SUNRISE — Sticks tapped against the ice, calling Brayden Point to the center of the circle. Luke Schenn gave Point a light shove, sliding him to center ice.
The Lightning’s star center is back (though not ready to play) and Thursday morning, his teammates insisted he lead the post-skate stretch.
“It’s awesome to be back," Point said. “It felt long. It’s tough to see guys playing games. You want to be there, but sometimes contracts take time."
Point missed most of training camp as he and the Lightning negotiated his contract. He signed a three-year deal worth $6.75 million a season on Monday and flew from Calgary to Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, arriving in time for a team dinner.
“He was getting it pretty good from the guys," coach Jon Cooper said. "It’s tough seeing him in the red jersey, but you can tell he’s happy to be back.”
The red jersey indicates Point is not ready to play yet. He had hip surgery in the spring and will miss the beginning of the season. He doesn’t have an exact timeline (that will come after a few more practices), but said he is on track and doesn’t expect to miss much of the season.
The injury had been nagging throughout last season and Point said it was good to “go in and clean it up.”
Point has been skating by himself in Calgary, rehabbing his hip and spending time with family. Though he wanted to be on the ice, Point tried to take advantage of the extended summer.
He acknowledged general manager Julien BriseBois’ comments about players working with the team. The tricky part of the negotiation was wanting to leave the team in a good place but also put himself in a good spot.
“You don’t know how many contracts you’re going to sign,” Point said. “So when you get the opportunity to sign one, you want to, not get as much as you can, but make sure you get a good deal.”
This contract, he said, achieves that, calling it a great deal for both sides.
Point was one of about a dozen restricted free agents who went late into the offseason, or even into training camp, without contracts. Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine highlight the remaining players. He’s surprised to see negotiations go so long, but at the same time understands why the process can exceed expectations.
“It’s such a tricky thing,” he said. “I’m just happy that mine’s over with and looking forward to playing hockey.”