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Lightning Round: McDonagh trade sets up moves for this year and next

The Lightning could have kept their veteran defender, but it would have made things really tough next summer.

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2022 Navy Federal Credit Union NHL Stadium Series - Tampa Bay Lightning v Nashville Predators Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images

If we have learned anything from this past weekend, it’s that Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois cares not for our summer holidays. On July 1st, Canada Day, he signed Nick Paul to a 7-year deal. On July 3rd, a Sunday when 82% of the country was at a pre-July 4th barbecue wearing hideous red, white, and blue shorts that they wear once a year (twice if it’s a World Cup or Summer Olympic year), he traded veteran defenseman Ryan McDonagh to the Nashville Predators.

The move had been in the works pretty much since the Lightning watched the Avalanche celebrate their Stanley Cup win in Amalie Arena. According to an article from The Athletic Mr. BriseBois approached McDonagh just three days after the season ended and informed him that he was the “odd man out” as the Lightning general manager attempted to patch together his 2022-23 roster. With Paul already locked up and a strong desire to re-sign Ondrej Palat, he needed to find a way to clear some more salary cap.

McDonagh was willing to waive his No Trade Clause for a move to Nashville, a team that was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Avalanche. He’ll join Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm to form a pretty strong, but aging, defensive core. With the $2.55 million coming back in the form of Philippe Myers salary, the Bolts cleared $4.2 million in cap room this year, and more importantly, $6.75 million in the three years following.

There was some speculation that the Lightning might buy Myers out due to the fact that his actual salary was higher than his cap hit and would net them about a $620,000 savings on the cap this year. However, they would be tagged with about $630,000 in dead cap space in the year following. Honestly, that money will be needed in 2023-24 as the Lightning are facing raises for Erik Cernak, Anthony Cirelli, and Mikhail Sergachev.

The calculation that Mr. BriseBois had to make was if keeping McDonagh for one more season was more important than being able to re-sign one of those three next year. Cernak and Sergachev can also be long-term solutions on the blue-line whereas McDonagh, at best, was going to be here for another four seasons.

An organization can get caught up in the thinking that they need to keep their veterans in order to keep chasing championships. They keep the high-priced vets around at the cost of younger talent, and within a few years they are saddled with an over-aged, over-priced roster that is not competitive and the rebuild has to begin in earnest.

The Lightning are trying to avoid that. Moving the 33-year-old McDonagh opens up a chance for younger players to step up and assume his leadership role. It gives the organization a chance to bring in younger players as well. Myers is just 25. While his play over the last couple of seasons has been iffy at best, he does have the tools to be at least a replacement-level defender. Grant Mishmash is probably a tweener, stuck between the AHL and the NHL, and at best is a third-liner, but is just 23-years-old and on an entry-level deal.

Losing McDonagh this season does leave a hole on the left side of the defense. An ideal solution would be to have Sergachev step up into the second-pairing role and eat up a bulk of those minutes. Sergy has the talent to be a top-four blueliner, but has struggled with consistency. Mr. BriseBois and Coach Cooper are undoubtedly relying heavily on the fact that the 24-year-old has matured. Outside of a couple of glaring mistakes (which everyone in the line-up had at some point) Sergachev had a pretty good postseason.

They will have to find someone to play on the third pairing for next season. Internal options are pretty slim. Zach Bogosian could play on his off-hand as he did a few times last season due to injuries. Fredrik Claesson, a pending Unrestricted Free Agent, could be re-signed cheaply. The only other natural left-side defenders in Syracuse are Declan Carlile and Dmitri Semykin, two players that aren’t quite ready for the prime time.

So, it’s likely that Mr. BriseBois will have to go outside the organization to find a replacement. We’ll save those options for another day, but look for a low-cost veteran signing once free agency opens.

Keeping Myers might also indicate that negotiations with Jan Rutta aren’t going in the direction that the Lightning would hope for. Myers is just 25-years-old and has some workable tools that Tampa Bay might be able to develop. Cernak and Bogosian are probably the top two right-side d-men on paper with Cal Foote and Myers working it out for the third pairing. If the Myers experience doesn’t work, they are only on the hook for one year and can let the pending Restricted Free Agent go next summer.

The bulk of the money they saved in the deal can go to making a competitive offer to Ondrej Palat. At this point, if they can bring him back, their forward group is pretty set. There is still a possibility that they move Alex Killorn, which could free up more space to bring in something other than a replacement-level defender for the third pairing.

The move gives Mr. BriseBois flexibility, which any GM that is looking to contend needs. Even after the move, the Lightning are one of the top-tier teams in the Eastern Conference and they also have gotten a little younger. They moved McDonagh at a point where he can still provide value to another team which made the deal a little easier. His rugged style of play doesn’t age well and he’s always one blocked shot away from a serious injury.

Losing a player with McDonagh’s leadership hurts on the ice and in the locker room. It isn’t going to be easy to replace him, however, in order to keep this Stanley Cup window open as long as possible, it was the right move to make.

Lightning / NHL News

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