TAMPA — We can ease up on the Brayden Point alarm.
With each announcement of a Lightning minor-league signing this offseason, fans’ responses on Twitter have been about the same. “Sign Point please” when the team re-signed defenseman Dominik Masin. “What’s the Point?” to defenseman Ben Thomas’ new contract.
One Twitter user, @bustdstuff, changed her name to JustSignBraydenPointAlready.
But not having Point, a restricted free agent, under contract in July is not a crisis for the Lightning. If he’s not signed by October, there is a problem.
But every indication points to Tampa Bay and Point coming to terms before the season starts.
“I expect to be back,” he said at the end of the season.
General manager Julien BriseBois has not shared details of his meetings with Point’s agent, Gerry Johannson, other than their beverage choices at one meeting (tea for the GM, coffee for Johannson). But BriseBois has consistently called the meetings productive.
Reports said the Canadiens inquired about submitting an offer sheet to Point before they instead gave one to the Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho, another Johannson client. (Carolina matched the offer sheet.) If Point or his agent indicated he wouldn’t sign an offer sheet with another team, it means he wants to stay here.
So what’s the issue? In short, the delay is because contract negotiations are tricky.
The Lightning doesn’t have much salary cap space. It has $5.6 million available under next season’s $81.5 million cap, according to the salary website CapFriendly, but it can exceed the cap limit by up to $5.8 million if Ryan Callahan is placed on long-term injured reserve because of a degenerative back problem revealed after last season. It’s likely that’s what will be done with Callahan, so, Tampa Bay has up to about $11.4 million to work with.
Another issue is the length of a Point deal. Point is five years from unrestricted free agency, thus making that the ideal term.
The Lightning could go one of two ways with a Point deal. It could lock Point up in a long-term contract that would keep him into unrestricted free agency. Or it could do what it usually does with players such as Point coming off entry-level deals: go with a three-year bridge contract (see: Tyler Johnson’s three-year, $10 million deal or Nikita Kucherov’s three-year, $14.3 million contract before their current deals).
Salary projections by the EvolvingWild statistics trackers have a three-year contract for Point that would be about $7 million annual average value. But that’s not rated as a likely deal, with a 6 percent probability. Instead, a five- or six-year deal around $8 million annually is rated most likely.
But why haven’t the Lightning and Point figured this out yet?
BriseBois has said the offseason schedule dictates the order in which players are signed. First the draft takes the bulk of management’s attention. Before free agency starts July 1, teams want to lock up their pending unrestricted free agents. Next comes signing unrestricted free agents after the market opens. Then come arbitration-eligible restricted free agents (those who have played a certain number of years based on their signing age, four for Point), before the arbitration deadline. Finally, full attention turns to non-arbitration restricted free agents.
BriseBois and Johannson have been in contact throughout all the above, but a deadline hasn’t been hanging over them. Now, the deadline is the start of training camp in September.
Aho and defenseman Jacob Trouba are the only top-level restricted free agents to have signed so far. And both have extenuating circumstances: Aho had the offer sheet, and Trouba refused to re-sign with the Jets because his fiance is pursuing a medical career in the United States. Trouba was traded to the Rangers and signed with them.
The big piece that still must fall is Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner. Toronto’s cap situation is tighter than the Lightning’s. The Maple Leafs are already over the cap, with up to $10.5 million of potential long-term injured reserve relief. Reports say Marner wants to match teammates’ Auston Matthews’ and John Tavares’ $11 million-a-year contracts.
That would be one heck of a comparable, so it makes sense for other players to want to see what happens there. There’s a but, though.
Marner and the Leafs don’t appear to be close on a deal. How long does Point, or any other restricted free agent, want to wait on them?
One general manager suggested to ESPN that Point will be the one to break the stalemate.
So keep waiting for him. But there’s no need for Lightning fans to be alarmed. Yet.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.