The realities of the salary cap have hit the Tampa Bay Lightning once again.
After reports surfaced earlier in the week that the Lightning were meeting with Ryan McDonagh to discuss a favorable trade scenario for the veteran defender, GM Julien Brisebois pulled the trigger on Sunday afternoon, sending McDonagh to the Nashville Predators in exchange for defenseman Philippe Myers and forward Grant Mismash.
It's an anticlimactic end to McDonagh's time in Tampa Bay, as he served as a key piece of the Lightning's back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, but a necessary one.
The Lightning are simply too close to the cap to keep everyone this offseason, no matter how much they'd otherwise want to, with the team sitting roughly $5 million over the $82.5 million limit prior to this trade. Someone had to go. And with McDonagh already approaching his mid-30s and set to make $6.75 million until 2026, he was the logical candidate -- a player good enough for other teams to want but not someone the Lightning couldn't replace, and whose cap hit would make a notable difference if cleared off the books.
McDonagh is still a very good NHL defenseman. The 33-year-old racked up 26 points in 74 games last season while logging over 22 minutes per night against exceedingly difficult competition. For the Predators to essentially add him for free is a major boon for their entire roster. If the salary cap didn't exist, this move simply would not have happened.
Alas, that is not the case here.
As for the pieces heading Tampa's way, it's not set in stone that they'll keep both of them, either.
Myers, in particular, is a candidate to be bought out by the Lightning this offseason thanks to an odd wrinkle in his contract that would afford the team a $617,000 salary cap credit for this coming season before turning into a $633,000 buyout penalty in 2023-24.
So, effectively, the Lightning could erase an extra $617,000 off of their salary cap for 2022-23 by buying Myers out. And given how Myers had a dreadful 2021-22 season that ended with him being loaned to the AHL's Toronto Marlies to finish out the year, cutting him loose seems like a no-brainer.
Regardless of the savings, however, losing McDonagh is the first domino to fall in what will be a difficult offseason for the Lightning organization.