Throughout June, theScore will be projecting contracts for the star-studded restricted free-agent class. In this edition, we project Brayden Point's new deal.
Perhaps no player in this stacked group has a better case to earn top dollar than Tampa Bay Lightning pivot Brayden Point does. The 2014 third-round draft gem exploded this past campaign with career highs across the board and was an indispensable piece in the Bolts' historic regular season.
Point has quickly emerged as a top-tier center who's capable of producing at both even strength and on the power play while maintaining a strong defensive presence against opposing top lines.
He may not capture as much of the spotlight as some of his teammates, but Point certainly should be held in the same regard. He led all Lightning skaters in individual expected goals at five-on-five this season and ranked seventh across the NHL with 25 primary assists - one fewer than Art Ross winner and linemate Nikita Kucherov.
Burying 40-plus goals as a center is a surefire way to earn a substantial payday in its own right, but Point excels in each facet of the game.
The Lightning don't have a ton of wiggle room, with just over $8.5 million in projected cap space for Point and new contracts for fellow restricted free agents Adam Erne, Danick Martel, and Cedric Paquette. Tampa also has three regular defensemen coming off the books in Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, and Anton Stralman, all of whom are unrestricted free agents and could create significant holes in the blue line if they opt to sign elsewhere.
General manager Julien BriesBois will likely need to do some maneuvering to make Point fit in the books alongside the organization's existing long-term commitments. Buying out the final year of Ryan Callahan's contract or facilitating a trade to move J.T. Miller - who is a prime candidate to be dealt due to his cap hit and modified no-trade clause - are two options to free up some room.
Utilizing every penny of available space won't just be imperative for Tampa Bay when it comes to locking down Point, but also when the same issue rears its head a year from now during Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy's negotiations.
Here's a list of star centers who recently signed new contracts after their entry-level deals:
|Player (Team)||P/GP*||AAV||CH%||Length||Year Signed|
|Auston Matthews (TOR)||1.07||$11.634M||14.6%||5 years||2019|
|Jack Eichel (BUF)||0.95||$10M||13.33%||8 years||2017|
|Leon Draisaitl (EDM)||0.94||$8.5M||11.3%||8 years||2017|
|Connor McDavid (EDM)||1.31||$12.5M||16.67%||8 years||2017|
CH% = Cap hit as a percentage of the cap ceiling when the contract was signed
* - In contract year (Eichel, McDavid signed extensions before third season)
Point's 1.16 points per game in his contract year fall behind only McDavid on that list, but his career mark of 0.86 trails both Matthews and Eichel, too.
Additionally, those three are indisputably the faces of their respective franchises, which is a claim Point can't make. When it comes down to putting pen to paper, the Lightning may look at internal comparables rather than those around the league to find a suitable salary.
Despite being arguably the best all-around player in this summer's RFA class, Point simply isn't in a position to negotiate a monster deal due to the team he plays for. However, he may accept that if it means he can continue to serve as a key member of a club built to compete for years to come.
The Lightning have a history of signing core pieces to shorter-term deals, as evidenced by past negotiations with Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Kucherov. All of those contracts were signed under Steve Yzerman's guidance, and each player got a significant raise on their next respective deal. BriesBois would be wise to employ the same strategy.
Five years for Point would offer the most flexibility for the Lightning, now and down the road. With a potential pact expiring in 2024, the team could keep Point's cap hit at an affordable number before paying him a king's ransom when he's a UFA and only Kucherov and Palat are forwards still under contract.
Verdict: 5 years, $42.5 million ($8.5M AAV)
Advanced Stats Courtesy: Natural Stat Trick
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