As the third anniversary of the trade deadline deal that brought Ryan McDonagh to the Tampa Bay Lightning approaches, it is easy to overlook the 31-year-old’s contributions to the team since arriving in the Bay Area. With a roster headlined by the electric offense of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov, as well as offensively capable defensemen in Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev, it is understandable to miss the value of a player like McDonagh.
While the trade from the New York Rangers to the Lightning saw McDonagh drop from the top defensive pairing to the second line, he has continued to produce at a similar pace for the Bolts as he did the Blue Shirts.
Offensive Production Remains Steady
When discussing the scoring production from the back end of the Lightning’s roster, Hedman and Sergachev are the first names to come to mind. Hedman, who is on pace for his fifth James Norris Memorial Trophy nomination as the league’s best defenseman, was recently regarded as being the best player on the entire planet.
However, since McDonagh joined the Lightning, he has produced at half the rate Hedman has — 0.41 points per games played (P/GP) to Hedman’s 0.82 P/GP — and only slightly less than Sergachev who sits at 0.49 P/GP. The difference between the three defensemen is when those points are scored.
With the Rangers, McDonagh was tasked with leading their top power play unit — resulting in 61 of his 238 points, or 26% of his production in New York coming on the man advantage. In Tampa, Hedman and Sergachev man the two power-play units, so McDonagh has had to up his production at even strength. In his 516 games with the Rangers, he averaged 0.46 P/GP with only 69% of those goals coming at five-on-five play. Since donning a Lightning jersey, McDonagh has increased that percentage to 88% of his points being scored at even strength, while only notching three power-play points since the trade.
Even though McDonagh had his best offensive season as a member of the Lightning — 46 points in 82 games during the 2018-19 season — the fact is the organization acquired him for his leadership and defensive capabilities, not putting up points on the scoresheet.
Leading the Uncelebrated Stats
While McDonagh has seen his power-play minutes significantly decreased since being moved at the deadline, his time on ice per game played (TOI/GP) has remained consistent. As the top defenseman for the Rangers, he logged 23:33 TOI/GP over the course of 516 games played, whereas he is currently seeing 21:36 TOI/GP in the 161 games he has suited up for the Lightning — a difference of about two minutes or the time he would have seen on the power play per game. Only Hedman has seen more TOI/GP since the 2017-18 season for the Bolts, averaging 24:21 per game.
Another stat that McDonagh has been a leader in since making the Rangers’ lineup — and one that shows his toughness and team-first mentality — is blocked shots per games played (BkS/GP). In his 516 games with New York, the Saint Paul, Minnesota-native blocked 1,026 shots for 1.99 BkS/GP. Only Dan Girardi and Adam McQuaid blocked more shots per games played with the Rangers in those eight seasons — 2.49 and 2.11 BkS/GP, respectively — with McQuaid playing 480 fewer games than McDonagh. With the Lightning, McDonagh has blocked 329 shots in 161 games played for a 2.04 BkS/GP rate. Girardi ranks second with the Lightning over the same four seasons with a 1.89 BkS/GP, while Hedman leads all other active Lightning players with a 1.43 BkS/GP since McDonagh was brought on board.
Having a guy like McDonagh prove night after night that he is willing to sacrifice his body for the benefit of the team can often have a ripple effect among the guys in that locker room.
Leadership Qualities: On and Off the Ice
Trading for a Rangers’ captain was not uncommon for the Lightning — the two teams swapped captains in 2014 — and Tampa has flourished with the extra leadership on the back end. McDonagh has been the ideal role model for developing Erik Cernak and Cal Foote as they get accustomed to the NHL level of play and what is expected of them as professionals.
Outside of hockey, McDonagh is exercising his hunger to better himself by taking online courses to complete his college degree. It may seem insignificant, but that type of commitment and dedication is infectious in an environment that is built on those characteristics.
McDonagh has quietly been one of the most consistent Lightning players since the trade that brought him and JT Miller over from the Rangers in 2018. While his name may not show up on the scoresheet on a nightly basis, the guys lacing up the skates next to him understand the importance of a veteran presence such as his.
Born and raised in Michigan, Kyle Knopp started playing hockey when he was 3 years old. Knopp has played, coached, or worked at every level of ice hockey — including three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings where he was part of the Stanley Cup Championship team in 2008. He covers the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings for The Hockey Writers and is the editor of THW’s Morning Skate newsletter. You can follow him on Twitter @THW_Knopp.