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Nikita Kucherov signs 8-year, $76 million contract extension with Lightning

Nikita Kucherov

Nikita Kucherov is sticking in Tampa Bay long-term. | Matt Marton/AP Photo

The Lightning locked up high-scoring winger Nikita Kucherov with an eight-year, $76 million contract extension Tuesday. The deal, which starts with the 2019-20 season, has an annual cap hit of $9.5 million, which makes him the highest-paid player on the team.

Kucherov, 25, has been one of the most productive players in the NHL over the past couple seasons. He broke out in 2016-17 with 40 goals and 45 assists in 74 games, then raised his play to another level with 39 goals and 61 assists in 80 games last season. The Lightning’s top line, anchored by Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, ranks among the league’s best.

The move further solidifies the core in Tampa Bay, which has seemingly used the tax benefits offered by the state of Florida to sign players at lower costs than expected. Kucherov could’ve hit the open market next summer, where he would’ve received offers far higher than $9.5 million per year, but GM Steve Yzerman has had luck retaining his top players with lengthy extensions.

Stamkos and Tyler Johnson are signed through 2023-24, Victor Hedman through 2024-25, Ryan McDonagh through 2025-26 and now Kucherov through 2026-27.

Kucherov is the most expensive of those contracts, although he’s still coming in at a cap hit lower than many other recent deals for top stars. His $9.5 million cap hit is set to be tied for 10th-highest in the NHL for 2019-20, per Cap Friendly. But as noted when Stamkos signed in 2016, the lack of a state income tax in Florida means that he’ll likely be taking home more money than many of his peers with bigger deals when all is said and done.