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Does A Ryan McDonagh Trade To Tampa Bay Make Sense?

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NHL: Buffalo Sabres at New York Rangers Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Joe has already written about what a Ryan McDonag return should look like, and he’s right -- the Rangers should either be getting something really great for him or they can simply decide not to trade him. And in the article, he did a great job of outlining what the Rangers are looking to get back. But which teams will have the assets to facilitate a trade like that (one where the Rangers can get promising young talent back)? And more importantly, out of those teams, which ones would actually want McDonagh? There have already been plenty of rumors that the Tampa Bay Lightning are interested and they’d be an excellent fit for McDonagh. However, a trade between the two teams is going to be harder than it looks.

Since the Lightning have been one of the top teams in the league and have one of the best shots at winning the Stanley Cup, it makes sense that they’re looking to make a big addition at the deadline this year. Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, and Anton Stralman all see their contracts expire in two years, so realistically Tampa’s best shot at winning the Cup are either this year or next. And with McDonagh carrying a very modest $4.7 million cap hit for the next two years, he could be an excellent addition to round out their defense. Their first ranked offense (3.53 average goals per game) doesn’t need any tinkering, but they’ve been rumored to be looking for a defenseman for a while.

Stralman and Victor Hedman are proven studs on the blue line, but after that things get a little more uncertain, with an obvious drop in talent in players like Dan Girardi and Braydon Coburn. Mikhail Sergachev has had an excellent start to his NHL career but is still young, with the risk of him struggling in the playoffs being very real. Adding McDonagh’s steady presence would shore up the Lightning’s defensive group and give them arguably one of the most talented back ends in the league. Cap space isn’t much of an issue either, as the Lightning are projected to have over $10 million in cap space by the deadline. McDonagh’s $4.7 million cap hit will have to be accounted for in the following season but that shouldn’t be much of an issue. Besides the Lightning having a little over $2 million in cap space to play with, Chris Kunitz’s $2 million contract and Andrej Sustr’s $1.95 million contract expire by next year.

However, what makes a trade to Tampa difficult is the potential return, as it’s unlikely that the Lightning have what the Rangers are looking for. The Rangers most won’t trade McDonagh unless they get a young, dynamic player back and it doesn’t look like Tampa is willing to surrender those kinds of assets. It’s rumored that Tyler Johnson is in play, but why would the Rangers want him? He’s too old for the Rangers’ expected direction, especially considering by the time the Rangers have spent a few years rebuilding and retooling he’ll have already aged out of his prime. At 27, Johnson would be much more attractive to a team that is looking to contend now, not a team looking to make the playoffs in a few years.

Johnson also doesn’t provide nearly as much value as McDonagh does right now, as he’s not an elite enough offensive talent to justify building a package around. Johnson had one really great season where he scored 72 points in 77 games, yet that was all the way back in 2015. Since then, he’s only scored 122 points in 187 games (a 53-point pace per season). This year he’s on pace for 61 points, but that’s not enough to make the Rangers part with their top defenseman. Johnson’s definitely not a bad player but he doesn’t fit in the Rangers’ long term plans.

So what else could the Lightning offer? Brayden Point or Mikhail Sergachev would definitely peak the Rangers’ interest, but it seems unlikely that the Lightning are willing to part with them. Tampa just traded Jonathan Drouin (their former third overall pick) for the rookie defenseman in Sergachev, and he's already showed plenty of offensive potential with 28 points in 51 games. Point would be another great player to target for the Rangers, but he's likely equally untouchable, as he's only 21 and is on pace for 71 points. And even if the Lightning were willing to give up either one of those players, what would stop them from just going for Erik Karlsson instead? The gap between the cost for acquiring McDonagh and the cost for Karlsson may be bigger than I’m assuming here, but if the Lightning are willing to give up an asset like Point or Sergachev wouldn’t you just expect them to try and go all-in and get one of the best defenseman of this generation (if he actually is available)?

A trade with the Tampa Bay Lightning seems like the most likely scenario based on national rumored interest, but it may be harder to pull off than it initially seems. The Rangers shouldn’t have a lot of interest in Johnson and if Tampa isn’t willing to give up some of their best assets then it probably kills the deal.

*all salary info from CapFriendly