Lightning trade improves playoff chances

by Gary Shelton on February 27, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Yzerman made a deal that should help the Bolts./CARMEN MANDATO

Yzerman made a deal that should help the Bolts./CARMEN MANDATO

Tuesday, 2 a.m.

Look at this way: The Lightning traded a chunk of tomorrow for some defense today. Sounds good to me.

They traded potential and performance. They traded the future for the present. They traded what will be for what currently is. They traded a chance for a better chance.

And bully for them.

The Lightning, in a move that should help their upcoming push in the playoffs, obtained Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers just

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before the trade deadline Monday afternoon. They also picked up forward J.T. Miller in the deal.

After Ottawa decided not to trade Erik Karlsson, McDonagh was the most coveted defender available. McDonagh isn't the offensive threat that Karlsson is, but doesn't this team have enough offense? It needs someone to shut down someone else.

“Ryan McDonagh plays in all situations," said Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman. "He always has. We know he’s an excellent two-way defenseman. He defends very well, kills penalties. plays on the power play. He’s got a lot of playoff experience.  He fits in very well with our blue line. we feel our blue line is better."

Yes, they paid a price, a price that could make a Lightning fan turn wistful in the years to come. The Bolts gave up 20-goal scorer Vladimir Namestnikov, and most of their 2016 draft in Brett Howden and Libor Hajek, plus a No. 1 draft pick this year and a No. 2 (that could translate to a No. 1) in 2019.

It's a large price tag. But you know what? From the Rangers' point of view, it's the kind of deal that all bad teams make, a deal that chases dreams and wishes for a future that may never arrive. It's fantasy hockey for a team that isn't going anywhere.

If you want to talk about the right now of the deal, the part that isn't surrounded by hope, then the Lightning won this one hands down. The Lightning is trying to chase this year's dream. They give themselves a better chance of doing so. Don't you feel better about their chances?

You know what else costs a lot? Steak. Mansions. Nice cars. Brooks Brothers suits. Fine wine. Trips to Europe. And top line defensemen.

I like this trade. I like seizing the day. I like striking while the iron's hot. I like curing your ills. I like loading up for the best shot possible.

With McDonagh, the defense gets better as soon as he returns to the ice (in about a week). That's been the painful part of the Lightning to watch, where games could turn into drag races toward the net by the opposition. McDonagh will help will that, and by pushing other players down on the defensive rotations, they'll become better, too.

“Obviously, it’s tough losing a guy," said Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi, who played with both in New York.  "Vladdy’s a really good guy. He’s been here in the organization for a while. Obviously, I’m pretty happy I got a couple of guys I know really well and my old D partner coming in. Those guys are going to bring a lot to the team. They’re really, really good players, and I think it’s going to help us in the long run here.”

Hey, I hate giving up Namestnikov. But Miller is a good substitute for him. Namestnikov has outscored Miller, 20-13 this year. But Namestnikov has played on a better line, too. Miller should be serviceable.

That leaves you talking about what McDonagh can bring vs. what the kids can bring in the future.

Howden and Hajek? They may be good ... someday. The draft picks? They could be good, but it isn't as if the Lightning's picks are going to be top 10 choices. So in 2022, maybe 2024, you may sigh about this trade.

Not if the team wins the cup, however.

"I don’t look at it as 'all in.' " Yzerman said. "We’re tying to do everything we can . Ryan has another year on his contract. We don’t know what happens beyond next year. But he's 28 and has a lot of  experience.

"It gives us a better opportunity at winning the Stanley Cup, but not where we’re throwing everything in and if we don’t win, we’ve got to start over. We did everything we could to improve that made sense."

Yzerman said that if he were a Lightning fan, he'd be excited about this trade. And if he were a Rangers' fan, he'd be excited, too. That's the definition of a good trade.

"If we want quality players, we’re going to have to pay for quality players," Yzerman said.

McDonagh has proven that he's quality.

"I'm going to do whatever I can to help (Tampa Bay) win," McDonagh said. "They're a top team in the league now, have been for a long time, and especially this season I think there's some big expectations there that I would love to help be a part of."

Basically, the trade fits the Lightning. They were an offensive-oriented team. Now, they are closer to balanced.

"Both players in their 20s," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "Both are signed for next year, which is not a rental. Both played in big moments. They're  not only talented players, but warriors."

If McDonagh can make the Bolts' defense even more solid, if he can provide the kind of defense that succeeds in the post-season, there is a word for a trade like this: Bargain.

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