Lightning: Revisiting the McDonagh and Miller Trade

As the 2018 Trade Deadline came to a close, then Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman pulled off the blockbuster trade of the season. After weeks of rumor and speculation, the Lightning and New York Rangers came to an agreement that sent defenseman Ryan McDonagh along with forward J.T. Miller to Tampa Bay, with forward Vladislav Namestnikov, a 2018 first-round pick, 2019 second-round pick and prospects Libor Hajek and Brett Howden getting sent to New York.

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When the trade was officially announced close to two hours after the end of the deadline, the hockey world stood still for a minute. The already strong Lightning were now the favorites for the Stanley Cup, adding a top defenseman and a solid depth forward with size and scoring upside to their roster.

J.T. Miller Ryan McDonagh Tampa Bay Lightning
With the blockbuster move of the 2018 Trade Deadline, the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh from the New York Rangers. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While the Lightning wouldn’t win the Stanley Cup in 2018, getting knocked out by the eventual Cup champion Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final, the deadline blockbuster has still been one of the defining moments of their recent history. Now two years after it all went down, let’s look back and see how things have shaken out for the Lightning.

McDonagh’s a Fixture on the Lightning Blue Line

Inarguably, the biggest part of this trade was McDonagh. With a developing core of defensive talent, he slotted into the lineup without much issue, finding a long-term partner alongside Erik Cernak in his second season with the franchise.

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Since then, McDonagh has become a fixture for the franchise, playing more than 20 minutes each night while providing needed relief for Victor Hedman. He has been nothing short of excellent, allowing Tampa Bay to spread out playing time amongst their top defensemen.

Brian Gibbons, Ryan McDonagh
McDonagh has become a permanent fixture on the Lightning’s blue line, eating valuable minutes each night with relative ease. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

However, the one mark against him is the contract Yzerman signed him to in the 2018 offseason. Despite having a year left before he became an unrestricted free agent, the Lightning locked him down with a seven-year extension.

Right now, that $6.75 million cap-hit isn’t unreasonable, but as McDonagh ages, that contract could become an anchor. While that is a worst-case scenario, it is something worth thinking about given the cap-crunch the Lightning are experiencing.

Miller Brought a Premium Return

While McDonagh was the focal point of the trade, Miller quickly showed why Yzerman wanted him in the package. After joining the Lightning, he found chemistry alongside Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, posting 10 goals and 18 points in only 19 games. With that breakout half-season, he was signed to a five-year, $5.25 million extension in the 2018 offseason.

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In the 2018-19 season, Miller bounced around the Lightning’s lineup, struggling to find a consistent role with the franchise. Despite this, he still put together solid numbers, making him a valuable piece on the trade market before the 2019 draft.

J.T. Miller, Tampa Bay Lightning
J.T. Miller made an immediate impact on the Lightning, posting 10 goals and 18 points in his first 19 games with the franchise. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

At the draft, Miller was sent to the Vancouver Canucks, returning a 2020 first-round selection and a 2019 third-rounder. All in all, this was a fantastic move by both parties, as the Lightning cleared needed cap space while getting a premium return while the Canucks got a great player who has helped the franchise push for a 2020 playoff berth.

What the Lightning Traded to New York

While Miller and McDonagh made an immediate impact on the Lightning, the pieces the Rangers received in return have been a bit of a mixed bag. Namestnikov struggled in New York, eventually getting traded to the Ottawa Senators less than two seasons after he was acquired.

Both Hajek and Howden worked their way onto the Ranger’s starting roster by the end of the 2018-19 season, but neither has an established role with the franchise. They both spent time with New York’s American Hockey League affiliate in 2019-20, with Howden looking to be the closest to locking down a full-time NHL spot in the near future.

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With the 2018 first-round selection the Rangers acquired from the Lightning, they took defensive prospect Nils Lundkvist, a Swedish player who had a strong 2020 World Junior Championship (WJC) and is expected to make his debut in North America in 2020-21.

Nils Lundkvist
Rangers prospect Nils Lundkvist (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The 2019 second-round pick was used to select another Swedish-born player, Karl Henriksson. Similar to Lundkvist, Henriksson played in the 2020 WJC and has been showing positive development over the last season. In a few years, he could very likely be breaking into New York’s lineup as a third-line center.

Lightning Seeing Positives From Trade With Rangers

Even two years after the trade was initially made, it’s still too early to declare a winner. By all accounts, both the Rangers and Lightning benefitted from this trade, getting key pieces they wanted in the process.

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Despite the steep cost, the Lightning have to be happy with how McDonagh has helped shape the future of their blue line. Without him, that would be a position of weakness for the franchise. With him, it’s now a strength.

Ryan McDonagh Tampa Bay Lightning
What McDonagh brings each night to the Lightning has been well worth his steep cost at the 2018 trade deadline. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This, along with the premium return they received for Miller, pushes this trade far into the positive side, especially because the Lightning didn’t have to give up a top-end prospect in the process. Yes, some of those futures would be nice to have now, but the addition of McDonagh has been more than worth it.