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Please hold for the holdout. This Brayden Point contract will get done.

John Romano: History says restricted free agents almost always stay put, and there’s too much at stake for Tampa Bay to allow this impasse to go on.
At 23 years old, Tampa Bay forward Brayden Point already has 91 career NHL goals, including 41 last season. Now that his entry level contract has expired, Point is looking for a big payday but the Lightning has salary cap issues. CHRIS O'MEARA | AP Photo [CHRIS O'MEARA | AP]
Published Sep. 17
Updated Sep. 17

BRANDON — This is a bitter tale of money, greed and betrayal.

(Pause)

Well, not really betrayal.

(Pause)

Bitterness and greed are a stretch, too.

(Pause)

But this is a real story. And it is about money.

So while it’s not terribly dramatic, the good news is that the saga of Brayden Point’s holdout from Lightning training camp seems to have a better than average chance at a happy ending.

Perhaps when desperation gets turned up a notch.

“I can’t tell you when this will end, but I can tell you it has not been contentious,’’ Lightning general manager Julie BriseBois said. “It’s just a process, and sometimes the process takes longer.’’

Let’s face it, in times such as this, we tend to go looking for a villain. A cheap owner or a rapacious player. A careless general manager or a ruthless agent. We all appreciate a simpler narrative where one person is to blame for Point’s absence and our apprehension. But this matter is more complex than that.

To begin with, Point deserves more money than what the Lightning are reportedly offering. So you can understand his position.

And yet the Lightning are trying to work within a stretched salary cap to keep their Stanley Cup-caliber roster intact. So you can understand their position.

The solution would seem to be in a shared disappointment with both sides surrendering more than they want. The Lightning pays dangerously close to their cap limit which will eventually necessitate trading away other players, and Point accepts a contract below what recent market trends dictate he is worth.

This is not unique for restricted free agents. On entry-level contracts, the team wields much of the power. For unrestricted free agents, the leverage shifts to the player. Restricted free agency is more of a dance. Offer sheets from other teams are exceedingly rare, which means a player’s greatest threat is a holdout. And every so often, those holdouts extend into the regular season.

“Restricted free agents, without arbitration rights, are usually the last contracts to get done,’’ BriseBois said. “It’s not because they are less of a priority, it’s because there are fewer mechanisms guiding everyone to a number.’’

And Point’s situation is more murky than most.

You have a young, talented, humble player who understandably wants to cash in during the next half-dozen seasons when the combination of youth and skills are near their peak. But to give him what he is worth would handcuff the Lightning when it comes to a handful of expiring contracts next summer.

So it’s not just a negotiation over money; it’s also a conversation about a franchise’s future.

The Lightning will try to convince Point that both sides can win if he accepts a shorter, more modest contract that keeps him on a line with Nikita Kucherov and on a team with championship aspirations. And before that bridge contract expires, the team will be in a better position to give Point the kind of big-money deal that Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Kucherov eventually got.

All of that may sound logical, but it still means Point is being asked to wait for the promise of many more millions down the road. And with contemporaries such as Carolina’s Sebastian Aho (5-year, $42.27 million) and Toronto’s Mitch Marner (6-year, $65.4 million) getting lavish contracts in recent weeks, you can see why Point would balk at something closer to $18 million over the next three years.

At this point, the Lightning could not come close to the $10.9 million average salary cap hit that Marner got. Aho’s $8.45 million cap figure might be doable, but it will cause problems next year when Eric Cernak, Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli are all restricted free agents.

So either Point and the team find some number that is tolerable for both, or else the Lightning will have to consider some unplanned departures.

Meanwhile, the season opener is barely two weeks away. It would not be catastrophic if the Point holdout continues into October, but there also is nothing to be gained.

Outside of the Ice Sports Forum on Monday, a handful of devoted fans stood near the players’ exit and waited optimistically for Lightning autographs.

Inside, one of Point’s biggest fans stood in the corner of the locker room and talked optimistically about the holdout.

Like everyone else, BriseBois is just waiting on Point’s signature.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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