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Lightning sign Brayden Point before regular season

Point will join the team this week, but isn’t expected to play until late October after hip surgery.
The Lightning re-signed Brayden Point to a three-year bridge deal.
The Lightning re-signed Brayden Point to a three-year bridge deal. [ SHADD, DIRK | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Sep. 23, 2019
Updated Sep. 23, 2019

BRANDON — Brayden Point is back. It took longer than either side had hoped, but the star center is under contract once again.

The Lightning signed Point to a three-year deal worth $6.75 million a year on Monday.

A few whoops and a “wahoo” sounded in the dressing room when players heard the news after practice. No matter anyone’s thoughts on the actual contract, having Point back is a good thing.

“I can’t mention how happy our organization is to know that he’ll be joining our group shortly,” general manager Julien BriseBois said. “Him and all the other players we’ve been able to lock up in the past few years give us a great nucleus.”

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The 23-year-old was just one on a list of elite restricted free agents who did not have contracts when training camp started. Toronto’s Mitch Marner was the biggest, and signed a six-year deal worth nearly $11 million a year on Sept. 13. Now, Colorado’s Mikko Rantenan and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine are the last big names standing.

Point is expected to join the Lightning in Sunrise on Wednesday, but he will not be playing immediately. He had hip surgery in the spring and is not expected to return to games until late October. BriseBois said the team has been in contact with Point throughout his recovery.

The Lightning and Point agreed to a bridge deal, a term that comes from the tradition of bridging an entry-level contract with the next, presumably long-term, deal. At $6.7 million, this contract has the highest average annual value the Lightning has spent on a bridge deal.

In three years, when his contract is up, Point will still have one more season as an RFA, which means the Lightning will have the chance to match the contract any other team offers him.

Does that mean we do this all over again in 2022? Not necessarily.

Point’s salary will be $9 million in the final year of this contract, according to CapFriendly.com. The following year’s qualifying offer will have to match that final year’s salary.

If the Lightning sticks to it recent ways (which its doing with a bridge deal to begin with), Point might not get to that point. BriseBois said he fully expects to extend Point long-term.

Take Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov for examples. Both signed three-year bridge deals and then extensions going into the final year of that contract (both for eight-years and $76 million). Kucherov’s extension just kicked in this year and Vasilevskiy’s starts next season.

Point just recorded his first 40-goal, 90-point season and shows every indication of that being the start of something, not the peak.

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His “dynamic speed” struck Derek Lalonde when the assistant coach joined the organization last season. More than the speed itself, Point can make plays at that pace. Lalonde compared him to Connor McDavid, “the best in the world” at playing at pace.

Point played with the league’s best player on his wing last season. Kucherov’s playmaking ability doesn’t hurt his stats, but the speed with which Point plays is an indication of a trend versus a blip because of a good linemate.

If that’s true, why didn’t the Lightning lock Point up with a long-term deal?

Part of the reason is the salary cap. A long-term contract costs more (if a player is giving up his UFA years, he wants to be paid). The Lightning only had $8.5 million to work with this season, and this is already the largest bridge deal it’s granted anyone. The team also has more RFAs to pay next year. They’ll be in a very different position in three years, when this contract is up.

Right now, the important thing is Point is on his way back.

Diana C. Nearhos is the Lightning beat writer. Contact her at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.