The Tampa Bay Lightning may not be reigning Stanley Cup champions any longer, but they still are masters at salary cap management. The Lightning traded Ryan McDonagh to the Predators in a move that opens up significant salary cap space for Tampa Bay.
Predators receive: Ryan McDonagh, 33, $6.75M cap hit through 2025-26.
Lightning receive: Philippe Myers, 25, and Grant Mismash.
Myers is supposed to count $2.55M on the cap. Yet, due to some salary cap quirks, a buyout could add to the Lightning salary cap savings in the McDonagh trade.
This would result in the #GoBolts having created $7,366,666 in cap space for themselves next season.
McDonagh $6.75M + Myers credit $617k = $7.37Mhttps://t.co/qIBiAOS50x https://t.co/PVTfDN9Dnm
— CapFriendly (@CapFriendly) July 3, 2022
Then again, maybe not? Chris Johnston reports that the Lightning might keep Myers:
It doesn't sound like #TBLightning will use a buyout on Philippe Myers even thought it would come with a cap credit for 2022-23. Today's trade still gives them $4.2M in cap relief with Myers on the NHL roster next year.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) July 3, 2022
Lightning pull off the Band-Aid to open up salary cap space
The McDonagh trade is a big piece in the Lightning managing another challenging offseason of salary cap/free agent questions. Recently, the Lightning somewhat surprisingly signed Nicholas Paul to a lengthy contract.
It remains to be seen if the Lightning have opened up enough salary cap space to retain free agent Ondrej Palat.
Really, though, the salary cap savings might be even more important for the Lightning’s longer-term outlook.
Key mid-prime core members Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak all need new contracts (and likely big raises) after next season. Considering the lengthy term on McDonagh’s contract, this creates potentially pivotal breathing room.
Of course, the Lightning will miss Ryan McDonagh. During their bid for a Stanley Cup “three-peat,” McDonagh topped all Lightning players in playoff ice time at even-strength (19:12) and on the penalty kill (3:07). Those are tough minutes to replace.
Ryan McDonagh (traded to Nashville) is a second/third pair defender with some 5v5 defensive strength but not helpful penalty killing. pic.twitter.com/ZC2muEXpsy
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) July 3, 2022
But, when you’re a contending team, you simply have to make those kinds of calls.
McDonagh trade from Predators’ perspective
Honestly, at first blush, I hated the McDonagh trade for the Predators.
Yes, the 33-year-old’s been great, at times ranking among the NHL’s most underrated defensemen. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that he’s on a troubling downward trend.
While there’s no shame in that (Father Time beats just about everyone, even Jaromir Jagr [allegedly]), the Predators now take on that risk. Years of wear and tear from deep runs both with the Rangers and Lightning can’t help matters.
Interestingly, different metrics are at least a bit friendlier or harsher toward McDonagh. For instance, McDonagh’s three-year Player Card from Evolving Hockey doesn’t look promising.
Yet, J Fresh’s dive into micro stats and different versions of metrics inspire at least a bit more optimism.
Here are Ryan McDonagh's 2021-22 microstats, courtesy of AllThreeZones.
Nothing to complain about here, solid zone exits, still a bit of offensive contribution too. #Preds pic.twitter.com/pFNHqVXGus
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 3, 2022
Still, it’s difficult to shake the notion that the Predators are heading toward some really dicey times.
As incredible as Roman Josi was last season, he’s already 32. Mattias Ekholm‘s 32, as well. That’s a pretty old trio of defensemen, combining for almost $22M in cap space and plenty of term.
Forsberg situation still important for Nashville
If the Predators keep Filip Forsberg, much of what looked like sneaky-promising cap space (Cap Friendly currently projects them at about $18.11M with a few spots to fill) will be gone. If not … why would you invest in McDonagh?
How promising do the 2021-22 Predators look if you add McDonagh, but make everyone a year older? If the Predators end up a clear playoff contender, then McDonagh’s the sort of defenseman who can help you greatly in those situations. If not, then GM David Poile added yet another aging player to an expensive roster that looks pretty old.
Also: even if the Lightning hold onto Myers, it’s also arguable that Nashville should’ve gotten more in a trade for his unusual contract.
Time will tell if the Predators end up happy with the McDonagh trade, but it’s a tidy (if painful) bit of business by the Lightning. Especially if they actually exercise that Myers buyout.
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.