No player who spends all of 2018-19 in the NHL will have a lower base salary than Brayden Point. That’s because according to the league’s collective bargaining agreement, no player can make less than the minimum wage of $650,000, which is what Point will collect before performance bonuses. And even those amount to just $182,500, which is the kind of money that NHL superstars come across when they’re vacuuming their sofas or find in their coat pockets once they’ve taken them out of summer storage.
This will all change, in a big way, both for Point and an unprecedented number of young players this summer. The NHL made history when John Tavares, the best UFA in the history of the game, hit the open market last July. And it will do so again when the best crop of Group II free agents in league history come out of their entry-level contracts. And like Tavares, it has potential to cause a seismic effect on the landscape of the NHL.
Point is firmly entrenched in a murderer’s row of upcoming Group IIs that includes Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, Mikko Rantanen, Mitch Marner, Sebastian Aho, Matthew Tkachuk, Brock Boeser and Kyle Connor. Of all those players, only Rantanen had more points than Point, and none had more goals.
So where exactly does that leave Point, a line driver who plays center and contributes at both ends of the ice? Good question. You could argue all those players are better than William Nylander, who signed a front-loaded six-year deal worth $45 million after sitting out the first two months of the season. Is he better than Jack Eichel, the captain and face of the Buffalo Sabres, who’s in the first of an eight-year deal worth $80 million? If Matthews leads the way with a yearly stipend of about $13 million and Marner falls in around $10 million, Point’s accomplishments through the first three years of his career suggest he’s right in that category. “I’ll just play this year out and we’ll see what happens after, I guess,” Point said. “I’m hopeful, but you never know in hockey. Just trying to focus on playing, and that’s where my head is at now. Just trying to focus on hockey games.”
Both Lightning GM Julien BriseBois and Point’s agent, Gerry Johannson, agreed early in the season to shelve contract talks until the summer. It’s a decision BriseBois may regret. With Steve Yzerman abruptly resigning as GM last September, BriseBois didn’t even have the opportunity to ink Point to an extension last summer, something that would have cost the Lightning much less than it will after this season. Complicating matters is the fact that the Lightning have just $6.4 million in cap space for a roster that will have just four NHL-caliber defensemen under contract. Of any team, the Lightning might be most primed to be the target of an offer sheet this summer, one that would force them to either match and strain their cap situation even further or lose Point.
It’s important to point out there hasn’t been an offer sheet tendered to a Group II free agent in almost six years. There are varying opinions on whether there will be some this summer, but if there aren’t with this class of players, the offer-sheet option in the CBA will have been rendered useless. All these great players could also trigger some paralysis in the marketplace, with agents waiting for the first player to sign and set the market before wading into their own deals.
Johannson doesn’t profess to have a crystal ball, but he’s keenly aware of the Lightning’s situation and the potential for offer sheets. In the summer of 2007, he negotiated an offer sheet with the Edmonton Oilers on a five-year, $21.3-million deal for Dustin Penner that prompted then-Anaheim Ducks GM Brian Burke to challenge his Oilers counterpart Kevin Lowe to a barn fight. It also triggered much of the fear we see about offer sheets and recriminations for signing them. “Things have changed in that people are talking about them more now,” Johannson said. “At one time it was kind of a skeleton in the closet, but now people are talking about them more openly. Team owners understand them better as a legitimate option that’s allowed under the CBA.”