- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2015

One of the Washington Capitals‘ final pieces of their offseason puzzle has fallen into place.

Evgeny Kuznetsov, who became a restricted free agent when his contract expired on July 1, has signed a two-year, $6 million deal to return, the team announced Monday evening.

The 23-year-old center, who received a $400,000 signing bonus, will make $2.2 million during the 2015-16 season and then $3.4 million the following season. That “bridge deal” will allow the Capitals to continue to pursue signing two other restricted free agents, goaltender Braden Holtby and left wing Marcus Johansson, with the meager amount of money they have available under the salary cap.

It will also work in favor of Kuznetsov, who recently completed his first full season with the Capitals. He will receive a modest pay bump over the $900,000 he commanded this past season, but will also be a restricted free agent again in two years, having not accrued seven seasons nor reached age 27 by the time it expires.

That could allow the center, who anchored the Capitals‘ second line in the second half of the season, to receive a larger payday and long-term contract when the new deal expires.

Kuznetsov, a first-round pick by Washington in 2010, didn’t make his debut with the team until March 2014, after his contract with his hometown team, Traktor Chelyabinsk of the Russia-based KHL, had expired.

He scored 11 goals and had 26 assists in the regular season, but then had a breakout performance in the playoffs, when he had five goals and two assists. he scored two goals in Game 5 of Washington’s first-round series against the New York Islanders, then scored the game-winning goal with 7:18 remaining in Game 7 of that series.

Kuznetsov will count for $3 million against the Capitals‘ salary cap, leaving them with just over $10 million to sign Holtby and Johansson and get through the upcoming season.

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