Lightning’s Ryan McDonagh traded to Nashville for cap relief

Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times/TNS
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TAMPA — Just three days after the Lightning lost out on a third straight Stanley Cup title to the Avalanche, general manager Julien BriseBois was forced to have one of those unpleasant offseason conversations with a valued player.

BriseBois sat down with defenseman Ryan McDonagh on Wednesday and told the veteran that the Lightning needed to explore trade options to keep a competitive window open with the salary cap.

The conversation had McDonagh’s “mind going a little bit,” he said, especially because he had to agree to waive his full no-trade clause.

“It hasn’t been an easy seven days here since we lost and then hearing the news about a potential trade,” McDonagh said on a media call Sunday. “But to find out and for Nashville to be the landing spot, I couldn’t be more excited. … It’s hopefully a blessing in disguise here.”

On Sunday the Lightning traded McDonagh to the Predators for forward Grant Mismash and defenseman Philippe Myers.

The move gives Tampa Bay — which entered Sunday more than $5 million over next season’s $82.5 million cap, according to NHL contract website CapFriendly — much-needed cap relief. McDonagh carried a cap hit of $6.75 million with four years left on his deal. It was the second-highest cap hit among Lightning defensemen, behind Victor Hedman’s $7.875 million, and sixth highest.

When evaluating players, their contracts and how they fit into the Lightning’s competitive window, BriseBois determined that McDonagh was the “odd man out.” The flat cap over the past three years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and just a $1 million increase next season didn’t help.

“Ryan McDonagh is an awesome human being and a great hockey player, and he’s done a lot of winning, and he’s helped us do a lot of winning,” BriseBois said. “If we didn’t live in a flat salary cap world, it would never have crossed my mind to ask Ryan McDonagh to waive his no-trade clause because I would’ve been ecstatic to know that I had him under contract for four more years.”

BriseBois pointed out that forward Brayden Point’s new salary of $9.5 million kicks in this season and the Lightning will need to find room ahead of the 2023-24 season to re-sign potential restricted free agents including defensemen Erik Cernak, Cal Foote and Mikhail Sergachev, and forwards Ross Colton and Anthony Cirelli.

With McDonagh’s departure, BriseBois believes Sergachev and Foote are ready to step up into bigger roles.

The Lightning also needed to find cap relief so they can attempt to resign two of their remaining potential unrestricted free agents: forward Ondrej Palat and defenseman Jan Rutta.

The Lightning came to a seven-year, $22 million deal Friday with forward Nick Paul, who could have been an unrestricted free agent July 13.

BriseBois did not have updates on deals with either Palat or Rutta.

Mismash, 23, who played for AHL Milwaukee last season, and Myers, whom BriseBois remembered from his junior days, give Tampa Bay about $4.2 million in cap relief. BriseBois said he didn’t plan on buying out Myers’ contract — $2.550 million — and he believed Myers’ “tool box” is something the Lightning can improve, especially when it comes to his skating.

“He’s only 25 years old. He’s a 6-foot-5 defensemen with size and some physicality. He’s a quality skater. Can improve his skating. In the past, we’ve been able to work with players, provide them with resources and help them become better skaters,” BriseBois said. “He has a huge shot.”

For McDonagh, the trade doesn’t take away from what the organization has meant to him over the years.

“I could obviously talk for hours about the group there and all the memories and whatnot,” McDonagh said.

McDonagh, 33, had a lot of respect in the Lightning’s locker room when he joined via trade in February 2018 as a Rangers captain. McDonagh was an alternate captain for most of his tenure with Tampa Bay.

Playing in a shut-down role alongside Cernak in the second defense pairing, McDonagh logged critical minutes on the top penalty-kill unit and helped the group adapt a heavy defensive-minded style of play, especially when it came to shot blocking.

In his 12-year career, he has never missed the postseason.

In the Lightning’s 2021 Cup run, McDonagh earned three Conn Smythe Trophy votes (all third place) for his on-ice efforts and impact throughout the postseason.

“He’s one of the best defenders in the NHL,” BriseBois said. “He’s a selfless player and a great leader. I would like to thank him for everything he’s done for us.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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