Below is a transcript of the media call with Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois that followed his trade of Ryan McDonagh to the Nashville Predators on Sunday. The GM talked about the difficulty of trading his veteran defenseman and the realities of life in a salary cap world.
During one of his answers, he talked about the issue of “salary cap tagging”. For more on what salary cap tagging is, this link to Pro Hockey Rumors from 2019 explains it.
The questions and answers have been edited for clarity.
I’d like to start by stating the obvious. Ryan McDonagh was a huge contributor to our team success since he joined our organization in 2018. He’s one of the best defenders in the NHL, he’s a selfless player, and a great leader. I would like to thank him for everything he’s done for us, including working with me on facilitating a trade this week.
As I look forward with the intention of maintaining the Lightning as a competitive team for the foreseeable future the salary cap is an obstacle we need to deal with. With Brayden Point’s new contract kicking in this coming year and eventual new contracts for Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak, [and] Mikhail Sergachev kicking in a year from now it was evident that we could not keep all of [Andrei] Vasilevskiy, [Victor] Hedman, McDonagh, Sergachev, Cernak, Point, Kuch [Nikita Kucherov], [Steven] Stamkos, and Cirelli and fit a 21-player roster in 2023-24 when the cap had only increased by a million dollars at most for that season. I didn’t even mention Ross Colton who is coming off a 20-goal season, playing his 24-year-old season. Obviously we’d like to keep Ross beyond next season and the same goes for Cal Foote.
So when considering each player’s age, position, and contract I came to the conclusion that Ryan was the odd man out. The other consideration with the timing of this trade is we were coming up on salary cap tagging issues that were creating problems for us when we looking to sign players to contract extensions. For example Sergachev, Cernak or Cirelli. Or even signing free agents to contracts for more than one season.
We were running into tagging issues - meaning we didn’t have enough cleared up space in 2023-24 to fit all of those contracts. It could also become an issue during the course of the season with regards to being able to call up players in the event of injuries. Not because we don’t have the cap space for the 2022-23 season, but because we don’t have the tagging space in ‘23-24 to proceed with those call-ups.
Part of the pressure that we face on our tagging space is Brent Seabrook’s counts against that tagging space and it eats up most of it. So during the season we can use long term injury exemptions to alleviate the cap hit from Brent Seabrook’s contract and get some relief, but it counts against our tagging space for future years which complicates the salary cap navigation we need to do here.
Based on all of the proceeding I approached Ryan about waiving his no trade clause this week and that led us to today’s trade.
Stephen Whyno: What possibility does this trade give you to bring back Ondrej Palat and/or Jan Rutta?
I don’t have anything new on the Ondrej Palat or Jan Rutta front. I will be talking to their agents in the coming days, that was already planned. Obviously we have more cap space after this trade than we did before, but I don’t have any new information as it pertains to those two players and being able to re-sign them to contracts.
Mari Faiello: How quickly did you have to have this conversation with Ryan, and how difficult of a conversation was it to have?
I met with Ryan on Wednesday, he was heading home to Minnesota that day. I met with him before he left, I wanted to be able to do it in person and kind of walk him through why I had made that decision, come to this conclusion. Not the most pleasant thing I’ve had to do in my tenure as general manager. I’m sure it was even more uncomfortable for him, because I know he didn’t want to leave the Lightning. He and his family were very happy here, both living in the community and being a key member of our hockey team.
Joe Smith: How hard is it to keep emotion and that kind of history out of it when making these decisions?
I don’t really want to talk about my emotions because I think in those situations it’s harder on the player. My sympathy is with him and his family and their feelings. Everyone can imagine that it’s not something that’s pleasant. 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. If we didn’t live in a flat salary cap world it would have never crossed my mind to ask Ryan McDonagh to waive his no-trade clause because I would have been ecstatic to know I had him under contract for four more years.
Joe Smith: Is there a plan to approach the RFAs before their contracts are up?
That was always the plan - to eventually go to them and try to see if we can work something out. That remains the plan. I don’t have a timeline or timing specifically for you. I would love to be able to sign those players to extensions. They’re all just entering their prime, they’re really good players, they play premium positions, they’ve done a lot of winning, and they’ve been key contributors to those two Stanley Cups, and the nice run we’ve been on here with straight Finals. Looking at age, position, and contract those are three players we hope to be able to lock up for many years to come.
Stephen Whyno: What does this move do to expand or change the Stanley Cup window?
It allows us to make sure we can extend it beyond just one season because now we’ve freed up some cap space for this coming year (2022-23), but I think more importantly we’ve freed up some cap space for 23-24 and beyond. I’m hopeful it’ll allow us to secure the rights to Anthony Cirelli, Erik Cernak, and Mikhail Sergachev for years to come. Having those players on top of Vasilevskiy, Hedman, Point, Kuch, Stamkos, and all the good other players we have for the foreseeable future. I think that extends our window of being a Stanley Cup contender.
Evan Closky: How do you fill the void on the blueline?
We’ll address that in the coming days. I would expect that Mikhail Sergachev will be called upon to play a bigger role and he’s ready and ripe for those responsibilities. We first needed to move the contract. We accomplished that now we’re going to turn our attention to see what the best option is to fill out our “D”-core.
Joe Smith: [Philippe] Myers is getting bought out so you’ll have $7.5 million in cap space. Is that true?
No. Our plan at this point is to work with Philippe Myers. We’ve liked him going back to his junior days. We really like the tool box. I liked him in Philly. For whatever reason things didn’t work out for him at the tail end in Philly and in Nashville last season. He’s only 25-years-old, a 6’5” defenseman with size, 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. He has a huge shot. We think there are enough tools there that intrigue us enough to work with him and see if we can’t help him reach the potential we saw in him not that long ago.
Joe Smith: Is the cap space left mostly for internal free agents or does it give you more flexibility in the free agent market?
It gives us more flexibility in general to potentially re-sign Palat or Rutta or address holes that need to be filled on the free agent market or potentially even on the trade market. Some of those holes may end up being filled organically by someone that was in our organization already that is ready to step up from Syracuse and play on our NHL team next season.