kucherov vents: Lightning teammates ‘got their money, stopped working’

In an interview with Russian journalist Pavel Lysenkov for Sovetsky Sport, Nikita Kucherov offers a blunt analysis of why he had such a good season despite what he feels are failures by the Tampa Bay Lightning coaches and his teammates.

Sergey Demidova, NHL.com reporter for the Russian language version of the site, translated some of the biggest points of contention Kucherov spoke of during the interview.

Kucherov on the team after Steven Stamkos went out with a knee injury and decision(s) of who should play with Kucherov…

“We had great chemistry with Namestnikov and Stamkos at the start of the season. We understood each other really, really well. And then Stamkos was injured. I was very upset. I think those nine games were my best in the NHL.

“After that coaches started shuffling lines. Partners were changing like in kaleidoscope.

“It was very hard to used to it, because guys didn’t play at Stamkos level. It’s hard to explain how I played with them. We had lack of understanding each other, there were some problems. I was suffering torments all the season, because I couldn’t find perfect chemistry with other partners after Stamkos injury.

“We played with Jonathan Drouin once, and it was good, but coach didn’t put us together for some reason.”

Kucherov continued to weigh in on his teammates:

“And some guys overstayed in team. They’ve got their money and stopped working. They knew there’s no competition for their positions and organization is not going to take someone else.

“They played not really well this year – you can see it in their stats and way of play. When we played together and I made a pass, they even were not expecting this. That’s why this season was hard to me despite good stats.”

Joe Smith, Lightning beat writer for the Tampa Bay Times, tweeted the ‘quotes are accurate, albeit harshly translated, per source.’

Smith writes in his article:

These were some surprisingly candid comments from Kucherov, who was giving one word answers to media by the end of the season. He was in the first year of a three year bridge deal worth $4.6 million signed on the eve of the regular season. Kucherov has since switched agents, from Scott Greenspun to Dan Milstein. You wonder if there’s lingering issues with the team after that negotiation, Kucherov deciding he’d rather start the season on time and accept his deal as opposed to holding out.

It’s hard to say whom Kucherov is referring to on guys who got their money and “stopped working.” Alex Killorn was in the first year of a seven year deal. Kucherov’s former Triplets linemates Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are RFAs this summer. As is Drouin.

Raw Charge dives into the numbers behind Kucherov’s claims to see what argument he has here.

The statements are bombshells because Kucherov was arguably the Lightning’s best player this season, if not one of the best in the NHL.

Kucherov ended the regular season fifth in league scoring with 85 points in 74 games. The forward tied Auston Matthews with 40 goals, second only to Sidney Crosby’s 44.

Down the stretch of the regular season, Kucherov put the team on his back. In the final 20 games he registered 31 points. Tampa fell one point short of a playoff spot.

The Lightning have yet to make a statement on Kucherov’s interview.

GM Steve Yzerman already has a large list of ‘To Do’ items for this offseason. Now he can add ‘be a relationship therapist for team’ to it.

UPDATE:

Naturally, a few minutes after we go live with this article, Kucherov releases comments through his agent to calm things down.

Once again, from the great Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times:

(Note: ‘SY’ is Steve Yzerman.)

There you go.

Like most articles of this nature, the cleanup comes in the form of someone saying they were expressing frustration.

The Lightning have a couple months before training camp to let any feelings hurt feelings die down. By then Steven Stamkos will be back in one piece and reunited with Kucherov.

How the rest of the team is comprised remains to be seen. Stevie Y has to use his best Jedi mind-trick abilities to ink list of big name RFAs to reasonable deals.