Change is coming for the Tampa Bay Lightning. After the franchise completed their quest to win back-to-back Stanley Cups by either deftly but legally exploiting the rules or cheating (depending on who you ask), it looks like the 2020-21 season was the last run for this core of players.
Now general manager (GM) Julien BriseBois has to navigate one of the busiest offseasons in recent memory. With a stagnant salary cap, the need to clear millions of dollars off the payroll to get back under, and an expansion draft, there are many pressing issues that have to be addressed immediately.
Ultimately, the way that these issues are going to be resolved is through trades of high-value players by the Lightning. Under normal circumstances, you would never want to lose these players, let alone pay someone to take them off your hands, but in this situation, Tampa Bay may find be forced to make these less than ideal moves.
One of the players in this position is Ryan McDonagh, whom former GM Steve Yzerman paid a ransom for at the 2018 trade deadline in a true blockbuster deal. Since joining the Lightning, McDonagh has been a staple of their top-four, taking on 20-plus minutes each night while winning two Stanley Cups in the process.
The problem is, Yzerman signed McDonagh to a seven-year, $6.75 million AAV contract back in 2018. While he has been worth every penny so far, this deal continues for five more seasons and will only be more difficult to work around the longer he is on the books. Given that BriseBois didn’t sign this contract, he may be looking to move it this offseason.
Why Would Tampa Bay Deal McDonagh in 2021?
The 2021 offseason presents a unique opportunity for BriseBois to move McDonagh, as it may be his only chance for the foreseeable future. See, he has a no-trade clause (NTC) on his contract, which allows him to say no to a deal until 2025-26, where he would then submit a 12-team list of where he would accept a trade.
With the expansion draft, however, McDonagh could be left exposed and then claimed by the Seattle Kraken, as you only have to protect players with full no-movement clauses. This means that BriseBois could broker a deal with Kraken GM Ron Francis to select him and get the money off of the Lightning’s books while giving them a top-four defenseman that would bring legitimacy to their core immediately.
Now, this deal likely wouldn’t be done for free, as Tampa Bay would need to give Seattle some form of futures to make it happen. This does, however, open up the opportunity for BriseBois to go to McDonagh and ask him to either wave his NTC so he can be sent to another team in the NHL or play for the Kraken next season.
McDonagh Could Give Lightning Room To Make a Trade
If he gave BriseBois a few more options to make a deal, this would open up a lot of avenues for the Lightning. No longer would they be at the mercy of Francis at the expansion draft, but instead they could gauge the interest of a handful of teams and see who would be willing to send Tampa Bay futures for their top-four defenseman instead of them paying someone to take on a quality player.
Now, I don’t believe the Lightning would get back a ransom for McDonagh, but there is a big difference between having to trade Seattle a first-round pick plus more to take him off the books rather than packaging him with a late-round pick to send to a team that really wants him.
Under normal circumstances, McDonagh is a player that you would never want to lose, especially for essentially nothing. Given the Lightning’s cap situation, they will be forced to trade core pieces for a fraction of their value, as clearing some money is the big return right now.
Is this ideal? Absolutely not. But it is the reality of Tampa Bay’s situation. They managed to delay these difficult choices for a year and won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the process, so while it would be a painful loss, it’s one that is easier to accept after seeing so much success in recent years.
Eugene Helfrick is a Tampa Bay Lightning writer who is actually from Tampa Bay. He has written about the Lightning for six years, covering everything from their run to the 2015 Stanley Cup Final, to their crushing first-round exit in 2019, to their redemption in the bubble in 2020. While he is happy to talk about just about anything from cows to cars to video games, hockey will always remain one of his favorite pastimes.