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Were the Tampa Bay Lightning Overplaying Nikita Kucherov's Injury to Evade the NHL's Salary Cap?

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Conspiracy theories and sports go together like trolls and Twitter. Reactions ranging from mumbled mutters to outright accusations regarding biased officiating, players dogging it, and other nefarious schemes to either promote or persecute one team or individual have been the foodstuff of fan fodder since the first Olympiad, when supporters of Aeropos accused Aeschylus of sneaking a pebble in their main man’s sandal just before the big race. Usually, such chatter is easily dismissed; for example, if NASCAR was as prone to favoritism as has oft been the cry it is utterly logical to assume Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have won more Cup championships than he did during his racing career, the number of such titles being exactly zero. That said, sometimes you have to wonder.

In this vein of “Things that make you go hmm,” we present Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov is a genuine bonafide stud, with a Stanley Cup and an MVP award to his credit. There’s no questioning his skill.

The question on the mind of many hockey fans is, what exactly did Kucherov do to warrant hip surgery last December that took him off the ice for the entirety of the 2021 season? Which, in a side issue that is doubtless purely coincidental, helped the Lightning fit underneath the salary cap they were hard up against before Kucherov went on long-term injured reserve? Nah, that couldn’t possibly be it … oh, wait, you mean Kucherov has come back just in time for the postseason and hasn’t missed a beat? The devil you say! (As opposed to the New Jersey Devils.)

Now, one might be tempted to say, “Let’s calm down here.” Surely a team, even one as loaded as the Lightning, wouldn’t keep one of their main players off the ice with a conveniently timed, and length of time out of action, “injury” just to balance the books? Why, that could endanger Tampa Bay’s ability to make the playoffs!

Here’s the everlasting rub. As valuable as Kucherov is to his team, even without him the only way the Lightning were going to miss

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