Lightning bolster blueline for Cup run with acquisition of Ryan McDonagh

Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh — not a bad 1-2 punch of the left side of their blueline for the Lightning. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

The Tampa Bay Lightning weren’t able to land their shark, but the Eastern Conference’s top team still got a whole lot better on deadline day.

Unable to strike the complex and elaborate deal required to bring Erik Karlsson to Tampa ahead of Monday’s 3 p.m. deadline, the Lightning settled on the next best thing and managed to bring Ryan McDonagh over from the Rangers.

Before Karlsson officially hit the trade market last week, McDonagh was seen as the best blueliner available, with several teams — including the Lightning, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and others — bidding for his services after the Rangers announced publicly their plans to rebuild earlier this month.

The price was steep with the Package heading to NYC including a 2018 first-round pick, a conditional second rounder (which turns into a first-rounder if the Bolts win the Stanley Cup in either of the next two seasons), forward Vladislav Namestnikov, defenceman Libor Hajek and centreman Brett Howden. The latter two were Tampa’s first selections in the 2016 draft.

McDonagh joins perennial Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman on the team’s stacked left-side of the blueline, with the Bolts’ top-four now consisting of Hedman, McDonagh, Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi. Defenceman Mikhail Sergachev will be able to drop down to the third pair, allowing head coach Jon Cooper to play the 19-year-old much more selectively and in more sheltered situations — ideal for a rookie blueliner about to embark on his first NHL playoff run.

Slightly overshadowed and lost in all of this is the fact that Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was also able to bring J.T. Miller into the fold. The 24-year-old can play all three forward positions, has scored at least 20 goals in two of his first three NHL seasons, and was a 54.3-percent face-off guy in 63 games with the Rangers this season. Miller, who has 40 points, has a chance to be one of the best depth adds at the deadline in recent memory.

Though Yzerman did a fantastic job ensuring the Lightning didn’t sacrifice any key facets of their lineup in acquiring McDonagh and Miller (especially in keeping Sergachev and forward Brayden Point), Tampa does however lose an important piece in the 25-year-old Namestnikov, who spent the majority of the season playing exceptionally well alongside Steven Stamkos. The pending RFA has career highs in goals (20) and points (44) in his fourth season with the Bolts.

McDonagh will join another former Rangers Captain, Ryan Callahan, in the Lightning lineup, and is expected to make his debut as soon as Wednesday when Tampa travels to Buffalo.

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