The Capitals have re-signed restricted free agent center Evgeny Kuznetsov to a two-year, $6 million contract.
The deal seems to be a perfect compromise between the two sides. Kuznetsov, 23, carried a $900,000 base salary last season but averaged $2.825 million because of bonuses. By signing a two-year deal, Kuznetsov will have a chance to prove he can be a regular producer at the NHL level before cashing in on a deal that rivals the one he left in the KHL, where he earned $3.8 million in his final season in Russia.
The deal is also a good one for the Capitals because it keeps Kuznetsov a restricted free agent. He will be two years away from unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of his contract.
With Kuznetsov under contract the Caps now have about $10.9 million in salary cap space while still needing to sign goaltender Braden Holtby and forward Marcus Johansson, each of whom filed for arbitration on Sunday. Holtby’s cap hit is expected to fall somewhere between $5 million and $6 million, while Johansson figures to come it at between $3.5 million and $4 million. Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said he would like to enter the 2015-16 season with a salary cushion of at least $1 million.
Taken by the Caps with the 26th overall selection of the 2010 NHL draft, Kuznetsov earned 37 points (11 goals, 26 assists) in 80 games with the Caps last season, marking the most points a Capitals rookie has registered in a season since John Carlson (37) in 2010-11.
The 6-foot-2, 204-pound center also became the 13th rookie in franchise history to earn 25 assists in a season. Kuznetsov registered five multi-point games last season and scored on four consecutive shootout attempts, matching the longest streak in the NHL. He led all Capitals rookies in goals (11), assists (26), points (37) and games played (80) and ranked eighth among NHL rookies in assists (26) and ninth in points (37).
Kuznetsov recorded seven points (five goals, two assists) in 14 games with the Capitals during the 2015 playoffs. He scored two goals and added an assist in Game 5 against the Islanders in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, marking his first three career playoff points. Kuznetsov became the second player in franchise history to record his first three playoff points in the same game, joining Sergei Gonchar (5/6/95 at PIT: 2g, 1a). He is one of five rookies in franchise history to score two goals in a playoff game, joining Marcus Johansson (4/20/11 at NYR: 2g), Richard Zednik (5/28/98 at BUF: 2g, 1a), Sergei Gonchar (5/6/95 at PIT: 2g, 1a) and Andre Burakovsky (5/6/15 vs. NYR: 2g). In addition, Kuznetsov became the third rookie in Capitals playoff history to record three points in a game, joining Zednik and Gonchar.
In Game 7 against the Islanders, Kuznetsov scored the game-winning goal with 7:18 remaining in the third period in the Capitals 2-1 victory. Kuznetsov is the first rookie in Capitals playoff history to score a series-clinching goal in a Game 7 and is one of six rookies in NHL history to score the game-winning goal in a Game 7 decided by a one-goal margin. The others are Toronto's Gerry Ehman in 1953 (at Boston), Montreal's Claude Lemieux in 1986 (vs. Hartford in OT), Calgary's Perry Berezan in 1986 (at Edmonton), Dallas' Roman Lyashenko in 2000 (vs. Colorado) and New Jersey’s Adam Henrique in 2012 (vs. Florida in 2OT). Kuznetsov finished the postseason ranked tied for first among Capitals skaters in goals and tied for fourth on the team in points.
Kuznetsov has represented Russia at three World Championships (2012, 2013, 2014), two World Junior Championships (2011, 2012) and two World U18 Championships (2009, 2010). The Chelyabinsk, Russia, native won a gold medal with Russia at the 2012 and 2014 World Championship and at the 2011 World Junior Championship. In 2012, Kuznetsov captained Russia to a silver medal at the World Junior Championship and was named to the tournament all-star team, the tournament’s best forward, one of the top-3 best players on his team and won the tournament MVP.