Lightning sign Nikita Kucherov to three-year ‘bridge’ extension

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Don't look now, but the Tampa Bay Lightning have convinced yet another key piece to take a discount and sign an extension with the team.

Nikita Kucherov is the latest to do so, signing a three-year deal worth just under $14.3 million on Tuesday. The deal comes with an average annual value of $4.766 million.

That's great value for Kucherov, who was reportedly looking for around $6 million annually as a restricted free agent. The 23-year-old winger has become a vital part of the Lightning's potent offensive attack, scoring 59 goals over the past two seasons.

Kucherov presumably agreed to a discounted “bridge” contract to help out with Tampa's current cap crunch, as the team had just under $6 million in cap space free prior to the deal. General manager Steve Yzerman is looking to save money anywhere he can, as he also has several key RFAs — Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat — to sign next offseason.

Convincing athletes to leave money on the table doesn't seem easy, but Yzerman has done a great job at convincing his guys that it will be worth it if they stick around in Tampa. Both Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos, who was supposed to be the prize of free agency this offseason, decided to re-up on long-term deals for less money than they would have gotten on the open market. Hedman re-upped on an eight-year, $63 million ($7.875 million AAV) extension while Stamkos agreed to eight years at $68 million ($8.5 million AAV).

With the team's superstars making under market value, it likely becomes a little easier to sway guys like Kucherov to take a bridge deal, possibly with a promise to make it up to them with an overpayment on their next contract.

Yzerman has taken great strides to keep the very young and very talented core of this Lightning team in place for years to come, but he's still got some challenges ahead when it comes to keeping his guys happy and under the cap.