No, the Lightning haven’t totally avoided losses related from the salary cap. They keep finding ways to maintain their contending core, though. In the latest reminder, the Lightning signed Brayden Point to a big eight-year, $76 million extension during free-agent day.
For more on 2021 NHL Free Agency, check PHT’s tracker. Trades are a big factor too, so keep track of them here.
Lightning maintain core with eight-year extension for Point
So, that translates to a $9.5M cap hit, starting in the 2022-23 season. Point’s eight-year extension will run from 2022-23 through 2029-30.
(Yes, it’s difficult to imagine the world, let alone the NHL, in 2030. Agreed.)
This season represents the last year where Point comes at the bargain cap hit of $6.75M. The Lightning won a Stanley Cup in each of the first two seasons of his current contract, and Point was absolutely in the Conn Smythe Trophy conversation both times.
While Point and Nikita Kucherov couldn’t win a Conn Smythe Trophy either time, they were absolutely instrumental in both runs.
[More on Point and Kucherov being near-Conn-Smythe-caliber]
Somehow, Point just completed his fifth NHL season. With 23 goals and 48 points, Point reached at least 23 goals scored in four straight seasons. (He barely missed that mark as a rookie in 2016-17, scoring 18 goals in 68 games.)
Of course, it’s his playoff work that shines the brightest. As part of the Lightning’s repeat Stanley Cup runs, Point’s topped all playoff goal scorers, with 14 goals each time. He almost matched Reggie Leach’s playoff goal streak record during this past run.
Really, he’s checked about all of the boxes, to the degree that it’s surprising that Point is only 25.
While Point was not a free agent, we projected an 8 year extension at $9.27M per year, which was his second most likely deal after a $7.38M x 5 years contract.
Per our GAR projections for '21-22, Point is projected to put up the 7th best GAR among all players.
Elite. https://t.co/9ZST4skeHt pic.twitter.com/l3DG1pkFsQ
— Evolving-Hockey (@EvolvingHockey) July 28, 2021
Pondering the ever-present Lightning cap questions after Point extension
Normally, there’d be a lot of hand-wringing about Point’s extension being of the eight-year variety. Especially since it kicks in during the 2022-23 season, rather than in 2021-22.
And, yeah, there might come a time when that $9.5M goes from a borderline-bargain to a concern. Just look at how Steven Stamkos feels more feasible as a trade target these days with his $8.5M cap hit.
But that $9.5M price tag does bring about eternal questions about the Lightning’s future salary cap considerations.
Naturally, there’s a “Fool me once …” element here. People will inevitably note Nikita Kucherov going on LTIR to give wiggle room. On Tuesday alone, the Lightning convinced the Blackhawks to absorb Tyler Johnson‘s contract, while receiving LTIR fodder with Brent Seabrook. The Lightning will gladly fork over the occasional second-rounder to get out of salary-cap jail.
[Lightning maintain core to contend]
Still, Point and others might eventually squeeze out enough useful supporting cast members for there to be a strain.
To afford Point, and eventually keep Anthony Cirelli and/or Mikhail Sergachev around, might the Lightning lose Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Ryan McDonagh, or even Stamkos?
All fair questions, and certain elements of the Lightning are getting older (Stamkos: 31; Victor Hedman: 30). Still, Point is 25, Kucherov is 28, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is 27.
They’re no longer dirt-cheap, but the Lightning’s best players are probably still making under market value. Even now that Point’s price tag is set at a less borderline-insulting rate, it’s still a price just about every team will pay.
So expect the Lightning to be that whip-smart team that so many fans increasingly loved to hate.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.