Lightning get a steal with Brayden Point’s new 3-year contract

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The Tampa Bay Lightning not only managed to get restricted free agent Brayden Point re-signed before the start of the regular season, they did so for what appears to be an incredibly team-friendly contract.

The Lightning re-signed Point to a three-year, $20.25 million contract on Monday afternoon that will carry a $6.75 million cap hit.

“We are very pleased to re-sign Brayden today,” general manager Julian BriseBois said in a team statement. “He is the consummate professional with an unwavering commitment to team success, growing as a player and improving every day. It is that mindset that makes him an outstanding role model, teammate and person, on and off the ice. We look forward to getting Brayden back on the ice with his Lightning teammates as soon as possible.”

In the short-term this is an amazing bargain (even with the Florida tax break) for the Lightning when you consider how good Point already is, and how Toronto just committed more than $10 million per year to a very similar player in Mitch Marner. Anytime a Stanley Cup contender can save a few million under the cap with one of its top players it makes building around them and maintaining a championship caliber roster just a little bit easier.

He will still be a restricted free agent at the end of this contract, while his actual salary in year three will be $9 million. That will significantly impact his next qualifying offer from the Lightning.

Assuming Point continues on his current career path his next deal should be a massive one, but for a bridge deal this is great value for a Lightning team that looked like it was going to have a tight salary cap crunch this offseason. They not only managed to get through it relatively unscathed, they still had room to re-sign one of their most important young players.

Point, 23, has increased his offensive production each of his first three years in the league and is coming off of a massive 41-goal, 92-point season. What makes him even more valuable is that along with the offense he is also an outstanding defensive player and has finished in the top-10 in Selke Trophy voting in each of the past two seasons.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Decision on NHL Return to Play hub cities weeks away

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As the NHL moves towards resuming play this summer, the league must first narrow down the list of hub cities.

When Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the NHL’s Return to Play plan last week, he noted 10 cities in the U.S. and Canada are under consideration. Two will be chosen with the strong likelihood one will also host the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.

First, here are the 10 cities in the running:

• Chicago, IL
• Columbus, OH
• Dallas, TX
• Edmonton, AB
• Las Vegas, NV
• Los Angeles, CA
• Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN
• Pittsburgh, PA
• Toronto, ON
• Vancouver, BC

[MORE: NHL announces return-to-play plans]

Appearing on the Ray & Dregs podcast, Bettman gave an update on the process.

“I’m going to probably have to make a decision collectively on this probably in three weeks,” he said on the May 28th episode. “I think in two weeks we’ll start narrowing down further. Somewhere around three weeks we’re going to have to pull the trigger and finalize the arrangements and make the deposits.”

Standing out

In order to play host, a hub city will need secure hotels, facilities for games and practices, and good transportation. Most importantly, there will need to be low COVID-19 case rates, cooperation from local government, and the availability for mass testing.

The three Canadian cities face the biggest challenges. The government has a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for anyone entering the country. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said discussions are “on-going” between public health officials and the NHL.

How badly does Edmonton want in? Alberta premier Jason Kenney sent a request to Trudeau asking that NHL personnel be exempt from travel and quarantine restrictions to improve their chances.

Vegas, baby, Vegas

Meanwhile, Las Vegas has emerged as a favorite. Nevada is about to enter Phase Two this week, with businesses and casinos set to reopen. That’s a huge boost for the city’s chances given the amount of available hotels. The lack of ice sheets compared to other cities could be helped by the installation of additional surfaces, reported The Athletic last week. The total package is a reason why the conference finals and Cup Final could also take place there.

Host cities with a team involved, however, may not get to root them on. The league may put them in the other hub city or, if they do stay home, the players would have to follow the NHL’s guidelines. “[I]f a team happens to be in its own market, the players I don’t think should be planning on going home,” Bettman said.

The NHL is expected to move into Phase 2 this week with players in small groups doing voluntary non-contact skating and off-ice training. The next step would be training camps opening up no earlier than July 10 and a possible resumption of the season by early August.

MORE RETURN TO PLAY:
Breaking down the Eastern Conference series

A look at the Western Conference matchups
Which play-in playoff series would be the most exciting?
Qualifying Round storylines

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Our Line Starts podcast: Previewing key NHL Return to Play matchups

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In the latest edition of Our Line Starts, Liam McHugh, Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones break down the NHL Return to Play plan and take a look at a few potential hub cities. Plus, they preview some of the more exciting playoff matchups, including Penguins vs. Canadiens, Hurricanes vs. Rangers, Oilers vs. Blackhawks and Predators vs. Coyotes.

3:55-5:40 Is the Return to Play format fair?
6:45-8:05 Hub city discussion
8:05-10:50 Can Montreal upset Pittsburgh?
10:50-13:40 Intriguing Hurricanes-Rangers matchup
13:40- 15:50 Bracket vs Re-seed debate
16:30-18:45 What to make of Oilers vs Blackhawks
18:45-21:05 Coin flip between Coyotes and Predators

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

PHT Morning Skate: Higher scoring in RTP; Lundqvist on future

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Could a four-and-a-half month layoff mean higher scoring when the NHL drops the puck again? [Sportsnet]

• It’s sounding more and more like Las Vegas will be one of the two hub cities. [Sin Bin Vegas]

• “The NHL Players Association plans to take action on behalf of several free agents looking to start their NHL contacts as soon as possible” [Lighthouse Hockey]

• Capitals assistant Reid Cashman has been named the new head coach of the Dartmouth’s men’s hockey team. Cashman will remain with the team through the end of the 2020 playoffs. [Dartmouth]

• The Ducks have sign Swedish Hockey League MVP Kodie Curran to a two-year deal. He posted 12 goals and 49 points with Rogle BK this season and also took home defenseman of the year. [TSN]

Henrik Lundqvist on his future: “Now we are ready to run this summer and this season. I also know that in November and December last year, when I was at my best, I played as well as I did several years before. It was incredibly fun. If I can I find a situation where I play and deliver like that – why not continue?” [Forever Blueshirts]

• Get to know Tim Stutzle, the next German hockey star. [The Hockey News]

• Should the Jets try and pry Jack Eichel out of Buffalo? [Jets Nation]

• Owen Tippett and Henrik Borgstrom are likely call-ups for the Panthers when the NHL resumes play ahead of their series vs. the Islanders. [Panthers]

• The case for renaming the Art Ross Trophy to the Wayne Gretzky Trophy. [Ottawa Sun]

Rasmus Dahlin reflects on a disappointing Sabres season: “That’s what it is – and you can’t do much about it. But now that all my Swedish hockey friends go over, I sit at home like a loser. It hurts and it makes me very frustrated. It’s not fun.” [Die by the Blade]

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Panthers’ Stralman wonders if NHL’s return to play would be worth the risks

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As the NHL pushes for a return to play, it’s fair to ask: “Is it worth it?” Chances are, plenty of players are quietly wondering that. Credit to Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman for actually saying it, though.

Stralman provided refreshingly candid insight to The Athletic’s Joe Smith (sub required) on Monday. It’s worth getting into Stralman’s specific risks, but also his wider views on the situation.

If you’re like me and you wonder about the risk-reward ratio of returning to play as COVID-19 uncertainty lingers, then you might risk injuring your neck nodding along with Stralman’s takes.

“I think you should be concerned,” Stralman told Smith. “There are so many ways to look at this thing. I know everybody wants hockey back, but safety has to come first. And it’s a little bit worrisome, I can’t deny that. Even though most players are young and healthy, I’m sure there are players like me that have underlying health issues. I don’t know how my body will react if I get this virus.”

[Stralman’s Panthers would face the Islanders in the Qualifying Round. More on the 24-team setup here.]

Stralman among NHL players at greater risk during a possible return

Stralman, 33, faces greater risks considering his lengthy battle with bronchiectasis, a lung disease where airways are damaged, preventing sufferers from clearing mucus from their lungs. Smith notes that Stralman just got off medication for bronchiectasis last year; judging by this 2014 report from NHL.com’s Dan Rosen, Stralman needed pretty heavy-duty medication:

Dr. Dimango had Stralman start a course of treatment tailored for people with cystic fibrosis. It featured a dosage of antibiotics three times per week. Stralman doesn’t have cystic fibrosis, but the treatment has staved off his infections.

It indeed seems reasonable if Stralman worries about how his “body will react” if he contracted COVID-19. The Canadian Lung Association notes that, while people with lung diseases aren’t more likely to contract the virus, they are more likely to suffer from a more serious case if they do contract it.

Would Stralman be forced to return if he doesn’t feel safe? Gary Bettman allowed some wiggle room for players with underlying risks, but also said he expected able-bodied players to return to action. In a hockey culture where you’re expected to play through pain, would Stralman be comfortable sitting things out for what could be an extended period of time?

So, yeah, it’s understandable that Stralman is worried. And he’s almost certainly not alone, even if others are silent (or have even bigger issues on their minds).

Voicing concerns about wider risks

To be clear, Stralman didn’t merely express his personal concerns to Smith in an interview very much worth reading. Stralman voiced plenty of big-picture worries about how others will be involved.

Stralman wonders about not just players involved, but workers in buildings being exposed to extra risks. Would running two “hub cities” with 24 teams require medical resources being diverted from those who need it the most? The NHL’s said all the right things about avoiding that, yet it’s still fair to wonder if it might happen.

“I think the main thing is safety,” Stralman said. “And I don’t think we should be obliged to be prioritized over people that actually need it way more than we do. There are so many people in this world right now that are going through some really tough times. I think all hockey players and owners should consider themselves fairly lucky to be where they’re at.”

In hoping for a return to play, there’s been a focus on if the NHL can pull off. And, to be fair, even those questions aren’t easy to answer. Yet, above all else, should the NHL return, at least in the near future?

That’s a tough call, so it’s refreshing that Stralman is willing to ask such questions.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.