Lightning Make Their Move and Add McDonagh

Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Monday, Feb. 26, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. Yzerman was discussing acquiring Ryan McDonagh and J.T. MIller in a trade with the New York Rangers. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

Trade brings a much-needed defenseman to the Lightning

After weeks of speculation about trade targets, cost, and viability, the Tampa Bay Lightning made a deal with seconds to go before the trade deadline.  In the process, they added defenseman Ryan McDonagh, along with centerman J.T. Miller.

The move did not come at a low cost.  The Bolts will send away forward Vladislav Namestnikov, a first round draft pick in 2018, a second pick that could become a first round pick should Tampa Bay win a Stanley Cup this year or next, and a couple of prospects.

McDonagh should help the Lightning with their primary concern of being a bit thin on their blue line.  Defense was Tampa Bay’s big weakness to this point in the season, and adding one of the top defensemen available at the deadline is sure to help the Lightning.

That the move comes without Tampa Bay surrendering either Brayden Point or Mikhail Sergachev is welcome news for the Lightning and their fans.  Both Point and Sergachev were at times rumored to be potential parts of deals, but neither of the two ended up being seriously shopped.  This signals that, even if the Lightning are going for the Stanley Cup, they are not losing sight of their future.  Tampa Bay has managed to balance a potential Stanley Cup run this year without mortgaging their ability to contend for the Cup moving forward.  In other words, this move enables the Lightning to try to win both now and later.

The necessity of the deal became clear over the weekend, when the Boston Bruins added Rick Nash.  With Boston nipping at the Lightning’s heels, Tampa Bay had to respond to the move or risk losing the Atlantic Division lead they’ve held all season.

New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27) and Dallas Stars right wing Alexander Radulov (47) collide during the third period of an NHL hockey game Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, in Dallas. The Stars won 2-1. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

In McDonagh, the Lightning add a defenseman who has played for the United States in the Winter Olympics, and who had earned the Rangers’ captaincy before he had been dealt.  He’ll provide veteran leadership and strong defense, both in complement to Victor Hedman.  McDonagh will have ample opportunity to mentor and tutor young defensemen like Mikhail Sergachev, Jake Dotchin, and Slater Koekkoek.

Both McDonagh and J.T. Miller are used to playing tough hockey, which should help Tampa Bay tremendously.  The Lightning are nearly unbeatable when they can get out front, showcasing fast skaters and some of the best scorers in the world.  It’s when a team can slow them down that Tampa Bay has demonstrated a bit of weakness.

Because of how late the trade came down, neither McDonagh or Miller were with the Lightning on Monday night against the Maple Leafs.  They should both be with the team on Wednesday night when Tampa Bay takes on the Buffalo Sabres.

Adam Erne will be sent back to the Syracuse Crunch after Monday night’s game to make room for Miller.  J.T. Miller provides the Lightning with another scorer to replace what they’re losing in Vladislav Namestnikov, the centerpiece of the deal on New York’s end.  While the trade was necessary, it was important for the Lightning to receive a scorer in return as well as a defenseman.  While it’s without question that Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point can all light the lamp with regularity, it’s depth that helps teams forget about those three guys, thereby setting them up with opportunities moving forward.

As of Monday afternoon, Tampa Bay was the NHL’s leader in points with 87,  They’ve been out in front for the entirety of 2018, and that makes the Lightning a team with a target on their backs.  As the ostensible favorite for the Stanley Cup at the moment, there is no question whether the Bolts should have made a championship push now.  In trading for McDonagh, Tampa Bay has put their chips into the middle of the table.  They’re betting on a deep playoff run, and McDonagh strengthens that hand.

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Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.