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Lightning to open camp without Brayden Point

As Tampa Bay starts its preseason on Thursday, here’s a look at how the roster shapes up.
The Lightning will start training camp without Brayden Point, who remains without a contract. [SHADD, DIRK | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Sep. 11
Updated Sep. 12

Training camp is hours away. And unless the situation changes in the hours leading up to Thursday’s start of camp for the Lightning, they will start another quest for the Stanley Cup without one of their best players.

Brayden Point.

Point, who accounted for 92 points last season, is a restricted free agent who remained without a contract Wednesday, and camp opens Thursday with physicals and fitness tests.

The Lightning’s first on-ice session is 10:30 a.m. Friday at the Ice Sports Forum in Brandon, and their first preseason game is less than a week away: against the Hurricanes on Tuesday.

MORE LIGHTNING: The team surprised fans and made major donations around the area

Point isn’t alone in his situation. There are about a dozen other big-name unsigned restricted free agents, highlighted by the forward group of the Maple Leafs’ Mitch Marner, the Avalanche’s Mikko Rantanen and the Jets’ Patrik Laine.

Zach Werenski, one of the two top-level restricted free agent defensemen, signed a three-year bridge deal with the Blue Jackets on Monday, but that does not appear to have ignited a chain of re-signings.

With three weeks before the regular season starts, there’s time for the Lightning to get a deal done with Point and ensure he doesn’t miss any games that count.

Major holdouts are unusual in the NHL, but last season, restricted free agent William Nylander didn’t re-sign with Toronto until the Dec. 1 deadline to be eligible to play the rest of the season. The NHL hasn’t seen this many top restricted free agents go unsigned this late before.

Here are other story lines and things to know going into training camp:

Who returns?

Almost everyone. The Lightning’s roster looks very similar to last year’s. General manager Julien BriseBois stuck to tweaks, such as replacing older defensemen with younger but experienced players, rather than making big changes. It’s easier to ask …

Who left?

Forward Ryan Callahan announced he is physically unable to continue playing due to a degenerative back disease. The Lightning traded his contract to the Senators, who are using his $5.8 million salary this season to reach the salary cap floor. Callahan said he’d be remaining in Tampa and would like to get involved in the Lightning organization in another form when his contract expires after this season.

Forward J.T. Miller was traded to the Canucks in return for a third-round draft pick and a conditional first-rounder next year. Miller was a victim of the salary cap with his annual cap hit of $5.25 million through 2022-23.

Former Adam Erne, a restricted free agent, was traded to Steve Yzerman’s Red Wings, with whom he signed a one-year, $1.05 million contract.

Two unrestricted free agent defensemen are gone: Anton Stralman signed with the Panthers, and Dan Girardi remains unsigned.

Not gone but likely on his way out is goalie Louis Domingue. Curtis McElhinney was signed as an unrestricted free agent to back up Andrei Vasilevskiy, and BriseBois said he was looking for a new organization for Domingue.

Who is new?

The blue line got crowded in the offseason. Added were unrestricted free agents Luke Schenn, Kevin Shattenkirk (bought out by the Rangers) and Luke Witkowski. Re-signed were Braydon Coburn and Jan Rutta for a total of nine defensemen. Witkowski will likely play with AHL Syracuse. The rest will have competition for Lightning spots.

McElhinney, 36, signed a two-year contract. He has established himself as a good backup goalie and had a good year with Carolina last season (20-11-2, 2.58 goals-against average, .912 save percentage).

Pat Maroon, signed as an unrestricted free agent, is coming off a Stanley Cup win with the Blues. He brings size (6 feet 3, 225 pounds) and physicality to the largely small, fast Lightning forwards.

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Who might make the roster?

Given the addition of Maroon and the losses of Callahan and Erne, the Lightning have an opening at forward. And there will be competition.

Cory Conacher spent almost the full season in the AHL last year for the first time in six NHL seasons. He’ll look to break back into the NHL roster.

Carter Verhaeghe signed his second one-year contract with the Lightning after leading the AHL with 82 points last season.

Alex Barre-Boulet tied Verhaeghe atop the AHL with 34 goals and was named the league’s rookie of the year.

Cal Foote stands out among defensemen, and Cameron Gaunce got a look in the NHL last year, but it will be hard for either to break into the blue line.

What will the defense look like?

Some things are set: Victor Hedman will still be the No. 1 defenseman and play the point on the first power-play unit. Erik Cernak and Ryan McDonagh will be the second pair. After that, the questions start.

Who will play with Hedman? Mikhail Sergachev played with him when Girardi was hurt last year and then played in Hedman’s role when Hedman was hurt. He’s a strong skater who pairs well with the dynamic Hedman. Shattenkirk, before his recent injury trouble, has also shown himself to be a top-pair defenseman.

BriseBois said he was willing to carry eight defensemen on the roster. That would make for two extra defensemen and one extra forward. Last year the Lightning had the opposite.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

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