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Stalwart Defenseman Traded by Lightning

As news of the Tampa Bay Lightning trade involving Ryan McDonagh made its way throughout the Tampa area, one thing is certain. McDonagh is highly respected in these parts. Many fans are distraught over this trade. That’s perfectly understandable. In a little over four seasons with the Lightning, he proved himself to be the best defensive defenseman on the team. McDonagh was a wall in front of a wall named Andrei Vasilevskiy. Now, this stalwart defenseman has a new title – Former Lightning player.

The Arrival  

One of the realities in a salary cap world is that an NHL GM has their work cut out for them. Players go from their Entry Level Contracts to their second contract to additional contracts after that. If any player gets to their third contract it’s because they are progressing in the NHL. Should that player get to a third contract, they are usually an integral part of the team.

For McDonagh, not only was he an integral player on the Lightning since he was acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers in 2018, he established a defensive standard here. The Bolts not only got McDonagh, they also received J.T. Miller for Vlad Namestnikov, Brett Howden and Libor Hajek. We can dissect the trade but it’s clear the Lightning won this handily. Hajek is the only player still with the Rangers though last season he split time between the AHL and NHL. Namestnikov is now with Detroit which is the fourth team he’s been with since the trade and Howden is playing in Vegas. 

In McDonagh’s first season with the Lightning, the team tied the NHL record for most regular season wins. The rest of McDonagh’s time with the Lightning resulted in three consecutive Stanley Cup appearances where as a result they won two of those. The importance of a player like McDonagh cannot be taken for granted. He does the stuff that rarely makes the scoresheet. The dirty, physically challenging things that someone needs to step up and do. 

Being that Stalwart Defenseman

McDonagh ended the Lightning portion of his career with a mangled finger. Suffered when he stood in front of a puck during the recently completed playoffs. That’s what earned him the love and respect of Lightning fans everywhere. Even those fans that never laced up a pair of skates knew the courage and resolve it took to willingly stand in front of a puck traveling at nearly 100 MPH.  Despite the risk of injury, McDonagh’s forte was blocking shots.

Game in and game out, he punched his time card and stepped onto the ice knowing that he was going to sacrifice his body. Still, he did it gladly albeit painfully at times. In his 267 regular season games for the Lightning, he blocked 529 shots – 1.98 per game. It was more than just that, because in the playoffs, he raised that average to 2.32 blocked shots per game. This is a part of what made him a stalwart defenseman.

But it was more than that. When the Lightning acquired McDonagh, he was the Rangers Captain. In McDonagh, the Lightning weren’t just getting a solid defenseman, they were getting a leader. Sure, the team had Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Alex Killorn as leaders in the locker room. McDonagh just added to that team strength. Most games he played with the Lightning, he wore the A on his sweater. Teams choose their captains and alternate captains carefully and reward their leaders with these designations. Players with character are the individuals who wear the C or A. It says a lot that a team stacked with the talent the Lightning have bestowed this to McDonagh. In addition, it says more about McDonagh that he earned this and wore it proudly. 

Greener Pastures

Sending McDonagh to the Nashville Predators, the Lightning received defenseman Phillipe Myers and forward Grant Mismash. Make no mistake, the biggest asset for the Lightning in this trade was the cap relief they received moving the $6.75 million cap hit on McDonagh’s contract. Mismash will likely play in Syracuse with the Crunch. There is talk that the Lightning may buy out Myers’ contract. This is an interesting scenario because the Lightning would receive over a $600,000 cap credit for the upcoming season if they executed the buyout. 

It’s sad that in the salary cap era that terms like cap relief, buyouts and even the dreaded long term injured reserve (LTIR) are inevitable. Likewise, it’s sad that a player like McDonagh gets caught up in the juggling of the salary cap. Personally, I wish him well. He was an important part of some of the best Lightning teams ever. Hell, he’s an important player on one of the best teams in NHL history. The words I continued to think when news of the trade broke were these: May the best day of your past be the worst day of your future. Godspeed, Ryan McDonagh.

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