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Hamilton: Hurricanes lost to Lightning team '$18M over the cap'

Scott Audette / National Hockey League / Getty

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton made a point of the fact the Tampa Bay Lightning were significantly above the NHL's $81.5-million salary cap during the playoffs.

Hamilton was asked Thursday how close the Hurricanes are to capturing a Stanley Cup after losing to the Lightning in five games.

"It's hard to say. We're definitely close. We had a great season. We lost to a team that's $18 million over the cap, or whatever they are," Hamilton told reporters.

The Lightning's final cap hit was $98.8 million, according to CapFriendly. That's $17.3 million over the league's ceiling.

"I don't have a problem with it, you just realize how good that team was," Hamilton added.

Tampa Bay was able to legally circumvent the cap in the regular season primarily because Nikita Kucherov - who carries a $9.5-million average annual value - spent the entire season on long-term injured reserve. That meant his contract didn't count against the salary cap.

There is no salary cap in the playoffs, which is why Kucherov was allowed to return with no repercussions.

After spending all season recovering from offseason hip surgery, Kucherov has shown no signs of rust in the playoffs, leading the league with 18 points in 11 games.

Had he not missed the entire season, the Lightning would've faced a cap crunch that likely would've necessitated moving a player such as Alex Killorn. The team put Tyler Johnson ($5-million average annual value) on waivers in the offseason, but there were no takers.

The Chicago Blackhawks famously did something similar in 2015. By placing Patrick Kane on long-term injured reserve in February, the Hawks used that cap room to add Kimmo Timonen and Antoine Vermette for their playoff run. Kane returned for the postseason opener en route to Chicago's third Stanley Cup in six years.

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